Tuesday, December 16, 2014

 

Israeli role in Syrian conflict brought into the open

By Nicola Nasser*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel facilitates war on UNDOF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli strategic gains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Friday, November 21, 2014

 

Gaza bombings rock Palestinian reconciliation

By Nicola Nasser*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

 

The endgame of the US ‘Islamic State’ strategy

By Nicola Nasser*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The US ‘Trojan horse’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, October 03, 2014

 

Palestinian-U.S. relations head for stormy times

By Nicola Nasser*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, September 19, 2014

 

Donors will fail Gaza again

By Nicola Nasser*

On 12 October, Cairo is due to host a conference, sponsored and chaired by Egypt and Norway, of international and Arab donors for the reconstruction of Gaza. This is their ostensible aim. But the reasons that the donors cited for not fulfilling earlier pledges, made in Paris in 2007 and Sharm El-Sheikh in 2009, still exist.

This means that the donors who attend the upcoming Cairo conference will probably make the same pledges they made at the two previous conferences and then once again fail to fulfil them.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian people under blockade in Gaza will remain in suspense, waiting for the next aggression to be unleashed on them by the Israeli occupation, purportedly in order to eliminate the causes that the donors cite for recycling their pledges for the reconstruction of Gaza that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

Fulfilment of the donors’ old/new pledges is still contingent politically on the imposition of the status quo in the West Bank on Gaza. This entails security coordination with the occupying power, the pursuit and elimination of all forms of resistance to the occupation, rendering all reconstruction activities subject to the approval of the Israeli security regime, and much more.

Even should these conditions be met, the donors’ fulfilment of their pledges will remain contingent on the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) continued commitment to negotiations as its sole strategy, and to the agreements that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

All the evidence indicates that the PLO and the PA have spearheaded the battle to impose the donors’ conditions on their behalf. Beneath the rubric of “legitimacy”, “the national project” and “the single central authority” that “alone holds the powers to make decisions on war and peace,” the PLO and PA have demonstrated that they are ready to abide by the donors’ political conditions.

The irony is that Israel has never met the conditions it compelled the donors to impose, not just in order to proceed with the reconstruction of Gaza, but also on the PA in general.

Israel has never renounced violence. It repeatedly wages war and unleashes its instruments of state terrorism against the Palestinians under occupation. It has flagrantly and repeatedly violated every agreement signed with the PLO. It has not even reciprocated the PLO’s recognition of Israel, nor has it officially acknowledged the Palestinians’ right to establish a Palestinian state.

Currently, the occupation authorities are threatening to dissolve the Palestinian national reconciliation government if it does not assert its full authority over Gaza. The message was driven home by PA Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa, who said that there would be no reconstruction unless his government can fully assert its control over Gaza.

However, all the evidence also indicates that the resistance is there to stay in Gaza and that its powers to resist the imposition of the donors’ conditions — on it and on Gaza — are increasing.

The only possible way to read all of the foregoing, and other facts, is that the reconstruction of Gaza under such conditions and circumstances will be deferred until further notice and that deferring reconstruction and linking it to a process of cloning the West Bank model in Gaza is actually a strategy that paves the way for yet another invasion of Gaza.

It is also a fact that reconstruction needs in Gaza are accumulating as a result of this strategy. Destruction in Gaza did not begin with the response to action against this strategy in 2007. The reconstruction of Gaza’s airport and seaport, for example, has been pending since the occupation destroyed these facilities in 2002. Reconstruction dues from the destruction wrought by the Israeli assaults on Gaza in 2008-2009 and 2012 are also continuing to accumulate.

A recent report by the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR) estimates that it will cost around $8 billion to rebuild what was destroyed during the last Israeli attack on Gaza. The report says that this process would take five years if the occupation authority were to “fully” lift the embargo on Gaza, which is hardly likely to happen soon.

Clearly, the reconstruction of Gaza requires a new Palestinian strategy, one that draws a line between the grants donors offer and their political conditions, and that rejects once and for all any Palestinian commitment to those degrading conditions that, as the years since the so-called “peace process” began have proven, have brought more destruction than construction, and have served as the chief incubator of Palestinian divisions and not brought even a minimum degree of national benefit.

At the same time, any new government that emerges from a national partnership must embrace resistance against the occupation. The current national reconciliation government, with its six-month term and its principle tasks of preparing for presidential and legislative elections, is by definition an interim government and is not qualified to shoulder heavy and long-term burdens such as the reconstruction of Gaza and securing the end of the blockade.

Both of these tasks are humanitarian and national goals that are higher than any political or factional disputes. Yet the Palestinian presidency’s determination to toe the line with the donors’ conditions, which make no distinction between humanitarian needs and political ends, is a strategy that fails to discriminate between national needs and factional interests. It is a strategy that protracts the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

Unfortunately, the need to separate politics — factional or otherwise — from the humanitarian issue does not appear to be on the agenda of either foreign and Arab donors, or of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in spite of the letter he sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on 30 July declaring Gaza a “disaster zone” in the grips of a “dangerous humanitarian crisis.”

This “dangerous humanitarian crisis” is the product of forms of collective punishment that were inflicted against the people of Gaza before the Palestinian rift and that grew worse afterwards. Any Palestinian assent to continuing to adhere to donors’ political conditions, which are responsible for perpetuating the collective punishment, is a form of Palestinian complicity in subjecting the people of Gaza to this punishment. The time has come for all Palestinian leaders to exonerate themselves from all charges of complicity in such punishment.

The collective punishments that have been and continue to be visited on Gaza are not acceptable, even on the pretext of punishing Hamas. Under the Geneva Conventions and before international criminal law they constitute a war crime inflicted on the civilian inhabitants of Gaza, who are protected by international humanitarian law, at least in theory.

To insist that Gaza’s reconstruction be linked to the reinstatement of the “full” authority of the Palestinian presidency and the PA over Gaza, and to the donors’ political conditions which, in fact, are the conditions of the occupying power, is merely another way to say that the reconstruction of Gaza should be linked to the imposition of Fatah’s factional agenda on Gaza.

It also means that civilians in Gaza are to be collectively punished for the factional disputes that Fatah has with Hamas, in which case it becomes very difficult to avoid pointing fingers of accusation at Palestinian complicity in the ongoing collective punishment of the people of Gaza, and more difficult yet to defend any possible Palestinian contribution to the perpetration of such a war crime.

As long as the current situation persists, reconstruction of Gaza will remain pending indefinitely, and the reconstruction burden will only grow. Eventually, the people of Gaza will have no alternative but to look for salvation through other means that they, alone, can control. The Palestinian presidency and its faction must decide to free themselves once and for all from their financial and political dependence on donors and the sterile “peace process” that has so far wrought only death, destruction and division.

It is not too late to opt for the national alternative, which is still available given good intentions, to save the people of Gaza, national unity, the resistance, and decision-making autonomy.

This alternative entails following through on implementation of the mechanisms for national reconciliation, activating the unified command framework for the PLO, agreeing on a new Palestinian strategy based on the principles of partnership and resistance, and creating a new national unity government committed to this strategy and qualified to shoulder such enormous tasks as the reconstruction of Gaza and lifting the blockade.

All of the foregoing requires no more than honest introspection, the prevalence of national conscience, and political free will.

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

This article was first published and translated from Arabic by Al-Ahram Weekly on September 19, 2014.



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