Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire
July 24th, 2014
11:40 AM ET

Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Egypt has long been viewed as a key player in the Middle East peace process – a major Arab country willing to engage with Israel while endeavoring, however begrudgingly, to advance the interests of the Palestinian people. But as the Israeli military campaign on the Gaza strip continues, it is becoming increasingly clear that Egypt’s new government might not be in a position to broker a ceasefire this time around. Indeed, Western powers might find themselves having to look for help from a different partner: Qatar.

Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has proven more adept at securing the backing of politicians and diplomats in Tel Aviv, Washington and New York for a peace initiative than it has at reaching out to Palestinians. This is especially the case as far as the leaders of Hamas in Gaza are concerned, many of whom only learned of the ceasefire proposal through media reports.

And while Hamas rejected the agreement “in its current form,” Cairo has shown seemingly little interest in genuinely appreciating Hamas’ take on the causes of the conflict or modifying the terms of the proposed ceasefire to address the longer term issues. In fact, Egypt under el-Sisi has attacked the Islamist group as part of its relentless crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, with former Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy removed from power and put on trial, hundreds of his supporters killed, and thousands more imprisoned. Over the past year, Hamas has been vilified in both official statements and public opinion, with its members banned from Egyptian soil, the Rafah border crossing between the two countries effectively shut, and hundreds of smuggling tunnels destroyed – blocking the supply of food, fuel, construction material and medicine along with weapons.  FULL POST

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Topics: Egypt • Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority
July 21st, 2014
11:06 AM ET

Brzezinski: Netanyahu 'making a very serious mistake'

Watch"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski about Israel's military operation in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on CNN told Wolf Blitzer that the invasion of Gaza was a strategy to demilitarize Gaza, explaining the use of force. But it has been quite a robust use of force…Do you think that it is going to succeed, the Israeli strategy?

No, I think he is making a very serious mistake. When Hamas in effect accepted the notion of participation in the Palestinian leadership, it in effect acknowledged the determination of that leadership to seek a peaceful solution with Israel. That was a real option. They should have persisted in that.

Instead Netanyahu launched the campaign of defamation against Hamas, seized on the killing of three innocent Israeli kids to immediately charge Hamas with having done it without any evidence, and has used that to stir up public opinion in Israel in order to justify this attack on Gaza, which is so lethal.

I think he is isolating Israel. He's endangering its longer-range future. And I think we ought to make it very clear that this is a course of action which we thoroughly disapprove and which we do not support and which may compel us and the rest of the international community to take some steps of legitimizing Palestinian aspirations perhaps in the U.N.

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Topics: GPS Show • Middle East
Iraqis don't want their country broken up
July 16th, 2014
10:57 AM ET

Iraqis don't want their country broken up

By Amal Mudallali, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Amal Mudallali is a senior scholar at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are her own.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Iraq is heading for partition. The argument is that Iraq is on the cusp of being broken into three states: a Sunni, a Shiite, and a Kurdish state to replace the current state of Iraq. But while many of the proponents of this view contend that the Iraqis themselves want this because they simply cannot live together, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunni Iraqis do not want to be separate, they want to be equal. And for the Shiite Iraqis, the definition of equal is for Iraq to remain whole, but under a Shiite-dominated government. These views may appear somewhat inconsistent, but a regional and international coalition that sees the dangers of dismembering Iraq two sides should be able to help them walk back from their positions.

I know this is possible because Lebanon, another Arab country that suffered a bloody 15 year civil war, managed to step back from the abyss through a political settlement. Thirty years after the end of that civil war, and despite the suicide bombings that have blighted the country in recent months, Lebanon is still united.

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Topics: Iraq • Middle East • Syria
A new map for the Middle East?
July 10th, 2014
03:35 PM ET

A new map for the Middle East?

Watch"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, about tensions in the Middle East.

You had a terrific piece in The New York Times a year ago that struck me in which you mapped out a new Middle East based on really, the realities of the ground. Describe for us what the new map of the Middle East looks like.

Well, in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, we saw a kind of combustible situation emerge that allowed rival ethnicities and tribes and religions begin to fight for their rights with dictators now absent from the scene. And that exploded.

Syria, of course, lit the match. And we're now seeing Syria already at least into three different pieces. And that has been explosive in rippling across borders, challenging traditional boundaries established a century ago. We see that play out in Iraq today, where we see the emergence again of at least three different parts of the country – the Kurds particularly in the north, almost kind of de facto establishing their own boundary with the rest of Iraq by deploying Peshmerga, their own militia, along that border.

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Topics: GPS Show • Middle East
Zakaria: Flare-up in Gaza violence will be hard to stop
July 8th, 2014
10:27 AM ET

Zakaria: Flare-up in Gaza violence will be hard to stop

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the escalating violence in Gaza following the kidnappings and killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in the past few weeks. This is an edited version of the transcript.

The fact that the teenager who was beaten by the Israeli Police, an American citizen – how much could that, or should that, change the U.S. posture on this unfolding very serious, potentially very deadly situation in the Middle East?

It changes it a lot. As you know, the way in which the United States reacts varies very dramatically depending on whether the people involved – whether killed, wounded, hurt – are American citizens or not. Now this means that the American embassy has to be involved. It means the State Department has to be involved. It means that potentially congressmen might get involved, senators might get involved.

And in general, there’s going to be a heightened media scrutiny, inevitably. And all of that’s going to make an already raw situation even more difficult to handle.

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Topics: GPS Show • Israel • Middle East
Repression no cure for challenge of political Islam
July 2nd, 2014
12:28 PM ET

Repression no cure for challenge of political Islam

By Dalibor Rohac, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Dalibor Rohac is a policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute. You can follow him @daliborrohac. The views expressed are his own.

The events in Iraq, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been mounting an offensive against the ill-prepared Iraqi army, raises important questions about political Islam and about the response to it by both Middle Eastern governments and the West.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the increased perception of political Islam as a major security threat led Western governments to boost support to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East as long as they were secular and therefore seen as superior to their theocratic alternatives. When the Egyptian military brought down President Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, there was a sense of relief among many observers in Washington.

Some of them may be willing to give Egypt's current military regime a pass even after its judiciary convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists for seven years for "aiding terrorists" – not to mention recently upholding death sentences for 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who allegedly organized an attack on a Cairo police station last year. Yet the repression of Islamic political movements, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, often backfires, with consequences that could be as dire as the current bloodbath in Iraq.

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Topics: Egypt • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Syria
Iraq: It’s not about us
July 2nd, 2014
12:17 PM ET

Iraq: It’s not about us

By Will Marshall, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Will Marshall is the president of the Progressive Policy Institute. The views expressed are his own.

The debate over how to keep Iraq from falling apart reveals a peculiarly American kind of self-centeredness. When things blow up abroad, we often spend more time arguing about the U.S. reaction to the crisis than what triggered it in the first place.

So it is with the stunning rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which styles itself as a resurrected “caliphate” to which all Muslims owe allegiance. Instead of focusing on how to protect Americans and our regional partners from a new jihadist malignancy, much of Washington’s political class is consumed by recriminations over who is to blame for resurgent Sunni terrorism in the Middle East.

Is it George W. Bush’s fault for invading Iraq in 2003 and cluelessly stirring up a sectarian hornet’s nest? Or did Barack Obama squander America’s costly success in stabilizing Iraq in his haste to “end” an unpopular war?

Both indictments contain a large grain of truth. But is this really the time to be pointing fingers and rehearsing bitter debates about the wisdom of the invasion, the “surge” or the U.S. exit? U.S. leaders should leave such questions to historians and concentrate instead on mustering a coherent response to the present predicament. This isn’t a naïve plea to take the “politics” out of national security – which is both impossible and potentially dangerous – or to ignore the lessons of past mistakes. But we shouldn’t let the interminable argument over whose “lessons of Iraq” should prevail get in the way of a clear assessment of the new threat.

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Topics: Foreign Policy • Iraq • Middle East
Why Saudi Arabia  needs a new defense doctrine
June 23rd, 2014
02:08 PM ET

Why Saudi Arabia needs a new defense doctrine

By Nawaf Obaid, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Nawaf Obaid is a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, and author of A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine. The views expressed are his own.

It’s hard to overstate the implications of the unfolding violence in Iraq for the prospects of stability in the Arab world. As tribal and Baathist opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s regime have joined with the jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to seize major Sunni urban centers such as Mosul, the Iraqi army has simply melted away, consistently failing to offer even nominal resistance.

The problem for Iraq’s neighbors is that the current turmoil looks set to evolve into something even more destabilizing – a sectarian conflict and perhaps civil war that pits Sunnis against Shias. Indeed, the possibility of this only increased with al-Maliki’s apparent willingness to once again turn to Iran for support. But in his efforts to bolster his own Shia-led government, al-Maliki has stoked broader tensions in the Muslim world between the overwhelming majority Sunnis and minority Shias.

And Saudi Arabia is unlikely to sit idly by as all this unfolds.

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Topics: Iraq • Middle East • Military • Saudi Arabia
Note to U.S.: We're not children
May 1st, 2014
01:44 PM ET

Note to U.S.: We're not children

By Einat Wilf, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Einat Wilf is an adjunct fellow with the Washington Institute and a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute and a former member of the Israeli Knesset. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The April 29 deadline set by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for securing peace and a Palestinian state has passed. And so, after all the back and forth of threats and demands, and the Fatah-Hamas unity deal announced last week, what have we been left with? A couple stuck in a toxic – but for a number of years not an extremely bloody and violent – relationship; a surprisingly enthusiastic counselor who has insisted, against the protests of the couple, on dragging them into counseling; signs of the violence to come as tensions start to rise again between the couple; and a breakdown of the counseling accompanied by a rebuke by the counselor, who laments that he can’t want to fix the relationship more than the couple itself.

This is the story of the most recent round of failed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But while this latest push is interesting to dissect and discuss, it is secondary to the real issue, and the effort spent in the inevitable blame game following the breakdown of talks will prove pointless and futile. The fact is that the sides are miles apart. That is simply the way things are – and the two sides in this tug of war realize that better than anyone else.

The dispute between the Arabs and the Jews, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the story of the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, is unique and unparalleled in human history. The fact that the two sides are finding it difficult to reach a compromise and make the necessary “tough decisions,” to quote the U.S. president, should therefore come as no surprise.

FULL POST

April 8th, 2014
01:16 PM ET

Haass: Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a local dispute

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, about speculation that convicted spy Jonathan Pollard might be released from U.S. prison.

What do you think this, past week, the shenanigans have told us – maybe we're pardoning Jonathan Pollard, maybe we're not, the peace talks were going to fail, they were not going to fail? What's going on?

In the long run, it's irrelevant for the purposes of peace whether Mr. Pollard is in prison or not. It won't affect the basics. The real question, is the situation ripe? Are the leaders involved willing and able to make peace? I'm skeptical.

Let's just say for a second I'm wrong. So what? Right now, I think what we have to admit is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while it's of importance to Israelis and Palestinians, it's become a local dispute. It won't affect the dynamics of the Middle East. It's not going to affect the trajectory of the civil war in Syria or what's going on in Egypt between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood or what's happening elsewhere.

This has become a local dispute, that, quite honestly, is not worthy of the time and attention the secretary of state and the United States are giving.

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Topics: GPS Show • Israel • Middle East
Should Israel unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank?
January 24th, 2014
02:25 PM ET

Should Israel unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank?

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter@FridaGhitis. The views expressed are her own.

What will happen if the current round of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians ends in failure? If the two sides cannot come to an agreement is there another option for solving the conflict?

As the talks continue with scant visible evidence of progress, a few prominent Israelis have started reviving talk of a third way: unilateral withdrawal of Israel from most of the West Bank – even without a peace deal.

The notion that Israelis could voluntarily withdraw from territories claimed by Palestinians without securing an agreement is nothing new. In fact, the term “unilateral disengagement” was coined by the recently-deceased former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who removed all Jewish settlers and military forces from Gaza in 2005. He ordered the withdrawal after saying he had concluded that peace with Palestinians was not possible, but that he also believed Israel should not rule over millions of Palestinians.

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Topics: Israel • Middle East
January 17th, 2014
10:11 AM ET

Gulf states have complicated relationship with Iran

By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. You can follow him @DavidAWeinberg. The views expressed are his own.

In a controversial interview aired this week, Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum called for sanctions on Iran to be dropped. His proposal for prematurely unwinding the sanctions regime represents the most tangible success thus far for Iran’s efforts to weaken the Saudi-led consensus in the Gulf against Tehran.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, those actors most amenable to Iranian overtures have been Gulf leaders with a political or financial stake in engaging the Islamic Republic.

Shortly after Iran reached a short-term nuclear accord in November, its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, embarked on a regional tour of the Gulf, initially setting out to visit Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar.  At the end of his tour, Zarif also tacked on an unexpected trip to the United Arab Emirates, where he met with the rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Qatar and Oman each share energy resources with Iran, Kuwait has an influential Shiite minority, and Dubai has long served as an illicit hub of trade and investment for Iran.

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Topics: Middle East
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