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‘Islamic State’ Pretence and the Upcoming Wars in Libya (The Palestine Chronicle)

By Ramzy Baroud

Another war is in the making in Libya: the questions are ‘how’ and ‘when’? While the prospect of another military showdown is unlikely to deliver Libya from its current security upheaval and political conflict, it is likely to change the very nature of conflict in that rich, but divided, Arab country.

An important pre-requisite to war is to locate an enemy or, if needed, invent one. The so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS), although hardly an important component in the country’s divisive politics, is likely to be that antagonist.

Libya is currently split, politically, between two governments, and, geographically, among many armies, militias, tribes and mercenaries. It is a failed state par excellence, although such a designation does not do justice to the complexity of the Libyan case, together with the root causes of that failure.

Now that ‘IS’ has practically taken over the city of Sirte, once a stronghold for former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and the bastion of al-Qadhadhfa tribe, the scene is becoming murkier than ever before. Conventional wisdom has it that the advent of the opportunistic, bloodthirsty group is a natural event considering the security vacuum resulting from political and military disputes. But there is more to the story.

Several major events led to the current stalemate and utter chaos in Libya. One was the military intervention by NATO, which was promoted, then, as a way to support Libyans in their uprising against long-time leader, Gaddafi. NATO’s intentional misreading of UN resolution 1973, resulted in ‘Operation Unified Protector’, which overthrew Gaddafi, killed thousands and entrusted the country into the hands of numerous militias that were, at the time, referred to collectively as the ‘rebels’.

The urgency which NATO assigned to its war – the aim of which was, supposedly, to prevent a possible ‘genocide’ – kept many in the media either supportive or quiet. Few dared to speak out:

“While NATO’s UN mandate was to protect civilians, the alliance, in practice, turned that mission on its head. Throwing its weight behind one side in a civil war to oust Gaddafi’s regime, it became the air force for the rebel militias on the ground,” wrote Seumas Milne in the Guardian in May 2012.

“So while the death toll was perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000 when NATO intervened in March, by October it was estimated by the NTC (National Transitional Council) to be 30,000 – including thousands of civilians.”

Another important event was the elections. Libyans voted in 2014, yielding a bizarre political reality where two ‘governments’ claim to be the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people: one in Tobruk and Beida, and the other in Tripoli. Each ‘government’ has its own military arms, tribal alliances and regional benefactors. Moreover, each is eager to claim a larger share of the country’s massive oil wealth and access to ports, thus running its own economy.

The most that these governments managed to achieve, however, is a political and military stalemate, interrupted by major or minor battles and an occasional massacre. That is, until ‘IS’ appeared on the scene.

The sudden advent of ‘IS’ was convenient. At first, the ‘IS’ threat appeared as an exaggerated claim by Libya’s Arab neighbours to justify their own military intervention. Then, it was verified by video evidence showing visually-manipulated ‘IS’ ‘giants’ slitting the throats of poor Egyptian labourers at some mysterious beach. Then, with little happening in between, ‘IS’ fighters began taking over entire towns, prompting calls by Libyan leaders for military intervention.

But the takeover of Sirte by ‘IS’ cannot be easily explained in so casual a way as a militant group seeking inroads in a politically divided country. That sudden takeover happened within a specific political context that can explain the rise of ‘IS’ more convincingly.

In May, Libya Dawn’s 166th Brigade (affiliated with groups that currently control Tripoli) withdrew from Sirte without much explanation.

“A mystery continues to surround the sudden withdrawal of the brigade,” wrote Kamel Abdallah in al-Ahram Weekly. “Officials have yet to offer an account, in spite of the fact that this action helped ‘IS’ forces secure an unrivalled grip on the city.”

While Salafi fighters, along with armed members of the al-Qadhadhfa tribe, moved to halt the advances of ‘IS’ (with terrible massacres reported, but not yet verified) both Libyan governments are yet to make any palpable move against ‘IS’. Not even the insistent war-enthusiastic, anti-Islamist General Khalifa Heftar, and his so-called “Libyan National Army” made much of an effort to fight ‘IS’, which is also expanding in other parts of Libya.

Instead, as ‘IS’ moves forward and consolidates its grip on Sirte and elsewhere, the Tobruk-based Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni urged “sister Arab nations” to come to Libya’s aid and carry out air strikes on Sirte. He has also urged Arab countries to lobby the UN to end its weapons embargo on Libya, which is already saturated with arms that are often delivered illegally from various regional Arab sources.

The Tripoli government is also urging action against ‘IS’, but both governments, which failed to achieve a political roadmap for unity, still refuse to work together.

The call for Arab intervention in Libya’s state of security bedlam is politically-motivated, of course, for Al-Thinni is hoping that the air strikes would empower his forces to widen their control over the country, in addition to strengthening his government’s political position in any future UN-mediated agreement.

But another war is being plotted elsewhere, this time involving NATO’s usual suspects. The Western scheming, however, is far more involved than Al-Thinni’s political designs. The London Times reported on August 1st that “hundreds of British troops are being lined up to go to Libya as part of a major new international mission,” which will also include “military personnel from Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the United States … in an operation that looks set to be activated once the rival warring factions inside Libya agree to form a single government of national unity.”

Those involved in the operation which, according to a UK Government source, could be actualized “towards the end of August”, are countries with vested economic interests and are the same parties behind the war in Libya in 2011.

Commenting on the report, Jean Shaoul wrote, “Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, is expected to provide the largest contingent of ground troops. France has colonial and commercial ties with Libya’s neighbours, Tunisia, Mali and Algeria. Spain retains outposts in northern Morocco and the other major power involved, Germany, is once again seeking to gain access to Africa’s resources and markets.”

It is becoming clearer that Libya, once a sovereign and relatively wealthy nation, is becoming a mere playground for a massive geopolitical game and large economic interests and ambitions. , with Arab and Western powers scheming to ensure a larger share of Libya’s economic wealth and strategic value.

The takeover of Sirte by ‘IS’ is reported as a watershed moment that is, once again, generating war frenzy – similar to that which preceded NATO’s military intervention in 2011. Regardless of whether Arabs bomb Libya, or Western powers do so, the crisis in that country is likely to escalate, if not worsen, as history has amply shown.

– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.

The post ‘Islamic State’ Pretence and the Upcoming Wars in Libya appeared first on Palestine Chronicle.

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Daesh’s pretence and the upcoming wars in Libya (The Jordan Times)

Another war is in the making in Libya. The questions are how and when?

While the prospect of another military showdown is unlikely to deliver Libya from its current security upheaval and political conflict, it is likely to change the very nature of the conflict in this rich, but divided, Arab country.

An important pre-requisite to war is to locate an enemy or, if needed, invent one. Daesh, although hardly an important component in the country’s divisive politics, is likely to be that antagonist.

Libya is currently split politically between two governments and geographically among many armies, militias, tribes and mercenaries. It is clearly a failed state, although such designation does not do justice to the complexity of the Libyan case, together with the root causes of that failure.

Now that Daesh has practically taken over the city of Sirte, once a stronghold of former Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and the bastion of Al Qadhadhfa tribe, the scene is becoming murkier than ever before.

Conventional wisdom has it that the advent of the opportunistic, bloodthirsty group is a natural event, considering the security vacuum resulting from political and military disputes. But there is more to the story.

Several major events led to the current stalemate and utter chaos in Libya. One was NATO’s military intervention, which was promoted then as a way to support Libyans in their uprising against long-time leader Qadhafi.

NATO’s intentional misreading of UN Resolution 1973 resulted in “Operation Unified Protector”, which overthrew Qadhafi, killed thousands and thrust the country into the hands of numerous militias that were, at the time, referred to collectively as the rebels.

The urgency NATO assigned to its war — the aim of which was, allegedly, to prevent a possible genocide — kept many in the media either supportive or quiet. Few dared to speak out.

“While NATO’s UN mandate was to protect civilians, the alliance, in practice, turned that mission on its head. Throwing its weight behind one side in a civil war to oust Qadhafi’s regime, it became the air force for the rebel militias on the ground,” wrote Seumas Milne in The Guardian in May 2012.

“So while the death toll was perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000 when NATO intervened in March, by October it was estimated by the NTC [National Transitional Council] to be 30,000 — including thousands of civilians.”

Equally important were the elections. Libyans voted in 2014, yielding a bizarre political reality where two “governments” claim to be the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people: one in Tobruk and Beida, and the other in Tripoli.

Each “government” has its own military, tribal alliances and regional benefactors. Moreover, each is eager to claim a larger share of the country’s massive oil wealth and access to ports, thus running its own economy.

The most that these governments managed to achieve, however, was a political and military stalemate interrupted by major or minor battles and an occasional massacre. That is, until Daesh appeared on the scene.

The sudden advent of Daesh was convenient. At first, the Daesh threat appeared as an exaggerated claim by Libya’s Arab neighbours to justify their own military intervention. Then, it was verified by video evidence showing visually manipulated Daesh “giants” slitting the throats of poor Egyptian labourers on some mysterious beach.

Then, with little happening in between, Daesh fighters began taking over entire towns, prompting calls by Libyan leaders for military intervention. But the takeover of Sirte by Daesh cannot be easily explained in so casual a way as a militant group seeking inroads in a politically divided country. That sudden takeover happened within a specific political context that can explain the rise of Daesh more convincingly.

In May, Libya Dawn’s 166th Brigade (affiliated with groups that currently control Tripoli) withdrew from Sirte without much explanation.

“A mystery continues to surround the sudden withdrawal of the brigade,” wrote Kamel Abdallah in Al Ahram Weekly.

“Officials have yet to offer an account, in spite of the fact that this action helped Daesh forces secure an unrivalled grip on the city.”

While Salafist fighters, along with armed members of Al Qadhadhfa tribe, moved to halt Daesh’s advances (with terrible massacres reported, although not yet verified) both Libyan governments are yet to make any palpable move against Daesh.

Not even the insistent war-enthusiastic, anti-Islamist General Khalifa Haftar and his so-called “Libyan National Army” made much of an effort to fight Daesh, which is expanding in other parts of Libya as well.

Instead, as Daesh moves forward and consolidates its grip on Sirte and elsewhere, the Tobruk-based Prime Minister Abdullah Al Thinni urged “sister Arab nations” to come to Libya’s aid and carry out air strikes on Sirte.

He has also urged Arab countries to lobby the UN to end its weapons embargo on Libya, which is already saturated with arms that are often delivered illegally from various regional Arab sources.

The Tripoli government is also urging action against Daesh, but the two governments, which failed to achieve a political roadmap for unity, still refuse to work together.

The call for Arab intervention in Libya’s security bedlam is politically motivated, of course, for Thinni is hoping that the air strikes would empower his forces to widen their control over the country, in addition to strengthening his government’s political position in any future UN-mediated agreement.

But another war is being plotted elsewhere, this time involving NATO’s usual suspects.

The Western scheming, however, is far more involved than Thinni’s political designs.

The London Times reported on August 1 that “hundreds of British troops are being lined up to go to Libya as part of a major new international mission”, which will also include “military personnel from Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the United States … in an operation that looks set to be activated once the rival warring factions inside Libya agree to form a single government of national unity”.

Those involved in the operation, which, according to a UK government source, could be actualised “towards the end of August”, are countries with vested economic interests, the same parties behind the war in Libya in 2011.

Commenting on the report, Professor Jean Shaoul wrote: “Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, is expected to provide the largest contingent of ground troops. France has colonial and commercial ties with Libya’s neighbours, Tunisia, Mali and Algeria. Spain retains outposts in northern Morocco and the other major power involved, Germany, is once again seeking to gain access to Africa’s resources and markets.”

It is becoming clearer that Libya, once a sovereign and relatively wealthy nation, is becoming a mere playground for a massive geopolitical game and large economic interests and ambitions.

Sadly, Libyans themselves are the very enablers of the division of their country, with Arab and Western powers scheming to ensure a larger share of Libya’s economic wealth and strategic value.

The takeover of Sirte by Daesh is reported as a watershed moment that is, once again, generating war frenzy — similar to that which preceded NATO’s military intervention in 2011.

Regardless of whether Arabs bomb Libya or Western powers do, the crisis in that country is likely to escalate, if not worsen, as history has amply shown.

The writer, www.ramzybaroud.net, has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His
latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London). He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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Iran's own charm offensive (Al Jazeera)

August 24, 2015

By Richard Javad Heydarian  

The need for more constructive relations between Iran and its neighbours has never been more important.

As expected, the Iranian nuclear deal is facing stiff opposition in Washington, where a Republican-dominated Congress is determined to deny the Obama administration its greatest foreign policy legacy.

Reflecting divisions within US President Barack Obama’s own party, two leading Democratic senators, Robert Menendez and Chuck Schumer, have also come out against the deal, dampening hopes of preventing the passage of a resolution of disapproval by the Congress.

This means Obama will likely have to exercise his veto power in order to prevent a sabotage of an international agreement, which has been unanimously supported by the UN Security Council.

Obama only needs a third of the 100 votes in the Senate to sustain his veto, with 27 democrats having already expressed their support.

So far, it looks like the Obama administration has enough congressional support to sustain a veto, with a Republican leader admitting that “the procedure is obviously stacked in the president’s favour”.

Aside from prominent pundits, such as Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria, a growing number of Jewish leaders have also expressed support for the deal, including major Hollywood producers, such as Norman Lear and billionaire philanthropist, Eli Broad.

Most recently, another 340 American rabbis have also urged the US Congress to support the deal.

Yet, Obama isn’t alone in trying to garner maximum possible support for the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA).

On its part, Tehran has also tried to build international support and allay anxieties, especially among neighbouring countries, over the strategic implications of

the

agreement 

with the reopening of the British Embassy in Iran signalling a new chapter in its relations with the outside world.

The Zarif touch

Without a doubt, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his government have spent considerable diplomatic capital on securing a nuclear deal with the great powers.

For the first time in decades, Tehran engaged in sustained dialogue and haggling with Washington, a process that accelerated after the historic phone conversation between Rouhani and Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2013.

Relishing a cabinet stacked with American PhD-holders, the Rouhani administration undoubtedly had a nuanced understanding of the complexities of Washington politics and Obama’s strategic calculus.

Fortunately, Rouhani could also count on the unique talents of his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who spent decades in the US and was able to develop extensive contacts as Iran’s former ambassador, from 2002 to 2007, to the UN.

True to his name (in Persian, Zarif means “delicate”), the Iranian foreign minister leveraged his command of English with an American accent and adopted diplomatic savvy to enhance Iran’s international image.

Far from a radical firebrand, he projected an aura of rationality and ancient civility, penning columns for leading US publications, such as Foreign Affairs and The New York Times.

He confidently entertained interviews with leading journalists and global media outlets, eloquently articulating Tehran’s point of view and its desire for a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear issue.

After two years of relentless negotiations with great powers, led by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, Zarif and his counterparts were able to find the optimal point of convergence to strike a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Ending Iran’s international isolation was a key promise of the Rouhani administration upon its election in mid-2013, and the JCPA was the key to fulfilling that goal.

As soon as Iran was able to develop a workable understanding with the West, it realised that it was time to provide the global media some window into the Iranian world, as well as reach out to neighbouring countries.

Iran was not only interested in resolving the nuclear issue, but also in restoring the country’s international image and carving out a new chapter in its foreign relations.

Ending isolation

While Obama was busy facing down opponents at home, Tehran welcomed top European officials, such as German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni,

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

and the European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini,

with Austrian President Heinz Fischer expected to visit Iran in September.

Along with foreign dignitaries, there were countless business groups seeking investment opportunities to tap into Iran’s vast hydrocarbon resources and consumer markets.


RELATED: Iran: The deal that cuts both ways


As a poignant reminder of Europe’s urge to restore relations with Iran, Rouhani was also invited to visited Paris and Rome with Mogherini, Europe’s foreign policy chief, calling for an “alliance of civilisations” with Iran, especially in the global fight against terrorism.

Tehran also tried to charm the global media.

In the past month alone, Tehran granted press visas to 17 foreign media organisations, including the BBC and the prominent New York-based Jewish newspaper, The Forward, which reported about a society that had “no interest at all in attacking Israel” and was primarily concerned with its “own sense of isolation and economic struggle”.

Crucially, the Rouhani administration also called for constructive ties with neighbouring countries, a major priority of Tehran. Since 2013, Zarif has been on the forefront of Iran’s charm offensive, visiting key members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), particularly the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Kuwait.

In a column published by several major Arab newspapers, he called for a unified front against extremism and a spirit of collective security in the region.

Trying to dispel fears that the nuclear deal will usher in greater Iranian regional assertiveness, Zarif has also called for cooperation with powerhouse Saudi Arabia, while the Iranian Vice President Masumeh Ebtekar recently expressed Tehran’s willingness to explore cooperation, even with regional rivals, over shared interests.

With the crises in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq entering a dangerous stage, the need for more constructive relations between Iran and its neighbours has gained unprecedented salience.

Without a doubt, the Rouhani administration has embarked on another challenging diplomatic task.

Richard Javad Heydarian is a specialist in Asian geopolitical/economic affairs and author of “How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings.”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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How should Israel form an alliance with Saudi Arabia? (Globes (Israel))

While the world’s attention has been focused on the six-power agreement with Iran, collateral fallout has been taking place, both positive and negative, as a result of that diplomatic disaster.

Among them is a series of reports and rumors of an impending alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, fuelled by their common assessment of the threats posed on the one hand by Iran and on the other by Islamic State (IS):

Confirmed are meetings between retired high-level political and military figures of the two countries in various venues as well as meetings between a still-influential retired Saudi major general and the director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Dore Gold. Unconfirmed but insistent reports abound of a Saudi prince who has been dispatched to Israel to improve relations between the two countries as well as negotiations involving Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt with Hamas, directed towards the implementation of an agreement for a long-term armistice between Hamas and Israel, with Hamas disarmament overseen by Israeli and Egyptian forces, in return for the lifting of the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of Gaza and Saudi financial support for the bankrupt Hamas regime.

Whether such negotiations are in fact taking place, the top Hamas leader recently met with Saudi King Salman and the Palestinian Authority (PA) certainly believes it and is mounting a propaganda campaign against any such deal because it would, in effect, represent international recognition of a separate Palestinian entity in Gaza.

There have even been commentaries in such Israeli publications as “The Jerusalem Post” that the time has come for Israel and Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic relations, presumably followed by others of the Gulf states, such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Of course on one hand, such an alliance would be an enormous triumph for Israeli diplomacy. But amidst all the potential celebration, a few important facts are at risk of being overlooked or underplayed:

(1) Saudi Arabia is, in many ways, the Sunni equivalent of Shi’a Iran. It is a highly repressive society in which human and civil rights are non-existent and routinely violated. In some ways it is even worse. Iran has a simulacrum of democratic procedures. Saudi Arabia has none. Saudi women are even more repressed than Iranian women, who at least are permitted to drive cars. In both regimes barbaric practices such as floggings and beheadings are routine.

(2) The Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam is in no way preferable to the Iranian version of shi’a Islam. And both are engaged in spreading their influence outside their home countries; in the Iranian case often by force; in the Saudi case peacefully, through propaganda, the building of mosques and madrassas, and so on.

This is not to say that diplomatic and security cooperation with Saudi Arabia should not be pursued and might well lead to economic, scientific and technological cooperation also. But the nature of a regime must always be kept in mind when designing cooperative agreements. Having enemies in common is an important factor tending towards agreement, no doubt, but a regime such as that of Saudi Arabia can change its policies at any moment, based on one man’s assessment of what is good for him, his tribe and his country; Caveat emptor.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on August 24, 2015

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2015

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Should Matisyahu play at a peace festival? (Al Jazeera)

August 23, 2015

By Mark LeVine  

Matisyahu’s BDS moment at Rototom Reggae Sunsplash in Spain.

This is not the vibe you want at a Reggae festival.

Several days ago, Rototom Reggae Sunsplash, one of Europe’s largest festivals, cancelled the performance of the Jewish-American reggae artist Matisyahu after accusation by a local BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) group, BDS Pais Valencia , that he supports the Israeli occupation and is anti-Palestinian. After a global storm of protest, organisers reversed their position and reinvited him. Matisyahu performed on Sunday without incident, but with many fans waving Palestinian flags and chanting “out, out” when he first appeared on stage.

The Matisyahu affair raises several issues about the BDS movement and artistic freedom that are far more complex than they’re being portrayed in the mainstream media narrative. The first is whether artists should ever be subject to a litmus test as a condition for engaging in their art; the second, whether or not Matisyahu was unfairly singled out for his views and faith.

Music festivals like South by Southwest, Coachella or Glastonbury that have no guiding political message or platform clearly have no business asking artists about their politics or personal views. But there are also a myriad of festivals that have specific agendas or ideological orientations.

Not just music

No one would blame Amnesty International or Greenpeace for not inviting artists who support torture or drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to their festivals. Nor would anyone expect AIPAC to invite the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM to perform at its next gala.

“Rototom is not just music,” the first item on the festival’s Facebook page declares. For 22 years, the festival has supported issues related to “peace, equality, human rights and social justice”, including support for Palestinians, Africa, anti-imperialism and LGBT rights. The banner on top of its homepage even features a giant peace sign composed of festival goers.

Indeed, as the festival organisers also pointed out immediately after cancelling Matisyahu’s performance, his was not the first performance they’ve cancelled. Other artists, such as Jamaican reggae legend Beenie Man, have been cancelled. In Beenie Man’s case, it was because of his homophobic views. Beenie Man ultimately performed at Rototom in 2012 after making a video explicitly disavowing his previous homophobic statements and attitudes – precisely what the organisers asked Matisyahu to do.

Should Matisyahu play at a peace festival?

Suppose that instead of Matisyahu the Israel-supporter, we were discussing Mahmoud or Mohamed, the Palestinian-American rapper who’d expressed public support for Hamas suicide bombings or rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Would anyone complain about Rototom’s cancelling his appearance if he refused to disavow these positions? Would he be invited to any festival anywhere in the Western world? Not very likely.

If we return to the present situation, Matisyahu has described himself as “support[ing] peace and compassion for all people. My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music”. 

Media accounts have generally accepted his self-depiction, declaring that, at most, he has a “vague sympathy for Israel, but it’s clear that his overwhelming view is… apolitical”.

The reality of Palestinian history

The reality, however, is not at all as Matisyahu and his supporters are presenting it. Among his views, as detailed by the BDS Pais Valencia, Matisyahu has defended the murder of international activists by IDF forces in the infamous 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, has denied the reality of Palestinian history, has supported Israeli settlers and their organisations (and took as a spiritual mentor a leader of the Hebron settlers), and most importantly, has performed for the IDF and for AIPAC.

According to the progressive Jewish website Jewschool (which provided a similar list of highly political, anti-peace actions and opinions), at one festival Matisyahu literally pulled the plug on another Jewish artist during the performance of a song he felt was “pro-Arab”.

Taken together, Matisyahu’s public positions led another progressive Jewish blog, The Magnes Zionist, to declare that “boycotting Matisyahu is reasonable, even if you don’t agree with it”. And indeed, it’s pretty clear that you can’t play for the IDF and AIPAC and then claim you’re apolitical and pro-peace and compassion. Matisyahu has no place appearing at a peace festival.

Even if one might agree that Matisyahu’s politics don’t belong at a progressive peace festival, was he unfairly singled out for his views? If so, was this because of his religion? He put it directly: “Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform?”

In this regard, this year, another artist, Jamaican reggae singer Capleton, is headlining the festival despite his record of obnoxious homophobia that’s so bad, he’s had entire tours cancelled because of them. As the Spain-based Uruguayan singer Jorge Drexler tweeted, Rototom has a problem with Matisyahu, but “they do want homophobes like Capleton. Please, someone explain that to me”.

Is the problem really that Matisyahu is Jewish – the most oft-repeated anti-BDS accusation?

Matisyahu’s Jewishness

A look at the full range of comments by people associated with the festival and, more importantly, of the BDS Pais Valencia’s various social media sites demonstrates that no one focused on Matisyahu’s Jewishness as a reason for boycotting him, and in fact, made explicit declarations that his religion had nothing to do with their actions.

What is clear, however, is that BDS Pais Valencia put early and significant pressure on festival organisers, while the local LGBT activist community was uninterested or unprepared to make a similar fuss over Capleton.

Ultimately, the problem is not with BDS Pais Valencia or with Rototom Sunsplash’s core principles. It’s with the management of the festival’s failure to do due diligence in selecting artists this year. But their incompetence was aggravated by cowardice once pressure from the mainstream international and Spanish media, the local Jewish community and Israeli government all hit at once.

And so, as suddenly as they cancelled him, festival organisers “publicly apologised” to Matisyahu and reinvited him to play in his original spot, declaring that they’d “made a mistake due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS Pais Valencia, because it was perceived that the normal functioning of the festival could be threatened – all of which prevented the organisation from reasoning clearly as to how to deal with the situation properly”.

It turns out that both Matisyahu and Rototom Sunsplash are the victims of a mean-spirited conspiracy by anti-Jewish activists looking to stifle free speech and attack Jews. Who would have thought?

Bob Marley and Peter Tosh must be turning in their graves.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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Political scenes in turmoil (The Jordan Times)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been suffering from a diplomatic crisis. Israel stood against the international community, blocking any attempt to revive the peace talks with the Palestinians and repeatedly attempted to wreck the deal with Iran on its nuclear programme.

The Israeli failure to cope with the recent political developments in the region might be the reason for some of its irresponsible actions, such as opening a war front on the Golan Heights or even in the south of Lebanon. This might be Netanyahu’s only way to escape the political pressure, especially since the UN seems to be serious about reviving the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

On the other side, the Palestinian scene does not seem to be in better shape.

The Palestinian leadership is facing many problems, not only with Israel but also within its ranks.

Intra-Palestinian squabbles are no longer along the Fateh-Hamas divide, but also within the Fateh movement itself.

There is tension between Mohammad Dahlan, former Fateh security chief, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and a conflict between former prime minister Salam Fayyad and yet another senior Fateh leader, Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Meanwhile, Abed Rabbo, Dahlan and Fayyad were accused of having met in secret with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the UAE.

Many believed that Abbas was the ideal partner for the Americans to sign the peace plan known as Kerry’s Plan,even thoughhis official term expired in 2010 and he is seen by some as illegitimate.

Despite this, many Western and Arab officials believe that Abbas is Netanyahu’s preferred partner, as he never misses a chance to back him up. Yet, things may be changing soon for Abbas, due to his many political failures, most important the failure to gain the minimum nine votes at the UN Security Council in his statehood bid.

According to some analysts, Abbas’ expressing the wish to quit, not officially, is seen as a tactical step aimed at drawing some attention after being badly marginalised by Arab and international leaders.

Moreover, there are numerous pressing challenges on the Palestinian scene: rebuilding Gaza, repositioning itself in a new regional system, addressing the security situation in Palestine, economic challenges and facilitating the economic development process.

According to Western sources, the new rivals to Abbas are Fayyad, accepted by the Americans as a moderate, Dahlan, whois looked uponas a security man, and Abed Rabbo. The threeare beingthought of as a guarantee to a safe and secure transition for Israel.

Those same sources also suggested that these leaders have the backing of the UAE and Egypt.

Palestinian politics, much like that in the rest of the region, are currently fluid and shifting.

The coming months may bring many new developments and potentially new faces.

Abbas himself is trying to promote some successors, such as the current secret services director, Majed Faraj, or even chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The diplomatic crisis that faces Netanyahu today will certainly have an impact on the Palestinian scene. If changes in the Israeli political scene are highly needed to achieve some progress in the peace process, an upcoming change seems to be obligatory as well on the Palestinian scene.

amersabaileh@yahoo.com

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If reconciliation is impossible, what then? (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

While the Muslim Brotherhood publicly declares that it rejects any form of reconciliation with the Egyptian government, it has ceaselessly manoeuvred to reach a settlement that would allow it to resume its activities, save its organisation and compensate for its immense losses in grassroots support.

It uses the services of supporters, allies and members of its sleeping cells to call for an immediate reconciliation. It simultaneously takes advantage of the shifting positions of certain key Arab states and the Arab concern, in general, over Iranian expansionism. This concern has only grown since the pro-Iranian Houthis seized control over most of Yemen’s territory and Tehran reached a nuclear deal with Western powers.

Last week, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry rejected a call by Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Atiya for reconciliation between the Egyptian authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Atiya said that his country is ready to act as mediator for the process.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Ahmed Abu Zeid, rejected talk of reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, saying there could be no question of dialogue with the terrorist organisation, or of accepting the mediation of any party for talks with terrorists.

The press and media in Egypt and abroad are constantly talking about reconciliation between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Most commentators do little more than proclaim a position on the subject, either for or against. It would be more sensible for political observers to focus on the possibility of a settlement between the Egyptian state, at both the levels of the government and the people, and an organisation that the Egyptian masses felt compelled to rise up against and remove from power after a single year of the presidency of Mohamed Morsi.

Citing a Muslim Brotherhood officer living in Turkey, Al-Shorouk newspaper reported that Muslim Brotherhood billionaire Youssef Nada, former international relations advisor for the organisation, met with Saudi officials in his home in Campione, a small Italian enclave in Switzerland.

Al-Shorouk, which is known to be close to Muslim Brotherhood circles, reported that the meeting took place in the framework of Riyadh’s recent rapprochement with the Muslim Brotherhood and its branches in the Arab world.

Recent signs of this rapprochement are to be found in King Salman’s reception of a Hamas delegation led by Khaled Meshal, after a lengthy period of strain between the two sides, and the meeting between Saudi Minister of Awqaf (religious endowments) Saleh bin Abdel Aziz Al-Sheikh with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Comptroller General Hisham bin Said during the latter’s visit to Saudi Arabia during Ramadan.

The source cited by Al-Shorouk noted that it was the Saudi minister who asked to meet Bin Said and that talks focused on Saudi efforts to counter Iranian expansion in the Arab region and Islamic world. He said that Riyadh now sees Islamist movements as a possible base for any project to confront Iranian expansion.

The Muslim Brotherhood source stressed that Nada enjoys the fullest confidence among Saudi ruling circles due to his role as mediator between Saudi Arabia and Iran during previous crises, such as the Iranian pilgrims crisis in 1994. He also has close relations with Iranian political leaders, most notably Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

In the opinion of Salem Al-Falahat, another Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood official, in receiving the Hamas delegation led by Meshal, the Saudi leadership conveyed positive messages to the entire world. He noted that the Muslim Brotherhood played a positive role for Saudi Arabia at the time of its discord with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In an interview with the Jordanian Gerasa news agency, Al-Falahat held that close relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia were the norm while the situation that occurred in 2014 was an exception to the rule. He added that in the era of King Salman, the Saudi leadership has revised its outlook in the hopes of improving Arab and Islamic relations.

Another Muslim Brotherhood leader connected to the administrative bureau of the international Muslim Brotherhood said that, so far, the rapprochement between the Muslim Brotherhood and Riyadh has not been translated into anything in concrete terms for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

He added: “We asked the Saudi regime to take urgent practical and concrete steps regarding the Egyptian case. We told them that time was not in our favour and that they needed to act quickly.”

The reality is, however, that the obstacles to reconciliation are strong and numerous. The chief obstacle is intense popular opposition to a Muslim Brotherhood return to political life, because of the organisation’s determination to mix religion with politics and to confer an aura of sanctity on its political and economic policies.

The Egyptian grassroots uprising on 30 June 2013 was not just directed against individual Muslim Brotherhood leaders. It was a revolt against the entire panoply of Muslim Brotherhood sociopolitical attitudes and agenda: the drive to change Egyptian customs by imposing its own guidelines for personal behaviour, the contempt for and suppression of creativity and the arts, and the systematic intimidation of all who differ with its views, which are based on extremely narrow interpretations of scripture.

The current governing authorities cannot ignore the popular refusal to repeat the experience of Muslim Brotherhood rule, or even to allow that organisation to reassemble its ranks and return to its proselytising activities in mosques, schools and through charity societies.

The very nature of the Muslim Brotherhood, ideologically, politically and structurally, is an insurmountable obstacle to reconciliation. This is an organisation whose members are indoctrinated with the belief that they are the true representatives of Islam, that they are right and that all who disagree with them are wrong and, indeed, sinful.

They also portray themselves as perpetually oppressed while they regard successive governments that opposed their power bids in Egypt as ruled by tyrants who despise religion and God’s Law.

Politically, large numbers of the Muslim Brotherhood’s members are opposed to reconciliation. They believe that continuing the confrontation against the government will prevent the group from fragmenting and will forestall any internal revision or accountability process.

The thousands of Brotherhood members who fled abroad are equally opposed to any thought of reconciliation, settlement or even a calming of tensions with the authorities. They fear that all such processes would jeopardise their personal gains, the various types of funding they receive and the job opportunities that have been made available to them.

Structurally, the Brotherhood, for the first time in its history, is without a supreme chief or a single leadership to which all defer. The organisation is riddled with divisions and power rivalries are rife between Muslim Brotherhood members at home and abroad, in prison and at large, between the traditional leaderships of the international organisation and the members who fled following the 30 June Revolution.

Therefore, even if the government agreed to engage in a settlement process with the group, the internal structural conditions of the group stand in the way. With whom would the government talk? Who would sign a reconciliation agreement on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood?

To which Muslim Brotherhood leaders could we point to with certainty these days and say that these represent all the Muslim Brothers? The leaders in prison would never agree to a settlement concluded without them, and those abroad would never recognise a settlement struck with the leaders in prison. “The captive has no authority,” those abroad would protest, citing an ancient maxim.

In all events, everyone who has been engaged to propose reconciliation has only spoken in the vaguest terms. No specific steps were mentioned. No clear formula has emerged. It is as though their sole purpose is to salvage the Muslim Brotherhood organisation and secure the release of their leaders.

The Muslim Brotherhood opted for the course of violence after 30 June. It leaders deluded their supporters into believing that they could defeat “the coup” even though they knew that Morsi could never be reinstated. But they chose violence for another reason.

They saw it as a means to keep their organisation intact and to keep the members rallied around the leadership, in anticipation of the moment they would negotiate with the state. They imagined that they would gain enough leverage through this violence to revive their organisation and return it to its former level of operation, as it stood during the era of former president Hosni Mubarak.

They saw themselves as fielding their members again in parliamentary, municipal and syndicate elections. They saw themselves regaining control over mosque pulpits in order to disseminate their doctrines. They saw themselves as resuming the charity activities through which they cared for the poor, the widows and orphans, gaining in return resources they could turn to their own political ends.

The ball is in the government’s court. Unfortunately, the government still lacks a clear vision on how to handle Islamist movements in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. Regardless of the successes achieved by our security agencies against this terrorist group, the state must possess a clear and publicised political vision for pressing forward with the dismantlement of the Muslim Brotherhood and the elimination of its existence behind any false facades.

One of the most important components of this vision is the need to criminalise membership in the organisation, regardless of whether or not a given member is led to practice violence. Merely belonging to a clandestine organisation is sufficient grounds for legal action.

At the same time the government should open the door to the thousands of Muslim Brothers who would like to sever their connection with the organisation in order to live a normal life free of the fear of police pursuit.

In the history of the confrontations between the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the security clampdowns, the exposure of Muslim Brotherhood plots, the prosecution and imprisonment of many of its leaders and the execution of some, the government was always ready to offer an amnesty and release those who, publicly, by means of a written statement, repented having belonged to that organisation and its secret cells.

I believe that the Egyptian government today needs to adopt similar measures. It is not sufficient to leave the Muslim Brotherhood question entirely up to the security agencies. I am certain that a measure such as the one described above would have a major impact on Muslim Brotherhood members, whether inside prison or out.


The writer is a political analyst.

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