After several false starts, a truce has been agreed between Israel and Gaza, with both Egypt and the United States playing a significant role in the process. This will be a relief both for those Israelis who have suffered rocket fire from Hamas and from other groups in Gaza and the far greater number of Gazans who have been the deliberate or collateral targets of Israeli firepower. But does the truce offer more than a breathing space? Essentially, the core situation has not changed: Gaza is still subject to a cruel blockade, which means that many products, including building materials, are kept out by Israel and even humanitarian aid convoys from Turkey and other friendly states cannot get through by sea. Israel has made no firm offer to lift that blockade, though at least the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo is more sympathetic to the Gazan’s plight than Hosni Mubarak was. What has received little attention, though, is the amount of protest that has broken out in the Occupied West Bank, causing some Arab commentators to wonder whether a Third Intifada is on the cards. What seems to me to be certain is that until the Israeli government changes its policies and starts the evacuation of the West Bank, rather than continuing to build settlements both there and in East Jerusalem in defiance of International Law, there will be no stability in the region. To my mind, the Arab-Israeli conflict is merely on hold, and probably not for very long.
Posts Tagged ‘Israel’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st November, 2012
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th November, 2012
When the Welfare Association* conceived the idea of a fundraising gala dinner in aid of disadvantaged children in Palestine, to be held at the Bloomsbury Big Top in central London, they can have had no idea that that event this evening would coincide with renewed fighting between Gaza’s Hamas and Israel, in which several Palestinian children have already been victims. The Middle East, which I have been following for well over 40 years, is an unending tragedy, complex and multi-dimensional. But any objective observer must come to the conclusion that in all of this chaos the Palestinians have been the big losers. And as so often in conflict situations the humanitarian burden falls most heavily on those least able to bear it. So this evening, around 600 people gathered under the big top to be entertained by trapeze artists and acrobats, the Palestinian-Jordanian singer Zeina Barhoum and other musicians, but most important, to demonstrate solidarity with the children of Palestine — tens of thousands of them disabled or else traumatised by conflict — whose lives can be eased thanks to projects for which a healthy six-figure sum was raised. Clare Short, the former Labour MP who nobly resigned from the party in protest at Tony Blair’s illegal war in Iraq, made a short speech, but those of us who were there needed little reminding of the necessity and urgency of the cause. It was good that many young people who have high-earning jobs in the City were there, to bid at auction for works of art by Andrew Martin, Alexander Mcqueen and others. Barclays Bank was also a ‘platinum sponsor’. Coincidentally, the Arab League held an emergency meeting in Cairo today to discuss how to react to the current crisis. The Qatari Foreign Minister warned about the potential emptiness of yet another declaration. At least tonight those at the Welfare Association dinner made a real contribution that will get to those who most need assistance.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alexander Mcqueen, Andrew Martin, Arab League, Bloomsbury Big Top, Cairo, Clare Short, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Qatar, Tony Blair, Welfare Association, Zeina Barhoum | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th November, 2012
There were many sleep-deprived eyes in the David Lloyd George room at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime when the Global Strategy Forum held a panel debate on US Foreign Policy perspectives the day after the presidential poll. At least we knew the election result, which would not have been the case 12 years ago. And not surprisingly, most of the people present — including many foreign diplomats –were pleased that Barack Obama has been returned. But will this make much difference to US Foreign Policy, now that he doesn’t have to worry about re-election? Dare he be brave? Panelists Anatol Lieven (King’s College London), Michael Cox (LSE) and Mark Fitzpatrick (IISS) didn’t really think so. I raised the point that Obama had raised high hopes in the Arab and wider Muslim worlds when he made a speech in Cairo in 2009 shortly after his inauguration suggesting he would be more responsive to the concerns of that region, but he has deeply disappointed most people there since. The panel’s view was that not only does any US President personally come under great pressure from AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, but also Congress would never stomach a fundamental realignment of US policy in the Middle East. It was significant that in the Obama-Romney foreign policy TV debate, Israel was mentioned 34 times (and the UK precisely once). The issue of how America is ‘pivoting’ away from the transatlantic relationship to be more concerned about links to East Asia was raised at the Global Strategy Forum event and a couple of the speakers uttered the word that usually dare not speak its name in discussions about US politics: decline. Personally, I believe the US will hasten that decline from the undoubted Number 1 global spot if it does continue to stand so firmly behind right-wing Israeli governments, to the detriment of its reputation almost everywhere else. So we left the NLC gathering this afternoon discouraged by the lack of any hope for real, positive change in Washington’s world view — but also relieved by the understanding that a Romney victory would have been so much worse.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AIPAC, Anatol Lieven, Barack Obama, Global Strategy Forum, Israel, Mark Fitzpatrick, Michael Cox, Middle East, Mitt Romney, National Liberal Club, US Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th September, 2012
The Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey hosted an unusually sparky fringe meeting at the party’s Brighton conference today at which Andrew Duff MEP outlined a proposal which he said the European Parliament was working on to offer Turkey a form of (admittedly second class) associate membership of the European Union. The urbane Turkish Ambassador, Unal Cevikoz, slapped that suggestion down firmly, saying Turkey wanted all or nothing when it came to EU membership. But the two men — and a third panel member, the political analyst Daniel Levy — found more ground for agreement when it came to arguing for closer EU-Turkish cooperation in assisting the progress of the Arab Spring. Turkey has upped the ante in its foreign policy with regard to the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, partly because the EU and the West in general have not really done as much as they could to facilitate democratic change and economic cooperation in the southern and eastern Mediterranean. One of the questioners in the audience at today’s fringe meeting rightly highlighted the hypocrisy and double standards that have characterised much of the West’s dealings with the Arabian Gulf states, Israel and Iran. And there was a meeting of minds among the panel members when it came to encouraging a more mature European approach to Iran, rather than seeing it simply through the prism of the country’s nuclear programme. Of course it was not possible in the short space of one hour to formulate much of a coherent strategy for the improvement of the relations between the EU, Turkey and the MENA region but the gathering gave everyone plenty of food for thought.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th September, 2012
This month Palestinians are commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, in which many hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians — many of them women and children — were slaughtered in those two refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut by Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen, who were granted entry by the Israeli army (IDF) that was then occupying southern Lebanon and West Beirut. The photograph shown was taken on 19 September 1982 when the Press were allowed in to record the aftermath. The number of casualities is very imprecise, anywhere between 800 and 3,500, but the ruthlessness of the operation is not in doubt, nor the complicity of the Israeli military. The massacre was supposedly in retaliation for the assassination of the recently elected Maronite President of Lebanon, Bachir Gemayel; Palestinians were blamed by the Phalange, though it is now believed more likely that his killing was the work of Lebanese pro-Syrian militants. One of the independent witnesses to the carnage inside Sabra was a nurse, Ellen Siegel, who had gone to Lebanon on a humanitarian mission shortly after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Last Saturday. in an open letter to IDF soldiers published in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, she wrote: ‘For almost 48 hours, from September 16th to 18th, I attempted to save the lives of those who were brought to the hospital. Many has severe wounds from being shot at close range. I cared for hundreds of terrified refugees seeking the safety of the hospital. I tried to comprehend the throat-slitting gesture the women made. I watched from the top floor of the hospital as flares were shot in the air. The flares illuminated areas of the camp; the sound of automatic weapons fire followed each illumination.’ For those who are too young to remember these terrible events and the images they generated in the world’s Press, there is a helpful fact sheet provided on the Institute for Middle East Understanding: http://imeu.net/news/article0023017.shtml
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th July, 2012
It’s a brave man (or woman) who risks publishing a book about an ongoing situation, as it can all too easily be overtaken by events. But Tariq Ramadan’s The Arab Awakening (Allen Lane, £20) gives more than temporary relevance to his text by relating the events of the past 18 months to a reappraisal of Islam and Islamic values in the 21st century. He is one who believes that Islam and democracy are compatible and although he does not see Turkey as a perfect role model he does feel it teaches valuable lesssons. As a radical academic he not surprisingly sometimes harks back to the narrative of the MENA region being a victim of the machinations of the West (and Israel) to what many readers may find an irritating degree. Though criticism of American and to a lesser extent European attitudes and their relation to resources such as oil has some validity, the evolving relatinship between the US, EU and the MENA region is far more complex than that. Arab countries must find their own way forward — and Libya’s electoral outcome shows that need not necessarily be a victory for Islamic parties. Professor Ramadan rightly rails against the simplistic Western media and politicians’ distinction between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ Muslims. But much of his book is a sombre reflection on how the MENA region can move forward towards greater participatory democracy and human rights. His main text, with case studies from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, is supplemented by appendices made up of articles he has written for a variety of outlets, including his own website. It was interesting to see him predicting the overthrow of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as early as June 2011.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 12th July, 2012
When Cathy Ashton was appointed High Representative in charge of the EU’s external action service, she declared that she wanted human rights to run like a ‘silver thread’ through the service’s policies. But as Edward McMillan-Scott — Liberal Democrat MEP and a Vice President of the European Parliament — said at a roundtable at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime, human rights have sometimes played second fiddle to trade matters and other practical concerns. He, the Labour MP Michael Connarty (the senior Labour figure on the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee) and Nicholas Beger (from Amnesty International’s Brussels office dealing with the European institutions) were therefore not surprisingly all in favour of the proposed appointment of an EU Special Representative for Human Rights, whose specific job it would be to focus on human rights concerns, wherever they occur in the world, irrespective of other considerations. As Nicholas Beger pointed out, there is currently often a lack of balance in the EU’s stance regarding the transgressions of other states; Belarus rightly comes under criticism for its many shortcomings, but why not Azerbaijan? Oil is a sad but obvious answer, but the putative Special Representative must be above such considerations and look at the world’s nations objectively. I said that I thought the litmus test for the new human rights action plan — of which the Special Representative would be the most high profile part — will come with regard to Israel/Palestine. Michael Connarty rightly touched on Israeli violations in his introductory remarks, but I believe the EU’s credibillity on human rights will only be proven when it does take an objective stand and condemns various elements of the occupation, house demolitions, administrative detention and so forth — though the wide divergence of views among member states relating to Israel could prove to be a problem. By coincidence, while our roundtable was discussing these matters, the House of Commons was getting ready to debate to desirability of appointing the EU Special Representative. Michael Connarty was worried some eurosceptic Tories might use this as an opportunity to further their prejudices, but it is to be hoped that the British parliament will indeed give the initiative its blessing. It would be shameful otherwise.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Amnesty International, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cathy Ashton, Edward McMillan-Scott, Europan Union, Europe House, European Parliament, human rights, Israel, Michael Connarty, Nicholas Beger, Palestine | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th May, 2012
This afternoon I attended the second half of a Global Diplomatic Forum conference on “Two Years of the UK Coalition Government’s Engagement with the World”. Barbara Serra from Al Jazeera vigorously chaired a session on the UK’s Role in the Middle East and North Africa Politics, but it was disappointing that no-one on her panel spoke up forecefully for the rights of the Palestinians; the mantra that ‘both sides must go back to negotiations’ in the Israel/Palestine conflict was intoned by both DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson and Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Middle East, Ian Lucas, though at least the latter seemed to have a better grasp of the injustices inherent in the current situation. Far more stimulating, however, was the following session on the UK’s Approach to International Security Issues, which focussed almost exclusively on Afghanistan. The big surprise (for me) was how vigorously Bernard Jenkin, defence buff and Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex, spoke about the unwinnable situation in which British (and other NATO) forces have landed themselves in there, not least in Helmand province, where the insurgeny, he argued, was actually fuelled by the presence of Western troops. Al Qaeda is finished in Afghanistan, he said, and the insurgency is essentially one of Pashtun revolting against Kabul’s rule, some of which have been successfully wooed by the Talisban, who, he feels, will be back in power not long after the Allies leave. This was hardly official Coalition Government policy on Afghanistan, but I confess it chimes in with what I have increasingly felt — and a sizeable proportion of the British public, so opinion polls tell us.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th April, 2012
This morning at the House of Commons I was one of the speakers on a panel organised by the South Asia and Middle East Forum on prospects for the peace process between Israel and Palestine. I confess I tend not to use the term “peace process” myself, as far from leading to peace up till now it has led up a blind alley. Louise Ellmann MP, Vice Chair of Labour Friends if Israel, stressed in her speech that direct negotiations need to get underway again, and that Hamas needs to acknowledge Israel’s permanent right to exist. My remarks focussed on how public opinion in Britain has shifted dramatically over the past half century, from seeing Israel as a noble endeavour and a brave David against the Goliath of the Arab world, to a narrative in which the Palestinians are rightly seen as the victims of extraordinary and ongoing injustice. The prospect of a two-state solution is now in the Last Chance Saloon, I argued; if the situation is not resolved very soon, then there can be no two state solution and a one-state solution will hardly suit Israel’s interests. Settlement building in the Occupied Territories must stop immediately and realistic plans for withdrawal should be implemented; moreover the Judaisation of East Jerusalem must cease, and the city’s role as a holy place for all three Abrahamic faiths underlined and somehow guaranteed by the international community. The world also has to recognise that Israel is violating many aspects of the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Belligerency. The EU can and should be doing more, though it is partly hamstrung because of divisions among member states. But the UK could usefully put much more pressure on the United States which is the only outside power than can bring the Israeli government to heel (not that President Obama is likely to do anything constructive on that front until after the November election). I was pleased that Andy Slaughter MP concurred with most of what I had said and he went into considerably more detail. Alas I had to leave before the Palestinian Ambassador gave his contribution, as I had to teach a class at SOAS. But the Commons Committee Room 10 was full and the message seemed to be getting across.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th February, 2012
The Jerusalem conference which ended in Doha, capital of Qatar, last night produced a Declaration which referenced at least some of the issues raised in the conference’s four working groups: (1) History of Jerusalem, (2) Jerusalem and International Law, (3) Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and (4) the role of civil society organisations in the defence and protection of Jerusalem. I attended the last-mentioned (along with many other Christians and Muslims and a small number of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews), for which I had produced a paper on the role of NGOs in Britiain in raising awareness of issues relating to Jerusalem. A lot of the discussion in that group focussed on house demolitions, the difficulty Arabs have at getting building permits in East Jerusalem and the way Palestinians in the West Bank have had access to Jerusalem hampered or even blocked by both the Security Wall and the lack of necessary papers issued by the Israeli occupatin authorities. Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani financed the conference, as well as opening it, so it is not surprising that he figured prominently in the final Declaration, the English version of which was published by the Gulf Times newspaper today as follows:
The International Conference for the defence of Jerusalem was hosted by Doha, the capital of the State of Qatar, from 26 to 27 February, 2012, in implementation of the resolution no. 503 of the 22nd Arab Summit held in Sirte on 28 March 2010.
The conference was held under the slogan “Support the Steadfastness of Jerusalem”, under the auspices and attendance of HH the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, in the presence of the President of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, Arab League Secretary General Dr Nabil al-Arabi, Arab Foreign Ministers, heads of international and regional organisations an bodies, organisations and federations advocating human rights, clerics, as well as intellectuals, legal, political and historical figures who gathered in a historic global mobilisation to express solidarity with the Palestinian people in the city of Jerusalem and their legitimate rights.
The Declaration welcomes the invitation of HH the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani to use Jerusalem’s freedom as a fulcrum of all Palestinians and an incentive for achieving reconciliation and ending division. The Declaration appreciates and supports the proposal of HH the Emir to go to the Security Council to adopt a Resolution for the formation of an international commission to investigate all Israeli actions taken since the 1967 occupation of Jerusalem with a viuw to erase its Arab and Islamic features. It also welcomes HH the Emir’s invitation to prepare a comprehensive strategy for the various sectors and projects that Jerusalem needs, and Qatar’s willingness to participate with all its capacities in accomplishing this strategy and putting it into practice. It emphasizes that Israel breaches International Law to forcefully displace the people of Jerusalem through Judaisation schemes, the denial of justice, obscuring history and heritage, land alienation and property confiscation. It expresses deep concern about the ongoing Israeli works including excavations in Al-Aqsa Mosque and around the Old City, which seriously affect the distinctive character of the city at the religious, cultural, historical and demographic levels, and are contradictory with the decisions of the decisions of UNESCO and UN resolutions related to the city’s territory and the rules of International Law and especially the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property of 1954.
The Declaration calls on international powers who remain silent towards Israeli violations to assume their responsiblity and compel Israel to implement all UN resolutions relevant to Jerusalem. The Doha Declaration calls on the UN and its relevant institutions to shoulder their responsiblities towards Jerusalem and its people; to ensure that they enjoy all their civil, economic and social rights in their city; and to preserve the city’s sacred sites, historical monuments and human heritage.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Al Aqsa Mosque, Arab League, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Doha, Doha Declaration on Jerusalem, Israel, Jerusalem, Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil al-Araby, Palestine, Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Sirte, UNESCO | 3 Comments »