Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Egypt’s New Government Doesn’t Include Muslim Brotherhood
CAIRO — Egypt’s interim president swore in a new cabinet on Tuesday that was dominated by liberal and leftist politicians, sweeping away the brief era of Islamist political rule built by the country’s deposed president, Mohamed Morsi.
Not one of the 34 cabinet members belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, the 80-year-old Islamist movement that propelled Mr. Morsi to the presidency a year ago, or to any other Islamist party. The cabinet does include three women and three Coptic Christians, making it slightly more diverse, in some respects, than Mr. Morsi’s cabinet.
Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who has emerged as the country’s de facto leader since Mr. Morsi’s ouster two weeks ago, added the title of deputy to the prime minister to his portfolio, though the specific powers it carried remained vague.
Even as analysts credited some of the ministers for their competence and for bringing badly needed expertise to Egypt’s escalating economic crisis after a year of mismanagement, the composition of the cabinet exposed it to the same criticisms once heaped on Mr. Morsi: that he excluded his opponents from governing and, in the process, demolished any sense of political consensus.
That seemed likely to widen the political fissures that appeared during Mr. Morsi’s presidency and after his ouster, as his supporters took to the streets, vowing to remain until he was released from custody and restored to his post, a demand that was echoed by the Brotherhood.
“In this political scene, they are sending a signal that says, ‘We won and you lost,’ ” said Moataz Abdel Fattah, a political economist at Cairo University.
A spokesman for Adli Mansour, Egypt’s interim president, denied Tuesday that anyone had been “excluded” and said that positions had been offered to members of the Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Islamist Al Nour Party.
But a Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad al-Haddad, said the party was not offered any posts. At the same time, he made clear that the Brotherhood was unwilling to take part, saying, “The whole thing is illegitimate.”
In a statement, Al Nour, which initially blessed the military takeover and called for a purely technocratic government, said the new government’s partisan makeup was a “repetition of the same mistake they blamed the former government for.”
“The policy of monopoly and the exclusion of others,” the statement continued, “deepens the state of division, confusion and instability.”
The formation of the government is part of a military-led transition plan that is supposed to lead to parliamentary elections within six months. The interim prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, a respected 76-year-old economist, faces an economy in free fall, deepening security challenges in the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere, and a drop in tourism that has choked off a critical source of foreign currency.
At the same time, his government has received critical aid, including from gulf Arab states that provided nearly $12 billion after Mr. Morsi’s ouster. This week, the new finance minister said the financial assistance might allow the government to put off negotiations for an aid package from the International Monetary Fund, as well as the painful cuts in subsidies that the loan would require.
Analysts said questions about the government’s legitimacy would depend on Mr. Beblawi’s ability to deliver results quickly to a frustrated public and prove that his government is independent from General Sisi, who brought it to power.
The widespread perception that Egypt’s sprawling state bureaucracy had stopped cooperating with Mr. Morsi means that the new government will face even harsher scrutiny than its predecessor, analysts said.
“These people came in on top of tanks,” said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. “It is not an inclusive government.” At the same time, he said, the government will most likely face fewer obstacles because of “a will from the military and certain regional powers.”
“People wish this government to succeed, unlike the previous one,” Mr. Shahin said.
Several ministers who had served under Mr. Morsi’s widely criticized cabinet returned to their posts. Despite frequent blackouts before Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the electricity minister kept his job, as did the interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, whom rights advocates criticized as having done nothing to overhaul security services that are notorious for abuse accusations.
Other appointments, though, seemed to indicate a willingness to try something new. Kamal Abu-Eita, a trade unionist known for opposing former President Hosni Mubarak, was chosen as the minister of manpower, and Laila Iskander Kamel, a community organizer who has worked with Cairo’s garbage collectors, became minister of environment.
Analysts also noted that Mr. Beblawi, who served in a previous government after Mr. Mubarak was deposed in 2011, had shown some independence from the military when he offered his resignation after the army was accused of killing protesters.
In a book he wrote about his time in government, Mr. Beblawi described the shock of the killings. “The state didn’t seem to exist, or seemed completely lost,” he wrote. The head of the armed forces, which was ruling Egypt at the time, refused to accept the resignation, Mr. Beblawi said, so he returned to work for a few weeks before stepping down.
Tuesday’s swearing in of the cabinet, broadcast live on state television, was eclipsed by clashes in Cairo early in the day between Mr. Morsi’s supporters and riot police officers that left at least seven people dead and hundreds wounded. The fighting, the worst in days, accentuated the challenges facing the new government as Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters appeared to escalate their campaign to reinstate him.
His supporters had largely confined themselves to a central encampment since June 8, when soldiers and police officers fired on a pro-Morsi demonstration, killing more than 50 people. But late Monday, they ventured out, snarling traffic in some of the city’s busiest roadways before the police responded with force.
The government’s legitimacy “is going to be very hard to measure,” said Zaid al-Ali, a Cairo-based constitutional expert with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. “Under normal circumstances, the government would be accountable to the people, through elections and the media,” he said. “Now there is no parliamentary institution. The only institution that can hold government accountable is the people, through demonstrations.”
“Legitimacy,” he said, “is hanging by a thread.”
Mayy El Sheikh, Asmaa Al Zohairy and Sarah Mousa contributed reporting.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Demonstrators condemn meetings, call for "cleansing" the PLO of “the generals of normalization with Israel.”
Rabbi Menashe Zlika (Shas) in Ramallah Sunday. Photo: Mati Milstein/The Geneva Initiative
Palestinians demonstrated in Ramallah on Monday in protest against recent meetings between PLO officials and Israeli politicians.
The protest took place outside the PLO headquarters, where demonstrators condemned the meetings as a form of normalization with Israel.
The protesters chanted, “Abed Rabbo, go away!” and “Normalization is destructive!” The protest came following meetings in Ramallah and Jerusalem organized by the Geneva Initiative group.
On July 7, the group took several Shas and Likud officials to a meeting with Abed Rabbo and a number of PLO officials in Ramallah.
The move has since drawn sharp criticism from many Palestinians and various political factions, including Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.
Fatah and other Palestinian groups have been waging an “anti-normalization” campaign to prevent Palestinians from meeting with Israelis.
Ibrahim Ajouri, one of the organizers of Monday’s protest, said that he and his friends were demanding the removal of Abed Rabbo from the PLO for meeting with Israelis. Ajouri said it was “disgraceful” that the July 7 meeting with Israelis was held at the headquarters of the PLO, “which was built over the remains of martyrs and heroes.”
Jamal Juma’ah, another organizer, said that they would not allow any Palestinians to engage in normalization activities with Israel. He also voiced opposition to the resumption of peace talks with Israel.
Fatah legislator Najat Abu Baker said that the protest was aimed at preventing Palestinians from “drowning in normalization with Israel.” She said that Palestinians were strongly opposed to meetings with Israelis that are aimed at promoting normalization between the two sides.
Friday, July 12, 2013
By JOSHUA MITNICK
Josh Mitnick explains why the Israeli is downsizing and revamping its conventional arsenal while increasing its technological prowess. Photo: Getty Images
TEL AVIV—Israel's military plans to downsize its conventional firepower such as tanks and artillery to focus on countering threats from guerrilla warfare and to boost its technological prowess, in a recognition that the Middle East turmoil has virtually halted the ability of neighbors to invade for years to come.
An Israeli tank operates near the Gaza border Thursday. A military overhaul will focus on countering threats from guerrilla armies such as Hamas.
The plan marks a sea change in Israel's decades-old outlook toward the main military threats it faces. Ever since it fought a multiple-front offensive by Arab armies in its 1948 war for independence, Israel's strategic planners and public have been dogged by fears of being overrun by enemy armies, with their backs to the sea.
Formidable militaries in Egypt and Syria, which fought together against Israel three times in a quarter century, are now mired in domestic unrest. The war against President Bashar al-Assad has worn down the Syrian army; Egypt's military is busy trying to stabilize the country amid a political crisis.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in public remarks that the army plans to be less dependent on heavy armaments. "In another few years we will see a different" Israel Defense Forces, he said. "Wars of military versus military—in the format we last met 40 years ago, in the Yom Kippur War—are becoming less and less relevant."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often highlighted Israeli concerns about the rise of instability in the region since 2011. The new direction is significant because it underlines a new belief among Israeli military planners that the turmoil wreaked by the Arab Spring has eased some of the major risks to Israeli national security.
The army plans to cut thousands of career officers, shut ground-force units, eliminate air-force squadrons, and decommission naval ships over a period of five years, said an Israeli army spokesman who declined to provide more details.
The changes are part of a plan which will come up for parliamentary government approval in the coming months to cut about $830 million from the military budget. Israel's government has had to deal with an unexpectedly large budget deficit in 2013, because of overspending and lower-than-projected tax revenue. The military has come under pressure from the Israeli treasury and the public, which has come to view it as bloated, to chip in with cuts after years of spending increases.
Defense chiefs and military analysts said that the overhaul would focus on countering threats from guerrilla armies with rockets embedded in civilian areas, such as Hezbollah and Hamas—conflicts known as asymmetric warfare.
Instability in Egypt and Syria has prompted Israel to bulk up forces against cross-border terrorist attacks from small militias which have filled the power vacuum along the Sinai Desert and Golan Heights border regions.
Israel will also focus on cyberwarfare and confronting its arch-nemesis Iran, which it accuses of seeking to build a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Yaalon said future battles would be decided based on the IDF's technological superiority.
The military reform is the most ambitious overhaul plan since the 1990s, when then chief of staff Ehud Barak proposed a makeover that would make IDF a "small and smart army.'' The plan was never fully realized amid the exigencies of the Palestinian uprising.
Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt led to a military downsizing that drastically reduced its defense expenditures from more than 25% of GDP to under 10%.
The working assumption of military planners over the past 30 years was that war with Egypt was highly unlikely for at least two years going forward, said Giora Eiland, a former major general and national security adviser, in an interview with Israel Radio.
The current overhaul adds another three years to the comfort zone for military planners. "To say that there isn't the possibility of a war with Egypt within the next five years is a pretty bold decision,'' he said.
The Arab Spring has accelerated a shift under way for decades in the Middle East, analysts said. Israel hasn't fought an all-out conventional war against a rival military since 1973. At the same time, the U.S.'s two wars in Iraq eliminated Baghdad's ability to threaten invasion from the east through Jordan.
"The announced changes are serious. A lot of the cuts will not be restored easily,'' said Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University. "The strategic situation has changed to a more significant degree than it was thought to have changed in the 90s. It's hard to imagine the type of the wars that were once fought.''
Write to Joshua Mitnick at Joshua.Mitnick@wsj.com
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Images analysed by experts at IHS Jane's Intelligence Review has revealed a hitherto undisclosed surface-to-surface missile base deep in the Saudi desert, with capabilities for hitting both countries.
Analysts who examined the photos spotted two launch pads with markings pointing north-west towards Tel Aviv and north-east towards Tehran. They are designed for Saudi Arabia's arsenal of lorry-launched DF 3 missiles, which have a range of 1,500-2,500 miles and can carry a two-ton payload.
The base, believed to have been built within the last five years, gives an insight into Saudi strategic thinking at a time of heightened tensions in the Gulf.
While Saudi Arabia does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, it has long maintained discreet back channel communications as part of attempts to promote stability in the region.
The two countries also have a mutual enemy in Iran, though, which has long seen Saudi Arabia as a rival power in the Gulf. Experts fear that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would seek to follow suit.
Analysts at IHS Jane's believe that the kingdom is currently in the process of upgrading its missiles, although even the DF3, which dates back to the 1980s, is itself potentially big enough to carry a nuclear device.
The missile base, which is at al-Watah, around 125 miles south-west of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was discovered during a project by IHS Jane'sto update their assessment of Saudi Arabia's military capabilities.
It serves as both a training and launch facility, with the missiles stored in an underground silo built into a rocky hillside. To the north of the facility are two circle-shaped launch pads, both with compass-style markings showing the precise direction that the launchers should fire in.
The Chinese-made missiles, which date back to the 1980s, are not remotely-guided and therefore have to be positioned in the direction of their target before firing.
"One appears to be aligned on a bearing of approximately 301 degrees and suggesting a potential Israeli target, and the other is oriented along an azimuth (bearing) of approximately 10 degrees, ostensibly situated to target Iranian locations," said the IHS Jane's article, which is published on Thursday.
While the lorry-launched missiles can theoretically be fired from any location, the idea of having pre-planned directional markers is to ensure that they can be deployed in accurate fashion as quickly as possible, said Allison Puccioni, an image expert at IHS Jane's.
"There is a marked out spot for the launch truck to park in, which will facilitate an expedited launch," she said.
Robert Munks, deputy editor of IHS Jane's Intelligence Review, said: "Our assessment suggests that this base is either partly or fully operational, with the launch pads pointing in the directions of Israel and Iran respectively. We cannot be certain that the missiles are pointed specifically at Tel Aviv and Tehran themselves, but if they were to be launched, you would expect them to be targeting major cities.
"We do not want to make too many inferences about the Saudi strategy, but clearly Saudi Arabia does not enjoy good relations with either Iran or Israel."
Officials at the Saudi Embassy in London did not get back with a response when contacted by The Telegraph. The Israeli Embassy in London said: "We have no comment on this matter."
David Butter, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, the London-based foreign affairs think-tank, said there was "little surprise" that the Saudis had the missiles in place.
"It would seem that they are looking towards some sort of deterrent capability, which is an obvious thing for them to be doing, given that Iran too is developing its own ballistic missiles," he said.
He added, though, that the Saudis would know that the site would come to the attention of foreign intelligence agencies, and that the missile pad pointed in the direction of Israel could be partly just "for show".
"It would give the Iranians the impression that they were not being exclusively targeted, and would also allow the Saudis to suggest to the rest of the Arab world that they still consider Israel a threat."
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia considers itself one of the pre-eminent powers in the Gulf region, but its Sunni Islam leadership has long been at loggerheads with the Shia mullahs of Iran. The ongoing conflict in Syria, which Saudi Arabia has backed the Sunni-dominated rebels and Iran has backed the Shia-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has heightened fears of a wider sectarian conflict.
A confidential diplomatic cable revealed in the "WikiLeaks" disclosures of 2010 said that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly exhorted the United States to launch military strikes against Iran's nuclear programme and "cut off the head of the snake"
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Published yesterday (updated) 09/07/2013 18:03
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Masked demonstrators affiliated to a new group calling itself "Tamarod" marched through Ramallah on Monday calling for a third intifada.
Male and female protesters rallied through Ramallah's streets, chanting that a third intifada, or uprising, would restore the dignity of the Palestinian cause.
They called on Palestinian factions to resume military activities and to unite in resistance against Israel's occupation.
"Military action is the shortest route to end occupation," they chanted.
The protesters say they are part of a group "Tamarod," Arabic for rebellion.
"If you want a third intifada to break, you have to rebel against the Palestinian reality which the current leadership brought due to their disputes and different trends," the group wrote on its Facebook page.
It is not clear if the group has any affiliation to the Egyptian Tamarod movement, a grassroots campaign which called the protests leading to the army's ouster of President Mohamed Mursi on Wednesday.
Monday, July 8, 2013
|By YAAKOV LAPPIN
|IDF and Egyptian army cooperate on fighting jihad elements.
As Egypt grapples with mass unrest and political upheaval, security cooperation between the IDF and the Egyptian military – on a tactical level – remains very good.
Not only does the Egyptian army seek to tackle radical jihadi terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula, it has also cracked down on Gazan smuggling tunnels linking the Strip to the Sinai Peninsula, of which they have flooded 40 tunnels with sewer water in recent days.
The Egyptian army isn’t taking these steps as a favor to Israel. Rather, it faces a common threat in the form of radical armed Islamic elements – based in Gaza and Sinai – who would like to launch attacks on targets in Egypt. The same elements are keen on attacking Israel too.
The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty remains a strategic asset for both countries, but the growing number of al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists in Sinai are seeking to create a provocation aimed at undermining the treaty.
These elements are made up mostly of local, radicalized Beduin, though residents of Egypt proper and foreign jihadists have joined as well. A disturbing wave of radicalization is sweeping over sections of the Sinai Beduin population.
Mosques are mushrooming across the peninsula’s desert dunes.
The radical groups include groups like the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes, which claimed responsibility over the weekend for Thursday’s double rocket attack on Eilat.
The rockets missed their targets, landing in open areas and failing to cause injuries or damages. Some 10 projectiles have been fired on the Red Sea resort city from Sinai over recent years.
The IDF is fully switched on to the growing threat from the Sinai Peninsula, and is investing heavily to deal with this developing situation.
Efforts include an attempt to improve intelligence gathering capabilities, making it less likely that any future attack will take security forces by surprise.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
By Nancy A. Youssef and Amina Ismail | McClatchy Foreign Staff
CAIRO — With millions of Egyptians in the streets for a third straight day demanding his resignation, a defiant President Mohammed Morsi took to Egypt’s airwaves early Wednesday morning and vowed to fight to remain in office, even if “the price is my blood.”
In a 40-minute call to arms to his supporters, Morsi angrily declared his right to serve out his term as the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s long history.
“I am the president of Egypt,” he shouted at one point. “There is no substitute for legitimacy, no alternative.”
The speech seemed to augur the likelihood of violence when a 48-hour deadline issued by the military calling for Morsi and his opponents to find a solution to their impasse expires at 4:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. EDT).
“The price can be my life,” he said.
The speech was likely to be read as a call to arms by thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members who’ve been forming their own security force, armed with sticks, helmets and Molotov cocktails, even as police and the country’s military seemed to be withdrawing their support from Morsi.
Keeping their distance from anti-Morsi protests that have brought millions into the streets, Brotherhood forces have been preparing for days, chanting, lining up in formation, and hoisting sticks, chair legs and two-by-fours in mock combat drills.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who leads the largest opposition group, the National Salvation Front, was reported to be negotiating with the Morsi government. But whatever, if anything, emerges from that effort is unlikely to satisfy everyone, portending, under the best of circumstances, even more instability.
That made the potential for violence high. Even on a relatively peaceful day, with people just waiting for Wednesday, at least four people were killed and 149 injured.
In one incident witnessed by McClatchy reporters in the Kit Kat neighborhood of Cairo’s Giza district, Morsi supporters had to be rescued after a group of residents swarmed them. Shots were fired, a police van arrived and the injured Brotherhood members were swooped away.
Elsewhere in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood seemed determined to secure Morsi’s legitimate place as Egypt’s leader with its illegitimate security force.
“Strength, determination, faith, Morsi’s men are everywhere!” they screamed while stomping their feet and doing air punches in the air. Overweight men in beards then dropped down and began doing pushups.
The tension was high as they waved their sticks in the air and stomped their feet in front of the presidential palace. Their numbers had clearly grown from Friday, when they’d formed up in squad-size units of 15 to 20; on Tuesday, they were organized in platoons, 50 or 60 men to a unit.
One group donned blue construction helmets and orange life vests to serve as protection from rubber bullets. Another wore red and silver motorcycle helmets; its members carried green pipes. They vowed to battle to the death.
Some had written “martyr” on their orange vests. Others carried signs that read: “Martyr Project.”
“I am prepared to be martyred,” one man told another.
If they succeed in defending Morsi’s hold on the presidency, it’s unclear what Morsi would control. On Monday, the military leadership, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, gave Morsi and his opponents 48 hours to outline a “roadmap” for reconciliation. If they don’t come to consensus, the military said it would “intervene.”
On Tuesday, the courts ruled Morsi’s appointed prosecutor had to step down. Morsi’s spokesmen, Omar Amer and Ehab Fahmy, who nervously defended the state two days ago, also reportedly stepped down, as did the Cabinet spokesman.
At least five ministers reportedly failed to show up at Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting, though the government said it was still considering their resignations.
“That the Brotherhood is ostensibly forming a militia reinforces the fact that Morsi has no control over the police and is increasingly the titular head of a failed state,” said Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
At the presidential palace Monday night, protesters hoisted uniformed officers on their shoulders, even as other protesters carried pictures of those killed by the police over the past two years. Police officers in civilian clothes suddenly announced that they were officers. Soldiers in a two-man concrete observation post attached to the palace walls quietly encouraged protesters to stay on the streets until Morsi stepped down.
“God be with you. Don’t leave until he leaves,” a 23-year-old soldier told McClatchy.
At the next guard shack a few yards away was old graffiti, “A donkey sits here,” with an arrow pointed upward at the tiny window where a soldier looked out, an outward display of Egypt’s complicated and at times fickle relationship with its military.
On Tuesday, the graffiti had been revised to “someone is sitting here.” But the sentiments of the soldier inside were the same. “Morsi will resign,” he said.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Jacquelyn Martin/AP - Escorted by security, Secretary of State John Kerry, left, walks with Frank Lowenstein, senior adviser to the secretary on Middle East issues, through the streets of Jerusalem just after 4 a.m. on June 30 after finishing a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that took over six hours.
TEL AVIV — U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry ended three days of intensive shuttle diplomacy Sunday without achieving Israeli and Palestinian agreement to restart long-dormant peace talks, but he said that differences between the two sides had narrowed significantly.
“I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on the trip, and I believe that with a little more work, the start of final-status negotiations could be within reach,” Kerry said at a brief news conference at Ben Gurion Airport here.
Both Palestinian and Israeli government officials agreed that some strides were made but blamed each other for being the difficult party. The news media in Israel and the West Bank portrayed the Kerry effort as ongoing and not a defeat.
Kerry declined to specify remaining gaps, keeping to his promise of not discussing negotiation details in public, but said he was leaving staff members behind to work on them. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had asked him to return, Kerry said, and he plans to do so in the near future. Although he has refused to set a deadline, Kerry has said repeatedly that the window for talks to begin will close in the next few months.
“I am absolutely confident that . . . all of the parties are on the right path in order to get to a very good place,” he said.
After decades of aborted deals and three years since the last talks broke down, success in bringing the sides back to the table would be a significant achievement for the Obama administration, and for Kerry personally.
Although President Obama promised during his first presidential campaign to devote himself to the Middle East peace process, it proved politically and diplomatically intractable. Kerry, who worked on the issue as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during Obama’s first term, has placed it among his highest priorities during his first five months as secretary of state, despite the crises in Syria and elsewhere that have occupied much of his time.
Benjamin Rhodes, a senior national security aide traveling with Obama in Africa, said Sunday that the “time and energy” Kerry has expended on the peace process “speaks to what a high priority we place on trying to move forward.”
Despite a hoarse voice and red eyes after repeated late nights with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and days spent traveling by car, helicopter and plane to meet with Abbas in Jordan and in the Palestinian administrative capital, Ramallah, Kerry was buoyant at his airport news conference. He and his staff members erupted in smiles and applause when they boarded the plane for the next leg of a 13-day, eight-nation trip — a meeting with Asian foreign ministers in the sultanate of Brunei.
Kerry’s plan for persuading Netanyahu and Abbas to take the risk of coming to the table includes the components of virtually every failed formula in the past — security guarantees for Israel, and diplomatic and economic incentives for both Israel and the Palestinians.
But he clearly believes that the worthiness of his proposals — which teams of experts in Washington and here in the region have been working on for months — can combine with the world’s weariness of the conflict, rising unrest throughout the Middle East and his own dogged determination to make success possible.
Kerry has acknowledged that it may not work. But “I am feeling very hopeful that we have a concept that is being now fleshed out, and that people have a sense of how this might be able to go forward,” he said in Tel Aviv.
In Kerry’s wake, initial reaction on the ground was mixed. “There is some progress, but we can’t say that there’s a breakthrough,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Reuters news agency. Erekat attended Kerry’s final meeting of the trip, a morning session with Abbas in Ramallah hours after finishing a Jerusalem dinner with Netanyahu at about 4 a.m.
“Israel is ready to make painful territorial concessions,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said. “But not for a false peace. For a real peace that will endure, for decades, for longer.”
Steinitz blamed the Palestinian side for demanding preconditions from Israel before negotiations begin. “It is very clear, very gloomy, that the Palestinians are doing everything they can not to negotiate,” he said.
For their part, the Palestinians have pressed Netanyahu to pledge that the pre-1967 borders would form the starting point for negotiations for a new Palestinian state — a public concession that Israel has declined to make.
At his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu repeated an oft-stated mantra. “Israel is ready to begin negotiations without delay, without preconditions. We are not putting up any impediments,” he said. But no final agreement, Netanyahu pledged, would “endanger Israelis’ security,” and any final deal would be “submitted to the people for a decision.”
Both Abbas and Netanyahu face domestic political realities that make a return to negotiations difficult, let alone forging a mutually acceptable, sustainable deal.
Netanyahu presides over a restive coalition government composed of five political parties. In recent weeks, leading government figures have openly declared a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians a “dead end.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party and the third most powerful figure in the coalition, said this month, “Never have so many people spent so much energy on something so pointless.”
Ongoing elections within Netanyahu’s Likud party probably will increase the clout of those opposed to a two-state solution.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, a rising star in Likud, is likely to become chairman of the party’s central committee on Sunday, which will grant him power to set the party’s agenda. Danon has said that a majority of the ruling parties and many coalition members would block the creation of a Palestinian state if it ever came to a vote.
“Look at the government: There was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution,” Danon said in an interview with the Times of Israel newspaper.
Political analyst Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, questioned “whether Netanyahu is even a serious candidate for the peace process.”
“If Netanyahu can convince his followers in the Likud and his right-wing coalition partners that he is just going through the motions so that he can put all the blame on Abbas and keep the United States and international community happy,” Alpher said, “then the issue of his domestic status is less important.”
In a recent interview, Netanyahu pledged his seriousness of purpose. “If Secretary Kerry, whose efforts we support, were to pitch a tent halfway between here and Ramallah — that’s 15 minutes away driving time — I’m in it, I’m in the tent,” he said.
The Palestinian leader may face even more obstacles than Netanyahu. In April, his longtime prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a favorite with Western economic supporters of Israel, resigned, reportedly because of clashes with Abbas and his ruling Fatah party. Fayyad’s successor, Rami Hamdallah, lasted less than three weeks before resigning and has not been replaced.
Governance of the Palestinian territories is split between the Islamist militant organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which runs the West Bank. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization, and it remains hostile to Israel and its right to exist.
Talks to reconcile differences between Hamas and Fatah have repeatedly failed to produce a unified government.
The most recent polling by the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah found Palestinians despondent about the worsening economic conditions and the continued deadlock in the political process.
“These are the leaders you have,” said Dan Meridor, former Israeli intelligence minister.
Booth reported from Jerusalem. Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Published: June 28, 2013
CAIRO — Thousands of Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi gathered in Cairo on Friday afternoon as Egypt’s highest religious authority warned of the possibility of “civil war” after days of escalating tensions and episodes of deadly violence.
The warning from the religious authority, Al Azhar, the seat of Sunni scholarship in Egypt, came on the eve of mass protests organized by a coalition of Mr. Morsi’s opponents, calling on the president to step down. Mr. Morsi’s supporters have called for counterprotests, leading to fears of violent clashes between the two camps.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamist party, said that several of its supporters were killed during attacks on its headquarters and on mosques over the last three days. Early Friday, at least one person died in Zagazig, Mr. Morsi’s hometown, according to the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing.
In comments carried by state news media, a senior scholar at Al-Azhar, Hassan el-Shafei, blamed “ignorant people” for some of the attacks and said that the country needed to be alert “in order for us not to be dragged into a civil war that does not differentiate between supporters and opposition.”
On Friday afternoon, a few thousand Islamists gathered outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo, as the imam urged Muslims to choose peace over violence. Nearby, vendors sold plastic hard hats. Men who bought them said they wanted protection from the blistering sun, but also from rocks, in anticipation of clashes with anti-Morsi protesters.
Some carried long plastic tubes as clubs, one brought a golf club and another a wooden rolling pin — all for self-defense, the men said.
The start of the protests came a day after Mr. Morsi moved aggressively to preserve order and confront his opponents, deploying the army near government ministries and the Suez Canal, starting legal proceedings against several judges and purging critics from a state-appointed body that helps regulate the airwaves.
Though many had hoped that Mr. Morsi would move to defuse calls for mass protests against him this weekend, he instead wielded the might of the state to project power. His message to those challenging his authority was to either work through the political structures that have emerged since the country’s revolution in 2011, or have no say in how the state is run.
“One year is enough!” Mr. Morsi said repeatedly in a televised speech on Wednesday night, threatening to purge holdovers from the clique of former President Hosni Mubarak. He also offered no major concessions to those calling for his ouster, dismissing them as antidemocratic.
“This is the message he is sending, a threat pretty much that his tolerance and patience for so-called subversive acts and extra-constitutional activities will no longer stand,” said Yasser el-Shimy, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “If you would rather work outside the system, we are going to come after you.”
Mr. Morsi’s decision to shrug off the opposition and forge ahead comes at a time when bitter polarization over the direction of the country threatens to unleash a new wave of unrest.
In his speech, Mr. Morsi went after several individuals he said had broken laws and undermined the state. Action against some of them came swiftly, with government figures appointed by Mr. Morsi moving against them within 24 hours. On Thursday, an accountability body inside the justice ministry opened corruption investigations against a number of judges Mr. Morsi had accused of participating in rigging elections. Gehad El-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that propelled Mr. Morsi to power, said in an online commentary that 32 judges were under investigation.
The prosecutor on Thursday also slapped a travel ban on Mohammed Amin, the owner of a satellite TV channel that has often been critical of Mr. Morsi since the president accused him of tax evasion. The prosecutor said Mr. Amin was under investigation on allegations he owes more than $60 million in taxes.
“He’s a tax evader — let him pay,” Mr. Morsi said. “He unleashes his channel against us.”
Egypt’s minister of investment on Thursday also purged representatives of three private satellites stations — including Mr. Amin’s — from the board of the Free Media Zone, a state-run body that helps regulate the airwaves.
Mr. Morsi had accused another station owner, Ahmed Bahgat, of owing more than $400,000 to an Egyptian bank.
Mr. Haddad said that Thursday’s moves showed that Mr. Morsi was committed to pursuing his agenda more forcefully.
“What happened today is no more than a fraction of what has been requested from the president since the day of his appointment,” Mr. Haddad said. “These are the basic demands of the revolution, to cleanse the old regime elements from their strongholds in the state.”
Mr. Haddad also said the president had offered no concession to those calling for his ouster because they were working outside the political process, and they most likely would have ignored anything Mr. Morsi offered.
He said he expected Mr. Morsi to work more closely with groups that have proved their popularity at the polls, like the ultraconservative Nour party.
“Most of the Islamist camp thinks the president has been too lenient with the opposition and has failed to deliver on his political promises,” Mr. Haddad said. “And I think he is picking up the pace.”
Planning for the competing protests this weekend continued on Thursday, with the opposition saying its plans had not changed.
“Dr. Morsi’s speech has only increased our insistence on calling for an early presidential election in order to achieve the revolution’s goals, the foremost of which is social justice,” Mohamed ElBaradei, a leader in the opposition’s National Salvation Front, said Thursday at a news conference.
Reflecting fears that the protests could turn violent, the Egyptian Army has been deploying tanks and soldiers near government ministries, at the central bank and at the entrances to some Cairo neighborhoods. It has also enhanced security in cities along the Suez Canal.
Security officials said that weapons had been distributed to the police, and that those being held at local police stations had been transferred to central prisons, apparently to make room for those detained in any unrest.
The American Embassy in Cairo has repeatedly warned American citizens of the potential for violence and will be closed on Sunday, normally the first day of the Egyptian workweek.
Mr. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood that founded it took steps to ensure their own security.
The Brotherhood has recently reinforced his Cairo headquarters with thick metal doors, and Mr. Haddad, its spokesman, said the group had hired private security guards to protect its offices.
Protesters have ransacked the group’s offices in the past and sometimes clashed with Brotherhood members. Egypt’s interior minister said recently that the police did not have the resources to protect the offices of all political parties.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
KUWAIT — Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that progress toward a Middle East peace agreement needed to be made before September, as he headed for a fifth trip to the region amid increasing talk of a possible breakthrough that could return Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the negotiating table after years of stalemate.
Mr. Kerry stressed that he was not setting a firm deadline for resuming peace talks, but repeated his argument that time was an enemy of his push for a comprehensive agreement and stressed the importance of making headway before the United Nations General Assembly resumes its debate over the Middle East in September.
“Long before September we need to be showing some kind of progress in some way because I don’t think we have the luxury of that kind of time,” he said in a joint news conference with his Kuwaiti counterpart.
“Time is the enemy of a peace process,” Mr. Kerry said. “The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen.”
After three months of intensive effort by Mr. Kerry, anticipation has been building in Jerusalem and the West Bank that this time, he would bring with him a concrete proposal that might move the ball. Israeli news reports over the last two days have suggested new flexibility by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as both sides grow more worried about being blamed if Mr. Kerry’s push fails to show progress. But while experts on the peace process see growing momentum around Washington’s initiative, they cautioned that getting the parties back to the table was only a first step.
“Kerry is not giving up,” Gershon Baskin, co-chairman of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, said in an interview. “The question is where does it go after that, because each side is going to confront their own political public inside their own camps, and they’re going to face difficulties moving forward.”
Mr. Kerry acknowledged the uphill battle but described Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas as skilled politicians who understood that the stakes in resolving the conflict were "bigger than any one day or one moment," and "certainly more important to their countries than some of their current political challenges may make it seem.”
“I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t have a belief that this is possible,” Mr. Kerry added. “But this is difficult.”
Kuwait was the fourth stop on Mr. Kerry’s eight-nation trip, which is mainly devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the crisis in Syria.
As a senator, Mr. Kerry voted against the resolution in 1990 that authorized force to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. But that debate appeared to have been long forgotten as he had a lengthy meeting with the Kuwaiti emir, Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, and other senior officials.
Kuwait’s foreign minister, Sheikh Sabah Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah, reiterated his country’s interest in transferring two Kuwaiti prisoners in the American prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Kuwaiti custody, adding that Kuwait was willing to provide guarantees that they would brought before a domestic court. Mr. Kerry said that President Obama wanted to close the Guantánamo facility and the White House would study the Kuwait request.
Mr. Kerry’s next stop is Jordan, where he is scheduled to have three days of meetings with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials.
The Palestinians have repeatedly set and extended deadlines for Mr. Kerry’s efforts, with a threat that they would leverage the observer-state status they won in the United Nations last fall to seek to prosecute claims against Israel in the International Criminal Court. The Israelis have quietly agreed not to begin new settlement projects in the West Bank while Mr. Kerry tries to reignite talks, though they have allowed already-approved housing units to advance toward constructions.
Israeli news reports this week have laid out a variety of scenarios for a breakthrough. One said the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would meet under American auspices in Amman next week, something Mr. Kerry denied in his news conference. Another said Mr. Abbas had agreed to enter direct talks with Mr. Netanyahu for a limited time, dropping his demand that Israel first accept the pre-1967 borders with minor adjustments as the starting point. A third said Israel would release 120 Palestinians who have been in Israeli prisons for more than 20 years as Ramadan begins July 8.
Palestinian leaders denied the reports, saying they were Israeli “spin” and “trial balloons.”
“These are just speculations,” Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Tuesday."Let’s wait for Kerry to come and then we can talk.”
Mr. Abbas repeated on Wednesday his frequent statement that he would return to talks if Israel accepted the 1967 borders. Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, said Tuesday that talks must be sustained, not time-limited, and that Israel was not simply trying to check a box “to show that we’ve begun negotiations.”
“Our goal is to persist in the negotiations, to engage in them consistently over a serious period of time in order to try to grapple with all the issues, and come to an agreement that resolves the fundamental issues in the conflict,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “This will require time, determination and a systematic approach.”
Several Israeli experts on the peace process said that both sides were maneuvering publicly and privately to avoid being blamed for a failure to revive talks.
Mr. Abbas “can’t be backed into a corner again and have people say the Palestinians are the naysayers,” said Mr. Baskin, a veteran negotiator who remains in close contact with the Palestinian leadership. “By saying we’re going in for a limited time to evaluate the seriousness of Israel will be enough for him to explain it to the Palestinian public.”
But Mr. Baskin was one of several analysts who expressed doubt that a new, publicly heralded round of talks would yield much, given the deep divisions and pressures each leader faces in his own political house.
“Almost everybody who’s been professionally involved in the peace process does not believe that a permanent status agreement is possible at this time,” cautioned Dore Gold, a former Israeli negotiator and aide to Mr. Netanyahu who is now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “What is needed is a new paradigm in order to make this work, but there’s no indication that any new ideas are surfacing.”
Michael R. Gordon reported from Kuwait, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.