Arafat’s Legacy

(Huffington Post) – The Parliamentary vote to strike ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris attacks demonstrates that the globalised world of the 21st century does not afford us the luxury to relive an isolationist past. The US was shielded by two oceans and the UK was a distant island with foreign intervention being an arbitrary matter of moral conscience. Today’s increasingly networked reality and the erosion of borders in the Middle East causes global politics to be local and the security threats have increased at an exponential rate. Yet the question has been frequently asked about intervening in Syria was, ‘what has it got to do with us?’ Syria has led to one of the greatest refugee crisis of our time with terrorists able to conduct attacks within our shores. We have reached a stage in history where our security and strategic interests are aligned with humanitarian concerns. It is impossible and immoral to enjoy liberal democracy while abroad people are slaughtered by repressive regimes like the Assad regime or by sub-state terrorist groups like ISIS as it will come to haunt us as it did in Paris.

Targeting ISIS: A Security and Humanitarian Imperative

Fears of potential reprisals against Western targets if the US or Britain intervened in the Syrian crisis ignored the risk of terrorism due to the failure to intervene. Any environment hosting a vacuum of governance coupled with a totalitarian ideology that reinforces extreme poverty, serves to be a springboard for international terrorism, enabling the proliferation of conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Radicals are attracted to that environment not only from impoverished and lawless areas, but from developed states. In areas like Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria they are indoctrinated with radical philosophies and receive the know-how to conduct terrorist activities when they return home to their Western states. Even if Islamists don’t travel abroad they are radicalized by the internet and social media posing a security risk. In Britain the number of attempted terror plots and suspects on the watch list has soared to the thousands since the advent of ISIS. Despite the security risks of Syrian refugees being low, it is impossible to effectively screen them.

Read Full Article: Huff Post

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Beyond the bid The PA’s move towards statehood

(Janes Intelligence Review) – Although the Palestinian Authority’s application for full statehood to the UN General Assembly was celebrated vociferously in Gaza and the West Bank, little is expected to change. Barak Seener examines the strategy behind the bid and Israel’s reaction.
On 23 September, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas for- mally presented the PA’s application for full statehood to the UN General Assembly. This bid, which was greeted by celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank, followed months of speculation about whether Abbas would make the bid and how it might be received.

Abbas’ move came despite last-ditch efforts by Israel and the United States to prevent the formal application, with the US warning that such action could serve to undermine the long-running peace process. However, with the bid now having entered a protracted evalua- tion process at the UN, the focus has shifted back to events on the ground. In particular, the 18 October release of Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) soldier Gilad Shalit – who had been held by Hamas since June 2006 – in exchange for Palestinian prisoners has drawn a clear line of comparison between the approaches of Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah, and raised questions about which may prove more effective.

Underlying these different approaches is the long-term disjunction in terms of perception of the aims of the various actors in the peace process. While the common understanding, and generally that of various Western interlocutors in the process, is that the conflict centres on territory and nationalism, this is only part of the issue. If it were simply about territory, the peace process might have been resolved decades ago. Instead, a complex web of ideology and identity, often even within the PA, continues to drive efforts at dialogue. It is these two separate cur- rents within the negotiating process that have led to the dual-track approaches of Hamas and Fatah, and which will dictate the evolution of the peace process.

Ideological backdrop

Despite the ongoing emphasis on the need for Israel and the PA to return to negotiations, the long history of such talks suggests that dialogue is less a means to resolve the conflict than a flawed attempt to manage it. At root, the aim of resolving the conflict founders on the incompatibility of issues of ideology and nationality, rather than territory, as illustrated by the long- standing issue of recognition. It had been a long time coming when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recognised a potential Palestinian state in a June 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University. In recognising a two-state solution, Netanyahu opened himself up to vehement criticism from within his own Likud party, as well as his right-wing and religious coalition partners. Conversely, Abbas has said to the international community, “Do not order us to recognise a Jewish state.

We will not accept it.” Netanyahu must also contend with coalition partners, some of whom are religious nationalists who refer to the Jewish legal prohibition on ceding any territory of the land of Israel. The non-negotiable approach to the conflict is expressed in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s phased approach of 1974, which was to establish an “independent combatant national authority” over any territory that is “liberated” from Israeli rule through the “armed struggle” (seen by Israel and the international community as terrorism). (Article 2 of the constitution). Articles 4 and 8 respectively establish a sequence of destroying Israel using a Palestinian national territory as a springboard for operations leading the provocation to war that could attract the surrounding Arab states to attack Israel.

Negotiations have often contributed to the ongoing stalemate. The PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Feisal Husseini called the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 and establishing a definitive framework for negotiation, a Trojan Horse. In an interview given to Egypt’s Al-Arabi newspaper in 2001, Husseini said: “Had the US and Israel not [thought], before Oslo, that all that was left of the Palestinian national movement and the Pan-Arab movement was a wooden horse called Arafat or the PLO, they would never have opened their fortified gates and let it inside their walls… The Oslo Accords were a Trojan Horse; the strategic goal is the liberation of Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea.” It is this approach that frames both Abbas’ decision to bid for Pales- tinian statehood and Hamas’ prisoner exchange agreement, although the two appear very differ- ent on the surface.

Read Full Article: JIR_Palestine

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

The Obama Middle East Speech and Israel’s Reaction

(RUSI) – For Israeli policymakers, President Obama’s major Middle East speech on 19 May 2011 has been met with alarm. An American president has for the first time broken with the traditional US approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The end result may harden attitudes on both sides of the conflict.

The Obama administration has dramatically shifted from the United State’s traditional approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian talks since 1993 when President Clinton presided over the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords. For the first time, President Obama shifted US policy by being the first president to call for Israel to return to the 1967 borders.

His predecessors, President Bush and President Clinton purposely refused to refer to the 1967 borders. President Obama’s pronouncement is certainly a departure from the position outlined by President Bush’s 2004 letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -endorsed by a bipartisan majority, including ironically Hilary Clinton. The letter had referred to the fact that both parties would have to agree to any swaps of territory. The letter further declared, ‘in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.’ Similarly, the Clinton Parameters which was withdrawn by President Clinton before he left office, while referring to land ‘swaps and other territorial arrangements’, failed to mention the 1967 borders.

This traditional approach towards the conflict was in line with UN Resolution 242 of November 1967 that did not make its calls for Israel’s return to a ‘secure and recognised’ border as synonymous with the 1967 borders. This was due to its aim that the borders would result from negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Britain’s foreign secretary at the time, George Brown underscored this saying: ‘The proposal said ‘Israel will withdraw from territories that were occupied,’ and not from ‘the’ territories, which means that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories.’ This principle in fact had already been reiterated by the main author of Resolution 242, the British ambassador to the UN in 1967, Lord Caradon, who decades earlier admitted on PBS: ‘We didn’t say there should be a withdrawal to the ’67 line….We all knew – the boundaries of ’67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers, they were a cease-fire line of a couple of decades earlier.’ The cease-fire Lord Caradon was referring to was in 1948, when the five Arab armies were prevented from invading the newly created state of Israel and which legally formed an armistice line, not a recognised international border.

Read Full Article: RUSI

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Transparently Corrupt

Strategic Intelligentia

(The National Interest) – The most transparent thing about the Palestinian Authority is its wastefulness. If the international community is serious about jump-starting the peace process, it can start by holding the PA accountable.

Without transparency, how can a government properly represent its people, let alone function properly? Western democracies police their own governments rigorously, but, unfortunately, these same countries fail to hold the recipients of their aid to the same robust standards. The international community’s support of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a striking example of and a cautionary lesson in the perils of bankrolling a corrupt regime while turning a blind eye to its dysfunction. The PA’s lack of transparency, democracy and civil society has exacerbated hostilities with Israel, resulted in internecine conflict and served as an incubator for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. But despite all this, $7.4 billion was pledged to the “Palestinian State” for 2008-2010 at the Paris Conference. The international community must cease paying endless lip service to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Instead, it should force PA accountability through international donations, making contributions contingent upon transparent governance and setting benchmarks for the establishment of a stable and democratic state infrastructure.

Corruption thrives in the PA, as those controlling the purse strings benefit from the absence of accountability and by embezzling funds earmarked for critical infrastructure projects. Far from attempting to generate a dynamic economy, the PA-first under Yasir Arafat and now under Mahmoud Abbas-perpetuates a system based on monopolies in various industries granted by PA officials in exchange for kickbacks. At times during Arafat’s reign, a third of the PA’s budget went for “expenses of the President’s office,” without further explanation, auditing or accounting. The international community, particularly European governments, disbursed funds, often in bags of cash delivered directly to Arafat, watching silently as billions of dollars of international aid disappeared into personal bank accounts. Officials throughout Europe ignored the evidence of this widescale corruption.

Read Full Article: The National Interest

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.

Re-evaluating the Links Between the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Threat of Global Jihadism

Strategic Intelligentia

(The Henry Jackson Society)B.M.S. Your new book, ‘The Fight for Jerusalem’, is unique as it effectively manages to fuse both contemporary realities and policy analysis with the historical, cultural, religious and even archaeological backgrounds to the region. This is rarely achieved as focus is usually granted to only one of these factors at best. You demonstrate how historically, territorial concessions that are made as part of conflict resolution have become springboards for further terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world. In over a decade’s worth of experience with the ‘land for peace’ paradigm, has Israel not realized that this has generated further attacks? Why does it continuously revert back to this failed approach?

D.G. We have a deep perceptual problem across the Western alliance about how to halt the advance of radical Islam. Unfortunately many in the West believe that radical Islam springs up from ongoing political grievances with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed many European leaders are convinced that if they could resolve tomorrow the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, this would lower the flames of radical Islamic rage, weaken al-Qaeda, and improve the security of the Western alliance including the security of Europe.

However in ‘The Fight for Jerusalem’, I demonstrate that this assumption is completely false. In fact what leads to the spread and growth of radical Islam are not political grievances, but rather a sense of victory. That is the gasoline that is fuelling the engine of al-Qaeda. We also see this in several historical examples. al-Qaeda was not formed in relationship to any of Israel’s wars whether it be in 1948, 1948 1956, 1967 or 1973, but in 1989 when the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan and withdrew. That led the founders of al-Qaeda to conclude that they had just defeated a superpower. They had scored a huge victory against the great powers of the day and they were replicating Islamic history. In the 7th Century, the armies of Mohammed and the early Caliphs eventually decimated both the Persian and Byzantine empires, and spread Islam from N. Africa to China.

Essentially what we learn from the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is that the sense of victory that the Arab mujahadeen who fought there had, led them to conclude that they should form al-Qaeda and challenge the other great Superpower-the US along with its allies. A second time a withdrawal has a powerful impact upon the growth of Jihadism is when Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon. That led to the perception that, “Israel had a national will as thick as a spider web”, to quote Sheikh Hassan Nasralla, the Secretary General of Hezbollah. It was followed by a massive rearmament of Hezbollah by Iran.

Read Full Article: The Henry Jackson Society

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.