Archive for the ‘Documents’ Category

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.

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Israel’s Missing Option to Defuse Iran Threat

August 21, 2012

By Nicola Nasser*

 

To keep “all options on the table” in the U.S. – Israel plans to change the incumbent Syrian and Iranian regimes and neutralize what both countries perceive as an imminent “threat” is a formula missing the only feasible option to defuse their perceived threat peacefully, which is obviously much cheaper in money and human souls.

 

On August 19, Israeli former head of the Operations Directorate of the Israeli military, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uri Saguy, wrote in Haaretz that late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak “Rabin strove to achieve agreements with our neighbors before the Iranians got a bomb. If we had peace accords today with the Arab countries and with the Palestinians, what exactly would the Iranians’ conflict with us be about?”

 

Giving priority to making peace with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian people on the land – for – peace basis, which is the essence of the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by the 22 – member states of the Arab League in 2002, would disarm Iran of its Arab, Palestinian credentials and create a new regional environment that would in turn render any Arab alliance with Iran unnecessary and would uncover Iranian regional expansion as an endeavor sought per se by Tehran.

 

Instead, Israel is running away from peace making to warmongering, risking embroilment of the United States in a war on Iran that Washington does not want, at least for now.

 

Four-star chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said on August 19 that he has been conferring with his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz on a regular “bi-weekly” basis and “we’ve admitted to each other that our clocks are turning at different rates.” Israel’s envoy to Washington, Michael Oren, acknowledged in a CNN interview the following day that Israel’s clock was ticking faster than Washington’s.

 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali “Khamenei has not [“probably”] given orders to start building a [nuclear] weapon,” according to Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak in a CNN interview on April 20; His Iranian counterpart Ahmad Vahidi this week dismissed Israeli warmongering as “psychological war;” General Martin Dempsey cautioned against an Israeli strike saying it would not destroy Iran’s nuclear program; President Shimon Peres last week joined senior security, military and political experts to warn against a unilateral Israeli strike not coordinated with the U.S.

 

In the RAND Review for spring this year, Ambassador James Dobbins, who directs RAND’s international security and defense policy center, and three expert analysts argued that “an Israeli or American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would make it more, not less, likely that the Iranian regime would decide to produce and deploy nuclear weapons. Such an attack would also make it more, not less, difficult to contain Iranian influence.”

 

Nonetheless, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been beating the drums of war, linking the Iranian “threat” to a second holocaust (a comparison dismissed by Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel). His newly appointed home front defense minister, Avi Dichter, says, “Israel’s existence is threatened.” Israel’s top-tier missile defense system was announced upgraded and missile alert system tested. In a nationwide experiment to continue through Thursday, text messages warning of incoming missiles are being sent to cellphone users. Gas mask centers have already distributed more than four million masks.

 

Israeli warmongering is creating, in Saguy’s words, an “orchestrated and purposely timed hysteria” in Israel as if “someone is lighting a fire, then yelling that it has to put out.”

 

Financial markets are shivering, foreign investors are on guard, Israeli new shekel is growing increasingly weaker against the dollar and Pnina Grinbaum, a 55-year-old government clerk in Jerusalem, was quoted by the Associated Press on August 16 as saying: “I’m very afraid. I want peace, not war.”

 

The international stand – off on Iran’s nuclear program as well as on the Syrian crisis is very tightly linked to the impasse, which saw the Arab and Palestinian – Israeli peace process reach a dead end.

 

The Syrian crisis in particular is more closely tied to the impasse in the Arab – Israeli conflict. De-linked from this conflict, it would boil down to an internal crisis that could be easily solved by Syrians themselves.

 

Regional and international involvement in the Syrian crisis has nothing to do with the internal crisis per se, but has exploited the internal crisis because it has a lot to do with the U.S. – Israel plans to isolate and contain what both countries perceive as an Iranian regional threat to their interests.

 

To this end, Israel and U.S. are now doing all what they can to break the alliance between Iran and Syria and the Syrian bridge linking Iran to Lebanese and Palestinian movements resisting Israeli military occupation, thus cutting off Iran from the Mediterranean,  as well as depriving these movements from their Syrian support, by coordinating a ‘regime change” in Damascus.

 

For four years since Benyamin Netanyahu came to power, Israel risked a confrontation with the U.S. administration of President Barak Obama over his order of priorities in the Middle East, which gave precedence to reaching a negotiated political settlement for the Palestinian – Israeli conflict as a precondition to building up a U.S., Arab and Israeli front against Iran.

 

Netanyahu advocated a reversed order of priorities and has succeeded in pushing the Palestinian – Israeli conflict down from the top of U.S. regional agenda in favor of solving the U.S. – Israeli Iranian debacle first.

 

This rearrangement of Israel – U.S. priorities has marginalized the Arab – Israeli “peace process” to the extent that both countries feel relaxed enough now to feel free from any serious commitment to resume it.

 

However, developments prove this rearrangement of priorities counterproductive and playing in Iranian hands, making the regional Iranian alliances stronger, perpetuating the Syrian crisis, around which a new multi-polar world is emerging, and sidelining the Palestinian peace partners, leaving them with no other option but to take their deadlocked peace process to the United Nations, to bring back on track the Palestinian – Israeli conflict to the top of the international agenda in the Middle East, thus creating a fait accompli that will make impossible the Arab – Israeli – U.S. front against Iran that Washington has been trying to build up over the past few years.

 

Cornering the Palestinians longer in their United Nations option, similarly changing nothing on the ground to end the Israeli military occupation, would in no time see them loosing faith in peace making to be pushed involuntarily to realign regionally to the other side, which would exacerbate the Iran “threat” rather than containing it.

 

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

 

 

Where U.S. Chooses to Back ‘Armed Struggle’

April 4, 2011

By Nicola Nasser*

 

Within a few days, the “Silmiya” (peaceful) popular uprising against the 42-year old rule of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya had turned into an “armed struggle” and in no time the U.S. administration was in full gear backing the Libyan armed violent revolt, which has turned into a full scale civil war, despite being the same world power who officially label the legitimate (according to the charter of the United Nations) armed defense of the Palestinian people against the 34- year old foreign military occupation of Israel as “terrorism.”

 

Backing the armed struggle of the Libyan people came less than a month since President Barak Obama on February 11 hailed the Egyptians’ “shouting ‘Silmiya, Silmiya’” — thus adding the Arabic word to the international language lexicon – because the “Egyptians have inspired us, and they’ve done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained by violence .. It was the moral force of nonviolence, .. that bent the arc of history toward justice,” he said.

 

When Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009, he viewed the decision less as a recognition of his own accomplishments and more as “a call to action.” Within less than two years, he “surged” the U.S. – led war in Afghanistan, expanding it into Pakistan, stuck almost literary to his predecessor’s war agenda in Iraq, and now has opened a third war theater for the United States in Libya, where his administration ruled out any peaceful settlement of the conflict, insisting on its internationalization, ignored all efforts at mediation, especially by the African Union, and lent a deaf ear to calls for an immediate ceasefire as a prelude for dialogue in search for a way out of the bloody civil war, which were voiced recently in particular by the presidents of China, the world’s most populous country, and Indonesia, the largest Islamic country.

 

Libya is a “unique situation,” Obama says, where the U.S.-led military intervention and the backing of an armed revolt is the exception and not the rule in U.S. foreign policy. This exceptional and unique situation, it seems, justified his resort to an exceptional and unique process of decision-making that nonetheless doesn’t justify bypassing a consultation with the Congress and explaining his decision to the American public, where his hasty military intervention overseas could not in any way be justified by any immediate or direct threat to U.S. national security.

 

In his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama wrote: “Instead of guiding principles, we have what appears to be a series of ad hoc decisions, with dubious results. Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma? Why intervene in Bosnia and not Darfur?” Now, Obama seems to have no objection to an “ad hoc decision” on Libya.

 

His backtracking on his previous pledges to Arabs, Palestinians in particular, would not make any Arab or Palestinian expect him to pose any questions like: Why a U.S. military intervention in an internal conflict in Libya to protect civilians who resorted to arms to defend themselves and not one to protect defenseless Palestinian civilians who have been under military, economic and political siege for the sole purpose of depriving them of any means of defense against the external Israeli military occupation?

 

The Libyan precedent, of course, according to Obama’s reasoning, could not be applied to Israel because Libya is a “unique situation” where the circumstances are unlikely to recur, but nonetheless dictate arming the “rebels,” a process which the coalition of the intervening western powers are now considering and which the U.S, British, French and other intelligence teams are already on the ground to identify who among the rebels deserve arming and to facilitate the process in support of the Libyan people’s “armed struggle,” at the same time when the occupying Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are publicly threatening a new all-out assault on the besieged Gaza Strip with the declared purpose of uprooting the Palestinian armed struggle in self defense against a foreign power.

 

A thinly – veiled Arab cover and the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which was not supported by major powers like Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil, could hardly give legitimacy to the U.S.-led military intervention in Libya; neither does distancing itself by transferring the leadership to NATO because, as former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, told Fox News recently, “Obama may be the only man in the whole world who does not know that we, the United States, run NATO.”

 

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

A Palestinian Wrong Way to Peace

March 12, 2011

By Nicola Nasser*

 

When allowed to turn freely, the metaphoric Palestinian compass points in one direction — that of Palestinian struggle. But most of the time, someone is interfering with this compass, rigging it to other directions, as in the case of the continually failing peace process.

 

Now, with much of the Arab world up in arms against its autocratic rulers, the Palestinian compass is given another nudge, also in the wrong direction. The Palestinian public is seething, and yet Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) officials are telling us that the only way forward is through more negotiations. The “peace process”, we’re told, is the only thing worth saving from the current sea of Arab discontent.

 

It’s all topsy-turvy in the land of discontent. A Day of Dignity has been called to presumably restore unity in Palestinian ranks. Most likely it will lead to further disunity. Allow me to elaborate.

 

The Day of Dignity, held on 11 February, was not meant to end occupation but to terminate Gaza’s spirit of civil defiance. “Say no to division and occupation and yes to national unity,” is the slogan another group of organisers chose for planned protests on 15 March. On that day, the PLO plans to call for new presidential, legislative, and local elections in the hope of regaining enough credibility to pursue its favourite goal, that of negotiating for peace. The organisers tell us that they want a Palestinian state by next September. How many times have we heard this before?

 

WAFA, the PLO-run news agency, is trying to give the impression that this is the only path available to the nation. We’re either going to negotiate for peace, or we’ll protest and then negotiate for peace. If there is a point to this argument, I don’t see it.

 

Does anyone remember why the current split in Palestinian ranks happened? It all started when PLO officials, the endemic believers in peace, refused to honour the outcome of democratic elections held in 2006. So much of current dilemma is due to the simple inability of the PLO to reconcile peace with democracy.

 

So far, we’ve had a peace process that wasn’t so much about ending the conflict as it was about managing it.

 

The kind of negotiations we’ve been having, as Rashid Khalidi, the prominent Columbia University professor said, were never about self-determination or about ending the occupation, but about allowing Israel to impose its point of view, with US blessing every step of the way. This has been the case since the Madrid Conference of 1991. The only practical use of the peace process was to allow Israel time to build more settlements, with US approval. A US veto only a few days ago, on 18 February, should put to rest any lingering doubts in this regard.

 

But American officials are still conducting “quiet” talks with both sides, as Dennis Ross told the 2011 J Street Conference. Abbas thinks this is the only way forward, but some Israelis are not so sure.

 

Uri Avnery, long-time peace activist and founder of the peace movement Gush Shalom (the Peace Bloc), says that the Palestinians have other options. “What would happen if hundreds of thousands of Palestinians started walking to the Separation Wall and pulled it down? What would happen if a quarter of a million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon gather on our northern borders? What would happen if protesters gathered in numbers at Al-Manara Square in Ramallah and Al-Baladiya Square in Nablus to challenge the occupation?” he asked.

 

The Israeli peace activist is not saying that this may happen today or tomorrow. But, judging by the way things are going, it cannot be ruled out. This is perhaps why Obama’s chief Middle East advisor Dennis Ross admitted that the current situation was “untenable”.

 

And yet PLO negotiators are helping the Israelis prolong the situation, by giving the false impression that something will happen when everyone else knows that things are going to stay the same. The PLO seems to be holding out for the day when the US, or the EU, put their foot down and broker a fair peace. It’s not going to happen.

 

Meanwhile, the PLO continues to suppress the only two forces capable of turning things around: national resistance and a citizen-led Intifada. The PLO is blocking any chance of forward movement while giving everyone the impression that it is doing something for the people. All it is doing is to help the Israelis perpetuate a basically untenable situation.

 

On 2 March, the newspaper Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was working on a plan for establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders as part of interim peace arrangements. We’ve heard it all before.

 

The Netanyahu plan is nothing new. It is a reproduction of earlier plans, all aiming to give the Palestinians a reduced version of the West Bank. Former defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, who is now chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, came up with a similar idea that would have given the Palestinians back about half of the West Bank.

 

An earlier version of the Netanyahu strategy was tried by Labour when Ehud Barak was prime minister. Barak, unable to complete a promised three-phase withdrawal from the West Bank, dragged PLO negotiators to a summit in Camp David in 2000 and then made sure that the summit would lead to nothing.

 

Kadima tried the same thing when Ariel Sharon was prime minister. Arafat snubbed him and was subjected to a cruel siege that ended in his death. Were Abbas to snub Netanyahu, he may face a similar fate. But Abbas doesn’t seem too eager to take a stand.

 

Arafat stood firm, even when he ran out of options. He told his people the truth. He told them that he cannot give up their rights, froze the PLO’s participation in the talks, and told the Palestinians that they would have to live and die for their rights. “Millions of martyrs will go to Jerusalem,” were his famous last words.

 

You cannot have a national unity government without having credibility. The most Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have so far proposed is a government of technocrats. How can technocrats resolve an issue that is so political at heart? Reconciliation is a political quest, and the concessions it requires are not “technocratic” in nature.

 

The PLO cannot partner with Hamas before reconciliation is achieved, Fatah Central Committee member Jamal Moheisen told Gulf News on 28 February. This makes a lot of sense, but reconciliation comes at a price. And so far I don’t believe that the PLO is willing to pay that price. The way I see it, the PLO cares more for peace talks than it does for national unity.

 

You cannot have negotiations without resistance, just as you cannot have democracy without fighting for it. We’ve always known that, and we have the Intifada to prove it. We cannot be united until we’re willing to struggle against occupation together. And we cannot be democratic until we’ve learned how to share. So far, the PLO is neither sharing nor struggling, and its quest for peace is therefore doomed.

 

* The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit in the West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories. This article was translated from Arabic and published by Al-Ahram Weekly on 10-16 March 2011.

Middle East at Strategic Crossroads, U.S. as Well

January 31, 2011

By Nicola Nasser*

 

The Arab world is the beating heart of the overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East, and the Arab masses are angrily moving for a change in the status quo, practically dictated by the military, economic or political hegemony of the United States, which in turn is whipped by the regional power of the Israeli U.S. strategic ally. But any change in the regional status quo would place the Middle East at a strategic crossroads that is not expected to be viewed tolerantly by the U.S. – Israeli alliance, a fact which expectedly would warn of a fierce struggle to come. Despite the U.S. rhetorical defense of the “universal rights” in the region, it is still premature to conclude that this hegemonic alliance will allow the Arab move for change to run its course, judging by the historic experiences of the last century as well as by the containment tactics the United States is now adopting to defuse whatever strategic changes might be created by the revolting Arab masses.

 

The U.S. war on terror has preoccupied U.S. decision makers and embroiled regional rulers in their preoccupation to overlook the tinderbox of the double digit unemployment rate among Arab youth, double and in some cases triple the world average, according to the most conservative estimates, which under the U.S. – supported authoritarian regimes has been a ticking time bomb for too long. Now, the “demographic tsunami to the south of the Mediterranean,” as described by Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, has overtaken the west, but in particular the U.S. – Israeli alliance, by surprise, sending shock waves across the Middle East, shaking the pillars of what this alliance has taken for granted as a guaranteed geopolitical stability reinforced by the Israeli 34 – year old military occupation of the Palestinian territories, the Syrian Golan Hights and parts of southern Lebanon and the U.S. invasion then the ongoing occupation of Iraq. But “the Arab world’s Berlin moment” has come and the U.S. – supported “authoritarian wall has fallen,” professor of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics, Fawaz Gerges, told Reuters.

 

Unlike in Tunisia, the U.S. regional strategy cannot afford a strategic change of regime in a pivotal regional country like Egypt. U.S. senior officials’ appeals for President Hosni Mubarak to respect the “universal rights” of the Egyptian people and their right in “peaceful” protests, for reforms that should be “immediately” undertaken by the ruling regime, and their calls for “restraint” and non-violence by both the regime and protesters are all smoke-screening the fact that the United States is siding with what President Barak Obama hailed as “an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues” and his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, described as “a strong ally” – – which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wishfully described his government as “stable” on Wednesday, despite the roaring demands on the streets for its change – – at least because “a more representative government drawn from the diversity of Egypt’s political opposition will be much more inclined to criticize American and Israeli policies,” according to Bruce Riedel, a former long-time CIA officer and a senior fellow of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, on January 29.

 

The U.S. posturing as neutral, “not taking sides,” could appease and mislead American public opinion, but to Arab and especially to Egyptian public opinion even neutrality is viewed as hostile and condemned in the region as a double standard when compared with the U.S. siding with similar moves for change elsewhere in the world, let alone that this neutrality contradicts the western highly valued democratic values at home.

 

On Friday night, Obama called for “a meaningful dialogue between the (Egyptian) government and its citizens,” who insist on staying on the streets until the regime, and not only its government, is changed and Mubarak leaves. On January 28, Vice President Joe Biden told PBS NewsHour that Mubarak should not step down. When asked whether time had come for Mubarak to go, he said: “No. I think the time has come for President Mubarak to begin to move – to be more responsive to some .. of the needs of the people out there.” Nothing would be more clear – cut, but nothing would be more counterproductive to both Egyptian and American interests on the background of footages on the screens of satellite TV stations showing protesters condemning Mubarak as a “U.S. agent” or showing live bullets or “made in U.S.A.” tear gas canisters, reported by ABC News, which were used against them.

 

It seems the en masse Arab popular protests in Egypt that no party in the opposition could claim to be the leader are confusing the senior officials of the Obama administration who “have no idea of exactly who these street protesters are, whether the protesters are simply a mob force incapable of organized political action and rule, or if more sinister groups hover in the shadows, waiting to grab power and turn Egypt into an anti-Western, anti-Israeli bastion.” in the words of the U.S. commentator Lesli e H. Gelb, the former New York Times columnist and senior government official.

 

The U.S. confusion is illustrated by the stark contradiction between the realities on the ground in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen and, for instance, what the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Filtman, told Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy:  “What happened in Tunisia strikes me as uniquely Tunisian. That the events that took place here over the past few weeks derive from particularly Tunisian grievances, from Tunisian circumstances by the Tunisian people.” How farthest cut off from reality a senior U.S. official could be! “The White House will have to be forgiven for not knowing whether to ride the tiger or help put him back in a cage,” Gelb wrote.

 

White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the U.S., in view of the protests, will “review” its two – billion annual assistance to Egypt. This “threat” is understood among Arab and Egyptian audiences as targeted not against Mubarak to pressure him on reforms, but against whatever anti – U.S regime might succeed him.

 

Arab en masse protests, especially in Egypt, are cornering the United States in a bind, tortured between maintaining “an ally” and respecting his people’s “universal rights” in expressing their “legitimate grievances,” according to Obama. What message would the United States be sending to the majority of Arab allied or friendly rulers if it opts to dump the most prominent among them? Would AIPAC and other American Jewish and Zionist lobbyists allow their government to facilitate the ousting of the 30 –year old guarantor of the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel? It’s almost a forgone conclusion that Obama’s decision is already made to once again give priority to the stability of U.S. “vital interests” in Middle East while in public giving lip service to Americans’ most cherished democratic values.

 

This translates into a naïve American recipe for preserving the status quo by some cosmetic reforms. But “Those who stick to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever,” Clinton warned in Qatar on January 13, otherwise, she added, the foundations of their rule will be “sinking into the sand,” but she did not announce the fears of her country that the pillars of the U.S. hegemony would be then crumbling too, anti – Americanism exacerbated and in turn fueling the only alternative to democracy in the Arab Middle East, i.e. terrorism. Egyptian former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, whom some of the protesters have chosen to head a delegation to represent them on Sunday and who is seen as a potential presidential challenger to Mubarak, warned in Newsweek before his return to Egypt last week, that it was too late to believe reforms were still possible under the 82- year-old Mubarak, who has held “imperial power” for three decades and presides over a legislature that is a “mockery.”

 

Similarly, Israel was taken by surprise. On Tuesday, January 25, the Egyptian popular tsunami flooded the streets of Cairo on the Police Day. The coincidence was highly symbolic. The U.S. – supported police state was unable to honor its police and within a few days police simply “disappeared,” army was called in to protect vital state and public property while protection of private property and safety was left to the “popular committees,” which sprang up of nowhere. On the same day, the new chief of the Israeli Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, was telling the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Egyptian President’s rule was not under threat, his regime was stable and Mubarak was able to rein in the protests. In no time Kochavi was proven wrong. Ordering his government’s spokepersons to shut up on Egypt and, like Obama, holding urgent and high level meetings with his senior security and intelligence officials, Israeli Prime Minister sent a clear and brief message on January 30: Israel will “ensure” that peace with Egypt “will continue to exist.”

 

The Egyptian shock waves have already hit Israel and the Israeli possible reactions are potentially the most dangerous. “An Egyptian government that is less cooperative with Israel .. could make Israel more prone to unpredictable unilateral actions, creating greater instability throughout the region,” warned Jonathan Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Israeli mainstream media is already crying wolf. “If Mubarak is toppled then Israel will be totally isolated in the region,” said Alon Liel, a former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a former ambassador to Turkey. “Without Egypt, Israel will be left with no friends in Mideast,” a story in Haaretz was headlined. Similarly, “Israel left all alone, Itamar Eichner headlined his column in the Yadioth Ahronot online. The Egypt – Gaza Strip borders is now under Israeli spotlight. The Egyptian army which was called into cities west of the Suez Canal could not deploy in Sinai east of it, especially on those borders, restricted by none other than the peace treaty with Israel; the Egyptian security vacuum in the last few days was no evident more than in Sinai. The statement by the Hamas government on January 29 that the borders between Egypt and the Israeli besieged Gaza Strip, already declared an “enemy entity” by Israel, were unilaterally and “fully under control” was not good news in Tel Aviv. Hence the Israeli media reports about a possible Israeli reoccupation of the Gaza – Egypt borders.

 

On the surface, the Arab world representing the status quo is no less confused and undecided; its heart is with the Egyptian regime, but, like its U.S. ally, it has to speak with tongues. Example: “The Saudi government and people stands with the Egyptian government and people,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted Saudi King Abdullah as telling President Mubarak in a phone call; earlier the king told U.S. President Obama there should be no bargaining about Egypt’s stability and the security of its people, according to SPA. In view of the U.S., Arab and Israeli thinly veiled determination to save the moment in Egypt, it was a forgone conclusion that Mubarak will cling to power, thus setting the stage either for a long battle of instability with his own people that for sure will deplete the country’s meager resources or cutting this battle short by a bloody crackdown that would make the repression which created the present people’s uprising look like a mercy.

 

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

United States Has a Choice in Tunisia

January 21, 2011

By Nicola Nasser*

 

The ongoing Tunisian Intifada (uprising) cannot yet quite be termed a revolution; Tunisians are still revolting, aspiring for bread and freedom. This Intifada will go in history as a revolution if it gets either bread or freedom and as a great revolution if it gets both. Internally, “the one constant in revolutions is the primordial role played by the army,” Jean Tulard, a French historian of revolutions, told Le Monde in an interview, and the Tunisian military seems so far forthcoming. Externally, the United States stands to be a critical contributor to either outcome in Tunisia, both because of its historical close relations with the Tunisian military and because of its regional hegemony and international standing as a world power, but the U.S. seems so far shortcoming.

 

While the Tunisian military has made a decision to side with its people, the United States has yet to decide what and whom to support among the revolting masses led by influential components like communists, Pan-Arabists, Islamists, left wingers, nationalists and trade unionists. The natural social allies of U.S. capitalist globalization, privatization and free market have been sidelined politically as partners and pillars of the deposed pro – U.S. Zein al-Abideen Ben Ali’s regime. The remaining pro – U.S. liberalism among Tunisians are overwhelmed by the vast majority of the unemployed, marginalized or underpaid who yearn for jobs, bread, balanced distribution of the national wealth and development projects more than they are interested in upper class western – oriented liberalism. Taken by surprise by the evolving political drama in Tunisia, the U.S. cannot by default contribute to a revolution for bread at a time its economic system is unable to provide for Americans themselves. However, it can play a detrimental role in contributing to a real Tunisian revolution for freedom by making an historic U-turn in its foreign policy.

 

In June 2005, the then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told an Arab audience at the American University in Cairo that, “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region — and we achieved neither.” But Rice did not elaborate to add that this same policy was and is still the main source of instability and the main reason for the absent democracy. Her successor incumbent Hillary Clinton has on January 13 in Qatar postured as the Barak Obama Administration’s mouthpiece on Arab human rights to lecture Arab governments on the urgent need for democratic reforms, warning that otherwise they will see their countries “sinking into the sand.” But Clinton missed to point out that her administration is still in pursuit of its predecessor’s advocacy of democracy through changing regimes in Arab and Muslim nations by means of military intervention, invasion and occupation, an endeavor that has proved a failure in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories, as well a policy that was and is still another source of regional instability and absence of democracy.

 

The Tunisian Intifada has proved that democracy and regime change can be homemade, without any U.S. intervention. Ironically any such U.S. intervention now is viewed in the region as a threat of a counterrevolution that would preempt turning the Intifada into a revolution. U.S. hands-off policy could be the only way to democracy in Tunisia. But a hands-off policy is absolutely not a trade mark of U.S. regional foreign policy. However, the United States has a choice now in Tunisia, but it is a choice that pre-requisites a U – turn both in the U.S. approach to Arab democracy and in its traditional foreign policy.

 

The U.S. risks to loose strategically in Tunisia unless it decides on an historic U – turn, because politically the Tunisian Intifada targeted a U.S. – supported regime and economically targeted a failed U.S. model of development. On November 13, 2007, Georgetown University Human Rights Institute and Law Center hosted a conference to answer the question, “Tunisia: A Model of Middle East Stability or an Incubator of Extremism?” But Tunisia now has given the answer: Tunisia is neither; it is an indigenous Arab way to democracy and moderation.

 

Indeed the U.S. has now a choice in Tunisia. The Arab country which is leading the first Arab revolution for democracy is now a U.S. test case. Non – U.S. intervention would establish a model for other Arabs to follow; it would also establish a model U.S. policy that would over time make Arabs believe in any future U.S. rhetoric on democracy and forget all the tragic consequences of American interventions in the name of democracy. But this sounds more a wishful thinking than a realpolitik expectation.

 

A U.S. long standing traditional policy seems to weigh heavily on its decision makers, who are obsessed with their own creation of the “Islamist threat” as their justification for their international war on terror, which dictates their foreign policy, especially vis – a vis Arab and Muslim states, to dictate a fait accompli to their rulers to choose between either being recruited to this war or being condemned themselves as terrorists or terrorism sponsors, and in this process exclusion policies should be pursued against wide spread representative Islamic movements. The U.S. perspective has always been that Arab Democracy could be sacrificed to serve U.S. vital interests and Arab democracy can wait! But the Tunisian Intifada has proved that Arab democracy cannot wait anymore.

 

Exclusion of popular Islamic movements while at the same excluding democratic reforms until the war on terror is won has proved a looser U.S. policy. The U.S. exploitation of the “Islamist threat” now is not convincing for Arab aspirants for democracy, who still remember that during the Cold War with the former Soviet Union the U.S. exploited the “communist threat,” then “Pan-Arabism threat,” to shore up autocratic and authoritarian Arab regimes. In Tunisia, the prisons of the pro – U.S. regime were always full long before there was an Islamic political movement: “In the 1950s prisons were filled with Youssefites (loyal to Salah Ben Youssef, who broke away from Bourguiba’s ruling Constitutional Party); in the 60s it was the Leftists; in the 70s it was the trade unions; and in the 80s it was our turn,” leader in-exile of the outlawed Islamic Nahda movement, Rachid Ghannouchi, told the Financial Times on January 18.

 

“When Nahda was in Tunisia … there was no al-Qaeda,” Ghannouchi said, reminding one that in the neighboring Algeria there was no al-Qaeda too before The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was outlawed. In the Israeli – occupied territories, outlawing and imposing siege on the Islamic Resistance Movement “Hamas,” which won a landslide electoral victory in 2006, should be a warning that the only alternative to such moderate Islamic movements is for sure the extremist al-Qaeda like undergrounds. Jordan proved wiser than the U.S. decision makers by allowing the Islamic Action Front to compete politics lawfully. Recruiting fake Islamic parties to serve U.S. policies as the case is in Iraq has not proved feasible impunity against al-Qaeda. The United States has to reconsider. Exclusion of independent, moderate and non – violent Islamic representative movements, unless they succumb to U.S. dictates, has proved U.S. policy a failure. U.S. parameters for underground violent unrepresentative Islamists should not apply to these movements.

 

The U.S. decision makers however still seem deaf to what Ghannouchi told the Financial Times: “Democracy should not exclude communists … it is not ethical for us to call on a secular government to accept us, while once we get to power we will eradicate them.” This is the voice of Arab homemade democracy; it has nothing to do with the U.S. – exported democracy.

 

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

 

 

Who’s aiding Judaisation?

July 22, 2010

By Nicola Nasser*

Since 1860, when the American Jewish tycoon Judah Touro donated $60,000 — a fortune for that time — towards the construction of the first Jewish settlement outside the old walls of Jerusalem, public and private American funds have aided the creation and territorial expansion of Israel. Israel today is the foremost recipient of US aid. According to a USAID green paper, between 1946 and 2008 Israel has received more aid than Russia, India, Egypt and Iraq. In fact, the US has poured more money into Israel than it did into the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. However, a recent New York Times article adds a new dimension to the story. On 5 July, the Times reported that, over the last decade more than 40 American groups have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, indicating that the US Treasury is effectively aiding and abetting illegal settlement expansion and the Judaisation of Jerusalem.

While the New York Times honed in on the irony of how a US government organ was facilitating the funnelling of private funds into activities and goals that ran counter to official US policy, and as significant as this is, the article failed to mention that the amount of private tax-exempt “donations” pales in comparison to the public funds that Washington has steadily poured into the Zionist project. For example, the US federal budget for 2011 has earmarked $3 billion in aid for Israel, or 42 per cent of the total amount of aid to be allocated to the so-called Near East for that year. It is also interesting to observe that the policies of USAID, an instrument that the State Department uses to pursue the US’s objectives overseas, also conflict with Washington’s official stances. USAID programmes for the Palestinians effectively exclude East Jerusalem. Its green papers and other official reports and statements make frequent mention of “the West Bank and Gaza” as headings for its activities, but rare are references to East Jerusalem. It is as though, for USAID, East Jerusalem is not an indivisible part of the occupied territories, in spite of Washington’s official acknowledgement that it is and in spite of the inclusion of East Jerusalem among the final status issues in the US- brokered negotiating process between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, the occupying power. One cannot help but suspect USAID — and by extension the State Department — of perpetrating a certain calculated deception through its deliberate and systematic omission of East Jerusalem in its programmes and documents.

PA officials in Ramallah expressed outrage at the tax breaks for private US donations to fund Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied territories. One suspects that the sentiment was primarily geared for local consumption, because they were quick to stress that the Palestinians were not ungrateful to the US and urged USAID to keep up its efforts. “The US is the chief supplier of bilateral economic and development aid to the Palestinians, supplying more than $2.9 billion since 1994,” wrote the Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency (PIPA) on its website in May. “The US helps facilitate the movement of Palestinian people and goods, while improving the security of Israel,” it added, as though it and other PA agencies were somehow detached from USAID “efforts” and the policies it is helping to implement. USAID has slated $550.4 million for the PA in its budget next year. The continuation of this aid is contingent on the continuation of the Palestinian Fatah-Hamas rift and the blockade. Nothing is allocated for East Jerusalem and the bulk of the funds are to be spent on “fighting drugs, law enforcement and security programmes”.

However, the reference to “facilitating movement” is even more suspect, and requires further elucidation in light of the part this aid plays in consolidating the occupation, entrenching Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and promoting the Judaisation of East Jerusalem. Successive US administrations and the countless shuttle visits by their envoys and emissaries have failed to lift the military barriers Israel imposes in the West Bank and around Jerusalem, to open a “safe corridor” between the West Bank and Gaza, or to open the crossings into Gaza even for the passage of humanitarian assistance. But they have been superbly successful in building “alternate” roads. These are the ring roads planned by the occupation authorities in order to link Jewish settlements that now control 42 per cent of the area of the West Bank, which does not include the area of occupied territory that Israel annexed to the Jerusalem municipality, according to the BTselem human rights centre. The ring roads also serve to carve the rest of the West Bank into cantons densely populated by Palestinians.

The Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) reports that USAID funded 23 per cent of the ring road network built by occupation authorities in 2004. Most of this roadwork is located in areas B and C which comprise more than 80 per cent of the area of the West Bank and which fall under the control of the Israeli occupation, which supervises all road works. The donor countries that are supervising and financing the “peace process” had approved the construction 500 kilometres of such roads, at the cost of $200 million, $114 million of which was footed by USAID. Another 120 kilometres is scheduled for completion by the end of this year. Most of this segment will skirt around the Jewish settlements in Greater Jerusalem, creating a wall of paved highway to reinforce the barrier wall severing the West Bank from Jerusalem and to reinforce the tipping of the demographic scale in Greater Jerusalem in favour of Jewish settlers and against its indigenous Palestinians.

The rest of the roadwork, which snakes through the valleys and up the hills and down the ravines of the West Bank, is hailed as an “accomplishment” by the Salam Fayyad government in Ramallah. Indeed, Fayyad goes further to boast of these roads as Palestinian projects that “penetrate” areas B and C and, therefore, “defy” the security partitions of the West Bank as defined by the Oslo Accords. In fact, neither can USAID claim these roads as one of its “achievements” in facilitating the movement of Palestinians under the occupation, nor can the PA claim them as a subtle victory. As Suhail Khaliliey, head of ARIJ’s Urbanisation Monitoring Department, explains, “What happens is that USAID presents this package of infrastructure projects to the PA and essentially says ‘Take it or leave it.’ So the PA is basically forced to accept Israeli-planned roads it doesn’t want.”

Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, director of the Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, puts it more poignantly: “It’s sad that the PA is helping to build its own cantons while the settlers control the main roads.”

Last month, Fayyad issued a statement denying that the PA contributed to the construction of a network of roads proposed by the occupying power. Ghasan Al-Khatib, a spokesman for the Fayyad government, added that the PA was doing all in its power to prevent the rise of “an apartheid system” in the West Bank. Unfortunately, realities on the ground belie such denials and assertions.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories. This article was translated from Arabic then published by Al-Ahram Weekly on July 22, 2010.