In the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic – the Covid-19 outbreak – accompanied by an economic collapse, something all too familiar in America occurred: an incident of police brutality causing the death of a Black man. It might not have come to light, except for a bystander’s video — eight minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd gasping for breath, suffocating under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Almost immediately, street protests broke out from coast to coast, and around the world, proclaiming “Black Lives Matter.” An overwhelming majority of Americans, and the international community, have expressed support for the movement.
The Middle East Policy Council was pleased to join like-minded organizations in endorsing a June 9 statement by Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS): “Standing Together Against Racism and Discrimination.” Per the WCAPS statement: “As individuals and organizations that work to promote global peace and security, we are acutely aware of how racism and discrimination obstruct our goals.” The WCAPS initiative is particularly meaningful to the Council, which advocates for the people of the Middle East, especially groups in the region – such as the Palestinians – that have suffered systematic oppression. The Council’s signing statement to the WCAPS declaration reflects our commitment: “Just as the Council promotes U.S. values in the Middle East, we also share WCAPS’s commitment to confronting injustice, inequality and racism at home.”
As the U.S. administration continues to demonstrate ineptness in addressing the country’s domestic crises, it likewise continues to abdicate its responsibilities in the international sphere, including ignoring Russian bounties on coalition troops in Afghanistan and Chinese aggression against the people of Hong Kong. In the Middle East, it’s even worse: the “Deal of the Century” has opened the door to Israeli annexation of parts of the Occupied Territories. In a be-careful-what-you-wish-for turn of events, this issue has united pro-Israeli hawks and pro-peace moderates against such a move; “Washington Post” op-eds have sprouted like mushrooms: Washington Institute for Near East Policy head Robert Satloff: “I’m an ardent Zionist. But Israel’s annexation makes no sense”; Former U.S. peace process negotiator Dennis Ross: “Netanyahu sees a historic moment in annexation. But he might not be seeing the risks”; Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: “Why Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank would be a historic mistake.”
One regional op-ed that broke new ground was penned by the UAE Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al-Otaiba. In an unprecedented initiative, it was published – in Hebrew – in the centrist Israeli daily “Yediot Ahronot.” Entitled “Annexation will be a serious setback for better relations with the Arab world,” the op-ed lays to rest the magical thinking that Israel can both unilaterally annex portions of Palestinian territory and have normalized relations with the Arab world. As the ambassador’s article makes clear, Gulf Arab leaders realize that Israel’s unilateral annexation of land inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories would be impossible to defend to their citizens. King Abdullah II of Jordan and Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan of Saudi Arabia had publicly warned Israel against a unilateral land grab, but Ambassador Al-Otaiba sounded a fire alarm. Although the reaction among Israelis has been muted, the op-ed got their attention (see our website: https://mepc.org/commentary/uae-ambassador-us-yousef-al-otaibas-warning….)
As always, this issue of the journal takes the reader far and wide around the region. Leading off is our milestone 100th Capitol Hill Conference; our three exceptional outside panelists — Roger Cohen of the “New York Times,” Mona Yacoubian of the United States Institute of Peace, and Kirsten Fontenrose of the Atlantic Council — assess the current state of the Middle East (see p. 5).
In the pages that follow we examine the foreign-policy motivations in the Middle East of Russia, Turkey and Iran. We also treat the current dynamics in North Africa, particularly in Libya, where collective security has, sadly but perhaps predictably, failed; the conflicting interests of outside powers and neighboring states have not been able to be reconciled, despite initial hopes following the toppling of the Qadhafi regime.
As the case of Libya illustrates, in the aftermath of war and revolution the basic political problems that follow are often almost insoluble, particularly how to formulate the new rules for a sociopolitical contract, including political power-sharing, economic resource allocation, and cultural / religious identity and mores. Resolution of such issues depends on goodwill, too often the missing factor. An aspiration for democracy can help, but it is hard to achieve in polities where history and, to some extent, prevailing culture favor authoritarianism. Tunisia’s exception, and enviable advantage, in fact, is partly due to the “democratizing” impact of a developed civil society, especially to strong labor unions.
We also include two in-depth interviews focused on German-Israeli relations, offering a glimpse into Israel’s efforts to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in Europe. The discussion points up Israel’s waning power to use the Holocaust as a shield to consider itself exempt from accepted international norms (see p. 148).
We are also privileged to publish an explanation of the fate of a report on health care in the Gaza Strip, “Who gets to narrate a pandemic?” Originally carried in the prestigious British medical journal “The Lancet,” the report documents evidence of comorbidities and health-care neglect among the Israeli-controlled Palestinian population. The facts in the report so embarrassed “The Lancet’s” backers that they pressed (successfully) to have the report removed from the publication’s website. Several well-regarded periodicals subsequently turned down the offer to publish the facts of this case; the Council welcomed the opportunity to do so (see p. 162).
Also in this issue we offer our readers a special, pre-publication excerpt from a book to be published in September, “Vision or Mirage? Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads,” by former Foreign Service Officer David Rundell (see p. 185). Rundell served for 30 years as a U.S. diplomat in the Arab world, 15 of them in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His book has earned generous praise from, among others, renowned elder statesman Henry Kissinger, highly-esteemed academic Bernard Haykel, and the Council’s own former president – diplomat and scholar Chas Freeman, who has commented that “Vision or Mirage is destined to be the best single volume on the Kingdom.”
Finally, on a sad note, the Council is mourning the passing of a long-time member of our Board of Directors, Fuad Rihani. Born in Jordan and educated at AUB, with a PhD from North Carolina State University, Dr. Rihani – a Fulbright Scholar, and then an American-by-choice -- epitomized the value our country derives from welcoming the best and brightest to its shores. His contribution to the Council was unsurpassed; we will miss the intelligence, kindness and charm that enlivened every room Fuad walked into.
July 9, 2020