Three Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, address Israel in crisis over right-wing judicial overhaul; fear of a nuclear Iran “within 12 days”, and reflections on the Aqaba Summit aimed at easing local tensions before Ramadan and Passover
*(translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)
ISRAEL’S JUDICIAL CRISIS
By Tarek Fahmy
Al Ittihad, UAE, March 4
Demonstrations in Israel’s streets have gradually grown in response to the Netanyahu government’s measures concerning the judiciary. Despite the passing of the Judiciary Law in its preliminary readings in the Knesset, the underlying issue is larger than the Supreme Court’s powers and functions. It is related to the relationship between state institutions, the government’s information apparatus, and the desire to limit Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s power.
Netanyahu’s battle with the judiciary is only a precursor to what is to come. The opposition to his judicial reforms has steadily expanded, garnering the attention of notable businessmen, former military personnel, religious leaders, and scientists – a precedent unseen in the history of the Israeli state. This situation reveals the depth of instability Israel is facing. These internal rifts within Israeli society can’t simply be ignored. The opposition to Netanyahu has grown beyond Israel’s borders, with a strong mobilization in Jewish organizations, particularly in the United States, where influential circles have spoken out against the Netanyahu government. This signals that the instability in Israel is not exclusively a result of disagreements over the extent of Netanyahu’s power, but rather a wider issue. As the Israeli Supreme Court has the power to deem Netanyahu unfit for office, this could have far-reaching consequences. Netanyahu is currently being tried on multiple charges and is attempting to delay the trials for as long as he can. Nonetheless, the opposition parties lack the ability and experience to effectively counter Netanyahu, even with the support of President Herzog, who has gone beyond his authority to find solutions to the current crisis. The Israeli Right believes that the Supreme Court has systematically ruled in favor of liberal voices while undermining conservative ones. In recent years, the decisions of the Supreme Court have sought to limit the government’s control over religious institutions. The religious parties, as well as other right-wing parties in Netanyahu’s coalition, are attempting to pass measures in the West Bank and Jerusalem in order to accelerate their settlement plan. This includes renouncing all agreements made with the Palestinians, such as the Oslo and Paris accords.
This unrest has led to seven major demonstrations in Israel, with the possibility of further escalation if the coalition ministers, such as Ben Gvir and Smotrich, continue to pursue their plan. Netanyahu faces a significant challenge in his ability to take external action such as striking Iran due to the divided internal political landscape of his current coalition, which has limited experience and is focused on his own narrow interests. This will lead to a growing risk of societal escalation and ultimately, an unstable state of affairs in Israel.
A NUCLEAR IRAN WITHIN 12 DAYS
By Ali Hamada
An-Nahar, Lebanon, March 3
The debate is no longer about whether Iran will become a nuclear power but rather about when it will be able to do so. This comes after the Pentagon reported that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in as little as twelve days.
William Burns, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, further lent credence to this claim by noting that Iran has the capability to enrich uranium to 90%, the level needed for a military nuclear program. Speculation has abounded over the past two years regarding the potential revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Both Iran and the United States had pledged to adhere to the deal, yet no progress was made until April 2022. In September, European Foreign and Security Policy Coordinator Josep Borrell presented a comprehensive paper for the agreement and Washington accepted it. However, Tehran stalled and proposed conditions, such as forcing Washington to lift sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in conjunction with their acceptance of the deal. Despite Borrell’s efforts and the pressure group in the White House led by Robert Malley, the American official responsible for the Iranian issue, the agreement may have been derailed by the Russian war on Ukraine. Both Israel and regional neighbors have already warned that Iran’s nuclear program is not peaceful and civilian in purpose, but rather a cover for a secret military program. Tehran has increased the quantities of highly enriched uranium 19 times more than permitted and refuses to comply with the 2015 nuclear agreement. This suggests that it is not a matter of diplomatic maneuvering. Rather, Iran’s goal is to produce the first Iranian nuclear bomb as soon as possible.
The regime is further weakened by the wave of protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini, which has caused a disturbance in the foundations of the regime and its legitimacy. Today, we must consider the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Is it possible to exist peacefully with it on a regional and global scale? If not, what are the available options to address this problem? Could an Israeli-American strike be launched to disable the nuclear program? What might the repercussions and outcomes of the Iranian regime’s reaction be? Moreover, it is reasonable to question whether the West will respond weakly to this pressing issue and whether Russia will join the Euro +1 group, which includes Israel, in an effort to bring about a resolution. We must focus our attention on the perilous situation that the region and even the global community faces if the West were to initiate a military attack against Iran’s nuclear program. It is also important to consider the consequences if Iran were to acquire nuclear capabilities. Would the mullahs act with more restraint than their current behavior indicates?
These are difficult questions that must be considered in light of the fear of annihilation that such actions could bring.
INSUFFICIENT SOLUTIONS FROM THE AQABA SUMMIT
By James Zogby
Al-Ittihad, UAE, March 12
The Aqaba Summit highlighted the failings of US policy toward Israel and Palestine. Hosted by Jordan, the gathering of leaders from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt and the US sought to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan and Passover. However, the summit failed to address the key issues, instead opting to settle on a series of outdated half-measures proposed by the US. Israel agreed to a temporary freeze on settlement activity and demolitions of Palestinian homes, a decrease in raids on Palestinian population centers, respect of the status quo in Jerusalem, and the release of tax money owed to Palestinians under existing agreements. The Palestinian Authority agreed to suspend its bid for recognition at the United Nations, boost security cooperation with Israel, and use extra tax revenues to recruit and train – with US backing – new security forces to better monitor armed resistance groups in the occupied territories.
However, the outcome of the summit demonstrated that these agreements were inadequate and far removed from reality. The Palestinians are still reeling from the recent Israeli operation in Nablus, which escalated into a massacre that left 11 dead and over 100 Palestinians injured. At the summit’s conclusion, Palestinian gunmen fatally shot two Israeli settlers in their vehicle in the village of Huwara. Within a few hours, hundreds of extremist Israeli settlers descended upon Huwara, injuring hundreds of Palestinian residents and setting fire to hundreds of homes and cars. Since the new government led by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has come to power, raids and settler violence have drastically increased with impunity. After the Aqaba Summit, bloody raids, shootings and settler attacks have only continued. Following an Israeli raid that resulted in the death of six Palestinians in Jenin, the Palestinian Authority security forces attacked the funeral procession of one of the victims and objected to the raising of Hamas flags, further solidifying the Palestinians’ perception of the Palestinian Authority as an “arm of the Israeli occupation.” When news of the Aqaba “agreements” spread in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu swiftly declared there would be no settlement freeze. Another minister announced his intention to continue demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem during Ramadan. An Israeli member of Knesset joked that “what happened in Aqaba stays in Aqaba.” These events triggered a chaotic situation in Israel and Palestine. The current Israeli government consists of hard-liners who are often violent and refuse to recognize the rights of Palestinians. After the United States has supported Israeli governments for many decades, Israelis in power feel they can evade responsibility and accountability. The Palestinian Authority has been weakened by its failure to fulfill the “promise of peace” and its humiliation by the United States and Israel, leading to a lack of support from disgruntled voters who now retaliate when provoked. The Palestinians are likewise out of control. It is misguided for the United States to assume the Aqaba proposals will restore order. Instead of applying a Band-Aid to the festering wound, Washington should have used a scalpel to identify and address the root causes of Israelis’ sense of entitlement and impunity and Palestinians’ anger at continued abuses. Unless the United States sets firm boundaries for Israel and tangible negative repercussions for its ongoing misdeeds, the violence will not cease, a new discourse within Israel will not take shape, and the Palestinians will not find solace. This change will not come about overnight; decades of political mismanagement have plunged us into this abyss.
To get out of this quagmire requires courage, dedication and foresight. For the sake of safety, until this happens, we must brace ourselves for more trying days ahead.
– James Zogby
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