LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 10/14
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 10/14
Lebanese Related News
Miscellaneous Reports And News
Lebanon is hearing the alarm bells
January 09, 2014/By Michael Young The Daily Star
With the alchemists of government formation discussing a new ministerial formula involving March 8, March 14 and the centrists, there is hope that Tammam Salam may soon have a Cabinet to lead.
For months, the so-called 9-9-6 option (nine ministers each for March 8 and March 14 and six for the centrists) has been on the table, but was rejected by Salam and March 14. Now, the idea is to repackage the 9-9-6 formula and call it 8-8-8. Each group would have eight ministers, but March 8 and March 14 would select an additional minister each from the centrist quota. Presto! Lead would be turned into gold and Lebanon would emerge from its vacuum. If this scheme succeeds, it will have come after a dizzying array of maneuvers and counter-maneuvers, conditions and counter-conditions over a new government, all of which served merely to delay agreement over the 9-9-6 formula pushed by Hezbollah. Not surprisingly, foreign governments with a stake in Lebanon have become increasingly disenchanted and anxious over the paralysis in the country and have made this clear to Lebanese officials. Foreign ambassadors have reportedly warned March 14 figures that it is necessary to form a government rapidly, since the ability to protect them is very limited. The Belgian foreign minister, Didier Reyners, was in Lebanon last week and explained that international interest in the country was declining, so that if the situation deteriorated further, Lebanon could be on its own. Belgium has troops in UNIFIL, which is why its officials merit added consideration. If the impasse persists, foreign governments will find it increasingly difficult to justify the continued presence of their soldiers in the international force.
Similarly, the recent advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in Iraq’s Anbar province were a warning shot to the region. While ISIS has suffered setbacks in the past few days in both Iraq and Syria, the prospect of Al-Qaeda extending its sway to Lebanon (especially after ISIS claimed responsibility for the car bomb in the southern suburbs last week) has alarmed everybody.
March 14 has made tactical mistakes in rejecting the 9-9-6 formula outright, and in linking dialogue with Hezbollah to the party’s military withdrawal from Syria. First, what precisely in the 9-9-6 proposal is so unacceptable? Or rather, how can its disadvantages be averted given the realities of power on the ground?
March 14 has opposed the fact that 9-9-6 grants Hezbollah and its allies a blocking third in the government (though March 14 would be entitled to the same veto power), and prevents a two-thirds majority if March 14 and the centrists are in agreement. But even without this blocking third, Hezbollah could very likely have its way on policies it opposes and even bring the government down. The reason is that Salam comes in as a consensual figure, not someone, like Fouad Siniora in 2006-2008, who would go to the line against Hezbollah. March 14 is understandably reluctant to cede any ground to Hezbollah, especially after the assassination of Mohammad Shatah. But the fact is that governments of national unity were formed after the elimination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, after the election of Michel Sleiman in 2008 and after the 2009 elections, which March 14 won, despite numerous assassinations of March 14 figures and Hezbollah’s military takeover of western Beirut in May 2008.
As for linking dialogue to Hezbollah’s pullout from Syria, that too has created a negative backlash. Many people feel Lebanon should not be held hostage to the situation in another country. This protest sidesteps the fact that Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has imported its war to Lebanon, but there is some truth to it. Given the challenges Lebanon faces today, the country cannot afford a stalemate that will only bring on political and economic collapse. Sleiman, sensing this mood, has used the threat of unilaterally forming a government with Salam as leverage to unblock the frozen political process. The president knows that a government not approved by Hezbollah, Walid Jumblatt, the Maronite patriarch, Michel Aoun and Nabih Berri has no chance of winning a confidence vote. And he also knows that once this happens the current government will be unable to govern effectively in a caretaker capacity. But Sleiman needs to be hyperactive because, despite his public comments to the contrary, he would welcome an extension of his term after it ends in May.
Hezbollah wants Sleiman out, however, which explains its renewed interest in forming a national-unity government. Otherwise, with the country as polarized as it is, prospects for reaching a consensus over a replacement would be negligible. Moreover, if the party seeks to bring the army commander, Jean Kahwagi, or somewhat more likely Central Bank governor, Riad Salameh, to office, it will need to ensure that it has a two-thirds majority in Parliament first to amend the constitution and allow him, as a Grade One civil servant, to stand.
Lebanon cannot afford a void in the coming months, and fear of one is universal overseas. The Lebanese are getting the point, even if March 14 is worried that it will pay the price in any new order dominated by Hezbollah. But the alternative could be even worse. That is why the opposition must update its rhetoric, agree to a single presidential candidate and reach an accord over a new parliamentary election law for next November, to avoid the election law fiasco of last year. Ultimately, an American-Iranian rapprochement this year, if it happens, will provide new opportunities for all sides. It may also generate greater sectarian tension, but ultimately none of the regional powers has an interest in proliferating sectarian wars, which could consume them. Lebanon may be losing Western attention these days, but it would be a mistake to let it drift toward ruination.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.
Forensic Report Confirms Al-Majed Died
of Illness, His Body to Be Repatriated 'within Hours'
Naharnet Newsdesk 09 January 2014/Acting State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud announced on Thursday that the report of the forensic panel has confirmed that Majed al-Majed had died of illness. "The panel's report confirmed the first conclusion reached by the forensic doctor,” Hammoud told the state-run National News Agency, noting that the general prosecution will officially receive the new report on Friday morning.
He added: “The detailed report confirmed that al-Majed has died of illness and medical complications.”The judge noted that the body of the “emir” of the al-Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades will be handed over to his family “once the required legal procedures are completed.”“We have received an official request from his brother to repatriate al-Majed's body,” Hammoud said. Meanwhile, MTV reported that the body will be handed over to Saudi Arabia “within hours.”Hammoud received on Tuesday a request from the Saudi Embassy, saying the brother of the al-Qaida-linked group leader wants to repatriate his body. Al-Majed, a Saudi national, died in Lebanon on Saturday while undergoing treatment at the central military hospital after his health deteriorated, the army said in a communique. However, many media reports doubted the military institution's statement, requesting instead the examination of his body by several forensic doctors. Al-Majed is accused of being behind the suicide bombing that targeted the Iranian embassy in Beirut on November 19, 2013, and he was detained in December of the same year and had been held at a secret location. He was the purported commander of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades — a militant group with al-Qaida links — and one of the 85 most-wanted individuals in Saudi Arabia.
Suleiman's Aide: Political Powers
Leaning towards Forming All-Embracing Govt.
Naharnet Newsdesk 09 January 2014/Khalil Hrawi, adviser of President Michel Suleiman, did not rule out on Thursday the possibility of the formation of a neutral cabinet should efforts to form an all-embracing one fail, reported the Central News Agency. He told the news agency however that political powers “are leaning towards the formation of an all-embracing government.” “Conditions to form a new government are positive and they are far removed from concerns that a cabinet would not be formed,” he added. He predicted that a government that grants each of the March 8 and 14 camps and centrists eight ministers will likely be established. A ministerial statement will be devised by a committee consisting of representatives of each of the camps after the cabinet is revealed, explained Hrawi. “We cannot predict when the cabinet will be established, but I do not think we have to wait too long,” he remarked. The announcement of the new government requires that Suleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam meet before its reveal, but such an appointment has not been made yet, Hrawi continued. The March 8 camp has recently accepted the 8-8-8 cabinet line-up and it is awaiting the March 14 camp's position on the matter. Meanwhile, head of the Phalange Party Amin Gemayel announced that the party's position on the government formation process will coincide with that that of the March 14 camp. He told An Nahar daily Thursday that the March 8 forces have not yet informed the March 14 camp of anything serious about the government.
Saqr Charges 5 Nusra Front Members,
Unidentified Sidon Attack Suspects
Naharnet Newsdesk 09 January 2014/The Military Prosecutor charged on Thursday several Syrian detainees on suspicious of belonging to a jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaida and plotting terrorist attacks in Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr issued the charges against five suspects with belonging to al-Nusra Front and a terrorist organization to carry out terrorist activities. Saqr referred the detainees to the first military examining magistrate. Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front, initially joined forces with moderate rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad in a conflict that began in March 2011 as a popular uprising but morphed into a civil war.
But it began employing brutal tactics and trying to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law, alienating other factions and leading to some of the worst infighting of the conflict.
Al-Nusra was designated a "terrorist" organization by the United States late 2012. Also Thursday, Saqr charged unidentified suspects with attacking the Lebanese army in two separate assaults in the southern city of Sidon. The charges include their participation with other gunmen in the near-simultaneous attacks on the army in the Awwali bridge area and Majdelyoun. They were also charged with arms possession and the killing of a Lebanese soldier. Several suspects and soldiers were killed and injured in the Dec. 15 attacks. The army has said that at least two suspects were on the run.
Hezbollah reiterates warning against fait accompli Cabinet
January 09, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s
parliamentary bloc reiterated Thursday the party’s warning against forming a
fait accompli Cabinet, saying the resistance group was still working to form an
all-embracing Cabinet. “The bloc stresses on the need to remain alert toward the
risk of slipping into an irresponsible adventure that would only complicate the
[government] crisis and disrupt the presidential election,” the bloc said in a
statement, issued after its weekly meeting in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
“That is, a fait accompli Cabinet, whatever the label, is an illegitimate
government with no grounding in National Pact... and contradicts the
Constitution and the Taif Accord,” it added. Hezbollah and its allies in
the March 8 group have warned against the formation of a fait accompli Cabinet,
which fails to represent the country’s main political factions.
The party has opposed the formation of a neutral Cabinet made up of nonpartisan ministers, a lineup demanded by the March 14 coalition particularly the Future Movement.
“The bloc voices its commitment to facilitate the serious, national efforts to form a political, unifying government that enjoys consensus from all parties,” the bloc said.
Efforts to form a new government resumed in recent days after Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt began campaigning for a government lineup of 8-8-8 in which the March 14 and the March 8 groups would each get eight ministers, with "decisive ministers" alloted for each camp among the remaining eight centrist ministers.
Hezbollah’s second in command Sheikh Naim Qassem tied the fate of the presidential election to the formation of a new government, criticizing the logic behind a neutral Cabinet.
“When we succeed in forming a unifying government, we succeed in holding elections, whereas if we fail, the complications will become an obstacle to holding elections,” Qassem said. Speaking during a graduation ceremony in Haret Hreik, Qassem said the president and the PM-designate knew in advance that a neutral government would fail to gain a majority of the Parliament’s vote of confidence.
“A neutral government should at least be headed by a neutral prime minister ... but the MPs chose a prime minister they already know is part of the March 14 coalition and voted for him to form a government that represents all parties,” Qassem said. “[Salam] is not free to form a Cabinet as he pleases and serves a blow to the designation given to him by the Lebanese people,” he added.
The Hezbollah bloc also spoke about the recent suicide bombing in the Beirut neighborhood of Haret Hreik, where the party enjoys broad support, saying that the sharp political divisions have contributed to the deteriorating security situation in the country. “The bloc sees that the weakness in the state's body and its agencies is a result of sharp political divisions and tensions among the the Lebanese people,” the bloc said in its statement, read by MP Hasan Fadlallah. “This should be immediately remedied by being realistic, adopting dialogue and abandoning the policy of exclusion which contradicts the spirit of coexistence, the Constitution, and diversity,” it added.
Jihadists Fighting Back in North Syria
Naharnet Newsdesk 09 January 2014/Jihadists battling rebels in northern Syria fought Thursday to recover lost turf nearly a week after a new front opened in the conflict gripping the country. The fighting comes a day after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was expelled from Aleppo city by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.
Meanwhile, a massive car bomb blast in the central province of Hama killed at least 18 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Thursday's violence comes nearly a week after rebels launched an all-out attack on ISIL, and almost three years into a war that broke out after Assad's regime launched a brutal crackdown against dissent. While jihadists were initially welcomed by rebels battling Assad's forces, ISIL became hated because of its systematic abuses and its bid to dominate areas that had fallen out of regime control. In a counterattack, ISIL launched car bomb assaults late Wednesday against rival rebel checkpoints, the Observatory said. "At least nine people were killed in a car bomb attack by ISIL on a rebel checkpoint... in al-Bab town" in Aleppo province, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse. He said similar attacks took place in Hreitan and Jarabulus in Aleppo province, and in Mayadeen in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. The attacks came after rebels overran ISIL's Aleppo headquarters on Wednesday, as claims emerged that the group had massacred prisoners there. In Raqa city, fighting raged near the governorate building, which ISIL has for several months used as its headquarters. While the rebels in Raqa city appeared to be advancing, ISIL was fighting back in the countryside, especially in the border town of Tal Abyad, from which they were expelled earlier this week. ISIL is believed to be holding hundreds of activists, rival rebels and foreigners including journalists at several bases in Raqa province. In less than a week, hundreds of fighters on both sides and scores of civilians have been killed. Activists say Raqa has become "a city of ghosts", with bodies in the streets and people afraid to leave their houses because of the violence. The fighting has not stopped the main conflict between opposition fighters and the regime. At least 18 people, among them women and children, were killed in the huge car bombing in Kafat in central Hama province on Thursday, the Observatory said. Much of the province, including Kafat, is still under regime control, and state television reported the "terrorist" blast, saying 16 people were dead and tens more wounded. In Aleppo, loyalist warplanes carried out a new air strike on the rebel-held district of Sheikh Maqsud. A brutal aerial offensive by the regime against Aleppo that started on December 15 has killed hundreds of people, mostly civilians. In southern Damascus, troops fired rockets at Yarmuk, a Palestinian camp that has been under siege for a year, the Observatory said. Some 20,000 of its pre-war 170,000 population are trapped with little food and medicine, and reports say 15 people have died from hunger in the camp since September. On Thursday, the spokesman for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA described "profound civilian suffering" in the camp.
Chris Gunness said there was "widespread malnutrition" and reports of women dying in childbirth for lack of medical aid.
He urged the Syrian regime and other parties to allow aid into the camp, which is controlled by armed opposition fighters and under a tight Syrian army siege. Syrian state television meanwhile said an aid convoy carrying 5,000 food parcels had been blocked from entering Yarmuk by "terrorist gangs" who opened fire. The violence comes less than two weeks away from a slated peace conference in Switzerland.
The fractious opposition National Coalition has postponed a final decision on whether to attend the January 22 talks, but members said Thursday they face international pressure to participate. "There have been clear signs indicating the Coalition must go to Geneva," said Coalition member Samir Nashar. But he warned that the Coalition's legitimacy was at stake, amid widespread opposition towards the talks. "The entire revolutionary movement in Syria is against Geneva," he told Agence France Presse.Source/Agence France Presse.
Tunisia Islamist PM Submits Resignation to President
Naharnet Newsdesk 09 January 2014/Tunisia's Islamist premier Ali Larayedh announced on Thursday that he had handed his resignation to President Moncef Marzouki in line with an accord to end months of political deadlock. "As I promised to a short while ago ... I have just submitted the government's resignation," Larayedh told a press conference. Larayedh's resignation would make way for an interim government of independents under a plan to end months of political deadlock that has fueled mounting social unrest. The step, which was drawn up by mediators to put the transition back on track, comes just days before the third anniversary of the overthrow of veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings. His resignation is supposed to lead to his replacement within 15 days by Premier-designate Mehdi Jomaa at the head of a government of technocrats that will lead the country to fresh elections under a new constitution. The powerful UGTT trade union confederation, which has been the lead mediator in the six-month crisis between the Islamist-led government and the mainly secular opposition, has said the premier needs to step down Thursday under the terms of its reconciliation road-map. The Islamist Ennahda party has been under mounting pressure to relinquish the grip on power it won after the uprising in elections to a constituent assembly, as the economy has stagnated and social unrest has intensified. Events in fellow Arab Spring country Egypt, where elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by the army in July after a single year in power, has added to the pressure. The formation late Wednesday of an independent authority to oversee fresh elections, which Ennahda party had set as a condition for stepping down, should have removed the last hurdle to Larayedh's resignation, according to the UGTT. The approval of a new constitution, which Ennahda had also demanded in return for handing over power, is on track to meet an agreed deadline of January 14, the uprising's third anniversary, with the assembly voting on it intensively article by article. The new charter had been delayed for months by the withdrawal of opposition assembly members in protest at the killing of one of their number by suspected jihadists in July. But their return has seen compromises swiftly reached on many of the most divisive provisions, including gender equality and the role of Islam.
On Thursday, the constituent assembly agreed to an article setting a goal of 50-50 representation between the sexes in all elected bodies, an exceptional move for the Arab world but one in keeping with the secularism that Tunisia adopted at independence which has given its women by far the most extensive rights in the region. The quickening political reconciliation moves come against a backdrop of an intensification of the social unrest that was a key motor of the 2011 uprising. Central Tunisia in particular, where a young street vendor sparked the uprising by setting himself on fire in protest at his impoverished circumstances, has seen a spate of violent protests in recent days. And a new vehicle tax, which came into force this year, has sparked nationwide protests with demonstrators blocking major highways. Late on Wednesday, several hundred protesters went on the rampage in the town of Feriana, in the central Kasserine region, attacking a tax office, a police post, a bank and a municipal building, residents and a policeman told AFP. Youths also clashed with security forces during the night in the central town of Meknassy, torching a police station and two vehicles, local UGTT representative Zouheir Khaskhoussi said. The UGTT called a general strike in Kasserine on Wednesday to protest at the persistent economic crisis gripping the town. Nationwide, growth was less than 3 percent last year, insufficient to bring down the country's unemployment rate, which exceeds 30 percent among school leavers.
Source/Agence France Presse.
Iran blatantly defies five key Geneva Pact commitments - heads for nuclear arsenal
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 9, 2014/Iran’s
utilization of advanced IR-2m centrifuges for enriching uranium, in violation of
the interim Geneva accord, was presented by the US and the five powers
Wednesday, Jan. 8, as the main difficulty in its implementation. This claim
allowed the follow-up meeting to take place in Geneva on Thursday, Jan. 9.
debkafile’s Iranian and intelligence sources report that this was a lame excuse
to account for the real situation, which is that Iran has not even started
implementing any part of the Geneva accord it signed last November 24. The
follow-up talks this week are not expected to break out of this impasse, any
more than the first round did on Dec. 19-20.
This is because the obstacles are far from technical; they arise from Iranian domestic politics. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has fenced in President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Zarif with hard-line objectors to the tactics employed till now by the Iranian team, led by Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi. In future, negotiators will be required to refer all the conclusions reached with the powers to the policy-making levels in Tehran for approval and abide by their guidelines.
Using a “senior Western diplomatic source” to paint the centrifuge issue as the main obstacle to progress allowed the three figures running the show – US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy R. Sherman, EU Foreign Policy Coordinator Catherine Ashton, and her deputy Helga Schmidt – to keep the negotiations alive while disregarding the full scale and blatancy of Iran’s misconduct.
debkafile’s sources reveal that the new state of the art centrifuges are not only already in place at the enrichment plants of Fordo and Natanz, but Tehran has brazenly informed the negotiating powers that even more advanced centrifuges have been developed and will soon be installed for test-runs.
The Iranians maintain that they are covered in this action by the Geneva clause acknowledging their right to pursue “nuclear research and development.”
Tehran is therefore treating this signal advance in uranium enrichment capacity as a done deal, even though it belies President Barack Obama’s words on November 25, which hailed Iran’s consent to halting the production and installation of advanced centrifuges as a major breakthrough won at the Geneva event.
So that there would be no misunderstandings about the use of the new centrifuges, Iranian Majlis member Mohammed Nabavian took the podium on Friday January 3 to explain: “We had a few sessions on the nuclear issue at the Majlis with Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araqchi, Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht Ravanchi and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham, and one session in which President Hassan Rouhani personally participated…”
After listing the five sections of the Geneva nuclear pact, Nabavian assumed the voice of Washington to declare in the name of the United States: “ 'Never before have we succeeded in ensuring Israel's security as we did today by means of the agreement… If a certain country has 270 kg of enriched uranium at a level of 20% and 10 tons [of enriched uranium] at a level of 5%, and 20,000 centrifuges, it will be in a breakout position and could manufacture a nuclear bomb on the uranium track within two weeks.' “
After this “US quote,” the Iranian lawmaker commented: “We don't aspire to obtain a nuclear bomb, but it is necessary so that we can put Israel in its place…”
The main point of Nabavian’s narrative wasn’t just confirmation that Iran possesses the capacity to produce a nuclear bomb at extremely short notice, but its continued development of ever-faster centrifuges that will dramatically change these figures within a short time and produce a complete arsenal aimed at a single target: Israel
This is not what President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry or Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to hear or bring to general knowledge. The Iranians have no such inhibitions and are making no bones about flouting at least five separate clauses of the nuclear pact they signed in Geneva - plus one:
1. There has been no suspension or slowdown of 20-percent uranium enrichment.
2. Uranium enrichment to 3.5- and 5-percent purity continues apace in disregard of the ceiling agreed in Geneva.
3. Advanced IR-2m centrifuges continue to roll off the assembly lines. Making a slight bow to the pact, they are being installed at Fordo and Natanz in individual units, not cascades. The Geneva pact bans their installation in any shape or form.
4. Iran has not stopped preparations for moving up to 60-percent enrichment and is being urged by many voices at home to go up to 80 percent. Iran’s pretext is that this level is necessary to fuel the reactors of the nuclear vessels it is building.
5. There has been no pause in the high-speed construction of the heavy water-plutonium plant at Arak.
6. Neither is there any slowdown at the research and development centers for nuclear weapons. Since the military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program was left unmentioned in the Geneva accord, Tehran is at liberty to continue this pursuit free of international inspection while denying it is taking place.
Palestine and the ‘Jewish State’ of Israel
By: John V. Whitbeck /Asharq Alawsat
News reports continue to suggest that one of the primary roadblocks to any agreement in the current round of Israeli–Palestinian negotiations is the understandable Palestinian refusal to accept the Israeli demand that Palestine explicitly recognize Israel as a “Jewish State.” It is a legally and intellectually bizarre demand clearly intended to make any agreement impossible while facilitating Israel’s public relations campaign to assign responsibility for Israel’s latest success in producing failure to the occupied Palestinians.
Palestinian acceptance of this Israeli demand would constitute explicit acquiescence to permanent second-class status for Palestinian citizens of Israel and result in the liquidation of the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees. It would also imply acceptance by Palestinians that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was morally justified, which in turn would require conceding that Palestinians were subhuman and not entitled to fundamental human rights.
No Palestinian leadership could accept this demand and survive. Israelis know that. That is why the demand is being made.
Few anticipate that the current round of negotiations (which, according to Israeli press reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now wants to extend for a further year beyond their end-April deadline so as to kill more time while building more settlements) will produce anything. Still, the State of Palestine could and should take constructive action now to disarm the ‘Jewish State’ gambit, which the Israeli prime minister appears to view as his best hope for shifting blame, at least in Western eyes, to the Palestinians.
The State of Palestine should reiterate that Israel’s self-identification is a matter for Israelis (not Palestinians) to decide. Then they should publicly announce that, should Israel choose to change its official name from State of Israel to Jewish State of Israel, the State of Palestine would persist in its efforts to end the Israeli occupation of the State of Palestine and reiterate that it would enter into any agreements that might subsequently be reached with the relabeled Jewish State of Israel.
All states save one—the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, due to an ongoing dispute with Greece over the ownership of the name “Macedonia”—are free to determine and embellish their official names as they please. These names have often been a locus of national identity; for example, there are four official “Islamic Republics”—Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania and Pakistan. Some official names are eccentric, such as the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (so named because the country is located on the eastern side of the Uruguay River), the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (so named because Simon Bolivar was Hugo Chávez’s personal hero), and, until recently, the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahirya.
The State of Palestine is entered in the UN’s alphabetical listings under ”S”, to emphasize its statehood. If a relabeled Jewish State of Israel wished to emphasize its Jewish character by being listed under ”J,”’ its wish would presumably be granted.
Nothing is stopping Israel from achieving a formal recognition of its status as a ‘Jewish State.’ The renaming would happen if the Israeli government wished to proclaim this status officially to the world—if it were of genuine concern to the government or a deeply felt necessity to the Israeli people, and not simply a cynical gambit to achieve and excuse failure in negotiations. However, Israel’s preferred self-identification and official name are not matters in which the State of Palestine has any role to play.
If the Israeli government does not dare to proclaim its state officially Jewish and accept the concomitant risks of doing so, how can it demand that those whose country has been conquered and colonized and whose people have been dispossessed and dispersed do so on its behalf?
Whether or not the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has any hope (or fear) that the current round of negotiations will produce anything, it should make the artificiality of the Israeli government’s demand and the reasonableness of the Palestinian refusal to accept it emphatically clear in terms that the international community, and particularly Western governments and peoples, can understand.
**John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel