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Middle East

The Israel Peace Deals: To Each His Own

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

Diplomacy often lets tranquility succeed incivility by offering more by collusion than collision. The most unpredictable unions are possible, usually by compromising long-fought struggles and causes. Although a lucrative partnership is hailed and endorsed publicly in the political arena, the cost doesn’t come under the spotlight. The deliberate ignorance of that cost can reshape the entire politico socioeconomic infrastructure by unknown dimensions.

The Middle East, for instance, has witnessed its political landscape gradually plunge into chaos due to the short-sightedness of the rulers and their ill-advised strategies over the course of three decades. The intervention of foreign powers, authoritarian regimes, proxy wars, and failed diplomacy have made matters even worse.

Although “unholy”, the alliance between the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and Israel would reinvigorate the Gulf States’ economy by curtailing its reliance on oil as well as strengthening the viability of diplomatic interests. The most recent development in the Middle East regarding the US-brokered deal —the Abraham Accord— between Israel and the two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain, might be the turning point of the region’s much-awaited stability.

The first announcement of the Israel-UAE deal was made by President Trump in August 2020. Following the UAE’s footsteps, Bahrain also stepped forward to reconcile with an enemy from the Levant, and signed the accord in September, alongside UAE, under the watch of the Trump administration. The UAE and Bahrain are now the third and fourth countries respectively to recognize Israel after Jordan (in 1979) and Egypt (in 1994).

What’s on the Table?

According to the deal, Israeli administration will halt its systematic territorial annexation of the 30% occupied areas in the West Bank. In return, Israel can establish its diplomatic setup in both Gulf States to increase its influence, relevance, and reach in the region. With this arrangement, the Arab league has undercut its position on the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.

The normalization of ties for the encouragement of business, investment, communication, security, trade and mutual travel has signaled a new era in the Israeli-Arab relations, which have been disastrous since the second half of the 20th century, and might pave new ways to resolve one of the most sensitive conflicts in human history.

Key Developments

The diplomatic breakthrough has brought about three major developments that can shape the geopolitical landscape in the coming years. First, the season of love between the key Arab states and Israel is in full swing, putting a question mark on Arab’s “undivided loyalty” towards the Palestinians. The economic, security and technological considerations might have alluded the Arabs to amplify their economies and move beyond their dependence on receding resources.

The agreement also signals the interest of Emiratis and their confidence in designing a blueprint to shape the regional politics in the best interests of everyone. This agreement has also turned the global narrative that the political and socio-economic setup of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) revolves around the ideological foundations of Pan-Arabism and Pan-Islamism.

The US-brokered deal, which is step one towards the implementation of the “Deal of the Century”, can worsen the bloody rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. With the UAE and Bahrain being the key members of the Saudi front, Iran, in retaliation, can turn to Turkey and other Muslim sympathizers to balance the power struggle in the regional vicinities.

The UAE is already investing its political and economic efforts to secure its strategic interests and counter the Turkish influence in Africa’s Red Sea Littoral and the Horn of Africa by acting as a mediator between hostile states and providing security assistance. It is also funneling money into the African economy by developing ports and military bases such as Eritrea’s Red Sea port of Assab and Berbera in Somaliland.

While the historical Arab powers, like Syria and Egypt, are giving blood sacrifices to keep their authority in their own geographies, the Emiratis are strategizing exceptional plans to diminish the growing influence of Non-Arab Muslim powers, like Iran and Turkey, in the greater MENA region.

The Palestinian Rage

The proponents of Trump hail it as one of the greatest diplomatic accomplishments of the U.S. in modern history, some have even critically acclaimed the president’s effort to the extent as deserving of the next Nobel Peace Prize.

Palestinians, the real price payers, believe that the unusual merger brokered by the U.S. simply washes away their decades-old struggle down the drain, and that such clearly depicts the bias of the superpower towards the Israeli regime.

The Palestinians’ trust and reliability on the Arab League have been diminishing over the years, especially because of the speculations that the Arab leaders had been involved in backdoor negotiations with the oppressors. Even if the accusations were not true, the public acceptance of Israeli narrative on international forums has hurt the sentiments of Palestinians around the world.

The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, in an interview to BBC, told that the Israeli Premier Mr.Netanyahu had plans to proceed with the final stages of annexation earlier in 2020, which the UAE government saw as the perfect opportunity to put forward its propositions to secure a viable implementation of the two-state solution.

The said minister also assured that Mr. Netanyahu would most likely stick to his promise, and would not risk his long-term desire of diplomatic relations with the Arab League. The UAE also believes that the deal has brought an opportunity for the Palestinians to rethink their approach and carve out a new one by engaging in fruitful discussions with Israel.

The U.S. Foreign Policy

The U.S. foreign policy is influenced by the powerful business lobbies with Jews as major stakeholders. With the primary objective to craft an effective solution to tame the Israeli-Arab animosity, Jared Kushner, the Middle East advisor to the President, has played his cards really well so far.

In an interview to CBSN, he proudly expresses his victory by stating that this is the first peace deal in the Middle East to happen in 26 years. The UAE and Bahrain, unlike Iraq and Syria, are immensely rich countries, and so the U.S. won’t need to give them financial aid in order to increase its influence in the region. Thus, it is understandable why the U.S. wants to help Israel achieve its diplomatic ambitions in the long-run.

President Trump strongly confides in the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and believes that he will eventually hop in the bandwagon once more countries follow suit. Moreover, the U.S. has often nudged the Arab States to pursue diplomacy with Israel rather than to risk military standoffs. Most importantly, one of the primary incentives for the U.S. to meddle in the Gulf politics is to contain and isolate Iran, one of its arch-rivals.

What about Saudi Arabia?

According to the Middle East Monitor, Saudi Arabia, the Emir of the Muslim world, has not fully endorsed the Israeli position yet, and has stated that it will proceed with diplomatic recognition of Israel once the Palestinian state is completely established. However, the regime might offer support to Israel if it adheres to the “two-state solution” regime under the UN Watch.

The reluctance of the Saudi state to fully reject the Israeli narrative and accept the UAE-Bahrain- Israel deal somehow hints about its hidden love and support for the Zionist regime. Although the Kingdom has a lot to gain by welcoming Israel on board, its current stance on the development might be the result of two dominant factors that garnered a mixed response from the Muslim world.

Firstly, inspired by the US-Israel tactics to bleed Iran, the Saudis have political and economic incentives to join hands with the two to defeat its sworn enemy. Secondly, Saudi Arabia — the custodian of two holiest Islamic sites and the owner of the world’s largest oil company (Aramco) —is the leading entity of the Muslim world and thus cannot afford rifts rising from one-sided decisions, especially with so many anti-Israel states on board, like Pakistan and Turkey.

Thus, it would prefer taking a backseat amidst the changing political landscape, and wait for someone else to take the daring move first, before actually opening up about its position on the new developments.

Sudan Joins the Fray

The Sudanese diplomatic development with Israel has emerged after three months of the US-brokered peace deal between the UAE and Israel. The Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, finally accepted a long-awaited friendly invitation from the Israeli premier to welcome and celebrate the new dawn of Middle East, burying the grudges of the past.

Most of the credit, in this regard, goes to the UAE. The UAE has been meddling in the internal affairs of Sudan for quite some, accused of sponsoring and supporting the political machinery in Eastern Sudan. Despite receiving a harsh opposition for joining the normalization wave, from the Sudanese government’s perspective, the merger was necessary to cross its name from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

Soon after the diplomatic revival between Sudan and Israel, the UAE granted over half a billion dollars in financial aid to Sudan to oil its long-rusted financial, economic, and political machinery.
Sudan also holds geographic importance in terms of easy access to the rest of the Africa from the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt.

Turkey and China have already been investing in billions and trying to increase their domination in the African continent over the past years, so it is understandable that by getting Sudan in the team, the U.S. and Israel can significantly balance the growing influence of the Chinese and Turks in the region.

The author is an economist based in Islamabad, who also works as a content strategist in UK based firm. He holds keen interest in studying terrorism, counter-terrorism and diplomacy.

Middle East

China in the Middle East: Stepping up to the plate

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By defining Chinese characteristics as “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution, Messrs. Sun and Wu were suggesting that China was seeking to prepare the ground for greater Chinese engagement in efforts to stabilize the Middle East, a volatile region that repeatedly threatens to spin out of control.

The scholars defined China’s goal as building an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.

By implication, Messrs. Sun and Wu’s vision reflected a growing realization in China that it no longer can protect its mushrooming interests exclusively through economic cooperation, trade, and investment.

It also signalled an understanding that stability in the Middle East can only be achieved through an inclusive, comprehensive, and multilateral reconstructed security architecture of which China would have to be part.

Messrs. Sun and Wu’s article, published in a prominent Chine policy journal, was part of a subtle and cautious Chinese messaging that was directed towards players on all sides of the Middle East’s multiple divides.

To be clear, China, like Russia, is not seeking to replace the United States, certainly not in military terms, as a dominant force in the Middle East. Rather, it is gradually laying the groundwork to capitalize on a US desire to rejigger its regional commitments by exploiting US efforts to share the burden more broadly with its regional partners and allies.

China is further suggesting that the United States has proven to be unable to manage the Middle East’s myriad conflicts and disputes, making it a Chinese interest to help steer the region into calmer waters while retaining the US military as the backbone of whatever restructured security architecture emerges.

Implicit in the message is the assumption that the Middle East may be one part of the world in which the United States and China can simultaneously cooperate and compete; cooperate in maintaining regional security and compete on issues like technology.

That may prove to be an idealized vision. China, like the United States, is more likely to discover that getting from A to B can be torturous and that avoiding being sucked into the Middle East’s myriad conflicts is easier said than done.

China has long prided itself on its ability to maintain good relations with all sides of the divide by avoiding engagement in the crux of the Middle East’s at times existential divides.

Yet, building a sustainable security architecture that includes conflict management mechanisms, without tackling the core of those divides, is likely to prove all but impossible. The real question is at what point does China feel that the cost of non-engagement outweighs the cost of engagement?

The Middle East is nowhere close to entertaining the kind of approaches and policies required to construct an inclusive security architecture. Nevertheless, changes to US policy being adopted by the Biden administration are producing cracks in the posture of various Middle Eastern states, albeit tiny ones, that bolster the Chinese messaging.

Various belligerents, including Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey, but not Iran or Israel, at least when it comes to issues like Iran and the Palestinians, have sought to lower the region’s temperature even if fundamentals have not changed.

A potential revival of the 2015 international Iran nuclear agreement could provide a monkey wrench.

There is little doubt that any US-Iranian agreement to do so would focus exclusively on nuclear issues and would not include other agenda points such as ballistic missiles and Iranian support for non-state actors in parts of the Middle East. The silver lining is that ballistic missiles and support for non-state actors are issues that Iran would likely discuss if they were embedded in a discussion about restructured regional security arrangements.

This is where China may have a significant contribution to make. Getting all parties to agree to discuss a broader, more inclusive security arrangement involves not just cajoling but also assuaging fears, including whether and to what degree Chinese relations with an Iran unfettered by US sanctions and international isolation would affect Gulf states.

To be sure, while China has much going for it in the Middle East such as its principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, its affinity for autocracy, and its economic weight and emphasis on economic issues, it also needs to manage pitfalls. These include reputational issues despite its vaccine diplomacy, repression of the Uyghurs in the north-western province of Xinjiang, and discrimination against other Muslim communities.

China’s anti-Muslim policies may not be an immediate issue for much of the Muslim world, but they continuously loom as a potential grey swan.

Nevertheless, China, beyond doubt, alongside the United States can play a key role in stabilizing the Middle East. The question is whether both Beijing and Washington can and will step up to the plate.

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Middle East

The US doesn’t deserve a sit on the UNHRC, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen

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A family in the Al Dhale'e camp for people displaced by the conflict in Yemen. YPN for UNOCHA

Last week, the US State Department communicated its intention of joining the UN Human Rights Council later this year. The UN General Assembly will be voting this October on who gets to join the 47-member UN Human Rights Council. 47 members is less than a fourth of all UN member states, so only very few countries get a seat and a say.

The United States does not deserve to join the UN Human Rights Council, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen.

The Human Rights Council is often criticized, especially by the right in the US, for having only bad human rights actors with atrocious records as members. But the US is not an exception to the atrocious human rights record club. 

In the seemingly war-less Trump period, the US nevertheless still managed to get engaged in war and war crimes in the completely devastated Yemen, which was hit by the worst humanitarian crisis and famine over the last years, after US-backed Saudi forces basically flattened the country. Over 13mln people suffered from starvation. Media and human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch alike have pointed to US complicity in war crimes in Yemen.

Months ago, I criticized UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore for lauding the Saudis’ “humanitarian leadership” in Yemen for the price of USD 150mln. The UN blue-washing partnerships were possible after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres removed Saudi Arabia from the UN blacklist in 2020 to make sure the rivers of cash by the Saudi humanitarian heroes kept flowing in the UN’s direction. But in October this year, it is not Antonio-it’s not a big deal-Guterres that decides who gets on the UN Human Rights Council. It’s all the UN member states. And many of them will not be impressed by the Saudi humanitarian leadership.

And even though a month ago, new US President Joe Biden announced that the US is ending its support for the Saudi offensive – and in parallel the US intell revealed the Khashoggi report which outlined the Saudi prince’s involvement in the murder of the journalist – questions still persist about the US role in the Yemeni situation from now on. 73% of all Saudi arms imports come from the US. The US State Department will simply be playing on words from now on in redefining what constitutes “offensive” support for the Saudi coalition, as the State Department Spokesperson Ned Price seemed to suggest. Any military expert knows how difficult it is to differentiate between offensive and defensive capabilities. Unless it’s really barb wire standing on your border, it’s pretty hard to make the case that something will serve for only defensive purposes. Especially if the “defense-only” capabilities are for a war-driven Saudi-led coalition. So, basically the Biden policy is the Trump policy, but much more polished. The language is more technocraticly elegant, but the essence is the same – just like many of the other decisions by the Biden Administration in its first weeks. It’s basically Trump, only the phrasing is much more polished and professionally shrewd.

This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Yemen’s Houthies for breaking the peace in responding to the Saudi forces, but it is safe to say that there isn’t much peace to break in Yemen, and the US has also taken care of that. So, Blinken’s statement reveals a new doze of hypocrisy – hypocrisy, which also characterizes the US’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council.

Biden’s Syria strikes that left many Biden supporters quite surprised last week also indicated that many of us who thought Biden would be a classical Democrat centrist were actually wrong. Biden has much more in common with the right now, judging by his very first policy choices – at home and foreign policy wise.

The US government will have to try a bit harder than “we are not Trump”, if it wants to convince the rest of the countries in October that it deserves a sit on the human rights table. If the Biden Administration continues the same way, it’s not going to be able to do so.

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Middle East

Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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