Roni Ben Efrat

The Mecca Charity Show

At first glance, indeed, the Mecca Agreement may seem a great wonder, considering what we published here two months ago. We divided - and still divide - the Middle East into two axes. One included the US, Saudia Arabia and Fatah, and the other included Iran, Syria and Hamas. Under these circumstances, how was agreement possible? The answer lies in a temporary conjunction of interests between Saudi Arabia and Iran. When we unpeel a few layers, however, the dovish feathers fall away: the Mecca Agreement is a mere time-out - not the basis for a new beginning. 

Two Civil Wars with Brakes On

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was once the mother of all problems in the Middle East. Today it is one among many. For this demotion we may largely thank US President George W. Bush and his war in Iraq. Apart from splitting that unhappy country into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish sectors, Bush’s war has changed the geopolitics of the region. The Iraq of Saddam Hussein used to be the area’s major power, but today it is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran. Saddam was a secular dictator who represented Arab nationalism; Ahmadinejad represents Shiite fundamentalism — and his country, of course, isn’t Arab. 

The Conflict Cannot Wait

America’s entrapment in Iraq creates a vacuum through the Middle East. The way out of that war has become the great question of US politics. Mid-term Congressional elections are due on November 7, 2006, but whatever the result, President George W. Bush will be a lame duck. If he boldly signals a change of direction (for example, by firing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld), he will lose all credibility. On the other hand, if he doggedly “stays the course,” he will appear as a man out of touch with reality, unfit to lead his nation or the world. Either way, Bush’s lot will be that of the leaders his policy helped bring down: Asnar in Spain, Berlusconi in Italy, Blair in Britain. 

The First Post-Zionist War

Three weeks after the cease-fire, the political situation in Israel may be described as one of imminent collapse. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz have fallen to the depths in public opinion. A full 63% of the people think Olmert ought to resign; 74% want Peretz’s head, 54% Halutz’s. Israelis live today with a sense of failure. They search for the source of the “lapse” (mekhdal) - a term much used to describe the disaster of October 1973 (the “Yom Kippur War”). A protest movement of reservists has arisen, divided between those who demand a State Commission of Inquiry and those who call for resignations. 

Democracy Can't be Hijacked

Ten months after Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, its army has re-entered the Strip, while in the West Bank it has arrested the bulk of the Palestinian government: 64 legislators, cabinet ministers and officials, members of Hamas all. The pretext was a raid led by the Hamas military wing on June 25, in which two soldiers were killed and one captured. In Israel’s view, the event gives it an excuse to create a new political reality, nullifying the Hamas victory in the January elections. In certain respects, the Israeli actions are reminiscent of Operation “Defensive Shield” in 2002. 

Election Backlash: Iraq, Palestine and Israel

The phrase “democratic elections” can be misleading in its positive connotation, especially when the countries where the elections take place are embroiled in conflict. In the Middle East, during the past six months, we have witnessed three sets of elections. Each has further entangled an already complex situation. There were the Iraqi elections in December 2005, then the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Authority (PA), and, in March, the Israeli elections. In the first two instances, the voting took place during or just after a bloody war; the elections aspired to usher in a new era of conflict resolution. 

Unilateral Give, Unilateral Take

In days of yore, when right-wing thugs shouted “Arik, King of Israel!” leftist leaders grimaced in disgust. On Sunday, February 20, however - after the cabinet approved “Arik’s” Disengagement Plan - Labor ministers beamed with smug satisfaction. They had all they could do to keep from shouting, “Arik, King of Israel!” Sharon has begun to accomplish for them what the Oslo Accords never dared to broach: dismantlement of settlements. On that festive Sunday, few wanted to be reminded that after approving disengagement - practically in the same breath - the government decided to build its notorious “separation barrier” on a line that will unilaterally annex, in effect, 7% of the West Bank. 

On the Narrow Shoulders of Abu Mazen

The Herzlia Conference has become, in the last few years, Ariel Sharon’s favorite forum for addressing the nation. One year ago (December 18, 2003), the Israeli PM used it to high dramatic effect: If the Palestinians do not take steps, he said, to quash terrorism within six months, as prescribed by the Road Map, Israel would disengage unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. The speech was curt and tense, without optimistic flourishes. This year (December 18, 2004), Sharon’s Herzlia speech was euphoric. The year 2005, he announced, would be “the year of opportunities.” Roni Ben Efrat comments. 

The Bag of Aeolus

Two days in October 2004 may have brought new winds into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but no one can say which way they will blow. These stirrings came after eighteen months of political standstill, which led Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to initiate a plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza and part of the West Bank. On October 26, the Knesset approved this plan by a margin of 66-44. The next night, suddenly, a new possibility raised its head. The health of Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), took a sudden turn for the worse. 

Imperial Misconceptions

On June 10, 2004, Amos Malka, head of Military Intelligence (MI) from 1998 until 2001, was interviewed in Ha’aretz. He castigated the reigning Israeli conception with regard to the Palestinian leadership. The conception is: The Oslo process was nothing more than a Trojan horse designed by Yasser Arafat to destroy the State of Israel. After four years of public silence, Malka states that his assessment, all along, has been completely different: At Oslo, the strategic goal of Arafat and the PLO was a viable Palestinian state beside Israel. Arafat wanted all along to reach a political solution, but his flexibility was limited by Palestinian public opinion.