x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Israel defies allies and survives unscathed

Israel's conflict with the US and UK did not compromise its relations with either, at least not in the way one would expect it to.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu ,has had a "great" and "risky" success in testing Washington and London's anger management, now that he has shown Israel's ability to absorb their fury and walk away unscathed, wrote Mazen Hassan in the comment section of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan. "Israel's conflict with its two allies did not compromise its relations with either, at least not in the way one would expect it to."

While Mr Netanyahu was meeting the US president, Barack Obama, in Washington to resolve their differences on Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank, Britain was kicking out an Israeli diplomat for involvement in the assassination of the Hamas commander Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai in January. And now a number of White House officials say they are trying to put the two-week public argument with Israel behind them.

True, other voices from Washington expect relations with Israel to undergo more strains, but nothing guarantees that Mr Obama's position will be any tougher, especially since he already capitulated to Israel when he abandoned his demands for a freeze of West Bank settlements. Even the British foreign minister, David Miliband, who may have had a few tough words for Israel lately, said that the al Mabhouh killing should not undermine the bond with Israel.

The far right in the West is gaining political sway, wrote Mohammed J al Ansari, a Bahraini journalist, in the London-based newspaper Al Hayat. Quite recently the anti-Arab "Freedom" party in the Netherlands took power amid a series of similar indications across Europe that hardline parties are coming back strong. The party's name, Freedom, brings to mind Voltaire's famous line: "O Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name?" Yet, one must not be surprised by this right-wing surge in Europe, a continent that has long fought to stay "liberal" and "open".

Europeans today feel threatened by all those Arabs and Muslims who immigrate to their countries to take jobs no one in Europe wants to do. A paradox therefore emerges: Europeans need the immigrants they don't want. They enjoy the low-cost manpower but can do without the cultural heritage that comes with it. The last regional elections in France have also given a boost to the far-right, while under Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right party, Muslims are still facing the threat of a ban on the niqab, the full-body veil. "Arab intellectuals have extensively criticised Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilisations' theory, but we must admit that it's not that far from reality."

Most opposition parties in Sudan are calling for the postponement of the elections slated for April 11, but whether their motives are honest or not, one cogent reason for the deferral has not been pointed out by any of them, commented Ahmed Amorabi in the opinion pages of the Emirati newspaper Al Bayan.

"This reason has to do with the general referendum due to be held in the South, by virtue of which the southerners will definitively decide their own fate: either stay part of the united state of Sudan, or secede and create a new independent and sovereign state." Governed as it by the Naivasha Agreement, which is a peace treaty, the country's current political modus operandi is by definition transitional as it rests on a negotiated "power partnership" between the ruling party, the National Congress, and the southern opposition party, the People's Liberation Movement. 

If the South rejects the union, it will need a new constitution to govern itself. If it decides to maintain a territorial bond with Khartoum, a new constitution will, again, have to be devised in such a way as to break the two-party power monopoly. This would entail a round of national elections after the ones in April. In other words, two major elections in the span of several months. That's what would justify the deferral of the upcoming elections. 

Amid the general confusion of the Iraqi elections, some reports are talking about the defeat of the religious parties and the upswing of their secular opponents, but a close examination of the Iraqi political scene proves this dichotomy between religious and secular to be spurious, wrote Waleed Noueyhad, the managing editor of the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat.

One should ask whether there are, indeed, religious parties in the first place before talking about their defeat. And are there any parties that would be rightly described as secular, so that one could pit them against their religious adversaries? "In Iraq, there are no religious parties and there is no place for their secular counterparts, and that has to do with the country's sociological structure and level of community development."

Iraq is still caught up in a sectarian and "regionalist" quagmire. The political formations that took shape after the US occupation had to mould their ideological convictions to fit into the country's reality, which is ripped apart by sectarian zeal. Parties in Iraq are thus sectarian, not properly religious. None of them has grown out of dogmatism enough to be able to elaborate sophisticated ideological systems.

* Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi @Email:aelbahi@thenational.ae