The domestic and external politics of Palestinian reconciliation

In theory, the unity agreement announced in Doha by Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and the outgoing Khaled Mashaal of Hamas is still going forward, now that Hamas’ Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has accepted the provision that will make Abbas the interim prime minister of the unity government. Abbas and Mashaal have further agreed to meet in Cairo later this month to set a date for a presidential election and new legislative elections for the Palestinian National Council. This would be third major attempt by the two parties to pursue a reconciliation agreement since their violent split in 2007. An effort announced in 2008 never materialized, and another round of talks that began after Operation Cast Lead collapsed in November 2010; this current round of talks comes from a May 2011 agreement.

The political calculus that has led to this latest handshake between Mashaal and Abbas is succinctly summarized by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal: Abbas “is now convinced that the negotiations with the Netanyahu cabinet are nothing but a waste of time,” while Mashaal “believes that his political future is now directly connected to the implementation of the reconciliation.” Or, as Tobias Buck simply puts it, Hamas is grasping at a chance for “international legitimacy and leadership of the Palestinian movement.”

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A Responsibility to Define “Protect” in Libya

Libya, in the words of the Obama Administration, was “time-limited, scope-limited” engagement enacted under the responsibility to protect doctrine. After decades of dealing with Qadhafi’s nepotism and secret police, I hope that Libyans will be able to move towards a participatory democracy (and, I hope, we will see a continued airing out of all the zenga-zenga-ing the late Colonel engaged in with US lobbyists, oil majors and European defense contractors).

NATO went in hard by air, and then left the NTC in charge to ensure democratization and guarantee semblance of unity in the country. Some felt that the US had proven the efficacy of the “time-limited, scope-limited” interventionist model, even though some earlier incidents in Libya – such as reports of extrajudicial killings and the racially-motivated targeting of migrant workers – did emerge to sour the warm welcome that the NTC was enjoying in Western capitals. Further comments of this nature, Jadaliyya notes, have barely registered in the media, or, it seems, in the capitals of the states who helped put the NTC in power.

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The Threat of Opportunity in Syria

A UN Security Council resolution draft came into the hands of The Guardian yesterday, condemning the ongoing violence in Syria and calling for Assad’s regime to take all necessary steps to effect a cease-fire and pursue power-sharing arrangements with opposition groups within 15 days of the resolution’s passage.

So where will the international community go from here if, as in Libya, the leading opposition movement comes out firmly in favor of foreign intervention to establish, at the very least, a no-fly zone over northern Syria to establish a base area for refugees and anti-Assad fighters?

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Controversial US Police Chief hired by Bahraini Interior Ministry

I missed this, but it turns out that in addition to a bevy of lobbying – much of it centered on English-language media management – before and after demonstrations peaked, Bahrain’s government was also quick to tap American expertise in containing public demonstrations following the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report:

… the former police chief of Philadelphia and Miami, John Timoney, has been recruited by Bahrain’s Interior Ministry to advise the Bahrainis on policing strategies, will come as no comfort to those in the opposition hoping that the next American intervention would be more constructive. They may be particularly sceptical considering his policing style was so notorious it came to be dubbed Timoney’s ‘Miami Model’ by Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who covered the chief’s heavy-handed policing of protests around the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000 and the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit meeting in Miami in 2003. Timoney’s militarized crowd control strategy involved ‘the heavy use of concussion grenades, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges to disperse protesters.’

Timoney has a reputation as a turn-around police chief from his work in the US, but his handling of these demonstrations has made him controversial. Another controversial cop, John Yates of the UK, (who gained notoriety during the News of the World voicemail hacking scandal) is also working with the Interior Ministry now. Given the charges of torture presented against Bahraini police, I imagine everyone in these circles is keeping the case of Ian Henderson in mind, a former British colonial officer who led Bahrain’s secret police for 32 years and gained the sobriquet “Butcher of Bahrain” because of the security apparatus’s use of torture against dissidents during that time.

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Hamas and a Palestinian Spring?

The “Arab Spring” brought hundreds of thousands of activists out into public plazas in the Middle East. Many of those activists have new foreign policy visions in mind - ones that worry both Israel and the U.S. - but so far few have acted to change the status quo. An established Islamist organization stands the best chance of making rhetoric reality. Hamas’ leaders are ideally positioned to accomplish this within the Palestinian political sphere. The Arab Spring has given the Islamist party – still proscribed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU and the U.S. – the space in which to turn its military weakness into diplomatic strength.

Evoking the “Arab Spring,” Hamas’ outgoing leader Khaled Mashaal has announced the organization will now commit to popular protests to confront Israel. He has also announced that Hamas might be willing to be party to a two-state solution taking the pre-war 1967 borders between Israel and Jordan as starting points, reiterating a statement made earlier in 2011. At the same time, Hamas is also successfully pursuing membership in the PLO, and may yet reach a deal with Fatah to actually hold the long-deferred Palestinian legislative elections in May 2012.

As Haaretz columnist Zvi Bar’el argues, “Hamas and Fatah are reconciling - not because of Israel’s beaux yeux [how it will look], but because it is in the Palestinians’ interest, and new regional circumstances laid the groundwork for this to come about.”

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Freeze on US Arms Deal with Bahrain Ending

This first paragraph of this post was updated on 2012-Jan-31 to add new information.

A US$53 million arms sale, put on hold in November pending an investigation by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry into Bahraini security forces’ human rights violations, is being pushed forward by the Obama Administration in defiance of Congressional opposition and criticism from human rights observers. In the meantime, a new arms sale is going through, which the US State Department claims has nothing to do with the original one. The Cable reports that the new deal was going to be done “without any formal notification to the public,” and that the State Department told Congress that it has “gone above and beyond what is legally or customarily required” to address critics’ human rights complaints.



At the same time, the Kingdom of Bahrain is denying entry to observers from the US-based Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First organizations, which have been sharply critical of how security forces and the judiciary have behaved towards demonstrators.

I think the logic behind the Obama Administration's approach works (in theory) as follows: a trickle of aid coming at the same time the government is reportedly taking investigators' reports into consideration will compel the royal family to do more to democratize the country in exchange for more aid.

If the royal family changes its mind about those observers, I'll start entertaining more optimistic thoughts about the efficacy of this "behind the scenes diplomacy." Why? Because if they were being let it, it would demonstrate that the US is actually accomplishing a conditional aid policy that is pushing the government to fully implement the recommendations in the Commission's report. I often turn to the concept of "uncivil society" to discuss entrenched interests in countries experiencing democratic protests, and it's clear that the US is going to have to offer tastier carrots, and brandish much heavier sticks, if it is truly committed to democratization in Bahrain (and Egypt).

Granted, if these observers' entry became permissible (and it's not an impossibility), it could just as easily be read as a decision by the government to chaperone these people around to mute further criticism - something their PR firms back in the US have already been working very hard at (the Kingdom of Bahrain has retained the US lobbying group Qorvis for US$40,000 a month since 2010, with a particular emphasis on English-language media management).

Nothing signals "our priorities" like using a legal backdoor to funnel arms to a key Arab ally in the face of human rights criticism, and this holds true along the coastlines of both American littorals, the Mediterranean and the Gulf. How we will respond to growing pressure on NGOs in Egypt will address the dichotomies facing Egyptians willing to work with Western NGO. The resumption of arms sales to Bahrain, alongside the lockout of these groups, offers a much more concrete lesson of what Bahrainis can expect in the coming months.

At least when Moscow decides to send a message about a Mideast naval base, it sends that message clearly.  

Cold Comfort for Egypt

Paul Mutter writes in with a Egypt-Russia comparison.

With the Muslim Brotherhood taking a clear majority in the parliamentary elections (followed by the Nour Party), SCAF now finds itself with a more concrete array of forces to work to manage. 

SCAF is neither incompetent nor omnipotent. But "uncivil society" – a term historian Stephen Kotkin uses to describe the Eastern European equivalent of "the hybrid military-civilian deep state and its manipulations" – has strong roots in Egypt. And while many former Warsaw Pact nations offer encouraging examples of how newly emerging civil society can mitigate the old guard's machinations, there is one former Warsaw Pact member whose post-communist history does not offer an encouraging example for Egypt's near-future, and that is Russia. The convergence of Egypt's civilian and military management with the aspirations of both the Brothers' and Salafis' leadership.

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Mixed Messages from Syrian National Council on US, Israel

According to Reuters, the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria - the two largest opposition coalitions in Syria - signed on the last Friday of 2011 a unity pledge that "reject[s] any military intervention that harms the sovereignty or stability of the country, though Arab intervention is not considered foreign." However, remarks delivered to the U.S. and Israeli press by a Council spokesman seem to contradict the Council's stated support for the new joint policy.

The rejection of (Western) military intervention is a significant concession on the part of the Syrian National Council - the smaller, more diaspora-oriented of the two main coalitions - as the Council had been calling for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone ("Safe Area for Syria"). The Council's representatives have compared the situation in Syria to that in Libya (as such, it is not surprising that the transitional government in Libya is the only foreign government to have formally recognized the Council). Those analyzing the feasibility and costs of such intervention argue that Syria's extensive air defense system and high population densities will make a no-fly zone difficult to enforce, leading to heavy civilian casualties and, ultimately, require major troop deployments.

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The Return to "Normalcy" in the Gulf

The U.S. is not so much ignoring the Arab Spring (since it cannot be ignored), but viewing it in the larger context — i.e., our Cold-Hot War with the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1979 to the present. As one U.S. official told the WSJ when asked how arms sales to the U.S.'s Arab allies were being impacted by domestic unrest, the response was "We in the military are poised to get back to normalcy," i.e., arms sales that send a clear message to Iran (ironically, when Warren G. Harding first used that word in 1920, it was followed up by a major reduction of the U.S. armed forces' strength). 

From Reuters:

"The Pentagon is considering a significant sale of [4,900] Joint Direct Attack Munitions [JDAMs] made by Boeing Co, adding to other recent arms deals with the UAE. These include the sale of 500 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles about which U.S. lawmakers were notified in September."

"The sale of Boeing-built "bunker-buster" bombs and other munitions to UAE, a key Gulf ally, is part of an ongoing U.S. effort to build a regional coalition to counter Iran."

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Michele Bachmann: Obama caused the Arab Spring

That's right: a Republican is giving Obama more credit than even his own party will for influencing the "Arab Spring." MSNBC broke the story, capturing footage of Michele Bachmann, GOP presidential hopeful saying that:

"Just like Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s [who] didn’t have the back of the Shah of Iran, we saw the Shah fall and the rise of the Ayatollah. And we saw the rise and the beginnings of radical jihad which have changed this world and changed this nation."

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The Rio Grande, the Jordan and the Hudson

Hoo boy. It's going to be a real a Zionist lovefest in NYC today as the GOP, members of the Israel lobby and Likud convene at 10am on Tuesday, September 20th in the W Hotel in Manhattan. Their rally/press conference will be led by GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry and KM Danny Danon. From JPost:

"Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry will hold a press conference with American and Israeli-Jewish leaders in New York on Tuesday in which he is expected to address the upcoming deliberations at the United Nations, MK Danny Danon (Likud), said on Saturday night."

"Danon, who will participate at the press conference, said he would ask Perry ahead of the conference to adopt the initiative the MK is advancing to annex Judea and Samaria in response to the unilateral Palestinian moves at the UN."

Danon, already in the U.S. to speak at nationwide Zionist fundraisers and rallies prior to the UN vote, has proposed an "Annexation for Declaration Initiative," which would "establish full sovereignty over the Jewish communities of the West Bank . . . our historic homeland of Judea and Samaria:"

"Under [my] three-state solution, Arab-Israelis residing within Israel would be welcome to join the official new State of Israel. The remaining enclaves of Palestinian towns and villages in Judea and Samaria would become part of either Egypt or Jordan, and the Egyptian and Jordanian borders would extend accordingly to these designated towns."

[Snip]

"Both Jordan and Egypt have expressed strong support and concern for Palestinians living in the West Bank. If they truly care so much, then they should readily agree to a three-state solution and incorporate the Palestinian towns located adjacent to their current borders."

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Dissecting the settlers' agitprop

Israel National News is a favorite news outlet of the Israeli right and the settler movement more generally. It now seems to be busy preparing a propaganda war. 

Israel National News: "First Arab 'September Attack': Convoy Approached Negohot; September attacks have begun: Arabs in 40-50 vehicles drove along Jewish community's fence, taunted and jeered."

Presumably, this will be used as evidence to suggest that the Arabs "started it," like how they "started" the Six Day War. But for a minor incident, it is rather illustrative of the settlement project as a whole:
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In Italy, Eulogies for Qadhafi's Wealth Mismanagement Fund

"Want to bunga-bunga or should we just zenga-zenga?"

An item in the Wall Street Journal reminds us that the ties between Libya and Italy's elites are very, very deep, and, as benefiting the lives of the rich and famous, sometimes produce strange little stories that illustrate much larger forces at work - in this case, the economic future of Libya following the National Transitional Council (NTC) and NATO's military successes: 

ANTRODOCO, Italy - Maurizio Faina, mayor of this small Italian town, has for three years been planning the construction of a lavish spa here thanks to one deep-pocketed financial backer: Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Now that Col. Gadhafi is being ousted from power by his own people, "the whole plan is over, and it's sad," says the mayor, who had hoped to employ hundreds of people thanks to the €16 million ($22 million) resort.

Antrodroco's longing for Col. Gadhafi's largesse is a small, but significant, window into the vast economic ties between Italy and its former colony - a network that generated about $17 billion in annual trade before the conflict broke out.

Significantly, the spa deal began with a personal effort by Colonel Qadhafi (conduced alongside the Italian PM, Silvio Berlusconi, who has cultivated close ties with the deposed leader) and was, according to Italian sources, being managed by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), whose multibillion dollar assets were frozen several months ago. These assets include stakes in UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank (who largest foreign owner was, until recently, the Libyan government); Eni, the state energy company that produces the lion’s share (60%) of Libya’s oil exports; and Finmeccanica, a partly government-owned conglomerate with interests in Libya ranging from infrastructure to defense. The regime also had smaller stakes in various Italian sports, automotive, media and telecom interests – and was reported to be eying another, even larger, resort project in the Italian spa town of Fiuggi (so the Colonel would have a choice of resorts, presumably).

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Odd timing in Israel/Palestine

This is guest post by Paul Mutter.

Israeli security forces report that they have arrested at least 100 suspected members of Hamas and claim to have foiled multiple bombing and kidnapping plots. These actions would seem to indicate a severe setback for Hamas's influence in the Occupied Territories and undermine prospects for reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. With the UN vote approaching, the timing of the announcement can only help buttress the Netanyahu government's security credentials after the embarrassment of the August 18th Eilat attacks. The arrests also coincide with a major media and diplomatic campaign by the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian activists ahead of the UN vote for recognition of a Palestinian state.

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How a top Israeli commander sees the Arab uprisings

This post, contributed by Paul Mutter, illustrates the evolving Israeli strategic thinking towards the Arab Spring and its consequences. Personally, I can understand this: the Arab uprisings means that Israel can no longer continue the same behavior as before. That must sting for the war criminal in charge of Cast Lead. [I.E.]

Some strange comments in a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies by IDF Major General Eyal Eisenberg, former commander of the Gaza Division during Operation Cast Lead and newly appointed Home Front Command Chief, seem to be throwing everyone in the defense establishment into a tizzy. Although Ynet reports that the remarks were approved by military censors before the speech, the defense establishment is moving quick to denounce them and demand that IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reign in Eisenberg.

Much of what Eisenberg apparently said is it not new and has been expressed before by Israeli officials: the Arab Spring is a catalyst for disorderEgypt is facing total national collapseTurkey needs to tone done its rhetoric over the flotillaHezbollah is further entrenching itself in LebanonHamas and Iran are plotting their next moves against Israel.

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Saudi to US: Give us Predator drones to use in Yemen

This is a guest post by Paul Mutter.

U.S.-Saudi military cooperation in Yemen (which I reported on for The Arabist a few months ago) have not been without controversy. While the U.S. conducts it own drone strikes in Yemen against suspected al Qaeda targets and provides extensive funding, intelligence and training to government forces, it also provides satellite imagery to the Saudis, who conduct airstrikes and ground offensives against suspected al Qaeda targets and anti-government Shia militias. Given that much of the U.S.-Saudi joint effort has come in the form of airstrikes, many of the same objections regarding civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been raised over the air campaigns in Yemen. In February 2010, according to diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh recently released by Wikileaks, the U.S. raised such objections with the Saudi Ministry of Defense, but was satisfied with their response to the matter and has continued supplying them with satellite data.

The Saudi military, never ones to pass up an opportunity to expand their capabilities, used the opportunity of a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to suggest that "if we had the Predator, maybe we would not have this problem [of killing Yemeni civilians].”

“Obviously, some civilians died, though we wish that this did not happen," Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khaled concluded, when the U.S. presented him with evidence that Saudi airstrikes were inaccurate and caused collateral damage to civilian facilities, such as medical clinics. 

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Colonel Qadhafi's Tech Support

This is a guest post by Paul Mutter. 

Reporting from Tripoli, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne and Margaret Coker reveal the depths of collusion between Colonel Qadhafi’s spooks and their foreign tech support:

The recently abandoned room is lined with posters and English-language training manuals stamped with the name Amesys, a unit of French technology firm Bull SA, which installed the monitoring center. A warning by the door bears the Amesys logo. The sign reads: "Help keep our classified business secret. Don't discuss classified information out of the HQ."

Amesys of Bull SA was just one of those whose wares were on display. Narus, a subsidiary of Boeing, the ZTE Corporation of China and a small (but apparently important) South African firm called VASTech SA (Pty) were all represented. Other names will likely follow. But so far, they all are following the warning on the Amesys sign, offering limp responses to the WSJ’s inquiries, or just declining to comment.

But the HQ records speak for themselves: the government recorded thousands of online conversations, phone calls and web histories, from regular citizens to human rights activists (those who had overseas contacts were priority targets, of course).

In the end, Colonel Qadhafi’s tech support was a waste of money, even after his government killed the internet in March to try and cut off Libyans from each other and the outside world. Libya’s uprising has apparently succeeded in toppling Qadhafi’s government, and his IT department is nowhere to be found.

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The U.S.-Saudi “Special Relationship” and the Arab Spring

The following long piece was contributed by Arabist reader Paul Mutter.

Recently, the Saudi and Bahraini monarchies announced the engagement of a Saudi princess to a Bahraini prince. A substantial bridal party has preceded her, though: 4,000 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops, mostly from Saudi Arabia, have arrived in Bahrain since March 14th, 2011. Some 1,600 Saudi soldiers will remain in the country indefinitely to safeguard the regime there from further “disturbances,” i.e., pro-democracy protests.

Bahrain’s government will be seeking accommodations for these soldiers in the form of new, permanent GCC bases. This process will be helped along by the billions of dollars in aid that Bahrain is set to receive from the GCC.

The GCC presence has freed up the hard-pressed Bahraini security forces to take more “proactive” actions such as these. The U.S. has called on all parties to exercise restraint – though this has fallen on deaf ears with respect to Bahraini security forces.

Some dowry. 

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