Fuck God!

Fuck God!

by

Howard Adelman

Wow! Neither the crusading atheists, Richard Dawkins nor Christopher Hitchens, wrote that. Hitchens did say to religious believers, “Fuck you” and Fuck off,” but never wrote or verbalized “Fuck God” to the best of my knowledge. That is because he was more interested in writing about his disbelief in God than indicating any relationship to God. For someone who blasphemes God suggests an irritation or anger with God, Otherwise, why say it? Irritation or anger with someone is not denial or banishment to an unspoken world. I wanted the reader to have at least a sliver of understanding about the powerful effect of blaspheming God.

Nevertheless, the expression in the title remains ambiguous. Not in its meaning! It is unequivocally a blasphemous statement. But it is ambiguous in the sense that the reader does not know whether I am asserting what the phrase says or whether I am writing down the phrase as an object for dissection. I could have put the expression in quotation marks, but that would not have helped much. Because I could be quoting myself. Further, I would have lost some of the impact. I want readers to grasp what blasphemy is directly since we are far removed from a world and a time when blasphemy was not merely shocking, but a reason to stone me to death for making such an utterance. If I may cite an eminent authority, Prince Charles declared that we had lost the sense of the sacred in our public life. We no longer recognize that cursing God should arouse revulsion, rage and revenge. When religious identity is at the core of who you are, then cursing God is akin to calling someone a dirty Jew.

Last evening, I saw an excellent Israeli Bedouin film called Sand Storm. At one point in the movie, a first wife not only disobeys her husband, but talks back to him and goes further and even insults him. She is not stoned. But she is “banished” from her husband’s compound and, in disgrace, sent back to the home of her parents and separated from her four daughters. We would not only regard the punishment as unacceptable, but as cruel and unjust. On the other hand, in the rabbinic tradition, capital punishment for blasphemy was avoided by resorting to the lesser penalty of banishment for limited periods, say seven days, though in the most liberal of states, the Netherlands, Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated in the middle of the seventeenth century for life for his pantheistic interpretation of God. (The condemnation has never been reversed.)

On my birthday two years ago on 7 January 2015, the newsroom massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo took place in Paris. The instigation for the attack was alleged blaspheme – and not even of God, but of one of his most important prophets – Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo spent years mocking believers and institutions like the Roman Catholic Church. Its cartoons were trenchant and telling, for the target was the marriage of belief and power and the elevation of some subjects to the sacred. The Catholic Church sued Charlie Hebdo 14 times, each unsuccessfully. The constant object of attack was the hidden and not so hidden racism in French society that hides behind white robes and the so-called civility of society.

This was precisely the subject of debate when two brothers, Said and Chérif Kouachi, with Kalashnikovs and a grenade launcher stormed the offices of the magazine shouting, “Allah Akbar,” God is great! as they fired indiscriminately and insisted that, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.” (On the same day, in addition to the journalists, a policeman as well as members of the Jewish community were murdered at other locations.) For Al Qaeda had vowed revenge when Charlie Hebdo first printed the portrait of the prophet on its front cover and then republished the infamous Danish caricature mocking Islamic fanaticism nine years after the cartoon first appeared. In defence of Al Qaeda, does not the Hebrew Torah also condemn cursing Abraham as well as God? (Exodus 22:27)

Canadian law (Criminal Code Section 296) still prohibits blasphemy, a critical issue for many now that Bill M-103 has passed condemning Islamophobia. Blasphemy is the act of showing contempt or failing to display reverence and respect for religious symbols or persons. Though the penalty is not execution or stoning, you can get up to two years in prison.

  1. (1) Everyone who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years

(2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.

(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in contrast, in 1952 in the case of Joseph Burstyn v. Wilson ruled that “it is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures.” Under the blasphemy laws until Cromwell intervened, a Sephardic Jew and physician, Jacob Lumbrozo, whose family had once fled the inquisition, was charged in Maryland, a Catholic colony, in 1658 with blasphemy under the ironically named Toleration Act of 1649 that adumbrated the language of the laws of George Orwell’s 1984.

The fight was over freedom of expression. For in our contemporary Western secular civil religion, freedom to say what you want is far more sacred than any reverence for divinity. But not everywhere. Specifically, not in the Middle East. Fanatics were causing mayhem and murder in their war against the new secular civic religion. In defence of the latter, some journalists were willing to risk and even sacrifice their lives. And sacrifice they did. All for insisting that laughter had to be protected in the face of assaults on it in the name of something else regarded as sacred. Charlie Hebdo was not against, was not opposed, to those who would elevate God or Jesus or Muhammad to sacred status. It did fight against those who would deny its right to have its own set of sacred values. Charlie Hebdo was not Islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo was philofreedom.

On the other hand, would Charlie Hebdo defend the right of Islamicists not only to openly advocate suppressing blasphemous speech, but to urge a community to stone or kill by other means anyone who engages in blasphemy? Would Charlie Hebdo not insist on some boundaries to free speech as a central core value, i.e., when free speech is used to advocate attacks on free speech and the murder of its defenders? When or if caveats are used to limit free speech in the name of free speech, especially if the defender of this position is an anarchist and/or pacifist like many of the journalists writing for Charlie Hebdo, is this not hypocrisy? Whatever one’s position, it does make clearer the strong motivation behind laws against blasphemy.

Whatever criticisms I have had of the French secular civil religion of laicité and its own paranoid intolerance of hijabs, that religion does affirm the right to be blasphemous. (See Caroline Fourest (2015) Éloge du blaphsphème, In Praise of Blasphemy, Grasset.) The civic religion of North America does not, and no English edition was published even though the United States is far ahead of Canada on this subject. Further, the current compassionate Pope Francis in some sense defended the murderous response to blasphemy as “normal.”

And it once was. Blasphemous, irreverent or sacrilegious words about God are not only condemned, but acts not strictly in accord with God’s instructions for behaviour in the holy of holies are worthy of capital punishment as well. God killed the two eldest sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, for making such an error. Profaning God’s name was equivalent to profaning God’s home. Fanatical Islam simply expands the targets to anyone insulting the Prophet of Islam. One of the deep roots for the condemnation of blasphemy is to be found in this week’s portion of Leviticus. And not only in Leviticus. Exodus 22:27 reads:

אֱלֹהִים לֹא תְקַלֵּל וְנָשִׂיא בְעַמְּךָ לֹא תָאֹר. You shall not revile God, nor put a curse upon a chieftain among your people.

Insulting the head of state is also considered blasphemy.

The opening chapter of Parashat Emor (verse 6 of chapter 21) reads:

קְדֹשִׁים יִהְיוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם וְלֹא יְחַלְּלוּ שֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיהֶם… They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God.

The injunction is repeated in 22:32. “Don’t profane my Holy NAME that I may be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel.”

The wording in Leviticus 25:14 sets out the penalty:

ויקרא כד:יד הוֹצֵא אֶת הַמְקַלֵּל אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְסָמְכוּ כָל הַשֹּׁמְעִים אֶת יְדֵיהֶם עַל רֹאשׁוֹ וְרָגְמוּ אֹתוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָה. Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands upon his head, and let the whole community stone him.

Leviticus 24:15 states:

ויקרא כד:טו …אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יְקַלֵּל אֱלֹהָיו וְנָשָׂא חֶטְאוֹ. כד:טז וְנֹקֵב שֵׁם יְ-הוָה מוֹת יוּמָת רָגוֹם יִרְגְּמוּ בוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָהכַּגֵּר כָּאֶזְרָח בְּנָקְבוֹ שֵׁם יוּמָת. Anyone who vilifies his God shall bear his guilt. And the one who invokes the name of YHWH shall surely die, all the assembly shall surely stone him; the ger and the citizen alike, he who invokes the name shall die.

The impression seems clear. Blasphemy is verboten and deserving of the harshest punishment. However, is that the lesson of the text? I suggest otherwise. The text offers one case study. (24:11) The son of an Israelite woman who married an Egyptian gets into a fight with an Israelite and says the equivalent of, “Fuck God!” Moses, upon God’s command, orders the community to remove that individual and stone him. Banishment alone was insufficient given the perceived enormity of the crime.

וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת הַשֵּׁם וַיְקַלֵּל וַיָּבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְשֵׁם אִמּוֹ שְׁלֹמִית בַּת דִּבְרִי לְמַטֵּה דָן. The son of the Israelite woman invoked the name, vilifying it, and he was brought to Moses. And the name of his mother was Shelomith, daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan.

But then why is the description of this event immediately followed by a universal injunction against taking another’s life? Is the passage and the general narrative really about an objection to blasphemy or is it an objection to a norm which justifies murder provoked even by blasphemy? For is not the implication of the initial tale of a fight between an Israelite and a child of a mixed marriage that the fight was about racism? This fight ran contrary to the injunction to welcome the stranger, to welcome the ger. And even within the laws of blasphemy, was not the ger to be treated equally with any Israelite? The key question is whether the incident illustrates how important and sacred are laws protecting the sacred so that those who defile God’s name are to be put to death. Or is the story told to carry the message that racism is wrong and that murder in the name of blasphemy is heinous?

We have two interpretations of the same narrative that are totally at odds. In one, a standard version, the text stresses the enormity of the crime of blasphemy and the consequent severe punishment for engaging in it. For blasphemy was an attack on the central core beliefs of the Israelites in their one and singular God. Reverence for God is absolutely necessary to preserve and strengthen the identity of the Israelites as holy, as God’s chosen people. Profaning the name of God detracts not only from the reverence for God, but turns the utterer away from being holy to being profane. (21:6) God, in turn, may, as a result of such treatment, turn his back on His chosen people and abandon them as unholy. Further, when the sacrilege of blasphemy takes place, it is necessary to unite the people in defence of God’s name.

In the other interpretation, the real issue is racism and the gross mistreatment of someone who curses God. What is the evidence for questioning the standard interpretation? A least, what are the puzzles that give rise to questioning the standard traditional account?

Note the following:

  • The boy (not man) who commits the “crime” of blasphemy is the child of a mixed marriage.
  • There is an implication that the altercation that gave rise to his cursing God was the use of a racial epithet against him.
  • Though the son is not named, the Israelite mother is, Shelomit (a peacenik (though Rashi calls her a strumpet), daughter of Dibri (from dever, destruction) of the tribe of Dan; there is also the suggestion that she was a single mother, possibly the mother of a son that was the result of rape by an Egyptian man in an inversion of the Moses story.
  • Professor Wendy Zierier has pointed out that the phrasing used is both unusual and follows the same formulation as the reference to the matriarch, Rebecca, “who is referred to as רִבְקָה בַּת־בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם, “Rebecca, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, from Paddan-Aram,” a formulation also used to depict the kings of Israel.
  • Why is the parent of a blaspheming son provided with such a lofty designation and what had her preachiness about peace and her heritage from a shit-disturber have to do with the meaning of the story?
  • There is the repeated stress that all children of God, not just Israelites, fall under the injunction not to profane God’s name.
  • Further, Israelites are specifically enjoined not to wrong the ger, the stranger who lives amongst them.
  • However, there is the suggestion that an Egyptian, unlike the stranger, is not to be treated equally because he introduced an “impurity” into the Israeli blood – if this sounds racist, that is the intention; after all, Leviticus insists that it is wrong to wear clothes made of mixed materials or to take one breed of cattle and “mix” it with another.
  • Further, the father of that son was an Egyptian, a ember of a people whose oppression the Israelis fled; the boy is not just of a mixed “race,” but his father was an enemy and not just a stranger living among the Israelites.
  • In the punishment, the boy is first banished from the camp and stoned outside it.

The answer to these puzzles, which I can only sketch, interprets the tale, not as a defence of blasphemy laws, not as a defence of racism, not as a defence of patrilineal descent, but as a stricture against such values. It is precisely because laws of blasphemy can be abused by those in power, as Queen Jezebel used them to punish and take away the vineyard for her husband, King Ahab. Donald Trump has demonstrated that he is made of the same deformed spirit who would punish those not absolutely loyal to and in service of his regime so that what he says is not hate speech, but what the critical media write.

The meaning of the tale is given by the ending – do not murder. Do not kill. Especially, do not kill in the name of protecting God’s name. If that is the case, why does God order Moses to tell the people to stone the boy? I suggest it is a parallel to God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son. Only this time, God does not intervene and save Moses from such a heinous act. Moses carries it out and stains the future of Jewry and of all humankind just as he once, in rage against an Egyptian overseer’s injustice, killed that Egyptian. In the end, Moses never learned to overcome his rage and all humans had to be enjoined not to kill.

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Turkey Foreign Policy

Turkey: Foreign Policy

by

Howard Adelman

It is always remarkable when a domestic policy issue becomes a matter of foreign policy. Yesterday morning, I discussed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasing repression of the media and, in particular, the arrest of Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of Turkey’s largest circulation newspaper, Zaman, and Hidayet Karaca, director of the news channel, STV. When combined with the corruption scandals, the purge of the Gulenists, the total sidestepping off the military on an issue that directly affects its self-image as the embodiment of the Turkish people and its ability to perform, the increasingly dire economic, health and educational reports on the government’s performance, and Erdoğan’s determined efforts to convert the Turkish parliamentary polity into a highly centralized presidential system, but one without checks and balances, then the signs of weakness of the Erdoğan government are everywhere on which foreign governments can pounce. However, rarely do governments use press freedom and rights to free speech as the instruments to undermine an ally of which it is increasingly critical.

This is particularly interesting because Turkey has a long enough history of vibrant press freedom that has revealed the media repression to be very porous. Erdoğan‘s Kurd political satrap, his former economic minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, has a bad habit, just as Erdoğan has, of putting his foot in his mouth and probably ill-gotten gains in his pocket. In the spring, he self-righteously defended his son, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, who had just been arrested and charged with involvement in the 2003 corruption scandal. What was the defense? A blatantly anti-Semitic response! “I would understand if a Jew, an atheist, a Zoroastrian would do all these things to us. Shame on them if these things are done by those who claim to be Muslim. How can a Muslim do this?”

After the Gulenist purge from the police and the judiciary by Erdoğan, a Turkish court very recently dropped the corruption charges against 53 people, including Çağlayan’s son, Salih Kaan Çağlayan, and the sons of two other cabinet ministers. But all has not be sanguine. Just over a week ago, Hurriyet, a mass-circulation paper normally in Erdogan’s back pocket, played up the corruption scandal on its front page by following up on the parliamentary query by Corruption Commission Chairman, Hakki Koylu, an AKP loyalist, of the suspicious transfer of 2.5 million Turkish lira ($1.06 million) to Çağlayan’s personal bank account.

Erdogan may still appear invulnerable as the elected choice of the people, except that he won the presidential elections, in spite of alleged vote rigging, by a very slim margin. As the spiritual core of the AKP and the leader that carried his cohort to both political power and personal wealth, he is now incapable of separating himself from those colleagues. Countries that have grown weary of Erdogan’s unreliability are now taking advantage of that weakness and, in particular, his efforts to suppress the media, to undermine him further – in spite of commentators, like Semih Idiz, who still see the efforts at consolidation of power while sweeping the corruption scandal under the rug to be unstoppable. However, the combination of the suppression of the media through the arrests of journalists and heavy fines levied against media outlets by the government and the news of the widespread corruption, may, as Nobel prize-winning writer, Orhan Pamuk commented, but with my cliché, offer the two straws that broke the camel’s back.

Given America’s strategic interest in ensuring that Turkey remains a capable and secure partner, particularly in the fight against Islamic State, it now seems that those strategic interests can be married to the issue of a free press. Jen Psaki, Secretary of State John Kerry’s spokesperson on foreign affairs, while admitting that John Kerry has not personally taken up the issue, and while insisting that Turkey remains a democracy and an important ally and NATO power, clearly suggested that the American embassy in Ankara has raised the issue of press freedom in Turkey. She replied to press queries about the media repression in Turkey by saying that, “the United States supports freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest. We look to Turkey to uphold these fundamental freedoms. We remain concerned about due process, broadly speaking, and effective access to justice in Turkey…we are concerned by the detention of journalists and media representatives following police raids on the offices of media which have been critical of the government. Media freedom, due process, and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish constitution. Freedom of the media includes the freedom to criticize the government. Voicing opposition does not equal conspiracy or treason. As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold Turkey’s core values and democratic foundations.”

Criticism for the US of Turkey has become more blatant. The EU has been even more critical than the US. The EU has openly stated that the raids were incompatible with media freedoms and, further, suggested they could affect Turkey’s longstanding bid to join the bloc. Erdoğan has responded by dismissing such threats, but most ordinary Turks take them seriously.

However, whatever the debates over media suppression, the current central issue in foreign policy for Turkey is – not Israel and Gaza or even Cyprus – but the rise and spread of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. On the one hand, Turkey has harboured Islamic State militants and permitted Islamicists to cross the border into Syria to fight the Bashar al-Assad regime. The main opposition military supply line runs from Turkey to the northern city of Aleppo, which is why the recent Syrian army recapture of Aleppo was so important. At the same time, true to his faith in the teachings of his hero, the Turkish anti-Semitic philosopher, Nurettin Topcu (1909-1975) (see his essays “Money and the Jew”, mankind’s two enemies, and “Human Beings and Jews” where Jews are depicted as the bloody and sinful ordeal for humanity), Erdoğan himself envisions Turkey as the future Islamic caliphate. So he is tempted as well as pressured to join the US-led coalition against Islamic State. However, he has not.

 

In the meanwhile, AKP media mouthpieces deride that US pressure as a conspiracy to trap Turkey into fighting battles for the West. Erdoğan denounced Interpol when, at the request of Egypt, it issued an arrest warrant for Youssef al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi is an Egyptian-Qatari national as well as an intellectual eminence grise of the Muslim Brotherhood and president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, who is suspected of having found a safe haven in Turkey. Is Erdoğan protecting Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who has supported suicide bombings in Israel and endorsed the killing of Jewish fetuses? For Qaradawi, Muslims can only speak to Jews through the sword and the rifle.

On 21 November, Dursun Ali Sahin, an Erdoğan appointed governor of Edirne in Eastern Thrace, a city that once had 13,000 Jews and now has only 2 as a result of systematic ethnic cleansing over the years, decided to convert the Jewish synagogue there into a museum, but one in which there would be no displays. After an outcry, Ali Sahin apologized and said he had been misinterpreted. However, it is widely believed that Erdoğan’s anti-Israeli rhetoric is a distraction for his deeper anti-Semitic convictions. So much for Hamas’ cousin, the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, occupying the peaceful road to Islamic unity.

Turkey and Egypt have become each other’s worst enemies. They have cut off diplomatic relations with one another and Egyptian men between the ages of 18 and 40 are banned by their government from traveling to Turkey without the written approval of Egyptian State Security. This has also exacerbated the tension between Turkey and the West, a tension enhanced to the breaking point when the US State Department issues its annual reports on the mistreatment and torture of political prisoners in Turkey at the same time as both countries obfuscate the Turkish-American illegal rendition, detention and torture of Islamist terror suspects. Turkey (the only NATO member to do so) vociferously denounced American actions in the wake of the recent Senate report on the illegal activities and torture by calling on those who violated laws and democratic norms to be held to account. Ankara tried to have it both ways, staking out its greater moral purity while disguising its own sins and never acknowledging that Turkey participated in the rendition of terrorists as cited in the Senate Report. Nor has Erdoğan admitted that he made the Incirlik air base available to the Americans for transfer of those prisoners while continuing to stress his deep-seated anti-western outlook. It is no wonder that relations between Erdoğan and his European and American allies have become so strained.

If Turkish-American relations are strained, to say the least, Turkey’s over fifty-year-old pursuit of membership in the EU, if it has not almost been completely abandoned, is in the doldrums and, thus, the EU threats ring more hollow as Erdoğan continues to pose that he is still interested, though little has been done to whittle down the 14 outstanding conditions for accession from the original 35. But his actions belie his words as Turkey demonstrates an increasing unwillingness to comply with the EU’s entry restrictions.

Cyprus remains a sore point, not only between Greece and Turkey, but between the EU and Turkey. The EU has never stopped objecting to Turkey’s occupation of the northern half of the island. As Greek Cyprus pursues a joint hydrocarbon exploration with Israel and Egypt as partners, Turkey can only fume and foam and threaten to disrupt the exploration by deploying the Turkish navy. Erdoğan’s loose tongue does not help. A week before the EU ministers and top brass visited Ankara for talks, he fired a fuselage: European Christian states do not like Muslims but they love the “oil, gold, diamonds and the cheap labour force of the Islamic world”. He went even further: Europeans were accused of enjoying watching Muslim children die.

So why do Western leaders troop religiously to Ankara, not only European leaders (recently High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, Frederica Mogherini, and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain), but US Vice-President Joe Biden in November and the Pope in December. The unequivocal answer – realpolitik. The West will do whatever it can to keep the Islamists from allying with the far more radical Islamicists. The EU and the USA are also wary of the growing friendship and links between fellow wannabe strongmen who are remarkably similar in a number of respects – Putin and Erdoğan – as they come closer to one another in sharing their increasing international isolation. This explains the delicate tightrope walk by both the USA and the EU as they reinforce the message that Turkey is an important ally and, at the same time, raise the decibel level of the criticism of the Erdoğan government.

Erdoğan’s decision to allow Turkey to be used for pipelines as a transit route for natural gas between the Middle East and the West both has undermined the Russian-Tukey relationship while, at the same time, it has brought Putin to Ankara to woo Erdoğan with his charms, though unlikely to be completely successful given Russia’s support for Turkey’s enemy, Assad’s Syria. Putin, however, came armed. On his visit at the beginning of December, Putin announced that the US$22 billion South Stream project running through Bulgaria from Russia would be scrapped. However, that proposal turned into an unloaded gun when, in the face of Western sanctions against Russia, Bulgaria declined to host the pipeline.

Putin had to become more fawning than ever on his December 1st visit to Turkey and proposed a huge 63 billion cubic metre capacity pipeline from Russia through Turkey in addition to the 16 billion cubic capacity pipeline already under construction to supply both Turkey and Europe with Russian natural gas. This would provide the kleptocrats in Turkey with a large amount of loose change. These projects are over and above the 18 billion cubic metre Tanap project from Azerbaijan through Turkey to Europe that Iran is building. Turkmenistan will also be able to access that pipeline for oil transmission. As a bonus for Turkish cooperation, Russia promised to reduce the costs of gas to Turkey by 6% on 1 January 2015.

In spite of realpolitik, it is amazing that Turkey has not been evicted from NATO for ignoring the boycott of Russia over the issue of Ukraine.

Here is where money trumps ideology. Israel too may also be permitted to build a pipeline from its enormous gas fields on the Mediterranean coast to Turkey. Although economic cooperation between Israel and Turkey may be forging ahead, political relations continue to worsen. Israel has accused Turkey of training Hamas operatives while Turkey insists it is only hosting Hamas Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and its leader, Saleh al-Aruri who was deported from the West Bank by Israel in 2012 after his 18-year prison sentence had been served. Even the Palestinian Authority accuses Aruri, with support from Ankara, of planning multiple attacks against Israeli targets.

The contradiction between economic interests and ideological convictions, between the realities of the marke place and Erdoğan’s populist domestic policies, such as the distribution of free coal to the needy that also serves as a cover for stealing money from the public (estimated at 10 billion Turkish lira by the end of 2013 when rake-offs from the coal deals, transportation and distribution are all taken into account) as Turkey closes dangerous and inefficient coal mines forcing the government to buy coal on the spot market, both of low quality and high cost, to meet its “obligations” as that coal must be distributed for electoral benefit in the run-up to the June elections. In addition to a press freedom crisis and a corruption crisis, Turkey is coming closer and closer to a financial crisis. In the process, the EU and the USA are putting their joint weight on the opposite side of the teeter-totter than Erdoğan.

Turkey’s obsession with orchestrating regime change in Syria has been a failure, yet Ankara does little about the rising threat of lslamic State even as Turkish cars are stolen to be used as car bombs, as in the 29 November suicide attack in Kobani at the Mursitpinar crossing into Turkey. Turkish territory is used as preparation areas for attacks by IS on Syria. IS fighters can be found in Turkish villages near the Mursitpinar border crossing with Syria. Those fighters attack the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces from the rear as the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, now that it has secured a revenue-sharing agreement with Baghdad, grows closer to the Kurds in Turkey than to the government in Ankara

Is Ankara hosting IS as pressure on the anti-Assad coalition, that includes Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain, to create a buffer and no-fly zone on the Syrian side of the Turkish border? Why is Erdoğan so stubbornly resistant to including Assad representatives in the Geneva talks sponsored by both Russia and the US? Erdoğan has chastised the US for its “impertinence, recklessness and endless demands” offered from “12,000 kilometers away”. In some ways the criticism is wholly justified for Turkey hosts over a million Syrian refugees (Ankara says it is 1.6 million) while countries like Canada cannot even muster the ability to admit a meagre 1,300 to which it is already pledged.

Nevertheless, Turkey increasingly appears as the odd man out in the Middle East with enemies in Cairo, Damascus, and the Arabian peninsula, cool relations with Baghdad, not to speak of its direct rivalry with Tehran. Netanyahu has to be gloating with these radical shifts since the 2010 Mavi Marmara episode even as Erdoğan continues to host Hamas and enhance its presence in the West Bank.

Egypt

Egypt

by

Howard Adelman

Israel’s main concern with regard to Egypt has been the border between Gaza and Egypt that has been used as a corridor for arms flowing into Gaza. Israel is also very sensitive to the security of its border with the Sinai, both for military reasons, given the use of Sinai by terrorist groups to attack both Israel and Egypt, as well as Sinai serving as the main transit route for refugees from Africa seeking a haven in Israel. Israel seems disinterested in the military overthrow of democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government by the current President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Sisi), who was then head of the Egyptian armed forces, the subsequent repression of that Brotherhood, and, more generally, the widespread denial of human rights within Egypt.

Before we turn to the Egyptian border and terrorism issues, it is helpful if we sketch some examples of media repression within Egypt. Popular singer, Hamza Namira, who became famous three years ago because of his songs celebrating the hope and freedom of the 2011 Arab Spring, has been banned from radio and television because of his “critical” songs. Those songs cannot be broadcast by others. Khaled Abol Naga, a famous Egyptian actor, has been accused of treason because of his outspoken opinions; his job options have dried up. Within one week, two top TV talk hosts were dismissed from their positions –Wael Ibrashi from the TV Dream Channel after Ibrashi criticized some ministers in the Sisi government, in particular the Education Minister for the poor state of Egyptian schools (see later), and Mahmoud Saad of Al-Nahar TV simply because one of his guests referred of Egypt’s “defeat” in the 1967 war. These were two privately-owned stations. The government already tightly controls Egyptian-owned media.

More recently, the attacks on private media outlets have become more comprehensive. Owners of both private and public media were recently summoned to a “self-criticism” meeting. The seventeen heads were forced to sign a statement that the outlets they ran would not criticize the army, police or the judiciary lest ‘these governmental institutions be discredited in the eyes of the public’. In reality, the freedom to publish applied to any article or statement that may be deemed to be offering ‘support to terrorism’ and, therefore, ‘provocative’ in the eyes of the government. Khaled al-Balshi, a prominent left-wing Egyptian journalist, who had steadfastly opposed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and who founded the Front to Defend Journalists and the Rights of Citizens, suggested that the actions of the Sisi government have been far more repressive that those of its predecessor. Under this regime, six journalists have been killed, and eleven remain in prison.
Internationally, the most notorious has been the arrest eleven months ago and subsequent conviction and jailing of three journalists reporting for English al-Jazeera. Unlike the latter’s English language media reports, the Egypt-focused channel of al-Jazeera, Mubashir Misr, is viewed by many Egyptians as well as the government as favouring the Muslim Brotherhood, though this was likely because the Egyptian bureau was pro-democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood has been blamed for inciting anti-government protests. Thousands of their members have been rounded up and imprisoned. The government concern with security has been used to prosecute both the Muslim Brotherhood as well as pro-democracy activists and even the three journalists who worked for English al-Jazeera. In reading their dispatches, they come across as neutral professional foreign correspondents.

Which is what they are. Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, formerly a CNN and New York Times foreign correspondent, Australian Peter Greste, formerly a foreign correspondent of BBC and Reuters, and Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed, the youngest of the three and only employed seven months before he was arrested, were accused of spreading false news (defamation) and supporting and collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood. The two foreign Canadian and Australian journalists were sentenced to seven years each, though Sisi may be on the verge of pardoning them. Bader received an extra three year sentence for weapons possession and, as an Egyptian whose father was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood though the son apparently was not, seems unlikely to be pardoned in spite of the apparent trumped-up nature of the charges against all three.
His treatment poses the greatest chill on Egyptian journalism, though he might eventually be released if the Saudi Arabia’s effort in mediating the dispute between Qatar and Egypt develops favourably. The arrests of the three journalists from English al-Jazeera in Egypt seem to have had as much to do with Qatar’s ownership of al-Jazeera as with media repression. Though Qatar denies it, the country has been widely accused of funding terrorists. Though Qatar hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East, in addition to its financial support for Hamas in Gaza, Qatar is supposedly the largest private source of donations both to the Islamic State as well as other al-Qaeda affiliates. But on 27 September, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar declared that, “What is happening in Iraq and Syria is extremism and such organizations are partly financed from abroad, but Qatar has never supported and will never support terrorist organizations”. This statement was made in spite of well-known Qatar financial support for al-Qaeda in Mali and Chechnya. The statement was also made in spite of Sheikh Yusuf Abdullah al-Qaradawi, a fiery antisemitic Muslim leading scholar in the Muslim Brotherhood with a pro-terrorist as well as fundamentalist Islamic message, given free reign in Doha.

Whatever its support for terrorism, Qatar openly supports the Muslim Brotherhood and publicly labeled the overthrow of the Morsi regime on 3 July 2013 a military coup. The Brotherhood leadership was given sanctuary in Qatar where it retains an outlet to the media. Egypt removed its ambassador from Doha. Qatar is a tiny state with only 278,000 citizens, though it is host to 1.5 million resident foreigners. However, Qatar is also very wealthy with an enormous sovereign wealth fund and holds the third largest natural gas reserves. Qatar is the sole remaining source of international support for the Brotherhood. A rapprochement between Qatar and Egypt would be a mortal blow to the Muslim Brotherhood. The arrest in Qatar of on 20 November of Brotherhood leader Mohammed Ali Beshr may be a first public indicator that a reconciliation between Qatar and Egypt is in process. A rapprochement between Egypt and Qatar facilitated through Saudi mediation could lead to limiting the ability of the Brotherhood to communicate to its supporters and, for Israel, cutting off a very important source of terrorist funding for Hamas. Qatar could then serve to mediate between the Sisi government and the latter’s efforts to tame the Brotherhood and Israel’s efforts to tame Hamas.

Egypt has also been reluctant to repay a $3 billion dollar loan owed to Qatar and this may also be a factor in the Egyptian-Qatar deteriorating relationship even more significant than the imprisonment of the three journalists. That debt is the remaining part of an $8 billion dollar aid loan made to Prime Minister Hisham Qandil’s government when Morsi was still president after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rejected a $4.8 billion dollar loan when the government refused to form a broader-based government. The latter development would have released a further $12 billion in bilateral aid. In some sense, Qatar’s release of pressure on the Morsi regime because of its loan could be blamed for allowing President Morsi to form a narrow-based government. A broad-based government might have side-tracked the military coup. If so, the Sisi government should, ironically, be grateful to Qatar.

For internationals, the major concern has not been the anti-democracy agenda of the Sisi government, but the security of Egypt and how that security is being ensured by the government. Many countries, especially Turkey, have been very critical of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, but those same countries seem to have been indifferent to the Egyptian repression of human rights as well as its blockade on the thirteen mile border with Gaza. Recently, Egypt doubled the size of its corridor along the Gaza border from a 500 metre no-man’s land to one 1,000 metres wide once military officials discovered that some of the tunnels were almost 800 metres long. Immediately after the last Israeli-Gaza war, Egypt claimed it had discovered a myriad of tunnels. Like the ones from Gaza into Israel, these tunnels went into the Egyptian town of Rafah and were used to smuggle both civilian goods and armaments into Gaza, and, possibly more important to Egypt, to smuggle arms and terrorists back into Egypt. Unlike Israel which built its buffer on Gazan land, Egypt constructed its buffer on Egyptian land and confiscated over a thousand Egyptian houses in the urban areas along the Gaza border.

I suggested above that a main reason for Egypt destroying the tunnels was to prevent terrorists and munitions getting back into Egypt to practice guerilla war against the new military dictatorship. A week ago, jihadists released a video of their attack in Sinai that took place in the previous month in which jihadists killed 31soldiers in the terrorist attack against the Karam-al-Kawadis military base on 24 October. Two days before the release of the video of that terrorist attack – which showed a tank running from the battle and soldiers surrendering without firing a shot after a truck loaded with two tons of explosives penetrated the military perimeter of the base and blew up – jihadists killed another 5 soldiers and police after the terrorists set up roadblocks and scoured cars so they could drag out and execute soldiers and police officers. What chutzpa! Setting up roadblocks within a military zone! At the same time, eight seamen had been captured and killed when presumed jihadists in a flotilla of small boats attacked a naval vessel.

The Muslim Brotherhood and even Hamas were now child’s play compared to the audacity, boldness and discipline of Egypt’s most militant jihadists, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. Hamas has been explicit in disassociating itself from both Islamic State and the Egyptian Ansar Beit al-Maqdis terrorist group lest its relationship with Egypt be destroyed altogether as if its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood were not enough. Hamas openly condemned ISIS tactics and use of religion to support terrorism.

Three weeks ago, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis declared its allegiance and affiliation with Islamic State, presumably in an effort to further enhance its recruitment and fund raising as well as exclusivity for possession of the jihadist and terrorist brand. According to government spokesmen, the real reason was because the Egyptian military had effectively targeted its munitions supplies and had cut off the source of reinforcements. After all, the Egyptian military was ranked thirteenth in the world. Nevertheless, the militant jihadists already had a terrifying record of killing hundreds of soldiers and police officers from the Sinai to the Western desert, often using the same signature as Islamic State – beheading their captives. Like Islamic State, there was a high likelihood that they would now turn to targeting civilians in an effort to destroy Egypt’s lucrative tourist industry.

The competition against the Islamic State for the Islamist brand is being initiated by the Sufis who were incensed by the 14 October car-bombing of the Sufi Ahmad Al-Badawi mosque and shrine of Al-Sayyid Al-Badawi, founder of the Badawiyyah Sufi order. Would the politicization of the Sufi order, a powerful force within Egypt, provide short term support for Sisi but undermine that support in the long run?

The sense of desperation of ordinary Egyptians in the face of such fiery militants, on the one hand, and the determined repression of the new military regime, on the other hand, is indicated by the lack of any significant protest in creating the 1,000 metre wide border corridor with Gaza and the displacement of over a thousand families in Rafah. The military might boast from time to time that ten militants had been killed here, that a munitions warehouse had been discovered and blown up there, but in spite of the heavy censorship of the press, the threat of the militants grew by leaps and bounds compared to fears of the military authorities, especially when the military had boasted a year earlier that the jihadists were on the verge of extinction in the face of the military campaign against them. Empty boasts stood beside repeated audacious military actions to embarrass the military government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who was finally elected to office in May of this year.

If civilian fears grew along with the decline in faith in the military government for providing security, what happened in the American Congress that was responsible for allocating hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Egyptian regime? The January 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Law had set aside $1.3 billion for Egyptian military aid, but only 44% of that sum had been released pending certain benchmark achievements in the military regime’s move to “restore” democracy. With a new Republican majority in both houses, concerns over human rights and democratic progress were unlikely to stand in the way of such limitations on allocations if remarks last week by the Chair of the State and Operations Panel, Kay Granger, a Republican Congressional representative from Texas, are any indication. Since the administration failed to label the overthrow of the democratically-elected Morsi regime as a coup, the handwriting of the decline of those stalwarts in support of democracy in Egypt has been apparent.

American fears that Sisi was not up to the task of destroying the militants, as well as a fear that the military aid would fall into the hands of the jihadists, made even Republicans hesitate. Nevertheless, Americans, and the Israelis as well, seem to have no other option than supporting the Sisi regime since both had by and large sacrificed their commitment to democracy and human rights in Egypt for their security concerns. The question now was whether the Obama administration orders, which had held up delivery of Apache helicopters, F-6 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams tanks and Harpoon missiles, would remain in place or would be surrendered in exchange for Congressional approval on an issue more central to the administration’s agenda.
Egypt, of course, has a myriad of other problems that undermine faith in a government even as determined and repressive as the Sisi regime, such as maintenance of its infrastructure even as its schools continue to deteriorate at risk to both teachers and students. Last month, Youssef Mohamed, a primary school student at Ammar ibn Yasir public school in rural El-Matareya region (markaz) in the northeastern Dakahlia Governorate on Lake Manzala, died when a window fell out of its frame and the broken pane of glass severed the student’s throat. The student might have survived if his teacher had been in the room at the time and if that teacher had taken prompt action – which he did not do even when he was disturbed from having a snack – or if several hospitals had not refused to admit the badly-injured student given his precarious state and their refusal to assume responsibility. A week later, almost exactly a month ago, seven-year-old Youssef Soltan Zaki died when the iron school gate fell off its rusty hinges onto him at the Zaghyrat public primary school in the Matrouh Governorate 500 kilometres from Cairo. At the end of October, a high school student, Peter Magdy, was skewered by a fence stake at Ahmed Bahgat Secondary School in Giza.

These sample incidents – which do not include the numerous students killed in bus accidents (18 students dead on 5 November on the Cairo-Alexandria agricultural road) – were not only tragic, but seemed symbolic in a country where the government had assumed all authority and there was a widespread fear of individuals standing out and assuming responsibility lest they be held accountable in a system that was not subject to the rule of law designed to protect the people. If individuals act and something untoward occurs, they are held responsible. If they fail to act, they are held responsible. And if they are in lower positions of authority, they are sacrificed to save the skin of the government that fails to supply to funds to maintain the schools. Thus, the principals at the affected schools were suspended and brought to police headquarters for questioning.

If the government continually appears incompetent to manage its infrastructure let alone handle militants who directly assault the military, the government’s ability even to protect government buildings seems to be in question. Sisi’s government felt compelled last month to enact a special law against civilians who “assault” government facilities and to refer all those charged to military rather than civilian courts for judgment. Though the instigation for such a law seemed not to be just about protests but actual physical violence against public property – a roadside bomb near the Foreign Ministry offices in Cairo, an explosion in downtown Cairo near a subway station and another at Cairo University – the real impetus to the militarization of the rule of law seems to have arisen not so much from a spate of such incidents as from the panic that set into the government when the 31 soldiers mentioned above were killed last month.

And what about developing new infrastructure? Development projects in the Sinai – primarily the twenty-five-year-old Al-Salam Canal project to irrigate and recover 620,000 acres in Sinai for the benefit of Sinai tribes and resettlement of three million Egyptians in a well-planned new city and a number of towns with both an industrial area and surrounding agricultural land properly serviced by roads, electricity, schools and hospitals – were based on the principle that economic development is the primary way to combat the jihadi militants rather than relying primarily of the military. This priority seems to have been postponed for the ostensible reason that the water for the reclamation of the land was polluted by the heavy amount of untreated sewage that has been flowing into the Suez Canal. Decades since the plan was originally conceived, progress has been further delayed and construction related to the development has been abandoned. Priority has evidently been given to building water treatment plants.

Priority has also been given to shifting the economy to one governed by the School of Chicago economic principles opposed to the myriad of government subsidies. However, the abandonment of those subsides may make the overall economy function better – it could hardly function much worse – but the result will inevitably be at the cost of those at the bottom of the Egyptian economy and for the benefit of those at the top. Further, key military figures are certain to become rich in this shift. Thus, corruption will replace subsidies in undermining the efficiency of the economy.

Egypt inadvertently and only implicitly has become Israel’s most important unacknowledged ally in the Middle East but, in the long run, may prove simply to be Israel’s most dangerous Achilles’ heel.

Iran

IRAN

by

Howard Adelman

I try to review the situation in the Middle East once a year so that I can update myself more systematically than through passive reading. Anyone else is invited both to read and respond to what I write. Admittedly, my perspective looks at the countries of the Middle East from an Israeli perspective, which in itself causes some distortion. But any perspective does.

I begin with Iran because the possible threat of Iran becoming a nuclear power is, by far, Israel’s foremost foreign policy concern. Further, the division between the United States and Israel over the West Bank and East Jerusalem pales in significance compared to the differences the two allies have over negotiations with Iran. As everyone knows, Israel has been very critical of the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran over the nuclear issue. The deadline for a deal is only a week away (24 November) and part of the guesswork is whether that deadline will be extended once again.

However, that deadline has become more significant and more pressing since the recent midterm Republican sweep in the US congressional elections. On the one hand, there are those who urge Obama to get the deal signed before it can be vetoed by the Senate. Already Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez are threatening to target Iran’s oil industry with new sanctions unless the agreement includes ironclad conditions that will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Iran remaining a threshold nuclear power, even if the period for achieving the production of a bomb is extended to a year, is insufficient for these strong opponents of the Iran negotiations. At the same time, there are others who urge Obama to demonstrate clearly that he intends to work closely with Congress using the Iran portfolio as an example.

Obama’s problem is that many members of both Houses, including many democrats, believe that this administration has already given away the store and is willing to allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear power, and with far too short a timeline. The Obama administration has insisted that Iran’s timeline for making a nuclear bomb will be at least one year. Critics who claim to know the terms of the deal in the making insist that it is only six months. This is certainly the view of the Israeli government and even of members of the Knesset from the Labour opposition. The two extremes – a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities versus a hands off approach to Iran’s nuclear program – are both off the table for the present. What is at stake is the degree of conciliation the US is willing to concede to Iran. Further, the deal appears to depend on Congress passing legislation to lift the sanctions or whether the Iranians are willing to accept a Presidential executive order to “suspend” the sanctions in stages, which seems the best that the White House can deliver at this time.

The Iranian government has its own pressures. On the one hand, the new government clearly wants the economic sanctions lifted. On the other hand, demands for a total stop to their nuclear enrichment program crosses a red line that they refuse to pass. Last month, and without telling his allies, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, President Obama sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, suggesting re-establishing diplomatic relations as well as cooperating on combating the extremist Sunni jihadists in ISIS. A week ago, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, confirmed that Obama had indeed sent not only this letter, but several others in the past, and that the Supreme Leader has responded to Obama’s overtures.

Many suspect that Khamenei is angling for another extension of the talks, partly in the belief that Obama has become a lame-duck president and partly because he believes he has already won on two key principles: 1) ensuring the right of Iran to enrich uranium and 2) preventing any inspections of the military aspects of its nuclear program. Some in America in favour of the negotiations also support an extension since they believe that falling oil prices, the threat of even more sanctions and new instances of sabotage of the nuclear program will together eventually bring Iran to its knees.
Though the contents of either Obama’s overtures or the Iranian response were not revealed, Shamkhani did assert that the American public positions were inconsistent with what the Americans said in private while the Iranian public and private positions were perfectly congruent, that a red line for Iran excluded visits of the International Atomic Energy Commission to military as distinct from nuclear sites, that the key regulations of any agreement should only be in conformity with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He reiterated Iran’s frequent charge that American foreign policy was created and controlled by Israel. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi, the top Iranian official tasked with the day-to-day negotiations, openly declared that the Supreme Leader was fully in support of the negotiations that had taken place. Since the nuclear issue was under the Supreme Leader’s control, it was unlikely that the negotiations could have proceeded at all without his approval.

While the formal leader of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has kept a lid on any leaks, last Friday’s prayer leader, Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani, took the same position as that of the White House, insisting that no deal is better than a deal forced upon Iran by American aggression. Further, Fars News editor Seyed Yasser Jabraeili in Tehran, often used as a spokesperson for the Supreme Leader, indicated that the terms of the nuclear part of the deal had been agreed and only the timing of lifting of sanctions remained. Jabraeili also indicated that Iran was wary of Obama’s ability to bypass Congress and conclude the deal through executive order since the Iranians were well aware that Congressional approval was required to lift the sanctions.

The issue seemed to be whether the Iranians would be satisfied with just a “suspension” of sanctions and not their authorized removal by Congress. A permanent rollback of the nuclear enrichment program only for a temporary relief from sanctions was certainly unacceptable, at least to the conservatives in Iran. However, the latest sign that the more radical Iranians are still under siege and in retreat was the confirmation by the Iranian Supreme Court of the disbarment for five years of the former all-powerful Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, who was held responsible for the torture and death while in prison of three dissidents in 2009.

With the tremendous recent growth of ISIS and with increasing clandestine cooperation between the US and Iran on this portfolio, the Iranian government is being pulled in two very opposite directions – towards a deal with the Americans propelled by the latter issue, and for the potential of reversing their tentative steps towards moderation given the resurrection of the status of the Republican Guard in government eyes as the martyrdom of their young child soldiers fighting and dying in the struggle with the radical Jihadist ISIS sect fills the pages of Iranian newspapers.

How then do you square the circle? If one side insists on absolute guarantees that Iran will not and cannot become a nuclear power while the other side insists on retaining its enrichment program in some form as a matter both of national pride and a key strategic concern so that the program can be rekindled in a relatively short time to enable Iran to build nuclear weapons, then the only possible deal approaches the goal of minimizing the prospect of Iran quickly moving to become a nuclear power without absolute guarantees while inducing Iran to move closer to the West by significantly removing the harsh sting of the sanctions. This is the crux of the debate – not absolutes, though there are also absolutists on both sides of the issue.

White House scuttlebutt has suggested that rapprochement with Iran is to the Obama’s last two years in office what Obamacare was in his first two years. However, given Congressional control over the purse strings, in particular, over the lifting of sanctions, the White House will have to be quite ingenious in structuring the deal to avoid a rejection of any Iranian deal by Congress. The very idea of congressional avoidance enhances fears by Senators, particularly Republicans, that Obama will sell Israel down the Potomac and make a mushy deal with the mullahs of Iran. For in Obamaspeak, America will extend a hand if its Middle Eastern enemies unclench their fists. For Obama’s opponents, the signs have been clear for years by significant omissions on the Iranian file – the structure of the nuclear negotiations to exclude delivery systems and the failure to link the negotiations with issues of domestic civil rights.

The White House hand was strengthened by two developments in Israel: 1) the failure to conclude a deal with Abbas when Kerry was mediating, and 2) Netanyahu’s risk adversity and the failure to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities 2-3 years ago when such a military attack had some chance of success, though many inside the military-intelligence services in Israel were skeptical. Of course, Obama’s extremist opponents insist that this is what Obama intended all along – to sell out Israel for a deal with Iran which effectively leaves Iran with de facto control over Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and, most importantly, Iraq, as well as the ability to acquire a bomb 6 months to a year after the sanctions are lifted. That means that the nuclear negotiations are not a single track effort. They have significant repercussions for the region including the stabilization of Iraq, the advancement of peace in Syria, strengthened support for Afghanistan in transition, and, dearest of all to Israel, keeping the Lebanese border with Israel quiet.

This is not helped with the Europeans being in total disarray. France, under a socialist president, has taken a hard line on negotiations with Iran while the rest of Europe are biting at the bit to resume economic relations on a significant level with Iran. Russia, which at this time does not need new completion for the sale of its oil, is cynically working to extend the negotiations and delay any early lifting of sanctions. Amidst all this squabbling, Obama is accused of being in league with the devil if he is not Satan himself, for embracing a long term adversary, undercutting long term allies, Saudi Arabia as well as Israel, and abandoning any hope for those suffering persecution from the mullahs, such as women and the Baha’is.

Even if one avoids this satanic caricature, even supporters of Obama agree that, given the stalemate on the Palestinian-Israeli front, Obama still has two full years to establish his legacy in foreign policy by doing an end run around Israel and concluding a deal with Iran. And there’s the bind! For if the deal is too generous to Iran, there will be an uproar in America and not just in Congress. If the deal is too severe, there is no possibility Iran will sign on. So what are the signs that a deal is possible or impossible, and what are the implications if such a formula can be devised? And what can Israel do to ensure that such a deal is not concluded, or, if concluded, it will truly serve Israel’s interest by de facto ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is dead?

I suggest that there is nothing Israel can do to ensure that a deal can be made which ensures that Iran will not and cannot build a bomb. For the only issue in the negotiations is the time it would take for Iran to restart its enrichment program to produce a high enough grade of nuclear material to make a small number of nuclear bombs. However, Israel can be a spoiler. First, it can do so by exposing the hypocrisy of Obama’s supporters on this issue domestically in America and in the continent of Europe. For Netanyahu is clearly correct when he denounced the Europeans for giving Iran a pass when it sent a boatload of long-range missiles to Gaza on the Klos-C which, fortunately, the Israeli navy intercepted.

The most instructive indicators have not been the postures that either Netanyahu or Obama have adopted, but the actual behaviour and words of the respective parties in the negotiations. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran has almost completed its decommissioning of 20% enriched uranium, but still possesses enough necessary to build one bomb. On the other hand, critics have charged that the Iranian nuclear program has been recently enriching its uranium to 8% instead of the benchmark 5% established in the de-enrichment program.

The most authoritative source on the progress of the negotiations has been ISIS (not the radical Sunni Jihadist group but the Institute for Science and International Security) and its 7 November analysis of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguard report. (http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/ISIS_Analysis_IAEA_Report_7Nov2014-Final.pdf) ISIS concluded that:
1. There has been no progress on controlling or limiting Iran’s ability to militarily deliver weapons; there has only been progress on limitations on the nuclear enrichment program itself (this explains why White House leaks have suggested that the agreement with Iran will only deal with controlling the nuclear enrichment program);
2. Activities at Parchin have undermined the ability of the IAEA to conduct inspections;
3. The Iranians have not fed its new much more advanced IR-5 centrifuges with UF6;
4. Iran has increased its stock of 3.5% LEU at a significant rate, but the rate of production of this low enriched uranium has not increased from 2012 and 2013 levels and, most significantly, Iran has kept its agreement with the P5+1 to cease production of 19.75% enriched uranium;
5. The number of 90IR centrifuge cascades have remained constant;
6. Under the Joint Plan of Action, Iran agreed to halt installation of any additional centrifuges and to forgo enrichment in any of its new advanced carbon fiber-based centrifuges (IR-2m), though it would continue the normal rate of such installations; thus far, none of these have been fed with natural uranium hexafluoride;
7. By 19 October, 4,118 kg of uranium hexafluoride had been reduced to 3% enrichment;
8. A further 4,174 kg. of natural UF6 has been used to produce 553 UO2;
9. 1,506 kg. of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 have been included in the conversion process;
10. Numbers 7&8 rates are lower than 2013 or 2012 rates of conversion;
11. Though Iran significantly reduced its 20% LEU oxide needed to produce weapons grade uranium, and 25% of the LEU oxide (17.1 kg) has been decommissioned, enough stocks remain to produce one nuclear weapon;
12. More significantly, 39 kg. of the near 20% LEU is already available to the Tehran Research Reactor 17%, or another 18kg of that 20% LEU has been irradiated.

In summary, there can be no expectations that Iran will limit its developments of the military hardware to deliver nuclear weapons. On the other hand, Iran, with minor exceptions, has been true to its word that it would comply with IAEA guidelines. However, even as it has conformed to serious reductions in both its stockpiles of 19.75% enriched fuel and the number and capacity of its centrifuges in operation, Iran still retains enough fuel to make one nuclear weapon and the capacity to gear up to full production of the required uranium in a matter of a year and perhaps even six months.

I suspect now that there may be a deal, that Obama will only suspend sanctions and not formally reverse them, that Iran will continue its military developments independent of international oversight, and that, although Iran will have significantly reduced its ability to make nuclear weapons, it will remain a threshold nuclear power, but one where the time taken to become one will have been extended by as much as an additional nine months and the continuing presence of IAEA inspectors will further limit Iran accelerating such a program.

Hardliners, and even some open to negotiations with Iran, will denounce such a deal. Those who believe in strengthening the moderate camp in Iran and encouraging Iranian engagement with the West will defend such a deal while remaining aware that it has significant risks.

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Fallout from the Failed Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

by

Howard Adelman

By fallout, I am not talking about the post-apocalyptic scenario envisioned as a result of a nuclear war that is the backdrop of the videogame of that same name. Fallout need not be so drastic but can initiate a widespread piecemeal catastrophe. I am referring to the fallout Barack Obama predicted that would result if the peace talks failed. At the beginning of March, Obama warned Israel that the United States would have more difficulty defending Israel if the talks faltered let alone failed. Both Barack Obama and John Kerry have warned both sides that the window of opportunity for a deal was closing. “Seize the Day,” was the message. Rephrasing the Jewish sage, Rav Hillel, Obama told Netanyahu directly, “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” The negotiating parties did not for some of the reasons I outlined in previous blogs seize the day or the hour.

ALL failures have consequences. Those consequences are now upon us. The peace talks did not result in an agreement. They did not result in a watered down framework agreement. They did not even result in an agreement to continue the talks. Now is the time to observe the fallout.

Economic – Israel

At then end of January, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a strong supporter of the peace negotiations, predicted that Israel was approaching a tipping point in the BDS movement in Europe based on a Finance Ministry study. The Israeli economy was already jittery in response to an anticipated failure. If a European boycott movement expands, not only in the number of parties engaged in the boycott, but in the breadth of the sanctions movement beyond products produced in West Bank settlements and businesses operating in the West Bank, as is expected, the Israeli economy, that sailed through the international downturn of the last few years, will now contract. This downturn will be exacerbated as the BDS movement spreads its tentacles, including to the southern sphere, especially Australia, where a recent court case against BDS was lost. The decision of Dutch asset manager PGGM, which manages 150 billion in euros in investments, to halt investments in Israel’s five banks is but a foretaste. It is but the tip of the iceberg of shifts in patterns of investment that have fuelled Israel’s tremendous growth over the last decade as private investors, pension funds and foundations begin to shift resources away from Israel, even if they do so only in anticipation of the economic effects of others shifting their investment priorities. Thus, Obama’s warning in early March that Israel could expect sanctions and international isolation should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to support a framework peace agreement was totally consistent with results of the Israeli Ministry of Finance own study and may result even though, in the end, Netanyahu ended up saying yes to a framework agreement.

Economic- Palestine

Any dramatic economic turndown in Israel will have even more dire consequences for Palestine since the West Bank is so dependent for its economic health on trade with Israel. Parallel to the Israeli Ministry of Finance study, a separate study by the Palestinian Authority adumbrated the negative economic consequences of failed peace talks. 

The economic consequences for the Palestinian Authority will be even worse than the consequences for Israel.

An IMF study prophesied that a breakthrough in the peace negotiations would result in a 6.5% growth rate in the West Bank, but its failure would result in a significant economic contraction, increasing the already fraught situation and undermining efforts to forge a non-violent political effort. Instead of the projected 4.5% growth, there would be a significant economic contraction. Even if talks just continued, even if inconclusive, the growth rate would be 2.5%. Given the termination of the talks, expect a decline in growth rate of at least 2%.  If Israel resorts to economic pressure tactics against the PA, that decline will be even worse.

Political – Israel

With all her experience in leading the negotiations under Ehud Olmert, Justice Minister Tzip Livni has been the widely respected chief negotiator for the Israeli side who has been clearly and unequivocally committed to a two-state solution. Though she was undercut by a number of decisions: 1)  the decision to postpone the release of the 26 Israeli Arabs from prison until the Palestinians agreed to continue the talks beyond the end of April deadline, a decision contrary to the agreement on entering the negotiations; 2) Livni was then undercut by the decision of the PA to apply for membership in 15 of 63 international organizations by becoming a signatory to those international conventions, but explicitly excluding the International Criminal Court, though Mustafa Barghouti held out the promise that this graduated approach will end with joining the ICC as the final step. The move to join fifteen rather innocuous conventions was, in itself, a move contrary to the agreement about the negotiating process, all on top of the decision Housing and Construction Minister, Ariel of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party to announce the building of 700 more housing units in Gilo in Jerusalem, a move, though not contrary to what was formally agreed in the conduct of the negotiations, but was a de facto understanding in  proceeding with those negotiations. Livni’s political wisdom is now undermined. Setting aside her rival within the party, Shaul Mofaz, who had his own plan for advancing the peace negotiations but was ignored even though he was the initiator of the previous interim security agreement, Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, who backed her controversial move to join the Netanyahu government even with the strong presence of right wing parties, may now enact their calls for their Hatnua party quitting the coalition. The party is in danger of splitting. If it does not leave the coalition, a move unlikely since Livni has been adamant in placing the bulk of the blame on the Palestinians and has defended Netanyahu as having backed her fully in the negotiations in spite of twice being sideswiped by her cabinet colleagues. 

Political – Fatah/Hamas Reconciliation

If Livni blamed the Palestinians, Saeb Ekrat blamed the Israelis. “To build settlements in occupied land, kill Palestinians and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes is certainly not the behavior of a government that wants to end occupation but of a government that wants to turn occupation into annexation,” Ekrat  explicity labelled the Netanyahu government an apartheid regime. Abbas went out of his way to insist that East Jerusalem is an Islamic and Christian Arab city and will be the capital of a Palestinian state, a capital that will include ALL of Arab East Jerusalem including at the very least the Arab arts of the old city.

Contrary to many, I think the PA/Hamas negotiations will come to an agreement to set up a technical government and to schedule elections. It is in the interest of both parties to do so and instigates an end run around Israel’s complaints that Abbas was not a spokesman for all Palestinians while, at the same time, solidifying Abbas’ position against his rivals. Whether the two parties will be able to go further and unify their competing administrative organizations, given the radically different culture that inform both, is a very different question. But political unity does not require administrative unity. The latter can be postponed.

In the meanwhile, Abbas has stacked up credits by calling the Holocaust the most heinous crime of the twentieth century in direct refutation of the way he downplayed the Holocaust in his PhD thesis written in Moscow years ago. Israelis may dismiss the comment as empty rhetoric, but you cannot call his other denials of the extent of the Holocaust themselves heinous and be unwilling to offer credit when he reverses himself. All this positive payoff is in spite of Abbas’ explicit unwillingness to go ahead with a framework agreement, when Netanyahu approved it, Abbas timing the announcement to sign fifteen international conventions, contrary to the terms of the peace negotiations, on the precise day before the prisoner release was to go ahead in return for America’s release of Jonathan Pollard. Abbas further undermined the initiative to cede control of part of Area C to the Palestinians for building homes in areas slated to be part of Palestine according to previous negotiations, an initiative that in turn was blown up by the announcement of the PLO-Hamas agreement.

One important fallout of the PLO/Hamas reconciliation is an emerging split between the USA and Israel. After all, the USA deals with the Lebanese government even though that government includes Hezbollah characterized as a terrorist organization. As long as the merged government adheres to the three principles of not resorting to violence, accepting a two state solution and recognizing Israel, America sees no obstacle to negotiations with the new government any more than America refusing to negotiate with Israel because its cabinet includes a few from the hard right who still reject Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution. Israel, thus far, has rejected such a possibility, but as in the case of negotiations with Iran, Israel’s resistance may simply drift into the byways of history as once did its refusal to negotiate with the PLO.

Political – Israeli Unilateralism

In spite of the negative lessons of the past critical of unilateral moves, it is more rather than less likely that Israel will not sit back passively as the PLO pursues broadening its international recognition and status and consolidates unification. Israel is already on the road to consolidation of its settlements. Whether Israel will actually annex the settlements scheduled for the swap, move the 100,000 or so settlers outside the consolidation areas or, at the very least, offer them compensation to relocate at a cost of up to $US10 billion, and, more problematically, whether it will enact the swap and transfer jurisdiction to the PA over the territory scheduled to be swapped, would require a bold conjecture. Michael Oren, Dan Meridor and Amos Yadlin have been advocating bold moves along these lines. Even bolder still, would it be for Israel to offer Palestinians within the annexed territories – an estimated 150,000 – citizenship in Israel, or offer them the houses of the settlers evacuated from the rest of the West Bank? Naftali Bennet, of all people, has proffered such an offer.

But there are moves underway in that direction. After all, in the immediate aftermath of the termination of the negotiations, Netanyahu scheduled a cabinet meeting to discuss future Israeli unilateral moves.  There are even more solid moves to transfer more control over Area B to the Palestinians that could be used as a trade off for Palestine slowing down its own moves towards self-determination. One does not necessarily need a peace agreement to advance the two-state solution and avoid the “apartheid” state Kerry anticipated as one possible outcome. Abbas has been asking for a firm delineation of borders. Israel is free to create them – excluding Jerusalem – thus saving both Abbas and Netanyahu the embarrassment of coming to an agreement on Jerusalem that, depending on its contours, would hurt either or even both parties.

Political – USA

The flak over Kerry’s expression of fear that Israel might in future become an apartheid state, a prediction engaged in freely by Israeli politicians on the left, is only a glimpse of the squabbles sure to erupt as America approaches its mid-term elections in November. of what actually happened. But emerge they will. Kerry may launch a grenade himself by publishing the framework agreement he offered both sides. Martin Indyk is going to go back to the United States and will resume his post in Brookings, putting the final stamp and seal on the failed process. I am unable to imagine what will emerge about the process of negotiations that will shift our perceptions.

Military

Will some of that fallout include increased militancy by Palestinians? We have already witnessed an increase in tensions on the Temple Mount with a resumption of rock throwing by the Palestinians and provocative moves by Jewish zealots who dream of rebuilding the ancient Jewish temple. The root of the militancy is not likely to come from Hamas in the immediate future given both the pressures upon it and its agreement with the PLO, but from other more militant outliers. How much leeway they will be given by the PA or Hamas is a matter of debate, but given Abbas’ international approach and his need to shore up his peaceful modus operandi, it is likely he will continue to cooperate with Israeli security in squelching such developments. Similarly, Hamas, if it is to secure a place at the table given its current weakened state largely as a result of what is happening in Egypt, is also unlikely “to stir the kasha”. So I do not believe that Kerry was correct, at least in the immediately foreseeable future that there will be a significant upsurge in violence. This, in itself, will favour the Palestinians and undercut the rhetoric of the Netanyahu government.

Parallel Tracks

It is here that I betray the hoots of my Owl of Minerva still sitting on the branch of my front tree and engage in prophecy. The Palestinian Authority and Israel will both operate now on unilateral tracks, cooperating when it is in their common interest to do so, and working to undermine one another when that is in each party’s interest. But both sides will be moving towards a de facto two state solution since no other solution is feasible for either side. Each will both help strengthen its rival while trying to undermine the rival in the realm of world public opinion. My suspicion, given that Palestine is the weaker party, it will win this public relations war but Israel will advance and solidify its position on the ground. Israel, in contrast to its previous initiative in Gaza, has had lots of time to work out the logistics of these unilateral moves with careful planning and coordination with not only the USA, Egypt and Jordan but with the PA as well. These moves will be both pressure tactics but also de facto additional moves to instigate Israeli separation from occupation and Palestinian self-determination towards full statehood.

Kerry was right. The status quo is unsustainable. But the alternative is not necessarily the two options he adumbrated. Obama’s prediction that if Israel did not support the framework agreement – which Netanyahu actually eventually did and Abbas did not – then the US would no longer be able to effectively defend Israel, is a threat rather than a prediction. Obama, in particular, cited the Israeli settlement construction efforts. “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple of years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama went onto claim that, “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Very true! But Israel and Palestine will now have to manage the pursuit of a two-state solution now on parallel tracks rather than through mediation. The consequences of the loss of American leadership could be terrible. But it could also be beneficial. Recall that the Oslo process got its start when America had dropped into the background and other avenues opened up in the pursuit of peace. The USA was a Johnny-come-lately in the Oslo process. 

So there is hope even though Hope is Barack Obama’s middle name and even if he has given up hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Abbas’ Current Goals

Abbas’ Current Goals

by

Howard Adelman

In South Korea, President Barack Obama signaled that America is abandoning – at least for the time being – its efforts to mediate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As John Kerry told a Senate Committee last week, the negotiations just went “poof”. Interestingly, Obama focused on Abbas’ proposed Fatah-Hamas deal as the final straw that necessitated a pause in the peace process which he, in his usual mild use of language, called “unhelpful”, thus echoing Netanyahu’s suspension of the talks because of the deal with Hamas. But Obama noted it was but the latest move. Further, he also made the point that he was not referring only to the PLO because he explicitly said that neither side had demonstrated the political will to make a deal, a reference perhaps to Netanyahu’s refusal to release the last group of prisoners unless the talks were continued, a factor that Obama had cited earlier as “unhelpful” as well as the initiation of 700 new housing tenders in Gilo, Jerusalem, though often referred to as West Bank permits.

The emphasis is important because, in a hearing before a Senate committee earlier this month, John Kerry seemed to pin the blame primarily on the Israelis. Though Kerry did the usual and asserted that both sides bore responsibility because of “unhelpful” actions, he suggested that the precipitating catalyst for what was then the possible breakdown of the talks was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units in an area of Jerusalem across the 1967 lines. By describing the permits as being for Jewish settlement and referring to the area as territory the Palestinians claim for a future state, he suggested that Israel was taking even more land from the Palestinians. These permits were for homes in Gilo, a Jewish part of Jerusalem, although indeed on the other side of the old Green Line. By omitting both that the fact that this was an area Israel had excluded from the freeze in re-embarking on the peace talks and/or that it was an area to be counted against the territory to be transferred to the Palestinians as a quid pro quo, the link with expansionist illegal settlement activity had been made.

Further, as a result of remarks Kerry made on Friday in a closed meeting to the Trilateral Commission, Kerry was reported in Haaretz yesterday by Barak Ravid as having considered making his own proposal for a two-state solution. Kerry warned that if Israel did not move quickly towards a two-state solution, it risked being more widely branded and becoming an ‘apartheid’ state – a very exceptional term for an American statesman to use in application to Israel and in conflict with the Obama doctrine on Israel. The use of the word was so toxic that Kerry was forced to swallow that word and said yesterday that he had chosen the “wrong word”. Kerry insisted – and I agree – that “a two-state solution is the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.” Further, Kerry, fearless about the difficulties of prognostication, predicted that a freeze in the peace talks could bring about violent conflagration in the West Bank. He based his predictions on a psychological-political analysis: “People grow so frustrated with their lot in life that they begin to take other choices and go to dark places they’ve been before, which forces confrontation.” But his “apartheid” remark was a prediction and not a description of the present state of affairs.

Kerry, like Obama, blamed both sides for the negotiations coming to a dead end but he mentioned Netanyahu specifically for announcing plans to build 14 thousand (sic!) new housing units in settlements. Kerry suggested a change of leaders on either side might allow a breakthrough, but unlike Obama, he clearly seemed to lean towards blaming Netanyahu. This is in spite of the fact that the political leadership in Israel was, in an unprecedented way, united in blaming Abbas. Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni were at one with Housing Minister Uri Ariel in placing the blame squarely on the head of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his advisers.

Do we blame Abbas primarily, as Obama suggested, or do we primarily blame Netanyahu, as Kerry implied? Could (not would) a change in either leader possibly lead to a breakthrough? There is a prior question. Why did neither party get past the obstacles to make a deal? What really happened and why was Abbas (tomorrow, Netanyahu) unwilling to engage in serious negotiations?

Abbas made four different moves in the lead up to the terminal date for the initial deadline on the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks mediated by the United States:

  • 1 April – he applied to join 15 international agencies on behalf of Palestine, an initiative in breach of the agreement but the applications specifically excluded the International Court and claimed to do so in response to Israel’s failure to release the prisoners as per the agreement
  • 19 April – he threatened to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, give the keys to the West Bank back to Israel and allow Israel to administer the West Bank directly
  • 23 April – he Palestinian National Reconciliation Agreement was signed between Fatah and Hamas implementing two prior agreements negotiated and signed respectively in Cairo in May 2011 and in Doha signed by Mahmoud Abbas himself and Khaled Mashal on February 2012; the new agreement provided for an interim technical government after five weeks with legislative and executive elections to follow within six months.
  • 28 April – n advance of Holocaust Remembrance Day yesterday, Abbas issued a statement calling the Holocaust the most heinous crime of the modern era, a stark      contrast with Hamas that went out of its way to declare the Holocaust as a made-up lie..

The application to join the fifteen international organizations, but excluding the international court, was intended to tweak both the Israeli and American noses without putting either so totally out of joint as to risk the financial support coming from either party. The threat to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and give the keys to the West Bank back to Israel was just grandstanding and was so characterized by Saeb Ekrat, the PA chief negotiator. However, the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas was a step of a wholly different order because Hamas has not renounced violence as required by the Oslo Accords, still refuses to recognize Israel and refused to enter into negotiations with Israel for a permanent peace. Finally, Abbas would not only reject many of the conclusions of his own PhD thesis on the Holocaust, but would further differentiate his position from that of Hamas by his remarks because Hamas claims that the Holocaust is a myth.

How could Abbas suck and blow at the same time? If he was sincere about wanting to negotiate a peace deal with Israel, why reconcile with Hamas at this time? Abbas argued that the agreement permits only the PA to negotiate international treaties. Hamas may opt for violence in principle but as part of the agreement would have to surrender any resort to practice. Hamas would not be forced to recognize let alone negotiate with Israel but would not denounce or undercut such negotiations. Further, this was no different than the Americans meeting with the Lebanese government even though that government includes Hezbollah that Washington dubs a terrorist organization.  If Washington could deal with a unity government in Lebanon, Israel and the United States could deal with a unity government for Palestine. In any case, any agreement would have to be endorsed in a referendum. So the agreement, rather than undermining continued talks, actually strengthened Abbas’ hand because he could be seen as speaking on behalf of all Palestinians.

Hamas had strong reasons for implementing a unity agreement at this time. It was being outflanked on the terrorist front by Islamic Jihad. The situation in Gaza was becoming more precarious every day. With Cairo enforcing the closure of the tunnels ruthlessly as it continued to oppress Hamas’ allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was being forced to reach out. Besides, its main sponsor, Iran, was negotiating now with the Americans and seeking to open Iran up somewhat to the West. Hamas could no longer afford its stubborn isolationism.

This did not mean that all Hamas or Fatah supporters endorsed the new efforts to forge a united front. Ibrahimi Hamamai, the writer and supporter of Hamas, continued to denounce the PA and Fatah as “Israel’s agents” and insisted that reconciliation with either was treasonous and the PA was just a collection of collaborators. Jibril Rajoub, Deputy Secretary of the Fatah Central Committee and Chair of the PA Olympic Committee backed Hamami rather than Abbas and called the Israeli government a racist and fascist regime worse than Hitler in its oppression and use of concentration and extermination camps. 

This is the main explanation why Abbas could not continue the talks at this time. He had to outflank his rivals, particularly Mohammad Dahlan who was waiting in the wings. He needed to strengthen his domestic position and what better time to do so but when he was standing up to both the Americans and the Israelis. He had already conceded that he would bend on the issue of Palestinian return. The last and greatest sticking block was East Jerusalem and the Old City. Already, throwing of stones and unrest on the Temple Mount had heated up over the last week. If he has to walk the fine line between not alienating the Americans lest he forfeit their financial support and rebuild his support among the Palestinians, then he had to appear strong in facing down both the Americans and Israelis but not in such a way as to cut the material support beneath his feet.

This was in preparation for three very different future possible scenarios: 1) an historic deal in which he agrres to make a deal over Jerusalem by taking East Jerusalem in exchange for internationalizing the Temple Mount and possibly conceding the Old City to Israel, a deal not possible with Netanyahu in power and one he does not seem likely to make; 2) a final push to get Israel to concede both the Old City, excluding the Jewish Quarter, in return for a final peace deal; 3) further procrastination since he recognizes no peace deal is possible for which he could get sufficient support.

Abbas’s demand for the right of return had scuttled the Camp David talks. Olmert offered him more than anyone befor he left office and Abbas could still not agree. Abbas is still not in a position to make a deal that woud win sufficient support. So he shows he can be resolute and helps scuttle the talks. This could be read as deceptive practice or not negotiating in good faith or else as negotiating as best he can with a very weak hand while clearly leaving the door open to future negotiations, but, from his perspective, hopefully with a stronger foundation.    

Putin’s Defence

Putin’s Defence

by

Howard Adelman

Astri Suhrke, a Senior Researcher at the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway, and a long time collaborator of mine, wrote in response to my blogs on Putin as follows:

“Am enjoying your blogs, even when strongly disagreeing. For instance, you write, ‘if America is unwilling to contemplate some form of military action when its vital interests are challenged in Europe…..,’ with reference to the Russian invasion of Crimea. As I see it, the Russian reaction is precisely that, a reaction to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea, which Russian has long had the right to use for its Black Sea naval fleet – only warm water port and access to the Mediterranean etc. Change in Kiev  – welcomed and encouraged by EU and NATO – made it quite possible that Russia might lose that access. So Russia reacted. (Also recall that until 1954. Crimea was part of Russia (within the USSR)). So Russia reacted. How can a defense of the status quo ‘challenge vital American interests’? And if any wider American  interests are affected, it will be primarily in the Middle East rather than  Europe.
“Comparing this with the Anschluss, and affixing  the label of appeasement  on Obama (as you did in your earlier blog), seems not only unfair, but counterproductive  to efforts to defuse the situation  and prevent a really serious conflict. Just noted that Poland has asked for consultations in NATO under para 4 of the Washington Treaty. Seems opportunistically belligerent.
Cheers!
astri”

 

Here is how I replied though I corrected my typos.

I can’t be;\believe it! Do you really swallow Putin’s lie – a blatant lie – that the Russian action is just a reaction “to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea”? Where is there any evidence Russia’s military position in Crimea was under threat??? It would be akin to the U.S. attacking Cuba on the pretext that its base in Guantanamo was under threat. Where is there any evidence even that there was any threat to the majority ethnic Russian population in Crimea?  Even the stupid language law withdrawing permission for Russian to be taught as an official language was NOT a real threat when the stress is on “official” and when, though it was passed, it was withdrawn before the President of Ukraine vetoed it. The defence of the status quo was something that did not need a defence let alone an aggressive invasion and occupation.

As far as America’s vital interests, surely it is in America’s vital interest to see that country’s cannot invade other countries and occupy and de facto take over territory, just as it is in the interest of other country’s when America attacked and occupied other countries. Both kinds of attacks have to be challenged. I did not say America had to respond by deploying military troops, but did suggest that America and the EU might consider responding with military guarantees before Putin attempts to invade Eastern Ukraine.

Finally, I never called Obama an appeaser. Can you point out where I did?. I am a strong supporter of Obama, though not always uncritical. But I do believe the reset here worked in spite of the fact that I supported that reset. Neither I nor Obama can always be right.

Nice to hear from you.

All the best.

Howard

Astri came back strongly:

“Yes, I accept that Russia had reason to believe that its position in Crimea would be threatened. They made a pre-emptive move to secure their position. They have so far occupied key buildings and sites.

Yes, I agree that it is certainly in the interest of the US and other countries not to sanction invasions. That the US twice in the past decade or so has invaded other countries, and formally occupied one, does make me pause, however, before leaping to the defense of the US on that particular ground.

And, yes, in your first blog on Putin and Crimea, you said that ‘Obama will have no choice except to be the Neville Chamberlain who surrendered the Sudetenland of C… to Hitler.’ That’s pretty close to calling him ‘an appeaser” – no?

Wish you were here so we could talk this out over a walk and a meal!

cheers

a”

I wrote back as follows:

“Astri;

NO!

I wrote ‘Obama will have no choice except to be the Neville Chamberlain who surrendered the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but he will not sign an agreement acceding to the seizure of The Crimea.’ That is not a charge of appeasement. That is, as stated throughout the blog, an acceptance of realism. But that realism will not be signing onto the deal and waving a piece of paper saying ‘Peace in our time.’ Obama is expected and will fight back to ensure nothing more. Further, to my surprise, at least rhetorically, he seems to be pushing for full withdrawal. I am totally sceptical about that, but maybe? In any case, both the last half of the sentence and the rest of the blog is clear that I am not accusing Obama of being an appeaser. You say I affixed a label of appeaser. I did not use the term, did not affix the label, though I did suggest there was an element of realism in Chamberlain and Obama’s actions. But realism is not appeasement. Though Great Britain was in no position to fight Germany in 1938, and nor was Russia, Chamberlain’s appeasement was legally signing away the Sudetenland as Germany’s entitlement.”

Quite aside from never labelling Obama an appeaser, let me take Astri’s main argument seriously, namely that she accepts Putin’s argument that Russia’s interests in the Crimea were under threat and the response was “a reaction to prevent a change to the status quo in Crimea.” To do that I will have to elaborate on the analysis underlying her claim.

1. Crimea was for several centuries part of Russia.

2. When the Ukraine and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev ‘arbitrarily’ gave the Crimea to The Ukraine in 1954.
3. Throughout the twentieth century, Russia based its warm water fleet (the Black Sea Fleet) at Sevastopol .

4. When the USSR broke up in 1991, Russia found itself in the humiliating position of having to negotiate a lease for its main naval port; the lease ran for 25 years from 1992-2017.

5. In 2008, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of the Ukraine announced that under no circumstances would she renew the lease in 1917.

6. Yulia Tymoshenko had just been released from jail and there was a real danger she would win the elections which were now to be brought forward to this Spring.

7. Chaos as well as succession by an opponent of the lease would also threaten the stability necessary for the naval base’s security.

8. The cancellation of the lease would threaten Russia’s complete maritime defence capability or its ability to be an influential player in the Middle East.

9. Further, cancellation of the lease would be devastating for the tens of thousands of Russian civilian employees living in The Crimea who work directly or indirectly to maintain Russia’s maritime military capability.

10. Viktor Yanukovych’s extension of the lease in 2010 for a further 25 years reduced the threat.

11. However, on the Ukrainian political horizon a possible direct threat to Russia’s interests emerged because elected “radicals” could threaten to cancel the lease extension.

12. That fear was greatly exacerbated by the events in Kyiv.

13. That threat was realized in full when President Yanukovych was illegally deposed by Parliament and forced to flee the Ukraine.

14. Hence, Putin sought and received on Saturday, 1 March 2014 authorization and permission by the Duma to use the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Ukraine, not to annex any territory, but until the situation stabilized.

15. Obama’s “warning” then only reinforced Putin’s fears and determination to take pre-emptive action.

I hope I have stated the argument for the defence of Putin as clearly and as fully as the space allowed. Putin in his first public press conference since the Crimean crisis began, reinforced this argument when he lied and claimed Russian forces had NOT intervened in Ukraine and further stated that,  Russia “reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect” What is wrong with this defence of Russia’s position? 

1. Whatever the past, Russia has agreed in a plethora of international legal documents that the Crimea is NOT part of Russia but is part of the Ukraine.

2. If the Ukraine cancelled the lease and not just threatened to do so, Russia had multiple non-military punishments that could cripple Ukraine and fairly easily get the Ukraine to back off.

3. The United States was part of the agreement guaranteeing Russia’s use of Sevastopol.

4. There is no way that Ukraine could enforce such a cancellation.

5. Theoretical future threats to a country’s defence interests do not justify an illegal military invasion.

Behind all the hot air and rhetoric, there is a deeper problem, the failure of the United States and Russia to actually work together in resolving crises in Russia’s backyard. Putin argues that he helped get American chestnuts out of the fire in getting Syria to give up its chemical weapons. He claims he has helped the U.S. over Iran. What has he gotten in return for his cooperation when Russia’s own vital interests are at stake? American diplomatic conspiracies, which Russia had the tapes to prove, to remove the legally elected president of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, in an effective coup. In fact, America had set up the crisis earlier by supporting sucking Ukraine into the EU economic and political orbit without taking into account Russia’s vital economic, political and military interests in Ukraine. Instead of allowing and encouraging Ukraine to play the EU and Russia off against one another, instead of pushing the EU Association Agreement, the focus should have been on working together to stablilize Ukraine in recognition of Russia’s genuine fears of instability there given Ukraine’s inherent proneness to chaos as a multi-ethnic state.

I hope I have been fair to what I interpret as Astri’s argument.

I will offer a full reply tomorrow in my analysis of Russian propaganda.