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CHALLENGE is indexed by the Alternative Press Index.
The Saudis and the Arab spring
Yacov Ben Efrat
The entire world was astonished when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embarked on a sweeping crackdown and purged some of the kingdom's most important princes and businessmen. Within a day, he announced the creation of an âAnti-Corruption Committee.â Saudi Arabiaâs billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was arrested along with at least ten other princes, several government ministers and former ministers, as well as two of the late King Abdullah's sons. They have been corralled into a luxurious hotel once frequented by Saudi sheikhs. This is indeed a coup. Politicians and commentators are crossing fingers for the young prince in the hope that this gambit pays off, and that Mohammad bin Salman will succeed in taking control of all branches of power that are now held by the 15,000 members of the House of Saud.more...
quot;The government is dragging us into war," cautioned Maj. Gen. (res.) Amiram Levin in Yediot Aharonot (October 22), warning that âany person with eyes in his head must mobilize to end this governmentâs term before we reach a disaster." It seems that Levin is asking Israelis to give more than they can. Netanyahu is popular, and apparently those who have "eyes in their heads" are a minority. Further, it is doubtful whether Levin's eyes were always open. If they were, he might have awakened much earlier when there was still time to prevent the calamity. The Syrian crisis was not born last week.
have not seen Shmulik Maozâs film Foxtrot, nor his earlier one Lebanon, but that wonât prevent me from talking about them because after all, we are dealing here exclusively with politics. Nor have I seen the last two films by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, The Insult, which has just been released, and The Attack from 2012. The four films - two in Hebrew and two in Arabic - are much more connected than we think.
urricane Irma, rapidly approaching the coast of Florida, is a meteorological phenomenon. But its political implications are equally far-reaching.
he humanitarian situation in Gaza is on the verge of exploding in our faces. But commentators continue to reassure us that Hamas has no interest in another round of war. In Israel, we want this summer to pass quietly. At least four governments are responsible for the humanitarian disaster in Gaza: the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas, Israel and Egypt - each helping to bring Gaza to the brink of collapse.
arkness envelops Gazaâliterally. Israel has limited the supply of electricity to two and a half hours per day. It is questionable whether there is a place in the world where people would keep quiet under such circumstances, but Gazans challenge all possible conventions. Itâs as if they had returned in time to 1948, when they crowded into refugee camps. There is no humanitarian disaster in Gaza, says Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Food drips through the Israeli intravenous tube straight into the Gazan stomach. Admittedly, the water is foul, yet an optimist can claim that Ramadan meals are romantic by candlelight.
bout 15,000 people gathered in Rabin Square to mark 50 years of Occupation and call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One by one, leaders of the peace camp took to the stage, from âBujiâ Herzog to Ayman Odeh, as President Abu Mazenâs message echoed in their ears: "There is no stronger voice than the voice of a just and comprehensive peace, just as there is no stronger voice than the right of nations to self-determination and freedom from the burden of Occupation. The time has come to live â both you and us â in peace, harmony, security and stability. The only way to end the conflict and the fight against terror in the region and the world is a two-state solution based on the June 1967 borders, Palestine by Israelâs side.â Strong words intended to breathe life into a camp that has lost faith in itself and continues to believe in the slogan of âtwo states,â which has become obsolete and has no way of being realized.
he Palestinian prisonersâ hunger strike led by Marwan Barghouti has global repercussions. The Israeli political-security cabinet discussed the issue in light of the strike's potential to ignite widespread unrest in the West Bank and sever the âidyllicâ security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel.
he Hebrew version of this article was published several hours before the United States attacked the Syrian airport near the city of Homs with Tomahawk cruise missiles. This was President Donald Trump's response to Bashar al-Assad's use of deadly sarin gas. Though the response is clearly a message of deterrence, the fate of the Syrian people is not Trump's only concern; he also wants to demonstrate the contrast between himself and his predecessor Barack Obama. It is also his desire to shrug off the cloud of suspicion that has haunted him since taking office, namely the FBI investigation into his team's collusion with Russian president Vladimir Putin. It is important to define who is responsible for the overall tragedy in Syria, and especially to address the impact of Trumpâs policy as it stood before the images of horror from Idlib began flooding TV screens, newspapers and the social networks.
ason Greenblatt is undoubtedly an intriguing personality. Beneath his black skullcap lies a shrewd real estate dealer who knows marketing and is skilled in identifying business opportunities. Greenblatt dons or doffs the skullcap according to the occasion. On March 19, 2017, he participated (without skullcap) as an observer at the Arab League Conference on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. But returning home, via Ben-Gurion Airport, Greenblatt accepted the blessing of the head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, where the skullcap returned to his head.
ith the words "There is no clear policy toward Gaza," the Israeli State Comptroller summed up his criticisms against the Netanyahu government in a recent report on Operation Protective Edge. This claim is baseless. The humanitarian disaster in Gaza testifies to a very well-calculated policy, which is played out daily. The strategy guiding the Netanyahu government is to prevent at all costs the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. The way to reach this sacred goal is to preserve the split between Fatah and Hamas. Operation Protective Edge, which began in July 2014, was the result of a clear policy to thwart the unity government that Fatah and Hamas had recently established.
n Feb. 6, 2017, Israel's Knesset enacted the âLegalization Law,â dubbed by its opponents the "Theft Law." The vote was 60 to 52. The law "legalizes" housing units built by settlers on private Palestinian land. This was after enforcement of a High Court decision to raze homes built on such land in the Amona outpost (and some in the settlement of Ofra are slated for similar treatment). The decision could affect more than 2000 settler homes builtâsay settler leadersâaccidentally on private land.
There will be nothing because there is nothing.â That is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahuâs response to the ongoing investigations against him. Well, there will be something because there is something. Gifts received by Bibi Netanyahu and his family were âgivenâ because he demanded them. In addition, the corrupt deal initiated by Netanyahu with Yediot Aharonotâs publisher, Arnon âNoniâ Mozes (âyou scratch my back and Iâll scratch yoursâ) is not kosher. But it is doubtful whether thereâs enough in the two investigations to topple Netanyahu. Bibi has a firewall not because he lacks opponents (actually there are many within and outside of his party, and the media are not letting him off the hook), but because his opponents see no credible alternative to his rule. Also, his government is stable, the economy is doing well, and security tensions are bearable; as a result, Netanyahu is not getting flack from his base.
n Friday, a "diplomatic assault" occurred when the United States abstained rather than veto a UN Security Council Resolution on the Israel/Palestine question. This resolution says that settlement activity constitutes a "flagrant violation" of international law and has "no legal validity." Netanyahu was quick to accuse Obama of coordinating moves with the Palestinians. He slammed the Security Council, charging hypocrisy in light of the UNâs utter helplessness to end the genocide in Syria and South Sudan. Netanyahu is right. The settlement enterprise and the Israeli occupation are overshadowed by the terrible events perpetrated in Syria by Assad, Iran and Russia. But Netanyahuâs hypocrisy was exposed. In the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot (December 27, 2016), Ronen Bergman reported that Israel was absent from the UN General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for the establishment of an international mechanism for collecting evidence of war crimes in Syria. It was Netanyahu who gave the order to skip the vote despite the recommendation of the Israel Foreign Ministry to favor it, saying it was a moral issue of the first order.
he fall of Aleppo is viewed in Israel as a great victory for Bashar Assad, and as the first step towards the resumption of his control over Syria. Idlib, still in rebel hands, is next in line. After Idlib is pounded to smithereens, Russian and Syrian aircraft and the Shiite militias will head south to restore order to the part of the Golan Heights that Bashar used to hold. Then the Redeemer will come to Zion. But if you take a closer look at how Aleppo fell, it is not clear that Assad is indeed on his way to regain control over Syria. On the contrary, at center stage in the unfolding picture are Putin, Khamenei, Nasrallah, Erdogan and Netanyahu, while Assad has been shunted to the background. The powers determining the future of Aleppo in particular, and of Syria in general, are the Russians and the Iranians. Assad legitimized their intervention along with that of various militias operating on their behalf.
he extreme right-wingers raised their arms in the traditional Nazi salute, chanting "Heil Trump!" The Tea Party recorded a historic achievement, but this was not only a triumph for the American right-wing. Benjamin Netanyahu and his extreme right-wing allies in Israel were also celebrating. On that fateful Tuesday, the Kremlin was biting its nails in anticipation of a Trump victory. Putin openly welcomed the prospect of Donald Trump in the White House.
our months ago, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore forecast the victory of Donald Trump. He listed five main reasons to explain why Trump would win, and all of them have come true, one by one.
s expected, when the Joint List of four Arab-dominated parties boycotted the funeral of Shimon Peres, the result was fanfare and headlines. Opinions about this conspicuous absence are divided in both the Arab and Jewish sectors. The arguments miss the real question, though: What is the political significance of this boycott? What did Ayman Odeh (head of the Joint List) hope to achieve? Peres had critics among both Arabs and Jews, from Likud supporters to some on the Left. There is little doubt that Odehâs action increases the separation between Jews and Arabs. It is a gap that has already been widened by politicians on all sides: Netanyahu and Miri Regev excel at cultivating it, but Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog have also been known to do so.
or more than a week, Syrian and Russian aircraft have bombarded and terrorized the city of Aleppo, killing men, women and children. Assad ordered an aerial and infantry assault to win the war. Ground troops composed of Iraqi militiamen, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, Assad's militias, and Russian elite units besieged the city. In the last week, more than 200 people died in Aleppo, and over 2000 were injured. They are being treated by 30 doctors who chose to stay in the city. Hospitals, water pumps and rescue centers were mercilessly bombed by bunker busters and barrel bombs to bring about the final surrender of the city's 250,000 residents. Led by Assad, who championed the slogan "Assad, or the country burns", the war now has claimed half a million dead.
ollowing Netanyahu's Facebook video on September 9th, in which he dubbed as ethnic cleansing any attempt to remove Israeli settlements from the West Bank, he received thousands of likes and much commentary in the media. Pundits tried to guess what had motivated Netanyahu to make a video so surreal and irrational, in which he lashed out against the whole world, a world that opposes the occupation and settlements and views them as a crime against humanity. The problem is that the commentators and journalists are unable to ask the person elected by the public what motivated him. Netanyahu recently invited some of them to closed, private meetings, âbriefed" them, but refused to answers questions or give interviews. On the other hand he acts as if heâs an ordinary citizen who shares his thoughts on social media, as implied at the end of the video - "Itâs about time someone said it. I just did."
quot;Trump is unacceptable. Why are you still endorsing him?â Obama asked members of the Republican Party one hundred days before the next presidential election and six months before leaving office. It is a completely legitimate question, but it is no less legitimate to ask: How did the world's most important superpower get to a point where Donald Trump became the Republican presidential candidate after easily trouncing all other rivals? How can it be that after almost eight years, Obama leaves behind a conflicted, angry and divisive country in which one candidate constitutes a danger not only to America, but to the entire world?
gainst the backdrop of successive wars between Israel and Gaza, a storm is raging around the recent reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey. Two Israeli families whose dead sons are in the hands of Hamas accuse Netanyahu of abandoning them because he did not condition the reconciliation on Hamas' return of the bodies (the assumption being that Turkey could pressure Hamas). In another development, referring to Israel's raid in 2010 on a Gaza-bound flotilla from Turkey that was meant to break the blockade of Gaza, Hanin Zoabi (Joint List) caused uproar in the Knesset when she referred to the soldiers who killed nine flotilla members as âmurderers.â An interesting question is this: what led Netanyahu and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, two leaders whose worldviews are light years apart, to reach an agreement that once seemed unattainable?
hey are not just four generals. They are former chiefs of staff, and they are outraged by the fact that their intractable prime minister has appointed an inexperienced Moldavian as defense minister. Of this man it is said: âThe closest he ever came to a bullet was a tennis ball whistling past his ear." The amply decorated generals are soldiers of demonstrated heroism: this one held his fire till he saw the whites of the enemy's eyes, that one took part in assassinating Abu Jihad on the shore of Tunisia. In stark contrast, the newly appointed defense minister immigrated, settled in the West Bank, and got rich; his heroism has been confined to stonewalling numerous police investigations for corruption. The contrast between Avigdor Lieberman and the group of military men (Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz and Ehud Barak) could hardly be stronger.
ore than a week has passed since former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon dropped his political bombshell and slammed the cabinet door in Netanyahu's face. He was replaced by Avigdor Lieberman and the coalition was enlarged by five seats. It seems Netanyahu got the ultimate prize: governmental stability. But it's not all a bed of roses. Environment Minister Avi Gabbai (of the Kulanu party) resigned in protest over Lieberman's appointment. Along with the simmering rage of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who covets the Defense Ministry, this helped exacerbate the conflict within the government. For the time being, the question of the Labor Party's inclusion in the coalition is still on the agenda.
t was hard to anticipate the sudden inclusion of right-winger Avigdor Lieberman into the government, not just because negotiations between the Labor Party's Yitzhak Herzog and PM Benjamin Netanyahu seemed a done deal, but mainly because it goes against all political logic. After the collapse of the previous government in 2014, in which Lieberman was a key player, and the stormy elections that followed, Netanyahu cobbled together a coalition of 61 MKs (the minimal number required for a Knesset majority), and since then his government has been hanging by a thread. The coalition obviously needed to be expanded. The question was the direction Netanyahu would take, toward Herzog or Lieberman. Although Lieberman is Likud's natural partner, the coalition suffered from an excess of ministers from the radical right. To deodorize, there seemed to be no way but to go with Labor (officially known as the Zionist Camp).
his week retired major-general Amos Gilad, director of the political-security division at the Defense Ministry, released a stern warning against the danger of a new war flaring up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. According to Gilad, "The political leadership [in Gaza] is supposed to call the shots, but Mohammed al-Deif (commander of Hamas' military wing) couldn't care less and does as he wishes." In other words, despite the illogicality of a war this summer, someone in Gaza could be crazy enough to start one.
wice in a single week, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon was forced to take opposing positions when relating to events that happened in his own backyard. The first time was a news item on Channel 2 that showed putative activists of "Breaking the Silence" (an organization which exposes the moral effects of the occupation on the Israeli occupation forces) recording testimonies of discharged soldiers. These "activists," it turns out, were right-wing moles; they claimed that Breaking the Silence was collecting sensitive and classified information on Israeli military operations. Ya'alon quickly called Breaking the Silence a group of traitors. Thus he joined a right-wing smear campaign against human rights organizations whose activities are perfectly legitimate.
s with his entry into Syria, Putin's departure comes as a surprise and leaves us guessing about his intentions. Today, as in October 2015, the world looks with amazement at the all-powerful Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, who appears to be the only one who knows how to capitalize on American weakness and restore Russia's international status. Indeed, there is a huge contrast between Putin, who sent planes to bomb Syrian cities, and Obama, who demurred about taking any action to implement his demands that Bashar al-Assad step aside. American passivity fueled Russian activism. So far, however, neither Putin nor Obama has taken steps to end the bloodshed and the terrible destruction in Syria.
ere are the words of Israel's Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Ze'ev Elkin, the man with the highest IQ in the Knesset.âThe current wave of terrorism is a 'promo' of what will happen after the Palestinian Authority (PA) collapses. Most scenarios that deal with the day after its President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) leaves office predict a lack of orderly succession, an internal succession struggle, anarchy and the breakup of the PA. Israeli citizens, especially [settlers] in Judea and Samaria, will pay the price for anarchy in the PA. We must prepare for more difficult attacks. The collapse of the Authority is not a question of 'if' but 'when'.â The conclusion is almost banal. Elkin sees a direct link between the âstabbing intifadaâ and the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, and rightly so. Although the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are not interested in a confrontation with Israel, they are unable to stop the wave of attacks. This is a clear sign that the PA is losing what is left of its control over the Palestinian public.
s the civil war enters its fifth year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain an understanding of the turn of events in Syria: Who is fighting whom and why? Who are the good guys and who are the bad? Before we try to untangle the knot, one thing is clear: Those responsible for the unimaginable killing and destruction are the Assad regime and its allies â Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Only Russia has the air power capable of destroying what still remains intact in Syria, as it did in Chechnya, and only Assad has a quantity of aircraft capable of spewing destruction on such a large scale. Neither ISIL (aka ISIS or DA'ESH) nor the rest of the opposition possess heavy weapons, aircraft, or ground-to-air missiles, leaving them defenseless against air strikes.
or some time now Prime Minister Netanyahu has been conducting an ongoing dialogue with his military on the future of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The background is clear: first, the latest outbreak of the âStabbing Intifadaâ shows that PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is losing his grip on the Palestinian street; second, the total diplomatic stagnation reflects Netanyahu's position that a Palestinian state will not be established on his watch. These two factors make the collapse of the PA a real possibility. But Netanyahu does not want the PA to disappear, and the PA, for its part, is committed to full security coordination with Israel. Abbas himself acknowledged that this coordination is a âsacredâ Palestinian national necessity. In light of the political stalemate, the PLO Central Committee and key Palestinian spokespersons are threatening to "return the keys" to Israel. In his last speech, however, Abu Mazen reiterated that the PA is here to stay as long as he heads it.
he words âhistoric decisionâ spill forth across Israel's political spectrum, including the Arab leadership. Yesterday, the most right-wing government in the country's history passed the largest aid program ever to its Arab sector: NIS 15 billion (ca. $4 billion). How is that possible?
he Israeli Right's crusade against the Left is gaining momentum. The movement Im Tirtzu ("If you will it"), an unofficial ideological arm of the government, decided to remove its gloves and clip the wings of human rights organizations in a campaign known as Shtulim, meaning implants or foreign agents. The campaign called for outlawing "Breaking the Silence,â an NGO that collects testimonies about military service in the occupied territories. Im Tirtzu received support from the defense minister and the education minister along with tacit approval from other government officials. There's little doubt that the refusal of the Palestinians to end their mini-intifada has motivated the Right to lash out at everything in its way.
srael is currently facing a wave of violence unknown for more than a decade. Both unnamed and undefined, it has been characterized by bodies of Israelis lying in the street alongside bodies of Palestinian children who have been âneutralizedâ by Israeli security forces. In this critical time, when US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to advance the promises made by Bibi Netanyahu to Barack Obama in Washington, the Israeli media have trouble showing interest, while the American media don't mention the visit. Bibi reneged on the promises, leaving Kerry without function. It seems as if he was here to take in the surreal scene, peer into the eyes of the Palestinians and Israelis, mumble a few words for protocol, and report back to the president.
year and a half have passed since the last meeting between Obama and Netanyahu. Meanwhile, the Middle East has changed. Obama and Netanyahu came to power in the same year, and have not stopped sparring since. The climax was a blatant attempt by Netanyahu to interfere in America's internal politics and to undermine the nuclear deal with Iran. This time around, Netanyahu came out of his meeting with the US President saying that it was "the best meeting to date."
t seems the recent âintifada of knivesâ has been the opening volley of the next election campaign. Opposition leader Isaac Herzogâs Knesset speech, in which every sentence was preceded with the words âwhen I am prime minister,â left no room for doubt. He promised a firm hand against the rebellious Palestinians, and slammed Netanyahu repeatedly for his refusal to negotiate with the Palestinians which, he said, was leading to the creation of âIsrastine.â Herzog smells blood, and he pounces feebly on the prey. He has declared unequivocally that he will not join a unity government, and during a recent special Knesset session held for Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day, he threw down the gauntlet: for the first time: he reminded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the âbalcony on Zion Squareâ from which, shortly before the assassination, Netanyahu had addressed an approving crowd that was waving posters of Rabin in SS garb.
rime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is astonished and confused, Education Minister Naphtali Bennett is hurt and bewildered. How did it come to this? The present wave of protests and stabbings causing panic and horror in Israel was unexpected. How did an âold piece of shrapnel in the buttâ (Bennett's metaphor for the Palestinians under occupation) become a threat to the heart of the nation? Itâs incomprehensible, it just canât be, it goes against all the appraisals.
ollowing the nuclear agreement with Iran, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter arrived in Israel and offered a consolation prize of aircraft and missiles to strengthen the country's security. Secretary of State John Kerry, for his part, hurried to offer a Saudi newspaper the first interview of his term, in which he reiterated that the US views Iran as an enemy and is committed to its allies in the Gulf. However, these gestures fail to convince its regional strategic allies: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to discuss military aid, and the Saudis take every opportunity to lambast the US agreement with Iran in every media outlet. US President Obama is derided as a scoundrel, as weak, as naĂŻve, as a playboy and as an intellectual, disconnected from reality, while the western powers are presented as yielding to the Iranians for money â as apparently evidenced by the German economics minister's hasty trip to Tehran just a few days after the agreement was signed in Vienna.
he Knesset was frantic over the latest flotilla sailing toward Gaza, especially because Knesset Member Basel Ghattas of the Joint Arab List was on board. The purpose, he said, was to draw attention to the siege on the Gaza Strip and "the terrible suffering of its residents." However, far from the spotlight, Israel is taking rapid steps to ease the siege, in close coordination with Qatar and through indirect talks with Hamas.
majority of 61 Knesset seats out of 120 isnât bad, but itâs not enough to govern. Coalition members who have not yet been sworn in know this well, but they rush ahead blindly nonetheless. We have almost forgotten the last elections, yet Netanyahu took a long time to get a government together. His ânaturalâ partners are already at the wheel and ready for the journey, but they too feel that the trip is likely to be short and end in disappointment.
t seems every option has been tried and the results are still the same â Bibi, like Putin and Assad, is still here and we canât get rid of him. We must qualify that comparison: Putin has absolute control of the media and liquidates the opposition, and Assad liquidates the Syrian people with bombs and starvation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, has to contend with a hostile press, but he still succeeds in charming his voters. The forces needed to defeat him simply do not exist in Israeli society. He enjoys the loyalty of the repressed, true, but the reason for his success is mostly the lack of an alternative. Bibi versus âBoujieâ (Isaac Herzog) is really not a fair fight â that was clear enough even before they stepped into the ring.
s Israelâs media began marathon broadcasts on the three abducted Jewish youths, the world was busy with just one event: the fall of Mosul into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the disintegration of the Iraqi army. There is no apparent connection between the two, but one man dreamt up a connection and made full use of it for his own political ends. That man was Israelâs imaginative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
he abduction of the three Israeli youths was the sign, and Israelâs media took up the call. Thus began the familiar routine of nonstop broadcasts, interrupted only for the World Cup. In this way a suitable atmosphere was created, and the (Jewish) people of Israel were recruited for a war to liberate the three from their captors. It is of course absurd to use overwhelming military force for an operation that requires a tweezers. The reason came to light within a few hours: Netanyahu determined that the kidnappers were sent by Hamas. An entire regiment of paratroopers swept the West Bank and carried out night arrests of 300 activists to âcrush Hamasâ infrastructure.â
l-Qaeda in Iraq, or âThe Islamic State of Iraq and Syriaâ (ISIS), to give it its current name, has taken over the city of Mosul in the north. Iraqi forces have retreated in alarm. Thus, without warning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lost a major oil-producing region and the central refinery in Baiji. Maliki quickly called on US President Barack Obama to assist by bombing the positions of the rebels as they advance on Baghdad, but Obama only reiterated his policy principles as he had expressed them during his last speech at the West Point Military Academy, when he promised the new cadets they would never set foot in foreign lands. The Nobel Peace laureate keeps himself occupied with interesting theories, but Al Qaeda is busy fighting and has managed to spread from Syria to Iraq, in the process effectively eliminating the border between the two states.
or one short moment, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has managed to bring everyone together â not merely reconciling Fatah and Hamas, but completely uniting the Israeli government which, many thought, was on the verge of collapse. People still remember Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying heâd prefer new elections over the release of Arab-Israeli prisoners, and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett threatening that his party, Habayit Hayehudi, would leave the coalition if any of these were freed. Day and night the teams negotiated â Tzipi Livni, Saeb Erekat and US mediator Martin Indyk â seeking the magic formula which would enable the talks to continue and ensure the government coalitionâs unity. Commentators regurgitated the official line that this was impossible, because Abu Mazen was not only insisting on the release of all prisoners as promised, including Israeli Arabs, but also added two new conditions: talks on the future borders and a three-month freeze on settlement construction. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuâs response was immediate: âAbu Mazen doesnât want peace!â
Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements: Contending with a regime of work permits and limited rights
by Assaf Adiv
carlet Johansson did not intend to, but when the Hollywood actress represented SodaStream, an Israeli company operating in the occupied territories, and claimed that the Palestinian workers receive the same full rights as their Israeli counterparts, she raised an international media storm. Responding to criticism that the plantâs location in occupied territory violates international law, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum claimed, âWe are very proud of our plant in Mishor Adumim. It must be understood, the plant employs both Israelis and Palestinians. All workers have equal rights. We call this an âisland of peaceââ (from Israel Hayom, 3 Feb. 2014).
ntil 2008 the boycott against Israel, known also as the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), was a marginal phenomenon. It began on July 9, 2005 when 171 Palestinian NGOs called for a boycott at an economic and cultural level. Over time, the initiative spread beyond the Occupied Territories to the wider world. But the Palestinian Authority (PA), which maintains diplomatic, security and economic ties with Israel, refused to express support (and refuses until now). The worldâs governments likewise withheld support. Here and there, a famous singer or actor cancelled a gig in Israel, and demonstrations were held abroad when Israelis performed there, but these did not have an impact on public opinion in Israel, or on its government, which regularly accused the boycotters of anti-Semitism.
or the Dutch version, click here.
ne week ago, four key activists at the human rights center in Duma were abducted. Duma is located in the suburbs of Damascus, an area under the control of the militant group âArmy of Islamâ, headed by Zahran 'Alush. Among the kidnapped is Razaan Zeituna - a central figure in the civil opposition movement, a lawyer who defends prisoners sentenced in Assad courts.
he data of the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate enormous wage gaps between men and women, as well as between Jews and Arabs. These have made headlines and caused urgent debates at the Knesset Finance Committee. Not that the gaps are surprising, but the publicity has embarrassed Israel both in its own eyes and in front of the OECD, revealing its Achillesâ heel: the larger the gaps, the more the weak sectors of the population drag the country down, and the more likely is Israel to find itself exiled from the club of the developed nations. That has been the gist of the talk in Israelâs corridors of power.
by Assaf Adiv
he Prime Ministerâs Conference on Minorities, held on Oct. 29, 2013, was entitled âGrowth in Partnership.â PM Binyamin Netanyahu and senior ministers took part, including the âbrothers in armsâ Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, as well as Education Minister Shay Piron and Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug. The speakers gave stirring speeches full of promises to boost the political and economic integration of Israelâs Arab citizens, and to dismantle barriers to enable the full business potential of the Arab sector to be used. Higher education was emphasized along with employment, real estate, and fields in which government incentives could encourage economic growth in the Arab sector.
by Assaf Adiv
ome left-wing spokespersons look to Syria and see Vietnam. They are terribly wrong. The moral and historic duty of any progressive person is to stand by the Syrian people's struggle for freedom and help them topple the genocidal Assad regime
ddressing the nation on September 10, Obama reiterated and defended the justice of his decision to attack Syria and at the same time backed away to give Russia a chance to relieve Assadâs regime of its chemical weapons. On the same day, the New York Times published an item on the US which sheds light on the presidentâs inability to convince his nation of the justice of his path.
he smoking gun, about which so much has been said over the past year, has finally appeared. The corpses of babies, scattered on the ground, left nobody indifferent. There were no signs of blood; their death was silent and cruel. The images also left no doubt as to who is responsible for the slaughter, and the use of the deadly gas. Assad's regime has been massacring its own people for over two years using conventional weapons, planes and Scud missiles. The civil war in Syria has already taken a toll of over one hundred thousand fatalities, hundreds of thousands of refugees and people displaced within their country, and two million ruined homes. This regime, as we have seen, will do anything to prolong its reign, including the use of chemical weapons, banned from use by all international conventions.
n July 19, 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The announcement did not come from Jerusalem or Ramallah, but from the Jordanian capital Amman, which has become the US State Departmentâs front line in the region. In the present tour, Kerry did not meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because it was clear to all that Netanyahu was not the one who must make the decision. The ball was in the court of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen); heâs the one being asked to accept Israelâs familiar terms â talks with no preconditions, or in other words, talks for the sake of talks, as has been the norm since the Oslo Accords were signed.
he Egyptian revolution of 2011 was a rare opportunity to drive the country towards the future by creating a democratic regime which would enable Egyptians to develop a political awareness. The Muslim Brotherhood is incapable of turning Egypt into a modern state, because its religious outlook directly opposes cultural and scientific freedom, while the oppression of women prevents Egypt from shaking off backwardness and social introversion. But this is no reason to support the generals and the military coup. The only way of contending with these issues is via democratic elections.
stanbul, and with it all the major Turkish cities, has risen against what is regarded as the dictatorship of the Justice and Development Party, led by Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan. In our consciousness, Taksim and Tahrir squares have merged, Habib Borgeiva Boulevard has become one with Al-Abasain square in Damascus, and it seems that we are witnessing yet another event of the sort we have seen since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. This resemblance derives not only from the nonviolent nature of the Turkish rallies and demonstrations, but also from the fact that their initiators are young, middle class men and women, who used social media to mobilize and publicize their activism, steering away from the traditional political parties and the self-censoring mainstream media.
t the outbreak of the revolution in Syria two years ago, the Israeli government announced that events there were none of its business and it would not interfere. Forty years of quiet on the Golan Heights had led Israel to prefer Assad over any conceivable replacement. Now, however, when the rebels rule wide areas, when the Syrian army is falling apart, and when the regime's survival is in the balance, Israeli policy appears to have shifted from passivity to active intervention.
air Lapid had hardly settled into his Knesset seat before the Finance Ministry declared war on the ultra-Orthodox, on the Histadrut, on the monopolies â in short, a world war. What the father Tommy began with Netanyahu in 2003, the well-disciplined son is completing ten years later, fulfilling his fatherâs directives. Tommy Lapid has passed away, but Netanyahu has received renewed strength to continue the process he began as finance minister in Ariel Sharonâs government. Netanyahu paid a heavy price when he lost the general elections to Ehud Olmert, but a man like Bibi doesnât despair â especially when another Lapid arrives to restore his self-confidence.
hroughout Obamaâs three day visit, we couldnât understand what the hell he came for. What brings an American president to Israel just two days after a new government is formed, while in the US a fateful debate is raging over the budget and economic policy? For three days we searched for the afikoman Obama had hidden, with no success. But just a few seconds after Obama boarded Air Force One to Jordan, the announcement went out: Netanyahu had spoken with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and apologized. The strategic relations between Israel and Turkey were renewed with Obamaâs mediation, and the US president chalked up a gigantic strategic achievement.
he history of Palestinian political prisoners is replete with struggles that have claimed many victims but that have always had two characteristics: first, they expressed a collective decision, and second, their demands were focused on improving prison conditions. In these respects, the series of hunger strikes beginning in 2012 with Khader Adnan (66 days), a series which has since included others and is now continuing dangerously with Samer Issawi (more than 200 days) is exceptional. Each strike is the consequence of a private decision, and its purpose is to force Israel to liberate the striker.
n March, after Bibi Netanyahu forms Israelâs new government, U.S. President Barack Obama intends to arrive for a first historic visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Obama wants to talk with the Israeli people, but has nothing of note to tell them. First on the American presidentâs crowded agenda will be Iran, and then Syria. Last will be the Palestinian issue, concerning which he has no new initiative.
by Assaf Adiv
hen it comes to the elections among the Arab voters, it seems that reality has stood still: as if we are not in the midst of the Arab spring, as if hundreds of citizens are not being slaughtered in Syria daily. Thus, the vast majority of the Arab voters voted for the same three traditional Arab parties: The Islamic â Tibi Bloc, The National Progressive Tajamu and the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE, also known as Hadash).
heikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatibâs declaration that he is ready to talk to the Assad regime came like a bolt out of the blue. A few days before he travelled to the Munich Security Conference, the Syrian National Coalition leader wrote on his personal Facebook page that talks would be dependent on the release of 160,000 political detainees and the return of passports belonging to opposition members who have been unable to enter their home country. On the same day, the Syrian National Council, which had been the main Syrian opposition until the National Coalition was formed, declared that the leaderâs statement did not represent the views of the opposition.
n January 15, Israelâs leading liberal newspaper Haaretz printed an unusual opinion piece. Unusual not just because it was printed in two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, which in itself was extraordinary â but also because of the content. The newspaper is doing some soul-searching born of deep despair, because for the first time in Israelâs history the election results are known to all before voting has even begun. The merger of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuâs Likud with Avigdor Liebermanâs Yisrael Beitenu has left the opposition powerless. The picture looks even grimmer in the light of the increasing strength of Habayit Hayehudi, headed by Naftali Bennett, and the disintegration of the center-left into four parties: Kadima, Hatnuah, Yesh Atid and Labor.
sma Agbarieh-Zahalka is ecstatic. For the first time she sees clearly that the way to the Knesset in Jerusalem is shorter than ever. She is convinced that this time the Daam Workers Party, which she chairs, will cross the threshold, despite the fact that tens of thousands of votes stand between success and the 2645 votes received by the party in the 2009 elections. In an interview I conducted with her before the last elections four years ago, she seemed more introverted, more serious, working diligently yet without hope. But something has changed in four years, something that even she never envisioned would happen so quickly, although she had been waiting impatiently.
ne might think that these elections are meaningless. The results are ostensibly known in advance, like a repeat broadcast of a soccer match. Thereâs a feeling of defeatism in the air, and people relate to the rightwing as they might to the weather: one can talk about it, but it canât be changed. Itâs hard to believe that just a year and half ago, summer 2011, citizens occupied the streets, new ideas blossomed, politicians appeared despicable and defeated, and Tel Avivâs youth burst out of their indifference and made their opinions known, without giving a damn for the opinions of the âadultsâ who had disappointed them so.
by Igal Sarna
rom Yedioth Aharonot, Weekend supplement, December 14, 2012
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