June 08/14


Bible Quotation for today

John 14,15-20/‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you."

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today

Prayer is all-powerful. Let us use it to bring peace to the Middle East and peace to the world.
Pape François
La prière peut tout. Utilisons-la pour porter la paix au Moyen Orient et au monde entier.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For June 08/14

Lebanon’s hijacked presidency/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Al Arabiya/ June 08/14
Do Iranians hate Arabs and Islam/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/June 08/14

The city-state that could/By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/June 08/14

The Turkish–Israeli Reconciliation Dossier/By: Samir Salha/Asharq Al Awsat/June 08/14

Palestinians Want Hamas In, but Want Peace Talks Too/David Pollock/Washington Institute/ June 08/14


Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For June 08/14

Lebanese Related News

Geagea: Presidential election saga 'treachery'

Tensions flair again in Lasa over construction
Two Bishops Kidnapped in Syria Held Captive by ISIL, in 'Good Health'
Hizbullah Denies Links to Lassa Dispute

Egyptian Kidnapped at Gunpoint in Baalbek

Syria’s Opposition Accuses Assad, Nasrallah of Bringing World Efforts to Resolve Crisis to Standstill

Berri to Attend Sisi Inauguration as Salam Travels on Private Visit

Rifi Says Security Stability Requires Local, Foreign Efforts

Italian FM Meets Officials: Lebanese Army

Education Minister Calls on MPs to Attend Pay Hike Session: Official Exams a Priority

Quorum secured for legislative session on wage hike

Lebanese University postpones exams once again

Beirut protest over 'apostate' Sudanese woman

Heroic act punished by speeder on Lebanon highway

Army tool to reinforce security in region: Italian FM

Beirut’s real estate a sure bet for the mega rich

Report: Hezbollah's veterans are being lost in Syria

Hezbollah doesn’t bank in Lebanon: Bassil

Army: 900 people detained in May in Lebanon
Hajj Hasan: 35 percent of youth unemployed
Charged with neglect

Miscellaneous Reports And News
Jihadists Seize Hostages at Campus in Iraq's Ramadi, 59 Dead in Mosul
Poroshenko Sworn in as Ukraine's President, Vows Unity

Senior U.S., Iranian officials to meet June 9-10

Iranian president visiting Turkey, will sign agreements strengthening ties

Rice hints at lethal aid to Syrian rebels

Jordan rejects Australian gov't decision not to recognize east Jerusalem as 'occupied'


Beirut protest over 'apostate' Sudanese woman
June 07, 2014/By Mazin Sidahmed /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A group of protesters gathered outside the Sudanese Embassy in Beirut Saturday morning, to call for the immediate release of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq. Ibrahim was arrested in February charged initially with adultery and subsequently with apostasy, and was taken into custody with her 20-month-year-old son. She was 8 months pregnant at the time and gave birth to a baby girl in prison last week. The court found Ibrahim guilty of both charges last month, sentencing her to 100 lashes for adultery and execution for apostasy. The adultery charge was upheld on the grounds that she both married and bore children from a Christian man, Daniel Wani, an American citizen, while she - based on her father’s religion – is considered a Muslim. The marriage of a Muslim woman to a Christian man in Sudan can be a complex issue, subject to varying interpretations of Sharia law, as well as cultural and familial prejudices. This is despite Ibrahim herself identifying as a Christian, having being raised as such by her Christian mother in her father’s absence. It was her assertion of that Christian identity in her trial that led to the second charge of apostasy. “We are here in solidarity with Meriam Yahia from Beirut, and we want to express our solidarity for everybody’s right to freedom of religion and belief so everybody can choose what they consider the most appropriate religion for them,” said Saida Allaw, a journalist with As-Safir, during the brief protest. “In the 21st Century, [there is no place for penalties] such as lashing and execution or conviction for apostasy; dictatorial regimes will have to wake up.”The protest was organized by women’s rights group, Fe-Male, and attracted widespread media attention. Alyia Awada, one of the event organizers, read out a message to the Sudanese government from the protesters:
“We are here today to raise our voices high, calling on the Sudanese government to release Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq and revoke the death sentence against her. This is conformity with international human rights standards and in response to all appeals from Arab and international organizations calling for revocation of this verdict that is not based on anything else other than the whims of the patriarchal society. It is high time to save women from your delusory justice.” The protesters flanked Awada as she read the statement carrying signs that read, “From Lebanon to Sudan, we are all Meriam,” and “Get Married and have a death sentence, free of charge.” One of the founding members of Fe-Male, Hayyat Mourshad, told The Daily Star that she felt that Ibrahim’s case was an indication of a larger problem throughout the region. “Two days ago in Akkar, a girl was killed because she decided to choose a husband that her father did not approve of. The execution is the same. True, circumstances may differ, but the suffering is the same and the type of violence that women face is similar.”The group in front of the embassy was roughly a dozen strong but was distinctly lacking representation from the Sudanese community in Lebanon. Mourshad stated that this was potentially the first of many demonstrations. “Today's protest is symbolic, just expressing our position and that we are supporting this cause for the rights of Meriam. If the Sudanese continue to maintain their position we will consider a bigger mobilization in which we hope that the Sudanese community in Lebanon will take part, as well as women’s rights organizations.”
The Sudanese ambassador to Lebanon, Ahmed Hassan, said that there was too much confusion around the case at the moment. “There is a big misunderstanding about the name of this girl, whether it is Meriam or Abrar and she was never registered in any university.” Sudanese media have been reporting Ibrahim’s first name as Abrar, as her brother has reportedly claimed. The Ambassador also said that several Sudanese universities released statements saying that she never attended their organizations, which brought into question whether or not she was a medical doctor. But Hassan went on to say, “All the people are not agreeing with this decision by this court ... I hope they find a solution to the issue first of all.”

Geagea: Presidential election saga 'treachery'
June 07, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Saturday lashed out at his rivals, accusing them of “treason” for disrupting the presidential election and focusing on managing the vacuum instead of ending the deadlock. “What is happening today is a treachery because we [only] reached the end of the presidential term [without a successor] because some were disrupting the election,” Geagea, a presidential hopeful, said during a ceremony. “Since May 25 until today, there is talk about how to institutionalize the vacuum rather than looking into ways to elect a new president. It is as if some people are preparing for a long-time vacuum.”  Lebanon fell into a presidential vacuum on May 25 after lawmakers failed to agree on a consensus candidate, leaving former President Michel Sleiman to end his six-year term without a successor. Geagea has been the March 14 coalition’s presidential nominee, a candidacy seen by Hezbollah and MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement as confrontational.
Hezbollah and Aoun’s bloc boycotted several parliamentary sessions to elect a new president, forcing the speaker to adjourn for lack of quorum. Aoun is the March 8 coalition’s undeclared candidate and his contact with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Geagea’s Sunni ally, to convince him of his candidacy has so far been fruitless. “There is no regional or international pressure on Lebanon but two parliamentary blocs not taking part in the parliamentary sessions and disrupting the election,” Geagea said. “What is needed is for an additional 12 MPs to attend the session secure quorum and elect a new president according to the Constitution,” he said. He also accused Aoun of betting on the results of the negotiations between Tehran and Riyadh to become president. “Some are waiting for the Saudi-Iranian negotiations so Iran can convince Saudi Arabia of Michel Aoun as president,” he said. “We are not looking for an administrator in Lebanon but a president who can oversee the parliamentary elections. What is happening with the presidential election in 2014 is the scandal of all scandals,” the LF leader said

Report: Hezbollah's veterans are being lost in Syria

By: Roi Kais/Ynetnews/06.07.14
Asharq Al-Awsat claims that string of Hezbollah deaths in Syria leave the organization without exerpienced leadership.  "The Syrian swamp is swallowing the old and new guard of Hezbollah," said a Thursday report in the London based publication Asharq Al-Awsat. The report tried to explain how leaders of the Shiite terrorist organization, who once spent all their time fighting Israel, became bogged down in Syria's civil war against rebel forces. The most recent incident that illustrates this is the laconic announcement that Fauzi Ayub, a senior Hezbollah commander, had been shot and killed in fighting with rebels.  Anti-climactically, Hezbollah satisfied themselves with the routine sentence repeated for every person who dies while serving the organization in Syria. "He was killed while fulfilling his duty to Jihad." It's a generic statement that ignores additional facts about Ayub's position and past in Hezbollah. According to sources within the opposition, he was killed in battles in Aleppo. While Ayub was a senior figure with Hezbollah, he was also well-known in Israel and the US. A Lebanese-Canadian duel citizen, Ayub was arrested in 2002 by Israeli forces in the West Bank for training Palestinian militants to carry out terrorist attacks and prepare homemade explosives. According to reports, he was under orders to help create a Hezbollah cell in the West Bank and was also part of a unit created by Hezbollah's Operations Officer at the time, Imad Mughniyah. In addition, Ayub was wanted by the FBI for using a fake American passport to enter Israel to carry out a terrorist attack. Two years after his imprisonment in Israel he was released to Lebanon as part of a prisoner trade to bring home captured Israeli Elhanan Tannenbaum. The report by the London paper in Arabic noted that in looking over the pictures of Hezbollah commanders who have been killed in Syria, it's easy to notice that the majority are older veterans who, more likely than not, took part in combat against Israel. Commentators who were cited in the Asharq Al-Awsat report have come to the conclusion that this is, "a waste of human resources in Syrian territory," but on the other hand stressed that, "faced with the public loss of senior military figures, the organization's new recruits are gaining proficient fighting skills during battles in Syria." Besides Ayub, the publication listed the names of three senior members of Hezbollah who were killed over the last year in Syria and also served in central positions when the organization was engaged in combat with Israel. Mohammed Muntish, who was killed last April in an ambush set up by rebels on an Al-Manar news crew in the town of Maaloula near Damascus, was labeled by Asharq Al-Awsat as being in charge of Hezbollah's military PR. Hezbollah said that he was merely a cameraman at Al-Manar.
According to the paper, Muntish served in the same position since the days of Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. On private websites closed to all but the terrorist organization, Muntish was said to have passed several courses in Jihad and administration in Hezbollah and took part in military actions against Israel before the withdrawal from Lebanon, earning praise from Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah. Sources from within Hezbollah said that he had a key military role in the Second Lebanon War as well and documented the war for Hezbollah's military media wing.
Hassan Meri, another senior Hezbollah figure mentioned in the report, was killed six months before Muntish and his death preoccupied the organization. His specific actions remain unclear, but there have been claims that he held senior positions within Hezbollah. Today, estimates claim that several thousand members of Hezbollah are active in Syria and more than 350 have been lost.

Syria’s Opposition Accuses Assad, Nasrallah of Bringing World Efforts to Resolve Crisis to Standstill
Naharnet/The Syrian opposition said on Saturday that Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s recent statements meant the Syrian regime and its allies had a strategy to bring the international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis to a dead end. “The Hizbullah militia does not have any decision-making but it is … the porte-parole of the Iranian regime,” the National Coalition said in a statement. His remarks “make sense because the survival of his forces is linked to (Syrian President Bashar) Assad’s survival,” it said. “Nasrallah’s remarks meant that there is a clear strategy by Assad and his allies to bring the international efforts to a dead end and take back the Syrian file to the starting point,” the statement added. Assad was re-elected in a landslide, officials said Wednesday, capturing a third seven-year term in the middle of a bloody three-year-old uprising against his rule that has devastated the country. “Syria's election is one of the most important events that have recently happened, in addition to this popular turnout which represents a major victory for its leadership,” Nasrallah said in a speech on Friday.“The Syrians said we're the ones who make Syria's future, not the U.S. or Geneva I and Geneva II” talks, he added.

Hezbollah doesn’t bank in Lebanon: Bassil

June 07, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: As the U.S. Senate prepares to discuss more financial sanctions on Hezbollah’s finances, the head of the Association of Banks in Lebanon said Friday that all lenders were complying fully with international anti-terrorist lists. “The entire banking sector is in full compliance with the U.S, and European directives that prohibit all banks from dealing with suspected terrorists groups and individuals. I can also confirm that we [banks] don’t have any accounts of Hezbollah individuals,” Francois Bassil told The Daily Star. Washington has been increasing pressure on all international banks to block any attempt by groups it deems as terrorist, including Hezbollah, to open accounts or transfer funds through their systems. In February 2012, the United States accused the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank of money laundering and terrorist funding, prompting Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh to travel to Washington to resolve the case. Total assets of the Lebanese-Canadian Bank were acquired by SGBL for $425 million. “We usually send a delegation to Washington once every six months to brief the concerned parties about the actions we are taking. All of the U.S. officials we have met expressed satisfaction with the measures we are taking,” Bassil said. He added that an international consultancy firm based in Europe supplies Lebanese banks with an updated list of terrorist individuals and groups. “We abide by these updates to the letter. We also comply with the money laundering law. We have no interest in tarnishing our reputation by accepting suspicious funds,” Bassil explained. He denied that the U.S. Treasury intended to blacklist any Lebanese banks. A banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hezbollah apparently received money from Iran through different illegal channels. “I don’t think Hezbollah has an interest in opening an account with any Lebanese bank because they know that this account would be frozen,” the banker said.

Egyptian Kidnapped at Gunpoint in Baalbek
Naharnet/Unknown assailants kidnapped at gunpoint an Egyptian national in Hawch-Bay in Baalbek, the state-run National News Agency reported on Satuday.
According to NNA, 22-year-old Hanine Othman, a Saudi-Egyptian national pressed charges at Chmestar police station against unknown assailants after her husband Mohammed Saeed Ibrahim Mahmoud, 32, was abducted. Hanine said that she was on her way back home with her husband in their white Mitsubishi when four assailants in a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee intercepted their vehicle. The offenders forced her husband out of the vehicle at gunpoint and fled to an unknown destination. The news agency said that Mahmoud is the owner of several farms and a livestock dealer.

Berri to Attend Sisi Inauguration as Salam Travels on Private Visit
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri will lead a Lebanese delegation to participate in the inauguration of the new Egyptian president while Prime Minister Tammam Salam apologized for not being able to attend the swearing-in of president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday. Al-Liwaa newspaper reported on Saturday that Berri is expected to be accompanied by deputy PM Samir Moqbel. A former general, Sisi won nearly 97 percent of the vote in last week's polls, nearly a year after he toppled Egypt's first freely elected leader, Islamist Mohamed Morsi. According to al-Joumhouria newspaper, premier Salam left Beirut on a private visit on Friday accompanied by his wife Lama. The daily reported that the PM will return to Lebanon on Monday ahead of two parliamentary sessions set to be held on that same day to elect a new president and on Tuesday to discuss the new pay hike. Lebanon has been plunged into a leadership vacuum after Michel Suleiman's presidential term ended on May 25 with rival political blocs still divided over a new leader. Over the past two months the parliament convened five times to try to elect a successor to Suleiman but failed during the last four sessions due to a lack of quorum.
The presidential vacuum raised fears that it would affect Lebanon's power-sharing agreement under which the president should be a Maronite, the premier a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite.
Meanwhile, the differences on the pay raise have led to wide range protests and strikes by public sector employees and teachers who are holding onto a 121 percent increase in their salaries.
But the ministerial-parliamentary committee has proposed to reduce the total funding from LL2.8 trillion ($1.9 billion) to LL1.8 trillion ($1.2 billion).

Hizbullah Denies Links to Lassa Dispute
Naharnet/Hizbullah denied on Saturday any connection to alleged construction violations committed in a predominantly Shiite town in Jbeil district. Sources close to the party rejected in comments published in al-Akhbar newspaper to give the dispute a “political aspect,” saying: “There are attempts to politicize the matter to create rift.” “They will not triumph,” the sources pointed out. Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Judge Claude Karam launched on Friday a probe into allegations that residents began constructing a building on a property claimed by the Maronite church in Lassa. The Internal Security Forces stopped a Lassa resident, Yasar al-Meqdad, on Thursday from continuing construction work on the land parcel which is claimed by the Maronite bishopric of Jounieh. And on Friday, the Prosecutor's office ordered the construction be demolished after al-Meqdad reportedly built a ceiling rather than waiting for a judicial decision on the ownership of the property. “The matter will be swiftly resolved” by the judiciary authorities, Hizbullah sources told the newspaper. “We are holding onto our stance and refuse to cover up for any illegal activity.”According to the sources, “Yasser's documents are legal.”However, Hizbullah officials contacted Bishop Boulous Andari to stress that the solution should be through the judiciary. The residents of Lassa have in the past been caught in a land dispute with the church.
Anti-Hizbullah officials accuse the party of allowing the residents to build on church land and providing a cover for the property violators

Rifi Says Security Stability Requires Local, Foreign Efforts
Naharnet /Justice Minister Ahsraf Rifi said on Saturday that the security stability in Lebanon would only be fruitful if local and foreign efforts were exerted. In comments published in An Nahar newspaper, Rifi revealed that during a recent visit to Kuwait officials inquired him on the situation in Lebanon in order to take a decision concerning a travel ban to the country. He informed Kuwaiti figures that the situation in Lebanon is stable and security is maintained. “The number of Kuwaiti flights to Lebanon increased from three to seven per day,” Rifi said. In May, Saudi Arabia lifted a travel ban to Lebanon after the security situation improved in the country. Several Gulf states, including Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have repeatedly issued travel advisories, warning their citizens against visiting Lebanon due to the security chaos.

Two Bishops Kidnapped in Syria Held Captive by ISIL, in 'Good Health'

Naharnet/Two Orthodox bishops kidnapped in Syria in April 2013 are currently in the northern city of Raqqa and held captive by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). According to a report published in al-Akhbar newspaper on Saturday, the two bishops are “in good health” and are currently detained in the region of Tal Abyad, which is located in north of Raqqa governorate, near the Turkish border. The two bishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, were kidnapped at the end of April, reportedly near the rebel-held town of Kafr Dael, near Aleppo in northern Syria.
The al-Qaida-affiliated Asbat al-Ansar is allegedly the group behind the abduction of the two bishops. The newspaper said that Asbat al-Ansar, which was loyal to al-Nusra Front, became discreetly loyal to ISIL. The kidnappers reportedly didn't realize the fuss that the abduction operation would create, prompting them to ask ISIL leadership for assistance. The ISIL group then was handed over the two bishops and moved them to al-Raqqa. No group has officially claimed responsibility for their kidnap, but sources close to the Greek Orthodox Church and the Syrian authorities have claimed the kidnappers were "Chechen jihadists". Christians constitute some five percent of Syria's population, a patchwork of religious and ethnic groups. Rights groups say Christians are especially vulnerable in the chaos that has engulfed Syria ever since the outbreak of a conflict in March 2011, which has so far killed some 90,000 people.

Italian FM Meets Officials: Lebanese Army Offered Necessary Support to Maintain Stability
Naharnet/Visiting Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini stressed on Saturday that the army should be offered all the necessary support to maintain stability in Lebanon.
“Offering support to the Lebanese army is very important to maintain local, regional and international security,” the FM said in a joint press conference with her Lebanese counterpart Jebran Bassil at the Bustros Palace. She described the army as an “institution for unity” in Lebanon, adding that it's a “tool used to preserve stability and security in a country that has a conflict raging along its border.”
For his part, Bassil lauded Italy for exerting efforts to support the Lebanese army. “A meeting will be held on June 17 to tackle the capabilities of the Lebanese Armed force,” he noted. He said that “cooperation with Italy is various, in particular, in confronting terrorism and maintaining stability.” Italy previously announced that the International Support Group for Lebanon will hold a meeting in Rome in June to boost the Lebanese Armed Forces' capabilities and ease the Syrian refugees crisis. Mogherini arrived in Beirut on Friday night for a two-day visit to discuss with senior Lebanese officials the ongoing preparations for the Rome conference. She had met earlier in the day Speaker Nabih Berri. According to a statement issued by Berri's press office, the two officials tackled the latest developments in Lebanon and the region, in addition to the bilateral ties between the Lebanon and Italy. The Italian diplomat also held talks with deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel. She described the meeting as “excellent.” “We will seek to make the Rome conference successful,” Mogherini said. “This step will be a cornerstone for the international support for Lebanon and the region,” she added. The diplomat stressed that “it is necessary for Lebanon to enjoy stability and security, which is a challenge.” Mogherini is expected to inspect her country's contingent operating within the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The Italian contingent is the largest of the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force.

Education Minister Calls on MPs to Attend Pay Hike Session: Official Exams a Priority
Naharnet/Education Minister Elias Bou Saab urged lawmakers on Saturday to attend next week's parliamentary session to approve the new pay hike. “Our priority is to stage the official exams,” Bou Saab told reporters at the General Directorate of Technical Education in Dikwaneh after talks with the Federation of Private Educational Institutions. He revealed that he will hold talks with several parliamentary blocs ahead of Tuesday's session to urge lawmakers to attend it and approve the new wage scale. The tour will include head of al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc Fouad Saniora, he said. “If the parliament fails to endorse the pay hike draft-law we will plunge into a crisis, which is linked to the whole society,” warned Bou Saab, who is loyal to the Free Patriotic Movement. He added that the FPM's stance regarding the matter is “clear.” “All parliamentary blocs should assume their responsibility,” Bou Saab said. The minister said that the “crisis can no longer endure further delay... We support the demands of the teachers... But we are also interested in preserving the interests of the students.” He expressed understanding to “any stance that would be taken by the Syndicate Coordination Committee if the draft-law wasn't approved,” holding the state “responsible” for any escalatory measures. The SCC is a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees. “We will not give up our role in carrying out the official exams, which will take place even if it was in an unprecedented manner.” On Wednesday, the SCC declared a general strike at all ministries and public institutions on June 9 and 10, holding “the MPs who obstructed legislation for several months” responsible for a possible postponement of official school exams. The differences on the pay raise have led to wide range protests and strikes by public sector employees and teachers who are holding onto a 121 percent increase in their salaries. But the ministerial-parliamentary committee has proposed to reduce the total funding from LL2.8 trillion ($1.9 billion) to LL1.8 trillion ($1.2 billion).

Lebanon’s hijacked presidency
Saturday, 7 June 2014/Eyad Abu Shakra
In an atmosphere of illusions, hopes and the calculations of defeat and victory, the presidency of Lebanon remains vacant. Reasons behind presidential vacuum The vacancy at the presidential palace can be attributed to a host of factors. First, there are Lebanese who still believe—whether wrongly or rightly—that they are free and that they have every right to accept or reject and hold accountable those who claim to be their parliamentary representatives, who, in turn, are tasked with electing the president.Second, in Lebanon there are politicians, like former president Michel Suleiman, who are decent and respectable. They are proud of their sense of patriotism, which stops them from begging for posts from the armed factions who are the “status quo” governors. It also stops them from pandering to their regional masters who—thanks to the U.S. administration’s deplorable passivity—have been given free rein to do whatever they want with impunity throughout the Arab Mashreq.
Third, due to both the U.S. administration’s shameful position and the unethical support from Russia and China, these regional players today feel that they have indeed won their war, which aims to secure full control over the eastern part of the Arab world. Recent statements by Iran’s mullahs and military commanders are nothing but a culmination of the massacres their military has committed in Syria. And that is to say nothing of the disruption of state institutions and the systematic destruction of the political structures and demographic realities in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, carried out by Iran’s followers in these countries.
Iran's agenda
Today, Iran is acting like a regional power that has triumphed over anyone who dared to object to its steadily growing regional dominance. Statements issued by Iran during the visit of the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al Sabah, to Tehran promoting the Shiite state’s agenda under the nebulous title of “confronting takfirists” confirm these feelings. In turn, remarks by British Foreign Secretary William Hague last week about the danger of “takfirists” suggest that, when it comes to tackling the Syrian file, London has adopted the perspective of Russia and Iran about prioritizing combating “takfirists” above all else.
In this context, how can one forget Obama’s masterpiece of a speech to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in which he renewed his commitment to a policy of denial, procrastination and inaction? Those enthusiastic about turning the page on Bashar al-Assad’s regime have been quite naïve, believing that “a shift” has taken place in the Obama administration. This is the same administration whose approach to the Syrian crisis over the past three years confirms it has definitively decided to do nothing. Washington has justified its position all along on the basis that the American people are tired of war. This has been the U.S. position on the international level, but what about the situation in the Arab region? Well, it is much worse than many are prepared to admit. I assert, without exaggeration, that an Iran still capable of blackmailing and infiltrating the Arab world despite the social, economic and political problems it is facing represents conclusive evidence of our incompetence and our miscalculations.
Hezbollah monopolizing political arena
The state of polarization marking the struggle for the presidency in Lebanon is taking place against this tragic background. The public in Lebanon have been truly shocked by the sight of thousands of Bashar al-Assad supporters shouting his name and carrying his picture on their way to vote for him at the Syrian embassy in Beirut. They were shaken and upset at the realization that what they thought they had achieved in the Cedar Revolution of 2005, when the Lebanese people forced the Syrian Army to pull out of Lebanon, has been nothing but a mirage. Hezbollah has since played the role of the substitute occupying force, replacing Damascus’s former role in disrupting state institutions, monopolizing the political arena, and bringing its agents and lackeys into parliament and cabinet.
Hezbollah has since played the role of the substitute occupying force, replacing Damascus’s former role in disrupting state institutions, monopolizing the political arena, and bringing its agents and lackeys into parliament and cabinet. Today the Shiite militia, which follows the instructions of the Supreme Leader, is carrying out Tehran’s regional project down to the last detail, by undermining the election of the president and altering the country’s political demographics. Like its leadership in Tehran and its allies in Baghdad and Damascus, Hezbollah is acting like the victor who must win all the spoils of war. Hassan Rowhani—supported by Obama’s passivity—is imposing his ideological perspective on the Middle East, while Nuri al-Maliki is manipulating Iraq’s opportunist and petty Sunni politicians, capitalizing on tensions between them in a bid to force them to submissively support his bid for a new term in office. As for Assad, he is prolonging his presidency over a country that has seen 300,000 of its people killed and over 10 million displaced.
Dynamics of Lebanon's election
And so we can understand the remarkable dynamics of the presidential elections in Lebanon. The Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea started off the race to Baabda Palace by announcing his presidential candidacy, supported by the majority of those opposed to the Iran–Syria axis, the March 14 Alliance. But, as expected, the backing he received was insufficient to secure him the presidency. In order to prevent the required quorum for a vote being secured, lawmakers from the rival March 8 Alliance boycotted subsequent parliamentary sessions, justifying their move on the pretext of their rejection of a “defiance” candidate, as they perceive Geagea to be. Until this point, this political interaction sounds somewhat reasonable. What is really bizarre, however, is the March 8 Alliance’s promotion of Michel Aoun, the leader of the pro-Hezbollah Free Patriotic Movement, as a “consensus candidate.” If there were ever a Lebanese politician who has always opposed “consensus,” it is Aoun. Ever since he stormed onto the Lebanese political scene in 1988, Aoun has been launching attacks on friends and foes alike. He even rejected the inter-Lebanese consensus promulgated in the Taif Agreement. The political game Aoun and his backers are trying to play aims at handing Lebanon over to the status quo power, represented by Hezbollah and its co-sponsors in the “alliance of minorities.”
Geagea already knew he would not succeed in his presidential bid, but he wanted to put his reluctant allies in the March 14 Alliance in a “fait accompli” situation. So he stood for the presidency and then refused to leave the arena even when it became clear that he would not secure the required number of votes. Following this, after Aoun’s supporters intensified their talk of ongoing “consultations” with the objective of securing an “understanding” with Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, Geagea himself traveled to France to meet with Hariri. What happened during this meeting was also striking.
Geagea already knew he would not succeed in his presidential bid, but he wanted to put his reluctant allies in the March 14 Alliance in a “fait accompli” situation.
I think the true objective of Geagea’s decision to maintain his presidential bid is to block any kind of settlement that the international community may impose on the Lebanese as whole, and on Saad Hariri in particular. Thus, the similar positions of Geagea and that of Walid Jumblatt—though from different perspectives—represent the last guarantee against Lebanon descending into absolute subordination to the scenario that Iran is seeking to construct in the region.
**This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on June 5, 2014.

Do Iranians hate Arabs and Islam?
Saturday, 7 June 2014/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
The majority of Iranians were known for their sympathy toward the Palestinian people, like many other people in the world including those who do not share any religious or cultural ties with the Arab region. It is a matter of injustice that has tormented a whole population for many decades.I don’t know how accurate are the surveys being conducted in closed countries, but if we suppose the Iranians really express less sympathy with the Palestinians and favor Israel – and this may be somehow the case – it would not be difficult for us to understand the motives that led these emotions into becoming so negative.
Green Revolution

Ever since the Green Revolution, when tens of thousands of Iranians rose up against the government of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we continue to hear anti-government voices in the streets.
For instance, there was a public protest against supporting Lebanon’s “Hezbollah,” which is regarded as the closest party to the regime in Tehran and was seen as affiliated to Iran.
During the Syrian war, explicit calls were made against decision of President Hassan Rowhani’s government to spend large funds to defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The calls were also against sending Iranians to fight in Syria.
Iran has witnessed the development of a movement that is against the regime and its policies in general, regardless of the nature of these issues.
Iran has witnessed the development of a movement that is against the regime and its policies in general
There are a large number of Iranian intellectuals who are against the external activities of the Islamic Republic and they can differentiate between slogans and political reality.
Thwarting peace talks
Iranian support to the Palestinians is always channeled to groups opposed to the government in Ramallah. Iran supports Hamas, Islamic Jihad and “Hezbollah” within a framework of activities aimed at, for example, preventing negotiations with Israel, without offering an alternative military or political solution for the Palestinian people and to the Israeli occupation. This support is so little that it does not even provoke Israel into seeking revenge against Iran but it is enough to sabotage any political process and leave the region on fire.
The Iranian leadership’s external excuses such as facing Israel and defending Islam in order to justify the persecution of intellectuals in Iran or even excuses for the failure of the country’s economy have led Iranian citizens to blame the regime for the negative situation they find themselves in. It has even led some people to hate the regime – a position that does not necessarily reflect any current or real political project against the Palestinians or the Lebanese people.
The Iranian leadership’s external excuses have led Iranian citizens to blame the regime for the negative situation they find themselves in
Talks about the increasing Iranian resentment to Arabs are accompanied by talks of the growing hatred for the Islamic religion itself, a hatred that condemns the majority of the Iranian people. Moreover, there are some who have expressed their hatred toward Islam and the clerics who rule the country – clerics who are known for their corruption and struggle for power. This hatred is stimulated by the Iranian regime which is using religion and the guise of religion to justify its control over the vocation of the country and maintain arbitrarily rule over the Iranian people.
Hatred is stimulated by the Iranian regime which is using religion to justify its arbitrarily rule over the people
The failure of the regime and the paralysis of the people have distorted everything related to the official image of Iran, after years of an unmatched Islamic boom in the eighties when Arabs were valued and welcomed. Throughout the years, the religion and issues raised by the regime were despicable for the people, although the majority of Iranians do not know that the majority of Arabs share with them their hatred for the regime of al-Assad and opportunistic groups like “Hezbollah” and Hamas.
**This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on June 7, 2014.


The city-state that could?
Saturday, 7 June 2014
Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya
The mediating role Qatar has played in freeing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last American soldier held captive in Afghanistan, in exchange for releasing five senior Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has raised once again skepticism in the U.S. Congress and media about Qatar’s commitment to monitor these hardened militants who should remain in their custody for a year, and suspicions about its complex relations with a myriad of radical Islamist groups operating in an area stretching from South Asia to North Africa.
The exchange occurred in the wake of unprecedented public tensions between Qatar and its three immediate neighbors and fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and following what might be called the Annus horribilis (horrible year) in which Qatar was dealt a major setback when its ally Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi was ousted last July in a military coup, and when its allies in the Syrian opposition failed to dominate the newly formed leadership of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
To make matters worse, Doha is facing a potentially humiliating blow, if the new allegations that the 2022 Fifa World Cup – the seminal event that would elevate Qatar’s international stature exponentially – had been secured through shady schemes and bribery should be proven to be true.
These setbacks have led analysts and commentators to ask whether Qatar’s moment in the Middle East is over or if its influence is waning irrevocably or if it is suffering from that old ailment that afflicted ancient and medieval powerful city-states which punched way above their weight; that is the fateful combination of hubris and overreach.
The useful mediator
For a fleeting moment, Qatar was basking in a sea of American gratitude, with expression of appreciation from President Obama, American politicians from both parties and the senior brass at the Pentagon, that is before the torrent of harsh criticism directed at the White House because of the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture, and the release of high value Taliban prisoners. The Kabul government, with which Doha has good relations, added its voice to the critics’ choir.
Qatar’s crucial mediating role between the Taliban and the U.S. was in keeping with the tradition it developed in the last 20 years in building bridges and relations with disparate states and groups and using its fabulous wealth to buy influence, assists friends, allies and clients and to offer its services as a third-party broker to settle disputes among and within states. This strategy is designed in part to give Qatar an immune system vis-à-vis its larger immediate neighbors and also to support Islamist movements including very radical ones as we have seen in the Libyan and Syrian conflicts and by making itself indispensable as a regional power willing to invest its financial might, and diplomatic services to settle disputes in order to enhance its stature. In recent years, Qatar mediated disputes among Lebanese, Sudanese and Afghan factions while providing them and the state that sponsor them financial “incentives.”
The frenemy of many
One of the most important tools in Qatar’s ascendency as an influential city-state, driven by a large ambition to play a role incommensurate with its size and demography, was its pioneering Al Jazeera satellite channel. Al Jazeera quickly became the leading news channel for a significant number of the Arabic-speaking publics. Al Jazeera initially looked and sounded different and managed to break some taboos. More importantly, Al Jazeera became the first medium in history to put a small country on the world map. But Al Jazeera later on became synonymous with Qatar’s foreign policy and reflected the paradoxes and contradictions of this policy, that is acting as a friend and a foe simultaneously
The Egyptian-born, but Qatari citizen, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi was given plenty of air time on Al Jazeera to support the Palestinian cause and to occasionally engage in anti-Semitism, all the while Qatar was establishing political and trade relations with Israel . Al Jazeera was very harsh in its criticism of the American invasion of Iraq, while allowing the U.S. to use two air bases (after spending almost a billion dollars modernizing them to suit American standards) in its military operations in Iraq and the region.
Tough balancing acts
For Qatar to play such a role, it had to have a foot in any two warring factions, while trying all the time to represent and to support its Sunni Islamist friends, be they the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, el Nahda in Tunisia, various Islamists in Syria and Libya and at one time the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s powerful arm in Lebanon and Syria. Qatar had old relations with the Taliban and their enemy the government in Kabul. It has close military and commercial relations with the U.S., but it tried to balance it by keeping its bridges open to Iraq when it was under Saddam Hussein and Iran. Qatar provides Hamas and its nemesis the Palestinian Authority with political and financial support, while maintaining its open and secret contacts with the Israelis.
Maintaining Qatar’s extensive relations with the world of radical Islam, requires at times tough balancing acts and creative schemes. Qatar, at one time gave the Jordanian authorities an offer they could never refuse, that was to host the leader of Hamas Khalid Mishal and some of his aides who were accused by the Jordanians of illegal activities, in Doha. The move helped Qatar burnish its Islamist credentials, which was useful to its policy of opening up to Israel.
Saving Sargent Bergdahl
Qatar was eager to save Sgt. Bergdahl from captivity because it needed a small victory to mitigate its relative isolation in the region and to prove that it is still useful to the U.S., something that will not be lost on its alienated Arab neighbors. Interestingly, the U.S., which realized the extent of Qatar’s political vulnerabilities following the public dispute with its Gulf neighbors, and the unprecedented withdrawal of ambassadors from Doha, moved quickly to extract some concessions from it. According to a well-placed official source, the U.S. pushed hard to get a strong commitment from Doha that it will stop completely arming the radical Islamist factions in Syria and that it will coordinate its activities there with the U.S. and its allies. The source said that preliminary indications show that the Qataris have kept their promise.
Powerful city-states in history
Civilizations are born and always flourish in cities. Some of the best known and most influential city-states that shaped Western Civilization developed on the coastline of the Mediterranean basin dating back to 1000 BC with the emergence of the Phoenician city-states such as Byblos, Tyre, Sidon, and, Arwad, on the Lebanese and Syrian coasts. Like all maritime city-states in history, the Phoenicians who mastered navigation and the building of fast ships, were the greatest traders of their time. The city-states that flourished later on in ancient Greece such as Athens, Corinth, and Thebes and later in medieval and Renaissance times in Italy such as Venice and Genoa owed much of their prosperity to maritime trade which necessitated the establishment of distant outposts and colonies.
Some of these city-states like Tyre, Carthage and Sparta were known for their military prowess, others like Athens were known for their production of knowledge, still others like Venice for their art. The city-states, particularly those who belong to the same region and or culture, often let their economic competition lead to violent conflicts. The Peloponnesian war, between Athens and Sparta, was “A war like no other,” as historian Victor Davis Hanson argues in his book of the same title, and shaped the subsequent history of Greece and the Western world and gave us The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, arguably the best historian of antiquity, and one of the best in history.
City-states in modern times
In the 20th century, some city-states flourished in Asia such as Hong Kong and Singapore, and since the 1960’s in the Gulf with the rise of Kuwait city and later on Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar. And like all maritime city-states in history, they thrive on trade and on being centers of finance and banking as well as important energy producers particularly in the Gulf.
Among the Arab city-states, Qatar stands as the one driven by an outsize ambition that leads it repeatedly to punch above its weight. Before 1990 Kuwait played an important role politically and economically and contributed to the development of other countries. At one time Kuwait was the most vibrant society in the Gulf. Unfortunately, Kuwait has yet to recover from Saddam Hussein’s invasion, and has become obsessed with its own parochial domestic disputes and squabbles.
Among the Arab city-states, Qatar stands as the one driven by an outsize ambition that leads it repeatedly to punch above its weight
Dubai has developed into a unique and thriving magnet for international business, trade, tourism, services and finance. Abu Dhabi developed somewhat in similar fashion but without the flamboyance of Dubai and since it is the seat of political power it is playing a growing political role in the region and beyond. The UAE has a military contingent in Afghanistan and was militarily active in the conflicts in Bosnia and Libya.
Qatar and Venice
It is a stretch to compare Qatar to Venice at the height of its influence and wealth as the greatest of Italian city-state in Medieval and Renaissance times. Superficially they have few things in common. Both enjoyed fabulous wealth because of trade in the case of Venice and hydrocarbons in the case of Qatar. Both wanted to play major political roles in their region and beyond and both shared in the willingness to spend their resources to accumulate more influence and power. Both Venice and Qatar financed and used foreign powers and groups.
But there are also major differences. Venice developed a complex system of governance and although the ruler known as the Doge was powerful he had to contend with scores of powerful merchant families. In Qatar decision-making is in the hands of a few people. Venice developed indigenous art and distinct architecture and played a major role in the Renaissance; Qatar (like other Gulf cities) is trying to establish branches of American universities, not realizing that great universities flourish in open and liberal cities.
The sack of Constantinople
At its heyday, Venice acted like a superpower in the northern Mediterranean and feverishly competed commercially with Constantinople. Venice, like other Italian city-states and Constantinople benefited from the Crusades campaigns which opened up markets in the East for their goods. In its drive to control more territory and to crush Constantinople, Venice financed the Fourth Crusade, ostensibly to land in Egypt then moves to wrestle Jerusalem from Muslim hands, but the real objective was more sinister. On April 13, 1203, the combined forces of the Crusaders and the Venetians “took possession of the greatest Christian city in the world.” The sacking and the looting and the fires that ensued were so thorough that the city never recovered its former glory, even after the Byzantines recovered it decades later.
Qatar’s funding of the Islamists in Libya and Syria and its direct military participation in the fall of Tripoli while not on the same level as Venice’s role in the fall of Constantinople to the Crusades and the mercenaries, it is nonetheless emblematic of its intention to play a role incommensurate with its size and capabilities. Time will tell if the current setbacks will lead to serious introspection in Doha or the old policies will resume after a short interregnum.

Jihadists Seize Hostages at Campus in Iraq's Ramadi, 59 Dead in Mosul

Naharnet/Jihadists took students and staff hostage at Anbar University in the Iraqi city of Ramadi Saturday, with one of the prisoners saying they had been threatened. That prompted an assault by security forces to free them.Gunmen from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant infiltrated the university from the nearby Al-Tasha area, killed its guards and then blew up a bridge leading to its main gate, police said. An Agence France Presse journalist said special forces spearheaded an assault to retake the campus, and reported hearing heavy gunfire. Around 1,000 students managed to escape earlier, while more fled during the military operation, which also included soldiers and police, the journalist said. It was not immediately clear how many students are registered at the university, or how many of them are still being held. Before the military assault began, a student telephoned from inside the university to say she and other women were ordered to gather in one place, after which the leader of the militants addressed them. "We will teach you a lesson you will never forget," she told AFP he had said to them. Moreover, clashes between Iraqi security forces and militants killed 59 people in Mosul on Saturday, as heavy fighting in the northern city entered its second day, officials said.
The dead comprised 21 police and 38 militants, a police lieutenant colonel and a mortuary employee said. Fighting broke out in Mosul on Friday morning and continued into the night, while twin suicide bombings targeted a minority group east of the city and soldiers shot dead suicide bombers to its south. At least 36 people were killed in Friday's violence in Mosul and elsewhere in Nineveh province.
In December, a crisis broke out in the desert province of Anbar, west of Baghdad, when security forces dismantled a longstanding Sunni Arab protest camp near provincial capital Ramadi.
Anti-government fighters subsequently seized control of parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah, to its east, and security forces have so far failed to drive them out. The United Nations said on Friday that the conflict in Anbar is believed to have forced nearly 480,000 people from their homes. They join some 1.1 million others displaced by past years of violence in Iraq. On Friday, heavy fighting between militants and security forces and twin suicide bombings targeting a minority group, killed at least 36 people in the northern province of Nineveh. A day earlier, militants seized several parts of Samarra in a major assault that was only repelled after house-to-house fighting and helicopter strikes. Violence is running at its highest levels since 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed in sectarian conflict between Iraq's Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority. More than 900 people were killed last month, according to figures separately compiled by the United Nations and the government. So far this year, more than 4,300 people have been killed, according to AFP figures. Officials blame external factors for the rise in bloodshed, particularly the civil war in neighbouring Syria. But analysts say widespread Sunni Arab anger with the Shiite-led government has also been a major factor. Source/Agence France Presse

Poroshenko Sworn in as Ukraine's President, Vows Unity
Naharnet/Western-backed tycoon Petro Poroshenko vowed Saturday to avert civil war and mend ties with Russia after being sworn in as Ukraine's fifth post-Soviet president with the nation facing disintegration and economic collapse. Poroshenko took the oath of office one day after holding his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin since a May 25 election victory entrusted him with taming a bloody crisis that has shaken the post-Cold War order and redrawn Europe's map. The 48-year-old magnate -- dubbed the "chocolate king" for his popular brand of sweets -- first asked a packed session of parliament to pay a minute of silence for the 100 people killed in three days of carnage in Kiev that led to the February ouster of Ukraine's Kremlin-backed regime.
The self-made billionaire then vowed to give an amnesty to any insurgents who had "no blood on their hands" as the first step in a peace initiative designed to save the nation of 46 million -- which saw its Crimea peninsula annexed by Russia in March -- from splitting further along ethnic lines. "I am assuming the presidency in order to preserve and strengthen Ukraine's unity," Poroshenko said in an address that alternated between Ukrainian and Russian. "The citizens of Ukraine will never feel the blessing of peace and security until we resolve our relations with Russia."
But Proshenko also added that he would never accept Russia's seizure of Crimea or attempts to divert his pro-European course. "Crimea will remain a part of Ukraine," Poroshenko said firmly.
"Ukraine now returns to its natural European condition that so many generations have longed for."Saturday's solemn ceremony was attended by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy along with more than 20 other dignitaries from countries that back Kiev's new Westward drive.
"All neighbours... need to respect (Ukraine's) sovereign choices, including stronger ties with the European Union and its territorial integrity," Van Rompuy said in a clear reference to Russia.
But Moscow was only represented by its acting ambassador to Kiev -- a telling sign of how far relations between the two neighbours have slipped since the February revolt.
- Thankless job -
Poroshenko is one of Ukraine's more experienced politicians who held senior cabinet posts under both the Western-leaning government that followed Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution and the Moscow-friendly leadership of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.
That pragmatic approach has instilled hope among many Ukrainians that he will be able to resolve an eight-week secessionist drive by pro-Russian militants in the eastern rust belt that has claimed 200 lives and grown even more violent since his election. Poroshenko -- who has vowed to give up direct ownership of his holdings to avoid a conflict of interest -- must also address a two-year recession and tackle endemic corruption that has turned Ukraine into one of Europe's poorest countries and has fed broad public discontent.
A step in that direction may have been taken in Normandy Friday when he shook hands with Putin on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations that were haunted by the spectre of an outright civil war breaking out on the European Union's eastern edge. Moscow had previously said it was ready to work with the new president but stopped short of explicitly recognising him as the legitimate leader of the Ukrainian people.
U.S. President Barack Obama -- who met Putin for 10 minutes on Friday despite earlier efforts to isolate the hardline Kremlin chief -- told NBC Nightly News that Russia had to recognise Poroshenko as legitimate if it wanted to resolve the flaring conflict.
"Mr Putin should be working directly with Mr Poroshenko and the government of Ukraine to try to resolve differences between the two countries," Obama stressed. Russia also needs "to stop financing and arming separatists who have been wreaking havoc in the eastern part of the country," Obama added. Mounting tensions in the rebel regions have seen Kiev concede that it was losing control of three border posts that were being routinely attacked by the rebels. Insurgents on Friday shot down a Ukrainian military cargo plane near Slavyansk -- a rebel stronghold where many of the 120,000 residents have been forced to spend nights in basements because of the ceaseless fighting. A military spokesman said Saturday that "some crew members" managed to evacuate in time. But he gave no casualty figure.
- 'Positive' Normandy talks -
Putin sounded a surprisingly upbeat note after his meeting with Poroshenko.
"I cannot but welcome the position of Poroshenko on the necessity to end the bloodletting immediately in the east of Ukraine," he told reporters in France. "I cannot say for sure how that can be implemented in practical terms, but overall it seemed to be to be the right approach," Putin said. "He has a plan, which -- it's probably better to ask him. He explained it quickly to me." "Ukraine must demonstrate its good will. The repressive operation must be stopped," said Putin. "I hope that will happen, and if that happens, the conditions would be there for the development of our relations in other areas, including economic."But Putin also warned that Russia would have no choice but to slap trade restrictions on Ukraine should it proceed with plans to sign an historic economic treaty with the European Union in the coming weeks.Source/Agence France Presse

Palestinians Want Hamas In, but Want Peace Talks Too

David Pollock/Washington Institute
West Bank and Gaza residents alike still appear more receptive to Fatah than Hamas viewpoints. New findings from three public opinion polls in the West Bank and Gaza show overwhelming support for a new "unity" government backed by both Hamas and Fatah -- even as a narrower majority still supports peace talks and peaceful coexistence with Israel. The idea of a Palestinian unity government, as announced this week, enjoys very broad backing among West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, according to a reliable poll by Ramallah-based Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) conducted May 24-26. Three quarters in both territories support integrating Fatah and Hamas security services and including Hamas in the Palestine Liberation Organization. An even larger majority supports reconciliation even if it results in U.S. economic sanctions or Israeli political pressure. In a related finding, overall optimism has surged 15 points since March, with an especially large jump in Gaza, from 46 to 71 percent. At the same time, a bare majority of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians support the statement by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas that the new government "would recognize Israel, renounce violence, and honor all previous international agreements." But the margin in favor is somewhat higher in the West Bank (54 percent vs. 40 percent) than in Gaza, where the public is almost evenly split on this question. A narrow majority of Palestinians also still accept "the principle of a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel." Here again, the margin of support is significantly higher in the West Bank (58 percent vs. 39 percent) than in Gaza (52 percent vs. 47 percent). An intriguing, counterintuitive finding is the perceived "most significant impediment" to reaching this solution: it is the issue of Jerusalem, rather than of refugees -- with the margin even higher (46 percent vs. 33 percent) among the largely refugee-origin Gazans.
More immediately, half the Palestinian public still backs the resumption of peace talks, with very little difference between West Bank and Gaza opinion. That proportion rises to a surprisingly high two thirds if Israel accepts two Palestinian conditions: a fourth round of prisoner releases and a three-month settlement freeze. A mere 15 percent of West Bankers, and 24 percent of Gazans, favor "the approach advocated by Hamas" to achieving Palestinian independence.
The continuing interest in peace talks helps explain why, in a separate Zogby poll also conducted last month, two thirds said "it is important for their country to maintain good relations with the U.S.," even though a mere 29 percent had a favorable opinion of the United States. Sixty percent said the United States is at least "trying" to develop good ties with their country. Those figures are confirmed by the AWRAD survey, which shows 55 percent terming the United States "important to the conduct of negotiations and the eventual resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
But the most urgent task in Palestinian eyes, especially in Gaza, is a new national election: this is the priority for 69 percent of Gazans and 45 percent of West Bankers. By contrast, only around 10 percent overall select any of the other options offered: resuming peace talks, joining more United Nations and international bodies, nonviolent resistance, or violent resistance. If an election were held, Abbas and Fatah would be favored over Hamas candidates by margins of around 45 percent to 15 percent -- although nearly 40 percent of Palestinians say they are either undecided or unlikely to vote.
Remarkably, when asked about the most important priorities for U.S.-Arab relations, under half (47 percent) of Palestinians picked the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Nearly as many (39 percent) chose ending the Syrian conflict or helping Syrian refugees. That sentiment is broadly in line with results from the April Pew Research Center poll in the territories, showing two thirds of Palestinians strongly disapproving of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. These data demonstrate that a U.S. policy of holding the new Palestinian government to previous commitments regarding nonviolence and negotiations with Israel would enjoy majority acceptance at the Palestinian popular level. Moreover, looking forward, the West Bank and Gaza publics both appear more receptive to the Fatah than to the Hamas side of their new national unity arrangement. This could offer U.S. policymakers some prospect of working to preserve the option of a two-state solution, despite Hamas's continuing rejection of that ideal.
**David Pollock is the Kaufman Fellow at The Washington Institute and director of Fikra Forum.

The Turkish–Israeli Reconciliation Dossier

Samir Salha/Asharq Al Awsat /Friday, 6 Jun, 2014
Just hours after the recent Soma mine disaster, the Israeli embassy in Ankara cancelled an Israeli Independence Day ceremony out of respect for Turkey’s tragedy. Tel Aviv also announced that it was ready to provide any technical or medical support Ankara needed to speed the rescue operations. This was a show of respect for the feelings of the Turkish people, and came in response to the help provided by Turkey a few years before during the deadly Mount Carmel forest fires, when Turkey sent two firefighting aircraft to Israel.
One week later, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded angrily to attempts by media affiliated to Fethullah Gülen’s movement claiming that the prime minister had used an anti-Israeli slur. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) promptly denied the reports, with the prime minister personally thanking Tel Aviv for its show of solidarity during a difficult time for the country.
It is well known that US President Barack Obama has strongly supported Turkish–Israeli rapprochement. He persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pick up the phone and offer an official apology for Israel’s role in the Gaza Flotilla raid. Netanyahu did this despite the fact that a number of international reports, including the UN’s own Palmer Report, ruled that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was legal. So why did Netanyahu forget these justifications and risk picking up the phone to call Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to apologize, unless Israel was well aware that it had more to gain by following this course of action? Netanyahu’s call happened after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations. On the Turkish side, these were led by intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, under the direct supervision of Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç. The Israeli side was led by Netanyahu adviser Dore Gold and national security adviser Yossi Cohen, in coordination with the prime minister himself. If there was no real desire to resolve matters this time around, Arınç would never have said that “Turkey welcomes full normalization and returning relations between the two countries to what they were before,” in comments to an Israeli newspaper last year. However what Arınç conspicuously did not say at the time is that both Ankara and Tel Aviv had separately come to the realization that they were paying a heavy price for the deterioration in their relations. He hinted that “full normalization” would improve the chances of regional peace, on the implicit understanding that certain regional players, such as the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, Iran and the Maliki government in Iraq, were benefiting from this state of Turkish–Israeli tension. Thus we can see there are regional reasons behind this desire to end the estrangement—not to mention bilateral motives for conciliation and normalization. We must look at the profit-and-loss lists of both Israel and Turkey to understand their latest reconciliation. This could start with the alliances that appear to be growing stronger at their expense. Both Turkey and Israel require greater coordination in the region, prompting them to revive an old strategic alliance. There is a general belief in both Turkey and Israel that they could pay a heavy price for the deterioration in their relations and that reconciliation would include coordination on more than one regional dossier, including Syria, Iran and Cyprus.
Reconciliation will reopen Turkish airspace to Israeli aircraft, allowing the Israeli Air Force to carry out long-distance fight training. This would also speed up the implementation of the Turkish–Israeli energy corridor—transferring Israeli gas through Turkey to Europe, while also reducing Ankara’s own reliance on Russia and Iran for gas. The first practical translation of the latest reconciliation efforts will no doubt include Erdoğan officially visiting Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This visit was in the works before the deterioration of relations, and rescheduling it would be a much-needed shot in the arm to the AKP leadership, as well as to residents of both Gaza and Israel.  However, amid the atmosphere of optimism, an issue arose last week that threatens to disrupt the course of the Turkish–Israeli reconciliation. The Turkish Criminal Court, which is dealing with a case relating to the attack on the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the Gaza Flotilla, ordered the arrest of four Israeli commanders allegedly involved in the raid. They went as far as to issue an Interpol Red Notice. Senior Turkish government and diplomatic sources described the timing of the court’s move as “strange.” It came more than four years after the Mavi Marmara incident, and at a time when both Tel Aviv and Ankara are seeking a hard-won rapprochement. Tel Aviv was content to describe the Turkish court’s decision as “political,” while Ankara is investigating the possibility that this is part of an attempt by the “deep state”—or, alternatively, supporters of Fethullah Gülen—to disrupt the Turkish–Israeli rapprochement.
Are claims such as this worth investigating? Perhaps, particularly given that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had earlier said that Ankara and Israel were close to reaching a final agreement on reconciliation. Could this have prompted parties that oppose the Erdoğan government to send the message, via the judiciary, that any reconciliation with Israel will not be so easily secured?
Perhaps, but again what is clear is that Turkey–Israeli relations have always been influenced and affected by their mutual relations with other states—improving or deteriorating as the situation requires. According to my understanding of the comments coming out of both Ankara and Tel Aviv over the past weeks and months, it is clear that they are now seeking to learn from the lessons from their past experiences and try to translate this onto the ground.