Netanyahu victory torpedoes two-state solution, say analysts

PLO Secretary Saeb Erekat speaks during a press conference in Ramallah on Wednesday, following the Israeli elections. (AFP)
Updated 11 April 2019

Netanyahu victory torpedoes two-state solution, say analysts

  • Election result reflects ‘hawkish’ Israeli behavior
  • Many countries deem settlements illegal

AMMAN: Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in Israeli elections have caused irreparable damage to a two-state solution, analysts have told Arab News.

Saeb Erekat, secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Executive Committee, said the election results reflected the hawkish behavior of Israelis who were not interested in peace.

“It’s obvious that the Israeli voting behavior is for the continuation of the status quo and the occupation,” he told Arab News.

Palestinians were angry after Netanyahu pledged on the campaign trail to annex illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinians and many countries deem settlements to be illegal under the Geneva conventions that bar settling on land captured in war.

Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

Palestinian activists believe Netanyahu has been emboldened by support from US President Donald Trump, who said the US would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Annexing settlements would all but end any final chances for a two-state solution with the Palestinians and potentially push the sides toward a single, binational state.

Anees Sweidan, head of the PLO’s International Affairs Department, said the election results were unsurprising and that the “radicalization” of Israel would not have happened without public support from the US.

“This is why we have to expect more radical American and Israeli decisions which will move our entire region toward the abyss,” he told Arab News.

Trump caused international outrage when he said the US would recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their own future state.

The US leader was slammed by Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee.

She said Netanyahu had been “emboldened by the Trump administration’s reckless policies and blind support.”

Hanna Issa, from the Christian-Muslim Council for Jerusalem, said that Netanyahu had succeeded in getting a record number of seats in the Israeli Knesset since 1948 without having a political or social or security program.

“He did what Palestinians didn’t expect, namely get support from the world’s superpowers,” Issa told Arab News.

Two Arab parties ran in the election: Hadash-Ta’al and the United Arab List-Balad. In the previous poll, they ran together as the Joint List. The split in the Joint List led to the establishment of the two parties — and calls for a boycott.

The Jerusalem Post reported that by 3 p.m. on voting day just 20 percent of Arab voters had cast their ballots, prompting candidates and Arab-Israeli leaders to urge people to take part in the electoral process.

Botrus Mansour, a lawyer from Nazareth, said there were many reasons for the low Arab turnout.

“In addition to anger at the current nominees who couldn’t keep a Joint List intact, there has been a general feeling that Arab Knesset members are not given a chance to have an effect,” he told Arab News.

Mansour, who heads the Baptist School in Nazareth, also said many intellectuals felt there was no need to legitimize Israel.

“Most of the intellectuals were disappointed with the general shift to the right in Israel and decided to stay away.”

Naser Laham, editor-in-chief of Maan News and an analyst, said the election result would have an impact on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

It would push him to one of two options, he said. “More waiting for a miracle to happen, or adopting the strategy of the Joint Arab List inside the Green Line (that separates Israel from the West Bank) which focuses on Palestinians calling for equality in political rights throughout the area between the river and the sea,” he told Arab News.

Thousands protest in Iraq to demand ouster of US troops

Updated 24 January 2020

Thousands protest in Iraq to demand ouster of US troops

  • A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and read out a statement by the influential Shiite cleric and populist politician
  • In the early hours of Friday, thousands of men, women and children of all ages massed under grey skies in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Thousands of supporters of populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered in Baghdad on Friday for a rally to demand the ouster of US troops, putting the protest-hit capital on edge.

The march rattled the separate, months-old protest movement that has gripped the capital and the Shiite-majority south since October, demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.

In the early hours of Friday, thousands of men, women and children of all ages massed under grey skies in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad.

“Get out, get out, occupier!” some shouted, while others chanted, “Yes to sovereignty!“

A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and read out a statement by the influential Shiite cleric and populist politician.

It called for all foreign forces to leave Iraq, the cancelation of Iraq’s security agreements with the US, the closure of Iraqi airspace to American military and surveillance aircraft and for US President Donald Trump not to be “arrogant” when addressing Iraqi officials.

“If all this is implemented, we will deal with it as a non-occupying country — otherwise it will be considered a country hostile to Iraq,” the statement said.

Protesters then began peeling away from the square, tossing their signs in bins along the way, but thousands lingered in the rally camp.

The American military presence has been a hot-button issue in Iraq since a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu
Mahdi Al-Muhandis outside Baghdad airport on January 3.

Two days later, parliament voted for all foreign troops, including some 5,200 US personnel, to leave the country.

The vote was non-binding and the US special envoy for the coalition against the Daesh group, James Jeffrey, said Thursday there was no “real engagement” between the two governments on the issue.

Joint US-Iraqi operations against IS have been on hold since the drone attack, which triggered retaliatory Iranian missile strikes against US troops in Iraq.

No Iraqi or US personnel were killed in Iran’s strike.

Long opposed to the US troop presence, Sadr seized on the public anger over the drone strike to call “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations.”

Several pro-Iran factions from the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, usually rivals of Sadr, backed his call and pledged to join.

But separate anti-government protesters, who have braved violence that has left 470 people dead since October, fear their cause could be eclipsed by Sadr’s powerplay.

“Sadr doesn’t represent us,” one teenager said defiantly late Thursday on a blocked-off thoroughfare in Baghdad.

To head off Friday’s gathering and ramp up pressure on authorities to enact reforms, young demonstrators blocked streets in Baghdad and across the south this week.

There had been worries that angry crowds might attack the presidential palace or the high-security Green Zone, home to the US embassy and other foreign missions.

The move would not be without precedent for Sadr, who urged followers to storm the Green Zone in 2016 in a challenge to the government over undelivered reforms.

But there were no attempts on Friday morning to storm government buildings.

Sadr, 46, battled US forces at the head of his Mehdi Army militia after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

He later branded himself a reformist and backed the recent anti-government protests when they erupted in October.

The cleric controls parliament’s largest bloc and his followers hold top ministerial positions.

Sadr is a notoriously fickle politician, known for switching alliances quickly.

His spokesman Saleh Al-Obeidy hinted that while others in Iraq unequivocally blamed either the US or Iran for instability, Sadr would choose a middle path.

“We believe that both are behind this ruin, and Sadr is trying to balance between the two,” he said.

Harith Hasan of the Carnegie Middle East Center said Sadr was trying to sustain his “multiple identities” by backing various protests.

“On the one hand, (he seeks to) position himself as the leader of a reform movement, as a populist, as anti-establishment,” Hasan told AFP.

“On the other hand, he also wants to sustain his image as the leader of the resistance to the ‘American occupation’,” partly to win favor with Iran.
Sadr may also have domestic motivations, Hasan said.

“This protest will show Sadr is still the one able to mobilize large groups of people in the streets — but it’s also possible he wants other groups to respond by giving him more space to choose the prime minister.”