17 October 2011
The Israel-Egypt Dilemma
By David Goulden (CFI Intern)
There is no disputing the fact that the ‘Arab Spring’ has changed the regional dynamics of the Middle East almost entirely. The jubilant images broadcast from Tahrir Square earlier this year were hailed as an inspiration across the western world, but as time has passed the situation in Egypt has become increasingly uncertain. One of the most pressing concerns revolves around Egypt’s relationship with neighbouring Israel.
The effects of recent events in Egypt have provoked a growing chorus of concern over the fate of the longest standing peace treaty in the region. The Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty has held for over 30 years and whilst it has often been referred to as a ‘Cold Peace’, something state centric and unconcerned with the will of the people, it has undoubtedly provided much needed stability in the region.
Whilst this peace was the brainchild of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, it was, for the most part, upheld by his successor Hosni Mubarak. Whilst Mubarak disapproved of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians, he understood the strategic importance of an alliance with Israel. For one, it ensured an increase in U.S aid, standing at over a billion dollars, and with it, a greater standing within the Arab neighbourhood.
With Mubarak now ousted the feelings of ambivalence towards Israel is gradually becoming more tangible, with a number of very public anti-Israel outpourings. Violent assaults by protestors on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and the interim Government’s stalled response starkly highlighted the emerging trend for public displays of hostility from the Egyptian public towards Israel. Equally, the terror attacks near Eilat, allegedly perpetrated by a Palestinian terrorist cell containing several Egyptians, highlighted the lawlessness and lack of stability in the Sinai region. These events have highlighted that the ‘Cold Peace’ which has held for such a long period of time is in a more precarious position than ever before.
Israel will undoubtedly be looking at the forthcoming Egyptian elections with considerable angst. The two confirmed candidates, Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei, are known to be anti-Israel and discourse in Egypt has centred upon the future shape of Egypt’s current relationship with Israel. Questions also loom over the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s new era. The emergence of an emboldened Muslim Brotherhood could be very worrying for Israel because as recently as February leading member of the Brotherhood, Muhammed Ghannem, stated that Egypt should be ready for war with Israel.
The Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty is the longest serving peace deal that Israel has ever had with an Arab neighbour. As well as ending a sequence of bloody armed conflicts, it has also ensured greater trade and economic ties between the two countries. It is now essential that the status-quo is maintained, and that any reservations the new Egyptian government may have about the State of Israel are superseded by the benefits that the peace deal has brought them both.
9 September 2011
A Key Ally Lost
By Benjamin Aaronberg (CFI Intern)
The relationship between Israel and Turkey has markedly deteriorated in recent weeks. Since 2010 and the debacle of the Turkish originated Flotilla, designed to disrupt the embargo placed around the Gaza Strip, the alliance between the two states has been stymied somewhat. With no Israeli apology forthcoming, tensions have reached boiling point. The situation worsened last week, when Israel’s Ambassador in Ankara was expelled and military ties, following the publication of the leaked UN Palmer Report.
The implications for Israel’s security and standing on the international stage are far reaching. Israel, will, most immediately, be concerned about Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s vow to employ a more aggressive tact in the Mediterranean, including the provocative provision of Turkish naval escorts for Gaza-bound aid ships. Need I state that it was essentially a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza that produced this problem in the first place?
Of equal importance, however, will be the as yet unknown ramifications of Turkey’s sudden overtures to Egypt to fill the Israel shaped void. This could result in a significant extension of Turkey’s sphere of influence, to a point unseen for decades. Whilst Egypt currently adheres to the Peace Accord of 1979, the popular sentiment within the country remains that of an anti-Israeli persuasion. For many commentators, the possibility of an increased threat from militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, emboldened by Turkey’s new position towards Israel, must not be discounted.
Taken altogether, this has created a number of major implications for Israel on the world stage, since it shows that no amount of U.S. backing can prevent Israel’s growing international isolation. Furthermore, by highlighting Israel’s isolation within the international community, it has bolstered the Palestinian cause for statehood which the UN General Assembly convenes next month to vote on the issue. So much so, that the Non-Aligned Movement, the states which show great dissatisfaction towards the West, have galvanised support in voting for a Palestinian state.
What these recent developments have shown is that the Jewish state is in a fragile position. Furthermore, with the rise of the Arab Spring, the world is witnessing a shift in the balance of power which will almost certainly shift power to the East. Under the Mubarak regime, Egypt, among other states, remained in a state of peaceful coexistence; however, this is no longer the case. Thus, with support surging for her enemies, more than ever, Israel’s military and economic agreements with the Western states must be seen as paramount to her survival.
15 December 2010
“In me, you have a Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is indestructible.”
This week the Prime Minister was the guest of honour at the CFI Annual Business Lunch. Click here for pictures and more information, however the full text of the speech is below.
Speech by the Prime Minister, David Cameron at the CFI Annual Business Lunch, 13 December 2010
Thank you, Hilda for that wonderful introduction. You talked a lot about May 11th. Of course on election night I was staying in this hotel. So I woke up having gone to bed at 5 in the morning, I woke up at about 10 in the morning on May 7th and thought ‘What the hell am I going to do now!”
But I would like to think that the decisions I made with others that morning to do the big and the bold and the brave thing and to reach out to form the first coalition government this country had seen in 65 years was right for our party and right for our country and we are seeing the dividends today.
Now for years I have been coming to these CFI lunches. For years I have been grateful for your support. And for years I have spoken to you about how we can bring the values of our party to government. So today, I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to be here, finally, as the Conservative Prime Minister.
I want to start by thanking His Excellency Ron Prosor, for joining us and for that excellent speech. I want to thank Andrew Heller, the new Board Chairman, James Arbuthnot, who does a brilliant job at leading CFI in Parliament, and Michael Heller, for hosting this event today.
And I know that everyone here will be thinking of his co-host in previous years, Leonard Steinberg, and the fantastic job that he did – and we are all grateful to Michael for carrying on that tradition but I think we should remember Leonard with a warm round of applause.
I am sure he would have enjoyed yesterday’s ‘X Factor’, not the music but the fact that it was a bonanza for bookmakers right across the country!
Ron, in your speech, you very kindly alluded to my fantastic success in Zurich. Thank you for bringing that up. I always thought it was politicians that looked you in the eye and made you a promise and lied blind to you, But that was before I discovered the world of international football!
I did make one good friendship which was Prince William who did a fantastic job – he worked round the clock meeting every person we could think of who could possibly influence the outcome. And I remember bumping into him in the corridors of our hotel at midnight, the night before the vote. And I said how did it go with the Guatamalans. And he said “Prime Minister I think I have got them in the bag, I have promised him pretty much everything I could”. And I said “What was that Your Highness” and I said “Did you for instance ask him to the wedding?” He said, Prime Minister, I think I promised to marry him!” I do not think that would get quite the same box office, but there we are.
It is great to be at CFI and let me add my own tribute to the Conservative Friends of Israel. What you do in terms of taking people to see Israel for themselves is absolutely invaluable. Seeing is believing, I will never forget the impression it made on me when you see the landscape turn from desert to fertile pasture, when you see the record of that country in turning poverty into prosperity, when you see the creativity, the energy, the dynamism and yes, the democracy.
And as Michael said, you also get such a strong impression of the problems of security that Israel faces. I will never forget being taken to the Lebanese border and knowing just how precarious Israel’s security is. It is an impression that has stayed with me and that I will never forget.
Now looking around this room I can see hundreds of friends of the Conservative Party. And there is one in particular I want to single out. We are here at this lunch in honour of David Lewis, and it is an honour truly deserved.
Einstein once said it was better to be a man of value than a man of success, but David has achieved both. We see the success in his phenomenal business achievements and we see the value, too, in The Lewis Family Charitable Trust, as well as his generous support for Conservative candidates – many of whom are sitting here as MPs today. There is so much this party and this country has to thank him for.
But more than anything else, I want to commend David Lewis, the war hero. As a teenager he navigated a Lancaster bomber in the 75 New Zealand Squadron. He and his colleagues played a crucial role in freeing Europe from tyranny – facing the most extraordinary danger.
I’m told that one night when David was flying over Germany with his navigation equipment all but destroyed, he had to find his way home by looking out of the window. That was just one chapter in a life of extraordinary achievement. So now it gives me great pleasure to present David with this picture of a Lancaster bomber – and thank him for all he has done.
Today I want to talk to you about friendship. I want to argue that being a friend of Israel means three things.
It means solidarity – sticking up for Israel. It means honesty – being frank with Israel. And it means respect – learning from Israel. Let me take each in turn.
First of all, friendship is about solidarity.
I’m proud that when the forest fires started burning in the North of Israel, when our friends were in danger, one of the first rescue efforts to arrive at the scene as Ron Prosor said, was the Royal Air Force sending our helicopters from Cyprus to make sortee after sortee, dropping tons of water on the blaze.
I was one of the first leaders to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu about the strategy. And I expressed to him not just condolences for the tragic number of lives lost, but also my personal assurance that we were standing by to help – because that is what friendship is about.
Solidarity also means sticking up for Israel – and Jewish people – against those who attack them. So when vile anti-Semitic threats are made against Jewish faith schools – endangering young children – we need to step in and protect them. That’s why I’m so pleased that last week, Michael Gove committed up to £2million via the Community Security Trust to protect those schools and keep those children safe. The CST is here today and does a fantastic job.
When biased elements in the media paint Israel’s defence of its people as unwarranted aggression, we need to make it clear: when rockets are being launched at Israeli citizens, when children are in danger, Israel is within its rights to protect its people.
When we see the abuse of the UK’s laws to try and detain Israeli politicians who visit these shores, we need to act: changing the law so people don’t fear coming to our country. That’s what we are doing on Universal Jurisdiction. The vote is actually today so I hope my colleagues will not linger for too long over the coffee.
And when we see boycotts and calls for boycotts on Israel, we shouldn’t just dismiss them, we should go in completely the opposite direction: showing the world that we are proud to do business with Israel.
So I am proud of last month, when the Foreign Secretary was in Tel Aviv, making the case for closer trade links and signing a new treaty between our film industries.
Some of these attacks on Israel can be subtle in nature. But there are, of course, those threats that are there in plain sight. Take Iran. All the evidence points in the same direction: that country’s leadership is intent on developing a nuclear weapons capability.
There are no ifs, buts, maybes, I’ve read the reports, I have had the briefings: they are stockpiling enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon over time.
Of course, that’s a huge threat to the world but it’s a particular threat to Israel. We support tough engagement with Iran, but it is time to ratchet up the pressure. And time is, frankly, short.
That’s why since we came into power we have wasted no time in securing tougher sanctions. We backed tough sanctions in the United Nations – and we championed and led, at meeting after meeting, even tougher sanctions at the European level. Iran needs to know if they continue on this course they will feel international pressure and international isolation.
As well as showing solidarity, true friendship means being frank with our friends and being frank with Israel. I know, and you know, that one of its biggest threats comes from those directly on its borders. Hezbollah, Hamas – terrorist organisations that are determined to use violence against Israel. We must confront their ideology – and help Israel achieve the security she deserves.
But here’s something I passionately believe – as a true friend. That security won’t come through fighting a grinding war of attrition. It will only come through peace. And that real peace will only come through a two-state solution. Two states living side by side, in peace – there is I believe, no other realistic option.
The obligations are clear – on both sides.
For Palestinians: Take the path of a negotiated peace. Show you are serious. Show your commitment to defeating terror.
For Israel there are clear responsibilities too.
There needs to be a real drive to help improve life for ordinary Palestinians. That means humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions to and from Gaza, as far as the security of the Israeli people allows. It means more support for economic development in the West Bank.
And yes, above all, there is the need for an end to the expansion of settlements.
I know and commend the steps towards peace that have already been taken but I do Israel no favours if I deny the truth that settlement building is currently an obstacle to that peace. It is disappointing that direct peace talks are stuck on this issue.
And look: I know that many in Israel already feel they have bent over backwards. But compromise is the only path to peace. The alternative to compromise is that the moderates will always lose out.
Every time concessions are refused, every time the peace process fails, the extremists win and several steps are taken backwards.
I’m not going to deny for one moment how difficult this is. As Conservatives, we understand how hard this is. The IRA tried to kill Mrs Thatcher, yet I now have to sit in a Cabinet room with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams.
My point is this, putting the past aside can be the right thing to do. However unpalatable it may be, it can mean progress towards peace.
And this government will always be there to help. Like my predecessors, I make a personal commitment to be active in the Middle East peace process.
As a friend of Israel, there is nothing I want more than that country to live in peace, in security – and in harmony with her neighbours.
But friendship means a third thing: learning from each other. There’s much in Israel that can inspire the changes that we need to make in our country, not least its economic success.
Israel has more start-ups per capita than any other country. It attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined. Its economy grew by 4 per cent last year. And that hasn’t happened by chance.
It’s happened by design – a strategic seizing of opportunity by the Israeli government. Public spending – controlled, taxes – cut, innovation and science – invested in, free trade agreements – signed. One by one, they have ticked off the list of what modern, dynamic enterprise economies need.
Of course Israel is facing its own economic challenges too, but we can be inspired by its resilience – and back home we are pursuing a similar course. We are dealing with our deficit – balancing the books over this Parliament. We are making our tax system more competitive – cutting corporation tax to 24 per cent. We have prioritised investment in science and innovation. And we’ve put massive efforts into selling British business abroad. I have already taken trade delegations to China and India. Next year, I will be taking a huge delegation to going to Brazil. We are sending out a powerful message around the world that Britain is back open for business again.
But there is one final thing we can learn from Israel and that is about community spirit. It’s a country where they don’t always say ‘there’s a problem – so what can the government do about it’ – they say ‘what can I do about it, what can my community do about it?’
Just look at the Israeli police force. The professional officers on the payroll are far-outnumbered by 70,000 police volunteers who give up their time for free. That’s the Big Society spirit that we want to build here in Britain. So whether it’s letting parents set up a new school, giving young people the chance to do National Citizen Service or allowing our neighbourhoods to take control over housing developments, we are encouraging people to play their part and recognise that they have obligations beyond simply paying your taxes and obeying the law.
Another lesson from Israel is its national pride.
Whether you’re talking to an Israeli who is left-wing or right-wing, young or old, you get an unashamed patriotism – a sense that country matters. If we are honest that’s something we need more of in Britain today and if you look at so much of what this government has done so far, the is a thread of national pride running through it.
Re-writing the military covenant is about strengthening people’s emotional connection to one of our great institutions. Asking immigrants to learn English is a demonstration that we are all in this together. Protecting our aid budget does not just do good in the world, it reminds the British people that compassion does not stop at our borders.
Making sure that our schools are teaching the full spectrum of British history is essential too, because you cannot feel fully patriotic about your country if you don’t know its past. And that by the way should go for Cambridge history graduates as well.
Just as they are in Israel we must be prouder of our history, louder in celebration of our achievements and bolder in cementing the ties that bind us.
So this is what real friendship is about. Not just fair-weather support – but sticking up for your friend through thick and thin. Not just dealing in superficial pleasantries – but telling your friend the unvarnished truth. Not just solidarity – but sharing in each other’s success and learning from it.
The friendship we celebrate today has thrived in the long years of Opposition and I know in government, it will deepen, because the ties between this party and Israel are unbreakable. And in me, you have a Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is indestructible. Thank you.
18 October 2010
Israel and the Middle East Nuclear Question
By Benjamin Jackson (CFI Intern)
Whilst the international community’s attention is rightly focused on the danger of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it is vital that greater attention is paid to the nuclear aspirations of Arab countries. Iran’s provocative attempts to acquire nuclear capability has already entrenched suspicion throughout the entire region and ignited a race to acquire nuclear capabilities. The announcements from within Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, amongst others, that they are each exploring nuclear technology have been met with concern in Israel. Not only is it difficult to verify whether they are solely for civilian use, Israel also harbours legitimate concerns that Arab nuclear programmes, civilian or otherwise, are susceptible to terrorists who would not shirk at using any nuclear device against Israel.
Under the NPT, any country is entitled to ask for help and co-operation through the IAEA to acquire nuclear technology for civilian needs. Jordan and Egypt, in particular, argue that they need nuclear power to fulfil their growing domestic energy needs amid rising oil prices. This rationale has some merit. Jordan, with scarce natural resources, currently imports a staggering 95% of its energy. Egypt’s oil resources are dwindling and are expected to expire within the next 30 years. To this end, their exploration of nuclear power appears consistent with wider energy policy. Indeed, Egypt has already invested in wind and solar technology as it looks to acquire 20% of its energy needs from renewable resources by 2025. Whilst Egypt and Jordan may have genuine energy concerns it is glaringly apparent that this doesn’t apply to all Arab states, with those in the Gulf Region possessing some of the world’s largest deposits of natural resources.
It remains impossible to ignore the compelling argument that interest in atomic energy transcends apparent economic necessity. Alarmingly, Arab countries are expanding their nuclear research outside the IAEA. The United Arab Emirates recently awarded a contract to a South Korean consortium to develop its nuclear power plants, whilst Kuwait has signed a similar deal with Japan. This will make it difficult for the IAEA and the international community to thoroughly monitor any nuclear developments. More worryingly, the rationale behind the regions current desire for nuclear technology appears confrontational. It is impossible to ignore the growing focus by members of the Arab League on Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal. The AL recently heightened its rhetoric against Israel, threatening to derail peace talks by tabling a motion at the UN General Assembly demanding that Israel open up nuclear sites to inspection.
The potential proliferation of nuclear power in the Middle East is more perturbing for Israel when viewed in light of the current instability in the region. The present non-democratic, repressive monarchies that dominate the region face an increasingly potent challenge to their rule from extremist Islamic terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad. These same terrorist groups would have few qualms using a doomsday device against Israel if they were to obtain one. With the threat from Iran to “wipe Israel from the map”, Israel needs no reminder of the dangers of hostile neighbours pursuing nuclear programmes under a civilian guise.
14 October 2010
The Loss of Turkey
By Matthew Schulz (CFI Intern)
The rapidly deteriorating relations between Turkey and Israel have been the subject of gallons of newspaper ink in recent months. Highly publicised disputes over Operation Cast Led and the flotilla incident have resulted in heated rhetoric and a steadily widening rift between these once close allies. Beyond these high profile events, commentators identify Turkey’s transformation into an increasingly Islamised state as the biggest factor behind the heightening tensions. It is certainly undeniable that the changing nature of the Turkish state is a source of discomfort in the Israeli-Turkish relationship, but it is Turkey’s strengthening relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran that is contributing most to the rapid destabilisation of the fragile regional balance of power.
Turkey’s steady move away from its position as a progressive, stable and modern force is extremely worrisome. The origins of Turkey’s transformation date back to 2003 following the election of the Islamic rooted AKP (Justice and Development Party), which has sought to alter the countries secular foundations. The AKP has spearheaded an increasingly hostile political challenge against the independence of secular institutions such as the judiciary and the military, as well as attacking secularist parties – the architects of the modern Turkish state.
The emerging trend in Turkey’s foreign policy under the AKP is equally concerning. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made the demonisation of Israel a central tenet of this new foreign policy. Back in 2004 he condemned Israeli ‘terrorism’ following military action in the wake of Hamas suicide terror attacks. In subsequent speeches, particularly after the 2008 Gaza conflict, Erdogan, along with other high ranking state officials, have praised Hamas as a ‘legitimate resistance’ group and as a “brotherly movement”. The AKP has backed this heated rhetoric by extending official state invitations to some of the most notorious Islamic radicals, including Khaled Mashal (Hamas’s politburo chief), and top Hezbollah activists.
Turkey’s ties with Iran have visibly strengthened in recent years, with increasingly frequent and publicised high level official visits from representatives of both countries. In a deeply symbolic gesture, President Abdullah Gül of Turkey, attending the annual UN conference in New York, refused to meet Israeli President Shimon Perez. Instead, the Turkish leader held a meeting with Iran’s fanatic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's where statements of mutual support and declarations of personal friendship were made public.
Growing levels of trade between the two countries has come in addition to diplomatic exaltations. In 2008 bilateral trade reached $10 billion annually, a tenfold increase from 2000, and consistent with the Turkish government’s declaration to increase trade to $20 billion in the next five years. Turkey’s significant overtures towards Iran have been eagerly reciprocated by an otherwise isolated regime in Tehran. Alarmingly, The Guardian revealed last month that Iran had agreed to contribute $25 million to the AKP to help Erdogan in his bid for re-election next year.
This largely unreported development stands to have far-reaching implications that the international community will have to handle for years to come. Principally, Turkey’s rapprochement with Iran poses a threat to international efforts to curb Tehran‘s nuclear ambitions. As a sitting member of the UNSC Turkey has twice abstained from voting on new sanctions against Iran despite the latter’s blatant violations of previous IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) agreements. Not only did Turkey not condemn Iran’s violations but it used the vote as an occasion to single out Israel’s suspected nuclear program. In equating Iran’s nuclear ambitions with Israel, Turkey is demonstrating a troubling misunderstanding of the threat of a nuclear Iran, a state run theocracy that openly threatens Israel’s right to exist.
It is of great concern to world leaders that Turkey has actively assisted Iran’s attempts to circumvent the latest sanctions regime. Whilst the international community collectively targeted Iran’s vulnerable energy sector, Turkey undermined efforts at a financial squeeze by providing a vital economic lifeline when it pledged to invest $12 billion to develop new gas fields in Iran. Further to this, Turkey has flouted sanctions by retaining close financial ties with Iranian banks suspected of having links to Tehran’s nuclear programme. In doing so, Turkey is blunting all international efforts to make Iranian officials re-calculate their nuclear portfolio.
Worryingly, Turkish-Iranian cooperation is understood to have now extended into the military sphere. American and Israeli intelligence sources now believe that Turkey is exchanging sensitive information regarding NATO and Israel to Tehran. Turkey was also defiant in its decision to undertake coordinated military training exercise along the Turkish-Iranian border late last year. Given these military ties, the delivery of advanced military hardware, such as the Obama administration’s approved sale of 100 F-35 Joint strike fighters to Turkey poses a potentially serious threat to regional stability.
Turkey’s radical transformation is proving to be much more than a mere nuisance for Israel and much of the Western community. It’s strong and growing links with radical Iran have hampered the effectiveness of the international communities sanctions designed to halt Tehran‘s nuclear program. As Turkey continues a policy that destabilises the region, its traditional partners in the West, the European Union and the United States, must make clear that Ankara’s flirtation with the most extreme and dangerous elements in the Middle East will compromise future relations and will not be without consequence.
21 September 2010
Peace Talks: Positives from the Negatives
By Benjamin Jackson (CFI Intern)
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians dramatically resumed last week after a lull of almost two years. Despite the diplomatic fan-fare greeting the opening dialogue, it is clear, an extraordinarily difficult road lies ahead. Talks are littered with potential flashpoints for disagreement. A number of issues continue to appear insurmountable: the future of East Jerusalem and the refusal of Palestinian terrorist group Hamas to recognise the peace talks, let alone Israel’s right to exist.
The Issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank casts an ominous shadow over the process as the one year freeze on Jewish settlements implemented by Israeli PM Netanyahu is due to expire next week. Palestinian President Abbas has threatened to walk out on talks if construction resumes. That said the settlements should not become a barrier to peace. At most they encompass 5% of territory Palestinians expect for their hypothetical new state. Importantly, settlement opinion is not indicative of the Israeli position regarding Palestinian land. Thus a compromise of sorts over the issue is more than possible.
There is no doubt that Hamas’s continuing intransigence undermines the peace process. The leaders of Hamas have openly condemned the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas as traitors. Vehement opposition to the Washington Summit was horrifically illustrated on the eve of peace talks when the relative calm of the West Bank was shattered with the murder of four Israeli’s by Hamas gunmen. This calculated act of terrorism heralded a new round of violence designed to destabilise talks.
Yet these barbaric acts betray a severe miscalculation by Hamas. Numerous international polls, including Israeli ones, show that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians favour peace and a two state solution. Hamas’s claim that it represents the will of all Palestinians is, therefore, questionable at best. With economic growth at an all-time high in the West Bank, Palestinians living there have experienced a taste of what life could be like living in a viable Palestinian state, in peace with Israel. As such, the environment for peace may be far more conducive that many will have us believe.
In theory, the future status of Jerusalem casts an equally ominous shadow over the talks. Israeli negotiators see keeping Jerusalem whole as vital if Israel is to remain a Jewish state. The fact Jewish Israelis see the area as sacred land, renders it political suicide for any Israeli leader to give part of it away. From the Palestinian perspective, Abbas has iterated that any Palestinian state must contain East Jerusalem as its capital.
The option of placing Jerusalem under symbolic Israeli control and creating an international force (EU or UN) to police it has been mooted. The main problem is that the Israeli government and public mistrust such forces, particularly at a time when it perceives the UN force on the Lebanese border (UNIFIL) as failing to prevent Hezbollah rearming. It could, however, represent the most genuine way to appease both parties. If the force was comprised of soldiers from trusted countries, such as the US, it would go a long way to easing Israeli fears. On the other hand, the Palestinians would have difficulties rejecting such a proposal as it would fulfill Palestinian ambitions of having permanent access to East Jerusalem.
The obstacles to peace appear great, even intractable, but the price of not trying or failing will be higher. The next generation will be forced to live as the present one: Israelis in fear of suicide bombers and rocket attacks; Palestinians divided and without a state to call home. Both Israelis and Palestinians wish for a peaceful future and with positive mediation efforts from the US there is every reason to believe that the parties can produce a historic agreement. There is room for negotiation on the key issues. It is undeniable that negotiations will be difficult and that there will be further setbacks down the line, but we must continue to hope that this time the direct talks will be successful.
21 July 2010
A New Defence
By Lucy Abrahams (CFI Intern)
The citizens of Israel live under an ominous shadow cast by deadly rockets fired from hostile neighbours. This week’s announcement that the ‘Iron Dome’ defence system had been successfully tested marks a vital step-forward in security for ordinary Israeli’s. One can hope that the burden upon the shoulders of Israeli families might finally be lifted. After all, Iron Dome has been heralded as the defensive solution to Israel’s ongoing rocket threat.
Israel has once again displayed remarkable technological prowess with its development of a hugely innovative defence system. The system is designed to intercept short-range missiles, including the Katyusha and Qassam rockets favoured by militants. Utilising advanced radars and an astounding kinetic interceptor the system’s radar identifies any rocket launch and rapidly calculates its trajectory before a decision is made whether an interceptor missile is needed to destroy a projectile which constitutes a threat. The system is even designed to handle multiple threats simultaneously.
Israel has felt compelled to invest in and develop this advanced missile system purely as a defensive countermeasure. The state lives with indiscriminate barrages of rockets from Islamist militants in Gaza and is acutely aware of Hezbollah’s ongoing efforts to stockpile rockets in southern Lebanon. Iron Dome stands to protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in the unfortunate event of resumption of hostilities.
The protection of innocent civilians is quite rightly the priority of any state. Israel is more acutely aware of this than many states having had as many as 4,000 rockets fired into northern Israeli towns during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. During this brief period 44 Israeli citizens were killed and 250,000 Israeli citizens were forced to relocate. This is before one considers that over the last decade as many as 8,000 missiles have been launched from Gaza and shocking estimates suggest that nearly 1,000,000 Israelis living in the south are within rocket range.
Israel’s security concerns are shared by the United States who provided significant funds to develop the scheme. President Obama and the US Congress agreed to provide around $200 million to the scheme. In doing so the US implicitly acknowledged Israel’s genuine security concerns on its northern border with Lebanon and in the southern border with Gaza. This is an essential commitment of support for the Jewish state at a time of great unease in the region over with Iran’s provision of weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, and its determined efforts to reach nuclear status.
As a country continuously denied legitimacy since it was first declared in 1948; there is somewhat an air of pride as Israel has once again proved itself at the forefront for both technological and defensive advancement. More importantly, it could be the long anticipated leap towards a final defence solution for Israel and its long suffering citizens.
21 July 2010
Football 4 Peace is the ultimate release
By Alex Nyman (CFI Intern)
The World Cup recently held in South Africa was a genuine landmark event for South Africa. In many ways the World Cup enabled South Africa to truly emerge from the shadow of its apartheid past with the entire country uniting together. On a greater level the World Cup even managed to unite the entire world. Not only did this momentous event provide a month of high-drama and spectacle, but sport once again showed its potential for bringing together people from a wide-range of cultures and nations. The high-levels of competition on the field were matched by the levels of harmony and the entire event emphasised the positive sides of humanity.
Whilst the eyes of the world focused on Africa, football was endeavouring to play a part in fostering peace and bridging communities in the Middle East. For the past decade the Football 4 Peace initiative has been an active proponent of peace, equality, inclusion and co-operation amongst communities in Israel. Operated by sports coaches, community leaders and volunteers, the scheme was devised to create life-long positive relationships between a new generation of Jewish and Arab Israeli’s. Football and its emphasis on teamwork has enabled young kids from different upbringings the chance to meet people from other faiths and to show them that everyone can get along irrespective of their ethnicity.
In the last decade over 7000 youngsters have been encouraged to adopt a different approach to life and live alongside each other peacefully. The organisation’s belief that peace is obtainable has been warmly embraced by youngsters across Israel. The message has been so successful and powerful that the programme has rapidly grown from its original focus on two communities and 100 Jewish and Arab children. Remarkably, it has now developed into a programme with 24 mixed communities and over 1000 children. Receiving generous backing from the Israeli Sports Authority and the British Council, hundreds of volunteers from Germany and the UK have travelled to Israel to provide support over the past few years.
Even if the scheme were to change the outlook of just a handful of children it would still have made a great contribution towards harmony within the Middle East. Shukri Jarjouri, a 19 year old Arab who lives in the Arab village of Iblin in Northern Israel is one of the individuals who can attest to the fantastic nature of the scheme. Shukri says that the camp “changed my life”, after he was taught “the importance of different values such as trust and respect”.
When I was 10 years old I took park in a similar scheme called the Maimonides Foundation which, like Football 4 Peace, aims to bring together Jewish and Muslim children. I readily admit that prior to the scheme I had had very little interaction with kids from a different faith. Crucially, the programme completely changed my views and was a truly wonderful opportunity to meet interesting new people and understand that we all have shared interests and passions. The programme made me more confident in myself and made me respectful and understanding of cultural differences, which is a valuable skill that I will forever cherish.
The expansion of schemes like Football 4 Peace offers tangible hope of a more peaceful future for Israel and the wider region by fostering grass-roots co-existence and gradually undoing the harmful culture of conflict. As the national press laments the inevitable capitulation of the England side at the World Cup, perhaps it would be time better spent to reflect on the unifying nature of sport.
15 July 2010
An Impossible Dilemma
9 July 2010
The Turning Point?
Prime Minister Netanyahu was in Washington DC earlier this week for a meeting with President Obama. Amidst the media bluster, from Israel’s point of view the trip can be regarded as successful, not just on a diplomatic level but also with regards to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
It remains to be seen as to whether in years to come we will be able to look back at this visit and pin-point it as the moment that talks decisively moved towards a final and successful peace settlement. That is the luxury of hindsight. It can, however, be said with good authority that Israel has made a more concerted effort to move indirect proximity talks forward, and that in the United States, she has a valuable ally which can mediate talks to a fruitful conclusion.
Netanyahu’s most recent visit could not have been any more markedly different from the frosty greeting he was given back in March. Crucially, it was more than the glorious July sun that melted away the bleak March memories. The trip marked a new period in Israeli-American relations and a new approach by the Obama administration to help turn proximity talks into face-to-face negotiations.
Not only was the PM granted a one-to-one meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office, and a high-profile press conference timed to coincide with prime-time TV in Israel, but Obama even put Netanyahu up for the night in Blair House, the official guest quarters.
It cannot be ignored that there was ample dose of presentational theatre and political spin. The grand rhetoric of “excellent” talks and an “unbreakable” bond between Israel and the United States was there for all to see. Sections of the media even portrayed it as a Machiavellian attempt to court the Jewish vote ahead of the US mid-terms. But for all of the bluster and theatrics there were also high levels of substance and a unified call for the progression of peace talks.
Netanyahu took a profound step towards the Palestinian side. Without dragging his feet, he issued a direct call to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct talks with Israel. He even expressed his willingness to start at the soonest moment, be it in Jerusalem or Ramallah. Netanyahu called on Abbas to enter talks without preconditions and proclaimed Israel’s preparedness to tackle the largest obstacles head-on.
To highlight Israel’s desire for direct talks the Israeli Prime Minister pledged to take “concrete steps” and confidence building measures in the coming weeks to get the talks moving. It is understood that these steps might include the transfer of greater responsibility over more parts of the West Bank to PA security forces.
In praising Netanyahu’s position Obama has implicitly put his weight behind Israel. The ball sits in the PA’s court. It must be hoped that the bold steps taken by Netanyahu will be matched by Abbas. If the Palestinians respond positively then this week could well go down in history as a turning point.
21 June 2010
Israel's Proud Humanitarian Record
Israel’s landmark announcement of plans to ease the blockade of Gaza has been warmly received in both Whitehall and Washington. It was a decision no doubt driven largely by her genuine commitment to humanitarian matters, and is all the more remarkable given the incalculable security challenges casting a great shadow over Israel. Irrespective, critics have continued to blindly attack Israel, questioning her motives and criticising the failure to completely lift the blockade.
Critics have cynically presumed that Israel merely bowed to international pressure. Conversely, it has always upheld high-standards of humanitarian commitment for Gaza. Critics conveniently ignore the fact that Israel had continued to provide aid to the people of Gaza in spite of the ongoing rocket attacks, Hamas’s refusal to recognise Israel and its unilateral withdrawal in 2005. Indeed, in a typical week 15,000 tons of humanitarian supplies enter Gaza, equating to almost a ton of aid for each man, woman and child since January 2009. These are not the actions of a repressive pariah state, as many would have you believe; far from it.
There is also a proud tradition for assisting those most in need across the world. Continuing efforts are made to alleviate hunger, disease and poverty, and proactively respond to all natural disasters beyond its borders. With a 200-strong relief team, Israel’s personnel were one of the first to arrive in Haiti following the terrible earthquake earlier this year. Whilst in Haiti they treated over 1,000 patients.
Those dismissing the new measures as “cosmetic”, have suggested Israel has not gone far enough and the blockade should be lifted fully. These critics ignore the tragic fact that Israel has to maintain a balancing act between its humanitarian obligations and its very real security concerns. Israel accepts it must ensure security measures are implemented without causing undue harm to ordinary Palestinians. In announcing new measures, Israel has acknowledged that its previous blockade policy was not necessarily working and was causing regrettable harm to ordinary Palestinians.
That Israel feels compelled to maintain a naval blockade is an unfortunate reminder that Hamas continues to receive deadly weaponry cargos from its Iranian backers. To reduce the harmful implications of this necessary naval blockade, Israel will continue to offer all aid ships to dock at Ashdod where it will inspect cargo before swiftly delivering all permitted items to Gaza. Tony Blair, Envoy to the Quartet, rightly described this as “a reasonable position”.
Israel has clearly undertaken a period of inward reflection and has led with its humanitarian interests. Is it not about time that the same levels of scrutiny were directed at the barbaric humanitarian record of Hamas and its blithe refusal to renounce violence or recognise Israel?
17 June 2010
Britain-Israel – Life after the Flotilla
Since the flotilla incident on May 31st overall British Government has made even-handed statements on the events and the Britain-Israel remains a positive one. The Government has deplored the loss of life and expressed disappointment at the Israeli Government’s preparedness in dealing with the incident. Notably however, they have not condemned Israel’s actions and were very clear that the House should not forget the role played by Hamas in this conflict, warning about the dangers of Hamas and stating that they must make ‘immediate and concrete steps towards the Quartet Principles’.
They have also shown an understanding of Israel’s dilemma in balancing humanitarian responsibility to the people of Gaza and their own security needs. However the Government must be very clear on this; whilst opening the borders may be in Israel’s long term interest, the international community should understand that it would be unacceptable to Israel for Hamas - Iran’s terrorist proxy – to be given complete freedom to smuggle in contraband.
The Government needs to encourage Egypt to play a greater role in sharing the responsibility of ensuring aid to Gaza. After all there is a long border between Egypt and Gaza and a crossing point at Rafah. Surely it should not be Israel’s responsibility alone to deliver aid?
If they want to see an open Gaza, the International community should also help provide real, workable solutions to Israel on the issue of security and smuggling. Israel wants to see a relaxation in the blockade however fears over their security have necessitated a strong stance on this issue. Any help the international community can offer would certainly be met positively.
Lastly the Government must ensure that Hamas make a commitment to fully abide by the basic Quartet Principles. Before we consider welcoming them into the international fold, Hamas must show that they too are prepared to compromise for peace. An acceptance of Israel and a renunciation of violent tactics should be imperative.
17 June 2010
Israel’s Inward Reflection Deserves International Praise
The past few weeks have been a testing period for Israel. The international community and the glaring eyes of the media have zoned in on Israel in the wake of the tragic events aboard the Mavi Marmara. The immediate aftermath saw an incredible one-sided media backlash and considerable diplomatic scrutiny. Gradually, however, the perception of Israel has begun to change. Voices in support of Israel have emerged and they are getting louder.
Part of this change can be explained by the revelation that the ‘activists’ aboard the MM were not genuine humanitarian aid workers, but perhaps, something more complex and sinister. The voices of realism have broken through. These are the voices of people keen to inform the general public and their governments that there are wider issues at play in the Middle East and that Israel is in an unenviable strategic position.
Israel has embarked on its own period of inward reflection following the disastrous interception of the Mavi Marmara. Despite passionately believing its enforcement of the blockade was necessary to protect its citizens, Israel has been willing to listen to international voices. The state is visibly keen to find a working solution to the security and humanitarian predicament involving Gaza.
In a matter of days, Israel has announced no fewer than three full investigations into the incident. These products of critical self-examination will look at not only the legal aspects (main state inquiry), but also the political decision-making process (State Comptroller probe) and operational side (IDF military investigation). That there are three inquiries ought to, be commended. This will ensure thorough treatment is given to each aspect and should mean that conclusions can be presented more quickly.
Israel has met the international community’s call for transparency in any inquiry. The participation of two foreign observers in the main state investigation, including Nobel Peace Prize winner, Lord David Trimble, is a considerable gesture. Further efforts include the ability to request testimony of anyone or any organisation, including the Prime Minister, and witnesses will be encouraged to speak freely since testimonies will not be usable as evidence in legal proceedings.
Inward reflection has also led to a reassessment of Israel’s policy towards Gaza. In accepting that its blockade was causing undue harm to the ordinary citizens of Gaza Israel has made a bold step to ease restrictions. Israel’s security cabinet voted on Thursday to ‘liberalise’ the system by which goods enter Gaza, and also expand the flow of materials specifically for civilian projects. This relaxation will build on the 15,000 tons of aid entering Gaza each week from Israel, provided in spite of continuing missile fire.
Israel has, thus far, weathered the diplomatic storm with great poise and its actions this week warrant high praise, but in order to create an atmosphere conducive to productive peace talks, now is not the time to dwell on recent events. It is crucial that lessons are learnt quickly.
15 June 2010
Conservative MP's Debate Middle East Policy
Yesterday in the House of Commons, the Government held a debate on UK policy towards the Middle East. Well attended by Conservative MPs, the debate provided an excellent opportunity for MPs discuss events surrounding the flotilla incident of Monday 31 May, as well a wider issues of the Middle East Peace Process. It was a good debate, with all sides of the argument fairly represented.
James Arbuthnot also made some excellent points about the need for Israel to become more effective at making her compelling case heard.
Bob Blackman MP urged the House to be clear on the dangers of negotiating with Hamas without pre-conditions.
Lastly Nick Boles MP spoke to the House on Israel's excellent record of democracy, freedom and human rights.
Despite it being a difficult couple of weeks for Israel following on from the flotilla incident, lots of MPs attended the debate (not all were called by the speaker) and it was fantastic to see Conservative MPs displaying such an excellent understanding of the wider issues at play in the region such as, the Iranian smuggling of arms into Gaza, Hamas ideology of violence and the need to bolster the moderate Palestinian Authority.
As is the tradition of the House of Commons, there will be plenty more ME debates to come. Stay tuned!