Archive for August, 2013

The Subterfuge of Syrian Chemical Weapons

August 28, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on this August 26 removed the sword of the alleged Syrian chemical weapons from its sheath and let the snow ball of this subterfuge for a military aggression on Syria roll unchecked, raising the stakes from asking whether “it will happen” to “when” it will happen, promising that President Barak Obama “will be making an informed decision about how” to take on Syria and warning not to make a “mistake” because Obama “believes there must be accountability,” making clear that a U.S. – led military action is in the making and imminent.

A 20 – member UN independent commission of inquiry, headed by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, and led by the Swedish scientist and the veteran “inspector” for the UNSCOM and UNMOVIC inspection regimes in Iraq, Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Damascus on August 24 for a fourteen – day mission to investigate whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria.

The fact that this UN mission is in Syria in response to an official request sent by the Syrian government to the UN Security Council on March 19, 2013 to investigate the first chemical attack, which was launched then from the positions of the U.S. – sponsored armed gangs fighting the Syrian regime on the government – held northern town of Khan al_A’ssal, as well as the fact that the U.S. for five months opposed such an investigation unless the UN adopts it as an “inspection” mission all over Syria, are self – evident enough facts to leave no doubt about the real intentions of the United States.

The timing of the reported chemical attack in the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital on August 21 coincided first with the arrival of the UN investigators in Damascus and second with launching what the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) codenamed the “Reinforcement of the Shield of the Capital” (RSC) military operation to root out the armed gangs operating in the same area, consisting of al-Qaeda – linked Islamists, but mainly of the Jabhat al-Nusra, which the U.S. listed as a terrorist organization last December.

In view of the progress of the RSC operation, following a series of other successful operations by the SAA since their strategic breakthrough in al-Qusayr in June this year, which sealed off the borders with Lebanon through which rebels used to infiltrate, it was noteworthy that the American, French, British and German leaders as well as their Turkish, Qatari and Saudi Arabian allies demanded an immediate “ceasefire,” allegedly to allow and facilitate the mission of the UN investigators; alternatively, if the RSC operation did not stop, the Syrian government was accused by them of “systematically” destroying the evidence.

The Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem in his press conference in Damascus on Tuesday reiterated what his government had previously confirmed: The RSC operation will continue.

The Declared Goal

The U.S. – led threats of an imminent military action was the only option left for the western backers of the rebels in Syria; their declared goal is to stem the accelerating successes of the SAA and to return the balance of power to the status quo ante.

When the 18th Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, before the reportedly chemical attack last week, admitted that the Syrian army was “gaining momentum,” he did not “think it’ll be sustainable,” not because he was drawing on the facts on the ground, but most likely because he was privy to what was in store with his co- decision makers in Washington.

Maintaining a “balance of power” on the ground is a U.S. precondition to engage in and allow negotiations to solve the Syrian conflict peacefully. The U.S. cannot co – host with Russia the repeatedly postponed Geneva – 2 peace conference on Syria unless the military status quo on the ground is deprived of the gains won by the SAA.

Therefore, the U.S. is impatient to give “enough time” to the UN investigators to finish their mission with conclusive or inconclusive evidence, as requested by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki – moon on Wednesday. The UN envoy for Syria, al-Akhdar al-Ibrahimi, on the same day said that the military solution of the conflict is “impossible,” but his appeal for a peaceful solution fell on deaf ears in Washington, where plans are being worked out by leaps and bounds for an imminent military strike.

Such a strike would only exacerbate the conflict, which al-Ibrahimi on August 23 said it “is undoubtedly today the biggest threat to peace and security in the world.”

Would Obama decide on military action to take place while the UN investigators are still in Syria? The U.S. disrespect of the UN has several precedents to make the answer in the positive a realistic probability.

Time will tell however, some say within days, but if it takes place it will be an insult to the United Nations and the world community that will further hurt the international credibility of the United States, which is now pressured into military action as a “face saving move” presumably to save the credibility of its leader who has drawn publicly a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria at least five times during the last year.

Obama Gives in

Obama, the former professor of constitutional law, who as recently as August 22 warned in a CNN interview that “we have to take into account considerations” like a “U.N. mandate” supported by “international law” and “clear evidence,” seems ready now to strike without any respect to the three factors, which they only can give legitimacy to any U.S. – led strike against Syria.

The UN mandate and legitimacy cannot be provided by a decision taken by the NATO, which is led by the U.S. A selective “responsibility to protect” pretext for a unilateral U.S. – led intervention militarily cannot replace the UN charter and international law. A fig leaf political approval of an attack on Syria from the Arab League, which is now no more than a U.S. rubber stamp, cannot provide Obama with any credible “Arab” justification for a war on Syria; similar approvals in Libya and Iraq were counterproductive examples. Obama cannot draw on artificial legitimacy to justify what will be no more than a flagrant violation of international law and UN charter to cover up what will be merely a bare – to- all – to – see aggression.

Moreover, Obama seems even ready to bypass a U.S. constitutional obligation to consult with and get the consent of the Congress, now in a month – long recess until September 9.

According to the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) has collected nearly three dozen signatures of House members to a letter he intended to send to the White House to remind the president that military action without a congressional vote “would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.”

Obama told CNN: “Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations.”

Writing in the Los Angeles Times on August 27, Kathleen Hennessey, Michael A. Memoli and Christi Parsons said that the poison gas attack in the suburbs of the Syrian capital on August 21 was “testing” Obama’s views “as no previous crisis has done;” unfortunately Kerry announced Monday that the U.S. president has failed this test.

However, Kerry’s statement in his news conference in Washington Monday, which was described by mainstream media as “emotional” and “highly charged,” sounded like an official declaration that Obama had done with whatever “considerations” might prevent him from taking a decision to strike, even if he risks to get “mired in” exactly the “very difficult situations” he has been trying to avoid.

It was a declaration that Obama has at last given in to the warmongers who have been leading a media blitz that has been beating the drums of war on Syria for two and a half years now; Kerry only added “chemical fuel” to it.

Kerry Mobilizes Passive Public

On the one hand, Kerry’s statement was emotionally highly charged with the intention of defusing a mounting pressure for action that was exacerbated with the reported chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus.

On the other, its emotionality was intended as a prelude to mobilize a passive public opinion for a possible imminent military action against Syria.

Several recent polls showed that the majority of Americans oppose U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict, let alone militarily. In this week’s Reuters/Ipsos survey, only 25 percent of Americans said they would support U.S. intervention if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemicals to attack civilians, while 46 percent would oppose it. About 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria’s civil war, while just 9 percent thought Obama should act. A Pew Research Center poll taken June 12-16 found 70 percent of Americans opposed Obama’s decision to provide arms to Syrian rebels in response to smaller-scale chemical weapons attacks there; 68 percent said the U.S. military is “too over-committed” to get involved in the Syrian conflict.

If Kerry’s intention was to mount pressure on Syria, the country’s foreign minister Walid al-Muallem on Tuesday declared Syria will not yield to “blackmail” and its only option is to defend itself with whatever means are available, some of which will be a “surprise,” he said.

However, Kerry’s statement sounded not a message to Syria per se as much as it was a message to American, European and Arab warmongers, who ever since the Syrian crisis erupted have been lobbying his administration to take action against Syria long before the first chemical attack was launched from the positions of the U.S. – sponsored armed gangs on Khan al_A’ssal five months ago.

Investigating a Forgone Conclusion

In view of the Syrian government’s confirmation of the use of chemical weapons, Kerry’s statement on Monday that it “is real, that chemical weapons were used in Syria,” and the confirmation of their use by the Syrian so called “opposition” and its western and Arab sponsors, their use is already a forgone conclusion.

Is it not surprising and a waste of time then to send the UN independent commission of inquiry to investigate a forgone conclusion that all parties take for granted as a fact!

Kerry quoted Ban Ki – moon as saying last week that “the U.N. investigation will not determine who used these chemical weapons, only whether such weapons were used.”

If the investigators’ mandate is only to confirm what is already “is undeniable,” in Kerry’s words, why were the UN investigators stripped of the mandate of determining “who” used the chemical weapons in Syria, if not to leave it up to the U.S. & partners to decide in advance as a prejudged conclusion that “There’s no doubt who is responsible: The Syrian regime,” according to Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday, to be consistent with their plans for a regime change in Damascus, and let the truth go to hell.

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

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Egypt’s Foreign Relations on Tightrope

August 23, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

The internal crisis in Egypt has indulged the country in its most critical foreign relations test since these relations were shaped by the U.S. sponsored Camp David accords and the peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

An indicator is the warnings against travel to Egypt from east and west, which are exacerbating the rapidly shrinking tourism industry. Stopping production in Egypt by industrial giants like General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp. is a second indicator. Summons of foreign envoys to Egypt by their governments, which invoked similar Egyptian reciprocal summons, is a third indicator. A fourth was cancelling the U.S. military’s participation in next month’s Operation Bright Star in Egypt and delaying the delivery of four fighter jets to the country. Suspension of the sale of military equipment used for “internal repression” by the EU was a fifth. Threats to cut or suspend aid to Egypt by the U.S. and EU was another more important indicator.

In the immediate proximity, and three days after the ouster of the elected president Mohammed Morsi on July 3, the Peace and Security Council of the fifty – four member African Union decided “to suspend the participation of Egypt in AU activities until the restoration of constitutional order.”

On August 20, South Africa, a leading member of the AU as well as the BRICS five – member association, issued a statement to remind the “interim government” in Cairo that its “principled position is based on the Constitutive Act of the African Union, where any unconstitutional change of government – whatever the premise – is specifically rejected” immediately.

So far, the AU reaction is ironically the only concrete international diplomatic measure taken in defense of the western widely trumpeted rule of law and democracy. The African “sphere” is traditionally only second to the Arab one as a cornerstone of Egypt’s foreign policy.

However, Denmark announced the suspension of aid to Egypt. The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday announced the suspension of all British joint programs with the Egyptian intelligence services and the export of “some” items to Egypt. Germany’s development minister, Dirk Niebel, said Monday that Egypt will get “no further pledges this year” of aid from Berlin and added he has decided “that we won’t negotiate this year” on any debt relief for the country. A day earlier, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that her country would halt previously approved arms shipments to Egypt, but as part of a coordinated EU response.

Most likely the U.S. allies’ final reaction will wait until the U.S. administration ends its open –ended stance, but while U.S. allies follow in its footsteps, the U.S. rival world powers grudgingly dealt with the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the leaders of the “Arab Spring” changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya as a fait accompli; the removal of the Egyptian MB from power is a welcome development.

Ahead of their meeting in Brussels last Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that “no options would be off the table” at the meeting of his counterparts of the EU 28-member countries. Presidents of the European council and European commission, Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, warned jointly on Sunday that further escalation could have “unpredictable consequences.” The European Union threatened that it will “urgently review” its aid to Egypt, but, like the U.S. threat, it’s just a warning that has yet to materialize.

The EU and its member states last year pledged a combined 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in loans and aid for Egypt.

Russia, China on Sidelines

Meanwhile, Russia and China are waiting on the sidelines to invest in what could evolve into a historical turning point in Egypt’s foreign relations.

The Kremlin maintained what a writer in “Asia Times” described as a “stony silence,” until August 19 when the foreign ministry in a statement urged “dialogue” among “all” political players “without any foreign interference,” but the Egyptian embassy in Moscow said that Cairo counts on Russia’s assistance in “this trying time, as it used to in the past.”

In 2010 the volume of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries amounted to $2.1 billion. The number of Russian tourists visiting Egypt in 2010 alone was estimated to be 2,855,723, making it the number one country in providing Egypt with tourists.

Similarly China remained relatively quiet. On August 15, the foreign ministry in a statement said the country was following “closely the situation in Egypt,” urged “maximum restraint” and “dialogue” to “restore order and social stability.”
Unofficially, Wang Jilie, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a State Council affiliated think tank, said that the Egyptian military “had no choice” but to “control the situation,” otherwise “the credibility of the interim government and the military would be undermined.”
In 2011, Sino-Egyptian trade rose to US$8.8 billion, a 30 percent increase from 2010, according to Xinhua. Last year it rose to US$9.5 billion.
U.S. Regional Strategy Unraveling

Short of designating the ouster and detention of Morsi a “coup” and short of condemning the dispersal on August 14, by what critics described as an “excessive use of force,” of two MB – led sit – ins in Cairo’s Raba’a al- Adawiyah and al-Nahdha squares, as an Egyptian copy of the Chinese “Tiananmen Square” in 1989, the un-decisive United States has put itself and Egypt in their most testing foreign policy dilemma.

The United States is finding itself swaying between “cutting” its aid to Egypt and “reprogramming” it and because it is torn between its foreign policy rhetoric of democracy and the more realistic benefits of stability, Washington stands now reluctant to proclaim the involvement of the Egyptian military in the removal of Morsi a “coup.” U.S. allies are held hostage to this U.S. ambivalent position.

The bipartisan Working Group on Egypt, quoted by the Washington Post on August 15, demanded a shift in U.S. policy towards Egypt; the group considered President Barak Obama’s “failure” to cut aid a “strategic error.”

However there is a strategic U.S. asset that successive administrations have considered an incomparable “vital” interest outweighing this “strategic error.” Egypt expert at the London School of Economics, John Chalcraft, had this explanation: The U.S. military aid “is a strategic rent that comes to Egypt in return, above all, for the ongoing Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel. So the significance of it is political and geopolitical, more than it is economic.” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, on August 21, confirmed this justification for her government’s ambivalent stance, though indirectly: “We have seen our aid to Egypt as something that is vital for our own national security purposes, for regional stability.”

No surprise then the United National Security Council (UNSC), in its “emergency” meeting on August 15, which was urged by Turkey and jointly requested by France, Britain and Australia, had nothing to say more than urging the parties in Egypt to “exercise maximum restraint.”

Egypt is the largest and strategically the most important Arab country, where the U.S. regional strategy could make or break.

Strategically, the internal crisis in Egypt has put the U.S. strategy of courting “moderate” Islamist political movements on the brink.

In his inauguration speech in January 2009, Obama signaled his intention to seek a fresh understanding with Islam and Muslims. Within a few months his “intention” had unfolded as a strategy that culminated in the end in an “understanding” with the MB, the oldest, largest and perceived as the most moderate among the Islamist movements.

On June 4, 2009 in Cairo, Obama declared: “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” A few days later in Istanbul he confirmed: “”The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical … America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot be based just on the opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement.”

His allies in Qatar and the Islamist leaders of the ruling Justice and Development party in Turkey joined forces and played a detrimental role in swaying the U.S. towards this conclusion.

The MB was born in Egypt. Eighty five years later it has proved a survival. It developed into an international organization in more than eighty countries in which the Egyptian Muslim Brethren are still playing the leading role. With their assumption of power in Egypt’s 2012 elections, their offshoot ruling now in Turkey, their Palestinian offshoot Hamas ruling in the Gaza Strip, the leading roles their brethren are playing in the governments of Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco, the leading roles they are playing in the opposition in other Arab countries, and with the sponsorship of the financial magnet of Qatar, the MB has become a power per se to be reckoned with.

Following the Qatari and Turkish examples, the U.S. perceived in it a potential ally and planned its regional strategy accordingly.

With the removal of Morsi and the MB from power in Egypt, this U.S. strategy is unraveling now.

U.S. Allies Divided

The MB has received a very strong blow in its Egyptian heartland together with a burgeoning MB – U.S. regional “understanding.”

A regional U.S. sponsored Egyptian – Turkish – Qatari axis that could stand rival to the Iran – Syria alliance is at risk of becoming a past tense plan.

The U.S. regional allies stand now divided between the pro – MB led by Qatar and Turkey and the anti – MB led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The regional front against Iran of the U.S. – sponsored “moderates,” who are united in their efforts to enforce a ‘regime change” in Syria, is weakened as well.

While Syria is feeling relief, Iran joined its regional rivals in Qatar and Turkey as well as Cuba, Venezuela, the U.S. and the EU in condemning “the massacre of the population” according to a statement by its foreign ministry. The new Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday noted “how people’s votes are forgotten and downtrodden.”

America’s abrupt role reversal from an anti-Islamist crusader to a champion of political Islam has antagonized two of the U.S. closest Arab allies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE who promptly emerged as the major political and financial backers of the military – supported interim government in Egypt; on the second day Morsi was removed, they contributed $12b to Cairo.

Rejecting foreign interference in “Egypt’s internal affairs,” Saudi King Abdullah, in a statement read Friday on Saudi television, declared that what was happening in Egypt was “an Arab affair.” His foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, during a recent visit to Paris pledged to compensate Egypt for any cut in western aid, saying: “We will not achieve anything through threats.”

Obviously, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait, who contributed $12b to Cairo the second day Morsi was removed, do not see eye to eye on Egypt with their strategic allies in the U.S. and EU; their position will for sure weigh heavily in their final stance.

Some commentators described as “hysterical” the Turkish reaction, which led Egypt to accuse Turkey of interfering in its internal affairs. On Tuesday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel was involved in the “military coup” that removed Morsi from power; the White House denied the accusation. Earlier he accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of being partners to the “Egyptian coup.” He had called on the UN to condemn the “massacres” in Egypt and described the developments in the country as a “conspiracy against the Muslim world targeting Turkey” in particular.

Turkey is a looser in Egypt’s latest developments. Ankara is watching its leading regional role through an alliance with Egypt cut short abruptly and replaced by the revival of the Saudi regional leadership through the same alliance. Relations are expected to get worse between the three regional heavy weights.

No Business as Usual

The U.S. is leading the western condemnation of the crackdown on the MB and urging an “inclusive” political process that would make them an integral part of any future restructuring of the ruling system.

This line of U.S. thinking is creating an international environment that is fueling the MB defiance, which would inevitably perpetuate the violence and the crisis, the interim government in Cairo says.

This is exactly what leads the U.S. – led west to a collision course with the incumbent interim government, who accuse Morsi and his brethren are of leading a year – long effort of exclusion of all the other political players. The MB exclusion policies are said to be the major factor that led to the demise of their rule. The new rulers insist on inclusion of the MB on their own terms.

They accuse the world’s condemnation of their “excessive use of force” as a contribution to what some of their commentators say it is a “war of attrition” waged by the MB against the Egyptian state, its interim government and defense forces.

More than 100 army and police officers were among no less than one thousand people killed since July 3rd. Michael W. Hanna, an expert on Egypt from the New York-based Century Foundation, was quoted by AP on Monday as saying: “Sure civil war is a possibility.”

Obviously, Egypt’s post – Morsi rulers do not share the U.S. and European view of the MB as “moderates” who could be “included.”

U.S. bilateral relations with Egypt seem about to head to a turning point, but for sure at least there is “no doubt” that Washington “can’t return to business as usual” with Cairo as Obama told CNN on August 23.

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

The Killers of Peace

August 14, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

The Israeli Jewish settlers of the Palestinian territory, which was occupied by Israel in 1967, are dictating unilaterally the demarcation of the borders with any future Palestinian state, thus rendering its creation impossible; holding the Israeli decision-making process hostage, they have become the real killers of peace, who brought the twenty –year old Palestinian – Israeli peace process to its current stalemate.

As early as the summer of 1995, the Iraqi born Israeli – British “new historian” Avi Shlaim wrote in the Journal of Palestine Studies: “The settlers now are the ones who determine Israel’s internal political agenda.”

Their numbers then were in the tens of thousands; now there are three quarters of a million settlers. The Head of the “Samaria Regional Council” of the Israeli illegal settlements in the Israeli – occupied Palestinian West Bank (WB) of River Jordan, Gershon Mesika, on this August 6 boasted there will be one million settlers there “in just three years time,” telling “Arutz Sheva” online that “the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria (i.e. the Palestinian WB) has passed the point of no return.”

Writing in the “National Interest” on September 6, 2012, the President of the U.S./Middle East Project, Henry Siegman, agreed that “Israel’s colonial… settlement project has achieved its intended irreversibility, not only because of its breadth and depth but also because of the political clout of the settlers and their supporters within Israel.”

When Benjamin Netanyahu assumed his second term as prime minister, with the settler Avigdor Lieberman as his foreign minister, the German Süddeutsche Zeitung, quoted by Spiegel on March 17, 2009, wrote: “He and Lieberman are the gravediggers of the Middle East peace process. They want to maintain the occupation and expand the settlements.”

The electoral campaign of Netanyahu for his first term in 1995 was blamed by Israeli media for creating the right environment which led to the assassination of the “father’ of the first Oslo accord for peace with Palestinians in 1993; ever since the “peace process” has been deadlocked.

The incumbent government of Netanyahu’s third premiership is now described as the “settlers’ government” or “a settler –friendly government,” the survival of which is secured by a Knesset led by Speaker Yuli Edelstein, himself an illegal settler of the Neve Daniel colony in the WB, who called recently for the annexation of two thirds of the WB area.

This is a call that was also repeatedly voiced by the pro – settler Jewish Home party, a partner to Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, which holds three key ministries, including the housing ministry, and controls the parliamentary finance committee. Netanyahu declared his backing for the Jewish Home’s plan. Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett was the chairman of the council of the illegal settlements in the WB and Gaza Strip and is still an advocate of imposing Israeli sovereignty unilaterally on “Area C” in the WB. Uzi Landau, of Lieberman’s Yisraeli Beiteinu party, has the tourism portfolio. Likud’s ardent supporter of settlements, Moshe Yaalon, has the ministry of defense. Foreign minister’s deputy, Zeev Elkin, is himself a settler. The education minister, Shai Piron, of Yair Lapid’s so-called “centrist” Yesh Atid party, is a settler rabbi; Lapid himself who is the finance minister supports the “growth” of settlements even during peace talks and rejects any Palestinian sovereignty under any pact in eastern Jerusalem.

Deputy Minister of Defense, Danny Danon of Likud, was quoted by The Jewish Press on August 8 as saying that the “views” of Israel’s chief negotiator, the Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose Hatnua party holds six seats only in the settler –dominated Knesset, “do not represent the majority of the current government.” Livni’s role in Netanyahu’s “government of settlers” seems a cosmetic one intended only to circumvent the U.S. pressure for the resumption of the peace talks.

In Israel’s proportional system, the voting settlers and the pro – settler political parties and groups have over the years accumulated enough political clout that is far – in – excess of their numbers to determine the internal balance of power, decide the electoral outcome and dictate their own agenda. They are holding the system hostage. So far they have become the real killers of peace.

On July 28, 2013, Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz that Netanyahu “is acting so weak … like a prisoner … a hostage” of his pro –settler coalition partners.

During the interval between the first and the second rounds of the recently resumed negotiations, Israel approved a “new” settlement and 1700 settlement units in eastern Jerusalem; the government included 90 settlements in a new list of “national priority development areas” eligible for special benefits; the list included also the three formerly dubbed by the Israeli government as “illegal outposts,” namely Bruchin, Rachelim and Sansana.

U.S. Lip Service

On August 11, 2013, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reacted by reiterating from Bogota, Colombia his country’s “unchanged” position since 1967: The U.S. “views all of the settlements as illegitimate” and had “communicated that policy very clearly to Israel.”

Ironically, “Israel’s settlement project” has evolved “irreversible” nonetheless, mocking the U.S. repeatedly declared illegitimacy thereof as merely a lip service that has been all throughout a thinly veiled cover of the U.S. actual protection of the accelerating expansion ever since of “Israel’s colonial” project.

No surprise then Kerry from Colombia “expected” what Peter Beinart described in the Daily Beast on August 12 as the “Opening of settlement floodgates” just two days ahead of the second round of the U.S. – sponsored Palestinian – Israeli negotiations, which were resumed in Washington D.C. on July 29, 2013.

Worse still, Kerry pragmatically defended the new “opening of settlement floodgates” as an incentive which “underscores the importance of getting to the table … quickly,” ignoring insensitively the Palestinian reaction.

On May 18 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Netanyahu must choose between settlements and peace. Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation organization (PLO), Yasser Abed Rabbo, and the PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said they were considering not to participate in the second round of the talks, scheduled in Jerusalem on August 14. Member of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi, condemned Israel’s latest settlement plans as “confidence-destruction measures.” Her co – member, Wasel Abu Yusuf, concluded that the PLO committed a “big mistake” by joining the Kerry – sponsored talks. Spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, Nabil Abu Rudeineh said that Israel’s latest plans “aim at obstructing the peace efforts.”

However, the PLO is too weak to translate its words into deeds and challenge kerry’s statement that the issue of settlements should not derail the resumed peace talks.

Israelis without Compass

Americans for Peace Now, in a report titled “Settlements & the Netanyahu Government: A Deliberate Policy of Undermining the Two-State Solution,” said that in “its policies and actions” this government “disclose a clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.”

In a roundtable on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on September 22, 2011, former U.S. President Bill Clinton blamed the “Netanyahu administration” and what he called a “demographic shift in Israel,” which was an indirect reference to the settlement project, for the failure of the peace process.

In “A Message from a Longstanding Zionist to the Israeli People,” Robert K. Lifton, a former president of The American Jewish Congress, on this August 8 urged Israelis that they “must make clear the direction they want their country to pursue,” “separate Israel from the Palestinians,” and “avoid being ensnared in a bi – national state.”

However, Lifton’s appeal sounds like a cry in the settlers’ wilderness. Israelis have yet to liberate themselves from being hostage to these killers of peace. Until then, Israelis will continue to navigate without compass, rejecting the one – state solution, the two – state solution, the bi – national state solution and every other proposed solution for peace, except their peace – killing colonial settlement project, which Henry Siegman, referred to by The Forward on October 5, 2012 as a “Jewish elder statesman,” believes is “suicidal.”

Most likely, the settlers are drawing on the fact that Israel itself is the product of a “colonial settlement project,” which so far has proved successful; they are expectedly betting also on the “unbreakable” support of the other successful colonial settlement project that has become the United States of America.

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

Kerry’s Success Worse than His Failure

August 7, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

The critical issue of the ever expanding illegal Israeli colonial settlements on the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in the West Bank (WB), which are peace killing in eastern Jerusalem in particular, will make or break the newly resumed Palestinian – Israeli negotiations.

On July 29, 2013, those negotiations were resumed in Washington, D.C.; they are scheduled to begin in earnest in mid-August. President Barak Obama hailed them as a “promising step forward.” However, in view of more than twenty years of failed U.S. – sponsored peace making, the new talks “promise” nothing more than being a new round of failure and “conflict management,” in spite of Obama’s belief that “peace is both possible and necessary.”

According to Albert Einstein, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is “insanity,” but that is exactly what John Kerry seems to have achieved after six tours of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East since he was sworn in as the U.S. Secretary of State.

Unless the issue of settlements is addressed in accordance with international and humanitarian law as well as in compliance with the resolutions of the United Nations, Kerry will be shooting himself in the legs and his success in his peace mission would be worse than his failure. The EU’s recent anti-settlement move highlighted this fact.

However, Kerry seems and sounds determined to pursue his mission on the basis of contradictory terms of reference, laid down by the official letter sent by the former U.S. president George W. Bush to former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon in April 2004, whereby the United States pledged to annex the major Jewish settlements to Israel, to redraw its borders accordingly and to exclude the right of return of Palestinian refugees from any agreement in the future on solving the Arab – Israeli conflict in Palestine peacefully.

Top on the agenda of the resumed negotiations are borders and security; Israel has never defined its borders nor respected the borders set by the United Nations resolution No. 181 of 1947; in the name of security, it demands borders that compromise the viability of any independent Palestinian state on the WB.

From U.S. and Israeli perspectives, “the resumption of negotiations is seen as an objective in itself,” in the words of Ghassan al-Khatib, the former spokesman of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

David Ignatius on August 2 described kerry’s efforts as a “mission impossible,” which if it fails “this time, it will cost the parties dearly;” he described the ensuing negotiations as “a kind of a benign trap, once the prey have been lured inside, it’s difficult for them to escape without either accomplishing .. peace or damaging themselves.”

Indeed in the long run, success of the resumed negotiations warn of creating a political environment that would give “legitimacy” to a new Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip to remove the “armed resistance” there to their outcome, with the overt blessing of the U,S. sponsor of the negotiations and the discreet blessing of the Arab “peace partners.”

However, the expected failure of kerry’s efforts could be worse than the failure of the Camp David summit meeting in September 2000 of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and U.S. former president Bill Clinton.

By sending his negotiators to Washington, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is again compromising his personal credibility, but worse still he risks a Palestinian implosion in the case of success, but in case the negotiations fail he risks a Palestinian explosion in rebellion against both his PA and the Israeli occupation.

Abbas has already antagonized his old allies among the members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is considered the third influential Palestinian power after the two rivals of Fatah and Hamas – who accuse him of reneging on their consensus not to resume negotiations without a stop to the expansion of Israeli colonial settlements first.

National reconciliation between the PLO and Hamas will be put on hold for at least the nine months which the negotiators set as the time frame for their negotiations.

His decision put on hold as well any Palestinian new attempt to join international organizations to build on the UN General Assembly’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member state in September 2012.

The new talks are merely “the beginning of the beginning” of “a long process” in which “there is no guarantee” for success, according to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

All this boils down to winning Israel more time to dictate whatever borders it deems “secured,” by creating more facts on the OPT. For Palestinians, this is a waste of time that makes their dream of a national homeland in an independent state more remote. No surprise then the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu on July 27 saw in the resumption of negotiations “a vital strategic interest of the state of Israel.”

Kerry’s personal success seems to have pressured Palestinians into being fooled again into jumping to “final status” negotiations as the best way to absolve Israel from honoring its commitments in compliance with the “interim” accords it had signed with the PLO.

Bitter Past Experience

The Palestinian wide –spread opposition to the resumption of talks is accusing Abbas of being a “believer” in peace who is about to get “stung from the same hole twice,” in reference to the bloody outcome of the U.S. – hosted Camp David summit in September 2000.

Then, the U.S. administration of Clinton pressured Arafat into “final status” negotiations. Barak, then the Israeli prime minister, found in the Camp David final status talks a golden pretext not to implement the third stage of the Oslo accords, namely to withdraw the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) from about 95% of the West Bank (WB) area and hand it over to the PA.

Linking the WB and Gaza by a “corridor” that allows free movement of people and goods between them was another commitment that has yet to be honored by Israel.

“Trying” and failing is better than “doing nothing,” Kerry said, but the failure of the Camp David trilateral summit led to the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising); ever since both the failure and the uprising were additional pretexts for the successive Israeli governments not to honor both commitments; moreover, both pretexts were the justification they used to reoccupy militarily all the PA areas and to coordinate with the U.S. the “removal” of Arafat and the “change” of his regime.

The critical issue of the illegal Israeli colonial settlements on the WB will make or break the new Kerry – sponsored talks. On July 29, James M. Wall wrote: “Israel plays the peace process game not to give away ill-gotten gains, but to protect them;” settlements come on top of those “gains;” they were “gained” under the umbrella of the “peace process,” with the tacit blessing of the well – intentioned Palestinian negotiator who did not make their removal a precondition to the resumption of peace talks right from the start.

The 2000 summit collapsed because of the Israeli insistence on continued building of colonial settlements, especially in eastern Jerusalem, which doomed to failure the peace process launched in Madrid in 1991. kerry’s resumed negotiations opened while the settlement expansion continues unabated. Now Abbas seems too late to rectify this grave mistake. No surprise the failure of the negotiations seems inevitable and will only revive the Palestinian – Israeli stalemate.

Israel’s 2013 Herzliya Assessment concluded: “The status-quo in the Palestinian territories is not sustainable, and definitely not durable… the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate is untenable. It will lead to a Palestinian mass public uprising with sporadic violence.”

Obama appealed to the negotiators to “approach these talks in good faith,” but the Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, questioned the “good faith” of the U.S. and Israel who were “conferring about security” without the Palestinians, as if it was “their bilateral security,” although security is “a central and fundamental issue of ours and concerns our future as a whole.” Abed Rabbo’s Israeli partner in the Geneva Initiative, former cabinet minister Yossi Beilin, writing in The Jerusalem post on July 30, questioned the “good faith” of Netanyahu who “has reneged on all that he has said throughout his political career.”

Defying the bitter experience of twenty – year old peace process and strong opposition at home, Abbas seems voluntarily dragged into his last test of U.S. credibility as the peace broker, which will make or break his political career at the age of 76 years.

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

Egyptian Revolution Derailed, Contained

August 1, 2013

By Nicola Nasser*

A fourth wave of the Egyptian revolution seems inevitable, until the revolution changes the regime or the regime emerges victorious, pending another revolution.

The January 25 revolution in Egypt, which removed the former president Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011 and, in its second wave, overwhelmed the first anniversary of his elected successor Mohammad Morsi on June 30, 2013 with millions over millions of anti – Muslim Brotherhood protesters until the military intervened to remove him in turn three days later, is now entering its third stage without yet being completed, fulfilled or finished.

In a statement issued on July 27, 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry grasped the fact that the Egyptian revolution has not yet run its course; “Its final verdict is not yet decided,” he said, “but it will be forever impacted by what happens right now.” He described the situation prevailing “now” as a “pivotal moment for Egypt.”

Years ago, John C. Campbel, in “Foreign Policy,” had described the Middle East as “a house of containment built on shifting sands,” from the perspective of the United States, and his description still applies today, no better than to the current state of affairs in Egypt, where the state has become more like a house of cards.

So far, Egypt’s revolution was more a “regime exchange” than a “regime change.” The old pro – U.S. market economy centers of power had merely rotated power among the liberal “remnants” of the Mubarak regime and the conservatives of his opposition led by the Muslim Brotherhood, with the military playing the role of the arbiter. For example, the Sawiris family billionaires who were milking them are coming back now after they were replaced by the billionaire and MB leader Khairat al-Shater and his ilks during the Morsi era. They were thus far successful in derailing and containing the revolution, which has changed nothing of the old regime, neither internally nor externally.

This rotation of power has so far proved an effective mechanism in containing the revolution and derailing it away from evolving into a new order. The political polarization along these lines is another mechanism; Mazda Majidi on July 20 wrote on the Web site of the U.S. Party of Socialism and Liberation: “A long confrontation with the military on one side and Brotherhood supporters on the other could yield a situation where the people in the streets right now will be sidelined,” and consequently their revolution aborted.

Washington D.C. is adapting to this “regime exchange” in order to prevent a “change in the regime,” which the successive US administrations have nurtured as a strategic asset to both the United States and its Israeli regional ally since the Camp David accords of 1979.

Answering his question whether the removal of Morsi was a U.S.-engineered coup, Majidi wrote that “Washington would have had no incentive to orchestrate a military coup to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood (MB);” Morsi “worked well with the U.S.,” “played a key role” in brokering a truce between Israel and Hamas in late 2012,” and in the conflict in Syria, he and the MB “were solidly behind the U.S. effort to overthrow the Syrian state;” accordingly, “Washington could live with Morsi, but it obviously has no problems with Egypt’s military,” who are the most committed to the strategic ties with the U.S. and the best guardians of the peace treaty with Israel.

Maintaining or discarding those ties and that treaty will undoubtedly be the most vital dividing line externally between fulfilling the Egyptian revolution and derailing it away from disturbing the regional balance of power and status quo, which both the U.S and the Israeli beneficiaries thereof have nurtured during the past more than three decades as their “holy cow.”

No surprise, therefore, that the internal threats to this status quo have become the concern of the U.S. and Israeli allies, but Israel in particular. Israeli leaders seemed on alert to preempt this threat. On July 26, President Shimon Peres said in an Al-Hurra TV channel: “What is politics if it can’t provide people with bread?” Backed by US Republican Senator Rand Paul, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now urging the West to adopt a new “Marshall Plan” for the Egyptian economy.

Within this context monitors could interpret the U.S. refusal to label the Egyptian military latest intervention on July 3 as a coup, lest the Barak Obama administration become obliged by law to cut the U.S. aid to Egypt. Similarly Qatar, which had sponsored the Morsi –led MB government, would not withdraw its ($7b) support to Egypt. The same applies to the ($12b) prompt financial support extended by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait within (48) hours of the latest “exchange” of power in Egypt, which, in view of the U.S. strategic alliance with the three countries, could not have been promptly forthcoming without a U.S. “green light,” according to anti – American analysts.

Any U.S. Israeli “Marshall Plan,” however, will only be another mechanism to maintain and reinforce the status quo and will not change the regime in Egypt, let alone bringing in a new regime.

Beneficiaries of the status quo are keen to prove to the revolting masses that their revolution has thus far made their bad situation worse: Economically, significant capital fled abroad, Egypt’s debt is a staggering 88 percent of its GDP, tourism collapsed, agriculture hit hard, foreign investment declined, labor unrest spread, unemployment on the rise, inflation soars, economic growth plunged, public finances deteriorated, value of Egyptian pound fell, purchase power of salaries eroded, half of Egyptians live at or below poverty line, etc., and personal safety and public security have become a daily headache, with the harassment of women becoming a social phenomenon.

And in the name of democracy, according to Jon Lee Anderson, writing in The New Yorker on July 5, “the devils long contained in Egypt’s national Pandora’s box having been loosened from their chains,” so “as if everything in Egypt must now be performed by the mob, for the mob, in full view of everyone.”

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