The second greatest disaster for Israel

By Claude Salhani –

 Of the many conflicts fought between Israel and its Arab neigh­bours since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, the 1967 six-day war carries particular importance as it changed the very psyche of the Middle East. The war — 50 years ago this June — altered the outlook the two sides had on the conflict, giving Israelis over-inflated egos and a false sense of security.

The war changed the map of the Middle East, giving the young Jew­ish state far more land than granted by the United Nations’ partition vote. The June war saw the gentri­fication of Jerusalem and demon­strated to the Palestinians that no one was going to win this fight for them and that they would need to become pro-active.

Thus, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was recreated. The PLO had existed for some time but its chairman, Ahmad Shukeiri, proved to be ineffective and was replaced with Yasser Arafat.

In those gruelling six days of intense fighting, Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank of the Jordan River and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. It was a humiliating time for the Arabs, losing more than 20,000 men, 450-plus aircraft and hundreds of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery pieces, as well as huge areas of land. The Arab leaders lost face, too.

It was also a loss for Israel, which lost its sense of humanity.

This is what Gideon Levy, a commentator for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, had to say in an April 16th column: The occupation of Palestinian land “began with the ultranationalist-religious orgy that swept over everyone but for a handful of prophets, and continues today, through the familiar mecha­nisms of brainwashing.”

Levy calls the 1967 war “Israel’s nakba” and the Palestinians’ second nakba. The nakba — “catastrophe” — is how Palestinians refer to the loss of Palestine in 1948.

“Israel,” said Levy, “has turned it into an evil, violent, ultranational­ist, religious, racist state.”

He cautioned Israelis not to blame all their ills on the occupa­tion. What the war of 1967 and its aftermath did was to “accelerate, institutionalise and legitimise the decline. It gave birth to the ongoing contempt for the world, the brag­ging and bullying,” he wrote.

Levy said the 1967 war was the “greatest Jewish disaster since the Holocaust.”

Those are harsh words but they needed to be said. More specifically, they needed to be said by an Israeli. Levy said 2017 “has to be the year of soul-searching in Israel, a year of unparalleled sadness.”

While such views are rare in Israel, it remains encouraging nev­ertheless to find such a conscience waking up. Of course, not everyone in Israel is of the same liberal mind. The government certainly does not share Levy’s position.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is of a very different opinion. His government will be having year-long celebrations and has set aside $2.75 million, which has been allocated to celebrate 50 years of what the government labels as “liberation” (of Samaria and Judea) and what Levy describes as “occupation.”

“Fifty years of suppression of another people, 50 years of rot and internal destruction,” Levy wrote. “Fifty years of bloodshed, abuse, disinheritance and sadism? Only societies that have no conscience celebrate such anniversaries. Israel won a war and lost nearly every­thing.”

He lamented the status of Jerusa­lem, a city claimed by both Pales­tinians and Israelis as their capital. “It is enough to look at Jerusalem, which went from being a charming university city with government institutions to a monster ruled by the Border Police,” said Levy.

Is this the onset of a new trend developing in Israeli society? Is the country waking up to the realities of what the occupation has been doing to generations of Palestinians? Well, miracles have been known to hap­pen in that part of the world.

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Conspiracy theories, Russia’s antidote to chemical weapons

by Claude Salhani

There is a new weapon in the war in Syria besides chemical agents: It is called conspiracy theories. Well, then again, maybe they are not so new.

Conspiracy theories have been around forever and range from the absurd to the sublime. They are relatively simple to initiate and almost impossible to prove right or wrong if cleverly constructed.

They can have a great public rela­tions impact because thousands of people fall for such fake news. For the record, use of chemical weap­ons is not exactly a novelty in the Syrian conflict.

You can find conspiracy theorists all over the world, although they seem to have a special following in the Middle East. At times, it appears the Middle East has a love affair with conspiracy theories.

To be fair, many other places and people do, too, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. A strong supporter of the Syrian regime, Putin accused the United States of staging “fake” gas attacks to discredit Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Of course, when the Russian president comes out publicly with such a statement there is no need to offer proof, at least as far as con­spiracy theorists are concerned. His statement alone gives conspiracy theorists all the ammunition they need.

Putin said Russia had information that the United States was plan­ning to launch new missile strikes on Syria and that there were plans to fake chemicals weapons attacks there. Putin did not identify the source of this information. Many people will assume that, coming from the Russian president who obviously has access to intelligence sources, the statement must have some truth to it.

Truth, the saying goes, is the first casualty of war and in a dirty war, such as the one in Syria, it is hard to say who is telling the truth and who is not.

Can we trust statements from the Syrian government? Unlikely. Its leaders have been known to bend the truth to suit their needs.

Can we trust the opposition to tell the truth? Again doubtful, as its members have emerged through the same schools as the Syrian regime.

Can we trust the regime’s allies: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah? None of the three has a great track record when it comes to telling the truth.

Can we trust Turkey or Saudi Arabia?

Can we trust Western powers to tell the truth? Typically, they tend to have a somewhat better track record but, then again, look at the web of lies told by the United States to get into Iraq.

For decades, many conspiracy theorists promoted the notion that everything bad that happens in the region — from the Maghreb to the Hijaz — is primarily the fault of the United States’ CIA.

Many conspiracy theories making the rounds on social media in the Middle East have to do with the recent chemical attack on civilians in the Idlib region, which led to a retaliatory missile strike by the United States against a Syrian air­base. Well, no great surprise here. What better subjects with which to build a solid conspiratorial thesis than those implicated in the Syrian conflict, a conflict that is increas­ingly difficult to explain?

And a good conspiracy, if well crafted, can go a long way in the propaganda war. It is a fact that if a falsehood is repeated often enough, it ends up being credible.

In this latest conspiracy theory apparently originating in Russia, the chemical attack that Washing­ton blames the regime in Damascus for was supposedly fabricated by the United States. Among evidence put forward by conspiracy theorists are videos showing supposedly fake victims of the chemical weapons attack standing up as soon as they finish acting their role. It is all fake, we are supposed to believe. The at­tack. The injured. The dead.

Moscow, of course, is getting a kick out of supporting the theory, which Russian leaders hope will make Washington look bad.

“A similar provocation is being prepared… in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where [the US] are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of us­ing [chemical weapons],” Putin said.

Additionally, a Turkish health minister said traces of sarin gas had been detected in the victims of the supposed chemical attack. Doc­tors and aid workers examining the wounded said chlorine may have been present in the weapons.

As I said, conspiracy theories range from the sublime to the absurd.

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Oops, Syria did it again

by Claude Salhani

Syria stands accused once again of using chemical agents against its civilian population. In this latest episode, at least 87people are reported to have been killed. The death toll is expected to rise.

After the incident, French Presi­dent François Hollande called for new sanctions against the govern­ment of Syrian President Bashar Assad and US President Donald Trump condemned the attack and held Assad responsible. There were no immediate indications from the White House as to how, or even if, the United States would respond.

Trump said the attack in Syria’s Idlib province was “reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civi­lised world”. He did not miss an opportunity to blame his prede­cessor, Barack Obama.

“These heinous actions by the Bashar Assad regime are a con­sequence of the last administra­tion’s weakness and irresolution,” Trump said in a statement. “Presi­dent Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”

The Syrian military denied responsibility for the attack and said it would never use chemical weapons.

Indications point to the use of sarin, US government sources said, and that it was “almost cer­tainly” carried out by forces loyal to Assad.

“This is clearly a crime,” a US State Department official said. Those who support the Syrian regime “obviously have a lot to answer for,” the official said, tak­ing aim at Russia and Iran.

Moscow and Tehran continue to provide military assistance to Damascus, without which Assad would have never been able with­stand, as he has for more than six years, the war that has devastated the country.

The incident and Trump’s response and reaction to it could well be a godsend for his admin­istration, helping the US presi­dent climb from his low approval ratings. Then again, it could also prove to be a double-edged sword, further hurting the Trump presidency.

This is one of the first major tests for the Trump team in foreign policy, an area in which neither Trump nor his closest advisers have real experience and are facing astute politicians such as Russian President Vladimir Pu­tin, his Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov or an old fox, Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Muallem.

This development comes after the announcement that the Trump administration would no longer seek to oust Assad as a means to resolve the crisis in Syria. Instead, the United States announced it would focus on removing the bigger and most immediate threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS).

Both US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said their focus in Syria was on stopping ISIS militants rather than pushing Assad to relinquish power. A senior Trump adminis­tration official told Reuters after the chemical attack that it was considering policy options in Syria but that they were limited and that the views expressed by Tillerson and Haley still held.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said this was Damascus’s way of testing the Trump administration and to see what sort of response the chemi­cal attack would draw.

Syrian opposition officials said that the attack comes about as a “direct consequence” of the United States’ recent statement on Assad. That statement coincides with the position reiterated by two key US allies in the region, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Both indicated that eliminating the threat to the region posed by ISIS takes priority over replacing Assad.

Early in the Syria war, Obama insisted Assad had to leave power. In later years, Obama shifted his focus to the fight against ISIS mili­tants, who captured large areas in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Unless the Trump White House comes up with drastic changes in its policy regarding Syria, the cur­rent administration’s stance may prove to be no different than the one criticised by Trump.


\Weekly.


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How Trump’s tweets affect relations with Iran

by Claude Salhani

– US President Donald Trump is undermin­ing his administra­tion by shooting from the hip with contradictory and often deceitful and misleading postings on Twitter. This very unpresidential behaviour will weigh against him in any nego­tiations he may have with foreign leaders, especially those mis­trustful of the United States for what they perceive to be biased policies.

The Trump administration’s modus operandi has been to deflect one potential crisis by creating another in the hope that the media’s — and therefore the public’s — focus will shift from a potentially embarrassing outcome created by the fallout of the first crisis. The primary tool of choice has been the US president’s Twit­ter account, which has caused his presidency immense damage.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow described Trump as “dangerous and unpredictable, gauche and greedy, temperamen­tally unsuited and emotionally unsound”. His Twitter episodes, Blow said, “make him look not only foolish but unhinged”. “Pres­idential credibility is American credibility,” Blow wrote.

From January 20th to date, Trump’s tweets have time and again sent his White House staff members scrambling to defuse one live wire after another.

During these weeks, the periodical barrage of tweets has harmed the president’s office, damaging its prestige and cred­ibility. Trump’s tweets have hurt the standing of the United States, probably more than all the accusa­tions thrown at it by the regime in Tehran.

When the media kept pressuring the Trump administration to dis­close information about potential Russian involvement in his presi­dential campaign, Trump came up with the ludicrous allegations that former president Barack Obama had him wiretapped.

US Representative Adam Schiff, D-California, who receives top intelligence briefings in his role as ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, expressed particular concern that Trump’s mischarac­terisation or fabrication of classi­fied information might affect the Iran nuclear deal.

One week after Trump put out his accusatory tweets alleging that the former president had illegally wiretapped his phones inside the Trump Tower in New York, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to downplay Trump’s dia­tribe by saying the president had used the word wiretap in quota­tions and did not mean he thought Obama personally wiretapped him

Trump is coming under pressure from close advisers in the White House to get tougher on Iran, as tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic reached new heights and face ad­ditional stumbling blocks.

Several unrelated incidents have contributed to rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. During the first week of March, Is­lamic Revolutionary Guards Corps naval units hampered a US vessel sailing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Observers see the move as Iran’s testing Trump to see what it can get away with.

Many within the administration want to see the nuclear deal be­tween Iran and the United States and other world powers renegoti­ated. They are not alone in not trusting the Islamic Republic.

Besides imposing sanctions, however, US options are limited. Sanctions imposed by the United States in the past have achieved only limited success, given the ease with which Iran can import without hassle from Dubai, just across a narrow waterway, as it has been doing for centuries.

Perhaps Trump would rather get into a tweeting feud with Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has apparently revived his Twitter account.

 

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Why Bashar Assad survives the Syrian deluge

by Claude Salhani –

Logic, if it applied in this war, would dictate that by now — six long and murderous years into the conflict — Syrian President Bashar Assad should carry the blame for the sectarian violence that has placed his country on the brink of destruction. In any other context, in any other country, he would have been removed from power and brought to stand trial.

However, in Syria, particularly in time of war, there is another type of logic that prevails. As with almost every other aspect of daily life in the region, do not always seek explanations in which one would naturally look. In the Levant, as in other parts of the Middle East, answers may be found in the country’s tribes or in traditions.

In Syria, it is the logic of sectarianism, political schisms and the deep-rooted hatred dividing the various religious communities that guides everyday political decisions and what may pass for logic. It is largely thanks to those guidelines of tribal survival that Assad is still in power despite half the country and most civilised democracies calling for his resignation.

Why has Assad managed to remain in power?

To better understand what keeps Assad so solidly in command when a large portion of his people, most of his neighbours and much of the Western world vie for his demise, one should visualise an inverted pyramid.

Imagine an upside-down pyramid with Assad at the bottom, in a sort of Herculean manner, struggling like Atlas to keep the rest of the infrastructure sturdily on his shoulders and intact. Remove Assad and the structure crumbles.

Right above the president there is the extended family: Mother, brothers and sisters along with their spouses and children. On the next tier one can find cousins, uncles and in-laws. Above them are the top party officials and the senior military personnel. Interjected among all the above is a scattering of loyal bodyguards and their close families.

Remove any of those rows of people and the ones above them crumble and crash. Do not forget that above those mentioned there are hundreds of rank and file who belong here simply because they happened to be born into a particular religious sect. Aside from the political and religious affiliations, many of those within the inner circle are connected through lucrative business deals.

This is a very similar infrastructure to the one that existed in Iraq during the time of Saddam Hussein. It was precisely what frigh tened former US president George H.W. Bush and his team and kept the United States from taking drastic action in the period between the two Gulf wars.

Assad’s position is comparable in many ways to that of Saddam when he ordered his army to invade Kuwait.

There are also fundamental differences between the ruling Ba’ath Party in Iraq prior to the US invasion and subsequent occupation and the ruling Ba’ath Party in Syria, not least of which is Iran’s position in the conflict. Iran plays a major role in the region’s politics.

In the war in Iraq, the Iranians supported the opposition to the regime. In the Syrian war, the Iranians are backing the regime.

Another similarity between the Gulf wars and what is going on in Syria today is the important role being played by the Kurds. They were a major contender in the fight to bring down Saddam and the Kurds remain a power to be reckoned with in the fight to bring down Assad. Suffice to say that, this time around, the Kurds may be somewhat closer to attaining their long aspiration of an independent homeland.

However, as history has a habit of repeating itself…

Saddam was eventually deposed, so why is removing Assad from power so difficult and so complex? Three good reasons: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Once, not too long ago, sidelined from Middle East politics, Russia under President Vladimir Putin finds itself again practically at the level of influence previously enjoyed by the Soviet Union, if not actually even more so.

With these new developments in Syria, the United States will find it can no longer act unilaterally. Another major difference is that Assad was able to call on Iran and on Hezbollah militiamen from next-door Lebanon, whereas Saddam had no friends left.


Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

 

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Much more than brute military force needed to defeat ISIS


By Claude Salhani

US President Donald Trump has reiter­ated his intent to go after the Islamic State (ISIS) and eradicate the jihadi terror organisation, which has taken over large regions of Iraq and Syria and claimed responsi­bility for many vicious attacks in the West.

“We defended the borders of other nations while ignoring our own,” Trump said February 28th in opening remarks to a joint ses­sion of the US Congress. “We will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and keep those out who will do us harm.”

To that end — at least in part — the US president said he would increase by $54 billion the budget devoted to the US Defense Depart­ment. This would be the largest increase in military spending in the country’s history.

However, anyone vaguely famil­iar with the issue at hand knows that much more than pure military force and oodles of dollars are needed to defeat ISIS, or, as Trump calls it, “radical Islamic terrorism” — a phrase his national security adviser H.R. McMaster suggested the president not use.

For the United States, the bad news is that the funds that are go­ing to be allocated to the Pentagon mean cuts in other government ex­penses. As Trump won’t likely pro­pose raising taxes, this means that the added funds for the military will come from other areas, such as education, public broadcasting, the arts and, very possibly, the US State Department.

This comes at a time when the United States needs to bolster its diplomacy rather than flex its military muscle. Trump is reported to have received proposals from the Pentagon regarding ISIS.

If the United States launches an all-out war to finish ISIS to “remove this vile evil from the planet”, as Trump said, a US-led alliance will need to destroy ISIS not only mili­tarily but also tackle its ideology. Washington will need an experi­enced corps of diplomats — special­ists in their regions — because the fight against ISIS will require astute tacticians to work behind the scenes in the corridors of power.

For the war against ISIS to be successful, the United States and its allies must have an iron-clad plan. The United States will need to establish a sort of Marshall Plan and not to leave a void that would benefit those who wish to see America fail.

The war to eradicate ISIS cannot be fought on the military front alone. The United States must consider the effects a full attack will have in the Arab world and particularly on the youth in cities where many are idle due to lack of jobs, making them easy recruit­ment targets for the jihadists.

Both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush understood the need to have a firm coalition lined up before going into battle against Saddam Hussein. Despite the United States’ far superior military force, with troops better-trained, better-equipped and having ac­cess to better intelligence, they made great efforts to recruit Arab countries into coalitions to fight Saddam.

Trump needs to plan carefully and strategically for the post-combat phase of the operation. The errors committed in Iraq during the first few days of the US occupation must not be repeated in the battle to defeat ISIS. This offensive needs to happen in coordination with friendly governments in the region and the United States should have a plan that can be immediately im­plemented in areas liberated from the jihadists.

While the United States will play a central role, it must not appear as though the mission was entirely developed in Washington. The challenge is identifying which countries or groups have their own agendas. For example, while Kurdish forces should be part of the US-led alliance as they have had success fighting ISIS, getting them and Turkey on the same side will be a challenge.

So, too, will convincing predomi­nantly Sunni Arab countries to stop their support of jihadist groups because they see those groups as natural allies against rising Shia in­fluences in the region. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be the battle to change the education system in countries where the curriculum includes teaching the children how to hate.

 

 

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War on ISIS more complicated than Trump says

By Claude Salhani

One of the promises made by Donald Trump on the cam­paign trail last year was that one of his priorities would be “the total destruction of ISIS”.

Trump has repeated this pledge several times since tak­ing office and has asked the Pentagon to provide him with options on how to deal with the jihadist threat. They are limited and none of them are really good for the United States. Among those possibilities is arming the Kurds or putting US troops on the ground.

The United States has been arming and advising the Kurds for a while now, though that is not without potential negative backlash.

So complex is the situation in Syria that each solution comes packaged in more problems. If you manage to solve one problem, you get four or five more that pop up in its place. For example, arming the Kurd­ish militias could have serious repercussions from one of Wash­ington’s principal allies in the region, Turkey.

The Kurds deserve all the help they can get. They have been at the forefront of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS). However, arming them would irritate the Turks, important US and NATO allies, who would vehemently oppose giving the Kurds, whom they consider terrorists, any as­sistance.

Deploying troops in Syria would drop US forces into a bubbling cauldron of a sectarian conflict. Suffice to look at what happened in Lebanon in 1983 when the US Marines got caught in the intricacies of the country’s civil war. Now multiply this disaster twentyfold.

The fight to exterminate ISIS is going to be a very difficult be­cause the solution is not purely a military one. This problem demands the close cooperation of multiple government agencies and departments as well as the participation of a number of countries in the region.

The intentions of the US presi­dent may be honourable and courageous in trying to rid the world of what is considered such a ruthless terrorist group that even al-Qaeda views ISIS mem­bers as extremists. However, the question remains whether the United States has the long-term commitment needed to see this battle through to the end.

ISIS has hijacked a peaceful religion for its own designs. It has committed the worst atroci­ties, from decapitating hostages, enslaving non-Muslims in towns and villages they occupy and throwing homosexuals off rooftops, to burning to death prisoners they capture and the systematic killing of tens of thousands of Shias

Fighting ISIS will require far more than deploying several thousand US American troops to Iraq and Syria if the Trump administration is serious about the destruction of the jihadist group. The forces battling ISIS would need to attack the group and their allies on multiple fronts. Besides fighting ISIS on the military front and killing as many of its members in battle as possible, there is a need to look at the long-term effects the fight would have on ISIS and its followers.

The solution to the ISIS problem is best depicted in an episode of the made-for-televi­sion hit Homeland. In one of the episodes, top-level CIA officials debrief an operative who had just returned to Washington af­ter spending more than a year in parts of Syria occupied by ISIS.

The field agent is asked what it would take to defeat ISIS. He replies that the United States would need to commit 350,000 military personnel on the ground and then devote the next 30 years to reshape the country’s education system at the cost of billions of dollars to the US taxpayer.

“That’s never going to hap­pen,” replies a CIA official.

Indeed, the solution to defeat­ing ISIS and the dozens of associ­ated groups requires a carefully designed long-term agenda that can be implemented from the ground up. The problem is that US foreign policy is conducted from one presidential election to the next, changing direction every four years. Meanwhile, the Islamists are following a care­fully designed plan for the next 350 years.

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The wider issue of travel bans goes beyond Trump

The debate over US President Donald Trump’s attempt to impose a ban on travel to the United States on people from seven majority Muslim countries continues. Tens of thousands of opponents to the measure have taken to the streets in dozens of cities across the United States and Europe in protest.

This affair, controversial as it might well be, may have yielded positive derivatives. It brings to the forefront of world politics the issue of travel bans on groups or individuals. Trump’s ban, which was blocked by a federal judge in Seattle whose ruling was upheld by an appeals court, has high­lighted the recourse of many governments to impose travel bans, within and outside the realm of the law.

In today’s global economy, peo­ple increasingly view the freedom to travel as an essential right that should be enjoyed by all, regard­less of nationality or faith but dep­rivation of that right continues.

In Egypt, rights groups say, authorities have prevented human rights lawyers from leaving the country. To Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the bans are part of a larger campaign to suppress independent, critical voices inside the country.

Since the ouster of president Muhammad Morsi from power in July 2013, Egyptian authorities are said to have arbitrarily banned at least a score of leaders and mem­bers of Egyptian non-governmen­tal organisations from travelling abroad. Others prevented from leaving the country include mem­bers of political parties, youth activists, bloggers, journalists and academics.

This behaviour, rights advocates say, goes counter to international human rights law and Egypt’s constitution, both of which protect the right of Egyptians to leave and enter their own country.

Egypt is not the only country in the Middle East imposing travel bans.

In Qatar, the home of the televi­sion satellite network Al Jazeera, authorities have prevented a prom­inent human rights lawyer and for­mer Justice minister from leaving the country. Najeeb al-Nuaimi was one of the lead counsels defending ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hus­sein. He has also defended Qatari poet Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for writing a poem attack­ing the Gulf state’s monarchy. Ajami, who was accused of inciting violence, spent four years in jail before being released in 2016.

“Authorities in Qatar pre­vented… Nuaimi from travelling without informing him about any possible reasons,” the Gulf Centre for Human Rights protested.

Also, many Iranians have been arbitrarily prevented from travel­ling outside their country by the theocratic regime.

Travel bans should not be used as political tools. Governments should not try to prevent people from travelling because of their nationality, politics or religion. They should not misrepresent arbitrary bans as justified by security considerations when they are not.

There can be legitimate security concerns, especially in the global fight against terrorism. In recent days, Amnesty International might have been mixing apples and oranges when it condemned Tunisia for preventing hundreds of individuals from travelling overseas because it suspected them of harbouring an intent to join jihadist groups. By banning these would-be jihadists, the Tunisian government said it was helping safeguard peace and secu­rity in the world. It might have a case there.

This is a quandary for any government when it suspects its younger citizens have been radi­calised and recruited by terrorist groups. Slapping travel bans on terrorist suspects is not the same as imposing restrictions on non-governmental organisation leaders or intellectuals.

Returning to the ban Trump wanted to impose, the proceedings that have unfolded during these last few weeks have surprised many Americans and no doubt left more than one leader in the Middle East speechless.

In a rare demonstration of the extreme complexity of the inner workings of a democracy, the Unit­ed States has shown the world that, despite being the most powerful man on the planet, the president of the country can be challenged by a simple judge — who can live to tell about it.


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Palestine — the forgotten cause

By Claude Salhani —

With the brouhaha over its attempts to decree a travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, the Trump administration has much on its hands as it tries to imple­ment unpopular decisions.

However, it might be worth re­minding those new to Washington that there still lingers what has long been regarded as the root problem of the Middle East’s instability: The struggle of the Palestinians in their dispute with Israel and their aspira­tion of establishing a Palestinian homeland.

Sadly, there has been no shortage of violent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa over the last several decades. For the longest time, much of this violence and the raison d’être of some Arab regimes was said to be due to the ongoing state of no war, but no peace either, that existed between the Arabs and Israel.

The Palestinian-Israeli dispute was one of the prime justifications for the Assad dynasty to cling to power in Syria all those years. This is just one example.

Following the 1967 war when Israel expanded its territory by occupying the West Bank, includ­ing Arab East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, the main item on the political agendas of most Arab states appeared to be focused on a single objective: The liberation of Arab land. At least publicly, that was their agenda.

Palestinian lands had been occu­pied in stages. The bulk of the land that formed the modern state of Israel was carved out from British-mandated Palestine in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. To the Palestinians, this became known as Nakba — the catastrophe.

The new state of Israel ran from Lebanon’s southern frontier in the north to the Gulf of Aqaba and the Jordanian city of the same name alongside the Israeli port city of Eilat. The rest was grabbed in the June 1967 war.

A few years later Israel refused to withdraw from a narrow strip of land along Lebanon’s southern border known as Shebaa farms and part of the village of Ghajar. While geographically the occupation of these two bits of Lebanese territory may not seem paramount to estab­lishing a long-lasting peace accord, it nevertheless complicates matters by bringing the Lebanese Hezbol­lah group into the picture.

During the heydays of the Pales­tine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the mid-1970s and on through the early 1980s, when the PLO and affiliates such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and a slew of others were based in Beirut, the question of Palestine was never far off the minds of many Middle Easterners.

Talk to any Arab official in any ministry in any Arab country from Kuwait to Oman and from Yemen to Morocco and invariably the conversation would shift to the question of Palestine. The resolu­tion of the Arab-Israeli dispute was believed to hold the magic key to the Middle East’s many problems. Alas, no one had an appropriate reply to the question of Palestine.

Ironically, the closer the Palestin­ians got to Palestine, the farther they seem to be from their dream of establishing an independent Palestinian state. The PLO seemed far more able to influence not only Israel but many Arab leaders from its headquarters in Beirut than it is now from its offices in Ramallah in the West Bank, where the issue of Palestine seems to have been taken off the front burners of politics.

It is important to note that no progress has been realised on the road map towards peace without the participation of the American president. From Richard Nixon to Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton and to Barack Obama, whatever little steps were taken towards reaching an eventual state of peace in the Arab-Israeli dispute could not have been achieved without direct US involvement at the highest level.

The root problem in the Palestin­ian-Israeli conflict is best explained by Giora Eiland, a former major-general in the Israeli military who served as head of Israel’s National Security Council. Eiland said: “The most Israel can offer remains unac­ceptable to the Palestinians and the least the Palestinians can accept remains too much for the Israelis to accept.” Meanwhile, the stalemate continues.

There was one positive sign to emerge from the Trump White House when the president com­mented on Israel’s announcement that there were plans to build new settlements in the occupied West Bank. US President Donald Trump said building them now would not be advisable.

Perhaps Trump would be tempted to try his hand at finalis­ing a lasting peace accord between the Palestinians and Israelis and to succeed where all other presidents since Dwight D. Eisenhower have failed. Now that would be an ac­complishment.


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The failure to predict

By Claude Salhani

The Obama administra­tion will no doubt be blamed for the sad state of affairs that have plagued parts of the Middle East during its time in office. That would be justified in part in regards to the precarious condi­tions found in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Barack Obama and his administration failed to act decisively when they should have engaged in a more comprehen­sive policy in the region.

Equally guilty are previous US administrations, most notably that of George W. Bush, not for its inaction in the region but more for its actions. If Obama will be re­membered for his lethargic policy regarding Syria’s civil war, Bush is to be remembered for starting a war in Iraq that was uncalled for. Sure, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator but, like other despots in the region, he provided security for his country and kept would-be jihadists at bay. Continue reading

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