أذيع على قناة الغد العربي يوم ٣٠/٤/٢٠١٧
First published by the Middle East Monitor on 10 October 2016
image from the Middle East Monitor showing Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, the two US presidential candidates.
As the United States’ presidential race enters its final stage, with elections due on 8 November, the two candidates have been making their final pitches to woo the voters in their direction. There is general agreement that the two candidates, US businessman and billionaire Donald Trump for the Republicans and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for the Democrats, are two of the least popular candidates ever to stand for this great office. A focus on personal rather than policy issues characterised the first two debates, leaving US voters and observers around the world perplexed at the prospect of either candidate becoming the next president.
Trump, a candidate with no political experience, astonishingly won the GOP nomination on a platform of wanting to “make America great again”. His policies include building a wall along the border with Mexico and a promise that Mexico would pay for it, bringing jobs back to the US, particularly from Mexico and China and renegotiating trade deals that he thinks do not favour American workers. His appeal to African American voters was simply that there situation is so terrible “what do you have to lose” by voting for him.
When it comes to the Arab world, Trump is for crushing Daesh claiming he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS”, using another acronym for Daesh, and enhancing security through “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”. He recently revised this to “extreme vetting” for migrants to ensure the US only accept immigrants who “share our values and respect our people”. Trump’s proposal for stemming the tide of refugees from Syria is to keep them in Syria stating “what I like is build a safe zone, it’s here, build a big beautiful safe zone and you have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier”. He would expect the Gulf states to pay for this even though he is “not a big fan” of Saudi Arabia, and that America had paid too much to “back them up”.
His stance on Iraq has been that he opposed the war on Iraq but thinks the US should have seized Iraq’s oil.
On Libya, Trump reversed his stance on US military intervention from: “We would be so much better off if Gaddafi would be in charge right now,” to “I didn’t mind surgical. And I said surgical. You do a surgical shot and you take him out.” Trump has been vocal in his criticism of his Democratic rival’s policy in Libya while she was secretary of state.
Under his administration, Trump promised Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi that “the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.”
Unlike her Republican counterpart, Hilary Clinton’s stance on the Middle East is well known to the regional players from her days as secretary of state under the first Obama administration. Her deep knowledge of the region and generally warm relations with key regional players could help deliver greater American influence than has occurred under President Obama since she left office. However, strictly on policy issues there is unlikely to be a major shift to either a more hawkish or softer position on the key challenges.
Palestine and Israel
Support for and commitment to Israel, and particularly its security, have featured prominently in all recent US presidential elections and the current one has been no exception. The now mandatory “pilgrimage” to the main lobby group AIPAC’s conference to praise Israel and to reaffirm the US’ “unshakeable” commitment to it again featured in candidates’ campaign. Of all the candidates still standing at the time, only Democratic candidate Bernie Saunders missed the opportunity to state his position in person. The candidates effectively competed, at least in rhetoric to demonstrate their commitment to Israel, never once robustly criticising anything it does. Anyone listening would have thought Israel was not illegally occupying another people or in breach of countless UN Security Council resolutions or imposing an inhumane siege on Gaza.
Clinton sought to sway AIPAC’s audience by criticising Trump’s prior stance insisting “we need steady hands”, referring to the business mogul but not naming him. “Not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday because everything is negotiable.” She nailed her colours to the mast insisting: “Well, my friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable!”
Trump, who initially committed to being “neutral” on negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, causing a stir with Israel’s supporters at the time, changed his tune at AIPAC, unusually reading form a teleprompter. He said that he was “very pro-Israel”, touting the “many awards” he’s won, even claiming “there’s nobody more pro-Israel than I am”. Going on to emphasise America’s need to protect it. He reserved his criticisms for the Palestinians insisting they would have to end terror. “They have to stop with the terror because what they’re doing with the missiles and with the stabbings and with all of the other things that they do, it’s horrible and it’s gotta end.”
It is notable that Trump’s most recent “policy” related to the conflict is to “recognise Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel”. This he stated at an hour long meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump Tower during his visit to the US to make his annual speech to the UN General Assembly. This would have been music to Netanyahu’s ears, since the longstanding policy of successive US administrations has been to avoid this recognition, leaving it for the negotiations to determine the future of the holy city.
Both the Democratic and Republican party platforms saw a move in favour of Israel this year. TheRepublican platform reinstated a reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital, and removed a reference to Palestine, while the Democratic party rejected an amendment to its platform “rebuking Israel”.
Trump’s dangerous promise to Netanyahu on Jerusalem suggests a wider problem for Arab and Muslim nations. While Israel works tirelessly to influence policy in its favour, Arab and Muslim nations sit on their hands and simply complain and occasionally express their disappointment at the lack of sympathy for their issues, particularly from the US. Their judgement has perhaps been that Trump will not win the race and therefore efforts to influence him were not productive. Well, there is still a slim chance that he may win and they will be left at the back of the queue when arguing for a more favourable approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. If Hilary Clinton wins, why would she be more sympathetic than she has been to Arab and Muslim issues when there has not been an attempt to move her thinking during the election campaign?
The Palestinians may be too weak to influence either Trump or Clinton on their own, but how can the collective economic power of the Arab and Muslim world not only fail to make gains in their favour but to even lose ground?
It seems Israel has “trumped” the Arab and Muslim world through tireless and effective work and the next president of the US will be kinder to it than his or her predecessors.
This article was first published by the Middle East Monitor on 8/3/2016
To Palestinians, the creation of Israel in their homeland in 1948 was a catastrophe known as the Nakba. Not only were they dispossessed of their land but three-quarters of the population was also driven into neighbouring Arab countries by Zionist Jewish terrorism. Since then, the Palestinian refugees have demanded that they be allowed to return home in accordance with international law and UN Resolution 194 but very few have actually been allowed to return by Israel, which now occupies the whole of historic Palestine. The international community has simply stood and watched as Israel has continued to colonise the land and enforce a most brutal military occupation that is designed to make the lives of the indigenous Palestinians who still live there so miserable that they will want to leave.
Arab countries which were naturally sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight have attempted both through diplomatic and military means to support them in their pursuit of freedom, return and independence but their attempts have largely failed. The last serious military attempt to recapture occupied Arab land was in 1973 when Israel’s occupation was threatened; but for US military support for the Israelis it could have resulted in significant gains. While this was followed by a decision from the oil producers amongst the Arab States to impose an oil embargo on key supporters of Israel, including the USA, this was eventually suspended and the momentum was lost without any real change on the ground.
Instead, it was a unilateral diplomatic move by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to break the impasse that resulted eventually in the 1979 Camp David peace treaty. However, this also resulted in a fatal division in the united Arab front against Israel as well as Sadat’s assassination. Israel went on to conclude a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 and the taboo of direct negotiations with the Palestinians was broken when the Oslo Accords were concluded in 1993. The next most significant development in the search for peace was the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which offered Israel normalisation with all Arab and Muslim countries in return for the end of the occupation of Arab lands and a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Over a decade later, Israel has still not responded to this initiative.
Even with these diplomatic breakthroughs and a very willing Palestinian partner, Israel has shown little interest in further peace deals, despite its public statements to the contrary. It remains a belligerent colonial state that millions of Arabs continue to see as an enemy. The Palestinians face arguably the worst conditions they have ever experienced both in historic Palestine and in the refugee camps. The situation is particularly desperate for Gaza, which has been under siege for nearly a decade, and for refugees in neighbouring Arab countries. Those in Iraq were targeted after the fall of Saddam Hussein and denied refuge by some Arab countries, resulting in some being resettled in South America. Those in Syria, who in comparison with others had enjoyed a relatively decent existence, found themselves on the move again when the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Many found refuge with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and others made the perilous journey to Europe together with Syrian refugees that resulted in further suffering and, in some cases, death.
The promising Arab Spring, which gave hope to millions, has seen a reversal in almost every country where it took place. Syria, Libya and Yemen are in turmoil, while Egypt has lost its leadership position in the Arab world following the short rule of elected President Mohamed Morsi, and is now colluding with Israel in the ongoing siege of Gaza. The turmoil has been exacerbated by the rise of the so called “Islamic State”, Daesh, which has grown into a monstrous terror entity that is flourishing despite months of bombardment by a loose international coalition and the entry of Russia into the fray. Interestingly, Daesh has threatened almost all neighbouring states, except Israel.
When Israel looks towards its neighbours it claims that it faces major security challenges, making any “concessions” to the Palestinians untimely. However, when one considers the destruction of the Iraqi army following Saddam’s fall and the weakening of the Syrian forces as they fight on many fronts, Israel must view the current situation with some satisfaction, particularly as it sees its old enemy Hezbollah distracted by its engagement in Syria. Even on the political front, the Gulf States have bought into the idea that the real threat they face is from Iran, not Israel, and Israeli officials have been speaking with satisfaction about the “cooperation” and shared interests Israel now has with the GCC countries. If they are being honest, Israeli officials and analysts would agree that the Arabs have handed Israel a dream start to the 21st century.
As such, you would think that Israel would be satisfied with its strengthened security and its military superiority which the USA guarantees will continue, but no. It uses the chaos in neighbouring countries to argue against ending the occupation of Arab land, including the occupied Palestinian territories, as doing so would impair its own security. Instead, it demands that the world should consider the Iranian, Hezbollah and Daesh “threats”.
Israel should be thanking its lucky stars that it is where it is and should be finding a resolution to its conflict with the Palestinians which addresses legitimate grievances and will bring it long term security. It could accept the Arab peace deal, which will also reduce its undoubted isolation. However, there is no sign of this happening. In fact, the talk in Israel is about the annexation of more Palestinian land and that any resolution to the Syrian crisis must “address Israel’s interests and red lines.”
The reality is that Israel’s isolation is increasing because of its continued refusal to end its belligerence along with its growing reputation as an apartheid state in which racism and intolerance towards non-Jews are escalating. Its desperate attempts to combat the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement may be supported by Western governments but the resolve of ordinary citizens around the world to increase Israel’s isolation is growing. It should also realise that unlike the Native Americans or Australian Aboriginals, the Palestinians now almost outnumber Israel’s Jewish citizens and have no plans to capitulate, submit or leave. Its dream start to the 21st century looks set to morph into a nightmare of its own making.
Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He blogs at http://www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.
I had made the case in my recent article in the Middle East Monitor for a more comprehensive strategy both for eradicating IS and bringing peace to Syria because I was not convinced by the British Prime Minister’s case.
I thought the great veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman captured the PM’s plan very succinctly as can be seen below.
There will undoubtedly be Syrian civilian casualties despite assurances by the Government that what the RAF will bring are precision weapons that can almost distinguish between an IS person and a Syrian civilian.
I simply do not believe this.
I also do not believe the claim that there are tens of thousands of ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition fighters just waiting for Britain’s signal to take swathes of land vacated by beleaguered IS fighters running away from Britush bombs.
The fact is that most, if not all, MPs gave never experienced being on the receiving end of a bombing campaign, day after day.
The Syrian people have, the Iraqis have and before them, the Palestinians in Gaza have over many years of Israrli bombing raids.
Thousands have been killed, tens of thousands have been injured and hundreds of thousands of homes have been demolished. Children have been traumatised got life and have lost out in education and a normal life.
I found it interesting to read today that the first target of British bombs in Suria was an oil field that supplies almost 10% of the oil revenues for IS/Daesh.
I tweeted this
It is only day one of the U.K.’ ‘Extension’ of raids from Iraqyo Syria but I doubt if the IS leadership watched the debate in Parliament last night and when the vote was announced packed their bags and dispersed.
I want to see IS destroyed and its ideology consigned to the dustbin of history but there is a better way to achieve this than simply dropping ‘smart’ bombs on Riqqa.
I hope and pray the UK will be safer as a result of last night’s decision.
My latest column for the Middle East Monitor
30 November 2015
The issue of whether Britain should join the multitude of nations already bombing Syria is one of the most important questions facing parliament for some time. Prime Minister David Cameron made the case for bombing last week and hopes to have convinced MPs of all parties to back him.
The argument is that Daesh is a major security threat to Britain and if proof is needed then the recent Paris atrocities should provide it. Cameron insisted that there is almost an obligation on Britain to support allies already bombing the group in Syria, including France.
The Royal Air Force is already bombing Daesh in Iraq, of course, and the territory under its control includes swathes of both Iraq and Syria; the group does not recognise the international border between the two UN member states.
Britain wants President Bashar Al-Assad to step down and believes that the Syrian army is responsible for over 200,000 deaths since the uprising — now a civil war with international involvement — started in 2011. However, Cameron is clear that the air strikes he proposes would only target Daesh and not the Assad regime. He is also adamant that he will not put British Army boots on the ground.
The issue is in danger of splitting the already troubled Labour Party. Leader Jeremy Corbyn has a long-standing history of opposing war. The record shows that he was right to oppose the Iraq invasion and war which brought devastation to the country and a rise in terrorism, with groups like Al-Qaeda flourishing.
Now we have a plethora of armed groups, a “Free Syrian Army” and many states bombing Daesh in Iraq or Syria, or both. And then there is Russia, a recent entry onto the scene under the pretence of attacking Daesh but, according to other states involved in Syria, actually attacking anti-Assad groups.
The world faces a hugely complicated situation requiring both a diplomatic and military plan. In addition, if we have learnt anything at all from the disaster in Iraq, then a post-war plan is a must if the same mistakes are not to be repeated.
Will RAF air strikes make us safer in Britain?
I think not, and it is illogical that the government’s answer to this question is “Yes”, not least because it is now very apparent that the Paris atrocities were planned in Europe and not in Syria or Iraq. The answer for me lies in better intelligence gathering. There is a need for greater emphasis on national intelligence gathering and stronger transnational coordination, particularly in Europe.
Britain enjoys far stricter border controls which the Schengen Area countries lack. As such, the chances of terrorist cells entering the UK from Europe are more unlikely. It is also much more difficult — as far as I am aware — for anyone to purchase clandestine weapons in Britain than it is in the rest of the EU.
We are told that the British security services have successfully foiled a number of terrorist attacks this year. My conclusion, therefore, is that air strikes on their own are futile in reducing the risk of terrorist attacks against Britain, but greater and coordinated intelligence can be much more effective.
Should Britain do nothing in Syria?
I believe that Britain and all the other states involved in Syria need a plan and suggest that it needs to have the following elements:
- Establish no fly zones and safe havens inside Syria to stem the tide of refugees leaving the country.
- Curb sources of funding and arms for Daesh and continue to degrade its ability to sell oil.
- Work with Turkey to stem the tide of fighters wanting to join the group from outside Syria.
- Accept that the Syrian regime is there to stay and engage with it, bringing it back into the fold of the international community (see below).
- Broker a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and the opposition groups as it requires the focus of both to defeat Daesh.
- Support the Iraqi army and the Kurdish forces.
- Build a coalition against Daesh to include all of the states currently engaged in Syria, but with the Syrian army and opposition groups playing a central role.
- Use this improved situation to develop a long-term political solution for Syria. This will include a reconciliation process.
- Begin the process of an accelerated reconstruction of Syria working with the Syrian government.
I accept that, for many, bringing the Syrian regime back into the fold is a step too far, especially with regards to Bashar Al-Assad, but it is in my view the only entity that could eradicate Daesh on the ground. It does, however, need to shift the focus of its army to fighting the group after having established a ceasefire with the opposition.
The time for war crimes trials can come once Syria and Iraq are stabilised. Until then, the destruction of Daesh as an entity on the ground and as an ideology is of paramount importance.