Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict

Short Url
Updated 24 June 2021

Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict

Congressman says US must return to being an ‘honest broker’ in Israel-Palestine conflict
  • Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson, 62, worked for a US Special Operations task force in Iraq and had top secret clearance
  • Thompson started speaking with a Lebanese co-conspirator with Hezbollah ties in 2017 and later developed romantic feelings for him

CHICAGO: Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan said the US needs to return to the role of being an “honest broker” if there is to be peace between Palestinians and Israelis during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday.

Pocan said America needs to redirect more than $50 billion used to fund the war in Afghanistan now that the last US troops are departing the country 20 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A diehard supporter of Israel, having participated in many tours of the country sponsored by pro-Israel organizations, Pocan said he broadened his understanding of the conflict and sympathies when he visited Palestinian areas to see the real challenges they face.

Pocan said the US should continue to support Israel, providing help for programs like the Iron Dome missile defense system, but must also recognize the suffering of Palestinian civilians, and that illegal Israeli settlements are a part of the conflict.

 

“If we can get back to that point where we are seen as an honest broker by everyone, we can then use that influence of the US to try to bring about peace,” Pocan said.

“That doesn’t mean dictating solutions because it has to be decided in the region, but it does mean we can help bring people together and that is the role that the US can best do.”

Pocan, of Wisconsin’s second congressional district, said he is encouraged by the recent ouster of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister, and believes the Palestinians need to hold elections. He explained people can still support Israel while criticizing the policies of the government, such as the expansion and building of new settlements.

“Seeing a broader perspective of the same very small region really made me realize that if you are ever going to have peace in the region, you have to treat everyone with respect and dignity,” Pocan said, adding he supports the broader issue of human rights for all.

“You have to have some fairness and rules, and you have to have a different attitude than I think we currently have in the region, or else you will never … achieve a peaceful solution.”

Pocan said there is a need for the US government to play a more neutral role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, to address the concerns of both sides fairly.

 

“What we need to do as a country is to get back to a position, and certainly in the last four years we were not in that position, of being able to bring sides together to try to negotiate peace. Every time there is a new illegal settlement you’re going to make it harder to get to peace. For everyone who professes to want a two-state solution that often says we are going to go back to this 1967 map with land swaps, if you have more illegal settlements, one you are displacing more Palestinians, but two you are going to have a harder time to get to that map to work for everyone,” Pocan said.

“But then, when you see the treatment, when you see a road with a giant (line) down the middle with one side for Israelis to drive on and the other side Palestinian … I think you look at these things and see a lot of things that are happening that will not lead to a peaceful solution. What I found, and I have said over and over again, (is) the vast, vast majority of people in both Palestine and Israel want peace.”

Pocan said that one “fundamental problem” is that the Gaza Strip is “basically an outdoor prison” which is controlled by Israel with 98 percent of the water undrinkable, and the majority of people living on food assistance from the UN. Members of the US Congress have not been permitted to enter Gaza during the past decade, he complained.

American taxpayers, who provide more than $3.8 billion in assistance to Israel every year, need to see and hear about the challenges that face Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.

 

“Anywhere else, we would be having (an) outcry like we do in Yemen and other countries that have similar situations and yet this is a normal practice in the region, but it is anything but normal,” Pocan said.

“Most people don’t know about it. They hear about bombs coming in from Gaza and they hear about Israel responding with bombs. But what they don’t hear are some of the other specificities that are going on on the ground that, I think if people knew about — and people are watching closer, because of the black Lives Matter movement — I think people are seeing that if you treat people inhumanely you are going to have a bad outcome.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is in the US, it’s in Colombia, it’s in Yemen or it’s in Palestine and Israel. We just have to use human rights as a real high measuring tool that we expect human rights and dignity for everyone as an absolute minimum standard.”

Pocan said he supports Israel on many fronts, including providing funding and technology for the Iron Dome which was built to intercept rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. But Pocan also said that with the Iron Dome protecting Israelis, there is no need for widespread retaliation.

 

“If a missile does come or a rocket does come from Gaza and you take it out in the air, no one has been injured and there is no need for additional retaliation. The problem is right now in what we just saw when there is missiles from Gaza, they used our support with the Iron Dome but then they also sent 20 times the number of missiles and displaced a hundred thousand people and killed dozens of children and hundreds of people. That isn’t the intention of de-escalation,” Pocan said.

“So, when I call things out like that I am supportive of something that is a core part of the defense that they have, that the US gives, but I also expect it to be used in the manner we intended. And if it is not then it is appropriate to call out the misuse.”

Pocan said that peace can only be achieved if both sides want peace and if the US resume its former role as “an honest broker” in dealing with the Israelis and Palestinians.

Pocan also called for a “smarter use” of American funding to address the needs of the American people. Noting the decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan, the more than $50 billion used to support the US presence in Afghanistan should be “redirected” to address issues such as healthcare, jobs and climate change.

He said the money should be redirected towards “things that are … a real threat to the country,” such as responding to the coronavirus disease pandemic, which he called the “biggest threat the US has faced” since 2019.

“We spend too much on the Pentagon, period,” Pocan argued. He said former President Donald Trump increased the US defense budget by 20 percent without allowing an audit or oversight of spending, adding “there is obviously a lot of waste and fraud.”

Pocan was speaking on “The Ray Hanania Radio” show on the US Arab Radio Network, which is sponsored by Arab News. The show is broadcast live every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit and on WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C.

All of the show’s interviews are podcast and available at ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Sudanese coup attempt failed, army in control – officials

Sudanese coup attempt failed, army in control – officials
Updated 56 min 7 sec ago

Sudanese coup attempt failed, army in control – officials

Sudanese coup attempt failed, army in control – officials
  • Government claims the coup plotters were linked to the ousted Al-Bashir regime

Sudanese authorities reported a coup attempt on Tuesday by a group of soldiers but said the attempt failed and that the military remains in control.

The development underscored the fragility of Sudan’s path to democracy, more than two years after the military’s overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir amid a public uprising against his three-decade rule.

Sudan’s state-run television called on the public “to counter” the coup attempt but did not provide further details.

“All is under control. The revolution is victorious,” Mohammed Al-Fiky Suliman, a member of the ruling military-civilian council, wrote on Facebook. He also called on the Sudanese to protect the transition.

The government claimed the coup plotters were linked to the ousted Al-Bashir regime.

A military official said an unspecified number of troops from the armored corps were behind the attempt and that they tried to take over several government institutions but were stopped in their tracks. He said they had aimed to seize the military headquarters and the state television.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said over three dozen troops, including high-ranking officers, have been arrested. He did not provide further details, saying that a military statement would be released shorty.

The state-run SUNA news agency quoted Brig. Al-Tahir Abu Hajja, a media consultant for the military’s chief, as saying that the armed forces “thwarted the attempted coup and that all is completely under control.”

The agency said all troops taking part in the attempt were detained and that investigations have started. It did not provide further details.

Footage circulated online showing troops and armored vehicles deployed to main roads and intersections in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Security was also boosted at the military headquarters and other government buildings in the city.

Mohammed Hassan Al-Taishi, a member of the sovereign council, called the attempt a “foolish and bad choice.”

“The option of military coups has left us only a failed and weak country,” he wrote on Twitter. “The path toward democratic transition and securing the country’s political future and unity remains one option.”

Later, in a statement read on the state-run TV, Culture and Information Minister Hamza Baloul said security forces have arrested civilian and military leaders of the coup attempt, and that they have been interrogated after the military managed to get the armored corps camp south of Khartoum under control.

Baloul, who also the government spokesman, said authorities were chasing others “from the remnants” of Al-Bashir’s regime who were suspects in orchestrated the attempted coup. He did not give further details.

Sudan has been on a fragile path to democratic rule since the military’s ouster of Al-Bashir in April 2019, following four months of mass protests. The country is now ruled by a joint civilian and military government.

The transitional government has been under increasing pressure to end wars with rebel groups as it seeks to rehabilitate the country’s battered economy, attract much-needed foreign aid and deliver the democracy it promised.


Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85
Updated 21 September 2021

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85

Former Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi dies at 85
  • Tantawi has participated in most of Egypt’s wars, including the wars of 1956 and 1967, the War of Attrition, and the 1973 October war

DUBAI: Former Egyptian Minister of Defense Mohamed Hussein Tantawi has died on Tuesday aged 85 after suffering from health problems for the past three months, local daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Tantawi has participated in most of Egypt’s wars, including the wars of 1956 and 1967, the War of Attrition, and the 1973 October war.

He further assumed the presidency of Egypt in his capacity as head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after the resignation of former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11 of 2011.


French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions
Updated 21 September 2021

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions
  • Le Drian lauds August’s Baghdad Convention but warns Iran has repeatedly breached its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA
  • Minister laments ‘breach of trust’ by the UK and US over scuppering of a French submarine deal with Australia

NEW YORK: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has celebrated progress in diplomacy in the Middle East and promised that France will continue to take an active role in ensuring the region remains stable.

In a wide-ranging press conference held on Monday and attended by Arab News, Le Drian also lamented the recent “breach of trust” by the UK and US over the sale of submarines to Australia.

France had originally been slated to supply submarines to Australia as part of that deal, but Canberra did a U-turn in favor of an agreement with the US and UK, in what some have called an embarrassment for the French.

“In the Middle East, stability and security shall be the heart of our priorities. These require a regional dialogue, including in the unprecedented format of the Baghdad Conference on Aug. 28,” Le Drian said.

The Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership brought together many of the key powers in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, and Iran for dialogue aimed at easing security tensions in the region. France also attended the summit and has taken an active role in mediating conflict and disputes in the Middle East, in some form, for centuries.

“It was an exceptional meeting because those who attended were not used to sitting at the same table,” said Le Drian, who is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly’s week of high-level meetings.

“We managed to launch some sort of new spirit and to gather some support for a willingness to reduce regional tensions in an unprecedented format.”

Iran’s presence at the conference, he continued, may be seen as a “positive signal,” but he said that he would convene a meeting of the joint commission of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) because, “regarding Iran, we note that the negotiations were interrupted at the request of Iran and we need to make sure that, this week, we try to launch some positive momentum or negotiations to resume.”

The JCPOA, widely referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, saw heavy restrictions and monitoring placed on Tehran’s nascent nuclear program in return for much-needed sanctions relief. Iran and the US, which also left the deal, have been in negotiations for years over a bilateral return to the deal, but those have stalled in recent months.

“In the meantime, Iran keeps breaching some commitments that they made within the JCPOA,” said Le Drian, who also warned that “time is playing against the potential (nuclear) agreement because, as time goes by, the Iranian authorities are speeding up their nuclear activities.”

The minister also addressed the latest developments in Afghanistan, recently seized by the Taliban after 20 years of US presence in the country.

He said that France and its European partners had sent across a number of “very clear requirements” of the Taliban. Those include allowing people to leave the country if they wish, preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country, and ensuring the rights of minorities, women, and journalists are upheld.

“Should the Taliban fail to meet these requirements, they will ban themselves from the international community,” Le Drian said.

He also supported the allocation by the UN of €100 million ($117,289,000) to Afghanistan and pointed out that the Europeans had already pledged over €600 million in humanitarian aid for Afghans.

Much of Le Drian’s attention throughout the conference, however, was focused on the recent news that Australia would scrap a lucrative deal with France to buy French-made submarines, and instead form a pact with the UK and US to purchase nuclear submarines.

That deal has proved highly controversial in France and across mainland Europe, and resulted in a diplomatic row between the longtime allies.

Le Drian said that Presidents Macron and Biden will “discuss the matter very frankly” when they speak.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 21 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM Mikati

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lebanon’s new government said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel

BEIRUT: Iranian fuel shipments imported into Lebanon by Hezbollah constitute a breach of the country's sovereignty, Prime Minister Najib Mikati reiterated on Monday.

Lebanon’s new government, which was backed by a parliamentary vote of confidence on Monday, has said its permission was not sought regarding the import of Iranian diesel.

Hezbollah has stored the diesel in tanks in the Baalbek area owned by Al-Amana fuel company that has been under US sanctions since February 2020 due to its ties to the Iranian-backed group.

It began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran last Thursday, a move it says would ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon. 

A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.

“The violation of Lebanon's sovereignty makes me sad," Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting last week.

He added: “But I'm not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”

Late on Friday, the Lebanese broadcaster LBCI said that a new group of tankers carrying Iranian fuel entered Lebanon through the Hermel area, populated mainly by Shiite Muslims from whom Hezbollah draws its support.


Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
Updated 21 September 2021

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017

BERLIN: Tarek Saad is keen to help other Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their homeland to make a new home in Germany and he sees the federal election on Sept. 26 as an opportunity to do just that.

Saad is campaigning in his adopted state of Schleswig-Holstein on the Baltic coast for the Social Democrats (SPD), a party he joined in 2016, just two years after he arrived in Germany bearing two gunshot wounds he had survived in Syria.

“I thought the things making my life difficult must be tormenting others as well. To overcome them as quickly as possible, one should be in a political party,” said the 28-year-old student of political science.

“Our parents lived under a different political system for long years (in Syria) ... This is an opportunity to develop a new generation (in Germany),” said Saad, who like many refugees will vote for the first time as a German citizen.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017.

Not all newly naturalized refugees are as clear as Saad about their voting intentions.

“I am happy to have this opportunity but I am being cautious and maybe I won’t vote,” said Maher Obaid, 29, who lives in the town of Singen near the Swiss border.

Obaid, naturalized in 2019, said a lack of clarity among the parties on foreign policy issues, especially Syria, was behind his hesitation.

The number of Syrians who have acquired German citizenship rose by 74 percent in 2020 to 6,700, federal statistics show. The total number of Syrian refugees is estimated to be much higher, at over 700,000, but getting citizenship requires time and effort.

A 2020 study by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration (SVR) found that only 65 percent of Germans with a migration background voted in 2017, against 86 percent of native-born Germans.

Language fluency and socio-economic situation were two factors determining migrants’ participation, along with the length of their stay, the study found.

“The longer a person stays in Germany ... the more likely they are to feel they understand and can participate in political life,” it said.

Historically, migrants from southern Europe and Turkey who came as guest workers saw the Social Democrats as the party that best represented their interests, a study by the DIW research institute showed.

By contrast, Syrians were more likely to support Merkel’s conservatives who shaped the migration policy from 2013 to 2016 when the majority of them arrived in Germany, the study found.

But with Merkel bowing out of politics after 16 years at the helm, many Syrians are now making different calculations.

“Syrians should be very smart ... What Merkel did was right but what is her successor doing?” asked Abdulaziz Ramadan, head of a migrant integration organization in Leipzig who was naturalized in 2019.

An informal poll among members of a Syrian migrants’ group on Facebook showed most would now vote for the SPD, followed by the Greens, if they were entitled to vote. The option “I don’t care” was the third choice.

Mahmoud Al Kutaifan, a doctor living in the south-western city of Freiburg, is among the few Syrians who were naturalized in time to vote in the 2017 election.

“Out of emotion, I voted then for the party of Mrs. Merkel because she supported refugees,” he said.

While he has not regretted that decision, he, like many other German voters pondering the post-Merkel era, is unsure how to cast his ballot this time round.

“The election date is approaching but I honestly haven’t decided yet.”