News Roundup: Sorry – Bad News from the Middle East for the U.S., much less Arab Americans, Palestinians, and even some Israelis
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
Four interrelated events in the Middle East comprise this week’s news roundup. First is how Secretary of State Blinken’s recent visit to Israel resulted in absolutely nothing for Palestinians. Second, an attack by Jewish settlers on a Christian quarter of West Jerusalem exacerbates the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Third, the fact of the West Bank’s Jewish settler population exceeding half-a-million people only accentuates the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Fourth, as much an opinion as an event, a dire scenario is presented about Netanyahu’s “full-scale assault on Israel’s democratic institutions.”
Palestinians get Nothing from Secretary of State Blinken’s Recent Visit to Israel
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blicken’s recently completed, rapid-fire visit to the Middle East was designed to pay homage to the new right-wing Israeli government. He left barely a crumb behind for the Palestinians. While predictable, Blinken’s visit intended to convey a message to reelected Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his far-far right-wing ruling team. That was to warn the new government that it may be veering too close to autocracy. Specifically,
- Blinken warned that Israel’s “efforts to limit the democracy it offered to its Jewish citizens, via the gutting of its judiciary, would cause Israel problems in the United States.” (Mondoweiss News Service)
- He further intimated to the Palestinians, “the administration of Joe Biden would remain indifferent to their plight, offering no more than a few meaningless and empty gestures”
- Blinke focus on the question of whether Israeli democracy is a cover for the new government’s crimes against West Bank Palestinians
- Mondoweiss avows that the government intends to impose a “permanent Israeli military presence in Palestinian territory, full Israeli control of the borders, and the right for Israel to launch raids in Palestinian towns and villages at will”
- Palestinian President Abbas, to whom Blinken made a side visit, wasn’t fooled by the Secretary of State. Blinken admitted Palestinians are experiencing “a shrinking horizon of hope, not an expanding one; and that, too, we believe needs to change.”
Attack on Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter Emboldens Jewish Settlers
Christian leaders in the Holy Land condemned the violence of a late-January assault by Jewish settlers on an Armenian restaurant in Jerusalem’s Christian quarter. On Thursday evening, according to Catholic news source ‘CRUX,’ “a group of settlers swarmed the Taboon Wine Barat the New Gate in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. CCTV footage shows the group carrying banners and throwing chairs violently toward the restaurant and those seated inside.” Christian leaders urged Israel to protect its minority citizens and warned of “radical aggression by forces determined to impose an exclusively Jewish character on the city.” Specifics of the case are:
- Israeli police, who arrived an hour after a call had been made, ushered the crowd away but reportedly made no arrests
- The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land reacted quickly, saying, “This unprovoked violence instilled fear in the shopkeepers and residents of the Christian quarter as well as visitors, …calling the incident the latest in “a series of episodes of religious violence that is affecting the symbols of the Christian community and beyond.”
- The Orthodox Jerusalem (Eastern) Patriarchate was equally assertive, saying that “allowing members of such radical groups to freely march and roam around the neighborhoods of Jerusalem while armed and having declared criminal intentions, is considered as complicit in the attack and displays unwelcomed leniency with the criminals.”
- Timing couldn’t have been worse, the settlers’ violence coinciding with the Holocaust Memorial Day and with the settlers’ cursing the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, which incited a lone Palestinian youth to kill seven Jews at their synagogue
- Catholic clergy averred, “It is a priority that the political and religious authorities work according to their own responsibility to bring the civil and religious life of the city back to greater serenity, insisting that Jerusalem “must remain the homeland of believers of all faiths and not hostage to radical groups.”
West Bank Jewish Settler Population exceeds Half-a-Million
A Jewish pro-settler group in Jerusalem recently reported that the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank reached half a million. Some leaders of that group, the Los Angeles Times reported, are “predicting faster population growth under Israel’s new ultranationalist government.” Director of the group, Baruch Gordon, and settler in Beit El exclaimed, “We’ve reached a huge hallmark…We’re here to stay.” New members of the ultranationalist government under prime minister Netanyahu vehemently oppose Palestinian statehood and are making Jewish settlement expansion its top priority. Specifically:
- Nothing is totally new in the new initiative, since for the past three decades, settlements have grown under every Israeli government, regardless of their pro-Palestinian statement sentiments
- Settler expansion has continued under the Biden administration, “despite renewed American appeals to rein in construction following the end of the Trump administration’s hands-off approach.”
- A large majority of the international community sees settlements as illegal, an obstacle to peace. “The Palestinians see them as a land grab that undermines their chances to establish a viable, contiguous state.”
- A new twist in claims to the West Bank, Israel has claimed that that entity “is disputed rather than occupied territory, saying that terminology denies the Jewish people’s historical presence in the land. The settlers and their many supporters in government view the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people and are opposed to any partition.”
- Many observers see that “Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank live under a two-tiered legal system that grants settlers special status and applies much of Israeli law to them, including the right to vote in Israeli elections and the ability to access certain public services. Palestinians live under Israeli military rule and do not enjoy the legal rights and protections afforded to settlers.”
Netanyahu’s “Full-Scale Assault on Israel’s Democratic Institutions”
A new Middle East Institute (MEI) opinion piece suggests that newly-reelected Prime Minister Netanyahu is set to “transform the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ into what the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl warned against a state of the Jews that is nothing more than just ‘another Levantine State’.” The author of the opinion feels that Netanyahu will teeter on the brink of pushing through “this virtual coup d’état” but will stop short of such a disaster. Calling Netanyahu’s strategy “a transparent game of destructive leveraging,” the strategy includes the following elements:
- First, the Supreme Court of Israel would be subordinated to the executive branch. Politicized legal advisors would be assigned to all government offices, the free press would be weakened, and disproportionate amounts of state funds would be awarded to religious, nationalist, and ultra-conservative institutions.
- Netanyahu has used the “doctrine of destructive leveraging” many times in the past, and now he’s enacting it to “achieve success on three key issues: annihilating the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution, curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and carrying out what is effectively regime change in Israel.”
- Netanyahu’s new, ultra-conservative government has also vowed to “collapse the Palestinian Authority…annexing part or all of the West Bank and leaving its 3 million Palestinian residents without voting rights and under a non-democratic, coercive regime.” At the same time, Jewish settlements will be increased, especially under two of the most ultra-conservative, Palestinian-hating government ministers, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.
- An attempted disguise of this harsh circumvention of a need for Israeli-Arab peace over the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu has replaced it with the Trump administration’s introduction of the so-called Abraham Accords. These are commercial agreements with Arab countries that promote trade—not peace.
- Netanyahu’s initial plan to change the character of Israel’s regime was to replace the country’s liberal elites. Now, the plan has morphed into one of “all-out regime change, borrowing pages from Victor Orban’s Hungarian and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkish books.” The opinion piece’s author points to several critical actions of its own the U.S. government must leverage to counter this potentially damaging Israeli strategy. One such action is: “On the peace front, Washington should re-link Israeli-Arab with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.”
–“In latest visit, Blinken offers nothing to Palestinians,” Mondoweiss, 2/3/2023
–“Holy Land church leaders condemn settler attack in Jerusalem’s Christian quarter,” CRUX (Taking the Catholic Pulse), 1/28/2023
–“Jewish settler population in the West Bank surpasses half a million,” Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2023
“The Biden administration is missing Netanyahu’s transparent game of destructive leveraging,” by Eran Etzion, a non-resident scholar at Middle East Institute, a diplomat and strategist with more than 20 years of experience in senior government positions in Israel, 2/2/2023
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
Check out our Blog here!