Palestine: the precarious present | openDemocracy

The Palestinian Authority is gazing into an abyss, and it is beating people in the streets.

While news about Palestine has been dominated in recent days by an Al Jazeera investigation into Yasir Arafat’s death, the mainstream media has largely ignored another more serious series of events. This is that the Palestinian Authority – the regime that has administered several of small enclaves within the Israeli occupied West Bank since Arafat agreed to the Oslo agreements in the 1990s - is teetering at the edge of a political and financial abyss, and that its reaction to these circumstances is the brutal suppression the general population.

Violence broke out last Saturday and Sunday when protesters - campaigning against prospective negotiations between the PA’s unelected President, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz  - were confronted by the Palestinian Security Forces and subject to vicious beatings that left several protesters badly injured. When most of the violence took place, on Sunday, approximately 200 protesters were met with a brigade of around 100 PA Security Forces in uniform and some 30-40 Mukhabarat (secret police) and plainclothes police officers that had infiltrated the crowd.

 

Syria after Ghouta: the urge to act, and the need to act wisely | openDemocracy

Regardless of how ‘surgical’ strikes are claimed to be, military action is a blunt instrument that, in this case, is on the table merely because of a poverty of alternatives.

For the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, there is no doubt that the ruling Assad regime is responsible for the horrific gas attack in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, on 21 August 2013. Given the so called ‘red line’ articulated by President Obama a year ago, and several times since, over the use of chemical weapons, it is unsurprising that western allies are preparing themselves for some kind of intervention.

The march toward engagement continues apace. French President Hollande has articulated his wish to "punish" those responsible, and according to a Reuters report rebel groups have been told to expect some kind of military action in the coming days - albeit, following last night’s vote, it now seems unlikely that Britain would participate in the first wave of any such attack. It is worth reflecting once more on the background to the conflict and considering, carefully, the possible consequences of action or inaction.

Netanyahu's clashes with Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were blessings in disguise - The i

On the face of it the Israeli prime minister should be giddy with joy. The eleventh-hour effort by the Obama administration to rescue the “two-state solution” has only given succour to the most hard-line advocates of Israeli irredentism while the incoming Trump administration promises virtually carte blanche support. But this may yet backfire.

According to a range of Obama’s top aides, the decision to abstain, rather than veto, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 – which expressed “grave concern” over the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank – was driven by the Obama-White House’s deep frustration with the Netanyahu government’s apparently flagrant disrespect for the US desire for a “two-state solution”. Moreover, Netanyahu also reacted with a variety of diplomatic snubs to other members of the security council .

 

Black Lives Matter is an opportunity for reckoning with Britain’s imperial past – Middle East Monitor

Black Lives Matter (BLM) – the anti-racism campaign made famous primarily for its protests across the US – made headlines in the UK last week with demonstrations in several locations around the country. Yet while some in the media struggle to understand the rationale behind bringing these protests to Britain, where police violence against non-whites has been far less deadly than in America, I argue that there is clearly an urgent need for anti-racist activism in Britain.

First off, we should be clear: BLM can speak for itself. It had very good reasons why it chose to undertake the protests last week and spokespeople from the campaign have been explicit about what they are during interviews with the media. I’m not attempting to rewrite those words or tell you that there were other motives at play.

 

The Chilcot report: a foregone conclusion? - Rowman & Littlefield International

The report produced by Sir John Chilcot’s public inquiry into the Iraq War was published on 6 July, 2016. Having taken seven years to produce, the report ran to more than 2.5 million words and included an executive summary of 200 pages. Though the main conclusions of the report received some coverage in the British and international media, they were quickly replaced on the front pages by more recent machinations in Westminster.

The report itself was damning about the decision, taken by the then government of Tony Blair, to take the UK into a US-led war in Iraq. Broadly speaking, Chilcot’s criticisms fall within two categories, (a) criticisms of the case that was made for war and (b) criticisms of the way in which the war was prosecuted.

Examples of the first category include: That the Blair government made the case for war with ‘a certainty which was not justified’; The case for war rested on ‘flawed’ intelligence, specifically about Iraq’s supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction; and war was not a last resort, and peaceful alternatives to war had not been exhausted; the risks of the Britain’s military campaign were not fully revealed to ministers in the UK government

 

What will the next UK PM do in the Middle East? – Middle East Monitor

There has already been much ink spilled over the potential impact of “Brexit” on the UK’s relationship with the Middle East (including several excellent articles published here on MEMO) even though – at present – there is apparently little clarity with which to work.

However, there is at least one set of variables that can be paired down in order to give at least something like a rational outline of future British policy in the region. This is, simply, who it is that will be the next prime minister of the UK and what their record suggests about the potential future actions. As of Thursday this week, the two remaining candidates are Theresa May, the home secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, a minister at the department of energy and climate change.

 

Working in Palestine: perpetual crisis in the Palestinian labour market – Middle East Monitor

As with the latest, largely symbolic, round of “peace talks” sponsored by France, discussion about real life in Palestine is frequently overshadowed by grandstanding and political abstractions. However, while diplomatic envoys busy themselves in pursuit of meaningless ways to re-label aspects of the status quo without changing anything substantive, it is possible to bring to light some of the real structural barriers to improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

By examining the current state of the Palestinian labour market, this article shows how two main factors combine to produce serious social issues of concern. These factors are (a) Israel’s restrictive and belligerent occupation, and (b) various weaknesses in the structure of Palestinian economic governance; together they produce high unemployment, low pay and the under-representation of women in the labour market.

 

It is absurd that the PA arrests, beats and detains in response to social media posts – Middle East Monitor

On Wednesday 11 May, while seeking to apply for a job in one of Ramallah’s many cafes, 26 year-old Kefah Quzmar was assaulted violently and arrested by members of the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence, a branch of the burgeoning PA security forces. Quzmar was taken away and imprisoned for nearly two weeks, during which he was denied access to a lawyer and visits by his family. Moreover, for eight days he was kept in solitary confinement and prevented from studying for his upcoming university final exams.

What was his crime? What terrible transgression did he commit to deserve such treatment? Amazingly, he had simply updated his Facebook status.

Objecting to a similar arbitrary arrest of a friend, on 21 April Quzmar wrote that the Palestinian Security Forces were “rotten”. His full post said: “Do you know why the mukhabarat [intelligence service] is a rotten agency? Because the entire PA is rotten. Seif al-Idrissi is under arrest! #FreedomforSeif”

Though the authoritarian and anti-democratic nature of the PA has been increasingly clear over the past decade since the end of the Second Intifada, this kind of episode highlights the astonishing depth of perniciousness and absurdity to which it is prepared to descend.

 

Security as emancipation in Palestine – Middle East Monitor

What does “security” mean in the context of Israel’s occupation of Palestine? According to a plethora of literature produced by Israeli and US think tanks – including recent reports by the Centre for a New American Security and a new programme by the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) – “security” remains at the core of this issue. Moreover, security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has often been cited as the only reasonably successful product of the stagnant peace process. As a recent column from the IPF articulated:

“If there is one area in which Israel has a demonstrable partner in the Palestinian Authority, it is security… the single biggest factor is the willingness of the Palestinian security forces to enforce and maintain quiet. These are forces that have been trained by the US, work in close coordination with the IDF, and spend their days keeping the West Bank quiet and effectively protecting Israeli lives. Even the most right-wing member of the Israeli government will tell you that the Palestinian security forces are one of the true success stories of the past decade.”

 

On speaking truth and voting: Free expression and Palestine – Middle East Monitor

New Yorkers went to the ballot box this week in what is likely to be the most important vote in the US presidential primaries so far. As opinion polls had suggested, there were big wins for the front-runners in each party, making it even more likely that the presidential election in November will be between Donald Trump (Republican) and Hillary Clinton (Democrat), in spite of the fact that both candidates have the ignominious achievement of record unfavourable ratings nationally.

Given the size of New York, and both the international significance and diverse demography of America’s greatest city, it is perhaps not surprising that the focus of some media attention has been on the candidates’ approaches to foreign policy. While the main Republican candidates have generally adopted an approach which is, apparently, based on the idea that they can win support by outdoing each other’s racism and xenophobia, the Democratic race has been more enlightening.

 

On speaking truth and voting: Free expression and Palestine – Middle East Monitor

New Yorkers went to the ballot box this week in what is likely to be the most important vote in the US presidential primaries so far. As opinion polls had suggested, there were big wins for the front-runners in each party, making it even more likely that the presidential election in November will be between Donald Trump (Republican) and Hillary Clinton (Democrat), in spite of the fact that both candidates have the ignominious achievement of record unfavourable ratings nationally.

Given the size of New York, and both the international significance and diverse demography of America’s greatest city, it is perhaps not surprising that the focus of some media attention has been on the candidates’ approaches to foreign policy. While the main Republican candidates have generally adopted an approach which is, apparently, based on the idea that they can win support by outdoing each other’s racism and xenophobia, the Democratic race has been more enlightening.

 

How climate change threatens the cradle of civilisation – Middle East Monitor

Late last year, archaeologists at the Slemani Museum in Iraqi Kurdistan announced an astonishing discovery. They had found fragments of a tablet detailing 20 new lines of text from the Epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the oldest work of literature known to humanity. Dating from around 2100 BC it came from one of the world’s first civilisations, the third dynasty of Ur in ancient Sumeria.

This discovery obviously served as a timely reminder of just how precious archaeological and historical heritage from the Middle East is, and how the on-going wars and disorders in the region – particularly involving Daesh, who have apparently taken pleasure in destroying pre-Islamic artefacts – are a threat to all of humanity’s cultural inheritance.

 

Political identities and thinking about ‘Springs’ differently – Middle East Monitor

Some five years on from the advent of the “Arab Spring”, the balance sheet of progress vs. setbacks is quite something to behold. With the qualified exception of Tunisia, it appears that in most cases the revolutionary processes did not achieve the kind of societal and government change that was hoped for.

According to many analyses, the “Arab Spring” is best interpreted as a threshold event demarking the end of the old order of stability and opening up a dark chasm between ancient hatreds. As I’ve discussed in an earlier article for MEMO, this hypothesis is not only flawed but is also deliberately misleading. Yet what are the alternatives to looking at the region through this lens? This is one of the essential questions explored in the forthcoming book Political Identities and Popular Uprisings in the Middle East (which I have co-edited with Dr Shabnam Holliday).