All posts by Ramzy Baroud

European Hypocrisy: Empty Words for Palestine, Deadly Weapons for Israel

In theory, Europe and the United States stand on completely opposite sides when it comes to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. While the US government has fully embraced the tragic status quo created by 53 years of Israeli military occupation, the EU continues to advocate a negotiated settlement that is predicated on respect for international law.

In practice, however, despite the seeming rift between Washington and Brussels, the outcome is, essentially, the same. The US and Europe are Israel’s largest trade partners, weapon suppliers and political advocates.

One of the reasons that the illusion of an even-handed Europe has been maintained for so long lies partly in the Palestinian leadership itself. Politically and financially abandoned by Washington, the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has turned to the European Union as its only possible saviour.

“Europe believes in the two-state solution,” PA Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said during a video discussion with the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on October 12. Unlike the US, Europe’s continued advocacy of the defunct two-state solution qualifies it to fill the massive gap created by Washington’s absence.

Shtayyeh called on EU leaders to “recognize the State of Palestine in order for us, and you, to break the status quo.”

However, there are already 139 countries that recognize the State of Palestine. While that recognition is a clear indication that the world remains firmly pro-Palestinian, recognizing Palestine as a State changes little on the ground. What is needed are concerted efforts to hold Israel accountable for its violent occupation as well as real action to support the struggle of Palestinians.

Not only has the EU failed at this, it is, in fact, doing the exact opposite: funding Israel, arming its military and silencing its critics.

Listening to Shtayyeh’s words, one gets the impression that the top Palestinian official is addressing a conference of Arab, Muslim or socialist countries. “I call upon your Parliament and your distinguished Members of this Parliament, that Europe not wait for the American President to come up with ideas … We need a third party who can really remedy the imbalance in the relationship between an occupied people and an occupier country, that is Israel,” he said.

But is the EU qualified to be that ‘third party’?  No. For decades, European governments have been an integral part of the US-Israel party. Just because the Donald Trump administration has, recently, taken a sharp turn in favour of Israel should not automatically transform Europe’s historical pro-Israel bias to be mistaken for pro-Palestinian solidarity.

Last June, more than 1,000 European parliamentarians representing various political parties issued a statement expressing “serious concerns” about Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century and opposing Israeli annexation of nearly a third of the West Bank. However, the pro-Israel US Democratic Party, including some traditionally staunch supporters of Israel, were equally critical of Israel’s plan because, in their minds, annexation means that a two-state solution would be made impossible.

While US Democrats made it clear that a Joe Biden administration would not reverse any of Trump’s actions should Biden be elected, European governments have also made it clear that they will not take a single action to dissuade — let alone punish — Israel for its repeated violations of international law.

Lip service is all that Palestinians have obtained from Europe, as well as much money, which was largely pocketed by loyalists of Abbas in the name of ‘State-building’ and other fantasies. Tellingly, much of the imaginary Palestinian State infrastructure that was subsidized by Europe in recent years has been blown up, demolished or construction ceased by the Israeli military during its various wars and raids. Yet, neither did the EU punish Israel, nor did the PA cease from asking for more money to continue funding a non-existent State.

Not only did the EU fail to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing occupation and human rights violations, it is practically financing Israel, as well. According to Defence News, a quarter of all of Israel’s military export contracts (totaling $7.2 billion in 2019 alone) is allocated to European countries.

Moreover, Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner, absorbing one-third of Israel’s total exports and shipping to Israel nearly 40% of its total import. These numbers also include products made in illegal Jewish settlements.

Additionally, the EU labours to incorporate Israel into the European way of life through cultural and music contests, sports competitions and in a myriad other ways. While the EU possesses powerful tools that can be used to exact political concessions and enforce respect for international law, it opts to simply do very little.

Compare this with the recent ultimatum the EU has given the Palestinian leadership, linking EU aid to the PA’s financial ties with Israel. Last May, Abbas took the extraordinary step of considering all agreements with Israel and the US to be null and void. Effectively, this means that the PA would no longer be accountable for the stifling status quo that was created by the Oslo Accords, which was repeatedly violated by Tel Aviv and Washington. Severing ties with Israel also meant that the PA would refuse to accept nearly $150 million in tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the PA. This Palestinian step, while long overdue, was necessary.

Instead of supporting Abbas’ move, the EU criticized it, refusing to provide additional aid for Palestinians until Abbas restores ties with Israel and accepts the tax money. According to Axios news portal, Germany, France, the UK and even Norway are leading the charge.

Germany, in particular, has been relentless in its support for Israel. For months, it has advocated on behalf of Israel to spare Tel Aviv a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). It has placed activists, who advocate the boycott of Israel, on trial. Recently, it has confirmed the shipment of missile boats and other military hardware to ensure the superiority of the Israeli navy in a potential war against Arab enemies. Germany is not alone. Israel and most European countries are closing ranks in terms of their unprecedented military cooperation and trade ties, including natural gas deals.

Continuing to make references to the unachievable two-state solution, while arming, funding and doing more business with Israel is the very definition of hypocrisy. The truth is that Europe should be held as accountable as the US in emboldening and sustaining the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Yet, while Washington is openly pro-Israel, the EU has played a more clever game: selling Palestinians empty words while selling Israel lethal weapons.

The post European Hypocrisy: Empty Words for Palestine, Deadly Weapons for Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Dying Alone: When We Stopped Caring for Palestinian Prisoners

“No one cares about the prisoners.” Over the past few years, I have heard this phrase — or some variation of it —  uttered many times by freed Palestinian prisoners and their families. Whenever I conduct an interview regarding this crucial and highly sensitive topic, I am told, repeatedly, that ‘no one cares.’

But is this really the case? Are Palestinian prisoners so abandoned to the extent that their freedom, life and death are of no consequence?

The subject, and the claim, resurfaces every time a Palestinian prisoner launches a hunger strike or undergoes extreme hardship and torture, which is leaked outside Israeli prisons through lawyers or human rights organizations. This year, five Palestinian prisoners died in prison as a result of alleged medical negligence, or worse, torture.

Even international humanitarian aid workers, like Mohammed el-Halabi, are not immune to degrading treatment.  Arrested in August 2016, el-Halabi is yet to be charged for any wrongdoing. News of his plight, which originally received some media attention — due to his work with a US-based organization – is now merely confined to Facebook posts by his father, Khalil.

As of October 1, el-Halabi has been paraded before 151 military trials, yet unaware what the charges are. The cherished Palestinian man, who has played a major role in providing cancer medicine to dying children in Gaza, now holds the record of the longest military trial ever carried out by the Israeli occupation.

Desperate for some attention, and fed up with cliches about their ‘centrality in the Palestinian struggle’, many prisoners, whether individually or collectively, launch hunger strikes under the slogan: ‘freedom or death’. Those who are held under the draconian and illegal ‘administrative detention’ policy, demand their freedom, while ‘security prisoners’, who are held in degrading conditions, merely ask for family visitations or food that is suitable for human consumption.

Health complications resulting from hunger strikes often linger long after the physical ordeal is over. I have interviewed families of Palestinians who were freed from Israeli prisons, only to die in a matter of months, or live a life of endless pain and constant ailments for years following their release.

According to some estimates, over 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned in Israeli jails since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in June 1967.

Maher al-Akhras is currently writing the latest chapter in this tragic narrative. At the time of writing this article, he has just concluded 77 days of uninterrupted hunger strike. No medical opinion is necessary to tell us that al-Akhras could die any moment. A recent video released of al-Akhras on his Israeli hospital bed conveyed a glimpse of the man’s unbearable suffering.

With a barely audible voice, the gaunt, exhausted-looking man said that he is left with only two options: either his immediate freedom or death within the confines of Israel’s “phony justice system.”

On October 7, his wife, Taghrid, launched her own hunger strike to protest the fact that “no one cares about” her husband.

Once again, the lack of concern for the plight of prisoners, even dying ones, imposes itself on the Palestinian political discourse. So, why is this the case?

The idea that Palestinian prisoners are all alone in the fight for freedom began in the early 1990s. It was during this period that the various Oslo Accords were signed, dividing the Occupied Territories into zones governed by some strange Kafkaesque military system, one that did not end the Israeli occupation, but, rather, cemented it.

Largely dropped from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations agenda at the time, but permanently, eventually, were several pressing issues fundamental to Palestinian rights and freedom. One of these issues was Israel’s brutal system of incarceration and imprisonment without trial.

Certainly, some Palestinian prisoners were released in small batches occasionally, as ‘gestures of goodwill’; but the system, itself, which gave Israel the right to arrest, detain and sentence Palestinians, remained intact.

To date, the freedom of Palestinian prisoners — nearly 5,000 of them are still held in Israel, with new prisoners added daily — is not part of the Palestinian leadership political agenda, itself subsumed by self-interests, factional fights and other trivial matters.

Being removed from the realm of politics, the plight of prisoners has, over the years, been reduced to a mere humanitarian subject — as if these men and women are no longer political agents and a direct expression of Palestinian resistance, on the one hand, and Israel’s military occupation and violence, on the other.

There are ample references to Palestinian prisoners in everyday language. Not a single press release drafted by the Palestinian Authority, its main Fatah faction or any other Palestinian group fails to renew the pledge to free the prisoners, while constantly glorifying their sacrifices. Unsurprisingly, empty language never produces concrete results.

There are two exceptions to the above maxim. The first is prisoner exchanges, like the one that took place in October 2011, resulting in the freedom of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. And, second, the prisoners’ own hunger strikes, which are incremental in their achievements, but have, lately, become the main channel of resistance.

Sadly, even solidarity with hunger strikers is often factional, as each Palestinian political group often places disproportionate focus on their own striking prisoners and, largely ignores others. Not only has the issue of prisoners become depoliticized, it has also fallen victim to Palestine’s unfortunate disunity.

While it is untrue that ‘no one cares about Palestinian prisoners’, thousands of Palestinian families are justified to hold this opinion. For the freedom of prisoners to take center stage within the larger Palestinian struggle for freedom, the issue must be placed at the top of Palestine’s political agenda, by Palestinians themselves and by Palestinian solidarity networks everywhere.

Maher al-Akhras, and thousands like him, should not risk their lives to obtain basic human rights, which should, in theory, be guaranteed under international law. Equally important, Palestinian prisoners should not be left alone, paying a price for daring to stand up for justice, fairness and for their people’s freedom.

The post Dying Alone: When We Stopped Caring for Palestinian Prisoners first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Despite Ambiguity in International Law, Palestinians are Winning the ‘Legitimacy War’

‘International law’ remains one of the most discussed terms in the context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is almost always present, whether the discussion pertains to the Israeli wars and siege on Gaza, the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank or the encroaching apartheid throughout Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Despite the importance and relevance of the term, however, it rarely translates into anything tangible. The Israeli siege on Gaza, for example, has continued, unabated, for nearly 14 years, without international law serving as a protector of Palestinian civilians against Israeli violations of human rights. More recently, on September 13, the Israeli government approved 1,000 illegal settlement units in the West Bank, in stark violation of international law. It is likely that Israel will go ahead with it, anyway.

With regard to violating international law, Israel is in a unique category of its own, for Israel’s behavior is always governed by its military strength and the backing of its Western allies.

To gain more insight into the relationship between international law, conflict resolution and accountability, I spoke with Professor Richard Falk, one of the world’s leading experts on international law and former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights.

Of particular relevance to our discussion are the current Palestinian efforts at pursuing international action to hold alleged individual Israeli war criminals accountable at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The fact that the Court has agreed to investigate alleged war crimes in occupied Palestine has generated an angry response from Israel and unprecedented sanctions from Washington, targeting ICC judges and staff, including Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

I asked Professor Falk about the ‘limited scope’ of the ICC investigation, as the Court will only be looking into Israeli war crimes, thus, for now, excluding crimes against humanity, among other illegal practices that should be applicable in the case of Israel.

“The scope of the investigation is something that is ill-defined, so it is a matter of political discretion,” Professor. Falk said, adding that “the Court takes a position that needs to be cautious about delimiting its jurisdiction and, therefore, it tries to narrow the scope of what it is prepared to investigate.”

“I don’t agree with this view  …  but it does represent the fact that the ICC, like the UN itself, is subject to immense geopolitical pressure,” Falk told me. Still, the seasoned international law expert described the ICC investigation as a “breakthrough”.

“It’s a breakthrough even to consider the investigation, let alone the indictment and the prosecution of either Israelis or Americans that was put on the agenda of the ICC, which led to a pushback by these governments  … Israel has denounced the Court as if it is improper to examine any State that claims the matter of geopolitical impunity. So you have a core denial of the rule of law.”

Undeniably, this breakthrough and the advanced position of international institutions regarding the illegitimacy of the Israeli occupation are the outcome of the insistent effort put in by Professor Falk and other champions of international law throughout the years. In fact, the relentless attempts aimed at silencing Falk — and others like him — were carried out so that their criticism of Israel’s violations did not, eventually, lead to such dreaded investigations, like that of the ICC.

“There are very militant Zionist-oriented NGOs, like UN Watch, that engage in defamatory kinds of activities and use all their resources and energy to persuade people, including the UN Secretary-General, to criticize me and urge my dismissal or some type of sanctions,” Falk reflected on the challenges he faced during his term at the UN between 2008-14.

Fortunately, but also tellingly, “in the end, the role of Special Rapporteur was respected  … and there was so much support for my activity, including foreign ministries and also from outside the Islamic world. I felt that it was an important kind of presence to maintain.”

“The Zionist groups were, of course, very frustrated and they didn’t try to respond to my reports on the violations of human rights in the Occupied Territory; instead, they concentrated on defaming and smearing the messenger rather than addressing the message,” Falk said, identifying the very essence of the strategy used by pro-Israel groups, whether at the UN or elsewhere.

I also asked Professor Falk about the term ‘Israeli occupation’ as, in my limited understanding, the term has been devised by the Geneva Conventions — and previous international definitions — to regulate a transitional period during which an Occupying Power is in charge of the welfare and well-being of the civilian population living in an Occupied Territory.

“International law is quite ambiguous about the duration of a military occupation and Israel has made a kind of specious argument that the Geneva Conventions and the normal law governing belligerent occupation doesn’t apply here, because this is disputed sovereignty rather than a case where another country has been occupied,” Falk said.

Coupled with US-western support and vetoes at the Security Council, Israel has historically exploited this ambiguity to entrench — instead of ending — its occupation of Palestine.

Since international law “doesn’t provide an endpoint to the Occupation, the most effective way of challenging it from an international law perspective is that Israel has committed so many fundamental breaches of the obligations of an Occupying Power — the establishment of the settlements, the incremental annexation, the integration of Jerusalem into the sovereign State of Israel..”

“They are all fundamental violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and they represent an effort to make the end of Occupation not possible in the sense that it was meant: turning the society back to the civilian population that is occupied,” Falk continued, describing this situation as a “serious flaw, legally and politically.”

“But is there a reason for optimism?” I asked Professor Falk, whose energy and tireless work continue to define this indefatigable warrior of human rights.

“As colonialism and oppression lost their acceptance as forms of legitimate political behavior, the political balance shifted and the perseverance of national struggles turned out to be more formidable than the weaponry at the disposal of the colonial powers,” Falk said.

According to Professor Falk, history is clearly on the side of Palestinians, who are already “winning the legitimacy war”.

The post Despite Ambiguity in International Law, Palestinians are Winning the ‘Legitimacy War’ first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Black Lives Should Always Matter: Delinking Social Justice from Seasonal US Politics 

After viewing the first US Presidential debate on September 29, one is left with no doubt about the degenerating political discourse among America’s ruling elites.

Following the debate between US President, Donald Trump, and Democratic Presidential nominee, Joe Biden, most analyses focused mainly on the personal insults and name-calling, which, deservedly, earned the event the title ‘worst Presidential debate in recent memory’.

Supporters of both parties, however, rushed to minimize the damage inflicted by the poor performance of their candidate, elevating certain points and conveniently omitting others.

However, some issues were thoroughly discussed, thus allowing us to formulate educated opinions on both candidates’ stances on certain subjects, such as racism and police brutality.

Ongoing mass protests, occasional riots and persistent police violence across many American cities should have elevated the conversation to the point where racism in America contributed greatly in the formulation of questions and answers in the Thursday night debate. However, the opposite happened.

Although President Trump plainly failed to condemn “white supremacists and militia groups”, giving the benefit of the doubt to such despicable associations such as the ‘Proud Boys’, Biden did not fare much better.

Trump’s position was not particularly shocking. After all, in 2015 he accused Mexico of sending criminals, drugs and “rapists” to the US, issued the ‘Muslim ban’ in 2017 and, more recently, referred to the Black Lives Matter social justice movement as “a symbol of hate”.

It is Biden’s position in the debate that has proven truly precarious, however. Aside from his occasional jabs at Trump, calling him a “racist”, Biden has failed dismally at articulating a coherent racial justice program that would prioritize the struggle for equality and rights for Black people and other US minorities.

Shockingly, there was no reference to the intrinsically racist travel ban on people coming from predominantly Muslim countries. Worse, not a single reference to Islam, Muslims or Islamophobia, the latter being the key factor unifying most ultra-nationalist, racist groups in the US and elsewhere in the world.

Instead, Biden attempted to find a compromise that would allow him to brand himself as the anti-Trump alternative on race, yet without appearing too ‘radical’ in the eyes of his White voters. The outcome was a bashful and marginal acceptance of responsibility concerning the “systemic injustice in this country”, yet without earnestly confronting the White establishment that has constructed and profited from the systemic racism.

Certainly, nobody expected that Biden, who spearheaded the 1994 crime bill during the Bill Clinton Administration — which led to the mass incarceration of mostly Black people — would be suddenly transformed in his passion and eloquence regarding social justice into the figure of Cornel West, Noam Chomsky or Angela Davis. However, his failure to enunciate the minimally-required program that could reassure Black and other minority voters, was still astounding.

His first remarks seemed feeble, as if he was trying to refrain from outright condemnation of anti-Black racism in the country. He spoke about “equity and equality”, about “decency”, “the Constitution” and never walking away “from trying to require equity for everyone, equality for the whole of America.”

But with respect to specifics, he seemed to gag, only referencing gangs of White protesters “spewing anti-Semitic bile” and, later, bemoaning the discrimination against “Irish Catholics”.

What about anti-Black racism?

Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than any other group in the United States, although Black people are twice as likely to be unarmed than White people when fatally shot. Moreover, according to a major study cited in Nature Magazine, “white officers dispatched to Black neighborhoods fired their guns five times as often as Black officers dispatched for similar calls to the same neighborhoods.”

Consequently, reducing the discussion of racism in America to solely police brutality is, itself, covertly racist, for it insists on ignoring the roots of racism which range from social and economic marginalization to cultural stereotypes.

Not only did Biden, often exalted as the ‘progressive’ choice, miss the opportunity to recognize the social and class conflicts as major underpinnings in America’s ‘systemic racism’, he also downplayed the causes and magnitude of police brutality altogether. “Look, the vast majority of police officers are good, decent, honorable men and women. They risk their lives every day to take care of us, but there are some bad apples. And when they occur, when they find them, they have to be sorted out,” Biden said. Such non-committal language is hardly comforting to the families of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and thousands of other African-American families who have lost loved ones in recent years due to racially-motivated police violence.

Of course, anti-Black racism and police violence are not isolated events but are an integral part of a far-reaching ailment that has plagued America for much too long.

Furthermore, neither Trump nor the Republican Party alone should be held accountable for the anti-Black, anti-minorities, anti-immigration attitudes that have defined every US administration in recent history. It may be sobering to remember that it was President Barack Obama who referred to Black protesters in Baltimore as “criminals and thugs who tore up the place”, leading him to impose a military-enforced lockdown in the city in April 2015.

Equally relevant, it was also the Democratic Obama Administration that, between 2009 and 2015, deported more than 2.5 million people through immigration orders, “more than the sum of all the presidents of the 20th century,” according to ABCNews.com.

This is not to argue whether Republicans are better or worse than Democrats regarding the consequential subjects of racism, social injustice and immigration. However, judging by the legacies of the current and previous administrations — representing both parties — it is clear that America’s ruling elites are either unconcerned by the plight of minorities or playing the race card as a political tactic which serves their fleeting agendas during election time.

Namely, whether Trump clinches another term at the White House or whether Biden stages a major upset next month, the struggle for social justice should carry on, unabated.

The post Black Lives Should Always Matter: Delinking Social Justice from Seasonal US Politics  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

In Lieu of a Liberation Strategy: Palestinian Elections Are Designed to Buy Time

It is abundantly clear that Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, has underestimated the seriousness of the challenges facing Palestine and the Palestinians.

The rushed agreement between his party, Fatah and Hamas in Istanbul on September 24, and the Palestinian leader’s speech at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly the following day, indicate that the Palestinian leadership insists on operating within the stifling confines of the Oslo accords and the dead-end road of the ‘peace process’.

Abbas has spent most of his political career mastering an intricate balancing act, one that would allow him to remain the favored leader of Palestinians — to the West — while legitimizing his rule among ordinary Palestinians through a system of political patronage — itself subsidized by US-led international funders.

The outcome worked well for Abbas and a clique of Palestinians who became rich because of their ties to Abbas’ Authority, but bode terribly for the Palestinian people.

For a quarter of a century, particularly since the establishment of the PA in 1994, the Palestinian cause has subsisted in its darkest and most demoralizing periods, one that is defined by extreme Israeli violence, rapid expansion of the illegal Jewish settlements, unhindered corruption among Palestine’s political elite and unprecedented disunity among Palestinians everywhere.

The PA’s scheme would have continued longer were it not for US President Donald Trump’s decision to disengage from his predecessors’ previous strategies in the Middle East — foremost among them, the fruitless ‘peace process’.

However, it was not the Trump administration that opted for an American retreat from the Middle East, in general, and Palestine, in particular. Trump merely accelerated what was becoming the new American foreign policy doctrine. During the two terms of former President Barack Obama, Palestine featured fleetingly in US calculations: in the early months, and again, when the ‘lame duck’ administration refrained, in December 2016, from vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements.

For many years, the ‘peace process’ existed nominally. On the ground, the Oslo accords were transformed to that of technical security and financial arrangements between the PA’s upper echelon and the Israeli government.

When, in February 2019, Washington decided to cease its financial assistance to the Palestinian leadership, Abbas and the PA understood this decision as a political declaration that Washington and Tel Aviv no longer saw their ‘moderate’ Palestinian allies as assets.

Bewildered by the abrupt American policy shift, Abbas sought alternatives. Instead of offering an unconditional apology to the Palestinian people for his leadership’s corruption,  his personal failures, the factionalism and the squandered opportunities to unify Palestinians around a new national liberation strategy — one fueled by popular resistance and global solidarity — Abbas continued with the same old discourse, unhindered.

At his UN speech on Friday, Abbas insisted on referencing the peace process calling, again, for an international peace conference, among other fantasies.  Abbas’ references are both outdated and unfeasible, for Washington is now turning to a new phase, one that is predicated on the complete disregard of international law and the de facto acceptance of Israel’s colonialism and occupation.

Aside from appealing to Western sensibilities, another crucial element in the PA’s new balancing act is to reinvent itself among ordinary Palestinians who, for decades, have felt abandoned and leaderless.

In his UN speech, Abbas labored to rebrand himself to these two different target audiences. “We will continue creating life and hope under the flag of national unity and democracy,” he said, adding “We will remain faithful to peace, justice, human and national dignity under all circumstances.”

In fact, Abbas has neither committed to democracy nor to Palestinian unity. He is currently unelected as his presidential mandate expired in 2009, and never in his 15-year rule did he earnestly opt for inclusion or unity among his people.

The latest episode of the ‘unity’ saga took place in Istanbul on September 24. Despite the triumphant speeches afterwards, this too, seemed like a mere self-serving exercise.

The expeditious declaration that rivals Fatah and Hamas are finally ready for democratic elections, is a cunning but, ultimately, futile initiative. The agreement will buy Abbas time to promote himself as a political moderate, although free and democratic elections can never be held under occupation.

It is doubtful that any kind of elections, free or otherwise, is possible. Following the agreement, Fatah representative at the talks, Azzam al-Ahmad, declared that “without Jerusalem, there will be no elections.” In other words, “there will be no elections.”

During Palestine’s first elections in 1996, Israel barred Jerusalemites from participating, merely agreeing to very limited votes in areas located on the outskirts of the city, and only through the post office. It is unthinkable that Israel will allow for a mass Palestinian vote in Jerusalem now that Washington has fully recognized the city as Israel’s capital.

What about Palestinians living in Areas B and C, which are, more or less, under total Israeli military control? Will they be included in the vote? What about Palestinians trapped behind the Israeli apartheid wall in the West Bank? In the ‘firing zones’? Or those isolated in small pockets in the Jordan Valley, etc.?

Democratic elections are ideal under circumstances where a nation has true sovereignty, legal and political jurisdiction, and territorial control. The PA has none of this.

Moreover, insisting on elections, which, even if possible, will merely lead to the overhaul of the Palestinian Authority, is equivalent to sustaining the many illusions of Oslo and its adjoining ‘peace process’.

While Oslo failed Palestinians entirely, it was useful for Israel as it brought to an unceremonious end the entire Palestinian national liberation project, in favor of a ‘state-building’ program that had no tangible basis in reality. If serious in its intentions, the Palestinian leadership must demolish, not sustain the status quo.

Even successful elections within the Oslo framework would further divert Palestinian energies from their liberation project in favor of another political dead end, that will only protect the ‘gains’ of Palestine’s ruling elites, while selling more false hope that the coveted peace is still at hand to ordinary Palestinians.

The post In Lieu of a Liberation Strategy: Palestinian Elections Are Designed to Buy Time first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Fight over the Mediterranean: France’s Proxy War and the Budding Turkish-Russian Alliance

Overwhelmed by uncontrollable circumstances, the Greek government is bracing for another financial crisis that promises to be as terrible as the last one in 2015.

Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced on September 12 that Athens has made a “robust” arms deal that will “reinforce the armed forces” and create a “national shield”.

However, beyond Mitsotakis’ mask of confidence, there is a nightmare brewing that is likely to haunt Greece for years to come. Five years ago, when Athens defaulted on its debt,  largely to European countries and institutions, France and Germany rushed to further strangle the humbled country by selling it yet more military hardware.

History is repeating itself; this time, the crisis involves the country’s enduring dispute with Turkey over territorial waters. Invoking European solidarity, the French are, once again, pushing their military hardware on embattled and economically weak Greece. Consequently, the latter is set to purchase 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four navy helicopters, new anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles.

While the Greek government is presenting the move as a show of force in case of a future military conflict with neighboring Turkey, the French arms will intensify Greece’s vulnerability to French political diktats, now and in the future.

This is part of a larger pattern for France. French President, Emmanuel Macron, is, again, assuming the role of savior. Lately, he has taken on the role of rebuilding devastated Beirut following the massive explosion in August. In return, he expects — in fact, demands — political acquiescence from all of Lebanon’s political forces.

The crisis in Greece, however, is different. The Turkish-Greek East Mediterranean conflict is multifaceted as it involves many regional players, all vying for the same prize: some dividends in the massive deposits of newly discovered natural gas. While the conflict is presented as a continuation of the protracted hostilities between Turkey and Greece, in actuality the latter is but a small facet of a new great game, the outcome of which could change the dynamics in the Mediterranean altogether.

While NATO is falling apart at the seams, due partly to the current US administration’s isolationist policies, European countries, like France and Italy, are acting independently from the once-unified Western military alliance.

Europe is losing its once strategically dominant position in the Mediterranean region. After years of investing in the decade-long Libyan conflict, European countries are likely to go home empty-handed.

For years, France has backed the Eastern-based forces of Libyan General, Khalifa Haftar, while Italy supported the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the West. The two NATO members, openly clashing politically, had hoped that the outcome of the Libyan war would provide them with much military, political and economic leverage.

Nevertheless, the news emerging from the region is clearly contrary, in that Turkey and Russia, which staked their claims over Libya only recently, are the ones who are now controlling the fate of this country. Not only are Ankara and Moscow the main power brokers in Libya – Russia supporting Haftar, while Istanbul backing the GNA – it is likely that they will shape Libya’s future, as well.  In their second rounds of negotiations in Ankara on September 16, the two countries have endorsed a ceasefire in Libya as part of a political process that should eventually stabilize the warring country.

The irony is that, until fairly recent, there was discord between Turkey and Russia. The conflict in Syria had reached a point where war in 2015 seemed imminent. This has changed as both countries saw an unprecedented opportunity arising from the relative absence of Washington as a direct player in the region’s conflicts, coupled with European/NATO disunity and internal conflict.

With time, more opportunities arose in Libya and, eventually, in the Eastern Mediterranean. When France and Italy showed enthusiasm in an emerging alliance between Israel, Greece and Cyprus around the EastMed gas pipeline project, Turkey swooped in to counter-balance this with an alliance of its own. In November 2019, Turkey and Libya’s GNA signed a Memorandum of Understanding that expanded Turkey’s areas of influence in the Mediterranean and forced France to contend with yet another challenge to its leadership in the region.

Moreover, emboldened Turkey widened its search for natural gas in the Mediterranean to cover a massive area that extends from the Turkish southern coast to Libya’s north-east coast. With NATO being unable to present a unified front, France advanced alone, hoping to sustain a geopolitical status quo that has governed the Mediterranean for decades.

That status quo is no longer sustainable as a new political contract is sure to be written, especially as the nature of the Turkish-Russian alliance is becoming clearer and promises to be a lasting one.

The mutual interests between Turkey and Russia are likely to culminate into an actual alliance should their ongoing negotiations pay lasting dividends. On the other side of that possible coalition, there are reluctant and fractious European powers, led by self-serving France, whose strategic vision has suffered a major blow in Libya as it did in Syria, years earlier.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, is now leading Russian diplomacy to find a non-military resolution to the Turkish-Greek conflict. This, in itself, is an indication of Russia’s growing prowess in a region that, until very recently, was dominated solely by NATO.

The post Fight over the Mediterranean: France’s Proxy War and the Budding Turkish-Russian Alliance first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Palestinians Are Not Numbers

Palestine can never be truly understood through numbers, because numbers are dehumanizing, impersonal, and, when necessary, can also be contrived to mean something else entirely. Numbers are not meant to tell the story of the human condition, nor should they ever serve as a substitute for emotions.

Indeed, the stories of life, death — and everything in-between — cannot be truly and fully appreciated through charts, figures and numbers.  The latter, although useful for many purposes, is a mere numerical depository of data. Anguish, joy, aspirations, defiance, courage, loss, collective struggle, and so on, however, can only be genuinely expressed through the people who lived through these experiences.

Numbers, for example, tell us that over 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip between July 8 and August 27, 2014, over 500 of them being children. Over 17,000 homes were completely destroyed, and thousands of other buildings, including hospitals, schools and factories were either destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli strikes.

This is all true, the kind of truth that is summarized into a neat infographic, updated occasionally in case, inevitably, some of the critically wounded eventually lose their lives.

But a single chart, or a thousand, can never truly describe the actual terror felt by a million children who feared for their lives during those horrific days; or transport us to a bedroom where a family of ten huddled in the dark, praying for God’s mercy as the earth shook, concrete collapsed and glass shattered all around them; or convey the anguish of a mother holding the lifeless body of her child.

It is easy — and justifiable — to hold the media accountable for the dehumanization of the Palestinians or, sometimes, ignoring them altogether. However, if blame must be apportioned, then others too, including those who consider themselves ‘pro-Palestine’, must reconsider their own position. We are all, to an extent, collectively guilty of seeing Palestinians as sheer victims, hapless, passive, intellectually stunted and ill-fated people, desperate to be ‘saved.’

When numbers monopolize the limelight in a people’s narrative, they do more damage than merely reduce complex human beings to data; they erase the living, too. Regarding Palestine, Palestinians are rarely engaged as equals; they persist at the receiving end of charity, political expectations and unsolicited instructions on what to say and how to resist. They are often the fodder for political bargains by factions or governments but, rarely, the initiative takers and the shapers of their own political discourse.

The Palestinian political discourse has, for years, vacillated between one constructed around the subject of victimhood — which is often satisfied by numbers of dead and wounded — and another pertaining to the elusive Fatah-Hamas unity. The former only surfaces whenever Israel decides to bomb Gaza under any convenient pretext at the time, and the latter was a response to western accusations that Palestinian political elites are too fractured to constitute a potential ‘peace partner’ for Israeli right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Many around the world can only understand — or relate to — Palestinians through their victimization or factional affiliation – which, themselves, carry subsidiary meanings relevant to ‘terrorism’, ‘radicalism’, among others.

The reality is, however, often different from reductionist political and media discourses. Palestinians are not just numbers. They are not spectators either, in a political game that insists on marginalizing them. Soon after the 2014 war, a group of Palestinian youth, together with supporters from around the world, launched an important initiative that aimed to liberate the Palestinian discourse, at least in Gaza, from the confines of numbers and other belittling interpretations.

‘We Are Not Numbers’ was launched in early 2015. The group’s ‘About Us’ page reads: “numbers don’t convey  … the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they would immediately resonate with virtually everyone.”

Recently, I spoke to several members of the group, including the Gaza Project Manager, Issam Adwan. It was, indeed, inspiring to hear young, articulate and profoundly resolute Palestinians speaking a language that transcends all the stereotypical discourses on Palestine. They were neither victims nor factional, and were hardly consumed by the pathological need to satisfy western demands and expectations.

“We have talents – we are writers, we are novelists, we are poets, and we have so much potential that the world knows little about,” Adwan told me.

Khalid Dader, one of the Organization’s nearly 60 active writers and bloggers in Gaza, contends with the designation that they are ‘storytellers.’ “We don’t tell stories, rather stories tell us  … stories make us,” he told me. For Dader, it is not about numbers or words, but the lives that are lived, and the legacies that often go untold.

Somaia Abu Nada wants the world to know her uncle, because “he was a person with a family and people who loved him.” He was killed in the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza, and his death has profoundly impacted his family and community. Over 1,300 people were also killed in that war. Each one of them was someone’s uncle, aunt, son, daughter, husband or wife. None of them was just a number.

“‘We Are Not Numbers’ made me realize how necessary our voices are,” Mohammed Rafik told me. This assertion cannot be overstated. So many speak on behalf of Palestinians but rarely do Palestinians speak for themselves. “These are unprecedented times of fear, when our land appears to be broken and sad,” Rafik said, “but we never abandon our sense of community.”

Adwan reminded us of Arundhati Roy’s famous quote, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

It was refreshing to talk to Palestinians who are taking the decisive step of declaring that they are not numbers, because it is only through this realization and resolve that Palestinian youth can challenge all of us and assert their own collective identity as a people.

Indeed, Palestinians do have a voice, and a strong, resonating one at that. 

The post Palestinians Are Not Numbers first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How do Democrats and Republicans Differ on Palestine and Israel? 

The polarized nature of American politics often makes it difficult to address fundamental differences between the country’s two main political rivals, Republicans and Democrats. As each side is intent on discrediting the other at every opportunity, unbiased information regarding the two parties’ actual stances on internal and external issues can be difficult to decipher.

Regarding Palestine and Israel, however, both parties’ establishments are quite clear on offering Israel unlimited and unconditional support. The discrepancies in their positions are, at times, quite negligible, even if Democrats, occasionally, attempt to present themselves as fairer and more even-handed.

Judging by statements made by Democrat presidential candidate, Joe Biden, his running mate, Kamala Harris, and people affiliated with their campaign, a future President Biden does not intend to reverse any of the pro-Israel political measures adopted by the Donald Trump Administration.

Moreover, a Democrat administration, as revealed, will not even consider the possibility of conditioning US financial and military support to Israel on the latter’s respect for Palestinian human rights, let alone international law altogether.

“Joe Biden has made it clear  … he will not tie US security assistance to Israel to political decisions Israel makes, and I couldn’t agree more,” Harris, who is promoted enthusiastically by some as a ‘progressive’ politician, was quoted as saying in a telephone call on August 26. The call was made to what Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, termed as “Jewish supporters.” The Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel referred to this crucial constituency as “Jewish donors.”

Although the view of the party’s rank and file has significantly shifted against Israel in recent years, the Democrat’s upper echelon still caters to the Israel lobby and their rich backers, even if this means continuing to mold US foreign policy in the Middle East so that it serves Israeli interests.

Republicans, on the other hand, have cemented their support for Israel, but no longer around geo-strategic issues pertaining to Israel’s ‘security’ or US interests. The speeches made by Republican leaders at the Republican National Convention (RNC), held in  Charlotte, North Carolina last month, were all aimed at reassuring ‘Christian Zionists’, who represent the most powerful pro-Israel constituency in the US. The once relatively marginal impact of Christian Zionists in directly shaping US foreign policy has morphed, over the years, to define the core values of Republicans.

Regardless of the nature of the discourse through which Republican and Democrat leaders express their love and support for Israel, the two parties are decidedly ‘pro-Israel’. There are many recent examples that corroborate this assertion.

On November 18, 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington would no longer consider Jewish settlements illegal or a violation of international law. That position was later cemented in Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’, published on January 28.

Democrats, however, continue to perceive illegal Jewish settlements as, indeed, illegal. “This decision harms the cause of diplomacy, takes us further away from the hope of a two-state solution, and will only further inflame tensions in the region,” Joe Biden’s campaign said in a statement, in response to Pompeo’s declaration.

Although markedly different, it is hard to imagine a Democrat administration upholding the above position, while simultaneously refraining from reversing previous decisions made by the Trump administration. It can only be one or the other.

One’s cynicism is fully justified, as we recently learned, that the Democrat establishment has refused to even use the word ‘occupation’, with reference to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, in their party platform released on July 15. According to Foreign Policy, the decision “followed heavy last-minute lobbying by pro-Israel advocacy groups.”

On December 6, 2017, the Trump administration made one of the boldest pro-Israel decisions, when he formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A few months later, on May 14, 2018, the US embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a brazen violation of international law.

The legal foundation of Trump’s decision was the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. This Act was the outcome of bipartisan efforts, bringing together Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Interestingly, leading Democrats, such as Joe Biden and John Kerry, were the main cheerleaders of the embassy move, back then. Only one Democrat senator, the late Robert Byrd, voted against the Bill. In the House of Representatives, only 30 out of 204 Democrats voted ‘no’.

Even though many Democrats rejected the timing of Trump’s implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, their criticism was largely political, primarily motivated by Democrats’ attempts to discredit Trump. The fact that the Biden campaign, later on, made it clear that the decision will not be reversed should he become president, is a further illustration highlighting the moral bankruptcy of the Democratic establishment, as well.

The truth is, US unconditional backing for Israel is a common cause among all American administrations, whether Democrat or Republican. What they may differ on, however, is their overall motive and primary target audience during election time.

Political polarization and misinformation aside, both Democrats and Republicans head to the November elections with strong pro-Israel sentiments, if not outright support, while completely ignoring the plight of occupied and oppressed Palestinians.

The post How do Democrats and Republicans Differ on Palestine and Israel?  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The ‘Desaparecidos’ of Palestine: Gantz Escalates Israel’s War on the Dead 

On September 2, the Israeli government approved a proposal that allows the military to indefinitely withhold the bodies of Palestinians who have been killed by the Israeli army. The proposal was made by the country’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz.

Gantz is the main political rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also serves the role of the ‘alternate Prime Minister.’ If Netanyahu does not renege on the coalition government agreement he signed with Gantz’s Blue and White Party last April, Gantz will take the helm of Israel’s leadership, starting November 2021.

Since his official induction to the tumultuous world of Israeli politics, Gantz, supposedly a ‘centrist’, has adopted hawkish stances against Palestinians, especially those in Gaza. This way, he hopes to widen his appeal to Israeli voters, the majority of whom have migrated en-masse to the Right.

But Gantz’s latest ‘achievement’, that of denying dead Palestinians a proper burial, is not entirely a novel idea. In fact, in Israel, bargaining with corpses has been the modus operandi for decades.

According to the Defense Minister’s logic, the withholding of bodies will serve as a ‘deterrent against terror attacks.’ However, judging by the fact that the practice has been in use for many years, there is no proof that Palestinians were ever discouraged from resisting Israel’s military occupation due to such strategies.

The new policy, according to Israeli officials, is different from the previous practices. While in the past, Israel has only kept the bodies of alleged ‘Palestinian attackers’ who belonged to ‘terror groups’, the latest decision by the Israeli government would extend the rule to apply to all Palestinians, even those who have no political affiliations.

Aside from Gantz’s attempt at shoring up his hawkish credentials, the military man-turned politician wants to improve his chances in the on and off, indirect negotiations between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. Israel believes that there are four soldiers who are currently being held in Gaza, including the bodies of two soldiers who were killed during the devastating Israeli war on the besieged Strip in July 2014. Hamas has maintained that two of the four soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Shaul Aaron – are, in fact, still alive and in custody.

For years, low-level talks between Hamas and Israel have aimed at securing a deal that would see an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for the detained Israelis. By withholding yet more Palestinian bodies, Tel Aviv hopes to strengthen its position in future talks.

The reality, however, is quite different. The Israeli army has not been returning the bodies of Palestinians who are accused of attacking Israeli soldiers for months, which includes all Palestinians, regardless of their purported political affiliations.

Undoubtedly, withholding corpses as a political strategy is illegal under international law. Article 130 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that persons who are killed during armed conflicts should be “honorably buried … according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged.”

The Israeli Supreme Court, however, which quite often rules contrary to international law, resolved on September 9, 2019 – exactly one year before the Israeli cabinet’s decision – that the army has the right to continue with the practice of withholding the bodies of dead Palestinians.

While Israel is not the first country to use the dead as a bargaining chip, the practice in Israel has lasted as long as the conflict itself, and has been utilized in myriad ways with the intention of humiliating, collectively punishing and bargaining with Palestinians.

During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-1983), tens of thousands of Argentinians ‘disappeared’. Students, intellectuals, trade unionists and thousands of other dissidents were killed by the country’s regime in an unprecedented genocide. The bodies of most of these victims were never recovered. However, the practice largely ceased following the collapse of the military junta in 1983.

Similar ordeals have been inflicted by other countries in many parts of the world. In Israel however, the practice is not linked to a specific military regime or a particular leader. The ‘desaparecidos’ of Palestine span several generations.

To this day, Israel maintains what is known as the ‘cemeteries of numbers’. Salwa Hammad, a coordinator for the Palestinian National Campaign to Retrieve Martyrs, estimates that there are six such cemeteries in Israel, although Israeli authorities refuse to divulge more details regarding the nature of these cemeteries, or exactly how many Palestinian bodies are buried there.

The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center estimates that 255 Palestinian bodies are buried in these cemeteries, 52 of them being ‘detained’ there by Israeli authorities since 2016.

In the ‘cemeteries of numbers’, Palestinians are known, not by name, but by a number, one that only Israel can cross-reference to the actual individual who is buried there. In 2011, the body of Hafez Abu Zant was released after being held in one of these cemeteries for 35 years, Bernama news agency reported.

According to Hammad, “If the remains are in a ‘cemetery of numbers’, we get it back in a black bag – some bones, some soil and maybe their clothes.”

Following the Israeli cabinet’s approval of his proposal, Gantz bragged about his ability to apply “an extensive policy of deterrence since entering office”. The truth is that Gantz is merely posturing and taking credit for a protracted Israeli policy that has been applied by all previous governments, regardless of their political orientations.

If Gantz is truly convinced that holding dead Palestinian bodies — while maintaining the Israeli military occupation — will bring about whatever skewed definition of peace and security he has in mind, he is sadly mistaken.

Such policies have proven a complete failure. While Palestinian families are absolutely devastated by this hideous practice, the detention of corpses has never quelled a rebellion, neither in Argentina nor in Palestine. 

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As Washington Retreats, Eastern Mediterranean Conflict Further Marginalizes NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance in name alone. Recent events notwithstanding, the brewing conflict over territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean indicates that the military union between mostly Western countries is faltering.

The current Turkish-Greek tension is only one facet of a much larger conflict involving, aside from the two Mediterranean countries, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, France, Libya and other Mediterranean and European countries. Notably absent from the list are the United States and Russia; the latter, in particular, stands to gain or lose much economic leverage, depending on the outcome of the conflict.

Conflicts of this nature tend to have historic roots – Turkey and Greece fought a brief but consequential war in 1974. Of relevance to the current conflagration is an agreement signed by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Greek and Cypriot counterparts, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Nicos Anastasiades, respectively, on January 2. The agreement envisages the establishment of the EastMed pipeline which, once finalized, is projected to flood Europe with Israeli natural gas, pumped mostly from the Leviathan Basin.

Several European countries are keen on being part of, and profiting from, the project. But Europe’s gain is not just economic but also geostrategic. Cheap Israeli gas will lessen Europe’s reliance on Russia’s natural gas which arrives in Europe through two pipelines, Nord Stream and Gazprom, the latter extending through Turkey.

Gazprom alone supplies Europe with an estimated 40% of its natural gas needs, thus giving Russia significant economic and political leverage. Some European countries, especially France, have labored to liberate themselves from what they see as a Russian economic chokehold on their economies.

Indeed, the French and Italian rivalry currently under way in Libya is tantamount to colonial expeditions aimed at balancing out the over-reliance on Russian and Turkish supplies of gas and other sources of energy.

Fully aware of France’s and Italy’s intentions in Libya, the Russians and Turks are wholly involved in Libya’s military showdown between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and forces in the East, loyal to General Khalifa Haftar.

While the conflict in Libya has been under way for years, the Israel-et al EastMed pipeline has added fuel to the fire: infuriating Turkey, which is excluded from the agreement; worrying Russia, whose gas arrives in Europe partially via Turkey, and empowering Israel, which may now cement its economic integration with the European continent.

Anticipating the Israel-led alliance, on November 28, 2019, Turkey and Libya signed a Maritime Boundary Treaty, an agreement that gave Ankara access to Libya’s territorial waters. The bold maneuver allows Turkey to claim territorial rights for gas exploration in a massive region that extends from the Turkish southern coast to Libya’s north-east coast.

The ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ (EEZ) is unacceptable in Europe because, if it remains in effect, it will cancel out the ambitious EastMed project and fundamentally alter the geopolitics – largely dictated by Europe and guaranteed by NATO – of this region.

However, NATO is no longer the once formidable and unified power. Since its inception in 1949, NATO has been on the rise. NATO members have fought major wars in the name of defending one another and also to protect ‘the West’ from the ‘Soviet menace’.

NATO remained strong and relatively unified even after the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the abrupt collapse, in 1991, of its Warsaw Pact. NATO managed to sustain a degree of unity, despite its raison d’être – defeating the Soviets – being no longer a factor, because Washington wished to maintain its military hegemony, especially in the Middle East.

While the Iraq war of 1991 was the first powerful expression of NATO’s new mission, the Iraq war of 2003 was NATO’s undoing. After failing to achieve any of its goals in Iraq, the US adopted an ‘exit strategy’ that foresaw a gradual American retreat from Iraq while, simultaneously, ‘pivoting to Asia’ in the desperate hope of slowing down China’s military encroachment in the Pacific.

The best expression of the American decision to divest militarily from the Middle East was NATO’s war on Libya in March 2011. Military strategists had to devise a bewildering term, ‘leading from behind’, to describe the role of the US in the Libya conflict. For the first time since the establishment of NATO, the US was part of a conflict that was largely controlled by comparatively smaller and weaker NATO members – Italy, France, Britain and others.

While former US President, Barack Obama, insisted on the centrality of NATO in US military strategies, it was evident that the once-powerful alliance had outweighed its usefulness for Washington.

France, in particular, continues to fight for NATO with the same ferocity it fought to keep the European Union intact. It is this French faith in European and Western ideals that has compelled Paris to fill the gap left by the gradual American withdrawal. France is currently playing the role of the military hegemon and political leader in many of the Middle East’s ongoing crises, including the flaring East Mediterranean conflict.

On December 3, 2019, France’s Emmanuel Macron stood up to US President Donald Trump, at the NATO summit in London. Here, Trump chastised NATO for its reliance on American defense and threatened to pull out of the alliance altogether if NATO members did not compensate Washington for its protection.

It’s a strange and unprecedented spectacle when countries like Israel, Greece, Egypt, Libya, Turkey and others lay claims over the Mediterranean, while NATO scrambles to stave off an outright war, among its own members. Even stranger, to see France and Germany taking over the leadership of NATO while the US remains, thus far, almost completely absent.

It is hard to imagine the reinvention of NATO, at least a NATO that caters to Washington’s interests and diktats. Judging by France’s recent behavior, the future may hold irreversible paradigm shifts. In November 2018, Macron made what then seemed as a baffling suggestion, a ‘true, European army’. Considering the rapid regional developments and the incremental collapse of NATO, Macron may one day get his army, after all.

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