Saturday, July 23, 2011

America’s Attempted Quartet Sophistry

By Daniel Levy
The Quartet: hard to reach any conclusion before September

As more information seeps out from the Quartet principals meeting held in Washington on July 11, it becomes harder not to reach the conclusion that American policy on Israel-Palestine is now being driven almost exclusively by a desire to prevent any possible U.N. vote on the matter in the Autumn. Reading the draft text proposed as a Quartet statement by the U.S. (the text is not yet public, but the authenticity of the draft described here has been reliably confirmed) and rejected by the EU, Russia, and the U.N. Secretary General entrenches that conclusion -- and worse, that the U.S. was attempting to pull something of a diplomatic fast one on the senior Quartet officials assembled. But more on that later.
First, a veritable minefield of myths that have sprung up around a possible Palestine vote at the U.N. should be debunked.

No a U.N. vote will not in practical terms deliver a sovereign Palestinian state and Israeli withdrawal and de-occupation. Nor will Israelis instantly be hauled in front of various international legal bodies as a consequence of a U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) resolution. Several other steps would have to take place subsequent to a U.N. vote for either of those things to happen and those do not flow seamlessly, one from the other.
No the U.N. Security Council or General Assembly is not an inappropriate venue for discussing or passing resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor does doing so contravene previous agreements signed between the parties. It is hard to imagine a more relevant or obvious matter for the U.N. to act on. One does not have to get very far in reading the charter of the U.N. to understand that U.N. member states who are signatories to that charter would be derelict in their duties if they refused to act on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Article 1 of that charter is about maintaining international peace and security; Article 2 is about the right of peoples to self-determination; and the list goes on. More specifically, when it comes to Israel-Palestine, the idea of partition to two states is a product of the U.N. (more specifically Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question), enshrined in UNGA Resolution 181, and it was U.N. recognition that crucially established the legitimacy of the State of Israel. The existing panoply of Israeli-Palestinian agreements from the past two decades say nothing about barring any action at the U.N. and do not even explicitly refer to Palestinian statehood, so that any recognition of a Palestinian state at the U.N. cannot be in contravention of those agreements.

While Netanyahu's amen corner may point to a clause in the Oslo agreements setting out that "neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations," they tend to conveniently forget about this when it comes, for instance, to the daily Israeli acts contravening this same clause, notably relentless settlement expansion. So the idea that a U.N. resolution -- even one recognizing Palestine -- is inadmissible given existing signed commitments, is no more than an Israeli diplomatic sleight of hand parroted by American officials and assorted hangers on. Thankfully, there are still international actors with a somewhat more grounded understanding of the Oslo process and international legality. In fact, none other than the initiators of the Oslo process, the Norwegians themselves. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre included the following in a statement issued earlier this week, subsequent to his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas:
“It is Norway's view, however, that it is legitimate and not in contradiction with a process of negotiation, to turn to the U.N. to promote a common approach on the part of the international community and respect for the international rule of law. In light of the continuing deadlock in the negotiations, the Palestinians cannot be denied the right to approach the U.N. “

No the Palestinians cannot realistically circumvent an American veto and become a member state of the U.N. -- and they know this. The theoretical option of pursuing a two-thirds majority at the General Assembly and then using the "Uniting for Peace" framework to get around the Security Council, and therefore the American veto, is not something the Palestinians will pursue. At most, they will pursue a membership application in order to set down a marker for the future, maintain a degree of drama and attention surrounding the vote, and to heighten American discomfort at its inability to pursue a coherent or credible Israel-Palestine policy.
Finally, the subtext of going to the U.N. is not about creating conditions for a new round of violence and a third intifada -- something the current Palestinian leadership has no interest in and are themselves threatened by. The likelihood or otherwise of violent instability in the Occupied Territories is influenced by a number of variables, among them economic conditions and Israel's possible withholding of Palestinian tax revenues, Palestinian ability to sustain non-violent approaches to mobilization, the intensity of Israeli provocations, and the extent of Palestinian frustration. The latter could be more fueled by a Palestinian retreat from U.N. action and a return to meaningless negotiations or by a failure at the U.N. to overwhelmingly endorse Palestinian rights than by a successful, symbolic win at the U.N., even if that does not translate the morning after into new freedoms on the ground.

Having said all of this, there are ways in which a U.N. resolution could be constructive and help achieve progress toward a better future for both Palestinians and Israelis (of course these prospects will partly depend on the exact wording and nature of any specific resolution). For instance, a U.N. resolution clarifying that a two-state solution would be on the 1967 lines (allowing for modifications to that line only on the basis of agreed, equal, and minor land exchanges) with Jerusalem serving as the capital of both states, could help ground any future negotiations in more realistic terms, establishing that the contours of a two-state arrangement cannot be endlessly flexible while also undermining the time-wasting and obfuscatory special pleading that tends to characterize Israeli negotiation tactics.
At the same time, such a resolution would powerfully entrench the two-state solution, guaranteeing a future for both Israel and a Palestinian state. That is the main reason that those preferring a one-state outcome -- from both the more absolutist Palestinian rights camp and from the Greater Israel settler camp -- are opposed to this U.N. move. This should provide a reason for the pro-democracy wing of the pro-Israel camp to attempt to work constructively in this U.N. space. Yet most of the American Jewish establishment groups who by self-definition claim to support a democratic Israel seem more busy taking a victory lap every time another Eastern European or Pacific Island state declares itself against the U.N. vote.

In Israeli domestic political terms a strongly endorsed U.N. resolution would administer a kick to the groin of the peace rejectionist policies pursued by the current Netanyahu-Lieberman government. It is hard to see how peace is advanced by rewarding those rejectionist policies, whether at the U.N. or in the constructing of Quartet statement language. For the Palestinians, a U.N. resolution that upgrades their U.N. status to non-member state (similar to the Vatican status), would pave the way to membership in additional institutions including very likely the ability to take cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC). While the asymmetry of Israeli-Palestinian realities and therefore the logic of the Palestinians gaining leverage by utilizing non-violent diplomatic tools of this nature is a powerful one, this is not something that the Palestinian leadership is claiming it will pursue subsequent to any U.N. vote.
Given both the legitimacy of the U.N. as a venue for advancing Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution and this non-exhaustive list of potential benefits that could be derived from such a move, why is it that the U.S. (and in many ways Europe) are so uncomfortable about a U.N. vote and working so hard to prevent it from occurring?

The respective reasons for American and European opposition are not exactly the same. Both share a preference to be on the same page when it comes to this issue and it is unlikely that would happen should it come to a U.N. vote. When the Security Council voted on a settlements resolution in February, the EU states supported the resolution while the U.S. was alone in opposing and vetoing it. The U.S. and Europe also share a concern that the U.N. route would signal the beginning of them losing control of this issue (a worry that is more acute for the U.S.). And even if the Palestinians are not planning to go to the ICC or to try to sanction Israel in various ways subsequent to a U.N. vote, that might be the future trajectory for this conflict and a U.N. vote might ultimately encourage that, which is likely to present a series of difficult decisions down the road (in this case especially for the Europeans).
The main explanation for U.S. opposition to any U.N. consideration of a Palestine resolution would appear to be rooted in the domestic politics of this issue. With re-election coming up (isn't it always) the president would be unenthusiastic about having to deal with the background noise criticism that many of the so-called pro-Israel lobbying groups would undoubtedly generate in the wake of any U.N. vote. Even a U.S. veto in the Security Council or "no" vote in the General Assembly would not shield the president from being attacked. He will be blamed for encouraging the Palestinians to try this path by stating in his speech last year to the UNGA that "when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations -- an independent, sovereign state of Palestine." The president is also likely to be held accountable for failing to sufficiently persuade or pressure any state with whom American maintains bilateral relations and that votes with the Palestinians. Yes, it is ridiculous.

Republican congressional leaders have threatened to withhold America's UN payments if such a vote goes ahead, giving the president another horse-trading headache in the already difficult act of managing congressional relations. What's more, members of Congress from both parties are threatening to de-fund all U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority if the Palestinians push a U.N. vote. This matters because administration officials understand that de-funding might not only encourage escalation on the ground, but it also removes an important lever of U.S. influence with the Palestinians for managing the conflict in ways that are convenient to Israel. A classically ironic own goal for the pro-Israel community, this one. There is also the small matter of America's own national interests and credibility at the U.N., in the Middle East, and in the broader global community. If there is a U.N. vote and domestic politics dictates a US "no" vote, then while no direct causal line can be drawn between that vote and increased extremist recruitment, terror, and threats against the U.S.,  the relationship between those factors is nonetheless one that American leaders and especially military leaders are all too aware of.
The distinctly European reasons for also preferring that a U.N. move be avoided mainly revolve around the difficulty that exists in producing a common European position and in the absence of such a position the inability to bring leverage to bear and the exposing of divisions within Europe.

Given the shared point of departure on the desirability of producing an alternative to the Palestinian push at the UN it might seem somewhat surprising that the U.S., Europe, and the rest of the Quartet failed to produce a common statement at last week's high level meeting. Surprising, that is, until one considers what was on offer from the U.S. -- which is where the American sophistry comes in. The U.S. presented to its Quartet "partners" a suggested one page text that looked rather like an exercise in cherry picking Obama's recent speeches by the Israeli Prime Minister's office (given the recent traffic between Jerusalem and Washington and the end product it is reasonable to speculate that that is precisely what happened). The American pitch went something like the following: the proposed text is a reflection of the President's speech, the Quartet had encouraged the President to give such a speech, the President had taken some political heat for the speech, the Quartet had even endorsed the speech (which it did in a May 20 statement), therefore the Quartet should now stand united behind the American draft, demonstrate to the Palestinians that they have no alternative but to accept the Quartet position, resume negotiations, and drop the U.N. idea. The text was quite clearly pre-cooked with the Israeli leadership, so no problem of acceptance from Israel.
Except that the U.S. text was not a faithful rendition of what the Quartet had endorsed -- namely, the May 19 State Department speech of the president -- but rather a hodgepodge of language from that speech, from the May 22 speech at the AIPAC conference, and of elements never before endorsed by the Quartet and even contradicting the existing positions of the EU and others. Hence the stalemate -- and not altogether a shock given Jerusalem's apparent co-authorship of the text.

So here are the details. To recap: President Obama's May 19 speech spent 1,040 words addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama described the conflict, touched on Israeli and Palestinian aspirations, and made a case for a solution being more urgent than ever in the context of the Arab awakening. The President then made news when, in calling for a resumption of negotiations, he stated that "the basis of those negotiations is clear," and then spent 170 words providing the parameters of a borders and security first approach to achieving two-states (his reference of the 1967 lines in particular drew attention). He closed out this part of the speech by saying "these principles provide a foundation for negotiations." The U.S. draft proposal presented to the Quartet did include the President's language from the May 19 speech, but it also included a whole lot more, all of it skewing, extremely uni-directionally, in Israel's favor. To the simple May 19 border language of "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," the U.S. added the following from the May 22 speech:

The parties themselves will negotiate a border between Israel and Palestine that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967, to take account of changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.
This is essentially America asking the Quartet to endorse illegal Israeli settlement activity that has taken place since 1967 (and in phrasing this as "the parties themselves will negotiate a border..." the U.S. is deviating from its own previous policy of not dictating to the parties). Compare that to the official position of the European Union: "The European Union will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties."

Remember, the Quartet issued a statement endorsing the president's May 19 speech; it has never endorsed the May 22 speech.
The U.S. text also included language about Israel that was spoken on both May 19 and May 22 but was not part of the principles or foundations for negotiations set out on May 19 (and it is these principles that the Quartet endorsed). As follows:

“A lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people.”
Again, this is terminology that neither the EU nor the Quartet has endorsed in the past. While it may be derived from previous U.N. resolutions (UNGA 181) it is problematic in several respects. It comes at a time when the nationalist chauvinism of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government is creating in practice an ever less democratic rendition of Jewish statehood. And America's text actually fails to even mention the need for Israel to be a democracy or to respect the equal rights of all citizens (maybe the American drafters did understand more than appears at first glance). It is being claimed by Israel, and for understandable reasons, to be a definitive position on the Palestinian refugee issue, and it meets a key Netanyahu demand without anything even resembling a reciprocal nod to Palestinian rights.

The U.S. wanted the Quartet to agree that:
“[N]or can the two-state solution be achieved through action in the United Nations.”

Again, this was not in the principles of negotiations May 19 language and is closer to the May 22 text and is an Israeli position...and a bit of a stretch to ask everyone else, including the UN Secretary General, to join America in de-legitimizing the idea of acting through the United Nations.
Another proposed sentence would have the Quartet saying:

“No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction.”
Taken from the AIPAC speech, and while ostensibly reasonable, this is not something that has been applied in other conflict situations or that does anything other than curry favor with Jerusalem. It was America's way of coming out firmly against Palestinian national reconciliation and conceding to Israel's argument that even if the Palestinians accept these principles for negotiations, Israel would still not be expected to enter talks until the unity deal was undone. One Quartet member, Russia, actually hosted a joint Hamas, Fatah, and other factions delegation in Moscow to encourage the reconciliation deal, while the EU position is to call "on all Palestinians to promote reconciliation behind President Mahmoud Abbas."

To top it all off, nowhere in the proposed statement was there a mention of settlement activity and the need for it to be stopped (other than retroactively legitimizing it as mentioned above). Europe's position on settlements is clear:
“[They are] illegal under international law...and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. The [European] Council urges the government of Israel to immediately end all settlement activities, in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank and including natural growth, and to dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001.”

Finally, the U.S. attempted to introduce a new procedural construct with the following sentence:
“The Quartet calls on the parties to return to direct negotiations, beginning with preparatory work to maximize their chances of success.”

It reads like an attempt to ensure that September could be navigated safely by not even starting the negotiations before then -- instead focusing on this new "preparatory work". Under the conditions embodied in the U.S. text, the only preparatory work that one can imagine might lead to success would be a Hogwart's crash course in Wizardry (although American officials no doubt have different ideas and are proposing the kind of minimalist Israeli confidence-building measures that have made such a massive contribution to peace in the last decade!).
With the American text having been rejected, what next? What are the scenarios for between now and September?

There are three basic options for the U.S. and the Quartet, acting in tandem or separately. First, the U.S. might yet convince the other Quartet members to accept their proposed text or something close enough to it to still have Netanyahu chortling and Abbas turning out the lights at the Muqata. This is the thrust of current U.S. diplomatic efforts. If that succeeds, and the premise is correct that faced with a unified Quartet position the Palestinians will fold and abandon any U.N. efforts, then of course September is successfully avoided -- but at what cost. Negotiations, even if they begin, are unlikely to last, let alone be fruitful, and the current Palestinian leadership and the entire negotiations approach will be even further emaciated and exposed as a folly. Paradoxically, the Palestinian embrace of a new more assertive and proactive strategy that America so fears may even be accelerated if the Quartet ploy carries the day.
A second possibility is that the Europeans lead an effort to craft a Security Council product at the U.N. This could be done with Palestinian assent, as a way of establishing meaningful parameters of a two-state solution, it might avoid messy textual negotiations at the UNGA, and maintain a unified European position. The only problem with this option is that the U.S. will almost certainly veto anything deemed unacceptable by Jerusalem -- and Jerusalem's bar for acceptability has all the moderation of a Voldemort.

The third scenario is for a General Assembly resolution, which the U.S. can oppose but not of course veto. For the Palestinians the focus for such a resolution would likely be the upgrading of their current status to what was described earlier as something similar to that of the Vatican: an observer or non-member state. The battleground in this context would be the exact language of the resolution and the votes of European and some other states.
Neither Israel nor America will be excluded from, or be bystanders to, developments over the coming weeks. Nevertheless, the degree of Israeli intransigence (and refusal to play even make believe peaceniks) and the severity of America's allergy to action at the U.N. will greatly restrict and marginalize both, if and when a September move draws closer. That will place a premium on whether the Palestinians can come up with something approaching an effective strategy and whether Europe can intervene in a consensual and meaningful fashion.

With the prospects for any improvement on the Israel-Palestine situation so dire, and with American stewardship of the peace process so thoroughly compromised, that represents a slim yet worthwhile gamble. Once the American election dust settles, the realization in the meantime of some Palestinian and European punctuation points of progress might even generate more conducive conditions in the future for America to re-engage in a constructive way. Not that holding one's breath while waiting for that eventuality is recommended. 
-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 22/07/2011
-Daniel Levy directs the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation and is an editor of the Middle East Channel

Arabs Are Defeating Sectarian Blackmail

By Rami G. Khouri  
One of the striking contrasts between current political tensions and clashes in the Arab world and the tone of the many demonstrations for freedom and democracy across the region involves the role of sectarian and ethnic identity.
We are reminded of this again in Syria these days, where brutal killings in the city of Homs last week seemed designed to inflame destructive passions between the majority Sunnis and the minority Alawites who dominate the ruling power elite. In the past year Egypt similarly experienced ugly incidents that seemed to target or provoke the Coptic Christian minority. Bahrain and Yemen also have experienced serious ethnic- and sectarian-based tensions recently. Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan have endured their own sectarian problems, conflicts and occasional atrocities for years, to the point where Iraq and Lebanon have seen most of their once integrated populations separated into “neater” and “purer” demographic zones, and Sudan has registered the first case of secession from a modern Arab state.
This list is long, depressing and profoundly revealing of deeper problems in the region that transcend immediate political rivalries or longer-term competition for control of state resources.
Sectarian-religious-ethnic tensions across the Arab world primarily reflect deficiencies in two important and related arenas: the legitimacy and structure of statehood, and the nature and quality of political governance. Arab countries have denied their people credible democratic political participation and accountability; therefore their citizens do not enjoy the bounty of state services, security, equality and opportunity that should accompany real citizenship. Instead, individuals turn to their ethnic-religious group for identity, representation, services and protection, while Arab autocrats and foreign powers alike manipulate sectarianism for their own ends.
The millions of Arab men and women who have been demonstrating in the streets for seven months now instinctively understand the direct relationship between sectarianism and governance: When countries are well managed and citizens feel they have a say in political and economic developments, sectarian identities and tensions decrease and eventually disappear. However, when authoritarian gangs, oligarchs and ruling families plunder their countries and treat their citizens like idiots without rights or feelings, sectarianism sprouts like a natural self-defense mechanism.
The demonstrators understand that their national challenges include not only ending corruption and instituting democratic governance, but also forging inclusive national coherence that allows all citizens to feel that they are equal members of a single country with a shared national purpose. So, we see many slogans proclaiming that all demonstrators are united as equal citizens. This includes heartening examples acknowledging the religious pluralism that is a strength of our societies, such as Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square taking turns praying and protecting each other’s prayer sessions, or the common symbol of crosses and crescent moons together.
Arab societies are enriched and strengthened by pluralism, and become poorer when some minorities fear for their future and start to emigrate en masse. The Arab-Israeli conflict has already seen the departure of most indigenous Arab Jews from the Arab countries where they had lived for centuries. Christians and other minorities seem increasingly worried in some countries, and their numbers may also decline due to permanent emigration.
The antidote, as the demonstrators are saying, is to fix the dysfunctional governments plaguing the Arab world. Most incumbent Arab regimes that are being challenged by their own people, however, consistently blame foreign conspirators for meddling in their affairs, and raise the specter of sectarian conflict if the existing regime or power structure is significantly changed. Some critics of Arab governments accuse them of stoking sectarian attacks as a means of heightening citizens’ fears. Citizens in countries like Syria, Egypt and Bahrain have witnessed the ravages of sectarian warfare in Iraq and Lebanon, and will go to great lengths to avoid repeating those experiences. Regimes that raise this frightening specter count on the fact that their citizens would refrain from challenges to the regime that could destabilize the country, and instead would opt for maintaining the current order because it is at least stable and secure.
This is a form of mass political blackmail that has worked for decades, but has now clearly reached the end of its useful life. Stable societies that are neither democratic nor economically and socially productive are decaying societies that end up being machines of mass corruption and dehumanization – which inevitably pushes citizens to seek refuge amid their sect or tribe. Demonstrators have declared their determination to end this ugly legacy. They counter regime sectarian scare tactics by affirming their commitment to fraternal and tolerant pluralism within democratic structures as their preferred operating system.
It is important to see the mass commitment among Arabs to sectarian and ethnic tolerance and even solidarity, which I believe are much stronger than the occasional bout of tension.
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 23/07/2011

Netanyahu Isolating Israel To The Point Of Sanctions

Palestinian civil society movement is fast gaining momentum
By As'ad Abdul Rahman
The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, has predicted that Netanyahu’s presentation of ‘obsolete positions’ is definitely going “to end up with isolating Israel to the point of sanctions, thus, delegitimising Israel as the case was with the South Africa apartheid”. Haaretz editorial declared that “US Jews must support Obama’s Mideast vision”. Such a conclusion is one of the outcomes of the call of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) civil society movement against the colonial Zionist entity, increasingly being heeded all over the world.
The BDS campaign is now on the map in Australia. It has become the most effective peaceful tool against Israel’s apartheid policy that will hopefully lead it to be completely delegitimised as South Africa’s apartheid regime which collapsed under international sanctions. In fact, increasing numbers of trade unions, student unions and anti-Zionist Jewish organisations including rabbinical councils are voicing demands to sanction Israel in every possible way, especially now with the peace process being dead and buried by the Netanyahu government.
 Indeed, the last exchange between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama at the White House in which Netanyahu completely rejected Obama’s vision for resolving the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict calling it ‘naive’, right in the face of the American president while the whole world was watching, must have added to the tension in the USA/ Israel relations. This has made the Netanyahu government a party in American politics supporting the Republicans in the next elections against Obama and his Democrats. This is why the only way left for the current American administration — as many observers assert — is not to make this dispute public, but to work with extreme diligence to end Netanyahu’s government.
Obama succeeded in limiting effects of his differences with Netanyahu in front of the Jewish Aipac lobby meeting in Washington. Netanyahu was hoping to pick a fight with him in order to erode his support among Jewish voters. But the president explained to Aipac what he meant by the ‘1967 borders’ which is not much, to say the least. Many Middle East experts believe that Obama’s position was intentionally misinterpreted by Netanyahu to get Jewish voters to abandon his bandwagon. Yet, the American Jewish voters are mostly liberals, unlike the conservative republican base which is made up of Christian fundamentalists. Only a big fight between the American administration and the current Israeli government would have caused Jewish voters in America to switch sides.
Obama denied Netanyahu this ‘big fight’ which was very much desired by the Israeli leader. Obama — in the eyes of some knowledgeable observers — had to control his anger and finish the job at the Aipac meeting, biding his time until after the presidential elections on November 2011. In the meantime, pressure will have to be put on the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak to quit the Netanyahu government which would force new elections to take place in Israel in 2012.
With the increasing isolation of Israel, the United States government can never afford to be with Israel against the whole world. The obsolete policies of the Netanyahu government can never be defended, especially when signs surrounded the White House, during the meeting with Netanyahu, calling for “End the Israeli Occupation of the US Congress”. The American administration will not stand alone, since a large number of conscientious Jewish organisations (cooperating with the BDS movement their Palestinian peaceful partner) are more than willing to join the campaign to bring the collapse of the Netanyahu government upon its rejection of peace based on justice and UN resolutions.
Netanyahu’s current attempt to unseat Obama in the coming elections will probably unseat Netanyahu himself, according to many observers in the know in Washington, D.C. These observers believe that Netanyahu is betting on a dead horse, the Republican Party, in the election race. No Republican candidate among all the known hopefuls can muster enough votes to unseat Obama. That is why many circles in Washington and around the world (including Israel itself) believe that the extreme egotistical adventurism of Netanyahu made him enter a war that will end in his utter defeat. Gaining a second term as the president of the US, will make Obama very powerful because he would no longer need votes or contributions from any one, including America’s Jews. Indeed, more experts believe that in spite of his peaceful demeanour, Obama, will never forget Netanyahu’s humiliating him in front of all the cameras. A growing number of observers in Washington D.C. (and Israel as well) predict that the US is going to play on the outside the neutral role in the United Nations while voting on Palestinian statehood, but supporting it on the inside and blaming all on Netanyahu.
This is why it is extremely vital to prepare the Palestinian house for the next moves. The next Palestinian government, and not the Palestinian organisations, will be responsible for the political settlement. It will be judged by the quality of its members and by its political and economical platform. Negotiations will also be conducted by this government only, as Israel is hoping to single out Hamas as the party that killed the peace process, not the Israeli extremist positions. Yet, to be effective, the new Palestinian ‘unity government” needs to regard the BDS as an example of diligence with far ahead planning that has led the Palestinian presence to gain world recognition ahead of a possible recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 23/07/2011
-Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the Chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopeadia

The European Role And The Aspirations Of The Arab People

By Raghida Dergham
For Europe, both the declining U.S. interest in international affairs and the fact that Russia’s approach to international diplomacy has reverted to the Soviet mentality, represent an opportunity for the continent to play an exceptional and effective role, both internationally and regionally. In truth, the Middle East, the Gulf region and North Africa are all geographically proximate to Europe, in addition to being the theatre where many European strategic and economic interests come together.
In the past few decades, the European role was merely that of a proxy, in the era of the American and Soviet superpowers during the Cold War, despite the historical relations between Europe and the Arab region, stretching from the Middle East to the Gulf and North Africa. However, this decade has seen a shift in the relations with Europe, with the wave of change that swept the region with the beginning of the year. Yet the sovereign debt and Eurozone crises have both held back the European Union, and brought many European countries into a shortfall of, or even to reneging on, the promises and pledges they had made. The idea of applying the principle of a Marshall Plan-like initiative, in order to ensure the success of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, has regressed, leaving only promises behind and an absence of the means to execute them. But the European interest in the events of Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran and Lebanon, as well as in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, has not regressed. On the contrary, every time the United States has lagged behind in Libya or in Syria for example, the European countries have helped resuscitate American interest, so that it may not fall into the slumber that usually comes when it fixates itself upon its domestic affairs, especially during an elections period. For instance, when the Obama Administration made a faux pas two weeks ago, which could have otherwise come at an exorbitant cost, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union- Catherine Ashton- took charge and succeeded at reversing a terrible draft statement by the Quartet on the Middle East. Further, Europe plays an equally important role in light of that played by Russia in the Security Council and at the regional level, providing, for example, absolute protection for the regimes in Tripoli, Damascus and Tehran, with total disregard for the demands of the people in those countries. China trails closely behind Russia on these issues, as it, too, pursues a policy of “obstruction”, which the Soviets had adopted under Communism, shackling the Security Council either by preventing consensus over a statement or by threatening to use veto powers to prevent the adoption of a resolution. The importance of Europe’s role in light of such circumstances – be they the result of American, Russian or Chinese actions – lies in preventing submission to the Russian tactic of “obstruction without explanation”(In fact, this tactic stems from a Russian feeling of superiority thanks to its veto powers, and to having the freedom to place national interests above the duties of the countries that have been given veto powers, namely giving priority to threats to international peace and security). The importance of the European role thus lies in either filling the vacuum or coordinating roles with the American ally in supporting fledgling Arab democracies. The importance of the European Union’s role also lies in seizing the opportunity of the strategic Palestinian-European partnership offered to the EU, as well as other strategic partnerships with those actively shaping a brighter future for the Arabs. This is an opportunity that serves Europe’s interest for numerous reasons, and one that it is accessible today for reasons connected not only to history and geography, but also to Europe’s role on the international scene, within the equation for the American-Russian-Chinese relations in the coming era.
That does not mean that Europe ought to claim to replace the United States regionally or internationally, nor for the Obama Administration to take refuge in Europe’s role to avoid mending relations that are essential for the United States, or to continue hesitating over strategic issues.
President Barack Obama is currently focused on domestic challenges, indeed, and most prominently the debt ceiling debacle. However, this should not blind the U.S. Administration, for example, to the urgent need to correct the strange disrepair in its relations with Saudi Arabia. This is an important country in the region and a communications breakdown between the two countries, at the highest levels, is unnecessary, especially during such a delicate period for the future of the Arab region.
The veteran Jordanian diplomat Marwan Muasher, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, where he oversees the Endowment's research on the Middle East, considers that the interests at stake between the two countries range from those where their stances are identical to those on which the two countries hold diametrically opposed positions, such as the issue of reform.
Mr. Muasher says that “there is an urgent need for the two sides to sit together at the highest levels to resolve all issues”, because taking the risk of leaving things as they are would be taking a tremendous risk. The Americans and Saudis have always been engaged in dialogue and have maintained contact over the issues of peace and security. They have also been engaged in a great deal of profound cooperation on, for example, Iran, the peace process and terrorism. Today, perhaps part of what has had a negative effect on their relations or on communication between the two sides is the issue of reform in the Arab region. The Obama administration disagrees with Saudi Arabia in terms of the nature of reform and of the priority of preserving governments through cosmetic or slow reforms.
It is inevitable to hold frank talks, and at the highest levels, over such core disagreements. The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia does not have a single dimension, but is a multifaceted relationship, involving issues such as the pace of reform, the fate of governments and regimes, as well as matters of security ensuing from the collapse of certain regimes, or the survival of others.
Yemen, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Libya, as well as Egypt, all enter into consideration in American-Saudi relations. The interests that are affected by deterioration or tension in these relations are major interests, and involve both security and economic issues.
Here, Europe plays a key role in three important issues, Iran, Syria and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process – bearing in mind that Yemen is nearly an American-Saudi issue, which in turn needs to be discussed at the highest levels.
Syria figures highly when it comes to reassuring the Gulf, especially with regard to Iran, knowing that the fall of the regime in Damascus would be a major loss for Tehran, and would weaken the Islamic Republic. The Syrian regime provides a safe conduit for Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in terms of weapons and political influence. It is also a starting point for Iran towards Iraq, thanks to the important border through which instability is often exported. Then there is the Palestinian angle, which is important for the regime in Tehran. The regime in Damascus controls Palestinian factions working in Lebanon, and holds other means of influence useful for the goals pursued by Iran, in defiance of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, for Iran’s own aims and regional ambitions. Thus, containing Hezbollah, weakening Iran, reassuring the Gulf, and liberating Palestine from the hegemony of Iran and Syria has as its fundamental basis the fate of the regime in Damascus.
In fact, the US Administration’s hesitation to take firm and decisive action against the Syrian regime is due to pressure from Israel, which sees the latter as a security valve. To Israel, the regime prevents some of the scenarios Israel has been promoting, for example, of Islamists seizing power in its neighboring country. Yet even within Israel, there is division over this issue, especially after it was concluded that it is impossible for things to return to normal in Syria, and that the fall of the regime is now only a matter of time.
The Europeans have begun invoking the language of President Bashar Al-Assad “stepping down”, and there are reports about back channels offering the president a safe exit and a dignified departure. The U.S. Administration insists that its overt position was expressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, when she spoke last week of Assad losing the “legitimacy” to rule, and warned him of the consequences of assuming that he was indispensable. Any interpretation of what she said later in Istanbul as backtracking on the stance expressed in Washington is, according to the American assertion, mere speculation, and what is happening in reality is a stepping up of American, European, and Turkish, pressures on the regime in Syria.
What is happening behind the scenes includes precise and critical coordination between the US Administration, the Turkish government and the European Union, including conveying stern messages to the Syrian government. Turkey today is part of the partnership with the European Union and the United States on Syria, while the Arab League is excluding itself from the future and reiterating outdated expressions and stances that oppose peoples and defend regimes and their oppression. The new Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil El-Araby has done himself harm as he has done harm to the Arab peoples and to the Arab League, through his insistence on belonging to the past, while he himself has come to this post as a result of being revitalized by the Egyptian uprising for reform.
There are perhaps today two major camps, one being the partnership between the Arab League, Russia and China in protecting the regimes from being held to account for oppressing their people; and the other being led, locally, by Turkey in partnership with the European Union and the United States. The latter also includes partnership with the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that have understood the importance of listening to the people, and have also understood that stability has a new meaning after the eruption of the Arab uprising.
Everything is temporary and provisional until the events in Syria unfold clearly. The panic of the leaders of the regime in Damascus is such that they have come up with the novelty of recognizing the Palestinian state, while the flames of protests are engulfing Syria’s cities. Meanwhile, in spite of all the weakness and disorder within the ranks of the Syrian opposition, its insistence on change and accountability is unwavering, as lives are put on the line in the battle for change and freedom.
The courage of international and local human rights organizations is, too, unparalleled and they deserve all the support they can get from the Europeans, the Americans and the Arabs. They are operating in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Palestine and Israel. Their natural ally is Europe, which has a special role to play during this period of American regression, Russian reversion and the reactionary positions of the Arabs as represented by the Arab League. It is a strategic partnership of a different kind. Meanwhile, Catherine Ashton is competent and capable of charting a role for the European Union to play, one that would serve democratic aspirations and place Europe on the map as a political player and as a partner, not merely as a fund or as a proxy as in the past.
-This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 22/07/2011
-Raghida Dergham is the al-Hayat correspondent in The United Nations

"Sheikh" Walid Muallem!

By Tariq Alhomayed
Since the outbreak of the Syrian popular uprising, the Damascus regime has been trying to portray what is happening in the country as being the work of religious groups. Last week alone we saw two interesting incidents that reveal that the Syrian regime is now trying to sow sectarianism, as this is one of the cards that the regime can play to put an end to the uprising.
Last week, the Damascus regime attempted – and almost succeeded – in promoting the idea that what is happening in Homs is the result of sectarianism. This was in order to scare the [Syrian] minorities, and the international community, into believing that Syria is on the verge of becoming embroiled in a sectarian civil war. At the same time, the Syrian regime and its affiliates – including some Arabs in some western newspapers – also tried to promote the idea that the Syrian [political] opposition that met in Istanbul is solely made up of Islamists, and that the majority of these opposition members are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Syrian regime pointed to the fact that many of these [opposition] figures were sporting beards, to the point that one prominent Arab intellectual – who supports the Syrian uprising – told me that "I was concerned by the appearance of bearded [Syrian] opposition figures on television, as this upholds the image that the regime is trying to promote, namely that the [Syrian] opposition is made up of the Muslim Brotherhood!"
However the issue that many people failed to notice is that it is members of the Syrian regime itself who appear to us today sporting beard; this is a phenomenon that can be seen far more amongst members of the Damascus regime than it can amongst members of the opposition. Some might ask; how is this possible? It is ironic that the issue of Asharq Al-Awsat published on Thursday [21/7/2011] featured two images that perfectly sum up the situation. Page 2 of Thursday's Asharq Al-Awsat issue featured the image of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on stage during a forum for political and religious dialogue discussing the vision of [political] reform in Syria held at Damascus University's Faculty of Islamic Law. In this picture, Muallem is sitting between Syrian Minister of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) Mohammad Abdul-Sattar al-Sayyed and Sheikh Mohamed Said Ramadan al-Bouti; both of whom are prominent and indeed bearded religious figures. Whilst on the opposite page – Page 3 – there is an interview with two prominent Syrian political opposition figures, namely Imad al-Din Rashid and Fida al-Majzoub; this article features an image of both opposition figures taken in Istanbul, and of course both men are also sporting beards!
The question that must be asked here is: in this case, what is the difference between the Syrian regime that is full of bearded religious figures, and the bearded opposition? Has the Syrian Foreign Minister, suddenly, become "Sheikh" Walid Muallem, for it to be acceptable for him to give a lecture at a forum for political and religious dialogue at the Damascus University's Faculty of Islamic law, whilst it is not acceptable for the Syrian political opposition to sport beards?
This is not all, for many of those monitoring the situation in Syria following the outbreak of this popular uprising, failed to notice that the secular Baathist regime in Damascus has resorted to the same methods used by Saddam Hussein's secular Baathist regime in confronting its own people, and [God is Great] onto the Iraqi flag, in addition to making a number of decisions as if Iraq were an Islamic state, even though the regime was a secular Baathist one. All of this was an attempt by Saddam Hussein to provide himself – and his rule – with religious legitimacy. The Syrian regime is doing precisely the same thing today, for following the outbreak of the popular uprising in Syria the Damascus regime reversed its ban on the niqab [Islamic veil], in addition to closing its only casino.
Therefore, all this talk about the "Islamist" Syrian opposition, armed groups, and other scenarios being put forward by the Damascus regime, is nothing more than attempts by the regime to justify its suppression of the uprising. The figures within the Syrian opposition are well known, and they represent all colours of the Syrian rainbow, including Alawites, and this is what everyone must be aware of today.
-This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 23/07/2011
-Tariq Alhomayed is the editor-in-chief of Asharq al-Awsat

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Prince Of Persia

Machiavelli’s got nothing on Iran’s Supreme Leader.

By Karim Sadjadpour

Imam Khamenei: embodied in Machiavelli's famous treatise

Nobody has ever confused Niccolo Machiavelli with an Islamic revolutionary -- but he certainly knew a thing or two about revolutions. The Florentine political philosopher watched his native city overthrow, restore, and then overthrow again the powerful Medici family. And it was in this hotbed of backstabbing clans, religious favoritism, and political power plays that Machiavelli sharpened his teeth. Ah, how he would have enjoyed the Tehran of today.
Half a millennia later, the author of The Prince and intellectual father of realpolitik has found one of his most impressive students in Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- another leader well-acquainted with the exercise of acquiring, and keeping, political power. Indeed, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose rise (and now his seeming fall from grace) was orchestrated by Khamenei, is the third Iranian head of state (preceded by Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami) whom Khamenei has outmaneuvered.

This is only the latest struggle from which Khamenei appears to have come out on top. For the last 22 years, he's woken up every morning and gone to bed every night believing not only that many of his own subjects want to unseat him, but also that the greatest superpower in the world is plotting his demise. In summer 2009, his worst fears became reality when millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest Ahmadinejad's tainted reelection. Some of them chanted slogans of "Death to Khamenei" and "Khamenei is an assassin, his rulership is annulled."
Yet after Oman's Sultan Qaboos and Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi -- who continues to hang by a thread -- Khamenei is now the longest serving autocrat in the Middle East.

It is no accident that Khamenei has succeeded thus far in beating back the challenge posed by the Green Movement. Despite his Shiite pretentions, his ruling ideology is more Machiavelli than martyrdom. It's a fact that Machiavelli himself -- who trudged around Italy with papal armies, marveling at the combination of military might and religious authority -- would have observed with a knowing smile.
Throughout Khamenei's rule, he has held to five basic tenets that reflect the philosophy of statecraft -- and stagecraft -- embodied in Machiavelli's famous treatise.

1. Deflect accountability    
Machiavelli is famous for the aphorism that it is better for a politician to be feared than loved. But he cautioned that in order to avoid being despised and hated, a prince should "delegate to others the enactment of unpopular measures and keep in their own hands the means of winning favors." A prince could not ask for a better political system for this purpose than that of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian regime is uniquely adapted to grant the supreme leader the power to distribute favours and control key state institutions, while shielding him from responsibility for government failures.

The constitutional authority of the supreme leader allows Khamenei to wield power without accountability. He controls the main levers of state -- the courts, military, and media -- and has effective control over Iran's second most powerful political institution, the Guardian Council. This 12-person body, whose members are all directly or indirectly appointed by Khamenei, has the authority to vet electoral candidates and veto parliamentary decisions.
If the supreme leader wants to endorse the validity of tainted elections, the Guardian Council can do it. If he wishes to undermine the president, he can enlist his allies in parliament. Need to quash an uprising? Let the basij militia take the blame. Through it all, he can maintain the appearance of a magnanimous leader staying above the fray -- letting others do his dirty work.

At the same time, the presence of an ostensibly "elected" president and parliament has served as a buffer between Khamenei and the displeasure of citizens. The supreme leader likes being the man behind the curtain: A Persian-language Google search for "Khamenei" renders less than half the number of hits as a search for "Ahmadinejad." (In English-language Google searches, Ahmadinejad outpaces Khamenei by a 5-to-1 margin).
Because the president enjoys such a high profile both domestically and internationally, he also tends to bear the brunt of responsibility when things aren't going well -- and in today's increasingly mismanaged and authoritarian Iran, they usually aren't.

2. Project modesty
"A prince can always avoid hatred if he abstains from the property of his subjects and citizens and from their women," Machiavelli wrote. "To those seeing and hearing him, he should appear a man of compassion, a man of good faith, a man of integrity, a kind and religious man."

Khamenei may lack the charisma and religious credentials of his more learned predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the revolution that ended 2,500 years of monarchy in Iran. However, he has tried to make up for this deficit by painstakingly cultivating the image of a humble cleric.
Whereas his dictatorial counterparts throughout the Middle East boast lavish palaces and private tailors, Khamenei's official residence -- hidden from the public -- is in working-class central Tehran, and his sartorial tastes usually consist of drab robes, slippers, nerdy glasses, and a Palestinian kaffiyeh.

Visitors to Khamenei's abode speak of its simple décor and plain dinner menu -- usually nothing more than bread, cheese, and eggs -- as a way of currying favor with their self-effacing leader. Notorious hardline cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi even went so far as to claim that during the lean years of the Iran-Iraq war, then-President Khamenei relied on food stamps (known as coupon) in order to buy meat. These anecdotes are humbly showcased on one of Khamenei's official websites.
Khamenei has also tried to keep his family out of the limelight. Whereas this year's popular protests in the Arab world were in part directed against famous first shoppers like Syria's Asma al-Assad, Tunisia's Leila Ben-Ali, and Egypt's Suzanne Muba­­­rak, the Iranian public, remarkably, has never even seen a photograph of Mrs. Khamenei.

3. Don't compromise
"When settling disputes between his subjects, he should ensure that his judgment is irrevocable; and he should be so regarded that no one ever dreams of trying to deceive or trick him," Machiavelli advised. "It is always the case that the one who is not your friend will request your neutrality, and that the one who is your friend will request your armed support. Princes who are irresolute usually follow the path of neutrality in order to escape immediate danger, and usually they come to grief."

Given the image that Khamenei has tried to cultivate as a fair-minded guardian, many Iranians were surprised when he responded to the massive protests after the contested June 2009 elections not with conciliation but overwhelming brutality. They shouldn't have been.
Khamenei learned this lesson during the 1978 uprisings against Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. When the embattled shah attempted to pacify demonstrators by vowing to make amends for past transgressions -- declaring that he'd "heard the voice" of the revolution (a line recently echoed by teetering autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria), he unwittingly emboldened his foes. Khamenei had no such taste for conciliation: He knew full well that if he ceded any ground to opposition demands, it would only increase their appetite for change.

This same attitude is present in Khamenei's approach to foreign policy. He has long held that Tehran must not compromise in the face of U.S. coercion and intimidation, for it would only project weakness and encourage even greater pressure from Washington. So despite six U.N. Security Council resolutions, escalating economic sanctions, and occasional military threats, the Islamic Republic's foreign and nuclear policies have remained defiant. "Rights cannot be achieved by entreating," Khamenei once said. "If you supplicate, withdraw and show flexibility, arrogant powers will make their threat more serious." So don't expect Tehran to barter away its spinning nuclear centrifuges anytime soon.
4.  Cultivate the military

In contrast to Khomeini, a bona fide religious scholar, Khamenei had the clerical equivalent of a master's degree (hojjat'ol'eslam) before being undeservingly granted the title of Ayatollah when he was chosen as Khomeini's successor. Khamenei has therefore sought legitimacy in the barracks rather than the seminaries of Qom. And as his popular legitimacy fades, his reliance on and indulgence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- a 125,000-strong military force with increasingly corporatist behavior -- has grown.
Machiavelli, who spearheaded the creation of the Florentine Republic's citizen-militia, would appreciate the strategy. He warned, "When princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states. And the first cause of your losing it is to neglect this art; and what enables you to acquire a state is to be master of the art."

While the strong, artful arm of the IRGC has been politically expedient for Khamenei, it has also been economically expedient for the Guards. Under Khamenei's patronage, Revolutionary Guard-affiliated companies and contractors are increasingly operating massive public infrastructure projects involving water, electricity, and transport (including the Tehran metro). As a result of sanctions and paltry foreign investment, IRGC companies have been granted multiple no-bid contracts in the oil and mining sector. While the numbers are nebulous, the vast economic activities of the IRGC can be measured in the tens of billions of dollars, making it arguably the country's most potent economic entity.  
There's an obvious downside to the wealth the IRGC has amassed: By virtue of Khamenei's reliance on the guards, he's been forced to cede significant influence and authority to them. Yet he's still the boss: He handpicks their top commanders and changes them frequently. It's a symbiotic relationship: The IRGC needs the authority provided by the supreme leader's position, and Khamenei needs their muscle. In contrast to the Egyptian and Tunisian armies who cut loose their dictators either for the benefit of the nation or for the benefit of themselves, the senior cadres of the Revolutionary Guard -- not necessarily the rank and file, who are politically diverse -- see their fate intertwined with that of their benefactor-in-chief.

5. Maintain an external enemy
"There is no doubt that a prince's greatness depends on his triumphing over difficulties and opposition," Machiavelli wrote. "Many, therefore, believe that when he has the chance an able prince should cunningly foster some opposition to himself so that by overcoming it he can enhance his own stature."

In three decades worth of writings and speeches, Khamenei's contempt for the United States has been remarkably consistent and enduring. Whether the topic of discussion is foreign policy, agriculture, or educational policy, he seamlessly relates the subject matter to the cruelty, greed, and sinister plots of what he calls America's "global arrogance."
For Khamenei, enmity toward the United States was a fundamental pillar of the 1979 revolution and central to the Islamic Republic's identity. But today this opposition is driven as much by self-preservation as ideology. Khamenei is acutely aware that a rapprochement with the United States that reintegrated Iran back into the global political and economic order would likely spur unpredictable changes that could significantly dilute his hold on power. As Machiavelli warned, "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

What's more, it is politically and ideologically expedient for Khamenei to have the United States and Israel as adversaries, so he has a convenient culprit when the population rises up, economic malaise worsens, or ethnic minorities agitate.
A Machiavellian End?

Although these tactics have served Khamenei well for over two decades, the supreme leader has come to neglect some of the tenets that enabled his long reign. His initially defiant support for Ahmadinejad -- despite massive popular uprisings and unprecedented fissures among the country's political elites -- earned him derision of the kind that Machiavelli consistently warned against. 
Other moves have eroded Khamenei's reputation for moderation and humility. He has allowed one of his four sons, Mojtaba, to assume an increasingly influential and visible role as his consigliere. He has allowed, if not encouraged, sycophants to proclaim him the prophet's representative on earth. One particularly creative clerical brownnoser even claimed that, in contrast to other babies who merely cry upon exiting their mothers' wombs, Khamenei shouted out "ya Ali!" -- a popular Shiite exclamation.

And when it comes to drumming up the fear of external enemies, Khamenei no doubt found it easier under President George W. Bush's administration than during Barack Obama's tenure. As one senior Iranian politico opined to me a few months into Obama's presidency, "If we can't make nice with Barack Hussein Obama, who's preaching mutual respect on a weekly basis and sending us Nowrooz greetings, it's going to be obvious the problem lies in Tehran, not Washington."
However cunning, it's impossible to escape the fact that Khamenei is a 72-year-old leader who hasn't left the country since 1989, presiding over a population where nearly 70 percent are under the age of 33 and connected to the world via satellite TV and Internet. Whether or not not he manages to die as supreme leader is an open question. But the gap between Khamenei and Iranian society has become unbridgeable, and only maintainable via coercion and Machiavellian power politics. Despite his vast authority, his public appearances increasingly render him less a supreme leader than a grouchy old man yelling at his youthful subjects to stay off his proverbial lawn.

Khamenei's inflexibility has so far served him well. His unwillingness to bend, however, has made it more likely that the Islamic Republic itself will have to break. As a young advisor to opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi recently told me, "We don't want a revolution; we've seen how it turns the country upside down. But they're giving us no other choice."
Machiavelli died in 1527, distrusted by all sides and disliked by the people he aimed to serve. It would be poetic justice if one of his most practiced disciples suffered the same fate.

-This article was publish in The Foreign Policy on 21/07/2011
-Karim Sadjadpour is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of Reading Khamenei: The Worldview of Iran's Most Powerful Leader

How Saudi Arabia And Qatar Became Friends Again

And why their rapprochement could mean an early end for the Arab Spring.

By Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi

Saudi King Abdullah (right) with the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani

In the spring of 2006, Qatar's then energy minister broke his silence on a stalled, multibillion-dollar project to supply Qatari gas to Kuwait. "We have received no clearance from Saudi Arabia" he said. "Hence it is not feasible." Fast-forward five years and things couldn't look more different.
The gas-supply project is emblematic of the hot-cold relationship between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The deal was initially proposed by the Qataris in 2001, denied permission by the Saudis, then approved in 2003, and then denied once again in 2006. The roller-coaster-like diplomatic relations between the two energy-rich neighbors dates back to 1992, when a border clash caused the death of two guards. Relations went downhill from there.

Riyadh's vocal objections to Doha's plans stretched to a proposed bridge between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as a bilateral gas pipeline now in operation, which according to Reuters prompted the kingdom to send official letters in 2006 to the pipeline's minority partners, France's Total and the United States' Occidental Petroleum Corp., questioning its proposed route.
Saudi Arabia's then crown prince, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, boycotted a summit of Islamic states in Qatar in 2000 to protest the presence to the Israeli trade office in Doha. Riyadh then withdrew its ambassador to Qatar in 2002 following controversial comments made by Saudi dissidents on Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite channel.

The dispute took a personal tone when lawyers for Qatar's first lady, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, argued in a libel case she won against a London-based Arabic newspaper in 2005 that the paper was, as Dawn reported, "controlled by Saudi intelligence paymasters who used the newspaper as a mouthpiece for a propaganda campaign against Qatar and its leadership." In April 2008, the London-based, Saudi-owned Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat apologized for printing three "wholly untrue" articles back in 2006 alleging that Qatar's prime minister had visited Israel in secret.
During its decade of cold relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar warmed up to Syria, the leader of the so-called resistance axis in Arab politics. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani were frequent visitors to each other's countries, and Qatari investors poured billions of dollars into the struggling Syrian economy. Both states, along with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, were seen as a regional counterbalance to the pro-Western axis of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. (The Saudis made their displeasure with Qatar's maverick policies clear on a number of occasions. Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, refused to attend a January 2009 summit in Qatar supported by Syria and Hamas and instead held another summit in Riyadh just one day before.)

Wishing to put an end to the bad blood, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, widely seen as the architect of Qatar's foreign policy, accompanied the emir on a surprise visit to Riyadh in September 2007. Relations quickly improved following that visit, with the Saudi monarch attending the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Doha that December. By next March, the new Saudi crown prince, Sultan, had paid a three-day visit to Doha, the first since 2002. In July 2008, the Saudis played host to a high-level summit in Jeddah that saw the two neighbors demarcate their border and set up a joint council to be chaired by both states' crown princes -- who are more than 50 years apart in age -- to strengthen political, security, financial, economic, commercial, investment, cultural, and media relations.
It was perhaps that last aspect of the pact that drew the most attention. The New York Times reported in 2008 that the Qatari emir had taken the chairman and general manager of Al Jazeera with him to Riyadh in September 2007. One Al Jazeera employee claimed in an email message to the Times that "Orders were given not to tackle any Saudi issue without referring to the higher management" and that subsequently "All dissident voices disappeared from our screens." Al Jazeera is now accused of rarely taking on sensitive topics involving its larger neighbor.

Relations hit a high in May 2010 when the Qatari emir pardoned -- upon King Abdullah's request -- an undisclosed number of Saudis who were accused by Doha of taking part in a 1996 coup led by loyalists of Sheikh Hamad's ousted father. Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, the released prisoners were received by the crown prince in his palace in Jeddah.
Despite the rapprochement, not all was smooth sailing between the two countries, especially when it concerned Syria. In 2008, the Saudi foreign minister, according to Syrian government-controlled newspaper Teshreen, expressed objections to Qatar's attempts to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon, which traditionally falls under Saudi-Syrian influence. On another occasion in 2009, Kuwait's Al Rai newspaper quoted a Qatari official saying that Damascus had rejected Qatari efforts to resolve yet another Lebanese cabinet formation crisis by interceding with the Saudis.

Despite the rapprochement between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the two states have reacted differently to the Arab Spring. While Qatar's support for this year's Egyptian revolution was evident in Al Jazeera's coverage, Saudi Arabia continued expressing support for President Hosni Mubarak until the very end. And despite the cold relations between Libya and Saudi Arabia due to an alleged 2003 assassination attempt against then Crown Prince Abdullah, the Saudis never called on Muammar al-Qaddafi to step down. Yet not only did Qatar call on the Libyan leader to go, but it was also the first Arab country to commit to the NATO-led military effort in the North African state.
At first, Doha and Riyadh appeared to see eye to eye on Syria. On April 2, shortly after the protests erupted in Syria, Qatar's emir dispatched his prime minister to Damascus to deliver a message of "support for Syria in the face of efforts to undermine the country's security and stability," as reported by Syrian state media. However, relations between Qatar and Syria had deteriorated so much by July 18 that Qatar suspended operations at its embassy in Damascus and withdrew its ambassador in yet another major surprise of the Arab Spring, especially considering the close relations of both states.

In the intervening months, Al Jazeera had noticeably amped up its coverage of the Syrian protest movement, privileging YouTube clips and eyewitness accounts over government claims that the protests were a foreign-backed Islamist conspiracy. Syrian channels retaliated by blaming Qatar for the unrest, at one point even showing bags of drugs with the Al Jazeera label, and by intimating that some $6 billion in Qatari investments were at risk. A senior Qatari official said his country might resort to international law to sue Syria while the Qatari press said that Syrian channels devoted hours every day to "portray Qatar in a bad light."
What can explain this dramatic shift in Qatar-Syria relations? As early as March 25, Egyptian-born Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a popular religious scholar who for many years maintained a weekly show on Al Jazeera and who is a longtime member of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared his full and emphatic support for the Syrian revolution in a Friday sermon. "Winds of change [are] not far from Syria," Qaradawi declared, citing the "historical ... political bond" between Egypt and Syria, and proceeded to condemn Syria's "suppressive regime" and its "atrocities." Bouthaina Shaaban, an advisor to the Syrian president, immediately singled out Qaradawi for what she claimed was inciting a sectarian uprising.

Perhaps Qaradawi's influence and presence in Qatar, where he has lived since 1961, explains why Doha was willing to publicly break with Assad while Saudi Arabia has maintained some level of support. The Syrian revolt, like Egypt's, has been partially led by the country's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which regularly meets with liberals and other opposition factions to plan for a post-Assad Syria. Qatar, which like Saudi Arabia officially practices a Wahhabi version of Islam, evidently feels more comfortable with the Brotherhood sharing power than do the Saudis. Saudi Arabia may also be concerned for the stability of Lebanon, which would inevitably be affected by a regime collapse in Syria.
Another interesting twist will be how Iran reacts to Qatar's now-frozen relations with Assad. Iran and Qatar share control of the world's largest gas field, obliging Doha to maintain cordial relations with Tehran -- yet Iran is deeply invested in Assad's survival, to the point of allegedly sending trainers and billions of dollars worth of cash to help him contain the revolt.

Meanwhile, Qatari and Saudi ties grow ever warmer. In the past few weeks, the number of weekly flights Qatar Airways has been allowed to operate to Saudi Arabia increased from 35 to 60. In September, a delegation of 100 Saudi businessmen will visit Qatar to discuss joint business opportunities, including the establishment of a Saudi-Qatari bank and joint industrial zone. Al Jazeera, long banned in the kingdom, has also been given the green light to set up a Saudi bureau.
The friendly relations are likely to continue -- at least until 2022, when Doha plays host to the FIFA World Cup, a marquis global event for which it has earmarked anywhere between $65 billion and $100 billion and invested considerable political capital. For the tournament to go as smoothly as possible, a pragmatic Qatar will need the full cooperation of its largest and only land neighbor. Saudi firms will doubtless win lucrative infrastructure contracts or supply essential raw materials to Qatar over the coming decade, and we will likely see Doha's freewheeling foreign policy stay within the bounds of Riyadh's interests. Above all, Qatar will spare no effort to make certain that nothing stands in the way of its global coming-out party.

-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 21/07/2011
-Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a commentator on Arab affairs. Based in the United Arab Emirates