Posts Tagged ‘Arabs’

Arabs need greater access to books

January 17, 2018

By Nidhal Guessoum | 

It has been claimed that Arabs have no interest in reading, but if people by and large can’t find the titles they want, then obviously they will read less.

Do Arabs read a lot or very little? Information on the subject is contradictory and confusing.

Until recently, we had no data, only intuitive views, either insisting that the Arab culture holds high regard for books and reading, or claiming that people in general, and youngsters in particular, don’t seem to read at all, and certainly not books.
Personal experience, such as mine, seems to confirm both views. Whenever I lecture in the Arab world, I am told that books (mine and others’) are very difficult to obtain, but at the same time I find that people (perhaps not of their fault) read few contemporary works. Indeed, as Arab authors know, rarely do books sell even a thousand copies in a region with a population of more than 300 million and whose holy book starts with the word “read.” And, contrary to what one sees in other parts of the world, people in the Arab world rarely read on buses, metros or planes.
In the last several years, a number of articles have been written about reading in the Arab world, and one could only come out confused from the mutually contradictory ideas and conclusions presented by the authors of those articles.


It has been claimed that Arabs have no interest in reading, but if people by and large can’t find the titles they want, then obviously they will read less.

Nidhal Guessoum

Much was made in 2011 when a report claimed that Arabs read only six minutes per year on average (the equivalent of four pages per year or four words per day), compared to 200 hours a year for Europeans. The claim was later investigated and found to be totally unfounded.

Still, the stereotype of a people (Arabs) who don’t read or even hate reading has stuck. In June 2015, author Colin Wells published an article titled “Why Arabs Hate Reading.” In it, he cited the researcher Niloofar Haeri, who in her contribution to the 2009 “Cambridge Handbook of Literacy” concluded that educated people in the Arab world “find reading very difficult, don’t like to do it, and do as little of it as possible — even the librarians!”
In July 2016, The Economist published a short article commenting on the state of reading and publishing in the Arab world. “The biggest challenge is that Arabs simply do not read much,” it said. Commenting on the article, Ursula Lindsey added facts along the same line: In 2012, the entire Arab world published about the same number of books as Romania and Ukraine; bookstores and public libraries are few, badly stocked and rarely visited; and other issues. Lindsey also proposed reasons for that sorry state of affairs, including censorship, turmoil, declining purchasing power, and widespread violations of copyrights (including pirate publishers, illegal downloading, photocopying and distribution of books).
Additional issues make the question of reading in the Arab world multifaceted: Reading the Qur’an often dominates people’s reading habits; many educated Arabs read in other languages (English or French) more than they read in Arabic (sales indicate that only 15-20 percent of books sold are in Arabic); most books read in the region are written by non-Arabs; much reading is done on smartphones; and other complex issues.
But, in December 2016, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation released an interesting Arab Reading Index, which it produced in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program. The index presented a starkly different picture: The average Arab reads 17 books a year (11 in Arabic and 6 in foreign languages) — five more than the average American. Either we’ve made huge progress in the last 15 years (perhaps due to the many initiatives that have been launched in the region, such as the annual “Arab Reading Challenge” and the 2016 “Year of Reading”), or we are comparing apples and oranges. Indeed, reading habits are complex and need to be investigated and analyzed very carefully.
Another important issue I would like to highlight is the stuttering and struggling Arab book publishing industry. First, the very low number of titles produced and sold, estimated at less than 10,000 in the whole Arab world, compared to some 50,000 in Turkey, 80,000 in Spain and 220,000 in the UK. Secondly, the number of copies produced and sold for a typical title is roughly 1,000; an Arab bestseller is a book that sells more than 5,000 in a given year. Thirdly, and most importantly, the distribution network is abysmal: Readers rarely find copies of good books that were published in another (Arab) country. And, last but not least, the percentage of Arabs who can buy online (there are online sellers of Arabic books, and even Amazon has started selling Arabic titles) is very low because most Arabs do not have credit cards.
If Arabs by and large can’t find the books they want to read, then obviously they will read few books. While we need to encourage people to read (serious material), we equally need to ensure the availability of books throughout the Arab world. Only then can we talk about reading habits and statistics.
•  Nidhal Guessoum is a professor at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. He can be followed on Twitter at:

Erdogan: we will ‘strangle’ U.S.-backed force in Syria ‘before it’s even born’ — “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

January 15, 2018

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to “strangle” a planned 30,000-strong U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born,” as Washington’s backing for Kurdish fighters drove a wedge into relations with one of its main Middle East allies.

 Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan 

The United States announced its support on Sunday for plans for a “border force” to defend territory held by U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad responded on Monday by vowing to crush the new force and drive U.S. troops from the country. Assad’s ally Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under U.S. control.

But the strongest denunciation came from Erdogan, who has presided as relations between the United States and its biggest Muslim ally within NATO have stretched to the breaking point.

“A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the United States in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

“Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”

Erdogan said Turkey had completed preparations for an operation in Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.

The United States has led an international coalition using air strikes and special forces troops to aid fighters on the ground battling Islamic State militants in Syria since 2014. It has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria.

The U.S. intervention has taken place on the periphery of a near seven-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

Islamic State was effectively defeated last year, but Washington says its troops are prepared to stay to make sure the Islamist militant group cannot return, also citing the need for meaningful progress in U.N.-led peace talks.

For much of the war, the United States and Turkey worked together, jointly supporting forces fighting against Assad’s government. But a U.S. decision to back Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in recent years has enraged Ankara.

Meanwhile, the Assad government, backed by Russia and Iran, has made great strides over the past two years in defeating a range of opponents, restoring control over nearly all of Syria’s main cities. It considers the continued U.S. presence a threat to its ambition to restore full control over the entire country.

On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition said it was working with its militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up the new force to patrol the Turkish and Iraqi borders, as well as within Syria along the Euphrates River which separates SDF territory from that held by the government.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa city, Syria November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

Turkey views the Kurdish forces supported by the United States as a national security threat. It says the Syrian Kurdish PYD movement and the affiliated YPG militia, the backbone of the U.S.-backed SDF force in Syria, are allies of the PKK, a banned Kurdish group waging an insurgency in southern Turkey.

“This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and terrorist organisations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences,” Erdogan said.

“Either you take off your flags on those terrorist organisations, or we will have to hand those flags over to you, Don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with terrorists,” he said.

“Our operations will continue until not a single terrorist remains along our borders, let alone 30,000 of them.”


Syria’s main Kurdish groups have emerged so far as one of the few winners in the Syrian war, working to entrench their autonomy over large parts of northern Syria. Washington opposes those autonomy plans even as it has backed the SDF.

The Syrian government and the main Kurdish parties have mostly avoided conflict during the civil war, as both sides focused on fighting other groups. But Assad’s rhetoric towards the Kurds has turned increasingly hostile.

Damascus denounced the new border force as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty, Syrian state media said. It said any Syrian who joined the force would be deemed “a traitor”.

“What the American administration has done comes in the context of its destructive policy in the region to fragment countries … and impede any solutions to the crises,” state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying.

Assad’s allies have also chimed in. In an apparent reference to the force, senior Iranian official Ali Shamkhani said it was “doomed to failure”, Fars news agency reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “The actions that we see now show that the United States does not want to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria.”

“Fundamentally, this means the breakup of a large territory along the border with Turkey and Iraq,” Lavrov said. The zone would be controlled by groups “under the leadership of the United States”, he added.

The coalition said the Border Security Force would operate under SDF command, and about 230 individuals were currently undergoing training in its inaugural class.

Its ethnic composition will reflect the areas in which the force serves. More Arabs would serve along the Euphrates River Valley and the Iraqi border, and more Kurds would serve in areas of northern Syria, the coalition said.

Peace In Syria? Kurdish question hangs over Sochi conference

January 15, 2018

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks through debris in the old city center on the eastern front line of Raqqa, Syria, on September 25, 2017. Credit AFP Bulent Kilic

By Yasar Yakis | 

Three issues come to the fore in Syria at the beginning of 2018: The Astana-Sochi process, Idlib and the Kurds. Russia decided to convene, on Jan. 29 in Sochi, the Syrian People’s Congress, but the US, UK and France are opposed to this meeting because it might consolidate Russia’s already strong leading role in the solution of the Syrian crisis.

Russia is trying to accommodate Turkey’s insistent objection to the participation of the strongest Kurdish political party in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). They will eventually participate under the name of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and the delegation will include some non-Kurds, such as Arabs, Turkmens, Armenians, Syriacs, Assyrians and Chechens, as well as the Kurds who support Kurdish political parties other than the PYD.

This scenario falls short of Turkey’s expectations but, when it is presented as an innocent package, it becomes more difficult for Turkey to reject, because that would be perceived as Turkey being opposed to the representation of around 10 percent of the Syrian population and a military force that controls a quarter of Syria’s territory, including almost all of its oil, gas and water resources.

The Sochi conference has to be linked one way or another to the work conducted under the UN’s auspices, because Russia wants the UN to endorse the entire process, including the withdrawal of forces from the US and Turkey.

France is not happy to see that the Astana and Sochi processes are dominated by Russia. President Emmanuel Macron voiced his discontent during a press conference held last week at the end of his talks with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

As the opposition is defeated in many places in Syria, Idlib has seen a concentration of various groups fighting against the regime. The Syrian army, on Jan. 7, carried out attacks in Idlib, mainly aimed at the opposition group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, and captured several villages in south Idlib, clearing the way to the rebel-held air base at Abu Al-Duhur.


Turkey-opposed efforts to create an autonomous Kurdish zone in the north of Syria remains the major issue ahead of peace talks later this month — and it may threaten the territorial integrity of the country.

Yasar Yakis

Meanwhile, Russia’s Hmeimim air base near Latakia was attacked last week by 13 drones. The Russian Defense Ministry subsequently sent a letter to the Turkish chief of joint staff and to the head of intelligence, bringing to their attention that the drones approached the air base from Idlib and asking them to establish observation posts in the area to fulfil its task of deconfliction. To emphasize its discontent, Russia leaked the content of this letter to the media.

At almost the same time, Turkey summoned the Russian and Iranian ambassadors in Ankara to the Foreign Ministry and asked for their respective governments’ intervention to stop the Syrian army’s bombing of opposition forces. This move contradicts Turkey’s commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity, because it will become void if Turkey complains about Syrian army attacks aimed at extending its sovereignty to all provinces including Idlib.

Turkey was more focused on what was going on in the neighboring Syrian province of Afrin, where Kurds declared their third autonomous canton. Turkey’s threat to crush any effort to create an autonomous Kurdish zone in the north of Syria is legitimate, but such a threat may not be sufficient to prevent this process from following its own path. Turkey has to make more effort to understand what the major actors have in mins when it comes to the Kurdish issue. London-based Pan-Arab paper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on Jan. 8 that the Trump administration is planning to recognize the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as the legitimate authority in eastern Syria. This would mean the Syrian government loses part of its sovereignty in the northeast of the country, while for Turkey it would be a nightmare.

France gave an indirect sign of extending similar recognition to Kurds by announcing that the PYD has the right to judge the French Daesh fighters it has captured. France announced this position one day before Erdogan’s visit to Paris.

The Kurds remain the major issue in Syria, and it may threaten the territorial integrity of the country. The US will use the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces to negotiate concessions with the regime, while Russia and Iran will support the government against the American pressure. Serious clashes may be expected during this confrontation and the Syrian civilian population will continue to pay a heavy toll.

If Turkey-Syria relations had not deteriorated to this extent, the easiest solution would be for Turkey to cooperate with Damascus and agree with it not to let the Kurds establish an uninterrupted belt in the north of Syria. Such a solution would give full satisfaction to Ankara and Damascus, but it is conceivable only if they were able to forget the recent past.

•  Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.
Twitter: @yakis_yasar


Arabs set to give Pence cold shoulder during Mideast trip

December 16, 2017

Gulf News

Pence’s evangelical faith has played a critical role in pushing for the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Image Credit: AFP
Palestinians walk on a poster bearing images of Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Al Quds Open University in Dura village on the outskirts of Hebron.
Published: 16:04 December 15, 2017
Margaret Talev, Washington post

Washington: US Vice-President Mike Pence is set to receive a cooler reception from Arab leaders on a Middle East trip next week than he once expected, after US President Donald Trump earlier this month recognised occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Palestinian leaders cancelled meetings with Pence and he will not visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank — a particularly meaningful stop for the evangelical Christian vice-president. He’ll spend less time on the ground in Egypt than he’d hoped, with a trip to the Pyramids of Giza and a meeting with the leader of Coptic Christians both removed from his itinerary.

Pence knew as he planned his trip that it was possible Arab and Palestinian leaders would cancel their meetings in response to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

He was briefed on potential unrest and other negative consequences of the announcement.

But he was cautiously optimistic that Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other critics of Trump’s decision would proceed with the meetings, ultimately regarding face time with the US vice-president as both strategically valuable and an opportunity to express their disappointment in person, a person familiar with the matter said.

Instead, he’s being snubbed.

“The Palestinian position is clear: the vice-president is not welcome here and there will be no meeting with him, after Trump’s decision,” said Wasel Abu Yusuf, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s policy-making executive committee.

“There is no talk with the US side about the peace process if the US administration does not retreat from President Trump’s decisions about [occupied] Jerusalem. Their role as a mediator is done.”

Pence was one of the foremost proponents in the Trump administration for a declaration that occupied Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the relocation of the US embassy.

His argument bested those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis, both of whom opposed the idea, according to people familiar with the internal debate.

The vice-president stood stoically behind Trump’s right shoulder as he made his televised announcement, an unmistakable signal to the president’s evangelical supporters.

The vice-president intends to “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to its allies in the Middle East and to working cooperatively to defeat radicalism,” said Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah.

Pence has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order” and he’s been outspoken about his deep devotion to Israel as part of his religious beliefs since long before Donald Trump’s entrance into politics. But his advocacy for Trump’s occupied Jerusalem decision has taken on a political aspect amid speculation about the administration’s ultimate goals for the region and Pence’s own presidential ambitions.

In remarks in May commemorating Israel Independence Day, Pence explained that “my Christian faith compels me to cherish Israel as well as our deep alliance and historical ties” and that “the songs of the land of the people of Israel were the anthems of my youth when I was growing up.”

Pence grew up Catholic and became evangelical Christian later in life.

In July, Pence told a Christians United for Israel summit in Washington: “I promise you that the day will come when President Donald Trump moves the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”


Pence’s four-day trip to the region will begin on Tuesday, a few days later than initially planned in order to accommodate the US Senate, which may vote on a tax overhaul earlier that day.

He’ll stop in Egypt, Israel, and finally at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany for a holiday visit with US service members, according to the vice-president’s office.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi will keep a meeting with Pence despite his criticism of the occupied Jerusalem announcement.

The vice-president will meet with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deliver a speech to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and visit Al Buraq Wall which Jews refer to as the Western Wall in the Muslim holy site of Al Haram Al Sharif.

Hadi urges Yemenis to join fight against Iran-backed Houthis after Saleh killed — “This will turn out to be the death-knell for Iran.”

December 5, 2017


Supporters of Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh rally to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the General People’s Congress party which is led by Saleh in Sanaa on August 24, 2017. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File)

JEDDAH: Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Monday rallied his countrymen in areas controlled by Houthis to rise up against the Iran-backed militia, who had just murdered their erstwhile ally former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In a televised address, Hadi said the Yemeni Army, which has surrounded Sanaa, was ready to support all efforts that aimed to eradicate the Houthis. The legitimate Yemeni government had extended its hand to all sincere Yemeni citizens to start a new page in the country’s future and to establish a new Yemen, based on pluralism, democracy and freedom, he said.
“Yemen is passing through a decisive turning point that needs our unity and steadfastness in the face of these sectarian militias,” Hadi said. “Let’s put our hands together to end this nightmare.”
Saleh was assassinated on Monday by Houthi militias, two days after he broke ranks over disagreements with his allies.
The militias overran Saleh’s home in the capital, Sanaa, and the former leader fled south toward his home village of Sanhan. Houthi gunmen halted his four-vehicle convoy 40 km from the city and opened fire.
Saleh, 75, was killed along with Arif Al-Zouka, secretary-general of the former president’s General People’s Congress party, and Al-Zouka’s deputy Yasir Al-Awadi.
Video posted on social media showed Saleh’s motionless body with a gaping head wound, his eyes open but glassy, and blood staining his shirt under a dark suit. The footage showed Houthis carrying the body in a blanket and dumping it in a pickup truck.
Saleh ruled Yemen for more than 30 years, stitching alliances and playing off one tribe against another. He once described governing the country as like dancing on the heads of snakes.
The former president was replaced in 2012 by his deputy, Hadi, against whom he joined forces with the Houthis to stage a coup. Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition in 2015 to restore Hadi’s internationally recognized government. On Saturday, Saleh had turned his back on the Houthis and offered talks with the Saudi-led coalition.
Rajeh Badi, a spokesman for the Hadi government, said it was a sad day in the history of Yemen.

He said the assassination was “yet another crime added to the bloody record of the Iran-backed Houthi militias. The gravity of the inhumane murder of Saleh should move all Yemenis to stand behind the legitimate government against the coup militias who have brought only chaos and destruction to Yemen, to the Yemeni people, and whose aim is to implement a sectarian Iranian agenda in the region.

“The act is further proof that these militias adopt an ideology of exclusion. We call upon the Yemeni people to make the assassination of Ali Abdullah Saleh a turning point in the country’s history and encourage all people to join ranks with the legitimate government and against the evil terrorists.”

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar in Riyadh, said Saleh’s death was sad news but would unite all Yemenis against the Houthis.

“It is very clear now that this is a fight between Arabs and Persians. All Arabs and Muslims will unite against the machinations of Iran,” he told Arab News. “This will turn out to be the death-knell for Iran.”

Al-Shehri said Saleh had miscalculated when he aligned himself with the Houthis. “He thought he could share power with them. He should have known better. The Iranians never share power. They want everything for themselves or else they kill — which is what happened with Saleh.”
Saleh’s supporters “need a leader tonight to rally them and the Yemeni people against the Houthis,” Al-Shehri said. He suggested Saleh’s son, Ahmed, commander of the elite Republic Guard and former ambassador to the UAE, where he now lives.
“There can be no better leader than Ahmed, who Saleh was grooming as his heir, and who will want to avenge the death of his father and restore stability to Yemen.”
Saudi writer Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, writing in Arab News, said: “Saleh paid with his life for defying the Iranian-backed Houthi militias. Many Yemenis have met similar fates when they dared to stand in the way of the Houthi project.”
Aluwaisheg said assassination was a favorite tactic of the Houthi militias and other pro-Iranian groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Assad regime in Syria.
“Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafiq Hariri met a similar fate in 2005, as did many prominent Lebanese political figures, journalists, writers and religious leaders,” he said.
Meanwhile, fighting and air strikes have intensified in Sanaa, where roads were blocked and tanks were deployed on many streets, trapping civilians and halting delivery of vital aid including fuel to supply clean water, the UN said on Monday.
Some of the fiercest clashes were around the diplomatic area near the UN compound, while aid flights in and out of Sanaa airport had been suspended, the UN said after its appeal for a humanitarian pause on Tuesday.
“The escalating situation threatens to push the barely functioning basic services … to a standstill. These services have already been seriously compromised with the latest shock of the impact of the blockade,” it said, and fighting had also spread to other governorates, such as Hajjah.

Turkey warns of ‘catastrophe’ if US recognises Jerusalem as Israel capital

December 4, 2017


© AFP/File | The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict
ISTANBUL (AFP) – A senior Turkish government official on Monday warned of a “major catastrophe” if the United States recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite a flood of warnings from the Arab world.”If the (current) status of Jerusalem is changed and another step is taken … that would be a major catastrophe,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said during a televised press conference.

“It would completely destroy the fragile peace process in the region, and lead to new conflicts, new disputes and new unrest.”

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

President Donald Trump faces a key decision this week on whether to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, potentially reversing years of United States policy and drawing a furious response from the Palestinian leadership and the Arab world.

Most of the international community, including the US as well as Turkey, does not formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, insisting the issue can only be resolved through final status negotiations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a champion of the Palestinian cause, often criticises Israel over its actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite a 2016 reconciliation deal after years of severed ties following Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound ship.

Bozdag, also government spokesman, on Monday said a US step to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would benefit “neither Israel … nor the region.”

“It would not benefit anything. Rather than open new doors, it would drag the region into a new disaster.”

Mohammed bin Salman should learn from Anwar Sadat and help Israelis believe in peace again

November 25, 2017

 NOVEMBER 25, 2017 08:18

Sadat made Israelis see a better future, a vision that is lacking today.

Bin Salman should learn from Sadat and help Israelis believe in peace again

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Anwar Sadat. (photo credit:REUTERS/GPO)

It was November 19, 1977, and when the door opened, Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, appeared at the top of the stairway.

He was greeted with a salute by an IDF officer who told him: “Mr. President, the guard of honor of the Israeli Defense Forces is ready for your inspection.”

This was how Sadat was received when he landed in Israel 40 years ago this week, a trip that heralded a new era for Israel, the Middle East and the entire world.

Sadat’s visit came a mere four years after the bloody Yom Kippur War, during which Israel lost its confidence – as well as 2,688 of its soldiers. While Israel managed to hold on to the Sinai and the Golan Heights that it conquered during the Six Day War, the country now carried a renewed sense of vulnerability, one not felt since the founding of the Jewish state.

On the other hand, the war was also traumatic for Sadat. It made the Egyptian leader understand that Israel could not be destroyed, and that the only way for him to retrieve the Sinai was by coming to terms with Israel’s existence and entering into peace talks with a country, that until then, was considered his arch nemesis. It was a transformative moment for Sadat, who finally realized that, in the Middle East, only peace would last.

For Israel, it also was a transformative moment, and Sadat’s visit left a deep mark on the Israeli psyche. Until then, the Jews who had returned to their homeland believed the Arabs would never come to terms with their existence and never stop trying to destroy them.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin stand together at Ben Gurion Airport after Sadat’s arrival on November 19, 1977. (GPO)

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin stand together at Ben Gurion Airport after Sadat’s arrival on November 19, 1977. (GPO)

By coming to Israel, Sadat made Israelis understand that they would not have to “forever live by the sword” – as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously declared a few years ago – but could actually be accepted by their Arab neighbors.

That was the true significance of Sadat’s visit. Yes, it was important for the Arabs to understand that Israel could not be destroyed; but it was just as important for Israelis to understand that a better, more peaceful future was also possible. Continued war and hostility did not have to be Israel’s destiny.

Sadat made Israelis see a better future, a vision that is lacking today when trying to achieve a sustainable peace deal with the Palestinians.

Today, Israelis appear to be mostly disenchanted with the prospects for peace. They see what happened when Israel pulled out of parts of the West Bank in the late 1990s.

That move was met by a suicide-bombing campaign and the Second Intifada.

They see the tens of thousands of rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad have accumulated and launched from the Gaza Strip and the countless IDF operations since Israel pulled out in 2005. They think back to the summer of 2006 and the war against Hezbollah, provoked by the abduction of two IDF reservists six years after the army pulled out of its security zone in southern Lebanon.

Now, go try to convince Israelis that another withdrawal, another risk – as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state – are in their interests. There might be a potential demographic time-bomb on our hands, but that is difficult to explain and too far away to see. In the immediate-term, Israelis see mortars landing on the runways at Ben-Gurion Airport and ISIS cells slipping into the West Bank over an unguarded Jordan Valley.

The litmus test for whether people want to make a peace deal now is Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. If the right-wing camp in Israel announces a rally to protest the lack of construction in settlements, it will fill the square. If the left-wing camp announces a rally to call on the government to enter peace talks with the Palestinians, it’s doubtful the square would fill up even by half.

The reason is because Israelis suffer from a combination of disenchantment and apathy.

The economy is booming and people – while they justifiably complain about the high cost-of-living here – live a relatively safe and secure life. Who wants to think about what is happening a mere 20-minute drive from downtown Tel Aviv when you don’t have to? Moreover, 40 years after Sadat’s visit, Israelis look around the region and see that not that much has really changed.

While we now have peace with Jordan and Egypt, neither of those countries’ leaders is willing to step foot in Israel. It is true that Israel has covert contacts throughout the Gulf, but when the Israeli national judo team competed recently in Abu Dhabi, the judokas had to remove the Israeli flags from their uniforms.

And when one of the judokas won a gold medal, he had to stand on the podium and watch as the International Judo Federation’s anthem was played and its flag was raised, instead of Israel’s blue-and-white and “Hatikva.”

So Israelis ask themselves: Why would this suddenly change? Why should we take risks for something that seems so dangerous?

This apathy and disenchantment are important to keep in mind, because if people don’t demand something of their leadership, there is no reason for the leadership to take action that is politically risky. If Israelis aren’t demanding that Netanyahu make peace with the Palestinians, then why would he?

Yes, there is pressure from the United States and Europe, but all of that can be managed like it was during the eight years under the Obama administration. Without real pressure from the Israeli public, there is no real reason to expect a change.

How can this change? With a modern-day Sadat. Imagine for a moment that Muhammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, traveled to Jerusalem, spoke at the Knesset, visited Yad Vashem, and announced his desire to normalize ties with Israel.

This would provide Israelis with a glimpse of a reality that currently does not exist.

If the king of Bahrain or the president of the United Arab Emirates came, it would have a similar effect. A visit by King Abdullah of Jordan or Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt would also leave Israelis impressed.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gestures during a military parade (Saudi Press Agency/Reuters)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gestures during a military parade (Saudi Press Agency/Reuters)

So why don’t they visit? When asked, officials in the Gulf explain that they can’t just come to Jerusalem. “We have public opinion in our own countries,” they answer, saying their people would be angry if they visited the Zionist state at a time when the Palestinian people remain stateless.

In addition, these Arab leaders don’t see why they need to come to Israel without Israel first making serious concessions and taking real steps toward peace.

While they might think they have a point, they are missing a true understanding of Israel. Despite almost 70 years of statehood, Israel is the only country in the world that still faces calls for its destruction, and whose citizens hold a passport banned from travel to more than a dozen countries. Recognition by Saudi Arabia and a visit to Israel by one of its leaders, would have an impact that Gulf leaders cannot yet full appreciate.

Such a visit would tell Israelis that their country is legitimate. It would tell a people, that not long ago was on the brink of extinction, that it will continue to survive and thrive. It would give Israelis a sense of confidence not felt since Sadat came here in 1977.

While a visit by Crown Prince bin Salman would not automatically create peace, it would create a ripple effect that would force Israel to respond, an act of significance that neither the Israeli people nor its leadership would be able to ignore.

Sadat, it seems, understood just that, and ultimately paid with his life. Forty years later, the Israeli people are still waiting.


Israeli Minister Proposes Plan to Reduce Number of Arabs in Jerusalem

October 29, 2017

By Nir Hasson and Jonathan Lis

Zeev Elkin wants to divide Jerusalem and create an Israeli municipality for Palestinians in several neighborhoods situated beyond the separation barrier in the city

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Shoafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, next to the West Bank separation barrier. Olivier Fitoussi


Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin has unveiled his proposal for the municipal division of Jerusalem, which would see several Arab neighborhoods beyond the West Bank separation barrier split off from the Jerusalem municipality and be placed under the jurisdiction of one or more new council administrations.

The move will require the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the completion of various legislative amendments, whose first reading was already passed by the Knesset in July.

Elkin said he believed his plan, which he intends to promote in the coming weeks, will not face serious resistance from either the right or left.


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The neighborhoods that would be excluded from Jerusalem’s municipal borders under the bill. Haaretz

This is the first attempt to reduce the municipal area of Jerusalem since it was expanded after the Six-Day War in 1967. It is also the first attempt to establish an extraordinary Israeli local council whose inhabitants are not Israeli citizens, but rather Palestinians with the status of permanent residents only.

The neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier are the Shoafat refugee camp and a neighborhood adjacent to it in northeast Jerusalem, Kafr Aqab, as well as Walajah, in the southern part of the city, and a small part of the neighborhood of Sawahra.


No one knows precisely how many people live in these areas. The figure is estimated at between 100,000 and 150,000, one-third to one-half of whom have Israeli identity cards and residency status. Since the construction of the separation barrier some 13 years ago (the barrier at Walajah is currently being completed), these areas have been cut off from Jerusalem, though they still come under the capital’s jurisdiction.

Following construction of the barrier, the Jerusalem Municipality, police and other Israeli agencies stopped providing services in these areas. Anarchy reigned in the near-absence of police and construction inspectors, with very serious infrastructure problems. Tens of thousands of housing units were constructed without permits, and crime organizations and drug dealers have proliferated.

“The current system has completely failed,” Elkin said. “The moment they routed the barrier the way they did, it was a mistake. But at the moment, there are two municipal areas – Jerusalem and these neighborhoods, and the connection between them is very loose.

Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Zeev Elkin with Culture Minister Miri Regev, June 2017.Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

“The army can’t formally act there, the police go in only for operations, and the area has become a no-man’s-land,” he added. “Providing services of any kind has become dangerous, and tall buildings and such high density as this can’t even be seen in Tel Aviv.”

Elkin also cited the danger that the buildings could collapse in an earthquake.

However, these are not the only problems worrying Elkin. He is also concerned with the rapid demographic growth in these areas, and its impact on the balance between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.

Many of the families in these neighborhoods consist of one parent who is an Israeli resident, and therefore the children are Israeli residents – which increases the number of Palestinian residents in Jerusalem.

According to Elkin, cheap housing, proximity to Jerusalem and the lawlessness prevailing there have made these neighborhoods a magnet for people from Jerusalem and the West Bank. “There are also dramatic impacts in terms of the Jewish majority and because you can’t improve the standard of living there, because we expect [the population] will continue to grow,” Elkin said.

The minister added: “Precisely because I believe in their electoral right and I want them to use it, I cannot be indifferent to the danger of the loss of a Jewish majority that is caused not by natural processes, but by illegal migration into the State of Israel that there is no way for me to prevent.”

Elkin said various solutions had previously been examined in order to tackle the problem. In terms of security and ideologically, the minister said he rejected solutions such as handing the neighborhoods over to the Palestinian Authority. He also rejected changing the route of the separation barrier for security, financial and legal reasons.

The details of Elkin’s plan are not final. It is unclear whether this will be a single regional council without territorial contiguity or two regional councils. So far, the residents have not agreed to hold elections to establish the new municipal entity, and in the initial years it would operate under an administration appointed by the interior minister.

“I have no doubt that for this plan to succeed, cooperation will have to develop with the local leadership,” Elkin said. “Their interest is in changing their intolerable living conditions. It might take time, because there is a lot of mistrust – but it can’t get any worse,” he added. Elkin pledged significant government investment in the neighborhoods.

Elkin has been working on his plan for several months. When Education Minister Naftali Bennett raised his proposal to amend the Basic Law on Jerusalem, Elkin feared if that bill passed in its current form, it would put his own plan at risk – since Bennett’s proposal would prevent a future division of Jerusalem.

To address this issue, Elkin inserted an ambiguous clause into Bennett’s bill: This would make it impossible to give any part of Jerusalem to the PA, but the municipality could be divided into smaller Israeli council entities.

Most of the lawmakers supporting Bennett’s bill did not know they were voting for a bill that might involve splitting off parts of the Jerusalem municipality. But Bennett’s acceptance of the clause allowed the governing coalition to support the bill, and the law passed with the automatic support of most of the coalition.

Elkin said the legislation would be completed in November and would then be presented to Netanyahu. If the prime minister, who is aware of the details of the plan, supports it, it could move ahead quickly. Legally, the plan does not require Knesset legislation, but only a decision by the interior minister.

“This idea is not easy for either the left or the right to accept,” Elkin said. “Each side can see benefits, but on the other hand there are dangers. It’s true that if someone wants to transfer this area [to Palestinian administration], it will be easier to do so,” he added.

In political circles, it is believed that the plan’s main opponent will be Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, because the municipality stands to lose major funding if it loses administrative control of these neighborhoods. The PA is also expected to oppose the plan, seeing it as an attempt to increase the number of Jews in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the coalition is also promoting a plan by MK Yoav Kish (Likud) that would annex – municipally, but not politically – the residents of the settlements situated near the capital under one municipal roof. This would add hundreds of thousands of Jewish voters to the Jerusalem Municipality, and on paper would change the demographic balance of the city.

Although it is on the agenda for the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s meeting on Sunday, there will be no vote on the bill at the meeting. According to a senior member of the coalition, this is because the bill in its current form “invites international pressure and contains serious legal problems. Netanyahu can’t allow himself to promote this form of the bill at this time.”

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Abbas: Trump ‘serious’ about Israel-Palestine peace

March 30, 2017


© PPO/AFP | Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas attending talks of the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh on March 29, 2017
RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – President Donald Trump is “serious” about solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said ahead of a meeting with the US leader.

“The US administration of President Donald Trump is seriously considering a solution to the Palestinian issue,” Abbas told AFP late Wednesday after a meeting of the Arab League in Jordan.

Abbas met with Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt before leaving for the summit and said contacts with the administration were ongoing.

“(There is) continuing dialogue with the American administration and there were a number of issues they wanted our opinion on or our answer to them,” he added.

“We gave them our position on all their questions.”

Abbas is expected to meet with Trump in Washington for the first time in April.

Trump is also expected to meet other Arab leaders in the coming weeks, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Trump caused alarm among Palestinians and many parts of the international community in February when he broke with years of US policy in support of the two-state solution, meaning an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said at the White House before a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Abbas said the Arab League summit on Wednesday confirmed that the Arab world had a “clear” vision for peace on the basis of two-states.

In their final statement, the leaders called for a revival of “serious and productive peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians” and renewed their commitment to a two-state solution.

Democrats Turn Against Israel

March 20, 2017

In 1972 ours was the first party to back moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Rep. Keith Ellison on Capitol Hill, Feb. 1.

Rep. Keith Ellison on Capitol Hill, Feb. 1. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Rep. Keith Ellison’s selection as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee is the latest ratification of our party’s turn away from Israel. Mr. Ellison, who complained in 2010 that “United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of seven million people,” narrowly lost a bid for DNC chairman, then was chosen by acclamation as deputy.

The Democrats used to be the pro-Israel party. President Truman recognized the Jewish state within minutes of its independence in 1948. In 1972 the convention that nominated George McGovern ratified the first major-party platform to support moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. The Republicans didn’t follow until 1996.

A lot has changed for the Democrats in 45 years. President Obama created an atmosphere of outright hostility between the U.S. and Israel. He made a nuclear deal with Iran and refused to veto the United Nations Security Council resolution in December that condemned settlements in the disputed West Bank.

Hillary Clinton might have been an improvement, but her commitment to Israel has long been questioned. As secretary of state, she referred to Israeli settlements as “illegitimate.” In 2015 she had to reassure donors to her presidential campaign that she still supported Israel. Even during Bill Clinton’s administration, pro-Israel Democrats worried that Mrs. Clinton would influence her husband in the wrong direction.

Then there’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, who as a presidential candidate in April 2016 accused Israel of being “indiscriminate” in “attacks against civilian areas” when defending itself against rockets fired by terrorists from Gaza. Mr. Sanders received 43% of Democratic primary votes.

How did this happen? There was once an inexorable link between support for Israel and for the civil-rights movement. Both were responses to invidious discrimination—anti-Semitism and racism. Starting in the mid-1960s, however, an anti-Israel minority emerged in the form of the New Left. These groups—such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers—saw Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as engaged in a “just struggle for liberation” as Panthers founder Huey P. Newton put it.

In the 1970s elements of the left became steadily more hostile to Israel. A turning point came in 1975, when the U.N. passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. That provided an intellectual and political opening for those who wanted to drive a wedge between supporters of Israel and of civil rights.

An organization called Basic—Black Americans to Support Israel Committee—was formed to condemn the resolution. “We seek to defend democracy in the Mideast, and therefore we support Israel,” the civil-rights leader Bayard Rustin declared. Unfortunately, that was the last time the organized Jewish and black communities worked together.

In 1979 President Carter fired U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, the first African-American to hold that position, for violating U.S. policy by meeting with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Young’s dismissal led several black leaders to break with their Jewish allies on Israel.

In 1984 Jesse Jackson, who’d publicly embraced PLO head Yasser Arafat five years earlier, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. A Washington Post story about his difficult relationship with Jews quoted him as using the slur “Hymie” and calling New York City “Hymietown.” Mr. Jackson won 3.3 million votes in the primaries. He ran again in 1988 and more than doubled the total, to 6.9 million—another sign of the party’s slow shift.

There are still pro-Israel Democrats, but they are beleaguered and equivocal. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, now the minority leader, described himself in 2010 as the Senate’s protector of Israel: “My name . . . comes from a Hebrew word. It comes from the word shomer, which mean guardian.” But how effectively has he played that role?

In 2015 Mr. Schumer was one of four Senate Democrats to vote against Mr. Obama’s Iran deal. But killing it would have taken 13 Democrats, and Politico reported Mr. Schumer phoned Democratic colleagues to “assure them he would not be whipping opposition to the deal.” Mr. Schumer—whose Brooklyn apartment building has been protested by leftist opponents of President Trump—was also an early backer of Mr. Ellison for the party chairmanship.

One reason Democrats have continued the move away from Israel is that Jewish voters haven’t exacted a price for it. Exit polls in 2016 found they supported Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump, 71% to 23%, in line with their historic levels of Democratic support.

There’s still an opportunity here for the GOP. Especially if Mr. Trump delivers on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the Jewish vote could start trending Republican. Unless Democrats reaffirm their support for Israel, many lifelong party members—ourselves included—may decide that the time has come to find new political affiliations.

Mr. Stein, who held elective office in New York between 1969 and 1994, is now a business consultant. Mr. Schoen served as a political adviser and pollster for President Clinton, 1994-2000.