Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Palestinians’

Middle East Update – Qatar, Iran and terrorism

Posted by sanityinjection on June 9, 2017

I find that it’s rather difficult for those of us in the US to find quality, up-to-date analysis of what is going on in the Middle East. As it has for thousands of years, what happens in this region disproportionately affects the rest of the world. So I’m going to try to post periodic updates summarizing what you need to know with my own analysis.

SAUDI – QATAR SPAT: Perhaps the biggest story this week was the intra-Arab diplomatic spat between the small but wealthy Persian Gulf state of Qatar and a group of countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. These countries not only have suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar but have cut off land and air travel access and ordered Qataris to leave their territory. This creates a serious problem for Qatar since they import most of their food from these countries and will now have to rely on Iran and Turkey for help. The seriousness of the Saudi-led group’s intentions can be understood from the fact that the Saudis will also suffer from the diplomatic break: Qatar supplies natural gas for the Saudis and other countries in the region, and the Qataris have been kicked out of the coalition military forces fighting the Houthis in Yemen. That war is not going well for the Saudis, so you can tell they are pretty pissed if they are willing to weaken their forces there over this dispute. So what is really going on?

Basically, Saudi Arabia and the other states believe that Qatar is not only too soft on Iran, but too cozy with Islamist groups like Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Shiite groups in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The Qatari media outlet Al-Jazeera has been a long time thorn in the side of the other Arab monarchies. But the last straw came recently when Qatar paid ransom money to both Iran and al-Qaeda, which of course will be used to fund more terrorism in the region.

Ultimately, the dispute amounts to an inconvenience for the US, whose military Central Command is based in Qatar. But if the Arabs are successful in pressuring Qatar to move away from it support for Iran and other groups, that could be a positive development from the US perspective. There are reports that a minor exodus of Hamas operatives leaving Qatar has already begun.

TERROR ATTACKS IN IRAN: Also this week, the Iranian capital of Tehran became the latest victim of terrorist attacks. The timing is somewhat suspicious, coming in the wake of the Saudi media campaign linking Iran with Islamic terrorism. What better way to prove that Iran is not in bed with Sunni groups like IS and al-Qaeda than for it to be attacked by them? I’m not going so far as to claim that Iran staged the attacks as a false flag operation on their own people, but I wouldn’t put it past the terrorists to have expedited plans to attack Shiite Iran (whom they view as heretics, in many ways worse than infidels) as a way of trying to counter the Saudi propaganda effort. It’s worth noting that these attacks are the first major terrorist attacks in Iran in over 25 years.

BATTLE OF RAQQA: In Syria, US-backed coalition forces have begun their assault on the IS capital of Raqqa, even as progress continues to be made in driving them out of their other stronghold of Mosul in Iraq. Most analysts expect these campaigns to be successful in essentially ending IS as a “caliphate” or territorial power in Syria and Iraq. However, IS-affiliated groups continue to operate freely in places like Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, so the threat of terrorist attacks is far from over.

PALESTINIANS CARE MORE ABOUT JOBS AND DEMOCRACY THAN FIGHTING ISRAEL: A poll conducted last month of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza produced surprising results suggesting that public opinion among Palestinians may be more open to compromises for peace than the Palestinian leadership would like to admit. Basically, the results showed that Palestinians are more interested in being able to find good jobs and having an honest, responsible government than about issues like whether the US moves its embassy to Jerusalem. From Israel, Palestinians most want freedom of movement and more job opportunities from Israeli companies more than they care about Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Perhaps most astonishingly, 62% of Palestinians in Gaza agreed that Hamas should quit calling for Israel’s destruction and accept the idea of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

These poll results may provide some ammunition for US efforts to broker a new agreement, by calling into serious question the claims of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that they would face a popular backlash if they compromised with Israel on their positions.

For more info on these and other Middle East developments, I recommend the Washington-based Al Monitor website. You can find there up-to-date reports from each of the regions within the Middle East as well as some of the most insightful and objective analysis to better understand what is really going on underneath the spin.

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It’s a question of values

Posted by sanityinjection on October 8, 2009

Today’s complicated ethical dilemma comes to us from the Gaza Strip. Gaza, as readers will recall, is a poor and crowded area controlled by Palestinians. Its borders are tightly controlled by Israel and Egypt because the government of Gaza, run by terrorist group Hamas, sees nothing wrong with allowing missiles to be brought across those borders and fired at Israeli civilians. But I digress.

In the Gaza Strip is a small zoo called the Marah Land zoo. It offers Gaza’s children and families a chance to see some wildlife. However, the zoo can’t boast too many exotic animals, because the cost of having them smuggled across the closed border is exorbitant.

So when the zoo wanted to open a zebra exhibit, instead of paying $40,000 to acquire a real zebra, zoo officials used their ingenuity: They took two donkeys and painted them with black and white stripes. When the effect wasn’t very convincing, they replaced the black paint with women’s hair dye. The results were good enough to delight the children who visited the zoo and got a chance to see their first “zebra”. (Never mind that real zebras and donkeys differ significantly in many aspects other than their coloring.)

Now, if a zoo here in the US tried something like this, we wouldn’t hesitate to call it criminal fraud. In Gaza, though, nobody seems to mind, least of all the parents of the kids. After all, the zoo’s prices are very reasonable, and it’s not as if there is another zoo they can go to that offers a real zebra.

What this illustrates is a contrast in cultural values. In our culture, the deception is unacceptable, based on the assumption that the goal is to make money by duping people. For the Palestinians, the deception is OK, because it serves the practical goal of doing something to benefit the children of Gaza. But you have to wonder where they draw the line. Why not glue a horn to a horse’s head and call it a unicorn? That would delight the children, too, while giving them an equally false lesson in biology.  How do we suppose the children will feel if they find out that they were tricked in this way?

By the way, the article on this is almost as deceptive as the zoo itself. Reuters writes that “Gaza’s Palestinians are impoverished by their isolation under an Israeli embargo”. In fact, while the embargo certainly hurts, Gaza has been dirt-poor for a century or more, including periods when it was part of Israel, Egypt, the British mandate of Palestine, and the Ottoman Empire.

The article also fails to point out that the zoo’s owner, Mohammed Bargouthi, is one of the richest Palestinians in Gaza, having done very well for himself by stealing Western aid dollars when he was a cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority. If anyone could afford a real zebra for the Gaza strip, it would be Bargouthi. But why do that when you can scam children and be viewed as a humanitarian into the bargain?

The same people who would dress a donkey up as a zebra would not hesitate to cheat in negotiating a peace deal with Israel if it advanced their goal of an independent Palestinian state. That is not to say that there are no honest Palestinians, just to point out that honesty as a constant virtue is simply not held in the same regard in the traditional Arab culture as it is in the West. On the contrary, if you can cheat your neighbor successfully, you are admired as clever, and would not be condemned as long as your neighbor didn’t suffer too badly.

While the Israelis have plenty to answer for on their side of things, including a failure to reign in religious zealots who insist on settling in the middle of hostile Palestinians, keep the lesson of the zebras in mind when you hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Israel lacks a “credible partner” in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

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Why tomorrow’s Middle East talks will fail

Posted by sanityinjection on September 21, 2009

In the field of international relations, I don’t think there is any topic on which more nonsense is written that the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Most of the columnists and journalists who write about it have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, and as a result, most of the public is very badly informed about the reality of the conflict.

In this context, Politico’s Laura Rozen stands out for her weekend column on this week’s three-way talks between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rozen displays unusual insight in breaking down the diplomatic moves leading up to the talks and the motivations of each of the players. To sum it up: This is talking for the sake of talking, and not for the sake of accomplishing anything. For Obama, it’s the emptiest sort of grandstanding – trying to show that he is being effective on foreign policy with a show of sound and fury that signifies nothing. He wants Americans to believe that simply getting the parties talking is a great achievement.

Ultimately, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not fundamentally different from any other. It continues as long as one or both sides feel that they have as much to gain from intransigence as they do from compromise. Only when both Israel and the Palestinians feel there is more to be gained from reaching an agreement can progress be made. That’s not a condition that can be created by Obama, the United States, or anyone other than the two sides themselves. The US definitely has a role to play in helping to broker a deal if and when the parties are really ready for one. (The broad outlines of a permanent settlement of the conflict have already been sketched in great detail by non-governmental Israelis and Palestinians working together, but there is no official buy-in.) President Obama can use his clout to drive Netanyahu and Abbas to the negotiating table. But no amount of US pressure can force them to get serious about making peace if they can’t arrive there with motivation of their own.

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Above all, make sure the children suffer.

Posted by sanityinjection on March 31, 2009

The latest idiocy to come out of the Middle East reaches us from ABC News. It’s the story of Wafa Younis. Ms. Younis is an Israeli Arab who three years ago established a youth orchestra called “Strings of Freedom” in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin. So far, so good.

Then last week, Ms. Younis brought her orchestra of Palestinian youths to Israel to perform before an audience of Holocaust survivors. Also good, right?

Apparently not. Certain Palestinians, including residents of the refugee camp, have a problem with this because they refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust as long as Israel continues to oppress their own people, and it seems that some of the youths’ parents complained they were not fully informed of the nature of the performance.

So for starters, Ms. Younis is not being allowed back into the camp to lead her orchestra – allegedly for her own safety. That lie is exposed by the fact the orchestra’s rehearsal studio has been boarded up and the instruments confiscated by camp authorities.

Only in the Middle East would an orchestra performance be considered a crime. Of course the ones who suffer are the children, who had no idea they were doing anything “wrong” and now will no longer get to play their instruments. Orchestral conductors are not exactly floating around the West Bank so it will be hard to find a replacement for Ms. Younis, and that is bad news for kids who don’t have many opportunities available to them.

I fail to understand any ideology that forces its own people, and particularly its children, to suffer for what it considers to be the crimes of others. Leadership of that sort is a curse on the Palestinian people that goes far beyond anything the Israelis are doing to them.

As far as I am concerned, Wafa Younis is a humanitarian and a hero who should be honored by both Israelis and Palestinians. But that would be a different world than the one we, and the children of the Jenin refugee camp, live in.

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Palestinian suffering caused by Arabs?

Posted by sanityinjection on March 19, 2009

I urge you to read this column from the European edition of the Wall Street Journal. The author, Nonie Darwish, is an Arab who grew up in the Gaza Strip in the 1950s.

The main point of Mrs. Darwish’s article is that much of the suffering of the Palestinian people has been caused rather deliberately by their Arab “brethren” in order to keep pressure on the state of Israel. This is a point that I frequently make when discussing the Palestinian question, but I am rarely believed because the point is almost never made in the mainstream media, where most people get their inofrmation about the Middle East, so of course it must be a wild and unfounded accusation. Perhaps it will be more credible coming from an Arab with no particular reason to love Israel (Mrs. Darwish’s father was assassinated by the Israelis.)

The point here is not that Israel is blameless or has never done anything to exacerbate the situation. The point is that for 30 years the Palestinian question was aggravated and exploited by the Arab nations to further their goal of driving the Jews into the sea, which was their proposed solution to the problem. In doing so, they have actually created the minority population they continue to oppress in their own countries.

My consistent position is that Israel should always be measured against the standards set by its neighbors.  Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is no worse, and in many cases is better, than their treatment at the hands of their fellow Arabs.

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Keeping Israel in perspective

Posted by sanityinjection on January 21, 2009

With the Gaza violence finally coming to an end, at least for the time being, Israel’s public image is not in great shape. Even those who understand Israel’s need to defend themselves against Hamas rocket attacks cannot help but be dismayed by the level of devastation in Gaza, much of it suffered by ordinary Palestinians who may or may not have anything to do with Hamas.

You can bet that we will be hearing with renewed fervor the drumbeat of those who call Israel a racist state that persecutes Arabs and violates their human rights. With this in mind, I offer for consideration the recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court allowing Arab parties to stand in Israel’s upcoming elections.

The Israeli election authority had moved to ban Israeli Arab parties from taking part in the elections. These are Arab politicians who live in and are citizens of Israel proper, not the West Bank or Gaza. The Israeli parliament has long had a handful of Arab legislators.

The reason for the ban was that the Arab parties, which openly sympathize with the Palestinians, had supported terrorism by traveling to Arab nations such as Lebanon and meeting with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The ban was only on the parties themselves, and not on any individual politicians. However, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the ban by a unanimous vote.

What is the significance of this? Just that if you are an Arab living in Israel, while you may face social discrimination from the Jewish majority, your freedom of speech and due process rights are protected under Israeli law. You have the right to vote and to run for office.

In the vast majority of Arab countries, on the other hand, even Arabs do not enjoy these rights. In no country do they enjoy all of them. And God help you if you’re a non-Arab, or a non-Muslim in say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

In short, if we are going to talk about human rights in the Middle East, Israel is not immune from criticism, but it is hardly the place any rational person would single out as their primary target. Israel treats even its minorities better than Arab countries treat their own people.

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Brief comments on Israel’s action in Gaza

Posted by sanityinjection on January 5, 2009

I have no doubt that there will be plenty of opportunities in 2009 to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue in depth, so I’m not going to do that now. But I did want to briefly comment on the current military action by Israel in Gaza against Hamas.

Consider this: If a terrorist group were firing rockets from foreign soil into the US and killing civilians indiscriminately, would we take seriously calls for “restraint” in retaliating against the perpetrators? It simply is not rational to expect Israel to sit by and do nothing while their people are murdered. Thus I feel the Gaza action is entirely justified.

That having been said, it would behoove the Israelis to be as surgical as possible in their strikes. I know that’s not easy because the terrorists deliberately use civilian areas and homes as a shield for their attacks. But it is nevertheless true that every time Israel blows up somebody’s house that wasn’t a terrorist, they create new terrorists. Over the past half-century we have seen the Palestinian population become increasingly radicalized by poverty and deprivation of civil rights (for which their fellow Arabs are largely to blame.) It will become impossible for Israel to negotiate peace if there is no one left to negotiate with.

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Palestinian groups continue to shoot themselves in their collective foot

Posted by sanityinjection on September 9, 2008

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, offered a rare public rebuke of squabbling Palestinian factions today:

“I am extremely angry with the Palestinian organizations…Do they (the Palestinians) have a state for them to be fighting over ministerial positions? We kidded ourselves and called it the state of Palestine. It’s not a state until it obtains its full rights.”

It is highly unusual for an Arab leader to make such a statement, particularly an experienced diplomat such as Moussa. This suggests two things: 1) The level of infighting among Palestinian factions is as bad as ever, and 2) Non-rejectionist Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are serious about trying to move the peace process foward and are frustrated with the lack of unity among the very people they are trying to help.  In an even more unprecedented move, the Arab League is actually considering some form of sanctions against any Palestinian factions seen as obstructing the current efforts by Egypt to reconcile the various groups.

Sadly, the Palestinian nationalist movement, like many political movements before it, is riddled with corruption and individuals seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of the cause they claim to espouse. No one exemplified this more than the late Yasir Arafat, now viewed as the George Washington of his people.  The continued fighting also affects the attitude of the Israeli side: dismaying those who seek a genuine Palestinian partner for peace, and giving cover to the Israeli rejectionists who use it as an excuse to delay and avoid further negotiations. Similarly, Palestinian rejectionists do their best to undermine the peace process while blaming everything on the Israelis. (Ironically Hamas’ electoral success is largely due to the fact that, being fanatics, they are far less corrupt than the more moderate Fatah faction.)

When Israel and Egypt, and later Israel and Jordan, signed peace agreements, they were between UN member states that could be held accountable by the international community if they failed to live up to the terms of the agreement. (And in fact, both peace deals have been hugely successful and beneficial to both sides.) Unfortunately, the Palestinians cannot be held accountbale. Nominal Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has little sway outside his capital city and must rely on Fatah militias, who frequently have agendas of their own. And the only international leverage against the Palestinians is to withhold aid from the corrupt officials that steal it, which is then denounced on humanitarian grounds. Meanwhile, ordinary Palestinians continue to suffer, especially in overcrowded Gaza.

Article here:

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Memo to Israeli PM: Rejectionism is not helpful

Posted by sanityinjection on August 14, 2008

ABC News reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has denied rumors that he had proposed allowing a small number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel as part of a final peace settlement, in keeping eith the “right of return” which has always been a fundamental demand of the Palestinians. However, his office went a step further and said that, “under any future agreement, there will not be any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in any number.” While this may play well politically in Israel, that kind of categorical denial hurts peace efforts and encourages similar rejectionism from the Palestinian side.

The issue concerns large numbers of Palestinian families who either (depending on your point of view) fled or were forced out of Palestine in 1948 when Arab armies attacked the newly-declared State of Israel. Since that time, they have been housed in run-down, squalid refugee camps in Arab countries, some the size of small cities. The Palestinains have consistently demanded that the right of these refugees to return to what is now Israel be recognized – the so-called “right of return”.

Of course, there are tons of problems with this. Most of the houses, and in many cases, the villages the Palestinians left no longer exist. There is nowhere for them to return to. The refugees, now almost all elderly, have bred large families who would all want to return along with them. In addition to arguing that the Palestinians left voluntarily, Israel rightly points out that the refugees are still in the camps because the Arab countries (with the notable exception of Jordan) have consistently refused to allow them to integrate into their countries, fearing that would be a symbolic acceptance of the Israeli victory.

Allowing the “right of return” in any significant numbers would be impossible for Israel. It would create a huge Arab population with a high birthrate that would eventually swamp the Jewish population and have the political power to destroy Israel as a Jewish state through democratic means. Olmert’s statement is grounded in this understanding, and Palestinian negotiators are well aware of it.

On the other hand, the “right of return” is so fundamental to the Palestinian cause that it is impossible to imagine a peace settlement that does not address the issue in at least a symbolic way. And the Israelis are aware of that also. Olmert’s categorical rejection of even a symbolic right of return is basically a slap in the face for Palestinians, and that’s not how you negotiate.

Olmert will be stepping down as Prime Minister, so a new government will not be bound by his statement. But it is dismaying to see an Israeli leader deliberately sabotaging the atmosphere of peace talks for cheap political gains.

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Helping to understand why peace in the Middle East is so elusive

Posted by sanityinjection on August 4, 2008

Reuters reports that about 181 members of an influential Palestinian family in the Gaza Strip fled to *Israel*, of all places, in fear for their lives. Why? After all, for the majority of Palestinians, Israel is the enemy, a foreign occupier on their soil. Were these people traitors to the Palestinian cause?

Hardly. The family in question, the Hilles clan, belongs to a Palestinian faction called Fatah, associated with the late Yasir Arafat and the current Palestinian “government” in the West Bank. Gaza, however, has been taken over by a rival faction called Hamas. Both factions want Israel out of the West Bank. Fatah,  a secular group, has, on the surface, accepted the principle of peaceful negotiations, while Hamas, an Islamic group, believes in armed struggle to drive all the Jews into the sea and reclaim all of Israel for the Palestinians. Despite these differences, both groups are essentially on the same side and both view Israel as the enemy.

And yet, the two groups hate each other so much that they continue to fight violently with each other in Gaza. Even the common enemy isn’t enough to unify them. Thus, the Hilles fled to Israel because they knew that Hamas planned to execute them, whereas at the hands of the hated Israelis they could expect to be treated lawfully and even with some rights as refugees.

So what did the “enemy” Israelis do? They decided that the best thing to do with the Hilles would be to provide transportation for them to the West Bank, where they would be safe under the authority of the Fatah-controlled government. But Fatah initially said, “Send ’em back, we don’t want them.” According to Fatah, the Hilles, you see, had not done *enough* to fight the Hamas takeover in Gaza. (These people really can’t win.) An *Israeli* civil rights group had to intervene to keep most of them from being sent back, and the Fatah authorities finally agreed to allow the majority to come to the West Bank.

The point of all this is that there are too many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are only too happy to hate and kill each other just as well as they hate and kill Israelis. Turning over the occupied territories to such as these is asking for the kind of violence and chaos we have seen in Lebanon and Iraq. When the Israelis sit down to talk peace with Palestinian “President” Abbas, they point to all this and say, “How can we possibly trust a Palestinian state to guarantee the security of Israel when you can’t even keep your own people from killing each other?”

The ultimate losers, of course, are the many Palestinians who want nothing more than to live, work, and raise their children in peace.

Full story:

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