WJC’s Ronald Lauder says Palestinians should seize the moment as UAE, Bahrain sign peace deal with Israel

Lauder said the Palestinians should seize the moment. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 September 2020

WJC’s Ronald Lauder says Palestinians should seize the moment as UAE, Bahrain sign peace deal with Israel

CHICAGO: Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, predicts that the Abraham Accords, between the UAE, Israel and Bahrain, will open a new path that will achieve peace not only between Arabs and Jews, but Israelis and Palestinians too.

Lauder was one of several hundred leaders invited by US President Donald Trump to attend the signing of the two separate deals on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday.

An advocate for peace over many decades, Lauder, who is also the chairman of one of the world’s largest cosmetic companies, told Arab News on Monday he believes the Abraham Accords will open the door to an eventual final peace with the Palestinians, and strengthen the Jewish community’s presence in the Arab world.

 

“I think that this is a historic agreement between Israel and the UAE, and between Israel and Bahrain. It opens up the entire region and it is a question of starting to believe in each other. This is going to have a ripple effect throughout the entire Middle East. I believe there will be other countries joining very shortly in this phase,” said Lauder.

“I believe very, very much that the Palestinians, seeing what is happening, will finally say it is time to come to the peace table and will sit down with Israel and the US and say let’s talk peace.”

Lauder, a billionaire who has used his money to support Jewish communities in more than 100 countries, added that the World Jewish Congress was already working with the Jewish community in Bahrain, and would soon vote to include the Jewish community of the UAE into their organization.

“We have Bahrain as a part of the World Jewish Congress, and we just voted in the UAE Jewish community,” said Lauder, who also serves as chairman of the Jewish National Fund and previously served as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He is currently chairman of Clinique Laboratories, LLC, a division of the Estee Lauder Companies, Inc., and serves on the Estée Lauder Companies’ board of directors.

With regard to the UAE, he said: “I don’t know the exact numbers but there is a sizable Jewish community there. I know they have a Jewish school there already and we are working with that school through my foundation. In Bahrain I visited the synagogue there and I have seen the Jewish community there.

“Once this peace (deal) is done, you will see many more Jewish people coming out saying we are Jewish and what this is about. There will be a great deal of back and forth between the two countries. I think there will be more planes between Israel and the UAE than between Israel and other countries. It will be something important.”

Lauder said he attended the signing of the peace accords between Israel and Palestinians that took place at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993, and said he believes the two agreements with the UAE and Bahrain will be just as important

“I think it is greatly significant because of the fact that these two countries, UAE and Bahrain, have never been in a military conflict recently with Israel. This is very important because this is an agreement that sets a precedent and it sets up the whole area to work together,” said Lauder.

“I think many other countries will follow in the Middle East, and it changes the whole dynamic. I think it will have a major, major effect on the Palestinians. It will say to the Palestinians the time is now to make peace. I believe it will be very important for the Palestinians to come to the table.”

Lauder said the Palestinians should seize the moment.

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“I believe that the question that everyone asks is what are the Palestinians going to do?” he told Arab News. “I think the Palestinians are realizing now that this is the time to make peace. They should not, and cannot, wait

“Trust does not come overnight. It takes time to build together. There always will be in the near future extremists who will try to stop this trust by trying to do whatever they can.”

Lauder said he was hopeful that the Palestinians will eventually sign an agreement with Israel, as they deserve justice.

“I believe very, very much that Palestinians, seeing what is happening, will finally say it is time to come to the peace table and will sit down with Israel and the US and say: ‘Let’s talk peace,’” he said.

On a more philosophical note, Lauder described Arabs and Jews as “Children of Abraham,” referencing the name of the accords brokered by President Trump, and predicted that the two peoples would one day work together to address global issues.

“Remember, we are all children of Abraham. We are cousins. I believe very much that someday we will have Jews, Muslims and Christians sitting down at the same table, enjoying the same food and discussing things,” Lauder said.

“I look forward (to the day) there will be think tanks made up of Jews, Muslims and Christians working together to find things to do. This is the future. This is what’s happening.”
 


How Erdogan steered Turkey from ‘zero problems’ to zero friends

Updated 19 min 45 sec ago

How Erdogan steered Turkey from ‘zero problems’ to zero friends

  • Sharp exchanges between Erdogan government officials and their Western counterparts have resulted in a plunge of the lira
  • Current crisis viewed as resulting from rejection of doctrine once credited with making Turkey economically and politically strong

MISSOURI: The Turkish lira plumbed new depths on Monday, breaching the psychological barrier of  8 to the US dollar, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the US to slap more sanctions on his country and ratcheted up the rhetoric against European leaders.

Barely 10 years ago, Turkey’s foreign relations and role in the Mediterranean and Middle East looked very different from today’s mess. With the economy growing at an impressive rate, an increasingly confident Turkey with a popular and stable government at home had begun to play a leadership role in the region.

Then, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was touting his “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy, first announced in 2008. The policy saw Turkey improve its relations with every neighboring state, with Ankara becoming a mediator of choice in conflicts from Afghanistan and Pakistan to intra-Palestinian disputes, Israeli talks with Syria and even American-Iran tensions.

European and North American statesmen regularly sang President Erdogan’s praises, and US President Obama even held Turkey forth as a “model” Muslim democracy and ally. At the same time, Turkish businesses pursued ever expanding projects throughout a welcoming Arab world, in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa.

Visa requirements with Syria were lifted, with talk of similar openings to other Arab states. Even relations between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq flourished during this period, with reciprocal state visits that saw the Kurdistan Region’s flag flying alongside the Turkish one. At home, Ankara likewise pursued peace talks with political representatives of Turkey’s own Kurdish population.

Today, the situation could not look more different. In just 10 short years, Turkey has gone from “zero problems with neighbors” to almost “zero friendly neighbors.” Naval drills in the Mediterranean see French, Greek, Cypriot and even Israeli and Egyptian vessels in tense standoffs with Turkish ones. Peace talks with the Kurds were replaced with a resumption of hostilities and Ankara’s relations with Iraqi Kurds too became more frosty.

Several Arab states have begun boycotting Turkish goods, while France and some other European states push for EU sanctions on Ankara. The US Congress and Senate likewise agitate for sanctions on Turkey while various think tanks in Washington discuss the desirability of Turkey remaining a part of NATO. This year Israeli leaders, for the first time, added Turkey to their annual threat assessments, so bad have their relations become.

Even some voices in Moscow openly speculate about whether or not President Erdogan harbors “Ottoman ambitions.” Not a week seems to go by without some dramatic war of words between Erdogan and leaders in Europe, the US, or the Arab world. Over just the last couple of weeks, Turkey’s disputes with others and destabilizing activities make for an impressive list, in fact.

By many accounts, Turkey recently increased its arms exports to Azerbaijan and then goaded Baku into resuming its war with Armenia — which caused alarm especially in Moscow (a major backer of Armenia). Ankara played a spoiler role in Libya as well, effectively scuttling a ceasefire agreement between rival governments there. In the Mediterranean, Turkey continued ignoring the maritime claims of Greece and Cyprus to explore for gas in a huge swatch of coastal waters it claims for itself.

In Iraq, Turkey continued bombing various rural communities near the border where Kurdish militants are active, simultaneously increasing its number of military bases and soldiers in the country — against Baghdad’s wishes. In Syria, Turkey continues to occupy large swathes of the north — where it displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurdish civilians when it invaded Afrin in 2018 and Jazira in 2019 – and Erdogan during the past week even began threatening a third operation into other areas of the country with a significant Kurdish population.

In these areas and in the mostly Arab Idlib province, Ankara also continues to back and deploy Islamist proxy forces – some of them former Daesh fighters and quite radical. Turkey even sent its Syrian proxy mercenaries to Libya and Azerbaijan as well to help push its interests in those conflicts. Turkish support for Muslim Brotherhood-aligned groups across the Middle East and North Africa thus continues unabated, effectively ruining Ankara’s relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other states in the area who oppose political Islam.

Turkey’s use of religion as a political tool to rally support worldwide has again flared up in its relations with France. After President Emmanuel Macron announced measures in France to prevent the political misuse of Islam there (following the beheading of a French teacher near Paris by a radicalized French-Chechen Muslim), Turkish President Erdogan lashed out at the French measures and accused Macron of needing “mental treatment.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. (AFP)

In normal times, the French moves to monitor foreign income sources of Muslim groups in France and the training of imams there should have elicited little comment abroad. Erdogan, however, immediately moved to spark another dispute over the issue, in order to cast himself as “defender of Islam” like the Caliphs of the bygone Ottoman Empire.

Qatar and Iran joined Turkey in condemning France. Government-controlled media in Turkey even ran stories about how Palestinian Islamic Jihad (a small and normally insignificant Iranian proxy group on all the Western terrorist group lists) “paid tribute to the Turkish Republic for defending Islam and Muslims.”

Going back further than a couple of weeks, one could cite a long list of Turkish disputes from the last 10 years with just about everyone save Iran, Qatar, Azerbaijan and a few non-state actors. The list could include but not be limited to Erdogan’s threats to deliver an “Ottoman slap” to the Americans, Turkish efforts to help Iran evade sanctions, calling today’s leaders in Europe “Nazis”, claiming that various Islands in the Aegean should be under Turkish rather than Greek sovereignty, threatening to use refugees as a weapon to flood Europe, various anti-Semitic dog whistle statements about “the interest rate lobby” and “a greater mind” seeking to destroy Turkey, and a host of other confrontations.

So how did Turkey go from “zero problems with neighbors” to this? On the one hand, some increased tensions should be expected as a country grows in power and flexes its muscles. China, for instance, has increasingly serious disputes about maritime borders and exclusive coastal water issues. China is not involved in half as many armed conflicts or vociferous diplomatic disputes as Turkey entered in just the last few years, however, and Turkey’s vaunted economic growth stagnated almost around the same time its “zero problems with neighbors” policy did.

Indeed, the economic problems and political and military disputes may go hand in hand. Several factors came together in the last ten years to bring Turkey to where it is now. First, Erdogan’s government pushed the Turkish military back to the barracks, allowing him to change the country’s foreign policy orientation and approach to Islam as he saw fit. When the Arab Spring uprisings broke out in 2011, Erdogan viewed it as an opportunity to support Muslim Brotherhood-aligned groups across the Arab region.

When Turkey’s economy started slowing down and opposition to his government mounted at home, however, Erdogan doubled down on his support for Islamists abroad — casting himself as a “defender of Islam” to distract people from the worsening economy and his own increasing authoritarianism. Every war of words with Europeans, Americans, Armenians, Israelis and other non-Muslims helps Erdogan do this.

The war with the Kurds, which he chose to resume after a particularly weak electoral showing in 2015, similarly helped distract his domestic political opponents. The problem for Turkey is that increasing entanglements abroad and confrontations with others will exacerbate its economic problems. In a short amount of time, Turkey may find itself very much over-extended and isolated. At some point after that happens, the Turkish public will either blame Erdogan for what happened or Turkey will see itself become a much weaker pariah state, or both.

* David Romano is Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University