Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Views on Egypt, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and Turkey

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Update from AIJAC

July 11, 2013
Number 07/13 #03

Today’s Update looks at the ongoing developments in Egypt; the attempts to coax the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table; and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s increasingly offensive statements.

First, top Israeli media commentator and analyst Ehud Yaari - who enjoys some of the best contacts in the Middle East - talks to the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre on the outlook for Egypt, Hamas and Israel. Yaari explains that Israel’s main challenge relates to the freedom of movement enjoyed by armed jihadists in the vast and largely lawless Sinai Peninsula. In contrast, Hamas-run Gaza is facing an unprecedented backlash from Egypt now that the military is in charge. To read this interview, CLICK HERE.

Next, former Israeli Ambassador Alan Baker writes in the Jerusalem Post that genuine peace talks will not succeed whilst the Palestinian Authority insists on preconditions before talks can take place and chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat continues to make increasingly “demagogic rants”. Baker lists the environment needed for talks to have a reasonable chance to actually bear fruit. To read more, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Barry Rubin asks why US President Barack Obama is still supporting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan amid reports that he made racist remarks. To read more, CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

  • A report on “The New Alliance” which is a new political party established by Israeli Arab Christians. The party’s platform advocates the primacy of Israel as a Jewish state and calls for greater participation by the country’s Arab citizens.
  • Stephen Marche argues that the world needs to get over its obsession with Israel.
  • Syrian rebels claim responsibility for a devastating bomb in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut. Boaz Bismuth suggests Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah can expect more of the same. Former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri, whose father was reportedly murdered in 2005 by Hezbollah, blames Israel for the latest bombing.
  • Washington Institute analyst David Pollock writes that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s removal from office strengthens the position of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas but doesn’t improve the chances for peace while Hamas controls Gaza.
  • Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC's daily "Fresh AIR" blog:
    • Or Avi-Guy critiques Amnesty International’s disingenuous plea on behalf of a professional Palestinian agitator in the West Bank whilst Syrian, Turkish and Egyptian protesters being killed, arrested and injured are ignored.
    • Allon Lee’s latest media column.

 


Ehud Yaari on Egypt’s chaos and its implications for Israel

http://www.bicom.org.uk

July 8 2013

Leading Israeli Middle East expert Ehud Yaari briefed journalists on a BICOM conference call on Monday 8 July on the situation in Egypt and its implications for Israel. The following is an edited transcript of his remarks. You can listen to the briefing on BICOM’s podcast page here.

Ehud Yaari is the veteran Middle East Commentator for Israel’s Channel 2 News, and an International Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  He has written eight books on the Israeli-Arab conflict and published many articles in the international press. He was the first Israeli journalist to visit Cairo, even before the peace treaty in 1979 and remains one of Israel’s most revered experts in Middle East affairs.

What is the immediate impact on security in the Sinai?

The situation is grave and perceived by the top echelon of Egyptian military to be very dangerous. We have different militias of Salafi Jihadists, Bedouins and volunteers from abroad. These are attacking, at will, Egyptian military and security positions in different areas of the Sinai. Not all attacks are being reported by the media. We are witnessing a state of semi-open rebellion by many tribes in the Sinai, led by Salafi militias who have declared the establishment of a ‘war council’ to fight against the Egyptian military. Morsi got the majority of the vote in Sinai (not that many bothered voting) and they are using his sacking as a pretext to vent traditional grievances against the Egyptian state.

The military is especially worried about the Suez, and the possibility of anti-tank missiles being used against ships. They have taken unprecedented precautions around the canal and oil installations in city of Suez at the southern point of the canal, following an attempt to fire a grad missile in the area.

The military does not want to take control of the Sinai. Defence Minister General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is keeping to the traditional line that the army’s role is to assist police and interior ministry forces and no more. In reality however there is no police activity in Sinai since the revolution in 2010, when most of the police stations were burned down by the policemen themselves. Israel has permitted Egypt, in the context of the Agreed Activities Mechanism (AAM) of the 1979 peace treaty, to introduce more troops, a few commando battalions, some tanks and more interestingly a few Apache helicopters, which according to the peace treaty are not allowed. The Egyptian army is showing the flag by manning roadblocks and defending sensitive government installations but this is still mostly talk, and there is no concerted effort to tackle the jihadist militias. For these militias the Toyota Land Cruiser with a machine gun mounted on the back has become the new camel.

What is the impact on Hamas in Gaza?

Hamas is in dire straits because it has lost to differing degrees most of its supporters. It has lost Hezbollah because of criticism by Hamas leaders, mainly political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal, for its military involvement in Syria. They have clearly lost the support of the Syrian regime itself. We have seen a small number of Hamas members from refugee camps in Syria involved in the uprising there. They have lost a lot of Iranian support because of Hamas’s position on Syria and there are signs of a change in the attitude of Qatar following the effective dismissal of its prime minister Hamad Bin Jassim, which was a real game changer from Hamas’s point of view. It was an additional blow therefore to lose the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

There is also an internal struggle within Hamas. The political leadership is following the general Muslim Brotherhood anti-Assad line, whilst the military command of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and some of the other political leaders – Imad al-Alami, Mahmoud Zahar and others – are urging to maintain good contacts with Iran. Hamas has sent delegations to Beirut to meet Hezbollah and to Tehran but no real change has been detected so far in the attitudes of Iran and Hezbollah towards Hamas.

This is the most severe crisis amongst the top leadership of Hamas for many, many years. The people underground in Gaza who regard it as a fortress and see maintaining this fortress as a priority are undermining Meshaal and his like who are gradually losing influence within the movement. Military people have taken charge and won the last round of internal elections to the supreme bodies of Hamas. A figure to watch in particular is Imad al-Alami, previously based in Syria and now in Gaza, who is playing a very important role behind the scenes.

If Hamas and other Muslim brotherhood groups are weakened, does this empower Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and give him more flexibility in the peace process?

I think Abbas has already taken the decision that he has no alternative than to resume negotiations with the Israeli government. He has explained to his people that his purpose is to unmask Netanyahu, paving the way for further moves at the UN and ICC. I believe it is a matter of time before Secretary Kerry will be able to present a formula for the basis of negotiations. However, Abbas said recently in Beirut also said there can be no Palestinian state without Hamas and reconciliation between Gaza and West Bank, and I can’t see this happening in the near future.

What is Egypt doing about the smuggling tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza?

Blocking of the tunnels is partial, and is mainly done by flooding some tunnels with sewage water. The Egyptians are now doing it in a more determined manner than before because they are worried about infiltration from Gaza into Egypt of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the smuggling of weapons into Egypt. The main problem for Hamas along the tunnels is that the flow of arms from Iran has almost stopped completely. Hamas now has to try and upgrade whatever long-range rockets it has rather than expecting deliveries of Fajr-5 rockets from Iran.

What is the situation within the Gaza Strip between Hamas and more radical groups which might want to fire missiles into Israel?

Many of the armed Salafi activists in the Gaza Strip have been imprisoned by Hamas’s internal security services whilst others have been warned and are being closely monitored. There are all sorts of ad hoc deals between Hamas and these groups to stop them launching missiles into Israel. Occasionally one of these groups, calling itself the ‘Shura Council of the Jihad Warriors in the Environs of Jerusalem’, active both in the Sinai and the Gaza Strip, takes action which is almost invariably met by immediate punitive measures from Hamas. Hamas would like to maintain the ceasefire and is in no mood for a confrontation with Israel.

How is the dialogue between Israel and Egypt being conducted overall, and how might it be affected if former IAEA chief Mohammed el Baradei takes a leading role in the new government?

I am sceptical that El-Baradei will become Prime Minister though he may become one of the vice presidents of the temporary president Abdy Mansour but this is yet to be seen. El-Baradei is not well liked in Israel, certainly among people who deal with nuclear issues, but people appreciate that he represents the liberal trends in Egypt which we hope will have the upper hand.

As for the overall dealings between Israel and Egypt, Mohammed Morsi had a rule that neither he nor any government official at any level would maintain any contact with Israel nor its ‘half-embassy’ in Cairo and the relationship would remain the domain of the military and intelligence services. Conversely, in the year of Morsi’s presidency, co-operation between Israel and Egyptian intelligence and military services was probably the best it has ever been, both in coordinating policies on the Gaza strip and especially in the Sinai. General Sisi’s office was closely involved in dealings between the militaries and these contacts are being maintained.

© 2013 BICOM

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Creating an atmosphere conducive to real negotiations

By Alan Baker

Jerusalem Post, July 9 2013

Clearly, the present atmosphere cannot really be seen to be encouraging for any such genuine negotiation.
 
If and when Israel and the Palestinians eventually succeed in overcoming the nagging obstacle of preconditions for entry into negotiations, still being pressed principally by the Palestinian leadership, the question will then arise as to whether the prevailing atmosphere, both between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel, the EU and the UN, is such as to enable genuine, unfettered and bonafide negotiations.

Clearly, the present atmosphere cannot really be seen to be encouraging for any such genuine negotiation.

With Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly trying to question and undermine Israel’s Jewish heritage in the area, running to the UN and attempting to bypass negotiations, as well as threatening prosecution against Israel’s leaders, with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat incessantly, on a daily basis, seeking any and every media outlet as well as international organization in order to rant against Israel and its leadership and manipulate the international media with lies and deliberately misleading interpretations of the negotiating issues – one might assume, correctly, that these people simply do not really want, nor do they intend to engage Israeli negotiators in any genuine negotiation.

How, in all sincerity, can Saeb Erekat presume to face his Israeli counterparts opposite the negotiating table after his daily demagogic rants against them? However, not only are the Palestinians acting to undermine any potential negotiating atmosphere, the European Union, and principally its foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton, backed by several EU leaders and ministers, are totally engaged in and fixated on, to the exclusion of virtually every genuinely vital international issue, actively predetermining negotiating issues by advancing their policy of labeling agricultural and other produce from Israel’s settlements, and financing international and local NGO groups openly hostile to Israel, that openly advocate boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

The UN is no less active as a platform for blatantly biased actions singling out Israel and prejudging some of the central negotiating issues, such as the attempt to predetermine the 1967 lines as a border, and to predetermine the issue of final status of the territories.

Israel itself must also realize that a genuine negotiating ambiance requires complete trust on its part, including, once negotiations proceed, a strict control on activities affecting issues under active negotiation, including new settlement construction.

Even US Secretary of State John Kerry’s own veiled hints of a September deadline for negotiations only sow false and unrealistic expectations, as if, in September, Abbas’ annual Palestinian UN public relations ritual could substantively change anything. This September illusion must be scotched before any negotiation can begin.

Clearly, prior to any possible return to a negotiating mode, a number of key principles, in the form of a code of conduct or negotiating rules, need to be accepted by the negotiating parties as well as by those other parties connected with the negotiation, such as the EU, UN, US and others (i.e., “accompanying parties”). Without a clear acceptance of this code of conduct, it will be impossible to establish or restore even a minimum basis of mutual trust and respect in order to conduct genuine and bona fide negotiations in a reasonable negotiating ambiance.

Such a “Code of Conduct” would read as follows: With a view to ensuring ongoing good faith and mutual trust and confidence for the negotiating process, both the negotiating sides as well as all accompanying parties (UN, EU, US and others) undertake to abide by the following principles of negotiating conduct:

1. The leaders and negotiators of both sides undertake to cease all media appearances, interviews, public statements and social media messaging relating to the content and progress of the negotiations, including derogatory comments, criticism of the other, its leadership, policies, negotiating positions and negotiators.

2. During the negotiating process neither side will initiate any action or sanction in any international, governmental or non-governmental organizations, committees, tribunals or other bodies aimed at, or likely to result in bypassing, prejudging or undermining the issues under negotiation or prejudicing the leaders of the other side.

3. Neither side will initiate, support or encourage any economic boycott, sanction or divestment activity against the other, and the accompanying parties will act to uphold this principle within their own governmental and public domains.

4. While negotiating any particular issue, each party will avoid actions, decisions, resolutions or determinations that might prejudice or prejudge the outcome of the negotiation of that issue.

5. The accompanying parties will refrain from and actively prevent any political or economic action, initiative, resolution, sanction, statement or other measure that might influence the outcome of the negotiation, prejudge a negotiating issue or prejudice a negotiating party.

6. Both negotiating sides will, throughout the negotiating process, refrain from dictating or demanding preconditions for entry into, the continuation of or the completion of negotiations on any topic or in general.

7. Both negotiating sides as well as the accompanying parties will seek, through their public statements, interviews and publications, to ensure ongoing public support for and encouragement of the negotiation.

7. The negotiating parties will ensure free and unfettered movement by representatives of the other side to all locations in which negotiations are held.

8. Every effort will be made by the negotiating sides to avoid unilateral cessation of the negotiation, and any issue that could potentially cause such cessation will be discussed and clarified between them and with the accompanying parties.
Without a solemn undertaking by all involved parties to abide by such a code of conduct and thereby to produce the necessary ambiance for genuine, sincere, serious and bona fide negotiations, the chances of success will be slim.

Time will tell.

The author, former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and ambassador to Canada, is presently director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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Why Does Obama Idolize Turkey’s Racist Prime Minister?

Barry Rubin

PJ Media, July 9, 2013

Revolutionary Islamism is an innately anti-American and racist doctrine. Usually this manifests as anti-Semitic or anti-Christian views (since in the case of Islam, religion now seems to have been reintepreted as race when convenient), yet sometimes it arises in different but not highly publicized examples — such as with the racism employed against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Palestinian and other Arabic newspaper cartons.

President Barack Obama has endlessly flattered the radical Turkish leader Recep Erdogan, ignoring his insults and his subversion of U.S. interests. Obama presents Erdogan as his ideal Middle East leader, a “moderate Islamist,” and Obama has turned over U.S. Syria policy to Turkish regime direction.

This is despite the fact that the increasingly repressive Erdogan has publicly blamed the opposition to him on … a Jewish plot. Perhaps with the U.S. government supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, anti-Semitism is no longer a detriment to Obama administration backing.

But what does Erdogan really think of Obama?

Despite Obama’s pro-Islamist policy, Erdogan now is blaming him for the fall of Egypt’s government. As is customary, every Tuesday Erdogan addresses his AKP party group in the parliament. As usual, part of his speech was devoted to ridiculing Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the opposition, secular-oriented Republican People’s Party (CHP). But this time, he ended that part of his speech with these words:

Kilicdaroglu is striving every bit he can to raise himself from the level of a black person (zenci in Turkish, which is the same as “negro”) to the level of a white man.

Might that be offensive? Might that be reported in the American mass media? Incidentally, Kilicdaroglu is a Kurd. In a politically correct country, this statement would raise questions of whether Erdogan is a racial supremacist.

If not for the Obama administration, perhaps the Turkish army would have acted like the Egyptian one. Instead, dozens of Turkish military officers and journalists, among others, sit in prison for years without trial. Intellectuals are intimidated. Turkish democracy is headed the same way that Egyptian democracy was.

Where is the Western sympathy for the Turkish opposition? Ironically, Kilicdaroglu is a social democrat, yet he can expect no support compared to what Erdogan’s extreme reactionary stance receives. Obama only supports the “far right” when it is Islamist.

The violent repression of recent demonstrations broke a media silence about Erdogan’s increasingly repressive state. Last year, the Turkish ministry of education was caught running a viciously anti-Semitic website, one among hundreds of their misdeeds. Millions of Turks are desperate at the tightening noose. But not a betrayal of the United States on the Iran issue, nor the Islamization of Turkish life, nor the massive arrests, nor repression, nor the subordination of U.S. Syria policy to Turkish interests, nor anti-Semitism has been sufficient to wean Obama from his Erdogan worship.

Apparently, neither is anti-black racism.

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