65 years after 'catastrophe,' Palestinians have little to cheer about
May 14th, 2013
11:45 AM ET

65 years after 'catastrophe,' Palestinians have little to cheer about

By Ibrahim Sharqieh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Qatar. You can follow him @sharqieh. The views expressed are his own.

On May 15, the Palestinians will commemorate 65 years of their “Nakba” – “the Catastrophe.” This is how they describe 1948, which saw the destruction of Palestinian society, 750,000 Palestinians forced from their homes, and over 450 Palestinian towns wiped off the map. Today, there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations’ UNRWA. But while 1948 was a terrible trauma for the collective Palestinian memory, the reality is that it was only the beginning of a long journey of displacement, dispossession, and exile. The real Nakba is ongoing, and the Palestinian people live it on a daily basis both inside and outside the Palestinian territories. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry throws himself into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, we have to ask: Will his efforts bring this human tragedy a step closer to the end? Or only make it worse?

On a recent trip to Lebanon, I made sure to visit the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. While under control of the Israeli army that occupied Beirut in 1982, approximately 800 to 3,500 Palestinian refugees were massacred at the hands of Christian militias. In the camps today, the bitter reality of the Palestinian refugees’ life in exile is on full display: an enormous mass grave in the camps’ center holds the victims of 1982 massacre. It is a daily reminder to the refugees of their continuing human tragedy.

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March 18th, 2013
12:43 PM ET

Nonviolent resistance key to Middle East breakthrough

By Ibrahim Sharqieh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Qatar. The views expressed are his own.

Almost twenty years of negotiations “brought us nothing but more Israeli settlement. Palestinians have had enough of negotiations,” one senior Palestinian official said at a conference I attended recently. And yet, ahead of his first visit to the Middle East as secretary of state this month, John Kerry appeared to be suggesting more of the same.

“My prayer is that perhaps this can be a moment where we can renew some kind of effort to get the parties into a discussion,” he reportedly said. Such platitudes bode poorly for President Obama’s planned visit to the region this week. Indeed, it seems as if it will be business as usual on Palestinian-Israeli policy during the president’s second term, with yet more fruitless talks and an ever-increasing disconnect between U.S. diplomacy and developments on the ground.

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Israel faces reset moment
January 29th, 2013
10:47 AM ET

Israel faces reset moment

By Jane Harman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jane Harman is director, president and chief executive officer of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was a nine-term congresswoman from California and the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee from 2002 to 2006. The views expressed are her own.

Israel’s surprising election result gives its wing-clipped prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, an opportunity to shift to the center. This option was available to him four years ago when he outmaneuvered Tzipi Livni to form a majority in the Knesset. But he chose instead to move to the right.

Now comes a reset moment. Israel’s economy is fragile, with housing prices soaring and the middle class squeezed. A majority of the mostly secular Jewish population also resents special deals cut with the ultra-Orthodox to shield them from compulsory service in the military and to provide them with benefits not available to others.

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Time for U.S. to stop shielding Israel
January 23rd, 2013
08:22 PM ET

Time for U.S. to stop shielding Israel

By Ibrahim Sharqieh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

We are now set for a third term for Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu. And, although Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu coalition seems to have underperformed expectations, a plurality of the vote will allow him to once again lead Israel’s government.

But even a somewhat moderated Netanyahu government will continue to advance radical positions that put regional and global security in danger. The question, then, is how the United States can best push another right-wing administration to behave in accordance with the principles of the international security system – and its own national interests.

Over the past two Netanyahu terms, the international community, and the United States in particular, adopted an approach based on accommodation when dealing with the Netanyahu government. The hope was that this approach would contain the risks this extremist government posed to international security. Yet just as that strategy did not work then, it will not work now. The United States must therefore now take a harder line with Israel’s coming government – it must switch from a strategy of accommodation to one of confrontation, and it should start by letting fall its diplomatic shield.

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State of confusion over state of Palestine
January 15th, 2013
12:20 PM ET

State of confusion over state of Palestine

By Jonathan Schanzer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets at @JSchanzer. The views expressed are his own.

Has the Palestinian-Israeli conflict finally entered the post-Oslo Accords era? In the Middle East, nothing is dead until it’s buried, but several troubling signs are pointing in that direction.

The game-changer was Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ historic mission upgrade at the United Nations General Assembly on November 29 of last year. The upgrade merely afforded the PLO, which sets foreign policy for the Palestinians, status akin to the Vatican as a non-member observer. Since then, however, the PLO has enacted several changes that may make the 1994 Oslo impossible to resuscitate.

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November 30th, 2012
05:55 PM ET

High-profile poisoning claims nothing new

By Robert Templer, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Robert Templer is a former International Crisis Group Asia Program director and author of a forthcoming book, 'The History of Poison.' The views expressed are his own.

Yasser Arafat’s body has been exhumed to investigate if he was poisoned. A Turkish newspaper has alleged that that a former president, Turgut Ozal, was given doses of DDT and radioactive polonium-210 to hasten his death. In the African country of Benin, a former trade minister has been arrested on charges of trying to mix a toxin into the president’s medicine. In China, a contender for the Communist Party leadership was brought down after his wife allegedly poisoned a British businessman.

It would seem we are entering a new age of the poisoner, a menace with echoes of Renaissance Italy or Victorian Britain. Has the powder or potion become the assassin’s weapon of choice, as it was said to be in ancient Rome? Probably not, but poisonings still evoke fears beyond other means of murder. The secrecy, the malice aforethought and the thought of a slow, agonizing death still rattle us all. But although accusations of poisoning are fairly common, proof is rare.

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Zakaria: What the Palestinians should do
November 30th, 2012
02:48 AM ET

Zakaria: What the Palestinians should do

By Fareed Zakaria

The Palestinian Authority has won its campaign to be recognized as a non-member state of the United Nations. The question now is whether this will change anything.

Probably no. It will give the Palestinians a little more recognition and greater legal status in certain international fora. But the vote doesn’t change the reality that the only way the Palestinians are going to get a state is if Israel decides that it is in its interests to make it happen. Israel has the power on the ground, The country’s leaders have made it clear that they are not going to be pressured by the UN, defeated in battle, they are not going to be intimidated, they are not going to be terrorized – I think the history of the last three decades has made all of this very clear.

So the question the Palestinians should be asking themselves is, how do we get the Israelis to see this as in their interests?

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Beware of good intentions over Palestinian statehood
November 28th, 2012
05:48 PM ET

Beware of good intentions over Palestinian statehood

By Einat Wilf, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Einat Wilf is a member of the Israeli Knesset and its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The views expressed are the author’s own.

When well-meaning people send destructive messages, even if unintentionally, it is worse than when those of ill will do. When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally requests the U.N. General Assembly to pass tomorrow a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in east Jerusalem, he will be counting on the support of more than one hundred member states. Most of those will be continuing their well-established tradition of voting against Israel, towards which their ill will is known, well documented and expected.

But some countries will be voting Yay, or sympathetically abstaining, in the hope that recognizing a state of Palestine would keep the two-state solution alive as the path to peace. Yet doing half the job is worse than doing nothing at all. In their vote, those countries of goodwill, will be sending a dangerous message that would undermine, rather than increase, the chances for peace by privileging one aspect of the conflict while ignoring others.

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Changing Middle East looks depressingly like what it replaces
November 21st, 2012
12:49 PM ET

Changing Middle East looks depressingly like what it replaces

By Danielle Pletka, Special to CNN

Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are her own.

This small war between Hamas and Israel will pass. The just announced ceasefire may be sustained. Or Israel may move from aerial bombardment to a ground incursion, which will deter Hamas from relighting the fuse for some time. But not forever, because Hamas exists only to fight with Israel. It has no other purpose. Those who counter that Hamas governs need only look at Gaza to understand that governance is far from Hamas’ aims or abilities. Will this late 2012 battle end differently for the Palestinians? Advance a two state solution? Heal the ills of the Palestinians? Allow Israel to live in peace and security? No.

Another question:  Will the realignment of the Middle East to an order more congenial to Hamas matter? Clearly, Hamas believed that with its Muslim Brotherhood brethren at the helm in Egypt and the new spiritual leader of the region’s Sunni Islamists at the helm in Turkey, this adventure would end differently. Of course, Hamas’ hope was not to destroy the state of Israel. Rather, it was to gain the upper hand in its endless and fruitless battle against Fatah for the Palestinian political mantle, ideally with the wind of the Arab world’s Islamist revolutions at its back. That won’t happen either. Egypt’s Mohamed Morsy and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan are willing to lend rhetorical support and a few visits to Gaza, but they’re never going to do anything substantial for Palestinians because they neither care enough about actual Palestinian people nor wish to queer their pitch with Europe and the United States.

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The Israel-Hamas conflict’s unintended consequences
November 19th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

The Israel-Hamas conflict’s unintended consequences

By Robert Danin, CFR

Editor's note: Robert Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Middle East Matters originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.

By Israel’s accounting, Operation Pillar of Defense has achieved many if not most of its major objectives: assassinating Hamas’ long-sought after military mastermind Ahmed Ja’abari and other top officials, destroying much of Hamas’ long-range arsenal of imported Iranian-produced Fajr-5 missiles, and eliminating other significant high-value military targets. Despite this, however, a number of unintended consequences have already emerged, ranging from the boosting of Hamas’ prominence, undermining its isolation, further weakening the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas, and diverting regional attention from Syria.

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Topics: Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority
Why land for peace is dead
November 15th, 2012
06:29 PM ET

Why land for peace is dead

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School. The views expressed are his own.

On September 18, 1978, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the so-called Camp David Accords, cementing the notion that land for peace would become the basis for a resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict. Their agreement led to a peace treaty the following year between Israel and Egypt. However the current fighting between Israel and Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip ends, one thing is certain: the era of land-for-peace is over.

At first, Jimmy Carter’s land-for-peace formula looked promising. One in three Arabs lived in Egypt. Within the White House and at Foggy Bottom, presidents and diplomats believed that where Egypt went, so would go the Arab world. Hence, the precedent of trading the Sinai for peace became a source of hope.

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What the Israel/Gaza violence means
November 15th, 2012
05:04 PM ET

What the Israel/Gaza violence means

By International Crisis Group

The International Crisis Group’s Robert Blecher, director of ICG’s Israel/Palestine Project, discusses the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza, and what it means for the region. The views expressed are Blecher’s own, and are based on a video interview conducted today.

Why is the violence we’re seeing today so much worse than in recent years?

The violence today between Israel and Gaza is the worst that there’s been since Operation Cast Lead four years ago. Israel right now is in an election season and the government is running on a platform of security and stability. It makes them look completely impotent if they can’t stop hundreds of rockets from raining down on their citizenry. The citizenry has a real demand for safety and security.

Also, from the perspective of the Israeli government, they want to change the rules of the game. They want to reestablish deterrence with Hamas – the kind of deterrence that has not existed in a number of years now. So they want to force Hamas to do things differently.

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