UAE and Bahrain start a new chapter in Arab-Israeli ties

The UAE-Israel agreement was sealed on Aug.13 while the Bahrain-Israel deal materialized just last week. (AP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

UAE and Bahrain start a new chapter in Arab-Israeli ties

  • UAE and Bahrain sign agreements with Israel that hold out the promise of lasting Middle East peace
  • Both Gulf Arab states have emphasised the centrality of a two-state solution for the Palestinian people

CHICAGO: In what seemed like a re-enactment of ceremonies that have come before, nearly 1,000 people gathered on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday to watch Arab and Israeli leaders sign landmark normalization accords. In addition to the promise of a new page in Jewish-Arab relations, the event generated photo-ops that President Donald Trump will find useful as he heads down the final stretch of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Despite the inevitable feeling of deja vu, the signing of the Abraham Accords declaration is different in important respects from the treaties that were signed by Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Jordan’s King Hussein and Palestine’s Yasser Arafat. For one, the immediate objective is not the cessation of military hostilities or the creation of a Palestinian state, but rather “normalization” of relations between Israel and two Gulf states that have been on the sidelines of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The White House ceremony was also different in that it took place against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of almost 200,000 people in the US and hundreds more in the three signatory countries: Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. The mask-wearing attendees visible in photos and videos of the gathering are likely to become markers of a most unusual period in modern world history.
 




President Donald Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, far left, and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani and Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, at the White House for the signing ceremony on Tuesday. (AFP)

That said, a peace accord with an Arab country has always been critical to Israel’s foreign-policy vision. Sealing deals with two Arab countries at the same time can only be described as a dream come true for an Israeli leader, in this case Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As for President Trump, who brokered the agreements, he has come in for praise even from liberal American media outlets, who have described the Abraham Accords declaration as a major political achievement.

Most US reports in the run-up to Tuesday’s event listed in detail the Israeli attendees, noting that the agreements would be signed by Netanyahu and witnessed by Trump. By contrast, the representatives of the UAE and Bahrain, who countersigned the documents for their countries, were described as the “foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain,” not respectively as Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani.

Trump emphasized that his team “wanted this to happen so badly … they doubted it would happen.” That team included several administration officials who have strong personal ties to Israel through their politics and their faiths, including Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser; Avi Berkowitz, special representative for international negotiations; and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel.

All in all, the agreement was a diplomatic master stroke for Israel and a coup for Trump’s re-election campaign, which has the support of many significant voting blocs, notably Jewish Americans and Evangelical Christians. What cast a shadow, however, was the flat-out rejection of the accords by the Palestinians as well as the continued ill feeling between the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

These aspects of the Abraham Accords are in sharp contrast to the handshakes that took place on Sept. 13, 1993, at the White House South Lawn between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, with President Bill Clinton looking on. Tuesday’s ceremony came exactly 27 years to the week from that historic moment, which was also packed with the promise of a new page in Israeli-Arab relations. Rabin was assassinated, two years later, by an Israeli extremist in November 1995.
 




US President Bill Clinton, center, brokered the Oslo Accord between Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, seen shaking hands, on Sept. 13, 1993. (AFP)

Will this time be different? While thanking Trump and officials of the UAE and Bahrain, Netanyahu did not explicitly mention Palestinians when he said the accords would bring peace to “all.” But in an interview with Arab News, Ronald Lauder, a billionaire businessman and chairman of the influential World Jewish Congress, welcomed the Abraham Accords and emphasized that the Palestinian issue was still a priority.

“I think that this is a historic agreement between Israel and the UAE and between Israel and Bahrain. It opens up the entire region; it is a question of starting to believe in each other,” he said.

“This is going to have a ripple effect throughout the Middle East. I believe there will be other countries joining very shortly in this phase. And I believe very, very much that the Palestinians, seeing what is happening, will finally say it is time to come to the peace table and will sit down with Israel and the United States and say let’s talk peace.”

Earlier, Jamal Al-Musharakh, Director of Policy Planning at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the agreement signed by his country will create a “new environment” that will foster and nurture peace not only between Israel and other Arab states but also with Palestinians themselves.

“We have not abandoned the Palestinians,” he told Arab News. “It is a strategic shift. The deal provides a more optimistic view of the future and will result in benefits for all in the region, including for the Palestinians. But the Palestinians need to engage with the peace process themselves.”

The domestic political implications of the normalization agreements will be analyzed deeply by American pundits in the weeks to come. The UAE-Israel agreement was sealed on Aug.13 while the Bahrain-Israel deal materialized just last week.

White House officials, including Berkowitz, told reporters in a recent background briefing that the UAE agreement is much more detailed than the Bahrain deal, which is still being discussed.

Skeptics argue that the objective of the exercise in peace-making is essentially Trump’s re-election. The White House added grist to the mill by issuing a formal press release on Sept. 9 announcing that Trump had again been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.




President Trump met with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in the Oval Office before the signing of the Abraham Accord. (AFP)

As far as Israeli politics is concerned, the recognition by two Arab states has helped bolster the political standing of Netanyahu, who endured three tightly fought elections before he could reach a power-sharing deal with his rival, Benny Gantz.

Many questions remain to be answered. Will more Arab countries sign agreements with Israel and which ones are they? Lauder said he hoped Saudi Arabia and Morocco would be next.

Will the agreements lead to a new wave of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians? In the fullness of time, how will the hardliners in Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Gaza’s Hamas rulers and the Qataris react to the Abraham Accords?

Such questions may not have been uppermost in the minds of the attendees of the Sept. 15 White House gathering, but then Washington, D.C. is a world away from the furies of the Middle East. According to media reports, Hamas militants in Gaza fired two rockets into southern Israel, wounding two people, in an attack that was apparently timed to coincide with the signing ceremony.

Twitter: @rayhanania


UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

Updated 25 January 2022

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

  • At least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep on Friday by suspected Daesh gunmen

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned “in the strongest terms” a recent terrorist attack in Iraq’s Diyala Province, and called for all “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism” to be brought to justice.
At dawn on Friday, Jan. 21, at least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep during an attack on their barracks by suspected Daesh gunmen, according to reports citing Iraqi security officials. It happened in the Al-Azim district, a mountainous area more than 70 miles north of the capital, Baghdad.
The Security Council urged all states to actively cooperate with the Iraqi Government in seeking to hold the perpetrators to account, in line with their obligations under international law and the council’s resolutions. It reiterated that terrorism is one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.
In a joint statement, council members reaffirmed that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”
They highlighted the need for all states “to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”
Council members also shared “their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Iraq, and they wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.”


Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert

Updated 25 January 2022

Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert

  • More than 700 child citizens of 57 countries, including France, Germany, the UK and the US, are detained at Al-Ghuwayran prison, which holds Daesh militants and their families
  • Fighting continues at the prison, where almost 300 detainees have been killed since a deadly jailbreak attempt by hundreds of Daesh insurgents began last week

NEW YORK: A UN human rights expert on Tuesday voiced serious concern for the well-being of more than 700 children incarcerated at Al-Ghuwayran prison, in Al-Hasakeh in northeast Syria, and called on all countries to repatriate their young citizens held in the country.
The prison was the scene of a deadly attempted jailbreak by hundreds of Daesh insurgents last week.
“Boys as young as 12 are living in fear for their lives amid the chaos and carnage in the jail,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
“They are tragically being neglected by their own countries through no fault of their own except they were born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups.
“The treatment of hundreds of boys who have been detained in grotesque prison conditions is an affront to the dignity of the child and the right of every child to be treated with dignity.”
Almost 300 detainees have been killed during days of fighting at Al-Ghuwayran, which began last Thursday with the detonation of two car bombs. Clashes are continuing at the prison, which holds more than 5,000 alleged Daesh militants from almost 60 countries. The insurgents had seized control of the children’s section of the facility.
Fighters from the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces are said to be closing in on the final section of prison still held by Daesh attackers, as the situation becomes increasingly worrying for inmates.
Humanitarian groups have renewed calls for all governments to repatriate their citizens from Syria.
“The abject refusal of states to repatriate their children is a contributory factor in the security and human rights morass that has ignited in Al-Hasakeh in recent days,” said Ni Aolain, who last year sent official letters to 57 governments of countries believed to have citizens in Syrian camps. They include France, Germany, the UK, Finland and the US.
The failure of governments to repatriate detained children, who are victims of terrorism and in need of protection under international law, “beggars belief,” Ni Aolain said.
“Many of these boys, forcibly separated from their mothers and family members in recent years, have been denied their most fundamental human rights their entire lives,” she added.
“They have been held arbitrarily and never participated in any legal process that would justify depriving them of their liberty, and in conditions that constitute torture, cruel and degrading treatment under international law.
“Treating boys as a distinct class, refusing to recognize in practice their rights as children, is a form of gender discrimination that has had horrific consequences for these children now caught up in the violent confrontation at Al-Hasakeh prison.”
Ni Aolain called on all states and other entities active in northeastern Syria to ensure that civilians are protected, and for those involved in regaining control of the prison to protect the children held there and prevent further harm coming to them.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities, and on a voluntary basis, on the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.


Frenchman gets long jail term in Iran; denies spy charges

Updated 25 January 2022

Frenchman gets long jail term in Iran; denies spy charges

  • French foreign ministry says prison sentence has no basis in fact and is unacceptable
  • Briere began a hunger strike on Dec. 25 to protest mistreatment in the prison where he is being detained

PARIS: A Frenchman detained in Iran and hunger striking to protest his treatment has been sentenced to 8 years in prison on what his lawyer insisted Tuesday are trumped up espionage and propaganda charges.
Benjamin Brière, 36, was arrested in May 2020 after taking pictures in a desert area where photography is prohibited and asking questions on social media about Iran’s obligatory Islamic headscarf for women.

France's foreign ministry slammed the verdict as “unacceptable.”
Paris-based lawyer Philippe Valent said an Iranian revolutionary court has sentenced Brière to 8 years in jail for espionage and 8 months of imprisonment for anti-government propaganda. Under the Iranian law, the longer part is applicable in practice.
The lawyer said the charges are entirely without foundation.
Brière began a hunger strike on Dec. 25 to protest mistreatment in the prison of the northeastern city of Mashahd where he is being detained.
His sister, Blandine Brière, told The Associated Press “we are disheartened at such huge sentence and also very angry to see this is actually a political trial.”
“This is like a huge mountain in front of us, we feel helpless,” she added, saying her brother is caught in “a diplomatic game” played by Iranian authorities.
“Today we need the (French) government to take action and help us, help Benjamin and do whatever is needed to get him out,” she said. “He is getting weaker, he is very tired physically and mentally. This is something that is very worrisome for us.”
Brière’s Iranian lawyer, Saeed Dehghan, told the AP that his client is still on a hunger strike yet is “in good spirits.”
Dehghan said the court hearing happened Thursday in Mashhad. Brière was charged for “cooperation with a foreign hostile nation against Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
This is the first time that an Iranian court considers France a “hostile nation.” So far the US and Israel were on the list in similar cases.
France, alongside other world powers, is negotiations with Iran in Vienna to revive 2015 nuclear deal.

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Sudan frees medics held in crackdown on anti-coup protests

Updated 25 January 2022

Sudan frees medics held in crackdown on anti-coup protests

  • During the evening of 24 January, 9 MSF staff members were detained by the Sudanese authorities in Khartoum
  • The team was released on Tuesday morning

KHARTOUM: Sudan on Tuesday released nine medics from Doctors Without Borders, the aid group said, a day after they were arrested during a broadening crackdown on anti-coup protests.
“During the evening of 24 January, nine MSF staff members were detained by the Sudanese authorities in the capital Khartoum,” the group said in a statement, using its French acronym.
They were detained as they were making their way back to their office from a hospital, said the organization.
“MSF’s emergency medical teams are working in Khartoum to support the health authorities with their response to injuries from ongoing protests and Covid-19,” the statement said.
The team was released on Tuesday morning, it added.
Among those arrested were staff members from both Sudan and other countries, according to the pro-democracy Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.
Sudan has been rocked by protests calling for civilian rule since an October 25 military coup led by general Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
The military takeover derailed a power-sharing transition between the military and civilians that had been painstakingly negotiated after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.
The crackdown on anti-coup demonstrations has left at least 76 people dead and hundreds wounded, according to the doctors’ committee.
Hundreds of people have also been rounded up in the crackdown, including pro-democracy activists.
On Saturday, a leading women’s rights campaigner, Amira Othman, was arrested following a raid on her home in Khartoum, according to a statement by the “No to Women’s Oppression” initiative which she leads.
Other activists from the “resistance committees,” informal groups which have been instrumental in organizing the anti-coup protests, were also detained late Sunday, according to members who requested anonymity because they feared reprisals.
The United States has slammed the protest crackdown.
On Tuesday, the US Bureau of African Affairs said Sudan’s military leaders had committed to dialogue to resolve the crisis in the country during a visit last week by senior US diplomats to Khartoum.
“Yet their actions — more violence against protesters, detention of civil society activists — tell a different story, and will have consequences,” the bureau said on Twitter.
Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries and has seen vital foreign aid cut as part of the international community’s condemnation of the coup.


Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults

Updated 25 January 2022

Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults

  • Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk
  • Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020

JERUSALEM: An expert panel on Tuesday advised the Israeli government to begin offering a fourth vaccine dose to everyone over the age of 18, citing research showing it helps prevent COVID-19 infection and severe illness.
The advisory committee said research shows a fourth dose provides three to five times the level of protection against serious disease and double the protection against infection compared to three doses. The Health Ministry’s director must approve the recommendation.
Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk as it struggles to contain a wave of infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. It began offering third doses to the general population last summer.
Figures from Israel’s Health Ministry show there are currently some 580,000 active patients, with just 845 listed as seriously ill. Nearly half the population has received a third dose and more than 600,000 have gotten a fourth. Israel has reported 8,487 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020. It has gathered extensive data that is informing other countries’ responses to the pandemic.