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MIDEAST MIRROR 13.05.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)

 

1-Acting independently

2-Riyadh in a corner

3-Futile elections

 

1-Acting independently

 

[Gulf/U.S. differences] make it likely that the [Camp David] summit may turn into yet another occasion for further disagreement. This will not undermine the alliance between the GCC states and the U.S.; but it may boost the GCC's tendency to act with a vision that is totally independent from Washington despite the logistical and political difficulties confronting a policy that adopts major and decisive attitudes (as in the case of the war in Yemen) without coordination with Washington. Moreover, such independence will further ruin the climate between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE on the one hand, and Washington on the other, over the Iranian file – bearing in mind that Qatar and Oman have a different attitude towards Iran. For these reasons, the summit may produce further U.S./Gulf disagreements contrary to its intended aim--Ahmad Jamil 'Azm in Jordanian al-Ghad

 

Today…there is confidence in the Gulf's decisions and its ability to act independently, despite the Obama administration's reservations. This situation may complicate the U.S. administration's calculations and push for political changes and developments on the ground in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria that may not be to Washington's liking. A White House official recently complained about the Syrian opposition's advances in the north on the grounds that this 'helps the jihadis and the Nusra Front.' But regardless of this official’s mistaken political assessment, his stance does not have the same impact that a superpower's position could have had, had it not been for four years of American hesitation and wavering in Syria. In both form and content, the Camp David summit will consolidate greater independence for the Gulf states and less strategic influence for Barack Obama's administration--Joyce Karam in pan-Arab daily al-Hayat

 

Tomorrow’s (Thursday’s) Camp David summit between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and the U.S. may further aggravate the existing Arab Gulf/U.S. differences rather than overcome them as intended, argues a Palestinian commentator in a Jordanian daily. The disagreements between the Gulf states and the U.S. that were manifest in the run-up to the summit suggest that the Gulf states will become more independent from Washington in their policies, and that the U.S. will lose more of its influence in the region, maintains a Lebanese commentator in a Saudi-owned paper.

 

EACH STATE ON ITS OWN: "The U.S. prefers to deal with the Gulf states each on its own," writes Ahmad Jamil 'Azm in Wednesday's Jordanian daily al-Ghad.

For example, it refused to hold negotiations over free trade agreements with the GCC as a whole as the EU did; Washington insisted on negotiations with each state separately instead, which gave rise to disagreements when it reached an accord with some states before the others.

So why does U.S. President Barack Obama want to hold an unprecedented meeting with all these states together at Camp David this week?

Under former U.S. president George Bush Jr., there was a framework for meetings that went by the name of '6 + 2' and that included the GCC states plus Jordan and Egypt. This came to an end, perhaps after Obama took office, the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the change of [the Mubarak] regime in Egypt. So, will Thursday's summit lay the foundations for a new framework for action, or is it just a mere and passing PR exercise?

The absence of the Saudi and Bahraini kings from the summit with Washington came as a surprise. Sultan Qabus bin Sa'id of Oman who rarely takes part in collective political summits anyway will also be absent, as will UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan, whose absence may be for health reasons.  These absences lend credence to the belief that the summit will not address anything practical and clear, unless there is some measure of prior agreement on certain issues. According to The Wall Street Journal, the failure to make progress towards a common stance on the Syrian and Iranian files lies behind the Saudi monarch's absence. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting with the Saudi monarch last Thursday and with the GCC's foreign ministers [in Paris] suggests that something is being prepared and was discussed, and that the summit will not be a mere passing event.

The fact that it will be confined to the GCC states without Egypt and Jordan supports the belief that Iran will be the focus of this meeting. According to the London-based [Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily] al-Hayat, the meeting is likely to produce an agreement on a missile defense system. If this materializes, it seems the U.S. will proceed with its strategy regarding an agreement with Iran while simultaneously preparing for military and political confrontation with it should diplomatic efforts fail to secure the hoped for results. This is also intended to win the support of GCC states and reassure them regarding future relations with Iran.

On the other hand, if the reports of disagreements between the GCC and the U.S. prove to be true, this will be an indication of the Gulf’s concern not only about Iran's nuclear program, but more importantly, about normalizing Iran’s international relations and the likelihood that Tehran will exploit this in order to expand in the Arab states and intervene in their affairs.

One could envisage an American attempt to help establish a united Gulf security system and develop frameworks for Gulf action in order to confront issues such as Syria and Yemen. But the fact that neither Egypt nor Jordan has been invited to the summit makes any such wide-ranging regional arrangements less likely.

As the Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Qarqash has put it, Gulf/U.S. relations can best be described as a two-way street, and not one in which one side (the U.S.) determines the shape and course that these relations may take alone.

It is not unlikely that Washington will reach an agreement with the GCC over some relatively minor issues, such as setting up a defensive system. But without greater efforts and meetings to bridge the gaps and overcome the differences in opinion such as the different views of how to deal with Syria and the absence of a decisive American position on Yemen; and more importantly, the lack of decisiveness in dealing with Iran's status in the region; the lack of agreement over how to deal with ISIS; the failure to overcome the disagreement stemming from the fact that Washington did not oppose the Arab Spring or the fall of Husni Mubarak's regime in Egypt and Zein el-'Abedine's regime in Tunisia; and the fact that the U.S. did not refuse to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood – all these issues make it likely that the summit may turn into yet another occasion for further disagreement.

This will not undermine the alliance between the GCC states and the U.S.; but it may boost the GCC's tendency to act with a vision that is totally independent from Washington despite the logistical and political difficulties confronting a policy that adopts major and decisive attitudes (as in the case of the war in Yemen) without coordination with Washington. Moreover, such independence will further ruin the climate between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE on the one hand, and Washington on the other, over the Iranian file – bearing in mind that Qatar and Oman have a different attitude towards Iran.

"For these reasons, the summit may produce further U.S./Gulf disagreements contrary to its intended aim," concludes 'Azm.

End…

 

NOT HOSTAGE TO UNCLE SAM: "That fact that only two GCC leaders will attend the Camp David summit that begins tomorrow points to a change in the diplomatic and geopolitical pattern that governs relations between Washington and the region," writes Joyce Karam in Wednesday's Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.

It is a message to President Barack Obama to the effect that the region is not hostage to Uncle Sam's influence and that it has begun to seek alternatives.

According to a senior diplomatic source, the meetings that preceded the summit were tense and did not suggest that the GCC states are comfortable in dealing with the Obama administration. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked his [GCC] counterparts at the Paris meeting [last week]: 'Why are you afraid of Iran when your defense budget is ten times the size of Iran's budget?" But the question itself manifests naivety in viewing Iran’s role and understanding the Gulf's fears. For Iran's influence is not the sort that can be dealt with by means of a conventional defense budget. Tehran is fighting from Yemen to Iraq to Syria to Lebanon via militias and financial aid that transcend what the Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations used by Washington can understand.

The pre-summit meetings also exposed the low ceiling under which Washington is moving in dealing with the Gulf states. The draft of the summit's final communiqué, which al-Hayat has seen and that may be amended before it is officially published tomorrow, does not constitute an agreement between the two sides. It does not include a common defense doctrine of the sort Jimmy Carter offered in the 1970s. In its current draft, the final communiqué does not offer to sell F-35s for fear of raising Israel’s objections that its military superiority is being threatened. It does not speak of any measures in Syria that go beyond Obama's talk over the past four years that 'Assad has lost legitimacy' and 'support for the moderate opposition.' This is just more of the same and the glitter of the Camp David summit will not alter their stereotypical character.

All that the administration wants is to secure regional acceptance and cover for a comprehensive agreement with Iran that Obama may sign by July. This will also not go beyond the Gulf states' repeated public position that any 'verifiable' agreement that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons is in the region's interest. The mechanism and clauses of this agreement will be determined by the five major powers and in the hallways of the UN and the U.S. Congress, which will also decide whether the agreement will be 'comprehensive'; and the verification will be manifest in the extent to which Iran will implement or violate the agreement's stipulations.

In one of the preparatory meetings, an Arab official told the American side: 'Do we have the right to enrich uranium like Iran does?" The question annoyed the White House and the response was: 'After this exhausting track with Tehran, do you want to become another Iran?' This is also a futile discussion that only reflects the gap that separates Washington's understanding from the new reality in the regional states. There is today a greater Gulf shift towards the Asian market and the Chinese giant. And there is confidence in the Gulf's decisions and its ability to act independently, despite the Obama administration's reservations.

This situation may complicate the U.S. administration's calculations and push for political changes and developments on the ground in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria that may not be to Washington's liking. A White House official recently complained about the Syrian opposition's advances in the north on the grounds that this 'helps the jihadis and the Nusra Front.' But regardless of this official’s mistaken political assessment, his stance does not have the same impact that a superpower's position could have had, had it not been for four years of American hesitation and wavering in Syria.

"In both form and content, the Camp David summit will consolidate greater independence for the Gulf states, and less strategic influence for Barack Obama's administration," concludes Karam.

Ends…

 

 

2-Riyadh in a corner

 

Saudi Arabia has failed to achieve its military goals in Yemen and now has no politically viable alternative to pursue, says Luqman 'Abdullah in today's Lebanese al-Akhbar

 

Saudi Arabia has painted itself into a corner in its war in Yemen, argues an Arab commentator in a left-leaning Beirut daily. It has adopted unachievable aims for its war, and failed to back them via political steps that would offer it a face-saving way out of its predicament.

 

POINTS NOT KNOCKOUT: "The manner in which the Saudi regime announced the aims of its aggression on Yemen meant that if these aims were achieved, the [Houthi] Ansarullah would have suffered a crushing defeat," writes Luqman 'Abdullah in Thursday's left-leaning Beirut daily al-Akhbar.

But whoever drafted that plan ignored the fact that the Ansarullah represent a major constituent in that country, and that in such conflicts, victory is at best achieved by points not by knockout. The reason for this, quite simply, is that it is impossible to defeat an entire nation.

Six weeks have passed so far without any of the aggression's aims being achieved. The results have been confined to killing, destruction, and human tragedy. Contrary to what Saudi Arabia wanted, there is no sign of any political initiative on the horizon. Moreover, no real pressure is being exerted to end the aggression. The most that any efforts have done is to reach an agreement on a five days humanitarian truce that may be extended.

Al Saud [Saudi royal family] decided to escape from the truth. They insist on dealing with the Yemeni people in a domineering and condescending manner, as they have done for many long decades past. But they are ignoring the major changes that have occurred. They are refusing to acknowledge the reality that resulted from the change that the Yemeni people benefited from after the [2011] popular revolution against former president Ali 'Abdullah Saleh.

One could argue that the Arab Spring in the Arabian Peninsula consisted of the Yemeni people's leaving the framework of Saudi hegemony. This may explain the ferocious desperation with which Al Saud's war is being waged. The Saudi royal family wants this war to end with a clear winner and a clear loser. But they are ignoring political and regional calculations, and even international and humanitarian considerations. And they are ignoring what is even more basic – namely, that even if we assume for the sake of argument that Riyadh manages to twist the Yemeni people's arm and crush their army, that would not be in Riyadh’s interest in the long run.

Saudi Arabia has now resorted to another ruse. Al Saud have invited certain Yemeni parties to a dialogue in Riyadh. But everyone already knows that Riyadh has very narrow options and faces a dearth of solutions. This is especially true since most constituents of the Yemeni scene will not take part in such a dialogue – from the major tribes, the most important of which are Hashed, Hamdan and others, to the northern parties taking part in defending the country together with the army and Ansarullah. These forces' logic is clear; they ask: How can we take part in a dialogue held under the umbrella of the aggression's capital? In fact, Saudi Arabia was shocked by the fact that most of the Southern Action [Hrak] forces refused to take part in the dialogue, despite the breach in their position by [former president] Ali Salem al-Beidh.

The participants in the meeting will include 'escapee' President 'Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his team. But everyone knows that this group lacks any popular base. As for the Nasserite and Socialist parties, they suffered from severe leadership splits and divisions as soon as they announced they would take part. This leaves the Islah Party, which is the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. But this faction that is on the Saudi list of terrorist organizations; and how can it take part in a dialogue held and sponsored by Riyadh?

But the fundamental point here is that there is no agenda for the dialogue. There is no hostility between those attending the Saudi calls for a dialogue. Dialogues are usually held between forces that differ or are in conflict with each other, and who head to a dialogue as the preferred means of finding common denominators formulated in a manner that takes into consideration the interests of these forces based on their respective sizes.

And this calls for the following question to be put to the participants: ‘You have taken part in domestic dialogues that lasted for many months, and you almost reached a comprehensive agreement; and you know that what foiled this agreement is the country that is now hosting you (Saudi Arabia) as confirmed by former UN Security Council envoy Jamal Benomar; so what are you doing now?’

‘Moreover, is it not strange for you to accept the sponsorship of a state whose warplanes are killing your people, violating your country's sovereignty, and destroying its infrastructure and installations? Do you not realize that by this action you are breaking the ties that connect you to your fellow citizens and the main constituents of your people, and that this renders it difficult to expect any real chances for any dialogue or solutions?’

In short, just as Saudi Arabia has acted in a manner that requires the defeat of a nation, it is now confronting a crisis by ensuring that the fact that its aggression's aims have not been achieved represents an effective defeat for it.

"No serious options are being proposed, and the goals that have been set are unrealistic. So what is to be done in light of all this?" asks 'Abdullah in conclusion.

Ends…

 

 

3-Futile elections

 

Despite their talk to the contrary neither Fateh nor Hamas want elections; moreover, elections under occupation only serve the occupier, says Hani al-Masri in Palestinian al-Ayyam

 

Neither Fateh nor Hamas really want general elections to be held, despite repeated claims to the contrary because maintaining the current status quo serves their interests best, argues a leading Palestinian commentator. But holding elections under Israeli occupation is anyway an anomaly that has only bestowed legitimacy upon that occupation without bringing any benefit to the Palestinian national project of liberation and statehood.

 

BACK ON THE AGENDA: "The question of elections is back on the agenda after President Abu Mazin [Mahmoud Abbas] has asked for a written agreement from Hamas to that effect, after which he would invite the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to convene, pass a new electoral law and issue a decree to hold the elections without committing to a specific date," notes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.

Hamas has not agreed to sign any such document; but it has renewed its agreement to hold the elections. Yet nothing has happened. Between the two sides, the elections have gone missing.

The truth is that many people do not believe that the two sides want elections to be held. As the [Arabic] saying goes, 'if it was going to rain, it would have clouded over.' The president is using Hamas' written agreement as a pretext, even though he does not need such a document since he is armed with the [2012] Cairo Agreement which calls for elections, as well as the [2012] Doha Declaration and the [2014] Shati' Statement, both of which stressed that they should be held. In addition, he is armed with the PA’s Basic Law that states that the president can issue decrees to hold elections when the president and the PLC's legal terms end. Both terms have actually ended – in 2009 for the president, and 2010 for the PLC. Moreover, Hamas could sign the document and deny the president that pretext. But it wants the elections to be held as part of a comprehensive deal that includes the implementation of all the reconciliation agreement's clauses rather than deal with them selectively.

The disagreement over the elections' date is one of the most prominent apparent reasons that have prevented the implementation of the Cairo Agreement. The president has insisted that holding the elections is the only way to end the disagreement on the grounds that the results would decide which side has a majority. In that case, that side would have the right to rule in accordance with its program, while the other side would have to abide by majority rule. This is despite the fact that Palestine is under a settler-colonial occupation that is consistent with the principle that the majority should rule the minority, but that also calls for the formation of a broad national front based on common denominators and the struggle against a common enemy.

Moreover, implementing the Doha Declaration was postponed because the president has insisted that elections should be held three months after the formation of the government, while Hamas has insisted that this period of time is insufficient to prepare the appropriate climate for holding elections and implementing the Cairo Agreement. And after the Shati' Statement was signed, it became apparent that neither side insists on holding early elections, so much so that the statement called for holding elections six months after the formation of the national accord government without specifying an upper limit on how long after that the elections should be held. And here we are today, more than a year after the statement was signed with no specified date for the elections.

Based on the above, we may conclude that the occasional talk of holding elections is nothing more than a maneuver aimed at deceiving public opinion and convincing it that the other side is opposed to holding them. Neither the president nor Fateh nor Hamas want to hold elections without being sure of their results, and without first securing American, international, Arab, and – most importantly – Israeli green light.

Abu Mazin will not head to elections before knowing their function, 'the fate of the peace process', and whether negotiations can be resumed or not, and if so, in what form and based on what terms of reference. This is because holding elections in the shadow of suspended negotiations and with the 'peace process' in intensive care, and without formulating a new alternative path to the [1993] Oslo Accords would mean that the president and Fateh's chances of success are not guaranteed.

Moreover, the president will not head to elections without finishing the job of 'putting the Fateh household in order', holding the 7th Fateh Conference, what to do about [former Fateh security official and Abbas critic and potential competitor] Dahlan and his supporters, and reaching some formula regarding Fateh's candidate for the next presidency. This is especially significant in light of the president's repeated declarations that he will not run for a second term. If he does run, he would seem to have broken his promise. Therefore, he prefers to maintain the current situation since all powers are now in his hands.

Here, the issue of the identity of Fateh's presidential candidate emerges in light of the number of contenders who will compete if Abu Mazin does not run for a second term, and in light of [Israeli] imprisoned Marwan Barghouti insistence on running in any future presidential elections even from behind bars. After all, opinion polls indicate that he is the candidate most likely to win even if Abu Mazin runs for a second term. In fact, if he wins, this could be his last chance of being released in the hope that his victory would lead to international pressure on Israel to release an imprisoned elected Palestinian president.

For its part, Hamas, is wary of holding elections in the shadow of the continued siege of the Gaza Strip, the employees' salaries crisis, the lack of progress in reconstruction of the Strip, the specter of a new Israeli aggression looming over Gaza, and after the fall of [former Egyptian president] Mohammad Mursi and the hostility between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling regime in Egypt. It also fears that it may lose or win fewer seats than in the previous elections. This is despite the fact that it should lose whatever happens. This is because, if it wins, it will be unable to rule, especially in the West Bank, for the same reasons having to do with Israel's opposition, the International Quartet's preconditions and the Egyptian regime's hostility towards it. For this reason, Hamas also prefers the current status quo to persist with its control over the Gaza Strip while it wagers on new Palestinian, Arab, regional, international, and Israeli developments.

The elections issue raises many major questions including the following: Will they be held in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? Will they be held on the same bases that governed the previous elections, especially in regard to abiding with the obligations of the Oslo Accords now that Israel has completely ignored them? Or will they be held on the basis of what happens after international recognition of the Palestinian state, with the entire Palestinian people taking part in the vote wherever they can, thereby paving the way to a new course that is capable of saving the cause, the nation, and the land?

And will Israel agree to elections in a Palestinian state or any elections that unite the Palestinians? Of course it will not. It is also doubtful whether it would agree to elections for a self-rule authority after stripping it of all of its powers, and after the formation of the most extreme Israeli government since the establishment of the state; a government that will only agree to elections in return for a very steep price. Moreover, it will refuse to hold them in Jerusalem, 'the eternal united capital of Israel.' And it may refuse to allow any Palestinian bloc to participate that does not abide by the existing limited self-rule [PA] authority, which is committed to recognizing Israel, security coordination, economic dependency, and renouncing violence.

And even if Israel were to agree to the elections, it would be because it will secure great benefits as a result, including a guarantee that the inter-Palestinian split would persist and be consolidated, and become a permanent division. After all, the occupation is not an external factor; it is a major factor that may intervene at any point and decide whether elections may or may not be held; and it can intervene if the elections' results do not suit it and 'confiscate' these results as happened after Hamas won the previous [2006] elections and it arrested tens of MPs and ministers.

But the root of the issue is that the source of legitimacy in any country under occupation by another that is the embodiment of a racist, settler, colonial project does not stem from the ballot box. It stems from resistance that clings to its aims and to rights, and that seeks the national interest and is based on national accord.

The heresy of holding elections under occupation, which was one of the results of the Oslo Accords, was based on the assumption that they would be held only one time and would help to reach a final status agreement that ends the occupation and establishes a Palestinian state within five years. General elections were held in 1996, bestowing legitimacy upon the authority that emerged from the Oslo Accords. But the five years passed and the occupation deepened instead of being ended. [Presidential and parliamentary] elections were also held in 2005 and 2006 to renew the PA's legitimacy which had eroded, and to include Hamas and the other forces that had boycotted the first elections, bringing them all under the ceiling of the Oslo Accords. But the results contradicted the expectations, with all the consequences that ensued.

Rather than replicate the same mistakes and head for elections that bestow renewed legitimacy to the occupation and present it in a manner that contradicts its true nature, granting it a golden opportunity to try and liquidate the Palestinian cause, we should draw the necessary lessons and morals. Elections are one of the forms of the embodiment of freedom and sovereignty; and there can be no freedom or sovereignty under occupation.

Any elections held in the shadow of a deep vertical and horizontal split and in the absence of a political horizon, without opening the doors to confrontation with the occupation, without national accord, and in tandem with campaigns of incitement, detention and mutual summoning, and in the presence of factional security services loyal to the conflicting parties but not to the general public interest, would be nothing less than a leap into the unknown.

In such a climate, elections cannot be free and open, or express the will of the people. And it is very likely that the losing side will not accept their results and that they will be subjected to forgery.

Anyone who truly wants general elections must provide the climate suitable for holding them. This includes, for example, the separation and independence of the three powers in order to ensure supervision, accountability, and answerability. Moreover, the PA government and the PLO’s various institutions must fulfil their roles. If the PA's institutions cannot operate freely, this may be compensated for by rehabilitating and empowering the PLO's institutions. Those who really want general elections should also ensure freedom of the media, human rights and basic freedoms, and regular elections at the various local and sectorial levels.

"General elections have no value if they are not held on the eve or after, the occupation's defeat and unless they occur in the context of redefining the national project, reviving the Palestinian cause, uniting the nation wherever it is present, radically renewing the national movement, and rebuilding the PLO's institutions to include all shades of the political and social spectrum," concludes Masri.

Ends…

 

 

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