x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Israel's new 'giant' offer

All speculation over the future of the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories will run out in the next few days when the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu meets George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, wrote Mazen Hammad in the opinion pages of the Qatari daily Al Watan.

All speculation over the future of the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories will run out in the next few days when the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu meets George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, wrote Mazen Hammad in the opinion pages of the Qatari daily Al Watan. "By then, both parties will have taken their final positions on the matter; either clash or concur."

Until this minute, however, the two sides are still sticking to their guns. Whereas the Obama administration is seemingly striving to launch a multiparty peace process, encompassing Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and the Lebanese, Israeli obstinacy is still clogging all avenues for effective action. Yet, the Israeli side has been busy fashioning a few "creative ideas" for makeshift solutions. For instance, Mr Netanyahu has suggested that "vertical construction," that is, building giant residential towers, would help curb horizontal expansion, which periodically results in taking over pieces of land in the West Bank.

In fact, Mr Netanyahu pitched his "towers alternative" during his last European tour, especially with the Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. According to the Israeli press, if this new proposal, which has been discussed with US diplomats, goes through, Israel will actually stop appropriating Palestinian land, halt expansion of existing settlements and attract thousands of hesitant aliyah candidates.

The regular columnist Nasry al Sayegh discussed in a comment piece for the Lebanese daily Assafir four interrelated points that sum up the "dire" outcome of the Cedar Revolution after more than four years of its genesis. "Here are the plain results of the Cedar Revolution: first, a perfectly squashed sense of sovereignty, as Lebanon has never witnessed, in time of bloodshed or in time of peace, foreign interference this flagrant in its internal affairs," al Sayegh wrote.

Second, the concept of independence in the Lebanese psyche has dwindled to such dramatic proportions that it has almost become null. Lebanon is sentenced to constant "mandatory consultation" with Saudi Arabia and Syria whenever it is a question of policymaking or electoral calculations. Third, he said that revolution traded "parity relations" with Damascus for diplomatic subjugation. Fourth, the national project to establish a Lebanese state predicated on territorial integrity, which by definition entails the unity of the Lebanese people, has become more of a mirage, as foreign influence in the country is taking its toll: British influence in the Druze mountain region; French hegemony in the Maronite north plus Turkish Sunni control of urban areas.

"According to international democracy standards, Arab states are still lagging far behind in every world classification, despite the global political shifts the planet has witnessed to date," commented Khalid al Houroub in the Emirati daily Al Ittihad. A plethora of arguments tried to account for the continuous failure of democracy in the Arab world, such as: prioritising the conflict with Israel over internal reforms; lack of a large and solid middle class through which democratic practices can be socially injected; urgency for land development projects to which political alterations are purported to be detrimental; the nature of the Arab mindse being non-conducive to democratic momentum.

But the new democratic experiences in Kuwait and Mauritania have proved deeper than the average attempts witnessed in Jordan, Morocco or Egypt. "The traditional forms of government in these two countries are challenged head-on," he writes. The constitution is unconditionally promoted and ethnic, social, gender and class issues are publicly aired. The major novelty, though, is that change, without being revolutionary or radical, targets the system itself, not merely operates within it and under its own auspices. "Years or decades from now, the Kuwaiti and Mauritanian experiences will have matured enough to make those who are busy gloating now desperate to catch up."

Attempts to understate the volume of commercial exchange between Jordan and Israel have been made by saying that the kingdom's imports did not exceed 31 million Jordanian dinars ($43.5m) in the first quarter of this year, or that fruits and vegetables coming from Israel are limited to particular categories and governed by specific quotas, wrote Yasser al Zaatra in the Jordanian daily Addustour.

"While we have agreed in the past to import goods from the Hebrew state, regardless of their exact provenance. Now there is a grave consideration that comes into play: some of the produces we are importing are actually cultivated in the Israeli settlements, which is a crime pure and simple," he argued. Some western countries, despite active Jewish lobbies, do boycott produce grown or manufactured in the settlements, considering them illegal. The sit-in organised on Sunday by the anti-normalisation trade unions' committee also reflects awareness on the part of Jordanian workers of the moral absurdity of taking part in business that profits Israeli settlers on Palestinian territories.

Importing such Israeli products bespeaks a deteriorated sense of national and ethical responsibility on the part of merchants, which does not exonerate the layperson who buys those products for measly savings, he said. * Digest compiled by Ashraf el Bahi aelBahi@thenational.ae