Man of Peace Swimming against the Current

September 15, 2008

By Nicola Nasser*

 

For the first time, since the U.S.-hosted Annapolis conference on November 27 last year re-launched the Palestinian – Israeli negotiations, which were interrupted by the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 after the collapse of the Camp David trilateral summit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came out for the first time on record in Cairo on September 6 to “doubt” striking a peace deal with Israel “by the end of the year because very little time is left;” on September 10 he reiterated his skepticism in an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz.

 

Accordingly he dispelled U.S. President George W. Bush’s pledge to reach such a deal before his term ends and at the same time practically announced that peace talks have now been frozen for at least a year by the government changes in Washington and Tel Aviv. Abbas was reportedly scheduled to hold his last meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, in Jerusalem on September 16, one day before Kadima, Olmert’s ruling party elects his successor, ahead of his scheduled meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on September 25. It seems all the partners to the Annapolis process are trying to strike a last minute impossible deal or simply saying good by to each other.

 

Nonetheless Abbas shows all evidence that he is determined to swim against an overwhelming current to prove that he is the persistent unrelenting Palestinian partner who will never despair in his pursuit of peace, even he would pay the price with his own life, despite all the internal and external odds, nor will he be deterred by the undelivered U.S. promises to loose trust in Washington.

 

On September 10 he told Haaretz that, “Even today, I’m convinced that I would have signed the Oslo Accords. I risked my life for peace and if I have to pay for it with my life, that’s a negligible price. I don’t regret the Oslo Accords. Twenty years before the agreement I believed in peace with the Israelis, and I still believe in it.”

 

He is still desperately determined to remain committed to his “strategic option” of a negotiated peace deal with Israel in pursuit of a life-long hope that would make or break his political career as well as a Palestinian leadership team, led by him, that has bet everything on a mirage-like U.S. promises to deliver a Palestinian state on the part of historic Palestine which Israel occupied in 1967, although Bush’s pledges to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004 have so far proved much more stronger strategic commitments than the U.S. vague promises to Palestinians, and despite the fact that the overall Israeli policy and every single tactic of that policy indicate a strategy that clashes head-to-head with the minimum Palestinian national aspiration for an independent, viable and contiguous state as the basis for a just and lasting peace.

 

Not deterred by all indications to the contrary, his determination, it seems, would never loose hope to agree with those, like King Abdullah II of Jordan, who believe that the Annapolis opportunity was the last chance for the Palestinian – Israeli peace process to deliver. He is determined too not to be held responsible for any collapse of the peace talks; therefore he ignores Israeli non-commitment and clings to his own commitments to the letter and soul of the Annapolis understandings.

 

He is similarly determined not to loose his hope that the United States could still deliver on its promises. “We are determined to continue accelerated diplomatic negotiations concurrently with the change of administration in the United States,” Abbas was quoted as saying in Cernobbio, Italy, on Friday. He appealed to the upcoming U.S. administration not to waste “seven more years” to resume its peace efforts. “The new administration should not wait seven years for us to start negotiations. It should begin immediately as soon as a new president is in the White House.” However, with nothing on the record to prove the U.S. would be forthcoming, a Palestinian semi-consensus is ruling out such a possibility as wishful thinking, and Abbas is similarly swimming against this strong internal current, which has all throughout opposed the Annapolis initiative as a non-starter.

 

Peace-making seems so absurd now as to defy all logic and belief, at least to the majority of the Palestinian people, according to Palestinian polls, the most recent of which was released on September 7 by the Near East Consulting Company to show that 86% of Palestinians are frustrated, 43% believed that the conflict with Israel will continue and a Palestinian state will not be established, 24% of respondents believed that a Palestinian state will be established within 10-20 years, 18% within 5-10 years 16% within a year to five years.

 

The optimistic fanfare Abbas and his team raised following the Annapolis conference has now boiled down to publicly voiced bitter disappointment and disillusion; his earlier insistence on time tables and deadlines as preconditions have now been forgone for the sake of not dooming the talking process; his threatening repeated warnings that the continued expansion of the illegal Israeli colonial settlements would spell the end of negotiations have been replaced by lenient appeals to the same effect.

 

Abbas’ preconditioning a deal with the Israelis on reaching an agreement on all and every issue of the final status issues, a precondition which was recently revived with stress, was met by a cold shower with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal for a partial deal agreement that rules out Jerusalem, ostensibly temporarily until a later stage, but detrimentally excluding the issue of refugees for good, a deal not to be implemented but to be presented to Bush then to the United Nations General Assembly in November, which would bestow on the proposal a UN legitimacy that would in turn legitimize Ariel Sharon’s original draft of an interim, transitional and long-term temporary Palestinian state on (42) percent of the West Bank, demarcated by the more than 700km-long wall Israel is building on the occupied Palestinian territory, termed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the Wall of Expansion and Annexation, by Israelis as the “security barrier” and by everyday media as simply the Apartheid Wall, which the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled as “illegal” in July 2004.

 

Abbas, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have officially on record rejected both Israeli proposals of the transitional state and the partial agreement. “Jerusalem and the right of return are inalienable Palestinian rights, too,” he confirmed during his recent visit to Cairo. However this official rejection is defying the Israeli-created facts on the ground of more than 200 Jewish settlements and outposts, home to slightly less than half a million settlers, living among two and a half million Palestinians, but exclusively controlling (37) percent and restricting the free movement of Palestinians on (21) percent of the land, all tied inextricably into Israel proper by a massive network of Israeli-only highways and, ultimately, the “Security Barrier,” which all indicate that the Occupation is no longer “a temporary military situation” as defined by international law. These facts, together with the U.S. collusion with the Israeli determination to annex most of them, especially in Jerusalem, to Israel proper, sweep away whatever credibility is left to whatever remains of the peace process.

 

Bush’s letter to Sharon was an old proof of the U.S. collusion; the latest proof was revealed on September 7 by Tayseer Khaled, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO), that the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in her last visit to Ramallah, tried to get the PLO’s OK for a statehood with temporary borders and the postponement of negotiating the outstanding final-status issues.

 

While rejecting out of hand the notion that peace-making would ever have a “last chance,” Abbas however would accept a “last chance” to resolve peacefully the inter-Palestinian conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. If the ongoing Egyptian mediation fails to reconcile the Palestinian rivals, Abbas will “take all steps and measures to restore Gaza before the end of this year,” he said in Egypt. This impatience with Hamas is another manifestation of his determination to use the break in negotiations, brought about by the U.S. and Israeli government changes, to put his Palestinian house in order ahead of any possible resumption of talks thereafter.

 

Within this context Abbas is battling political foes on two fronts, declaring the Hamas – Gaza front as being his first priority. He is also involved in a power struggle within his own Fatah party on another front. Abbas here is allying himself with a U.S. – backed and Israeli – okayed diverse spectrum of Fatah and non-Fatah politicians who share his strategy and tactics, with the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the forefront. The battle ground revolves now on the renewal of Abbas’ mandate, which terminates on January 9.

 

This spectrum is evolving as a “third power” between Fatah and Hamas and is fueling the rivalry between them in the hope of establishing itself as the alternative to both, but has yet to officially take shape as a unified party. Both Abbas and this “third” power are mutually exploiting each other to gain the upper hand both within the ranks of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, where there is still very strong opposition to the strategy of both. This evolving force is fomenting the power struggle between Abbas and that opposition as much as it is exacerbating his rivalry with Hamas, cornering him in a very sensitive but critical showdown with his own party, Fatah. Abbas’ bitter battle with Hamas is smoke-screening the power struggle within Fatah, which currently evolve around convening both the PLO National Council (parliament-in-exile) and the sixth Congress of Fatah, both overdue.

 

However Abbas shows all the determination necessary to put his house in order, with his sight unwaveringly focused on his peace prize, an independent, viable and contiguous state, no matter what!

 

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories.

 

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Smashing the Abbas icon of Palestinian non – violence

October 14, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

Indisputably, the 80 – year old President Mahmoud Abbas has established himself internally and worldwide as the icon of Palestinian non – violence. His Israeli peace partners leave none in doubt that they are determined to smash this icon, which would leave them only with opposite alternatives the best of which is a massive peaceful intifada (uprising) against the Israeli occupation.

It is true that Abbas cannot yet be called the Ghandi of Palestine. He has yet to follow in the footsteps of the founder of modern India and deliver similar national results by leading a massive popular revolution for liberation and independence, but his strictly adhered to non – violence platform continues to be the prerequisite for any peaceful settlement of the Arab – Israeli conflict in and over Palestine.

For decades, before and after the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories was completed in 1967, Abbas has stuck to his belief in negotiations as the only way to settle the more than a century old conflict. Building on Abbas’ legacy, his chief negotiator, Saeb Erakat, wrote his book, “Life Is Negotiations.”

Abbas has all along rejected “armed struggle” and all forms of violence. He even did his best to avoid popular uprisings lest they glide into violence. Instead he has unequivocally opted to act as a man of state committed to international law and United Nations legitimacy.

Ever since he was elected as president he conducted Palestinian politics accordingly to make his people an integral part of the international community. His respect to the signed accords with Israel raised backlash among his own people when he described, for example, the security coordination agreement with the Hebrew state as “sacred.”

Demonising Abbas

Nonetheless, the Israelis are still persisting on an unabated campaign to demonise Abbas, tarnish his image, undermine his peace credentials and deprive him of any gains for his people.

A Haaretz editorial on Oct. 4 said that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “fanning the flames of incitement against” Abbas. On Oct. 10, The Times of Israel quoted the Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon as saying that “We have come a long way to convince Israeli society that he’s (i.e. Abbas) no partner.”

Evidently, this is the only way for the Israelis to absolve themselves from their signed peace commitments. Ya’alon’s deputy, Eli Ben – Dahan, was quoted on the same day as saying that “Palestinians have to understand they won’t have a state and Israel will rule over them.”

The Israeli minister of education Naftali Bennett, speaking to the army radio on Oct. 11, raised the anti – Abbas ante to an adventurous and irresponsible end game when he said that Abbas’ “absence is better.”

Bennett left it to the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, to explain the raison d’être for his call for the “absence” of Abbas. In a Ynetnews article on Oct. 3, Oren concluded absurdly that “Abbas poses a danger which may be revealed as strategically more serious than the tactical dangers posed by (the Islamic Resistance Movement) Hamas.”

Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman was more forthright when he called on Oct. 12 for Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank to be “overthrown.”

According to William Booth, writing in The Washington Post on Oct. 10, “Israeli (Cabinet) ministers have branded Abbas ‘a terrorist in a suit’ and ‘inciter in chief’. They mock him as weak,” ignoring that their smearing campaign accompanied by their government’s determination to undermine his peace – making efforts is making him weaker internally and render the “two – state solution” a non – starter among his people.

A poll released by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research on Oct. 6 found that 65% of the public want Abbas to resign and if new presidential elections were held the deputy chief of the Islamic Resistance Movement “Hamas,” Ismail Haniyeh, would win 49 percent of the votes against 44 percent for Abbas. The “main findings” indicated a “decline in the level of support for the two – state solution” as 51 percent “opposed” this solution. What is more important in this context was that “57% support a return to an armed intifada.”

International Community Indifference

The Israeli anti – Abbas campaign could only be interpreted as a premeditated endeavour to evade a mounting international pressure for saving the so – called “two – state solution.”

The cancelation of a visit scheduled for last week by senior envoys of the international Middle East Quartet upon Netanyahu’s request was the latest example of the world community’s helplessness and indifference vis – a – vis Israel’s sense of impunity against accountability, which empowers the Israeli occupying power to escalate its crackdown on Palestinians under its military occupation since 1967.

In particular, U.S. President Barak Obama Administration’s “reversals” and “empty promises,” in the words of Peter Berkowitz on Oct. 13, to Abbas as well as the inaction of the European Union and the other two Russian and UN members of the Quartet are encouraging Israel in its anti – Abbas campaign, thus discrediting the Palestinian icon of non – violence further in the eyes of his own people as incapable of delivery to walk away from his non – violent path.

On Oct. 12 the AFP reported that the “frustrated’ Palestinians “have defied” both Abbas and the “Israeli security crackdown” to launch what many observers are calling the beginnings of a “third intifada.”

To his credit, Abbas proved true to his non – violence commitment. Israeli daily Haaretz on Oct. 11 quoted a senior official of the Israeli Shabak intelligence agency as telling a cabinet meeting on the same day “that not only does Abbas not support ‘terrorist attacks’ but also tells PA security services to ‘undermine’ anti-Israel protests as much as possible.”

Abbas was on record recently to tell “our Israeli neighbours that we do not want a security or military escalation. My message to our people, security agencies and leaders is that the situation must calm down.” He warned against “an intifada which we don’t want.” On Oct. 6, he publicly told a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that “we want to reach a political solution by peaceful means and not at all by any other means.”

The practical translation of his on record “principles” was self evident on the ground during the past two weeks of Palestinian rebellion against the escalating violence of the illegal Israeli settlers of the occupied Palestinian territories and the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), especially in eastern Jerusalem, which so far claimed the lives of more than 25 Palestinians and at least four Israelis in October 2015.

Within the PA security mandate, violence was practiced by the IOF only and only Palestinians were killed. Mutual violence was confined to Jerusalem, the area designated “C” by the Oslo accords in the West Bank and Israel proper, where security is an exclusive Israeli responsibility. There Abbas has no mandate. Most victims of both sides fell there and there only Israel should be held responsible and accountable.

One could not but wonder whether eastern Jerusalem and area “C” of the West Bank would have seen no violence had Abbas’ security mandate been extended to include both areas. U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, who announced on Tuesday plans to visit “soon” to calm down the violence, should consider this seriously.

Ending the Israeli occupation is the only way to move the situation “away from this precipice,” lest, in Kerry’s words, the two-state solution, “could conceivably be stolen from everybody” if violence were to spiral out of control.

In 1974 late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appealed to the UN General Assembly to “not let the olive branch fall from my hand,” saying that he was holding a “freedom fighter’s gun” in his other hand. Abbas embraced the “olive branch” with both hands and dropped the “gun” forever.

In May this year, Pope Francis told Abbas during a visit to the Vatican: “I thought about you: May you be an angel of peace.” The Jewish Virtual Library’s biography of the Palestinian President vindicates the Pope’s vision. It hailed him as “considered one of the leading Palestinian figures devoted to the search for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian – Israeli conflict… It was Abbas who signed the 1993 peace accord with Israel.

End of Era

Writing in Al – Ahram Weekly on Oct. 12, the President of Arab American Institute, James Zogby, was one only of several observers who announced recently the “burial” of the Oslo accords. In “fact” Oslo “was on life support” and “has been dying for years” Zogby said, concluding: “What happened this week was the final burial rite.”

The Oslo accords were the crown of Abbas’ life – long endeavour. The “burial” of Oslo would inevitably be the end Abbas’ era.

Smashing the Abbas icon of Palestinian non – violence would herald an end to his era, dooming for a long time to come any prospect for a negotiated peaceful solution. His “absence,” according to Gershon Baskin, the Co-Chairman of Israel/Palestine Center for research and Information (IPCRI), will be “definitely the end of an era” and “will be a great loss for Israel and for those who seek true peace.”

Israelis by their ongoing campaign of defamation of Abbas would be missing an irreversible historic opportunity for making peace.

However, Abbas will go down in Palestinian chronicles as a national symbol of non – violence, who raced against time to make what has so far proved to be an elusive peace. Despite his failure, thanks to Israeli unrealistic dreams of “Greater Israel,” he will be the pride of his people in future in spite of the current widespread national opposition to his life – long commitment.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

Time for UN to shift mission in Yemen

September 28, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

Peace in Yemen will continue to be elusive unless the United Nations shifts its mission from sponsoring an inter-Yemeni dialogue to mediating ceasefire negotiations between the actual warring parties, namely Saudi Arabia & allies and the de facto representatives of Yemenis who are fighting to defend their country’s territorial integrity and independent free will, i.e. the Huthi – Saleh & allies.

Convening its 70th session while celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the United Nations is unlikely to reconsider its stand on Yemen, but it must do, at least to provide a face – saving exit strategy for Saudi Arabia if not to stop a snowballing severe humanitarian crisis in the country.

The United Nations Mauritanian special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will sooner than later face the fate of his predecessor Jamal Benomar, who resigned his mission last March acknowledging its failure.

The Saudi insistence on dictating a fait accompli on Yemen is undermining the UN efforts to bring about a political solution, which was made impossible by the Saudi – led war on Yemen.

The legitimacy controversy

The UN sponsored Yemeni – Yemeni talks in the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, Muscat, and elsewhere will continue to be deadlocked. They are a non-starter. The Saudis have held their Yemeni allies captives of their dependence on Saudi financial, political and military support without which they could not survive internally.

The UN and Arab League recognition of them as the legitimate representatives of Yemen was counterproductive. They are viewed by most Yemenis more as Saudi puppets than legitimate delegates of their people.

Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is recognised by the UN and the Saudi – led coalition as the legitimate president of Yemen, arrived in Aden last week aboard a Saudi military aircraft and his safety was secured during his three – day stay there by military bodyguards from the United Arab Emirates. The arrival of his prime minister Khaled Bahah a week earlier was not different.

Conferring UN and Arab League legitimacy on them serves only to turn both organisations into biased parties to the conflict if not partners to it or at least accomplices and compromises their credentials as mediators.

The Huthis are portrayed by the Saudi – led propaganda as a sectarian fanatic and violent intruders into the Yemeni society or as agents of Iran who are waging a proxy war in Yemen, but the Huthis are not aliens. Their ancestors ruled Yemen for some one thousand years. They represent more than one third of the country’s population. Their role could have been strengthened by Iranian support and weakened by their religious speech, but nonetheless they are uncontroversial native integral component of Yemen’s national history and society.

Similarly, their ally in fighting off the Saudi – led war on Yemen, ex – president Ali Abdullah Saleh, is part and parcel of Yemeni political infrastructure. More than a three – decade ally of Saudi Arabia, when Saleh resisted a Saudi transition plan he hardly survived a bombing of his Friday prayers. Despite his individual ruling style and a wide spread corruption of his governance, he is credited with building a state infrastructure, a national army, a tolerable pluralistic political life and a relatively civil freedoms that were the envy of his Arab compatriots in the north who are still living under the Middle Ages systems of government and, more importantly, making the unity of Yemen a fact of life. When his representative credentials are questioned by his former Saudi allies it is noteworthy to remind them that his “al-Mutamar” party still controls the majority of the last democratically elected Yemeni parliament.

The “external” Iranian interference in Yemen and Iran’s sectarian support for “Shiite” Yemenis, in addition to a self – proclaimed role in defence of a controversial legitimacy of a Yemeni president, are the main raison d’être cited by Riyadh as the casus belli of the Saudi ongoing six – month old war on Yemen.

However history and realpolitik facts refute such Saudi claims and render them as merely thinly – veiled justification for installing a puppet regime in Sanaa by the brutal and inhumane force of an external invasion.

The current Saudi war on Yemen could be a “rite of passage” for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but not the Saudi Arabia as claimed by Rami G. Khouri (1).

Long history of Saudi military intervention

Long before there was an “Iran threat” or a “Shiite threat,” the Saudi ruling family never hesitated to interfere in Yemen militarily or otherwise whenever Yemenis showed signs of breaking away from Saudi hegemony towards a free will to determine their lives independently.

In the 1930s the Saudis engaged in a war on the Mutawakkilite Imamate of Yemen and succeeded in annexing the Yemeni provinces of Asir, Jizan and Najran to their kingdom, thus creating a border dispute that was not settled until 2000, but the current Saudi war on Yemen seems to reignite it.

Then, they occupied the Yemeni port of Hodeida on the Red Sea and attacked the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Yemen at the time was a similar conservative “kingdom” bound, like the Saudis, by treaties with the British colonial power.

From 1962 to 1970 the Saudis interfered militarily on the side of the “Shiite” Yemeni “royalists” whom they fought in the 1930s against republican revolutionaries who sought to usher Yemen into the twentieth century out of the Middle Ages. The Saudi military intervention led the Pan – Arab leader of Egypt Gamal Abd al-Nasir to rush to the rescue of the Yemeni republicans, thus regionalising a Yemeni internal affair into an Egyptian – Saudi war among the “Sunnis.”

History it seems is repeating itself nowadays, but the Saudis have so far failed to embroil Iran in Yemen as they did with Egypt then. Instead, the kingdom is itself plunging deeper into the Yemeni quicksand.

“In 1977, then, Saudi Arabia conspired (together with Salih) to the assassination of modernist President Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who was determined to loosen the stranglehold of the kingdom over Yemeni politics,” Tobias Thiel (2) of The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) wrote on last April 2.

In the aftermath of the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran into the regional scene, “the House of Saud expelled around 800,000 Yemeni guest workers to punish the newly united republic for its stance in the 1991 Gulf War (Kuwait war), plunging the country into an economic crisis” and “the kingdom simultaneously supported both sides – Sunni Islamists and Marxist separatists – in the 1994 war of secession,” Thiel added. Both those events had nothing to do with the so –called “Iran threat” or the “Shiite – Sunni” sectarian rivalry; both were inter – Arab and inter Yemeni conflicts.

 

“Finally,” according to Thiel, “Riyadh has backed the Salih regime against the mass protests in 2011 and has – as elsewhere – tried to stifle the democratic opening.”

Launching the Saudi war on Yemen last March had regionalised a Yemeni internal conflict, undercut short a Yemeni successful national dialogue sponsored by the United Nations, undermined the territorial unity of the country, which was then compromised only by the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that was isolated in the far south eastern part of Yemen, destroyed the infrastructure of the Yemeni state, created a snowballing severe humanitarian crisis and rendered the possibility of a Yemeni – Yemeni political solution a mission made impossible by both the mutual bloodshed and the Saudi insistence on shaping by brutal force the future ruling regime in Yemen on Saudi terms.

Riyadh intervened militarily in Yemen when the Saudi – led GCC initiative for a “transition” on their terms in Yemen broke down in 2014. The Saudis planned the “transition” in Yemen to be a show case that could be replayed in Syria where they have been arming and financing a similar “regime change” for the past five years. The failure of their “show case” in Yemen doomed their plan for Syria.

Historically, Sanaa and the northern rough mountainous provinces failed all Arab and non-Arab invaders. The Ottoman Empire at its zenith could not subjugate it. It is the bedrock of Yemen’s independence and self determination. There the hardcore of the Yemeni anti-Saudi invasion is entrenched and there this invasion will most likely meet it defeat.

The so – called “liberation” of Aden by Saudi and UAE military intervention could serve only as a recipe for a perpetuated civil war and regional capital of a divided Yemen. Hadi is unlikely to deliver in Aden what he failed to achieve when he was in Sana’a.

On last March 22, the former UN special envoy Jamal Benomar, addressing the UN Security Council via video conference, warned that, “the situation is on a rapid downward spiral” that is “leading the country away from political settlement and to the edge of civil war”. The status quo is “inviting a protracted conflict in the vein of an Iraq-Libya-Syria combined scenario,” he told an emergency UNSC session. Benomar resigned his UN mission acknowledging its failure. His successor is more likely to come to the same conclusion sooner than later.

The presence now of reportedly between 5 – 10 thousand ground GCC troops in Yemen is proof that the aerial onslaught had failed and that the so-called pro-government forces are merely a Yemeni make – believe address for the thinly – veiled Saudi – led external invasion.

The introduction of GCC ground troops into Yemen is more a show of the failure of the so – called Yemeni pro – legitimacy and pro – Saudi forces than a display of GCC military prowess.

Quoted by the Qatari News Agency (QNA) on September 18, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, tacitly acknowledging his country’s failure in Yemen, said that he “personally … suggested Israeli help as our only hope to end the status quo … His Highness King Salman put this proposal forward for further consideration.”

Ruling out any open Israeli contribution to the US-led war on Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1991, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the US “leading from behind” in the ongoing war on Syria is an instructive strong reminder that any Israeli role in the Saudi – led war on Yemen will most likely be ruled out as well, at least in public, because it would be definitely counterproductive.

It is high time that the UN moves to facilitate an exit strategy for Saudi Arabia from Yemen.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

(1) http://america.aljazeera.com/, September 16, 2015. Rami G. Khouri is a senior public policy fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and a senior fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School.

(2) Tobias Thiel is a PhD Candidate at the LSE’s Department of International History. His dissertation is about contentious politics, collective memory and violence in post-unification Yemen. He has spent the past three years in Yemen conducting field research.

Time for UN to shift mission in Yemen

September 28, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

Peace in Yemen will continue to be elusive unless the United Nations shifts its mission from sponsoring an inter-Yemeni dialogue to mediating ceasefire negotiations between the actual warring parties, namely Saudi Arabia & allies and the de facto representatives of Yemenis who are fighting to defend their country’s territorial integrity and independent free will, i.e. the Huthi – Saleh & allies.

Convening its 70th session while celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the United Nations is unlikely to reconsider its stand on Yemen, but it must do, at least to provide a face – saving exit strategy for Saudi Arabia if not to stop a snowballing severe humanitarian crisis in the country.

The United Nations Mauritanian special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will sooner than later face the fate of his predecessor Jamal Benomar, who resigned his mission last March acknowledging its failure.

The Saudi insistence on dictating a fait accompli on Yemen is undermining the UN efforts to bring about a political solution, which was made impossible by the Saudi – led war on Yemen.

The legitimacy controversy

The UN sponsored Yemeni – Yemeni talks in the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, Muscat, and elsewhere will continue to be deadlocked. They are a non-starter. The Saudis have held their Yemeni allies captives of their dependence on Saudi financial, political and military support without which they could not survive internally.

The UN and Arab League recognition of them as the legitimate representatives of Yemen was counterproductive. They are viewed by most Yemenis more as Saudi puppets than legitimate delegates of their people.

Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is recognised by the UN and the Saudi – led coalition as the legitimate president of Yemen, arrived in Aden last week aboard a Saudi military aircraft and his safety was secured during his three – day stay there by military bodyguards from the United Arab Emirates. The arrival of his prime minister Khaled Bahah a week earlier was not different.

Conferring UN and Arab League legitimacy on them serves only to turn both organisations into biased parties to the conflict if not partners to it or at least accomplices and compromises their credentials as mediators.

The Huthis are portrayed by the Saudi – led propaganda as a sectarian fanatic and violent intruders into the Yemeni society or as agents of Iran who are waging a proxy war in Yemen, but the Huthis are not aliens. Their ancestors ruled Yemen for some one thousand years. They represent more than one third of the country’s population. Their role could have been strengthened by Iranian support and weakened by their religious speech, but nonetheless they are uncontroversial native integral component of Yemen’s national history and society.

Similarly, their ally in fighting off the Saudi – led war on Yemen, ex – president Ali Abdullah Saleh, is part and parcel of Yemeni political infrastructure. More than a three – decade ally of Saudi Arabia, when Saleh resisted a Saudi transition plan he hardly survived a bombing of his Friday prayers. Despite his individual ruling style and a wide spread corruption of his governance, he is credited with building a state infrastructure, a national army, a tolerable pluralistic political life and a relatively civil freedoms that were the envy of his Arab compatriots in the north who are still living under the Middle Ages systems of government and, more importantly, making the unity of Yemen a fact of life. When his representative credentials are questioned by his former Saudi allies it is noteworthy to remind them that his “al-Mutamar” party still controls the majority of the last democratically elected Yemeni parliament.

The “external” Iranian interference in Yemen and Iran’s sectarian support for “Shiite” Yemenis, in addition to a self – proclaimed role in defence of a controversial legitimacy of a Yemeni president, are the main raison d’être cited by Riyadh as the casus belli of the Saudi ongoing six – month old war on Yemen.

However history and realpolitik facts refute such Saudi claims and render them as merely thinly – veiled justification for installing a puppet regime in Sanaa by the brutal and inhumane force of an external invasion.

The current Saudi war on Yemen could be a “rite of passage” for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but not the Saudi Arabia as claimed by Rami G. Khouri (1).

Long history of Saudi military intervention

Long before there was an “Iran threat” or a “Shiite threat,” the Saudi ruling family never hesitated to interfere in Yemen militarily or otherwise whenever Yemenis showed signs of breaking away from Saudi hegemony towards a free will to determine their lives independently.

In the 1930s the Saudis engaged in a war on the Mutawakkilite Imamate of Yemen and succeeded in annexing the Yemeni provinces of Asir, Jizan and Najran to their kingdom, thus creating a border dispute that was not settled until 2000, but the current Saudi war on Yemen seems to reignite it.

Then, they occupied the Yemeni port of Hodeida on the Red Sea and attacked the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Yemen at the time was a similar conservative “kingdom” bound, like the Saudis, by treaties with the British colonial power.

From 1962 to 1970 the Saudis interfered militarily on the side of the “Shiite” Yemeni “royalists” whom they fought in the 1930s against republican revolutionaries who sought to usher Yemen into the twentieth century out of the Middle Ages. The Saudi military intervention led the Pan – Arab leader of Egypt Gamal Abd al-Nasir to rush to the rescue of the Yemeni republicans, thus regionalising a Yemeni internal affair into an Egyptian – Saudi war among the “Sunnis.”

History it seems is repeating itself nowadays, but the Saudis have so far failed to embroil Iran in Yemen as they did with Egypt then. Instead, the kingdom is itself plunging deeper into the Yemeni quicksand.

“In 1977, then, Saudi Arabia conspired (together with Salih) to the assassination of modernist President Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who was determined to loosen the stranglehold of the kingdom over Yemeni politics,” Tobias Thiel (2) of The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) wrote on last April 2.

In the aftermath of the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran into the regional scene, “the House of Saud expelled around 800,000 Yemeni guest workers to punish the newly united republic for its stance in the 1991 Gulf War (Kuwait war), plunging the country into an economic crisis” and “the kingdom simultaneously supported both sides – Sunni Islamists and Marxist separatists – in the 1994 war of secession,” Thiel added. Both those events had nothing to do with the so –called “Iran threat” or the “Shiite – Sunni” sectarian rivalry; both were inter – Arab and inter Yemeni conflicts.

“Finally,” according to Thiel, “Riyadh has backed the Salih regime against the mass protests in 2011 and has – as elsewhere – tried to stifle the democratic opening.”

Launching the Saudi war on Yemen last March had regionalised a Yemeni internal conflict, undercut short a Yemeni successful national dialogue sponsored by the United Nations, undermined the territorial unity of the country, which was then compromised only by the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that was isolated in the far south eastern part of Yemen, destroyed the infrastructure of the Yemeni state, created a snowballing severe humanitarian crisis and rendered the possibility of a Yemeni – Yemeni political solution a mission made impossible by both the mutual bloodshed and the Saudi insistence on shaping by brutal force the future ruling regime in Yemen on Saudi terms.

Riyadh intervened militarily in Yemen when the Saudi – led GCC initiative for a “transition” on their terms in Yemen broke down in 2014. The Saudis planned the “transition” in Yemen to be a show case that could be replayed in Syria where they have been arming and financing a similar “regime change” for the past five years. The failure of their “show case” in Yemen doomed their plan for Syria.

Historically, Sanaa and the northern rough mountainous provinces failed all Arab and non-Arab invaders. The Ottoman Empire at its zenith could not subjugate it. It is the bedrock of Yemen’s independence and self determination. There the hardcore of the Yemeni anti-Saudi invasion is entrenched and there this invasion will most likely meet it defeat.

The so – called “liberation” of Aden by Saudi and UAE military intervention could serve only as a recipe for a perpetuated civil war and regional capital of a divided Yemen. Hadi is unlikely to deliver in Aden what he failed to achieve when he was in Sana’a.

On last March 22, the former UN special envoy Jamal Benomar, addressing the UN Security Council via video conference, warned that, “the situation is on a rapid downward spiral” that is “leading the country away from political settlement and to the edge of civil war”. The status quo is “inviting a protracted conflict in the vein of an Iraq-Libya-Syria combined scenario,” he told an emergency UNSC session. Benomar resigned his UN mission acknowledging its failure. His successor is more likely to come to the same conclusion sooner than later.

The presence now of reportedly between 5 – 10 thousand ground GCC troops in Yemen is proof that the aerial onslaught had failed and that the so-called pro-government forces are merely a Yemeni make – believe address for the thinly – veiled Saudi – led external invasion.

The introduction of GCC ground troops into Yemen is more a show of the failure of the so – called Yemeni pro – legitimacy and pro – Saudi forces than a display of GCC military prowess.

Quoted by the Qatari News Agency (QNA) on September 18, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, tacitly acknowledging his country’s failure in Yemen, said that he “personally … suggested Israeli help as our only hope to end the status quo … His Highness King Salman put this proposal forward for further consideration.”

Ruling out any open Israeli contribution to the US-led war on Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1991, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the US “leading from behind” in the ongoing war on Syria is an instructive strong reminder that any Israeli role in the Saudi – led war on Yemen will most likely be ruled out as well, at least in public, because it would be definitely counterproductive.

It is high time that the UN moves to facilitate an exit strategy for Saudi Arabia from Yemen.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

(1) http://america.aljazeera.com/, September 16, 2015. Rami G. Khouri is a senior public policy fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and a senior fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School.
(2) Tobias Thiel is a PhD Candidate at the LSE’s Department of International History. His dissertation is about contentious politics, collective memory and violence in post-unification Yemen. He has spent the past three years in Yemen conducting field research.

U.S. opens up to Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, and Iran

March 17, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

The appointment of Robert Malley as White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region is not considered a sufficient indicator that there will be any radical change in U.S. strategy despite the campaign launched against the U.S. by the Zionists due to its openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria and Iran.

On 6 March, President Barack Obama’s administration appointed Robert Malley, the former senior director of the National Security Council who dealt with the Iraqi, Iranian, and Gulf issues, and a member of the delegation negotiating the Iranian nuclear programme, as the Special White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf region. Malley is scheduled to assume his new position on 6 April, succeeding Philip Gordon.

Edward Abington, former U.S. consul general in occupied Jerusalem, described the lawyer specialised in “conflict resolution” as being an “American Jewish” and that his appointment is a “positive development”. He was also described by U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice as “one of our country’s most respected experts on the Middle East, since February 2014 Rob has played a critical role in forming our policy on Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf.”

However, the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) opposed the appointment of Malley for several reasons, stating that Malley is an “Israel-basher, advocate of U.S. recognition of major, unreconstructed terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and proponent of containment of Iran (i.e., not preventing them from attaining nuclear weapons) and proponent of negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (i.e. not changing his regime).”

He also believes that working with the Muslim Brotherhood is “not a bad idea” and called Israel’s settlements located in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 “colonies”. He also called for abandoning the Road Map for Peace approved by the international Quartet in 2003 and replacing it with a comprehensive settlement plan to be imposed on the parties with the backing of the international community, including Arab and Muslim states. He did so before the Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Senate in 2004. He also continues to urge the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, Palestinian Authority and Hamas “to unite”.

Malley also called for “involving” Hamas in the PLO’s negotiations with the occupation, explaining his statement by saying that the PLO must include Hamas because it has become “antiquated, worn out, barely functioning, and is no longer considered the Palestinian people’s sole legitimate representative.” He also called for the resumption of negotiations between the Arabs and Israel “on all levels on the basis of the Arab peace initiative.”

The ZOA did not fail to mention his father, Simon Malley who was born and worked in Egypt as a journalist for Al-Goumhouria newspaper before moving with his family to France and founding Afrique-Asie magazine. The ZOA said that Simon Malley was “a virulently anti-Israel member of the Egyptian Communist Party, a close confidante of Yasser Arafat, and an enthusiast for violent Third World ‘liberation’ movements.” As for his mother, Barbara Malley, she worked with the United Nations delegation of the National Liberation Front (NLF), the Algerian independence group.

Robert Malley was Barack Obama’s colleague at Harvard Law School and a Middle East affairs adviser for his 2008 campaign. However, Obama was forced to cast him aside due to the Zionist campaign against both of them after Britain’s the Times revealed that Malley had been in contact with Hamas.

In his media interviews Malley explained that the contacts were part of his work with the International Crisis Group, saying: “My job with the International Crisis Group is to meet with all sorts of savoury and unsavoury people and report on what they say. I’ve never denied whom I meet with; that’s what I do.”

He added that he used to inform the State Department about his meetings beforehand and briefs them afterward. During the same year, London’s Al-Hayat newspaper quoted deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, and Hamas official Dr Ahmed Yousef as saying: “We were in contact with a number of Obama’s aides through the internet, and later met with some of them in Gaza, but they advised us not to come out with any statements, as they may have a negative effect on his election campaign.”

Before this, Malley, who was a member of the U.S. negotiating team in the 2000 Arafat-Barak-Clinton summit at Camp David, was the target of an Israeli-Zionist campaign because he held all three leaders responsible for the failure of the summit, and not only the late Palestinian leader, who was repeatedly accused by Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and their team of negotiators of causing the failure.

Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organisation of America, said: “How exactly does someone, who is dropped as an adviser because he advocates recognition of, and meets with, the genocidally-inclined terrorist organisation Hamas, now became a senior adviser to the president, unless President Obama has all along agreed with much of what Malley thinks and advocates?”

Due to the fact that the appointment of Malley coincided with the crisis in relations between the U.S. and Israel, caused by the recent speech made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress behind Obama’s back and without his approval, analysts have begun to talk about “changes in the U.S. role in the Middle East” in the context of the Israeli media outlets and its Zionist and Jewish arms abroad.

They have also predicted that “there will be no doubt that the U.S. policy will be focused exclusively on pressuring Israel over the course of the last 22 months of Obama’s term,” as written by Jonathan S. Tobin in America’s Commentary magazine on 10 March.

During this time, Obama will be “free of electoral pressure” so the Obama administration’s treatment of the Palestinian issue is about to take on a much more aggressive attitude over the next two years. This will allow Obama to “invest the little political credit he has left in ‘bringing world peace’,” as written by Alex Fishman in the Israeli daily the Yedioth Ahronoth.

In Fishman’s view, there are now two courses of work on the White House’s agenda. First, it can follow the path of the “European Initiative” which proposes issuing a UN Security Council resolution for a “lasting solution in the Middle East”, while the second path involves waiting for the results of the Israeli elections this week, as it is a “renewal of the American peace initiative, which will have behind it a very skilled, determined person, who isn’t very fond of the current government: The president’s new man in the Middle East,” Robert Malley.

It is clear that these courses of action, the appointment of Malley and his record will undoubtedly breathe life into the PLO’s negotiating team, especially since President Abbas repeatedly says that going to the UN and international organisations, as well as the latest PLO’s Central Council recommendations, do not necessarily mean that negotiations will be abandoned.

These negotiations can also be considered new material used by the American camp in the Arab League to justify its on-going pressure on the PLO to continue to rely on the United States.

The appointment of Malley indicates one conclusion: that the U.S. is heading towards a new initiative to resume negotiations between the PLO and the Israeli occupying power without making any changes to its references. If the PLO interacts and deals with the “European initiative” then it is likely to deal and interact with any new U.S. initiative, according to all indications in this regard.

In this case, the PLO’s recent diplomatic actions not related to the negotiations and the United States has merely been “playing on borrowed time” while waiting for the results of the Israeli elections.

However, these actions can still be built upon in order to completely depart from the American vision for the “resolution of the conflict” in the event that Netanyahu is re-elected as prime minister.

On the other hand, Hamas should not be fooled by Robert Malley’s positions towards the movement, despite its importance, as it is an attempt to contain the movement and drag it into “negotiations” between the PLO and Israel based on the same references rejected and opposed by Hamas thus far.

As for Malley’s performance in Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf, over the past year, which was praised by Susan Rice, it has had catastrophic consequences on the ground that speak for themselves. Malley’s openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and Syria is nothing more than tactical dealings in order to serve the unchanged U.S. strategy with forces that have proved their presence.

Appointing Robert Malley as White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region is not a sufficient indicator of any radical change in the U.S. strategy that is on the verge of tearing the Arab world apart, along with its Islamic surroundings, unless it is deterred. This is true despite the Zionist campaign opposing his openness towards Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria and Iran.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by the “Middle East Monitor”.

UN peace coordinator unwelcome by Palestinians

February 20, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) did not object to the appointment of new UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov, although he was described by Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, as “persona non grata” — not trusted by the Palestinians and nor qualified for the job.

The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously voted to appoint Bulgarian Mladenov, 42, to succeed Holland’s Robert Serry. He would also be the representative of the UN secretary general to the International Quartet (the UN, US, EU and Russia), and personal representative of the UN chief to the PLO (the State of Palestine) and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Although protocol allows the PLO the right to reject diplomatic representatives to the organisation, observers cannot understand why it accepted Mladenov. There is no convincing answer except a futile desire by the PLO to appease the UN and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, at a time when PLO diplomatic efforts are focused on the UN and its agencies.

Mladenov not only failed in a similar mission as UN envoy to Iraq and resigned, he is someone who describes himself — and is described by the leaders of the Israeli occupation — as “a good friend of Israel”. As Bulgarian foreign minister, Mladenov suggested a “military alliance” between Bulgaria and Israel. He has often spoken about his bias towards “Israel’s right to exist” and its right “to defend itself” against Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation. He even admitted to being a Free Mason, served Jewish billionaire George Soros, and publicly advocated the US’s “constructive chaos” policies in the Arab world. In fact, his Jewish origins may be the least controversial aspect of him.

Meanwhile, the occupation state does not hesitate in ignoring the UN, its resolutions and representatives, disregarding and even assassinating them when necessary. Most recently, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to “expel” Mladenov’s predecessor Serry as “persona non grata”. Shortly before that, William Schabas, the head of the UN commission investigating the occupation’s recent war on the Gaza Strip, resigned after Israel refused to cooperate with him or allow him to enter the country.

After the UN tolerated the assassination of its first envoy to Palestine, Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948, at the hands of the Zionist Stern Gang led by Yitzhak Shamir (who later became prime minister of the occupation state), Israel was emboldened to adopt a permanent policy of disregarding the UN without deterrence so far.

In fact, over the past two years the occupation state has carried out a proxy war against the UN. It has facilitated logistics, intelligence, firepower and medical assistance to allow the domination of militias fighting the Syrian regime on its side of the disengagement zone between the liberated and occupied Arab Syrian Golan. This compelled the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to withdraw after its positions were attacked, dozens of its troops kidnapped and their weapons and equipment seized. Until today, the UN has not dared to rectify the situation, which resulted in the collapse of the UN-sponsored ceasefire and rules of engagement between Syria and Israel.

The Middle East is teeming with international peace envoys. The UN has one, so does the US, the EU, Russia, China and the Quartet. Their names change without anything on the ground in occupied Palestine changing. Except for expanding the occupation through settlements under the “peace” umbrella these envoys provide, without any hope that the international community they represent will be able to effect any real tangible change for the present and future of the Palestinian people on the ground.

So what can Mladenov do that his predecessors, the UN, the Quartet, the Arab League and others, couldn’t?

Khaled believes the real test, to remove Palestinian doubts about Mladenov’s role and mission, will be his position on the siege on Gaza and reconstruction there. However, Mladenov’s track record does not indicate there is cause for optimism. Nor does the track record of “UN special coordinators” since the creation of the position in 1994 and the subsequent expansion of its role, as well as the extensive history of choosing UN and US envoys of Jewish origins or related in the first degree to Jews, such as Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Quartet representative Tony Blair.

On 6 February, the secretaries general of the UN and Arab League issued a joint statement expressing “deep concern” about conditions in Gaza. They urged Arab and international donors to honour their financial pledges made at the Cairo Conference last October “as soon as possible”, in order to rebuild the Gaza Strip and end the siege there. A few days ago, James Rowley, UN coordinator for humanitarian affairs in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, sent out an “urgent call” for these commitments to be fulfilled and an “immediate” lift of the siege on Gaza, because he is “very concerned another conflict will break out” if not.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described the statement by the Quartet on 8 February after it met in Munich, Germany, as “short of expectations” because it ignored “all the old-new and evolving truths” of the occupation state.

The Quartet also said it is “deeply concerned” about the “difficult conditions in Gaza where reconstruction needs to be quicker” and urged donors to “pay their financial pledges as soon as possible”. However, it linked this to encouraging both sides to “restart negotiations as soon as possible”.

Restarting talks “as soon as possible”, nonetheless, must await the outcome of general elections in Israel and the US. This means the Palestinian people must wait for another two years in the vain hope of reconstructing Gaza. It is obvious the occupation state is enjoying the luxury of time, making easy the occupation without resistance, as well as building settlements without deterrence.

Before handing over the reins to Mladenov, Serry described the failure of donors to pay their dues as “scandalous” and warned “if there is no progress in the coming months” — not two years — towards a two-state solution, “the reality will be a one state [solution]”: the single state of Israel. Former UN coordinator Terry Rod Larsen said in 2002, “the Palestinian patient is dying in the interim.”

Last December, Serry warned in his report to the Security Council that a war in Gaza “could re-ignite if conditions on the ground do not change” in the besieged Gaza Strip. It is clear that what Serry described as a “deadly diplomatic vacuum” coupled with the ongoing siege on rebuilding Gaza, are an explosive recipe in the besieged Gaza Strip, the outcome and ramifications of which are unpredictable.

The “scandal” of donors not paying their dues to rebuild Gaza, as Serry described it, under the pretext that the PLO government does not control the Gaza Strip, is a green light given by the international community to the occupation state to carry out another military assault on national resistance forces in Gaza.

The scandal of Arabs not paying their pledges at Arab summits to provide the PA with a financial “safety net” amounts to flagrant Arab pressure on the PLO to accept the Quartet’s proposal to restart talks with the occupation state “as soon as possible”.

This is Mladenov’s dual mission as the new UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. PLO negotiators continue to wait for a breakthrough by “peace” envoys that are imposed on them and appointed by the US and the UN, although they represent the occupation state. Mladenov is the most recent. He will not change anything on the ground.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 February 2015.

Fighting ‘Islamic State’ is not the Israeli priority

December 24, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Defying a consensus that it is a priority by the world community comprising international rivals like the United States, Europe, Russia and China and regional rivals like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, Israel, like Turkey, does not eye the U.S. – led war on the IS as its regional priority. Nor fighting Israel is an IS priority.

The Israeli top priority is to dictate its terms to Syria to sign a peace treaty with Israel before withdrawing its forces from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Palestinian territories and Lebanese southern lands.

For this purpose, Israel is determined to break down the Syria – Iran alliance, which has been the main obstacle preventing Israel from realising its goals. Changing the ruling regime in either Damascus or Tehran would be a step forward. Towards this Israeli strategic goal the IS could not be but an Israeli asset.

“To defeat ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as the IS was previously known) and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly last September.

Therefore, “it should not come as a surprise that the (Benjamin) Netanyahu government has not yet taken any immediate steps against IS,” according to Amos Harel, writing in Foreign Policy on September 15.

However, information is already surfacing that Israel is “taking steps” in the opposite direction, to empower the IS and other terrorist groups fighting and infighting in Syria.

Israeli daily Haaretz on last October 31 quoted a “senior Northern Command officer” as saying that the U.S. – led coalition “is making a big mistake in fighting against ISIS … the United States, Canada and France are on the same side as Hezbollah, Iran and [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. That does not make sense.”

Regardless, on September 8 Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has provided “satellite imagery and other information” to the coalition. Three days later Netanyahu said at a conference in Herzliya: “Israel fully supports President [Barack] Obama’s call for united actions against ISIS … We are playing our part in this continued effort. Some of the things are known; some of the things are less known.”
Obama’s call was the green light for Israel to support Syrian and non- Syrian rebels. Syrian official statements claim that Israel has been closely coordinating with the rebels.

Israeli statements claim theirs is confined to “humanitarian” support to “moderate” Syrian opposition, which the U.S. has already pledged to train and arm in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. A significant portion of the $64 billion earmarked for conflicts abroad in the budget legislation signed by Obama on December 19 will go to these “moderates.”

Both Israel and the U.S. have no headaches about whether the “moderates” would remain as such after being armed with lethal weapons or whether it remains appropriate to call them “opposition.”

But the Israeli “humanitarian” claim is challenged by the fact that Israel is the only neighbouring country which still closes its doors to Syrian civilian refugees while keeping its doors wide open to the wounded rebels who are treated in Israeli hospitals and allowed to return to the battle front after recovery.

IS close to Israeli borders

The Israeli foreign ministry on last September 3 confirmed that the U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff whom the IS had beheaded was an Israeli citizen as well. In a speech addressed to Sotloff’s family, Netanyahu condemned the IS as a “branch” of a “poisonous tree” and a “tentacle” of a “violent Islamist terrorism.”

On the same day Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon officially outlawed the IS and anyone associating with it.

On September 10, Netanyahu convened an urgent security meeting to prepare for the possible danger of the IS advancing closer to the Israeli border, a prospect confirmed by the latest battles for power between the IS and the al – Nusra Front on the southern Syrian – Lebanese borders and in southern Syria, within the artillery range of Israeli forces.

On November 9, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (ABM), which has been operating against the Egyptian army, released an audio clip pledging allegiance to the IS to declare later the first IS Wilayah (province) in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, south of Israel.

On last November 14 The Israeli Daily quoted Netanyahu as saying in a private defense meeting that the IS is “currently operating out of Lebanon … close to Israel’s northern border. We must take this as a serious threat.”

However, “in truth, as most of Israel’s intelligence community has been quick to point out, there are no signs that anything of the sort is actually happening,” according to Amos Harel, writing in Foreign Policy five days later.

Moshe Ya’alon told journalists in September that “the organization operates far from Israel” and thus presents no imminent threat. Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, on November 14, wrote: “The present and former generals who shape Israel’s policy can only smile when this ‘danger’ is mentioned.”

Israel “certainly does not see the group as an external threat” and the “Islamic State also does not yet pose an internal threat to Israel,” according to Israeli journalist and Associate Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Dimi Reider, writing in a Reuters blog on last October 21.

What Netanyahu described as a “serious threat” in the north does not yet dictate any Israeli action against it because “we must assume that Hizballah,” which is allied to Syria and Iran, “does not have its house in order,” according to the Israeli premier.

The presence of the IS Wilayah on its southern border with Egypt is preoccupying the country with an internal bloody anti-terror conflict that would prevent any concrete Egyptian contribution to the stabilization of the Arab Levant or support to the Palestinians in their struggle to end the Israeli occupation of their land, let alone the fact that this presence is already pitting Egypt against Israel’s archenemy, Hamas, in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and creating a hostile environment that dictates closer Egyptian – Israeli security coordination.

Therefore, Israel is not going to “interfere” because “these are internal issues of the countries where it is happening.” Israel is “informally … ready to render assistance, but not in a military way and not by joining the (U.S. – led) coalition” against the IS, according to the deputy head of the Israeli embassy in Moscow, Olga Slov, as quoted by Russian media on November 14.

Jordan is another story

However, Israel’s eastern neighbours in Jordan and Syria seem another story.

“Jordan feels threatened by IS. We will cooperate with them one way or another,” ambassador Slov said. Jordanian media has been reporting that more than 2000 Jordanians had already joined al-Qaeda splinter the IS, al-Qaeda’s branch al-Nusra Front or other rebels who are fighting for an “Islamic” state in Syria. Hundreds of them were killed by the Syrian Arab Army.

The Daily Beast on last June 27 quoted Thomas Sanderson, the co-director for transnational threats at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as saying that Israel considers the survival of Jordan as “a paramount national security objective.”

If Jordan requested Israeli assistance in protecting its borders, Israel would have “little choice” but to help, the Beast quoted the director of the Israeli National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, as saying.

As a precaution measure, Israel is building now a 500-kilometre “security fence” on its border with Jordan.

While Israel is willing and getting ready to “interfere” in Jordan, it is already deeply interfering in Syria, where the real battle has been raging for less than four years now against terrorists led by the IS.

A few weeks ago The Associated Press reported that the IS and the al-Nusra had concluded an agreement to stop fighting each other and cooperate on destroying the U.S. – trained and supported rebels (The Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Hazm movement) as well as the Syrian government forces in northern Syria.

But in southern Syria all these and other terrorist organizations are coordinating among themselves and have what Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) called “a gentleman’s agreement” with Israel across the border, according to Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy on June 11.

Last October, Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, al-Nusra, was among the rebel groups which overtook the only border crossing of Quneitra between Syria and the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights. Israel has yet to demonstrate its objection.

“Many Sunnis in Iraq and the Gulf consider ISIS a bullet in their rifles aimed at Shiite extremism, in their bid to restore their lost standing,” Raghida Dergham, a columnist and a senior diplomatic correspondent for the London – based Arabic Al-Hayat daily, wrote in the huffingtonpost on September 19.

A political public agreement between Israel and the Gulf Arabs has developed on a mutual understanding that the dismantling of the Syria – Iran alliance as a prelude to a “regime change” in both countries is the regional priority, without loosing sight of the endgame, which is to dictate peace with Israel as the regional power under the U.S. hegemony. The IS is “the bullet in their rifles.” From their perspective, the U.S. war on the IS is irrelevant, for now at least.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

Israeli role in Syrian conflict brought into the open

December 17, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Overtly, the Israeli superpower of the Middle East has been keen to posture as having no role whatsoever in the four-year old devastating conflict in Syria, where all major regional and international powers are politically and militarily deeply involved and settling scores by Syrian blood.

In his geopolitical weekly analysis, entitled “The Islamic State Reshapes the Middle East,” on November 25 Stratfor’s George Friedman raised eyebrows when he reviewed the effects which the terrorist group had on all regional powers, but seemed unaware of the existence of the Israeli regional superpower.

It was an instructive omission that says a lot about the no more discreet role Israel is playing to maintain what the Israeli commentator Amos Harel described as the “stable instability” in Syria and the region, from the Israeli perspective of course.

Friedman in fact was reflecting a similar official omission by the US administration. When President Barak Obama appealed for a “broad international coalition” to fight the Islamic State (IS), Israel — the strongest military power in the region and the well – positioned logistically to fight it — was not asked to join. The Obama administration explained later that Israel’s contribution would reflect negatively on the Arab partners in the coalition.

“Highlighting Israel’s contributions could be problematic in terms of complicating efforts to enlist Muslim allies” in the coalition, said Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow at AIPAC’s arm, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Covertly however Israel is a key player in prolonging the depleting war on Syria and the major beneficiary of neutralizing the military of the only immediate Arab neighbor that has so far eluded yielding to the terms dictated by the U.S. – backed Israeli regional force majeure for making peace with the Hebrew state.

Several recent developments however have brought the Israeli role into the open.

First the latest bombing of Syrian targets near the Damascus international civilian airport on December 7 was the seventh major unprovoked air strike of its kind since 2011 and the fifth in the past 18 months on Syrian defenses. Syrian Scientific research centers, missile depots, air defense sites, radar and electronic monitoring stations and the Republican Guards were targeted by Israel.

Facilitating the Israeli mission and complementing it, the terrorist organizations operating in the country tried several times to hit the same targets. They succeeded in killing several military pilots and experts whom Israeli intelligence services would have paid dearly to hunt down.

Foreign Policy on last June 14 quoted a report by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki – moon as saying that the “battle – hardened Syrian rebels … once in Israel, they receive medical treatment in a field clinic before being sent back to Syria,” describing the arrangement as a “gentleman’s agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in February this year visited this “military field hospital” and shook hands with some of the more than 1000 rebels treated in Israeli hospitals, according to Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

Foreign Policy quoted also Ehud Yaari, an Israeli fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as saying that Israel was supplying the rebel – controlled Syrian villages with medicines, heaters, and other humanitarian supplies. The assistance, he said, has benefited civilians and “insurgents.” Yaari ignored the reports about the Israeli intelligence services to those “insurgents.”

Israel facilitates war on UNDOF

Second, the latest quarterly report by the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on December 1 confirmed what eight previous similar reports had stated about the “interaction … across the (Syrian – Israeli) ceasefire line” between the IOF and the “armed members of the (Syrian) opposition,” in the words of Ki-moon’s report to the Council on December 4.

Third, Ki-moon in his report confirmed that the UNDOF “was forced to relocate its troops” to the Israeli side of the ceasefire line, leaving the Syrian side a safe haven zone for the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, which the UNSC had designated a “terrorist group.”

UNDOF’s commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha told the UNSC on October 9 that his troops were “under fire, been abducted, hijacked, had weapons snatched and offices vandalized.” Australia was the latest among the troop contributing countries to pull out its forces from UNDOF.

UNDOF and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) operate in the buffer zone of about 80 km long and between 0.5 to 10 km wide, forming an area of 235 km². The zone borders the Lebanon Blue Line to the north and forms a border of less than 1 km with Jordan to the south. It straddles the Purple Line which separates the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights from Syria. The west Israeli side of this line is known as “Alpha”, and the east Syrian side as “Bravo.”

Speaking at the U.S. military base Fort Dix on Monday, President Obama warned those who “threaten America” that they “will have no safe haven,” but that is exactly what Israel is providing them.

Israeli “interaction” has practically helped the UNDOF “to relocate” from Bravo to Alpha and to hand Bravo as a safe haven over to an al-Nusra Front – led coalition of terrorist groups.

Al-Nusra Front is officially the al – Qaeda affiliate in Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Committee on Foreign relations on this December 9 that his administration considers the IS to be a branch of al – Qaeda operating under a different name. Both terrorist groups were one under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and only recently separated. Whoever accommodates either one is in fact courting the other.

“The 1,200-strong UN force is now mostly huddled inside Camp Ziouani, a drab base just inside the Israeli – controlled side of the Golan Heights. Its patrols along the de facto border have all but ceased,” the Associated Press (AP) reported on last September 18.

Israeli air force and artillery intervened several times to protect the al-Nusra Front’s “safe haven” against fire power from Syria, which is still committed to its ceasefire agreement of 1974 with Israel. Last September for example, Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet that was bombing the Front’s positions, only three weeks after shooting down a Syrian drone over the area.

Israel is not violating the Syrian sovereignty only, but violating also the UN – sponsored ceasefire agreement and the UNSC anti-terror resolutions. More important, Israel is in fact undermining the UNDOF mandate on the Israeli – occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

This situation could only be interpreted as an Israeli premeditated war by proxy on the UN presence on the Golan Heights.

“Israel is the most interested in having (UN) peacekeepers evacuated from the occupied Golan so as to be left without international monitoring,” Syria’s permanent envoy to the UN, Bashar al- Jaafari, told reporters on September 17.

The UNSC seems helpless or uninterested in defending the UNDOF mandate on the Golan against Israeli violations, which risk the collapse of the 1974 ceasefire arrangements.

Syrian Foreign Ministry was on record to condemn these violations as a “declaration of war,” asserting that Syria reserves its right to retaliate “at the right moment and the right place.” Obviously a regional outbreak is at stake here without the UN presence as a buffer.

Upgrading unanimously Israel’s status from a “major non – NATO ally” to a “major strategic partner” of the United States by the U.S. Congress on December 3 could explain the UNSC inaction.

The undeclared understanding between the Syrian government and the U.S. – led coalition against the self – declared “Islamic State” (IS) not to target the latter’s forces seems to have left this mission to Israel who could not join the coalition publicly for subjective as well as objective reasons.

The AP on September 18 did not hesitate to announce that the “collapse of UN peacekeeping mission on Golan Heights marks new era on Israel – Syria front.” Aron Heller, the writer of the AP report, quoted the former Israeli military liaison officer with UNDOF, Stephane Cohen, as saying: “Their mandate is just not relevant anymore.” Heller concluded that this situation “endangers” the “status quo,” which indeed has become a status quo ante.

Israeli strategic gains

The emerging fait accompli seems very convenient to Israel, creating positive strategic benefits for the Hebrew state and arming it with a pretext not to withdraw the IOF from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian territories.

In an analysis paper published by The Saban Center at Brookings in November 2012, Itamar Rabinovich wrote that, “Clearly, the uncertainty in Syria has put the question of the Golan Heights on hold indefinitely. It may be a long time until Israel can readdress the prospect of giving the Golan back to Damascus.”

Moreover, according to Rabinovich, “the Syrian conflict has the potential to bring the damaged Israeli – Turkish relationship closer to normalcy … they can find common ground in seeking to foster a stable post – Assad government in Syria.”

The hostile Turkish insistence on toppling the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, the concentration of the IS and other rebel forces in the north of the country and in central, eastern and southern Syria are diverting the potential and focus of the Syrian Arab Army northward and inward, away from the western front with the Israeli occupying power on the Golan Heights.

The protracted war on the Syrian government is depleting its army in manpower and materially. Rebuilding the Syrian army and the devastated Syrian infrastructure will preoccupy the country for a long time to come and defuse any military threat to Israel for an extended time span.

On the Palestinian front, the rise of the IS has made fighting it the top U.S. priority in the Middle East, which led Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to several U.S. administrations on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, to warn in Foreign Policy early in September that the rise of the IS would pose “a serious setback to Palestinian hopes of statehood.”

The expected fallback internally of the post – war Syria would “hopefully” relieve Israel of the Syrian historical support for the Palestinian anti – Israeli occupation movements, at least temporarily.

Netanyahu on Sunday opened a cabinet meeting by explicitly using the IS as a pretext to evade the prerequisites of making peace. Israel “stands … as a solitary island against the waves of Islamic extremism washing over the entire Middle East,” he said, adding: “To force upon us” a timeframe for a withdrawal from the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories, as proposed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN Security Council, “will bring the radical Islamic elements to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem. We will not allow this.”

Israel is also capitalising on the war on the IS to misleadingly portray it as identical with the Palestinian “Islamic” resistance movements because of their Islamic credentials. “When it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas,” Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly on September 29.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

Gaza bombings rock Palestinian reconciliation

November 21, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

It is ironic that the annual commemoration of the death of Yasser Arafat should turn into an occasion for rekindling the flames of internal strife. This was clearly the aim of last week’s bombings that targeted the homes of Fatah leaders in Gaza, as well as the podium for the commemorative ceremonies of Arafat, who strove to make Palestinian national unity one of the pillars of his political legacy.

How desperately those concerned need to be inspired by the political legacy of that great president.

During a visit to demonstrate solidarity with the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyar, where settlers, under the protective eye of occupation soldiers, set fire to a mosque, Director of the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) Kamel Abu Aliya remarked that his ministry have documented 20 similar attacks on mosques in the West Bank since 2011.

In targeting mosques, the occupation is clearly targeting major symbols of national and popular unity. Mosques, by definition, gather people together rather than drive them apart. Inside the mosque all the factions of the national struggle that are at odds with each other assemble as one with their fellow men, in solid ranks with a single heart.

The occupation has never foregone any means at its disposal to drive a wedge into the Palestinian national ranks. This has not changed. So it is ironic that the bombings would become an occasion to present the occupation with the gift of factional polarisation and a war of words, at a time when the factions most need to be united, and that they would serve to turn the national compass away from Jerusalem, on which Arafat had set his national compass until his dying breath.

But here is another important point. Both sides of the dispute — Fatah and Hamas — have condemned the attacks, denied all charges of responsibility and insist on the need to conduct an investigation into bombings as quickly as possible.

If these two factions can agree on these points, what would keep them from agreeing to form a joint fact-finding committee that would include representatives from all other factions (most notably the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front) and independent figures from civil society that would be committed to publishing its findings in fulfilment of the right of the Palestinian people to know the truth?

Moreover, why couldn’t the creation of a joint committee such as this become a new mechanism for enhancing national reconciliation and ending acrimonious exchanges before they spiral out of control?

In this regard, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says that he is not interested in “an investigation by them” — referring to Hamas, of course — but does not propose an alternative investigatory mechanism, he is not helping efforts to unearth the truth, which his people are more eager to learn than the two factions whose protracted dispute has exhausted their people.

But the most appalling irony resides in their aversion to turning the finger of accusation in the direction of the ultimate beneficiary from all this — namely, the Israeli occupation authority and its state. A focus on that beneficiary would suffice, in and of itself, to contain the dangerous repercussions of the bombings on national unity and, simultaneously, to expose the truth about the existence of parties who fear their interests would be jeopardised by the end of the rift in both the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip.

These parties are exploited, knowingly or not, by the occupation, and collectively they form a “fifth column” that works to obstruct the process of national reconciliation in order to safeguard their interests.

But even if those who carried out the bomb attacks were Palestinian this does not obscure the identity of the first and foremost beneficiary. This, moreover, comes at a time when the occupation is escalating its aggression against the Palestinian people under occupation.

It is increasing its forces in the West Bank, intensifying its repressive measures and moving to augment its budget for settlement expansion. More significantly, the Israeli government recently approved a bill of law to extend the laws of the Israeli state to the Jewish colonies in the West Bank, as is the case in East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. In other words, we are effectively speaking of another Israeli annexation bid.

The history of dissension and strife is repeating itself. A statement by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) urges Fatah and Hamas to exercise restraint and to remain alert to the conspiracies that are being woven against the Palestinian people.

It cautions the two factions against falling into the Israeli trap of igniting Palestinian discord and urges them to give competent agencies and relevant political authorities sufficient time to unearth the threads of the crime.

Yet this statement, which applies perfectly to the current situation, was issued by the PFLP in July 2008 after four Ezz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigade members were killed in a bombing on Gaza beach. At the time, Hamas accused Fatah and the Fatah charged Hamas with carrying out an “internal purge.”

Nothing appears to have changed, apart from the fact that today Fatah accuses Hamas of planting the bombs and the latter responds that the attack was related to an internal conflict inside Fatah. In both cases, the occupation power and its government come out innocent!

That rush to judgment and finger pointing before the smoke has cleared is suspicious and raises questions regarding the political motives behind such reactions. One is reminded of a similar case of accusations that were hurled after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri in 2005.

Before his blood had dried some fingers in Lebanon pointed to Syria, even though it was palpably evident that Damascus could not have been behind the crime as it was fully aware that it could only be harmed by the consequences.

The same applies to Hamas today. After its long political experience it would realise that it could only stand to lose from the Gaza bombings.

The hands that carried out the bombings in Gaza might be Palestinian and even Fatah or Hamas hands, but those who issued the orders could not have been Palestinian decision-makers. Anyone familiar with the history of Palestinian assassinations knows this.

The perpetrators may have been motivated by personal interests but the consequences cannot possibly serve Palestinian interests, factional or otherwise. They can only serve the occupation authority and its state, especially as the victim is certainly the Palestinian people and their national unity.

The fifth column that benefits from Palestinian division and that feels threatened by its end is still searching for opportunities to sabotage Palestinian national reconciliation. It must have seen the Gaza bombings as a perfect opportunity to fan the flames of discord, offering a service free of charge to the occupation (presuming the best possible intentions under that situation), or not free of charge (presuming the worst).

It does not take much effort to reach the above conclusion. However, building on it by containing the unpatriotic repercussions of the attacks requires great thought and effort in order to prevent outbursts of factional acrimony or to keep them contained in order to safeguard national reconciliation from collapse.

This is essential to ensure that the reconstruction of Gaza moves forward, to sustain the national unity government and to return the focus to solidifying national ranks in the face of the occupation’s ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people, their security and wellbeing and their sanctities, and behind the political battle that the Palestinian presidency is waging in the international arena.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by Al-Ahram Weekly on November 20, 2014.

The endgame of the US ‘Islamic State’ strategy

November 11, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Dismantling what the former US President George W. Bush once described as the Syria – Iran component of the “axis of evil,” or interrupting in Iraq the geographical contiguity of what King Abdullah II of Jordan once described as the “Shiite crescent,” was and remains the strategic goal of the US – Israeli allies in the Middle East unless they succeed first in “changing the regime” in either Damascus or Tehran.

The US, Israel and their regional allies have been on the record that the final target of their “regime change” campaign in the Middle East was to dismantle the Syria – Iran alliance.

With the obvious failure of Plan A to dismantle the self- proclaimed anti-Israel and anti – US Syrian – Iranian “Resistance Axis” by a forcible “regime change” in Damascus, a US – led regional alliance has turned recently to its Plan B to interrupt in Iraq the geographical contiguity of that axis.

This is the endgame of President Barak Obama’s strategy, which he declared on last September 10 as ostensibly against the Islamic State (IS).

This would at least halt for the foreseeable future all the signed and projected trilateral or bilateral Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian pipeline networks to carry oil and gas from Iran and Iraq to the Syrian coast at the Mediterranean.

Israeli Col. (res.) Shaul Shay, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a former Deputy Head of the Israel National Security Council anticipated in writing on last January 21 what he called the “Salafi Crescent” that is dangerously emerging to challenge the “Shia Crescent.”

“The growing involvement of Sunni Salafi jihadis in Iraq (since 2003), among the rebels in Syria (since 2011), and in Lebanon has created a ‘Salafi Crescent’ … from Diyala [in eastern Iraq] to Beirut,” he wrote.

“A positive outcome” of this Salafi Crescent “will be the decline in Iranian influence in the region,” Shay concluded.

Conspiracy theories aside, the eventual outcome is a sectarian Sunni military and political wedge driven into the Iraqi geographical connection of the Iran-Syria alliance in a triangle bordering Turkey in the north, Iran in the east, Jordan in the west and Saudi Arabia in the south and extending from north eastern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala which borders Iran.

Iraqi Kurdistan is already effectively an independent state and cut off from the central government in Baghdad, but separating Iran and Syria as well and supported by the same US – led anti – IS coalition.

Amid the misinformation and disinformation, the fact is that the IS threat is being used as a smokescreen to confuse and blur this reality.

The IS was conceived and delivered in an American womb. The US – drafted and enforced current constitution produced the sectarian government that is still trying to rule in Iraq. Sectarian cleansing and exclusion of Sunnis could not but inevitably create its antithesis.

The IS was the illegitimate fetus born and nurtured inside the uterus of the US – engineered political process based on a constitution legalizing a federal system based in turn on sectarian and ethnic sharing of power and wealth.

This horrible illegitimate creature is the “legacy” of the US war on Iraq, which was “conceived” in the “sin” of the US invasion of the country in 2003, in the words of the president of the Arab American Institute, James J. Zogbi, writing in the Jordan Times on last June 16.

US Senator John McCain, quoted by The Atlantic on last June 23, thanked “God,” the “Saudis and Prince Bandar” and “our Qatari friends” for creating the “monster.”

The pro-Iran government of former Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki was squeezed by the IS military advances to “request” the US help, which Washington preconditioned on the removal of al-Maliki to which Iran succumbed. The IS gave Obama’s IS strategy its first success.

However, al-Maliki’s replacement by Haider al-Abadi in August has changed nothing so far in the sectarian component of the Iraqi government and army. The US support of Iraq under his premiership boils down only to supporting continued sectarianism in the country, which is the incubator of the survival of its IS antithesis.

Moreover, the destruction of the Iraqi state infrastructure, especially the dismantling of Iraq’s national army and security agencies and the Iraqi Baath party that held them intact, following the US invasion, has created a power vacuum which neither the US occupation forces nor the sectarian Shiite militias could fill. The IS was not powerful per se. They just stepped in on a no-man land.

Similarly, some four years of a US – led “regime change” effort, which was initially spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood and which is still financed, armed and logistically facilitated by the US regional allies in Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia as well as by allied western intelligence services, has created another power vacuum in Syria, especially on border areas and in particular in the northern and eastern areas bordering Turkey and Iraq.

US Senator Rand Paul in an interview with CNN on last June 22 was more direct, accusing the Obama administration of “arming” and creating an IS “safe haven” in Syria, which “created a vacuum” filled by the IS.

“We have been fighting alongside al Qaeda, fighting alongside ISIS. ISIS is now emboldened and in two countries. But here’s the anomaly. We’re with ISIS in Syria. We’re on the same side of the war. So, those who want to get involved to stop ISIS in Iraq are allied with ISIS in Syria. That is the real contradiction to this whole policy,” he said.

The former 16 – year member of the US Congress and two – time US presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, writing in the http://www.huffingtonpost.com on last September 24, summed it up: The IS “was born of Western intervention in Iraq and covert action in Syria.”

The US ‘Trojan horse’

The IS could have considered playing the role of a US “Frankenstein,” but in fact it is serving as the US “Trojan horse” into Syria and Iraq. Fighting the IS was the US tactic, not the US strategy.

On record, Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that “the best way of fighting ISIS and terrorism in the region is to help and strengthen the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have been engaged in a serious struggle” against the IS. But this would not serve the endgame of Obama’s strategy, which targets both governments instead.

Beneficiaries of the IS “Trojan horse” leave no doubts about the credibility of the Syrian, Iranian and Russian doubts about the real endgame of the US – led declared war on the IS.

The United States was able finally to bring about its long awaited and promoted “front of moderates” against Iran and Syria into an active and “air-striking” alliance, ostensibly against the IS.

In Iraq, the IS served the US strategy in wrestling back the so called “political process” from the Iranian influence by proxy of the former premier al – Maliki. Depriving al – Maliki of a third term had proved that there is no unified Iran – backed “Shia house” in Iraq. The US has its own influence inside that “house.”

Installing a US Iraqi satellite was the strategic goal of the US – led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Instead, according to Doug Bandow, writing in Forbes on last October 14, “Bush’s legacy was a corrupt, authoritarian, and sectarian state, friendly with Iran and Syria, Washington’s prime adversaries in the Middle East. Even worse was the emergence of the Islamic State.”

This counterproductive outcome of the US invasion, which saw Iran wielding the reigns of power in Baghdad and edging Iraq closer to Syria and Iran during the eight years of al-Maliki’s premiership, turned the red lights on in the White House and the capitals of its regional allies.

Al-Maliki, whom Bush had designated as “our guy” in Baghdad when his administration facilitated his premiership in 2006, turned against his mentors.

He edged Iraq closer to the Syrian and Iranian poles of the “axis of evil.” Consequently he opposed western or Israeli military attack on Iran, at least from or via the Iraqi territory. In Syria, he opposed a regime change in Damascus, rejected direct military “foreign intervention” and indirect proxy intervention and insisted that a “political solution” is the only way forward in Iraq’s western Arab neighbor.

Worse still was his opening Iraq up to rival Chinese and Russian hydrocarbon investments, turning Iraq a part of an Iran-Iraq-Syria oil and gas pipeline network and buying weapons from the Russian Federation.

Al- Maliki had to go. He was backed by Iran to assume his second term as prime minister in spite of the US, which backed the winner of the 2010 elections for the post, Ayad Allawi. The US had its revenge in the 2014 elections. Al-Maliki won the elections, but was denied a third term thanks to US pressure.

The IS was the US instrument to exert that pressure. US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Baghdad on last June 23 warned that Iraq was facing “an existential threat.”

It was a US brinkmanship diplomacy to force al-Maliki to choose between two bad options: Either to accept a de facto secession of western and northern Iraq on the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan or accept the US conditional military support. Al-Maliki rejected both options, but he had paid the price already.

The turning point came with the fall of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul to the IS on last June 10. Iraqi Kurdistan inclusive, the northern and western Iraq, including most of the crossing points into Syria and Jordan in the west, were clinched out of the control of Baghdad, i.e. some two thirds of the area of Iraq. Al-Maliki was left to fight this sectarian Sunni insurgency by his sectarian Iran-backed Shiite government. This was a non-starter and was only to exacerbate the already deteriorating situation.

Al- Maliki and Iran were made to understand that no US support was forthcoming to reign in the IS until he quits and a less pro-Iran and a more “inclusive” government is formed in Iraq.

The creation of the IS as the sectarian Sunni alternative against Iran’s ruling allies in Baghdad and Damascus was and is still the US tactic towards its strategic endgame. Until the time the US strategy succeeds in wrestling Baghdad from Iran influence back into its fold as a separating wedge between Iran and Syria, the IS will continue to serve US strategy and so far Obama’s strategy is working.

“America is using ISIS in three ways: to attack its enemies in the Middle East, to serve as a pretext for U.S. military intervention abroad, and at home to foment a manufactured domestic threat, used to justify the unprecedented expansion of invasive domestic surveillance,” Garikai Chengu, a research scholar at Harvard University, wrote in http://www.counterpunch.org/ on last September 19.

As a doctrine, since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate early in the twentieth century, western powers did their best to keep Arabs separated from their strategic depth in their immediate Islamic proximity. The Syria – Iran alliance continues to challenge this doctrine.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

Palestinian-U.S. relations head for stormy times

October 3, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Washington’s response to the speech that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered at the UN General Assembly last September 26 confirms that the bilateral Palestinian-U.S. relations are heading for stormy times.

The U.S., which opposed Abbas’ plan to seek a UN Security Council resolution to end the Israeli occupation within a defined timeframe, not only cautioned him against proceeding with any such plan but also issued an official statement condemning the language he used to express the Palestinian people’s opposition to the continued occupation and the ongoing war crimes that Israel is perpetrating in the territories it occupied in 1967.

“Abbas’ speech today included offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject,” U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement on last September 27, which criticised Abbas’ speech as “provocative,” “counterproductive” and undermines “efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties.”

Clearly, Abbas bent before the onslaught of the winds of American rejection. He “submitted” his plan to the General Assembly but he did not ask to bring it to a vote in order to secure an international resolution that would strengthen his hand when he submitted it to the Security Council. It is also noteworthy that while he called for a deadline to end the occupation he omitted the three-year timeframe that he had previously stipulated.

There is no serious Palestinian opposition to Abbas’ plan to internationalise the search for a political solution to the Palestinian struggle to end the occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. It would be extremely difficult to come up with a Palestinian who would argue against replacing US sponsorship with UN sponsorship of the process of reaching a negotiated settlement with the Israeli occupying power. Indeed, this direction is supported by a near unanimity of Palestinian opinion, including among resistance factions that have given Abbas a chance to put his strategy to a last test without obstructing his manoeuvrability.

But Abbas’ plan signifies that he has thrown in the towel on his reliance on U.S. sponsorship, which in turn means confrontation with Washington. Clearly, he will not succeed in neutralising the U.S. by merely bowing before its opposition to his plan or by asking for U.S. approval. Certainly, he should not hold out any hope that Washington will not use its veto to defeat his proposed resolution in the UN Security Council. Nor will he placate the U.S. by deferring Palestinian applications to join international treaties and organisations, such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.

All the indications are that the U.S. will campaign against the Abbas plan and continue to insist on brokering a solution that it has been unable to produce during the more than two decades in which it monopolised the sponsoring the negotiating process with the Israeli occupying power.

On September 23, 88 US senators signed a letter urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to take prevent “negative developments at the UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, and the International Criminal Court that could derail any prospects for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Senator Rand Paul refused to sign this letter. He wants Washington to cut off “all aid to the Palestinian Authority until the conditions in Senator Paul’s Stand with Israel Act are met,” according to his e-mail statement to The Washington Post that day.

Warning Abbas “that America’s willingness to cooperate with him will continue to depend on his willingness to return to the negotiating table with the Government of Israel and avoid unilateral measures,” the senators were keen to sustain the usual U.S. “carrot-and-stick” policy, in this case by “enabling the Palestinian Authority to move toward becoming the Palestinian governing authority in Gaza.” This was their bribe to him.

But any policy of confrontation with the U.S. means that Abbas must reject all U.S. bribes, which would inevitably come at the cost of sacrificing the Palestinian resistance.

In addition, in a confrontation of that sort, Abbas would risk losing Arab support in view of the Arab consensus to ally with — or at least not oppose — the U.S. in the war it has declared against ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Therefore, the resistance and Palestinian national unity will be the only foundation on which President Abbas can rely in the confrontation.

In this context, the Arab League’s declared support for the Abbas’ plan lacks credibility and cannot be relied on when it comes to confronting the U.S. In fact, in the event of a confrontation, the likelihood is that this support would dwindle and fade and turn into an American tool to pressure the PA presidency into bowing to U.S. conditions.

This confrontation is foreshadowed by preliminary chapters of the same, especially since 2011 when the U.S. defeated the Palestinian drive to obtain UN recognition of Palestine as a member state. The following year, the U.S. was not able to prevent the UN from recognising Palestine as a non-member observer state. But Palestinian memory has not forgotten how the U.S. undermined Palestinian accomplishments, such as the International Court of Justice recommendation regarding the separating wall designed to annex another chunk of the West Bank, and the Goldstein Report. The Palestinians remember very well how the U.S. obstructed dozens of international resolutions in support of Palestinian rights and how it continuously prevented the international community from sponsoring any just negotiating process that might end Washington’s own monopoly over what it fraudulently calls the “peace process,” in which the U.S. has never been an honest broker.

The US-Palestinian confrontation was inevitable, even if much delayed. Palestinian leaders from both the resistance and the negotiating factions always tried to avert it. The Palestinians never chose confrontation; successive US administrations however were constantly bent on forcing it on the Palestinian people.

If President Abbas, who for decades placed his faith in U.S. good will, has finally reached the conclusion that it is futile to continue to depend on the U.S. and that now is the time to stand up to Washington and turn to the international community to sponsor his negotiating strategy. His decision will receive the unanimous support of the Palestinian people. However, if he backs down, he will undergo the most important test of his political career, as he will come face-to-face with the people’s judgment of the credibility of his strategic choices, which have never obtained a national or popular consensus.

The choice of confrontation also entails the need to press forward in creating and setting into motion the mechanisms for implementing the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, as well as the need to respond quickly to the overwhelming Palestinian demand to apply for the membership of international treaties and organisations.

But above all, it requires safeguarding the resistance in all its forms and developing it in quantity and quality until its scope is expanded to embrace all the Palestinian people, wherever they may be. Confrontation means refusing to allow Ezz Al-Din Al-Qassam to be assassinated twice!

Even if the inconceivable occurred and the U.S. acknowledged the will of the international community in support of Palestinian rights, refrained from using its influence to stop Abbas’ plan and even refrained from wielding its veto in the UN Security Council, there remains the perpetual risk that the UN resolution would amount to no more than a paper victory to add to the pile of Palestinian paper victories, since any such political victory requires a national force to translate it into a reality on the ground in the occupied territories.

If the Palestinian presidency does not respond to these needs and demands, which receive the full support of the Palestinian people, he will find himself once again singing outside the his national flock.

Regardless of whether or not there is a confrontation with the U.S., these needs and demands are national requirements that must be promoted, enhanced and developed, because they are indispensable if Palestinian popular will is to succeed in liberating its land and translating “paper” victories into real victories on the ground.

The Palestinians have learned an important lesson from their enemy. The Palestinian national movement has dozens of international resolutions in its favour. This is something the Zionist movement never possessed throughout its history, apart from that one non-binding partition resolution, 181, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1947. But this one resolution the Zionists had translated into reality on the ground and then expanded on it through the exercise of overwhelming military force. This is the power that Palestinians are being prevented from possessing today, just as has been the case in the past.

May God bless late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser who always said that what has been taken away by force can only be regained by force. History has proven him right and events have shown that the course the Arabs and Palestinians took after he died — which headed in the opposite direction to his — was gravely wrong, indeed sinful.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

This article was first published and translated from Arabic by Al-Ahram Weekly on October 3, 2014.