How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?
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Updated 23 March 2021

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?

How will the Israel election outcome affect its Arab neighbors and Palestinians?
  • Tuesday’s general election does not guarantee a more decisive result than the three before it
  • The intrinsic instability of Israel’s political system creates nervous anticipation across the Arab region

LONDON: It is not only Israelis who are becoming accustomed to their endless rounds of elections — this week’s being the fourth in two years. The whole region is being forced to consider the impact on Israel’s policies toward its neighbors, especially toward the Palestinians.

The intrinsic instability of the Israeli political system means that whenever an election takes place, it creates anxious anticipation across the Middle East and North Africa, a nervousness arising from the vacillations in Israel’s policies that in turn derive from both the need to lure voters and the constraints of the constant, excruciating and never-ending formations and dissolutions of coalitions.

Tuesday’s general election does not guarantee a more decisive result than the three before it.

In the meantime, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is conducting both his domestic and international policies not necessarily to serve the interests of the country and its people, but first and foremost to prolong his time in office, and at this stage mainly to escape justice in his corruption trial on three cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

For both the Israeli electorate and for the international community, in the more than four years since the investigation into Netanyahu’s corrupt and hedonist behavior began, it has become almost impossible to discern which of the Israeli government’s policies stem from a genuine strategic outlook and which are merely to serve Netanyahu’s attempt to derail his trial and avert conviction.

Yet, scanning the various possible post-election scenarios, as far as Israel’s policies in the region are concerned, one cannot foresee dramatic changes, whether Netanyahu stays or quits.

KEY CONTENDERS IN ISRAELI ELECTION

* Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud 

* Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid 

* Naftali Bennett, Yamina 

* Gideon Saar, New Hope 

* Ayman Odeh, Joint List 

* Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beytenu 

The great danger is that if Netanyahu remains in office, the trend of decisions taken to divert the course of justice will continue, and this might lead to adventurism and pandering to his right-wing base.

If his time in politics comes to an end after Tuesday’s election, Israel is likely to end up with some species of right-wing government, one which might include more centrist elements, but not necessarily.

Of the three other likely candidates for the prime ministerial role, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennet of Yamina and Gideon Saar of New Hope, it is only Lapid who might offer a less hawkish foreign policy and one more accommodating towards the Palestinians.

However, considering the other members of what would inevitably be a coalition government, his room to maneuver would be very limited, and even more so if a post-Netanyahu Likud were to be part of that coalition.

Hence, any changes if they take place might be more nuanced in all regards.




Protesters gather during an anti-government demonstration near the Israeli prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on March 20, 2021, ahead of the election taking place on March 23. (AFP)

An external observer of Israeli politics might expect the Palestinian issue to be high on the public agenda, if not top of it at election time; however, this is not the case.

The issue has been marginalized in inverse correlation to its importance to Israeli society and is confined to small parties either on the left or those of the Joint Arab List. None of the major parties are prepared to offer an alternative discourse, or to call out the dire conditions under which the Palestinians are forced to live in the West Bank and Gaza.

No party is ready to confront the practical, let alone the moral, implications of the continuous occupation of the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza, which is also a form of occupation.

The conventional wisdom, or rather the collective denial, is that there is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side, and as things stand there is no sense of urgency to enter into genuine peace negotiations, based on a two-state solution and a fair and just resolution of all outstanding issues, including the status of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jerusalem.

Judging by the polls and consequently the different scenarios of a future coalition government, it is possible that those who call for the annexation of large swaths of land in the West Bank — a threat that was halted last summer by the Abraham Accords — might be extremely influential in the next government.

Such elements might push to expand the Jewish settlements, legalize dozens of outposts in the West Bank that even in the eyes of the Israeli government are illegal, confiscate more Palestinian land and generally make the lives of Palestinians as uncomfortable as possible.




An Israeli soldier casts his early vote for the country's upcoming legislative elections, at the Golani military base in Kafr Qara near Haifa, on March 17, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Depending on the composition of the Knesset, there could emerge a more pragmatic government, but one that still would be under pressure to at least maintain the sorry status quo.

A major issue that will be high on the next government’s agenda is Iran, and closely related to it, relations with Syria and Lebanon. For Israel, especially under Netanyahu, the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Tehran was from its outset like a red rag to a bull. It opposed it, never believed that Tehran would adhere to its terms, and saw it at best as delaying rather than preventing Iran’s development of nuclear military capability.

There is a wide consensus in Israel that Iran is posing, if not an existential threat to Israel, then at least a very severe one. The corollary of that is a proactive Israeli approach, whether diplomatically or through covert and overt operations in Iran, Syria and other parts of the world where Tehran operates against Israeli targets.

There might be a more nuanced approach in a government not led by Netanyahu, one that would avoid confrontation with the Biden administration if it is determined to re-join the JCPOA, as long as it offers a more stringent inspections regime and constraints on Iran’s development of long-range missiles.

In this context, any incoming Israeli government will be concerned with the consolidation of Iran’s military presence in Syria and air raids on Iranian targets there will continue, along with attacks on arms convoys bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.




A picture taken on March 21, 2021, shows the installation "Speak Out!", consisting of 90 sculpted heads by artist Sophie Halbreich aimed to encourage people to vote, at Habima Square in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP)

The military build-up of the latter on Israel’s northern border, which includes an enormous arsenal of precision-guided missiles, is a threat that Israel’s strategists take very seriously.

As with Iran’s nuclear program, deterrence, quiet diplomacy and limited operations will remain Israel’s policy of choice. However, should Hezbollah cross a certain threshold, open hostilities remain a real possibility.

Lastly, one of Netanyahu’s rare achievements in recent years has been the normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, adding to the existing informal cooperation with Saudi Arabia, and the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

Maintaining this state of affairs and building on it will be the task of the next government. However, as long as the Palestinian conflict lingers on with no sign of a satisfactory solution, it could always become a spoiler in these regional relations, as we have seen recently with the growing tension between Israel and Jordan.

It is safe to say that in the wake of this week’s Israeli election, we will see more continuity than change as far as the region is concerned, but the composition of the next coalition and the main forces in it may still usher in some changes — for better or worse.

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 * Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. Twitter: @YMekelberg


Tunisia’s president says there is ‘no turning back’

Tunisia’s president says there is ‘no turning back’
Updated 05 August 2021

Tunisia’s president says there is ‘no turning back’

Tunisia’s president says there is ‘no turning back’
  • Some 11 days after his intervention, Saied has not named a new PM, announced any steps to end the emergency
  • The labor union is preparing a roadmap to end the crisis that it says it will present to Saied

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said on Thursday there was “no turning back” from his decision to freeze parliament and assume executive power, moves his opponents have branded a coup.
Speaking in a video published by his office, Saied also rejected calls for talks over the crisis, saying “there is no dialogue except with the honest” and that no dialogue was possible with “cancer cells.”
The biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, which has been the most vocal opponent of Saied’s moves, had called for dialogue in a statement earlier on Thursday.
Some 11 days after his intervention, Saied has not named a new prime minister, announced any steps to end the emergency or declared his longer-term intentions.
The powerful labor union, as well as both the United States and France, have called on him to quickly appoint a new government. The union is preparing a roadmap to end the crisis that it says it will present to Saied.
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and ranking member Jim Risch said on Thursday they were deeply concerned by the situation.
“President Saied must recommit to the democratic principles that underpin US-Tunisia relations, and the military must observe its role in a constitutional democracy,” they said in a joint statement.
Ousted Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi appeared in public for the first time on Thursday since he was dismissed. He was shown in pictures published by the anti-corruption watchdog that it said were taken on Thursday at its office.


Amnesty International denounces Iran’s ‘cruel’ secret execution of man arrested at 15

Amnesty International denounces Iran’s ‘cruel’ secret execution of man arrested at 15
Updated 05 August 2021

Amnesty International denounces Iran’s ‘cruel’ secret execution of man arrested at 15

Amnesty International denounces Iran’s ‘cruel’ secret execution of man arrested at 15
  • Sanjari was executed in secret after he was convicted in 2012 for killing a man he said was trying to rape him
  • Amnesty highlighted the plight of others awaiting execution in Iran for crimes committed when they were children

LONDON: The execution in Iran of a man arrested at 15 is a “cruel assault on child rights,” Amnesty International said on Thursday, which also warned of more imminent executions.

In August 2010, Sajad Sanjari — then 15 — was arrested over the fatal stabbing of a man. He said the man had tried to rape him and claimed he had acted in self-defense, but in 2012 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. 

Sanjari was executed in secret on Monday, but his family was only told of the killing after it happened when a prison official asked them to collect the body.

“With the secret execution of Sajad Sanjari, the Iranian authorities have yet again demonstrated the utter cruelty of their juvenile justice system,” Diana Eltahawy, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said.

“The use of the death penalty against people who were under 18 at the time of the crime is absolutely prohibited under international law and constitutes a cruel assault on child rights.

Eltahawy added: “The fact that Sajad Sanjari was executed in secret, denying him and his family even the chance to say goodbye, consolidates an alarming pattern of the Iranian authorities carrying out executions in secret or at short notice to minimize the chances of public and private interventions to save people’s lives.”

The rights group also warned that two other young men, Hossein Shahbazi and Arman Abdolali — both 17 when arrested — are now at risk of “imminent” execution.

“Their trials were marred by serious violations, including the use of torture-tainted ‘confessions,’” said Amnesty International, which pointed out that Shahbazi would already be dead if it had not been for international outcry in the lead up to his planned execution in July that convinced authorities to postpone the killing.

“His execution could be rescheduled at any moment,” the rights group warned.

Amnesty said it had identified 80 people in Iran currently on death row for crimes committed when they were children, and since 2005, it recorded the executions of “at least 95 individuals” who were children when they committed their crime.

“The real numbers of those at risk and executed are likely to be higher,” Amnesty said.

The rights group also highlighted the unequal laws dictating how girls and boys are treated by the judicial system: “in cases of murder and certain other capital crimes, boys aged above 15 lunar years and girls aged above nine lunar years may be held as culpable as adults.”

As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran is legally obliged to treat individuals under the age of 18 as children and ensure they are never subjected to the death penalty or life imprisonment.


University professor shot dead in Houthi-held Sanaa

University professor shot dead in Houthi-held Sanaa
Updated 06 August 2021

University professor shot dead in Houthi-held Sanaa

University professor shot dead in Houthi-held Sanaa
  • Mohammed Ali Naeem was gunned down just hours after criticizing the Houthis and Yemen government on social media
  • It was the latest in a series of drive-by shootings presumably carried out by senior Houthi officials against dissidents and other opponents

ALEXANDRIA: Gunmen shot and killed a Sana’a University professor as he walked out of a friend’s house on Wednesday night in a Houthi-controlled part of the city, residents said.

Mohammed Ali Naeem, who worked in the school’s engineering and architecture department, was pronounced dead at a local hospital following the attack on Tunisia Street in Sana’a.

The assassination was carried out a few hours after he wrote a post on social media demanding the Houthis and the Yemeni government increase the salaries for employees.

After he complained about the depreciation of the Yemeni riyal and the increased price of essential commodities, the Yemeni professor wrote on Facebook: “We demand the government of Sana’a and Aden increase salaries.”

In another post on Wednesday, he wrote: “The revolution is still going on.”

Public servants in Sana’a and other Houthi-held areas in Yemen have not received employment compensation since late 2016 when the Iran-backed rebels stopped paying salaries in response to the Yemen president’s relocation of the central bank headquarters from Sana’a to Aden.

The killing is the latest in a series of drive-by shootings presumably carried out by senior Houthi officials against dissidents and other opponents. Last year, gunmen assassinated Hassan Zaid, minister of sports and youth in the Houthi cabinet.

Citing the Houthis’ handling of the Zaid case, similar assassinations, and the proliferation of armed men in Sanaa, Yemeni activists and critics of the rebels quickly blamed the Houthis on Wednesday for killing the professor.

Sami Noaman, a Yemeni journalist and former Houthi prisoner, told Arab News the rebels are suspected of killing their opponents and critics while only Houthi supporters are given special treatment.

“No one can freely roam around Sana’a carrying weapons other than the Houthi movement’s supporters,” Noaman said.

More evidence that suggests the Houthis’ involvement in the Naeem murder is their handling of the Zaid investigation. In that case, the rebels quickly announced capturing perpetrators in the province of Dhamar, and then the investigation was over.

“In a comical scene, they closed the file within 24 hours,” Noaman said. “The alleged killer was a prisoner. They executed people who had nothing to do with the case.”

Other critics of the Houthis urged the rebels to focus on capturing and prosecuting armed assailants in Sana’a, instead of incarcerating Yemeni activists, artists, actors, and women.

Ahmed Al-Khibi, a judge in Yemen, said the Houthis should be alarmed by the resurgence of assassinations in the country’s capital and divert efforts and attention to securing areas under their control.

“We hold the (Houthi) authority and its security services that are preoccupied with pursuing (women’s) undergarment and artists fully responsible for this crime” and it is their responsibility to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice, Al-Khibi posted on Facebook. He was referring to the recent Houthi crackdown against women, singers, and actors who have been arrested for allegedly violating Islamic norms.

Dozens of Sana’a University students took to social media on Wednesday night to mourn the late professor. Students described Naeem as a “noble” man and an outstanding lecturer.

“No words can describe the extent of the tragedy and sadness of your death,” Ghadir Yahya, a former student, wrote on Facebook.


US urges Raisi to resume Iran nuclear talks in Vienna ‘soon’

US urges Raisi to resume Iran nuclear talks in Vienna ‘soon’
Updated 05 August 2021

US urges Raisi to resume Iran nuclear talks in Vienna ‘soon’

US urges Raisi to resume Iran nuclear talks in Vienna ‘soon’
  • Ned Price says ‘this process cannot go on indefinitely’
  • President Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in earlier on Thursday

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday urged Iran to return to talks quickly on reviving a nuclear deal after the new ultraconservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, said he would seek a diplomatic way to end sanctions.
“We urge Iran to return to the negotiations soon so that we can seek to conclude our work,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, repeating the US stance that the window for diplomacy would not stay open forever.
“If President Raisi is genuine in his determination to see the sanctions lifted, well that is precisely what’s on the table in Vienna,” he said.
With the rise of Raisi, who took the oath of office on Thursday, all branches of power within the Islamic Republic will be controlled by anti-Western hard-liners loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Our message to President Raisi is the same as our message to his predecessors .. the US will defend and advance our national security interests and those of our partners,” Price said. “We hope that Iran seizes the opportunity now to advance diplomatic solutions.”
He was referring to months of fruitless indirect talks in the Austrian capital on reviving the 2015 nuclear accord trashed by former president Donald Trump.
Iran has been negotiating with six major powers to revive the deal that was abandoned three years ago. The last round of talks in Vienna ended on June 20.
Price reiterated that the Biden administration, despite concerns with Iran, saw the accord as key to securing “permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program.”
Price said that the proposal to end sweeping sanctions in return for compliance with the deal would not last “indefinitely” and at some point the benefits of reviving the agreement will have been eroded by the advancements of Iran’s nuclear program.
“For us, this is an urgent priority, knowing the issues that are at play,” Price said. “We hope that the Iranians treat it with the same degree of urgency.”
Iran began violating the pact, which gave it sanctions relief in return for curbing its atomic program, in 2019 by conducting nuclear activities that were barred under the deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. 
(With AFP and Reuters)


Iranian ex-deputy vice president slams regime over water crisis

Iranian ex-deputy vice president slams regime over water crisis
Updated 05 August 2021

Iranian ex-deputy vice president slams regime over water crisis

Iranian ex-deputy vice president slams regime over water crisis
  • Kaveh Madani: “Local decision-makers are liable for avoidable failures of environmental management”
  • In July, Iran was convulsed by protests in Arab-majority Khuzestan province sparked by lack of clean water

LONDON: The former deputy vice-president of Iran criticized Tehran over its mismanagement of natural resources in the country’s Khuzestan province, blaming “excessive manipulation of the natural environment” for the country’s water bankruptcy.

In an op-ed published in The Guardian newspaper, Kaveh Madani said attempts by authorities to shift the blame toward climate change as the “sole cause of terrible (water) shortages let those in authority off the hook.”

Late last month, Iran’s Khuzestan province became the focal point for weeks of violent unrest spurred by a drought that left people without clean and safe drinking water. Those protests quickly spread across the country, including to the capital Tehran, morphing into anti-regime demonstrations.

Madani explained that water-rich Khuzestan should never have been subject to drought, but the construction of huge dams and the transfer of the province’s water to other parts of the country have left it in a state of water bankruptcy. 

“Once you drain your checking account (surface water) and exhaust your savings account (groundwater), you are left with a lot of creditors (water rights-holders) whose demands cannot be satisfied,” Madani said. “Then you are water bankrupt and the dissatisfaction of the claimants can trigger major conflicts.”

He also said that this may be related to the institutional racism in Iran that excludes ethnic Ahwazi Arabs from the majority Persian state.

“The Khuzestan protests also have an important social justice element. Ethnic Arab populations are expressing their serious frustration with what they consider a ‘systematic’ or ‘intentional’ discrimination that has resulted in underdevelopment in their rich province,” Madani said.

“Khuzestanis are also questioning why ‘their’ water must be transferred to other regions while they are suffering from thirst.”

Madani warned about the potential consequences of water mismanagement for years, but rather than being listened to he was spied upon and detained.

“What Khuzestan and the rest of Iran are experiencing today is not unexpected,” Madani said. “Lots of experts, including me, have been warning about the national security risks of this situation for years.”

While he served in his role as deputy vice president, Madani was regularly detained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and after he fled the country, he said he felt “lucky” not to have been imprisoned for a longer stretch. 

Now, he is trying to prevent the regime from deflecting responsibility for its actions by invoking global climate change.

Well-intentioned environmental campaigners are correct about the devastating consequences of climate change, Madani said.

But the way that Iran has managed its natural resources means that “even if climate change stopped and Iran cut its carbon emissions by 100 percent right now, its water bankruptcy and many other environmental problems would not be solved immediately.” 

He concluded: “We must remember that local decision-makers are liable for avoidable failures of environmental management that result in the degradation and suffering we are now seeing in Iran.”