Middle East Monitor – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 29 Jun 2022 16:49:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.6 Israeli Squatter-Settlers are Expanding Colonies in Palestinian West Bank in Advance of Biden’s Visit and another Election https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/expanding-palestinian-election.html Wed, 29 Jun 2022 04:06:23 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205482 By Adnan Abu Amer | –

( Middle East Monitor ) – As soon as it was announced that Israel is heading for yet another General Election, and the visit of US President Joe Biden to the region next month was confirmed, it was obvious that Israel’s illegal settlers are going to take advantage of events to strengthen their presence in the occupied West Bank. They have already taken steps to establish ten settlement outposts — illegal even under Israeli law — next month. This will be one of the first challenges for the interim Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, who does not have good relations with the settlers. It will also lead to an awkward reception for Biden.

Hundreds of settlers are staking claims to Palestinian land across the West Bank with the intention of establishing outposts in July. That’s their plan for the summer in the wake of the resignation of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has dissolved the Knesset and brought forward the election, thus prompting the settlers to take advantage of the transitional period.

The settlers are well aware that political parties will be keen to win their votes, and won’t be interested in disputes over the construction of new settlements. That’s why work is already underway to identify new sites and possibilities for new settlements and “facts on the ground” at the expense of the Palestinians and their land.

There may well be a crisis between Israel and the US over this, coinciding as it does with Biden’s visit. This is the last thing that Lapid wants or needs, and it may prompt him to hold talks with settler leaders to postpone their plans, at least until the end of the visit that concerns him on a personal level.

At the same time, settlers continue their contacts with the Americans and Europeans to prevent the financing of Palestinian presence in Area C, whether for housing construction or infrastructure. The latest settler effort was a tour to Hungary to convince the government in Budapest, and other European countries, to stop funding Palestinians to strengthen their presence in this area.

Settler leaders who met with Hungarian officials, claimed that the Palestinians had seized Area C, in violation of EU funding law. Their Hungarian hosts duly pledged to work towards stopping European funding of Palestinian activities. This is clear incitement by the settlers to get Europeans to stop helping the Palestinians to stay on their own land, even while — officially, at least — settlements remain an “obstacle to peace”.

This means that the battle waged by the Jewish settlers to control what remains of Palestinian land has reached its threshold. They are expelling the Palestinians, destroying their pastures and crops, demolishing their homes and inciting European countries to stop providing funds for humanitarian projects that seek to strengthen the Palestinian presence by building infrastructure and roads.

The illegal Jewish settlers come up with more and more ways to steal Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. They claim, for example, that farms are within the occupation army’s ranges and training zones. An area of 238,000 dunams has been confiscated in this way, paving the way for settlement outposts where there is already good pasture for settlers to use. At least sixty-six Palestinian farms have been taken by settlers in the past decade alone, forty-six of them between 2017 and 2021 when Donald Trump was US president and Benjamin Netanyahu was Israeli prime minister.

Interviews with Palestinian shepherds and activists, as well as an analysis of aerial photographs, show that settlers have taken control of these Palestinian farms by declaring them to be “fire areas” or “nature reserves”. The Palestinian shepherds are prohibited from reaching their land.

According to Israeli organisation Kerem Navot a few days ago, agricultural settlements are divided into several types, including permanent herders. In some the grazing component is currently minor or insignificant, but may become essential in the future. In total, farm settlements cover 200,000 dunams, and have become the most effective tool for the occupation of Palestinian land, because they cover much larger areas in the hills and the Jordan Valley in what are historic pastures. Between 1967 and 1971 Israel declared hundreds of thousands of dunams to be “fire zones”.

At the same time, 39,000 dunams of the total area controlled by the settlers lie within declared “nature reserves”. More than half of the total area occupied by Israeli settlers, an estimated 128,000 dunams, is unregistered. The armed forces, the civil administration and regional and local councils, as well as the Zionist organisations and the Ministries of Agriculture and Education, all assist in various ways in the establishment of agricultural settlements. This is having a devastating effect on many long-established Palestinian communities.

All of this exposes the extent of official Israeli sponsorship of ongoing settlement projects in the West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law. Such projects are coupled with settler violence against Palestinians, as the settler thugs are able to act with impunity. Through this state-protected violence, Israel and its illegal settlers are expelling Palestinians from hundreds of thousands of agricultural dunams across the West Bank. This is what ethnic cleansing looks like.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

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The ‘Arab Factor’ in bringing down the Israeli Government https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/bringing-israeli-government.html Sun, 26 Jun 2022 04:04:35 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205424 By Jeff Halper | –

( Middle East Monitor ) – Israel is in the midst of a political stalemate. Bennett’s centre-right government has resigned and new elections will be held in late October/early November. It does not really matter who wins; certainly in terms of the Palestinian citizens of Israel are the colonised Palestinians of the Occupied Territory. They, like the Left (meaning the Zionist Left, the Labour Party and Meretz, happy partners in Bennett’s government), are irrelevant. The short distance – and major overlaps – between the Netanyahu-loyal Right and the anti-Bibi Centre-Right marks the range of Israeli politics. So the results of the next election will produce nothing more than a variation of the present one, with or without Netanyahu, and certainly no change in policy towards the Occupation, i.e., managing and marginalising it as a political “non-issue.”

One new political reality complicating the possibility of forming a stable government in Israel: given the electoral draw between the Netanyahu/anti-Netanyahu forces, it is becoming impossible to establish a government without an Arab party. In the present government, Ra’am, the Islamic Party representing mainly the Bedouin population of the Negev, is playing that role. As an Islamic Party belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood (as does Hamas, though the two groups are antagonistic towards each other), Ra’am’s agenda is promoting conservative religious values (they oppose LGBTQ rights, for example) and providing badly needed housing and services to the Arab sector.

Because of its religious conservatism, Ra’am would rather sit in a Netanyahu-led government that includes its natural allies, the ultra-orthodox Jewish parties, rather than in a Centre-Right government with secular liberals. Since Ra’am could be the swing vote that determines which right-wing bloc sets up the next government, one would expect Netanyahu to be courting it. But Netanyahu, partly in order to discredit Bennett’s government and bring it down, has only attacked and delegitimised Ra’am, calling it an “anti-Zionist party of Muslim Brotherhood terrorists”. He has vowed Ra’am will never be part of a Likud-led government – although Ra’am itself would be very comfortable with that.

The other three Arab parties of the Joint Arab List would never join a Likud government coalition, but might consider a slightly less right coalition led by Yair Lapid, the present Foreign Minister of the Centre-Right yuppie Yesh Atid party. What all this means is that Netanyahu and the Likud will have to cobble together a government coalition of 61 seats based solely on right-wing Jewish parties, some of whom despise him, without the potential support of Ra’am – not an easy task. (The Likud currently has 30 seats out of the Knesset’s 120, meaning it would have to find another 31 from disparate parties that have 6, 7 or 8 seats each in order to form a government.) A Lapid-led coalition (the successor of Bennett’s, since he will not be re-elected) has the advantage of Ra’am’s support (4 seats) and potentially the Joint Arab List (another 6 seats), but bringing them in risks alienating other right-wing parties that Lapid would need as well – so another difficult juggling act, and not one promises a stable government.

This sets up a cruel political irony. The Zionist Left, whose only hope for some influence will be to join Lapid’s government as they did Bennett’s, even though that means ignoring the Palestinian issue, is putting pressure on Arab voters to turn out in large numbers to “save Israel.” (Netanyahu does the opposite: in past elections he has attempted to scare Israeli Jews to vote Likud because “the Arabs are rushing to the polls in droves”.) Needless to say, the demand that they “save Israel” bemuses – actually pisses off – the “Arabs”. (Indeed, they are called by the generic term “Arabs” because the very Israel they are now called upon to “save”, denies their national identity.) In fact, many, perhaps most, do not vote at all, finding little benefit in it, their support merely being used to prop up governments that actively discriminate against and oppress them. Although Palestinian citizens of Israel account for 21 per cent of the population, the four Arab parties garner less than 10 per cent of the vote.

Bennett’s government tried to stay in power by making a conscious decision to ignore the divisive Palestinian issue completely, to focus solely on domestic matters. But it could not insulate itself from either Palestinian resistance to brutal military suppression in the Occupied Territory or the demands – resisted by their Jewish coalition “partners” – for meaningful investment into the Palestinian community inside Israel. Little was done to alleviate the poverty, high unemployment, lack of infrastructure and poor education of the Arab population, as Ra’am, tried to do. And Bennett’s government even approved the establishment of four Jewish settlement-towns on Bedouin Negev land.

On the contrary, the right-wing and centrist parties, including Bennett’s own Yemina (“Rightward”) party, could not stomach what they considered their own government’s weak response to “Arab terror” – a lack of repression following attacks in Israeli towns (despite the Israeli army’s invasion of the Jenin refugee camp that resulted in the death of the Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh; a lack of repression following the Ramadan “disturbances,” despite the invasion by the police of the Al Aqsa Mosque; too much hesitation in approving the fascistic “March of [Israeli] Flags” by violent settlers through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City; together with internal criticism that settlements were not being constructed fast enough in the West Bank (despite the government’s announcement that more than 4,000 new settlement units had been approved) or that the IDF was being “too tough” in its [ineffective] response to settler violence against Palestinians.

In the end, there is a larger political stalemate. Israel is unable to suppress Palestinian resistance to occupation but is unable to move beyond apartheid, rendering “the conflict” and all the instability it causes a permanent fact of life. It is unwilling to address the basic social and economic needs of its own Arab population, but cannot establish a functioning government without them. It is the worst of all scenarios: endemic instability in Israeli government that only deepens Israel’s inability to deal with the Palestinian issue and its commitment to apartheid internally, as well as in the Occupied Territory. An inability caused largely by the oppression of Palestinians but not enough instability to cause Israel to re-evaluate its policies, certainly not to end its occupation. A settler colonial state hoisted on its own petard, having nowhere to go but into apartheid and repression against its own [Palestinian] citizens, as well as those they rule as colonial overlords. A country desperate for “normality”, pathetically pressing its claim to be “the only democracy in the Middle East”, but trapped in the colonialism of its own making.

It is a golden trap, of course. Israelis can afford to ignore the Palestinians because they have created a European-level economy insulated from the brutality it generates. Government instability for Israeli Jews is merely a side-show of failed politicians. As long as it does not threaten their standard of living and sense of personal security – which it has not – no one cares, in particular. No one will miss the Bennett government. And the next government will be virtually indistinguishable, with or without Ra’am.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

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First Israel made Gaza an Open Air Prison with high Unemployment; Now, Inflation is Hitting Hard https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/unemployment-inflation-hitting.html Thu, 23 Jun 2022 04:04:49 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205361 By Ali Abo Rezeg | –

( Middle East Monitor) – The weary Gaza Strip has been languishing for more than 15 years under an inhumane land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel. It was put in place following the Palestinian election in 2006 which was won by Hamas.

Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza continues to expose the ugly face of its decades-long occupation and apartheid. It has also exposed the awful complicity and hypocrisy of the international community which has done little, if anything at all, to help the Palestinians to resist both the blockade and the occupation (quite the reverse, in fact), but rushed immediately to help Ukraine when Russian troops invaded in February.

Young Palestinians have grown up knowing nothing but Israel’s cruel siege; a ten year old in 2006 may well be married with children of his or her own now, but has yet to see a commercial ship docking in Gaza because Israel still denies Palestinians the right to build their own seaport. Indeed, the occupation state has attacked and hijacked vessels heading for Gaza with humanitarian aid. The most serious of these attacks in international waters was the hijacking of the Mavi Marmara and other ships in 2010, during which Israel shot and killed nine Turkish activists; a tenth died later of his wounds. Their only “crime” was to be taking much-needed aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.

Gaza’s only airport was destroyed by Israel in 2001. Its construction was a bid by the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat to link the proposed Palestinian state with the world before Israel intervened and aborted that dream before it could even take shape. And this was years before that fateful election when the people of occupied Palestine — not just in Gaza — dared to exercise their democratic right and voted freely for a Hamas government.

The Israeli blockade has condemned hundreds of very sick Palestinians to death because they were not allowed to travel abroad to receive life-saving treatment. Thousands, including me, have lost out on university scholarships overseas because of the repeated closures of the Gaza Strip’s only pedestrian border crossings at Erez with Israel and Rafah with Egypt.

The hugely damaging economic impact of the blockade has sent the unemployment and poverty rates in Gaza soaring. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) revealed last year that 59.1 per cent of the Palestinians in Gaza live in “extreme poverty”; just over 50 per cent of the population are unemployed. The shocking effects of the Israeli blockade have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War that has taken food prices to an unprecedented high. If there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza before, it’s a catastrophe now.

Amid all of these serious developments, it is time for the Palestinians living abroad; Arab and Muslim organisations; and justice-loving people across the world to assume their moral and humanitarian responsibilities by standing with the blockaded territory.

There are thousands of successful Palestinian businessmen and women living in the diaspora; many feel that they have to do something to help their fellow Palestinians struggling to survive in the occupied and besieged areas. This doesn’t just mean making charitable donations, although they are most certainly welcome. The Palestinians in Gaza need solutions based on creative ways to provide employment and development opportunities. Nobody wants to depend on charity all the time, and the Palestinians are no different in this respect.

There are thousands of unemployed graduates in Gaza just waiting for such opportunities, either at home or abroad. The pandemic has shown us the way with home working now the norm across almost every economic sector. Skilled freelancers based in Gaza have enormous potential and can undoubtedly perform many roles if only they are given the chance to show what they are capable of.

We need to appeal to Arab and Muslim civil society groups to take action in support of the Gaza Strip and its people. We know that there is a lot of pressure placed on anyone supporting the Palestinians by the US and Israel, especially through pro-Israel lobby groups in the West, but there should always be a way to help an oppressed people who have largely been abandoned and left to stand alone in the face of a brutal occupation and siege.

Kuwait is a positive example of what can be done. It has experience of hiring the graduates of Gaza’s universities, which has helped to create hope for their families. I would urge Arab and Muslim organisations to consider such an approach when seeking new employees. They can not only give jobs to skilled and well-qualified Palestinians, but also help to ease the effects of the cruel Israeli siege in the process. Productive and sustainable projects rather than seasonal work could lead to permanent job opportunities for the deprived young people of occupied Palestine.

Support for Palestine and its people is growing across the world, with the now international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and other activism keeping the issue in the headlines. One consequence of Israel’s frequent military offensives against the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, is that awareness is increasing and ever more public pressure is placed on the occupation state to end its hostilities.

Ordinary people are starting to speak out in huge numbers, and politicians are aware of this and its possible impact on votes. The Black Lives Matter movement prompted a great response around the world, attracting support across religions, nationalities and ethnicities. The global outrage over the heinous murder of popular Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was also hugely important, and the network has pledged to pursue the Israelis responsible through the international legal system.

Economic conditions are difficult the world over, but the effects are worse in places like the Gaza Strip. The blockade is not a natural disaster or suchlike; it is a deliberate strategy by a supposedly democratic state to keep people in poverty and hungry. Now is the time, therefore, for an upsurge of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Well-coordinated advocacy for Gaza is required to produce not only pressure on the international community to do something to end Israel’s blockade and occupation, but also to provide opportunities for the Palestinians to help themselves to get out of this dire predicament.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

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The Ukraine War must Impel us to Switch to Green Energy, not Double Down on Fossil Fuels https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/ukraine-switch-energy.html Wed, 22 Jun 2022 04:06:23 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205338 By Burak Elmalı | –

( Middle East Monitor ) – The Russia-Ukraine War has lasted for four months and counting. It has raised various questions about new waves of refugees, energy resources, food prices and the revision of national security policies all over the world.

The week after the Russian invasion in February, US President Joe Biden banned oil imports from Russia; Britain quickly followed suit. Other European countries also imposed severe sanctions against Russia. Political leaders are motivated mainly by the idea that ongoing energy dependence on Russia is another way of financing a belligerent hegemon. Moscow has indeed financed its war via its fossil fuel exports, and President Vladimir Putin’s bloody war has also created Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War Two, displaced one-third of the Ukrainian population, and caused global food shortages.

Thus, many European leaders are searching for alternatives to reduce their fuel and food dependence on Russia. These radical changes in energy policies have raised hopes for more effective mitigation of climate change. The degree of transition to renewable energy sources will determine whether these hopes are well founded or not.

Given the ongoing war, some may consider climate change to be an issue of secondary importance for the international community. However, even from a realist’s point of view, there is a strong opportunity to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. There is a new political will in many governments worldwide, so countries could indeed make progress towards mitigating global climate change. In other words, the war in Ukraine has the potential to produce some unintended consequences for the future of us all by making countries invest in areas where realistic considerations and climate change issues intersect.

The US ban on Russian oil imports and Europe’s search for alternatives are an effective way of containing Russia, given that 53.8 per cent of Moscow’s exports are linked to fuel and energy. Russia’s only option against sanctions seems to be to shift its oil and gas exports away from Europe to China and India. These countries are likely to be in an advantageous position by being able to buy oil at a discounted price.

Similarly, Europe is searching for new trade partners in energy. Germany has signed a deal with Qatar to buy Liquefied Natural Gas. Italy, meanwhile, has signed a new gas supply deal with Algeria, increasing its gas imports by around 40 per cent.

Although the idea underlying large-scale sanctions, including a ban on energy imports, is presented within a moral context, the Russia-Ukraine War can be seen as the end of existing energy dependence and the beginning of a new policy of containment of Russia. While it may be too soon to claim victory in climate change mitigation, there are many signs that the transition to a brand-new era has started. This can’t come too soon. “The energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine has seen a perilous doubling down on fossil fuels by the major economies,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned.

However, it is challenging for the war to be a turning point in the fight against climate change when governments look for non-Russian fossil fuels instead of shifting to renewables.

In the context of the war, therefore, two observations on the issue of climate change can be made from a realist’s point of view. For a start, the applicability of the policies and strategies envisaged by the climate change regime is directly proportional to countries’ economic interests. For example, one of the normative references of the climate change regime since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been the priority of shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. This step aims to keep the global average temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above such levels. Yet the fossil fuel dependence of developing countries is related closely to their economic development trajectories. For developed countries, the transition to renewables by totally abandoning fossil fuels is a costly project that needs more effort. As such, the short-termism of countries generates underperformance in making eco-friendly adjustments in their energy policies.

Moreover, international negotiations reflect the underlying power structures in the world. Hence, the future trajectory of climate change mitigation depends on how developed countries articulate the need for renewable energy during the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, to be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November. The determination of the US is a case in point. Previous American administrations flip-flopped during the Kyoto and Paris negotiations. However, the Biden administration has changed course and reintegrated into the climate change regime. In addition, the European countries’ resolve to minimise their energy dependence on Russia will also be tested. Importantly, one should not overlook the China factor because Beijing is one of the major winners of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has secured access to cheap Russian oil and provided a safe haven for the potentially depleted Russian economy post-sanctions.

The war has exposed the energy vulnerability of numerous countries. If those in Europe had accelerated renewable energy investments by opting for long-term environmentally friendly approaches instead of short-termism, they would not be in such a dire situation. A radical energy source transition is not something that will happen quickly, of course. Nevertheless, it is seen that Europe has taken decisive steps in this regard. REPowerEU, for example, was developed by the European Commission in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine to end the dependence on Russian fossil fuels before 2030.

The future of our planet is at a crossroads. While countries have started to minimise their dependence on Russian energy gradually, the decisive question that needs to be asked is to what extent a large-scale energy transition to renewables will be achieved. Realistic considerations are important in shaping the boundaries of economic decisions. If countries take proper lessons regarding the necessity of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, future fragilities will not paralyse energy demand. Unless the US and European countries develop renewable energy priorities with concrete targets and financial mechanisms, though, progress in global climate change mitigation will be difficult. The upcoming COP27 talks will be an important gauge of whether the world is ready to adopt new strategies regarding energy sources and climate change.

Burak Elmalı is a deputy researcher at TRT World Research Centre.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

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With Putin bogged down in Ukraine, will the Syrian Civil War Reignite? https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/bogged-ukraine-reignite.html Tue, 14 Jun 2022 04:02:50 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205172 By Muhammad Hussein | –

( Middle East Monitor) – Pivotal moments in history rarely present themselves, but when they do, that is exactly what they turn out to be. The power dynamics of an entire region can be altered, the interests of governments can be shifted, and the geopolitical arena can be at least partially dominated by former underdogs.

That is the kind of opportunity history is presenting to the Syrian opposition groups, which have all but gone dormant in the face of almost a decade of Russian battering. Now, amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine which was launched over three months ago and has no end date in sight, the Syrian rebel groups finally have a chance to continue their struggle against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

While the numbers are disputed, it is estimated that Moscow has so far lost over 30,000 troops in its invasion of Ukraine. Those losses are few in the hordes of hundreds of thousands that Russia has – as has often been the case in its history – sent against its foes. There are reports that the Kremlin has largely sent its conscripts to the frontline as cannon-fodder while keeping its best forces and tactics in reserve.

Whatever the truth of such reports, it is difficult to deny that Russian forces are being tied up in Ukraine, compelling it to withdraw military forces and mercenaries from its operations in Syria and Libya. Some reports put the numbers of withdrawals in the thousands, and others only in the hundreds. Regardless of the scale, a withdrawal has been taking place.

Division amongst rebels

One of the main issues to be considered and contended when assessing the possibility of Syrian opposition forces launching a renewed offensive against the Assad regime is the division amongst the rebel groups. The Syrian revolution is far from the golden days it enjoyed ten years ago, when the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was growing in strength and numbers, and was garnering support from much of the international community.

Now, the revolutionary groups have split up into numerous factions and movements of their own – some Islamist, some nationalist and secularist, some backed by the US or Turkiye, and some ethnocentric such as the Kurdish militias. To add to that division, the world is no longer focused on or captivated by the conflict in Syria, and has largely left it behind with little international support for a renewed opposition offensive.

As it stands, the most capable and powerful factions which are able to launch an offensive against the Assad regime are the Islamist rebel groups in north-western Syria, of which the chief amongst them is Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate which has broken off links with the movement. Over the past few years, HTS has been dominating the province of Idlib and its power politics, serving as the armed forces with the ‘Salvation Government’ as a civilian front.


Is Assad ruining Syria’s economy? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

With years of sustained combat experience against Syrian regime forces in southern Idlib and the Jabal Zawiya mountain and surrounding areas, HTS has at least some capabilities to successfully launch attacks against regime positions. Its possession of long-range heavy weaponry also boosts those capabilities.

Despite its reported military prowess, however, HTS has been and continues to be busying itself with suppressing rival factions in north-west Syria, making many sceptical of whether it would even set its sights on taking on Syrian forces. The group and its leadership claim that such efforts are for the long-term goal of uniting the Syrian opposition in the region under one umbrella, yet its poor performance against the regime and its allies’ offensive in 2020 – which saw the opposition lose huge swathes of land and key towns to Assad – also puts into question either its ability to defend territory or its sincerity in making it a priority.

Assad or the Kurds?

The Syrian National Army (SNA), the FSA’s descendent which governs other parts of north-west and northern Syria and which is backed by Turkiye, also seems to have dropped any aims to relaunch any attacks against Assad regime positions. Instead, it is refocusing its efforts on preparing to join Turkiye in its own planned operation against the Kurdish militias in northern and north-east Syria.

That is largely due to the backing given to the SNA and other proxies by Ankara, but is also due to the fact that the Kurdish groups control areas directly surrounding SNA territories, making it in their own interests to support such an operation. The question the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition groups must grapple with, then, is whether the Kurds or Assad are the greater threat.

It seems increasingly likely that the Fath al-Mubeen (Clear Victory) operations room – meant to represent a united front of opposition groups ready for combat against the Syrian military – established predominantly by HTS and Ahrar al-Sham, an affiliation of the SNA, will not become operational any time soon.

There is still, of course, the Turkish and Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement struck in March 2020 which officially obstructs an offensive by Assad’s forces and Russia against the Syrian rebel groups, and vice versa. Anyone with any awareness of the situation in north-west Syria practically since the agreement was struck, however, knows that it has been violated countless times – primarily by the regime and Moscow – and exists in name only.

The idea of utilising the opportunity brought by the Russian tie-down in Ukraine has, in fact, not been entirely neglected by some segments of the Syrian opposition. In the March edition of the monthly Balagh magazine – written and published in north-west Syria by anti-HTS figures and clerics – it acknowledged that the “Russian enemy is stuck in a tough [war of] attrition which has led it to withdraw its soldiers from many places and deploy them to the Ukrainian campaign, and it has transferred from Syria to Ukraine its best officers who have gained battle experience in Syria.”

The editorial lamented that “despite the extensive attrition and the embarrassment of the Russians, the situation [i.e. the rebel leadership] in Syria…behaves like a pot plant. The functionary leaders who were forced into the revolution are satisfied with the role of spectator and make do with a variety of exclamations.”

It accused those leaders from HTS and the SNA of having taken “control of the resources of the Syrian revolution”, and called them “nothing but slaves who function in accordance with the dictates of their masters and not in the interests of the jihad and the revolution.”

The editorial further condemned the leadership for inter-factional fighting and oppressive policies over the people they govern instead of taking advantage of the war in Ukraine. It “makes itself hated by the community of fighters; imposes a siege on the poor people in the region; conducts a complete census of the people in the area, collects information about them, their pasts and their activities and all these details stream smoothly into all the security apparatuses”.

Such a leadership, it concluded, “is likely to bring about the downfall of the territories as they have fallen in the past, for the history of its military failures which brought about the loss of the territories is known and familiar.”

If Syrian rebel groups were eventually to form an offensive against the Assad regime while Russia is distracted in Ukraine, there would still be considerable risks to reckon with. Firstly, Moscow still has a military presence – albeit probably limited – and some of its fighter jets are still stationed at the Khmeimim air base near Latakia.

There is also the presence of Iranian forces and militias to contend with, which many analysts predict could result in Iran’s ascendency in Syria amid the Russian withdrawal. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that Turkiye will back or adequately defend the Syrian opposition if they conduct their own operation against regime positions as happened two years ago – and even that was mainly due to Syrian forces killing Turkish troops.

Such realities will ensure that any rebel offensive in Syria would still encounter significant obstructions, but currently the Russians – by far the greatest factor which set the opposition back over the years – are tied down elsewhere, providing the “revolution” with a rare opportunity.

Muhammad Hussein is an International Politics graduate and political analyst on Middle Eastern affairs, primarily focusing on the regions of the Gulf, Iran, Syria and Turkey, as well as their relation to Western foreign policy.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

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Denying Palestine while Protecting Israel from Itself https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/denying-palestine-protecting.html Sun, 12 Jun 2022 04:06:11 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205158 By Mohammad Makram Balawi | –

Many acts regarding Palestine are an enigma. Everything is convoluted, and you do not know who is killing who and for what reason; a “mad house” where nothing makes much sense.

Others believe it is part of the nature of the Middle East, where everyone is used to killing everyone else for no clear reason, as if it is an inherent mark of the region: “As Arabs and Orientals are known to act violently and irrationally.”

There are some who believe that Islam is the root cause of what is happening: “As Islam is a violent ideology that encourages Muslims to terrorise others and kill them in the name of Allah, and unless Islam is defeated or at least radically reformed, this will never end.”

Then, there are those who think this is unnecessary tension: “Let them slaughter each other, and one should simply mind his own business and live his life because it is the nature of life and people on the surface of this planet that have been doing this since the beginning of creation.”

Of course, we also have those who think Israel is a case of success in an ocean of failure and an oasis of democracy in the Arabian desert of despotism and deserves support. This stems from the belief that it is playing a very important role in defending “Western” interests in one of the most important areas of the world. Therefore, Israel should be protected, not only from external dangers, but from internal ones as well. This includes leaders who want to divert Israel from the original scheme to become merely another Middle Eastern country infested with religious fundamentalism and tyranny. In other words, to protect Israel from itself.

As an intellectual, I was taught that true intellectuals are always ready to stand by the marginalised, the oppressed and the victimised. That it is not ethically right to equate victim with victimiser; that all human beings are equals, regardless of their gender, race, country, religion or political and ideological backgrounds. That human dignity and preserving it is the highest value known to the human race and depriving a person or a people of their freedom is the antithesis of maintaining human dignity. That occupying someone else’s land is a crime, and the worst among crimes is colonialism, as it practically enslaved more than half of humankind under empty slogans used to justify the biggest crime in human history.

As a Palestinian refugee, a son of a Palestinian refugee and a grandson of a Palestinian refugee, I have seen throughout my life how we Palestinians were always treated as criminals for demanding our lawful rights of returning to our country, cities, towns and villages. How we, the victims, were called terrorists, and how we were asked to condemn ourselves for demanding our rights. How we were accused of bringing it all on ourselves, either because incorrectly we have sold our land to “Jews” or because we were not clever enough to accept American and Israeli generosity and refused to share our homeland with foreign colonisers.

Half of my people were forced out of their homes in 1948 to other countries, while foreigners took over our homes, including bed sheets, curtains, bookshelves, the rugs on the floor, flowers on the table and in the garden, and even our memories. Yet, Israel claims that Palestinians left voluntarily; therefore, they are not eligible to return to their homeland and homes.

The only right Israel has on our land is that according to their holy book, their god gave them our homeland and their ancestors lived on our land two thousand years ago. That we, the Arabs, have a lot of land, so Palestinians could live anywhere on Arab land. That European countries ethnically-cleansed Jews, so we Palestinians have to pay for their mistake.

A few weeks ago, I was travelling in a group to an Arab country, while one group member was delayed at the airline’s counter. He was completely frustrated, so I asked him what was happening. He said they would not allow him to travel and he knew deep in his heart why, as all those who hold Palestinian passports are treated as a plague by the rest of the world. We made many calls to the hosting country, and his visa issue was finally resolved. Yet, he was not reassured until we got through the customs of the inviting country.

This simple incident explains how we Palestinians are treated by the rest of the world and how much we are taught to mistrust “the world” who failed us at every turn, while our tormenters and subjugators are treated with respect and dignity. To many of us, mistrust in the international community is the rule, and anything else is an exception. For those who choose to blame us, let them try being a refugee for seventy-four years. While Israel, the illegally occupying force, is protected even from itself, Palestinians are denied their land, state, history, holy places, identity, and even a coloured piece of cloth called a national flag.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

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Why does the world allow Israel to continue its oppression of Palestinians? https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/continue-oppression-palestinians.html Tue, 07 Jun 2022 04:04:49 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205072 By Mohammad Makram Balawi | –

( Middle East Monitor) – Thirty-one-year-old Ghofran Warasnah was shot dead by the Israeli occupation forces located at the entrance of Al-Arroub Palestinian refugee camp near Hebron. Ghofran was a Palestinian journalist who was heading to work. According to reports paramedics were barred from reaching her for 20 minutes and the ambulance carrying her dead body was attacked by Israeli forces.

This brings to mind the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh.

Of course, this kind of extra-judicial killing is the norm in the West Bank, this year alone 50 Palestinians have been killed, including 15 children. In most cases Israeli occupation soldiers claim that the victims were assailants armed with knives who had to be shot to protect the occupation forces. No evidence is ever provided for their claims.

Unlike others, Israel kills suspects then seeks to legitimise the murder.

How are Israelis able to play the role of the victim? They are able to manipulate facts and escape the consequences of their actions. Basic facts which are not “disputed” by anyone except by the illegal Israeli occupation forces, such as that Al-Aqsa Mosque has been a Muslim holy site for the last 1,400 years. This fact is recognised by all concerned international organisations and laws.

Unfortunately, most of those who acknowledge this do not act accordingly, save some empty statements that denounce Israel’s actions especially those related to human rights violations. They act with indifference towards Israeli violations and aggression, to the extent that they practically forgot their commitments and obligations towards the tenets of the UN and perceive and deal with Palestinians who are resisting a brutal colonial occupation in Jerusalem as vagabonds and trouble makers, not as freedom fighters and martyrs. This approach makes them complicit in the atrocities being committed.

Article continues after bonus IC video
TRT World: “Israel to vote on Palestinian flag ban”

This contradiction was evident when Israeli fanatics marched through the Old City of Jerusalem hoisting Israeli flags, abusing and cursing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Palestinians, then broke into Al-Aqsa Mosque and practiced their prayers inside this Muslim holy site under the protection of Israeli occupation police, while the real owners of the mosque were beaten with batons and accused of disturbing the peace.

These crimes are legalised by the Israeli judiciary, who gave Jews the right to intrude into Al-Aqsa, protected by Israeli police who watch over them when they were reciting their prayers, justified by Western media which always claims that Muslim holy sites are disputed places, governed by the Israeli government.

So, does the world really believe that Israel is an occupation state? Theoretically speaking yes. In practice, however, this same world has not done anything tangible over the last 55 years to deter Israel or punish it. On the contrary, economic relations continued and helped strengthen the occupation’s clout. All the European countries, America and most of Latin American, Asian, African and even some Arab countries have diplomatic relations with Israel. During the Trump era, the United States – the most powerful country on Earth – even relocated its embassy to occupied Jerusalem in contravention of international law. Turning the UN resolution on the matter into rhetoric.

Inaction and neutrality in the face of aggression is a sign of ethical bankruptcy. The world has long crossed this line to a more inferior one; the stage of covering, justifying and aiding the Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people. This same world who has been giving the occupation a green light for the past 55 years, condemning the Palestinian victims as they try to defend themselves.

What we see on the ground proves beyond no doubt that the world only believes in the language of nuclear war heads, aircraft carries, nuclear submarines, jet fighters and supersonic missiles and not in justice for the oppressed and those whose rights have been ripped from them.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

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Major Human Rights Groups Call for End of Impunity for Israeli Apartheid Policies in Palestinian Territories https://www.juancole.com/2022/06/apartheid-palestinian-territories.html Thu, 02 Jun 2022 04:04:17 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204973 By Nasim Ahmed | –

( Middle East Monitor ) – Ex-Al Jazeera Chief, Wadah Khanfar, has blasted Western mainstream media over its failure to report honestly about the brutal reality of Israel’s illegal occupation. Speaking at a landmark conference in London yesterday, alongside a panel of representatives from all the major human rights groups, Khanfar paid tribute to journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by an Israeli sniper and urged the mainstream media to report honestly about the “naked truth of the apartheid regime that dehumanises Palestinians”. The killing of Abu Akleh is a “tipping point” said Khanfar, who Joined Al Jazeera at the same time as the slain journalist.

Khanfar was one of six speakers at the event organised by the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians. The five other guests were representatives of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Al Haq, B’Tselem and Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN). All recently declared that Israel is committing the crimes of apartheid and took part in the event titled: Responding to Apartheid in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: the UK’s obligation under International Law.

Now the President of Al Sharq Forum, the 53-year-old accused the mainstream media of being complicit in a cover-up to hide the reality of the Israeli apartheid regime under “layers of lies, fabrication and obfuscation”. Why Israel is charged with the crime of apartheid was explained by representatives of the human rights group. In short, there are three components to the apartheid designation under international law: the existence of a regime of racial domination from the river to the sea in historic Palestine; the use of violence to maintain and preserve that regime and the intention to preserve a regime of racial domination. The consensus amongst all the main human rights group is that Israel meets all three conditions.

Khanfar predicts that the powerful image of Abu Akleh’s funeral will prove to be a pivotal moment in defeating Israel’s apartheid regime, in the same way as the funeral of slain African National Congress member and anti-apartheid activist, Ashley Krielas. The image of a police offer attempting to remove the ANC flag draped over the coffin of Kriel during his funeral in 1987 in Langa Township, Cape Town, became a powerful symbol of resistance which led to the release of the late Nelson Mandela. The flag of the ANC was illegal under white South African rule, in the same way as the flag of Palestine is proscribed under Israeli apartheid rule.

Appealing to journalists to end their dehumanisation of Palestinians, Khanfar urged them to live up to the moral standards and uphold the integrity of their position. “Who can hold them accountable?” asked Khanfar rhetorically, speaking of the “deadly impunity” enjoyed by Israel. “Western hegemony created Israel impunity … Israel is an apartheid state legally, politically and morally.”

Khanfar turned his focus to the wider horizon and swiped at the so called “Abraham Accords”. He mentioned his last appearance at the same London venue to speak at an event organised by MEMO to commemorate the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. In the four years between the murder of the Saudi journalist and that of Abu Akleh, an “alliance of authoritarian regime and apartheid regime” has become cemented said Khanfar. They seek to “dominate, suffocate and subjugate all calls for democracy” he warned, while stressing on the need to form an “international front to challenge the authoritarian and apartheid alliance”.

The common theme in the remarks of the six main speakers was Israel’s impunity. Despite consensus amongst major human rights groups, Western governments have been reluctant – if not hostile – to their findings. None, however, have disputed the facts of the reports or explained why they dispute the conclusion. Selma Dabbagh, ICJP’s Chief Operating Officer, made impunity the theme of her opening remarks. “If the law is strong enough to defend Palestinians, it is strong enough to defend anyone,” said Dabbagh. All six speakers viewed ending Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid regime as a major stress-test for the international community.

B’Tselem’s Executive Director, Hagai El-Ad, began the first of the six main presentations. He spoke of the facts and circumstances that led to the rights group’s designation of Israel as an apartheid state. “There is not a single square inch where Jewish and Palestinians are equal,” said El-Ad, describing Israel’s apartheid regime. “The policy of Jewish supremacy is everywhere,” he continued, explaining that in the territory between the River Jordan and Mediterranean Sea, known as historic Palestine, there exists a “one state reality controlled by a single regime”, which he stressed is committing the crime of apartheid.

What is the responsibility of governments when a country violates a fundamental principle of international law known as peremptory norm? Solomon Sacco of Amnesty International offered an answer. He explained that, when a country violates a peremptory norm such as through the practice of slavey, genocide, torture, and apartheid, they have an obligation to act. No derogation is permitted, and States are obligated to end their support of a government accused of violating peremptory norms. Sacco called on all States to fulfil their obligation under international law, and not to be complicit in the maintenance of a regime that commits the crime of apartheid.

Not only are our governments failing to uphold peremptory norms of international law by continuing their trade with Israel, they are undermining their own liberal democratic identity to preserve ties with the apartheid State, suggested Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. Though facts, law and public opinion are converging on Israel’s practice of apartheid, Western governments are passing illiberal laws and endangering the basic principal of free speech by seeking to silence critics of Israel, Whitson explained.

“UK, US must choose to preserve Israel’s interest or the interest of our own citizens,” said Whitson, warning of the threat posed by the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. Several political parties and governments have adopted the definition. Seven of the eleven examples in the IHRA conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism. Critics, including its main drafter, have said that the adoption of the IHRA definition will have a chilling effect on free speech. “What is the cost of defending Israeli apartheid?” asked Whitson. What does it say about a regime, if calls for equal rights trigger an “earthquake in Israel?”

For the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch, Omar Shakir, the reports are the starting point in a long process to bringing down the Israeli apartheid regime. “We are in a unique moment in the history of Israel Palestine,” said Shakir. “Rights groups and global civil society have a clear-eyed assessment and share the same determination.” Ending Israeli’s apartheid regime begins with recognising Israel for what it is, and naming crimes honestly and diagnosing the problem correctly, explained Shakir. “A 55-year occupation is not temporary. Denial of rights is not simply an occupation. Structural repression is not a conflict,” said Shakir. “A single system designed to privilege one over another, alongside apartheid, is not a democracy.” Shakir listed major world leaders, members of the Israeli Knesset and hundreds of European politicians who have warned about Israel’s slide to apartheid. We are way past that moment, said Shakir, adding that the “fig-leaf” of failed peace talks has done nothing over the decades, except to mask the crime of apartheid committed by Israel.

Apartheid is just one of the many crimes Israel has committed over the decades in its takeover of Palestine, argued Shawan Jabarin, Executive Director of Al-Haq. He claimed that, in addition to the crime of preserving and maintaining a racist state seeking Jewish supremacy, ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism targeting Palestinian existence are Israel’s other violations of international law. He said that the UK, having issued the Balfour Declaration, has a “historical obligation” to aid Palestinians in combating the apartheid regime.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

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Jerusalem is not an internal Israel Affair to be Discussed before its Judiciary https://www.juancole.com/2022/05/jerusalem-discussed-judiciary.html Fri, 27 May 2022 04:06:51 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204863 By Fayez Abu Shamaleh | –

( Middle East Monitor ) – The Israeli government took note of the statement issued by the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriate Affairs, which condemned an Israeli court’s decision to allow extremists to perform rites in the courtyards of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Israeli government gave attention to the statement issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriate Affairs, which also condemned an Israeli court’s decision to allow extremists to perform rituals in the courtyards of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.

For Jordan’s sake, and for the sake of the PA, the Israeli government decided to appeal to the Israeli courts against the court’s decision, which allowed Jewish extremists to perform Jewish rites in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Did the Israeli government’s decision ease Jordan’s anger and reassure the PA’s concern? Are Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque an internal Israeli affair, brought before the Israeli courts, and are they authorised to look into cases of dispute?

Discussing the issue of Jerusalem in the corridors of Israeli courts confirms the official Israeli recognition that everything related to Jerusalem is an internal Israeli affair, and neither Jordan nor the PA has the right to interfere in it. Therefore, the Israeli government itself will challenge the court’s decision, and work to issue a judicial decision that does not allow Jewish extremists to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Does this end the matter? Does the issuance of a decision by the Israeli judiciary banning Jewish prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque comfort the Arab leaders?

Certainly not, because Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque are a Palestinian, Arab and Islamic affair, and they are a political and national issue that the Israeli judiciary has nothing to do with. Jordan, in its capacity as guardian over the holy sites, and the PA, in its capacity as the party responsible for the Jerusalem issue, which has been postponed until the final phase of the Oslo Accords which ended in 1999, should have both rejected the issue of Jerusalem becoming an internal Israeli affair by demanding a formal UN Security Council meeting and rejected all means of the Israeli judiciary’s interference in the affairs of Jerusalem. Moreover, the Arab masses should have been mobilised by calling for an emergency meeting for the Arab League and a joint session between the Jordanian Parliament and the Palestinian National Council to make the appropriate decisions that guarantee the “Islamic-ness” of Jerusalem and the “Palestinian-ness” of the land, etc. It would be a political sin for Jordan and Palestine’s reaction to such Judaisation decision to be condemnation and denunciation.

As of now, the entire nation is waiting for a firm stance from Jordan and the PA, a stance that matches the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and reaches the point of severing relations, withdrawing ambassadors, and halting security coordination and cooperation. This would help in strengthening the position of the Palestinian resistance, which has clearly and explicitly declared that it will fight back and engage in a battle to defend the sanctities with all of its might, even if it must pay the price for this dearly.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Felesteen on 24 May 2022


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Middle East Monitor

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