Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

Qatar the Trailblazer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th February, 2012

The Gulf state of Qatar may be one of the smallest countries in the world population-wise, but since Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani became Emir in June 1995, it has not only rocketed to regional prominence but has also claimed a place on the international stage. When I first started coming here 20 years ago, in the wake of the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the capital Doha was a sleepy backwater whose most remarkable features were the Corniche that ran alongside the central bay and the Sheraton Hotel — shaped like a decapitated Egyptian pyramid — at one end. Both of those landmarks still exist, though extensively refurbished, and the Corniche road is now a 6-lane highway. Roughly half way along is the striking Islamic Art Museum with its exquisite collection of pieces from across the predominantly Muslim world. Through its huge main windows one gets a good view of the skyscrapers that have sprung up over the past decade further round the bay. But it is not just the beautiful architecture and the rapid rate of growth that have put Qatar on the map. The Qatar Foundation, celebrating 15 years in operation and headed by the Ruler’s second wife, Sheikha Mozah, has funded many significant projects in the Arts and Sciences as well as community development. Sheikh Hamad meanwhile has not only overseen Qatar’s transformation into the most intellectually stimulating of the Gulf States — housing Al Jazeera TV, notably, as well as several overseas campuses of American universities and even a branch of Sherborne School — but has also blazed a trail in international diplomacy. Qatar predictably espoused the cause of the Palestinians, but far less predictably has become pro-active in encouraging the departure of dictatorial regimes in the movement dubbed the Arab Spring, the latest example of that being urging Syria”s Bashar al-Assad to step aside. Doha has become a major conference centre — I have been attended one on Jerusalem this weekend — and of course now rivals Dubai as a regional airline hub. Qatar Airways has grown from a very modest affair into a premier global airline. Having vast revenues from oil and particularly gas, as well as  small population, has given Qatar an opportunity other countries can only envy. But what is interesting is the way that this has often been used constructively. Moreover, with both the Middle East and the Gulf in a state of high tension, we can expect Qatar increasingly to play a mediating role.

Links: http://www.qf.org.qa and http://www.qatarvisitor.com

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Doha Conference on Jerusalem

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th February, 2012

Jerusalem is known as the City of Peace, yet for so long over the past two millennia it has been the focus of strife. The three monotheistic religions all claim a crucial stake in Jerusalem’s spiritual heritage and two peoples — Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab — see the city as their natural capital. The ideal solution would be to share the place equitably, of course, but prospects for that look as bleak now as at any time since the 1967 War, when the Arab defeat led to the occupation by Israeli forces of East Jerusalem and the West Bank (and more). Since then, as has been underlined by several speakers at the high-level International Conference on Jerusalem which opened in Doha, Qatar, today, the Israelis have acquired increasing amounts of land in and around Arab East Jerusalem, through purchase, confiscation or other means. The (justified) complaint of the Palestinians is that East Jerusalem has effectively been cut off from the West Bank, by a mixture of illegal Jewish settlements and the so-called Security Wall. And the judification of the city continues apace, as the pressure on Arabs — both Christian and Muslim — to move out grows. The entire Arab world stands in solidarity with the Palestinians in their plight, but as the Emir Of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, declared bluntly this morning, this has failed to resolve the situation. Israeli violations of International Law are manifold, yet Israel seems to get away with this with impunity. As several speakers today pointed out, so long as the United States continue to give Israel carte blanche it is difficult to see an early solution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), in his contribution, emphasized that there will be no new summit-level negotiations with Israel so long as it keeps on expanding settlements, and if things go on in the same way much longer I fear there will be no viable two-state solution possible. We may already have passed the point of no return. But as Afif Safiah, Palestinian global diplomat, said this afternoon, echoing Gramschi: ‘We need to overcome the pessimism of the mind with the optimism of the will.’

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Gilgamesh Launches at Daunt Books

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th October, 2011

The Arab world has become not so much flavour of the month as flavour of the year, thanks to the tumultuous events that started with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia last December and the blossoming of the so-called Arab Spring. So maybe it’s not surprisig that there is now a boom in publishing about the Arab world and of literature translated from Arabic. One welcome newcomer to the field is the London-based publishing house Gilgamesh, set up by Max Scott (former Managing Director of Stacey International) and several colleagues, Gilgamesh had its first launch last night at Daunt Books, that treasure-trove of travel writing in Marylebone High Street. The book being celebrated was Lament for Jerusalem by the veteran Palestinian author, historian and archaeologist Yasmine Zahran, who was educated at London University as well as Colombia, New York, before working for UNESCO in Paris. These days she divides her time between Paris and Ramallah, also travelling to research archaeological sites. She was on fine form at the Daunt launch last night, where an eclectic mix of guests from the worlds of academics, publishing, media and diplomacy wer treated to wine and canapés with a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour. I’ll be reviewing Lament for Jerusalem, which draws its inspiration from the 614AD sacking of that great city, shortly.

Links: www.gilgamesh-publishing.co.uk and www.dauntbooks.co.uk

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What Gordon Brown Should Tell Bibi Netanyahu

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th August, 2009

Binyamin NetanyahuThe British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will receive his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu, at 10 Downing Street this afternoon. Behind the diplomatic courtesies, some hard truths need to be conveyed, namely that there will never be peace in the Middle East unless the Israeli government changes its policies towards the Palestinians, and that a viable, independent Palestinian state — which is in principle what most people want — is being made impossible by the continuing Israeli colonisation of the West Bank.

Settlements are the key issue at this juncture, as Barack Obama has rightly stressed (though without the necessary threat of sanctions unless something is done about them). President Obama has called for a freeze on new building, which Bibi Netanyahu’s government is blithely ignoring. But a freeze is not enough. A phased process of withdrawal of settlers needs to be started, as happened years ago in Gaza. Zealots who continue to set up illegal ‘outposts’ on Palestinian land need to be prosecuted, not protected. Mr Netanyahu also needs to be reminded forcefully that all of the West Bank settlements are illegal under international law anyway.

Secondly, the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem must stop. Arabs — both Muslims and Christians — are being pushed out of their homes and businesses, by a mixture of persuasion, intimidation and force, including house demolitions. The clear objective is to make Jerusalem as far as possible a Jewish city, the undivided ‘capital’ of the Jewish state of Israel. This is a violation of thousands of years of heritage of a unique town, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. It should have become an international city after the partition of Palestine and Britain, as the country that held the Mandate for Palestine, has a responsibility to try to ensure that that heritage is not detroyed.

Last but not least, there is the issue of the blockade of Gaza, which must be lifted, on both humanitarian and pragmatic grounds. There then has to be dialogue with Hamas. That won’t be easy, but the mutual loathing and reciprocal violence will never be overcome unless there is some constructive engagement.

Of course, the responsibility for change does not rest entirely on the Israeli side. Far from it. But today Gordon Brown is seeing the Israeli leader, so these points need to be stressed. The next time a Palestinian leader is invited to 10 Downing Street, I will set out some uncomfortable but necessary truths for the Palestinians too.

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Avigdor Lieberman Needs to Be Slapped Down

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th August, 2009

Avigdor_LiebermanThe Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has reportedly reprimanded his country’s Consul General in Boston, Nadav Tamir, for sending an internal memo highlighting how Israel’s refusal to halt settlement growth in the Occupied West Bank is harming US-Israel relations and causing strategic damage to Israel. This is yet one more indication of how totally unsuited Lieberman is for his job. Nadav Tamir should be congratulated for telling the truth. What good are diplomatic memos if they don’t? Binyamin Netanyahu was always taking a risk by giving Lieberman the plum Foreign Ministry, as the price for taking him and his ghastly racist Yisrael Beiteinu party into the governing coalition, but that was a risk Netanyahu thought worth taking in order to hold power. Besides, as Israel has been allowed by successive US administrations to get away with murder in its policies towards the Palestinians for over 60 years, the government in Tel Aviv probably assumes it can carry on with impunity building new homes for Jewish settlers on land in the Palestinian territories in violation of international law, as well as demolishing Arab homes in East Jerusalem as part of the ongoing programme to totally judaize the Holy City.

It is time for Washington and its allies — including Britain and the European Union — to take firm action to show that this intransigence by Israel and the arrogance on the part of Netanyahu’s government are completely unacceptable. The EU-Israel association agreement should be suspended with immediate effect and the Americans should stop underwriting Israel’s budget until there is not only a halt to new settlement building but also the beginning of the forced withdrawal of settlers from the West Bank, starting with Hebron (where a small group of radical settlers is terrorizing the Palestinian inhabitants, while being protected by the Israeli army). As for Lieberman himself, it is up to the Israeli courts to decide whether the corruption allegations against him have any foundation. My objection to him is purely political. He is totally unfit to be the Foreign Minister of a country that claims to be a progressive democracy. And he and his ilk seem determined to lead Israel blindly down the road to perdition.

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Tony Blair Is a Disaster as Middle East Envoy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th January, 2009

tony-blair    When Tony Blair was appointed the Madrid Quartet’s Middle East Envoy 18 months ago, there was a certain amount of incredulity in the Muslim world. Here was the man who had swallowed the mendacious US line on Iraq and taken British troops into a war that was opposed by huge swaths of the British public. I, too, was critical of the decision, but once he was in post (operating out of a comfortable suite in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem), I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what, if anything, he could come up wth.

Well, tonight, in an extensive interview with Gavin Esler on BBC2’s ‘Newsnight’, Blair confirmed my worst suspicions. Commenting on the current Gazan situation, the former Prime Minister made not one word of criticism, let alone condemnation, of  the bloody Israeli assault on Gaza. He parroted the line out of Tel Aviv that all the blame should be placed on Hamas’s shoulders, and argued that only Hamas can extricate the people of Gaza from the current situation, essentially by capitulating. Despite being one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace agreement, in which negotiation with the IRA/Sinn Fein was a key element, he rejected even the idea that Western countries should talk to Hamas.

I have no truck for the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and other radical Islamic groups based in Gaza. I have consistently denounced them and continue to do so. However, to peddle the Israeli myth that the root of the current crisis is the Hama rockets, as Tony Blair is doing, is an obscene distortion of reality. What about the Israeli blockade, which has been turning the Gaza Strip into what the Vatican has now referred to as a giant concentration camp? And what about the 40 years of illegal occupation of the West Bank and its ongoing settlement by Israelis, in total violation of international law?

The extremely effective Israeli PR machine is yet again trying to portray Israelis as the victims. But this just will not wash. Listen to the UN officials, one after another, being driven in their anguish to state openly that Israeli actions in Gaza — including the bombing of schools and the slaughter of civilians — may now prove to be war crimes.

Tony Blair must know this. He is not stupid or ill-informed. But he is the wrong man for the job as Middle East peace envoy. One of the first things Barack Obama should do when he takes office as US President in a fortnight’s time is to move to get him replaced.

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Europe Must Act Firmly on Gaza

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th January, 2009

gaza-shells-as-vases1        Israel/Palestine is awash with peace missions from Europe at the moment, all urging a ceasefire in the current conflict in Gaza.  Tony Blair, the Madrid Quartet’s (bizarrely chosen) Middle East peace envoy has not been on holiday (as Gordon Brown rather cattily said on British television over the weekend), but shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been through, urging an end to hostilities, as has a Czech-led delegation from the European Union, which included the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. And what has been the outcome off all this activity? Nothing!

Conflicts are never black-and-white, in which one side is 100% wrong and the other 100% right, so I would not claim that that is the case in Gaza now. The Islamic militants (whether encouraged by Hamas or not) who have been sending a barrage of low-grade rockets into Israel over the past few months have been inexcusably provocative. However, the Israeli response has not just been ‘disproportionate’, to employ the eupemism that is currently so much in vogue. It is wicked. It is criminal. The Arab world will not forgive Israel for this. And neither should Europe.

Europe was instrumental in the creation of the modern state of Israel, both as a result of British colonial policy (the Balfour Declaration et al) and as a result of the Nazi Holocaust in Germany and German-occupied states. So Europe cannot wash its hands of the consequences. Moreover, as the European Union is committed to championing peace, human rights and the rule of law, not only within its borders but beyond them as well, it must address the Israel/Palestine situation. The EU has a good record in helpng the Palestinian Authority, including funding projects and institutions (some of which the Israelis have subsequently blown up). And it has close working ties with Israel. But it is not flexing its muscles strongly enough with the Israeli government.

Preferential trade arrangements between the EU and Israel should be suspended immediately. European political leaders should stop using euphemisms, and condemn the barbarity of the Israeli assault on Gaza in clear, unambiguous terms. Europe should also tell the United States publicly that it is unacceptable for the Bush administration to block United Nations resolutions aimed at ending the conflict. And European political leaders should put pressure on Barack Obama to declare that his policy on the Middle East will not just be a carbon-copy of George W Bush’s.

We should continue to criticise Hamas where appropriate as well, of course (though objectively speaking now there is all-out war in Gaza, as declared by the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the Palestinians have every right to defend themselves from the Israeli invasion in whatever way they can). A comprehensive ceasefire agreement is essential in which Hamas guarantees to stop rocket-fire on Israel and to ensure that the tunnels used for bringing arms into Gaza from Egypt are closed, while at the same time Israel lifts its land and sea blockade of Gaza totally and permanently, and the land crossing between Gaza and Egypt is opened and properly supervised.

The Israelis have indicated that they are not interested in such a ceasefire until they have pounded Hamas into the ground. Europe should lead the Western world in denouncing that attitude. The Israelis are getting away with murder (with Washington’s benediction). Every day, Palestinian children are being slaughtered, disabled and traumatised. Europe must disassociate itself from this action and show its mettle on the international stage. The time has come to turn swords into ploughshares, and shells into vases (as the illustration of flowers in Gaza shows).

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