Barely a week into the most extreme government in Israel’s history, its controversial national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, is already demonstrating its right-wing religious and nationalist credentials.
On Tuesday, Ben Gvir visited the Jerusalem compound known as the Temple Mount by Jews and the Haram al-Sharif by Muslims – an action that threatens to upset an already precarious status quo and trigger violence.
Ben Gvir, who has previously been convicted of racist incitement, has vowed to institutionalize Jewish prayer and presence in perhaps the most volatile flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His stated intention for the visit was to mark one of the Jewish fast days.… Seguir leyendo »
In a remarkably prescient 2004 interview, then-Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal told former Washington Post journalist David Ottaway that the U.S.-Saudi relationship wasn’t a “Catholic marriage”, where only one wife was allowed; it was a “Muslim marriage”, where four wives were permitted. “Saudi Arabia was not seeking divorce from the United States; it was just seeking marriage with other countries”, Ottaway wrote.
That has now come to pass. Nowhere is this more clearly reflected than in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week—the first since 2016. Xi’s visit won’t be an awkward “let’s mend the fences” fist-bump moment.… Seguir leyendo »
If former Saturday Night Live great and actor Bill Murray wasn’t hired as a technical adviser to Israel’s Central Elections Committee, he surely might have been. Based on pre-election polling it seemed that Israel was headed for yet another Groundhog Day-style hung election for the fifth time in just short of four years.
But this election seems to have produced (final figures won’t be available until week’s end) what the previous four could not: a majority for Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu and his allies and the likely emergence of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
Indeed, the biggest star in the new political firmament wasn’t Netanyahu but the extremist Itamar Ben Gvir, whose bloc Religious Zionism is now the third largest in the Knesset.… Seguir leyendo »
U.S. President Joe Biden was never enthusiastic about making a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia to make up with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And three months after the fist bump that went ’round the world, it’s easy to see why.
Last week, that fist bump was replaced by a Saudi sucker punch as OPEC+, a cartel of top oil producers, decided to cut its oil production by as much as 2 million barrels per day (though oil analysts say the cut may prove to be significantly lower). There’s no doubt that the primary motive was to keep prices high and maintain Russian-Saudi and OPEC+ cohesion in anticipation of further economic downturns and perhaps a U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
Three key US allies in the Middle East joined the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine this week, but their votes belied the tension that lies beneath the surface.
While the United Arab Emirates voted in favor of the UNGA resolution, it abstained on the earlier UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia. Its UNSC decision was likely due to its frustrations with the Biden administration's refusal to classify the Houthis as a foreign terrorist entity in the region, and its desire to stay in the good graces of Russia, which has become an ally in recent years.… Seguir leyendo »
Having spent a couple decades in and around failing Arab-Israeli negotiations, I know a negotiation that's in serious trouble when I see one. The Iran nuclear negotiations that resumed this week in Vienna after a suspension of almost five months are a case in point.
Indeed, right now, probably neither the Biden administration nor Iran's Supreme Leader believes a mutually acceptable agreement is feasible. And it's not so certain that one of the parties -- Iran, which seems to be using the talks as cover to ramp up its nuclear program -- believes that an accord is even desirable right now.… Seguir leyendo »
President George H.W. Bush was convinced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had lied to him about settlements during their first meeting. President Bill Clinton was so exasperated with Benjamin Netanyahu that he shouted to aides: "Who's the f**king superpower here?" when their first meeting concluded. And President Barack Obama felt the same way after being treated to the famous Netanyahu lectures on politics of the Middle East.
There is no danger of a sequel when Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sits down with President Joe Biden on Thursday at the White House. Indeed, Bennett is almost certain to have one of the smoothest White House meetings with a US President in recent years.… Seguir leyendo »
It's both poignant and fortuitous that the HBO film "Oslo," based on the award-winning play of the same name, is being streamed starting this weekend, days after the end of the worst round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and violence in recent years.
Poignant -- even tragic -- because the film's subject stunningly highlights the importance of political will, skill, partnership and above all leadership that defined the Oslo breakthrough, all of which have been remarkably absent in recent decades of attempted peacemaking.
Fortuitous because even against the grim toll of the recent violence, the film evokes a world in which empowered Israeli and Palestinian negotiators could actually recognize one another's humanity and create a pathway through which each side's national aspirations might be realized and secured.… Seguir leyendo »
Perhaps there's no country in the world where the novel coronavirus has had more of an immediate political impact than Israel. What three elections in barely a year could not accomplish -- the formation of a government -- a virus could.
But Covid-19 had help from a patriotic and risk-averse Benny Gantz, who ran last year, as leader of the Blue and White party, against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party.
Gantz handed Netanyahu a near-perfect arrangement that will allow him to remain the most powerful political figure in Israel for the next 18 months, if not beyond.
Unlike for most leaders in the world, for Netanyahu Covid-19 presented both a challenge and an opportunity.… Seguir leyendo »
Nearly 70 polls had predicted that Israel's March 2 election would produce something reminiscent of Bill Murray's classic movie "Groundhog Day" -- a seemingly endless time loop of political stalemate, dysfunction and yet another election following the previous two last April and September.
Instead, the Israeli voting public gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu perhaps one of his greatest victories. Even though he is under formal indictment for fraud, bribery and breach of trust and set to go on trial March 17, many voters decided to back Netanyahu's Likud party. And with 90% of the vote counted, if his current projected number of 59 seats (including those of his likely coalition partners) holds, his right-wing coalition -- as opposed to Benny Gantz's 54-seat bloc composed of the left and center-left parties and the Arab Joint List -- will be best positioned to form a government.… Seguir leyendo »
In Israeli politics, the old saw goes you can be dead—or dead and buried. Thursday's statement by the Israeli attorney general that Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu will be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust is likely going to put Netanyahu's political career in the latter box. It's almost certainly the beginning of the end of his political career.
However Bibi's story plays out -- and it will take time -- you can take this to the bank: Netanyahu will make this fight (and likely) exit as painful, prolonged and destructive as possible.
Here are some key takeaways:
Netanyahu will go down fighting
If anyone thought that Netanyahu would use his speech to the nation following news of the indictments to put country over party and go quietly into the night, they don't know Netanyahu.… Seguir leyendo »
In the most recent Democratic debate, an animated Joe Biden exclaimed that ISIS "is going to come here" as a result of Trump's decision to abandon the Syrian Kurds and withdraw nearly all US troops from Syria.
After Trump's orders to withdraw, however, another wave of American troops entered Syria, leaving as many as 900 forces in the country. Still, the break in our alliance with the Kurds and the weakening in US counter-terror policy will undoubtedly allow gains for ISIS and other jihadi groups.
Is Biden right? Has Trump paved the way for ISIS to launch attacks on American soil?… Seguir leyendo »
During the months after President Trump’s election, Israel and many of its supporters in the United States cheered as he promised a new, warmer relationship, such as a more lenient approach to settlements in the West Bank and moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
But as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel travels to Washington for the leaders’ first official meeting on Wednesday, things have grown cloudier: Sounding like his predecessors, Mr. Trump has said that settlements “don’t help” the peace process, and he has cast doubt on his campaign commitment to move the embassy.
The meaning of Mr.… Seguir leyendo »
Earlier this week, Russia's Vladimir Putin reportedly told Egypt's President Abdul Fattah Sisi that he would be willing to host direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow.
Putin did speak to Netanyahu by phone Tuesday, and according to press reports, they did discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Having pushed Russia into the middle of Syria's civil war with great effect last September, is Vladimir Putin now making a serious bid to become a Middle East peacemaker too? If he's serious -- and this is far from certain -- Washington should let him try.… Seguir leyendo »
The deadly attack in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, which claimed the lives of four Israelis and wounded several others, presages what could be a long hot summer between Israelis and Palestinians.
But the challenge goes deeper than just the immediate threat of summer violence. Indeed, a number of factors are emerging to create what could be the new Israeli-Palestinian normal -- one in which a highly functional Israeli state interacts with two separate, highly dysfunctional and weak Palestinian polities in the West Bank and Gaza.
This new status quo will be marked at times by competition and violence and at others by cooperation and coordination.… Seguir leyendo »
Israel wanted no part in it. And neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were scheduled to attend. Yet Secretary of State John Kerry remained optimistic ahead of Friday’s sure-to-go-nowhere Middle East peace conference in Paris. “What we are seeking to do,” he said, “is encourage the parties to be able to see a way forward so they understand peace is a possibility.”
I recognize that sentiment: wanting to remain upbeat, even while knowing that the odds are long. For much of my 24-year career as a State Department Middle East analyst, negotiator and adviser, I held out hope that a conflict-ending peace agreement was possible.… Seguir leyendo »
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to stay in power and has his eyes set on becoming the longest governing prime minister in Israel's history, surpassing even the nation's greatest leader, David Ben-Gurion, if he can remain in office until 2018.
That helps explain why he agreed to expand his coalition by offering longtime rival former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman the Defense Ministry, a move that has once again scrambled the Israeli political scene and raised alarm bells in the Middle East and beyond.
The Israeli right is semi-ecstatic; (they still don't trust Netanyahu, who was negotiating with the Labor Party until the day before he went for the Lieberman deal); arguably, Israel now has the most right-wing government in its history; the left is in mourning, convinced that Lieberman appointment will put Israel's security in the hands of a provocative right-winger with no military or defense experience.… Seguir leyendo »
What do you do when it's increasingly clear that one of your longtime Middle East partners doesn't share either your values or many of your interests?
This is only one of the troubling questions that President Obama confronted this week as he sat with Saudi King Salman to discuss the state of the region and the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
The Saudis sent a lower-level official to greet Obama and Saudi state television didn't even bother covering the President's arrival.
So to paraphrase Hamlet, clearly something is rotten in the state of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
And regardless of how this week's meetings conclude the Saudi-American enterprise will remain a delicate and fraught affair.… Seguir leyendo »
John Kerry's visit to the Gulf this week is clearly aimed at trying to reassure key Arab states over U.S. policy toward Iran. But the secretary of state has a problem: If it has feathers, swims and quacks, then chances are it's a duck.
The reality is that no matter how much reassurance Kerry provides, there's no soothing away an emerging reality: The Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran has begun to change a decadeslong patch of confrontation into the beginnings of an accommodation. And there's likely no going back. So while the Gulf states and Israel may see some advantage in delaying Iran's nuclear problem with this deal, it will not be enough to help them overcome their fears of Teheran's regional aspirations -- or America's seeming willingness to acquiesce to them.… Seguir leyendo »
Secretary of State John Kerry's statement last week before Congress that the United States was seeking to remove human rights conditions from U.S. aid to Egypt may have disappointed and unnerved the human rights community. But anyone watching the evolution of President Obama's Middle East policy can hardly have been surprised.
Gone are the heady days of the 2011 Arab Spring, when the President talked about being on the right side of history and -- to apply Obama's own campaign trope -- supporting the forces of hope and change.
The administration has learned the hard way what the fourth-century Roman historian Tacitus knew: The first day after the death of a bad emperor is always the best day.… Seguir leyendo »