Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Arab order versus caliphate

The Jewish State project is the other side of the coin of the Islamic State project, with both feeding off the other and presaging the collapse of the Arab order, writes Mohamed Al-Said Idris

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Al-Ahram Weekly

If 2011 was the year of Arab revolutions and uprisings in many Arab countries and 2012 and 2013 were years of testing the results and repercussions of those revolutions, then 2014 was the year of warning. It was a very stern one. It said that the Arab order is teetering precariously as a consequence of the upheavals of the revolutionary uprisings and that its slowness and hesitancy in stimulating the means of recovery and establishing a more effective and coherent order will hasten its demise. The caution is more ominous yet as it adds that the alternative that is likely to supplant the old Arab order will be a very different one: the theocratic Islamic caliphate that was declared on 29 June 2014 in the Grand Mosque of Mosul by ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. On that day, Al-Baghdadi issued two decrees: he changed the name of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria) to “Islamic State”; and secondly, he proclaimed himself “caliph”.

 

The setbacks of the revolutions: The looming threat accompanies major setbacks and failures in most countries of the Arab Spring revolutions, above all in Libya, Syria and Yemen. In Libya, the revolution brought the almost total collapse of the state as a consequence of the failure to establish a coherent national order capable of achieving the aims of the revolution, namely ending dictatorship, eliminating corruption and founding a democratic system of government to realise justice and dignity. In tandem with this failure, warfare between Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood militias and the Libyan army or remnants or that army now dominate the course of political developments. That conflict has brought the country to the brink of civil war and the spectre of partition.

A similar process is under way in Yemen and perhaps in a more serious way as the ousted president, Abdullah Ali Saleh, has returned to the political scene and asserted himself as a critical influence by allying with one of the three major socio-political forces fighting between themselves and over power. These forces are the Houthi militias (Ansar Allah), Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which in Yemen calls itself Ansar Al-Sharia), and the proponents of secession in the south (the Southern Movement). Saleh favoured the Houthis so as to obstruct the transition process, throw a spanner into the Gulf initiative and the Gulf role in Yemen in general, and entrench Yemen as a hotbed of tension in the southern flank of the Arabian peninsula by creating a channel of communication with Iran, thereby also hampering the Saudi role in Syria and Iraq.

 In Egypt, the Egyptian people’s success in setting into motion the 30 June 2013 revolution that sought to reclaim the 25 January Revolution from the Muslim Brotherhood faces two major challenges. The first is terrorism at hands of the Muslim Brotherhood in alliance with “Salafist jihadists”, a threat augmented by the possibility of a channel of communication with ISIS, especially now that the Sinai-based Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis organisation has proclaimed its declaration of allegiance to the IS. Add to this the fact that the Americans have confirmed the presence of pro-IS cells in Libya and that the Muslim Brotherhood has set 25 January as a date for another violent confrontation against the new order in Egypt.

The second challenge resides in the acquittals that were won by ousted President Hosni Mubarak, his two sons and officials from his security apparatus. Immediately, old regime figures seized the opportunity to “acquit” the regime and reassert its legitimacy in an attempt to undermine the 25 January Revolution on the grounds that it was a “coup”. The ultimate aim is to contain the post-30 June order and obstruct its project of realising the aims and aspirations that drove the people to rebel against and overthrow the Mubarak order.

As serious as these challenges are they naturally pale in comparison to what is happening in Iraq and Syria, both faced with partition, or repartition, in view of the IS project and the ambitions of the Kurds in Syria and Iraq to exploit the circumstances of the crises in these countries in order to create an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq and another one in northern Syria. This conforms with the American outlook, as expressed by US President Barack Obama in an interview with The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, on a new Middle East that will supersede the “Sykes-Picot” order and that is being born from the potential repercussions of the IS project.

Only the Tunisian revolutionary experience has succeeded in escaping the fate of reversal. It succeeded in imposing the revolution’s demand for democracy by means of parliamentary elections that eliminated the spectre of Muslim Brotherhood hegemony over the post-revolutionary Tunisian order. Nevertheless, the Tunisian revolution still faces a crucial test, which is whether or not the Zein Al-Abdine Ben Ali regime will be ushered back in by the Nadaa Tounes Party, headed by a figure from the Ben Ali regime, Beji Caid Essebsi, who just won the presidential elections.

 

The Arab order and Gulf leadership: Against the general backdrop of deterioration and disintegration, attention has turned towards the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the hope that its member countries will act to bolster the Arab order and prevent it from crumbling.

Two factors have contributed to this hope. The first is that these countries are the only ones that were spared from the revolutionary uprisings, apart from the popular protest movement that swept Bahrain, which is still suffering from the repercussions, and another movement in Oman that the Omani leadership succeeded in containing with its customary acumen. (The Bahraini and Omani experiences differ significantly in another way. Whereas Oman experienced no outside intervention to speak of, Bahrain was the victim of Iranian pressure and meddling in support of what Tehran called “the revolutionary uprising” and against the intervention by the GCC Peninsula Field Forces to restore security and stability in Bahrain.) That the GCC countries largely escaped the fallout from the revolutionary uprisings of the Arab Spring enhanced their ability to influence — positively or negatively — the evolution of the revolutions in some other Arab countries.

The second factor to favour a strong Gulf role in rescuing the Arab order is that these countries — Saudi Arabia in particular — possess important means of influence, regionally and internationally, that can work to safeguard the cohesion of the Arab order.

 GCC countries possess huge financial capacities that carry considerable weight in the global financial system and they command vast wealth in oil and gas resources. In addition, they possess other forms of soft strength, such as diplomatic sway and a strong media machinery that played significant roles in the Egyptian, Libyan and Yemeni crises, not to mention those they have played in the crises in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Yet the Gulf role in rescuing the Arab order faces some serious challenges at the levels of the GCC, the Arab world and the Middle East, especially as pertains to the relationship with Iran.

— With respect to the Gulf, the problems primarily stem from differences among GCC members that could diminish their efficacy. Oman and Qatar figure prominently at the centre of disputes. In an attempt to enhance its security, Riyadh tried to give the GCC a powerful boost by promoting its transformation into a “Gulf Federation” in the hope that this would strengthen the Gulf vis-à-vis other regional powers such as Iran and Turkey and enhance its ability to counter threats. However, the day before the GCC summit that was held in Kuwait in December 2013, Omani Foreign Minister Youssef Ben Alawi, addressing the Manama Dialogue Conference in Bahrain, announced that his country was opposed to the proposal to create a Gulf Federation to replace the GCC. He added that his country also opposed introducing the GCC as a party in the conflict with Iran, and threatened that Oman would withdraw from the GCC if Riyadh pressed ahead with its drive to create a federation. As a result, that project was shelved indefinitely.

At the same time, it came to light that Muscat had hosted a secret Iranian-US dialogue that was instrumental in creating the circumstances for direct US-Iranian communications, as reflected in the successes of the newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the UN General Assembly meetings in New York in September 2013 and in Obama’s phone call to him at the airport in New York just before he was about to fly back home to Iran. That phone call and the US-Iranian talks in Muscat before that paved the way for successful talks between Iran and the P5+1 group in Vienna, which produced in interim agreement for resolving the Iranian nuclear programme crisis. Oman’s actions and positions naturally clashed with the policies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE that view Iran as a threat to Arab interests and the interests of the GCC and accuse it of meddling in the internal affairs of these countries.

Qatar presented a different problem. It positioned itself against Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain by siding with the Muslim Brotherhood and supporting that organisation’s activities, which jeopardise the security and stability of those countries not to mention the threat they pose to Egyptian national security. Tensions over this issue reached a point that the three above-mentioned countries withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. However, new developments in the region cleared the way for a meeting in Riyadh on 16 November 2014 that resulted in the three countries’ agreement to send their ambassadors back to Doha and in a Saudi appeal to Egypt to turn over a new leaf in its relationship with Qatar. These results were essentially prompted by three motives.

The first had its roots in the anxieties of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain that Iran might succeed in reaching a solution with the West over the question of its nuclear programme. Riyadh, above all, was concerned by other items on the Iranian-Western negotiating agenda. It was particularly alarmed by the prospect of a resolution to the Iranian nuclear question resulting in a US-Iranian accord that would bolster Iran as a regional power and give it an American-sanctioned say in a number of crucial issues in the Arab region, especially the war against terrorism and the Syrian crisis. With respect to the latter, it could pave the way to a solution that could permit Bashar Al-Assad to remain in power.

The second motive stems from the mounting peril of terrorism at the hands of IS, which proclaimed itself an Islamic caliphate thus thumbing its nose at Saudi Arabia’s religious status in the Islamic world. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, or what IS calls the “land of the two sanctities” (Mecca and Medina), has been incorporated into IS plans for territorial expansion, perhaps with even greater priority than that accorded to Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Algeria, not to mention the whole of Iraq and Syria. The inability of the US-led international alliance to put an end to the so-called “IS legend” threatens to transform that legend into a dangerous peril that all countries in the region must confront.

Purely Gulf concerns are behind the third motive. Though the convening of the GCC annual summit this year has lessened fears of widening cracks within the alliance, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Oman, and the latter’s conspicuous absence from the Riyadh summit in November, are indicative and lend weight to Saudi fears over the future of the GCC in light of Muscat’s earlier threat to withdraw from that organisation if Riyadh continues to insist in transforming it to a “Gulf Federation”.

 As all motives above all relate to real threats to the peace and security of the GCC countries, they compel reconciliation. Yet, as such motives are fluid they do not furnish a solid foundation for real reconciliation. The same will ultimately apply to Egyptian-Qatari reconciliation.

— At the level of the Arab world, the chief challenge to an effective Gulf role resides in the profound conflicts and turmoil in a number of Arab countries, some so severe and intractable as to threaten the continued cohesion of the state amid full-fledged civil war. The crises that are flaring in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya will impede the establishment of a new Arab order until those crises are resolved. In addition, the threat of partition that looms over those countries, combined with the spectre IS and its “caliphate” project, restricts the role that the Gulf could play in the construction of an Arab order capable of confronting the challenges. This problem is compounded if we add to this the absence of Egypt and the consequent absence of the strategic weight and capacities it could lend to that role due to its preoccupation with domestic crises.

— The regional challenges to the development of an effective Gulf role in building a new Arab order derive primarily from Turkey, Iran and Israel.

Turkey’s bias in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood and its formation of an alliance, even a temporary one, with Qatar against Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have detracted considerably from the role that Turkey could play as a weight to even the keel in the relationship between Iran and the Arab states. Moreover, Ankara’s hesitancy to engage in the fight against IS, its conditions inimical to Syrian independency, plus evidence of Turkish support for IS have driven the Gulf countries further away from it.

The reluctance of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to join the US-led international coalition against IS and Al-Nusra Front did not emerge out of the blue. Erdogan harbours a strong resentment against Washington for its reluctance to make the goal of toppling the Bashar Al-Assad regime a top priority of that coalition. Erdogan had to choose. He could enhance his alliance with IS and forfeit his relationship with his US and regional allies, or he could join the coalition and forfeit the interests that IS serves. These are related to oil and strategic interests in Iraq and Syria. The alliance with IS gives him three pressure cards, one to play against the central Iraqi government in Baghdad (which is based on a Shia majority), the second to play against Iran and its powerful influence in Iraq, and the third to play against Masoud Barzani and the Iraqi Kurds so as to ensure that his influence in Iraq is not contingent solely on Barzani who had begun to coordinate with the Kurds in Syria over the establishment of a greater Kurdistan without taking into consideration Turkey’s interests. On top of this, Erdogan’s alliance with IS in Syria helps ensure the arrival of gas and oil shipments from Central Asia (the Caspian Sea in particular) and from Iraq to Turkey’s Ceyhan port on the Mediterranean, as some of the pipelines pass through areas under IS influence in Syria.

For Erdogan to agree to take part in the anti-IS coalition, he would need to be tempted by some enticing offers that would compensate him for the losses he would incur by sacrificing his alliance with IS. Of particular interest to him would be guarantees to obviate the creation of a Kurdish statelet or autonomous region in northern Syria that could eventually become an inspiration to Turkish Kurds to create the state or autonomous region that they have dreamed of in Anatolia or that could at least serve as a safe refuge for Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militias and a base for their attacks against the Turkish army.

Erdogan had imagined that he could get what he wanted regardless, whether by sustaining his alliance with IS or signing up with the coalition. Therefore, he persisted in his refusal to intervene to prevent the fall of Ain Al-Arab, more commonly referred to in the international media by its Kurdish name, Kobani. He believed that he would come out the winner in both cases. He thought that the US and other coalition members would ultimately cave in to his conditions, which were to intervene to topple Al-Assad and to create a no-fly zone in northern Syria that would eventually come under Turkey’s influence. He simultaneously banked on a IS victory in Kobani that would destroy the capacities of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, which is lead by Saleh Muslim Mohammed who is allied with Al-Assad’s regime and leads the Kobani resistance against IS. So, he played a waiting game and remained deaf to the cries for help from the Syrian Kurds under attack in Kobani and disdainful of the protest demonstrations that erupted in Istanbul and other major Turkish cities, particularly those with Kurdish majorities, demanding that the Turkish army take action to protect the lives of their fellow Kurds in Syria.

Iran poses a powerful regional challenge to the GCC countries and a source of divisiveness within the GCC on many issues, chief among which are the question of the Iranian nuclear programme and the question of Iranian influence and intervention in purely Arab crises, most notably in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and, most recently, in Yemen through its support for the Houthi movement which has become the dark horse in Yemeni political equations.

The common denominator in the two questions is the US, which is the most important cornerstone of Gulf security strategy. Iran has managed to insinuate itself into a position that has enabled it to break down US hostility in the hope of winning a form of friendship or partnership that will turn the page on nearly four decades of antagonism since the fall of the Shah and the victory of the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979.

The negotiations over the Iranian nuclear programme in Vienna in November 2014 might be theoretically described as a “partial agreement”, but in fact it constituted an agreement on the part of the international community that Iran was now a “nuclear power”. The rest are details. These concern preparing the stage domestically in the countries of the parties concerned for the acceptance of this new fact. They also involve hammering out the details over the political understanding between Iran and the West concerning the boundaries and limits to the Iranian regional role and the costs that Iran will be expected to pay in exchange for the gains it has won. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif presented an account of what happened in those negotiations that took place from 18 to 24 November 2014. Speaking at a press conference he said, “There were 10 phases of various meetings and sessions regarding the Iranian nuclear question. Ideas were put forward but we need more work, although we would have preferred to finish in Vienna.” Most crucially, Zarif had the following to say: “The most important result we reached was that the [Iranian] nuclear programme will continue in a full and comprehensive manner ... The project of frightening the world of Iran has failed ... The Iranian people have resisted all pressures in order to obtain their rights.”

The remarks of Iranian President Rouhani echoed the sentiments of his foreign minister and confirmed the above assessment of the Iranian breakthrough. He said that that six-day negotiations “permitted for a resolution to most of the differences and for the confidence that this will lead to a final agreement”. He added that the differences with the other side were now focused on “how to convert the understandings into a written agreement”.

This is precisely what was accomplished in Vienna: “understandings”. These are what count and that was what Rouhani stressed in his comments on the general framework of the negotiations that opted for the compromise solution of extending the negotiating period for seven months until the end of June 2015. Pitching his remarks to domestic public opinion and the conservative opposition above all, the Iranian president said: “We had two important goals: not to relinquish our nuclear programme and to try to get the sanctions lifted.” As evidence of his government’s credibility in its commitment to those two goals he added: “Throughout this period the centrifuges continued to operate,” after which he stressed, “And these machines will not stop operating.”

If the Iranian officials’ remarks are not sufficient support for this assessment with regard to the upshot the Vienna negotiations, the remarks by John Kerry lay out bare the facts. The US secretary of state lauded the “great success” achieved by the negotiations that sought a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear question. The world now felt more reassured than it had been on this issue, he said. As to why an agreement had not been signed in November and the negotiating period was extended, he said: “We need more time for more work,” as this was not about signing any old agreement but rather an agreement that was “proper, deep and strong”. Therefore, after the “real and important progress” that was made in Vienna, he urged the international community and the US Congress to support the decision to extend the negotiations for seven months. “This is not the time to give up,” he said.

Perhaps it was the realisation that the announcement of a final and comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme would have stirred some major difficulties with various powers in the Middle East that prompted the parties to the Vienna negotiations (Iran and the P5+1) to keep the substance of what had been accomplished in those negotiations under wraps. They needed time to reassure allies and the US administration had to come to terms with a Republican majority Congress over the agreement. But there is another possibility. The extension of the negotiation period could be connected to the fact that both Iran and the US realise that they need the crisis plagued conditions surrounding their “understandings” to ripen further, especially as pertains to circumstances in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

In any case, the important factor that was revealed in that secret negotiating round in Muscat and then again in the Vienna negotiations was the compatibility and harmony between Kerry and Zarif. This is clearly indicative of a US-Iranian rapprochement and an American conviction that it was now time to deal with Iran as a “partner” rather than an “enemy” since, from the American strategic perspective, it was no longer possible to ignore the role that Iran had to play in regional crises. Therefore, the US will be dedicating the forthcoming months until the middle of 2015 to bringing its regional allies around to its point of view after which the comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran will be signed.

With that prospect comes the potential dangers of attempts to leverage the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme to produce US-Iranian understandings or arrangements on matters pertaining to the Arab order and, specifically, the Iranian role in the Gulf, in Iraq and in the future of the Syrian regime.

Whether Iran had been excluded from the international coalition against IS or whether Tehran, itself, had opted to avoid association with that coalition so as to remain untainted by its repercussions and possible failures, Iranian support for the Iraqi government in its fight against IS and reports of Iranian strikes against some IS strongholds in Iraq without incurring US objections demonstrate the extent to which the Iranian role rivals if not opposes that of the Gulf. Perhaps the remarks by senior Gulf officials in the Manama Conference on 6-7 December 2014, and specifically by Saudi Foreign Minister Nazar Ben Obeid Al-Madani and Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Ben Ahmed Al-Khalifa, underscore the extent to which anxieties regarding Iran dominated the thinking of the participants in that conference that was primarily devoted to the question of how to manage the conflict with IS. Al-Madani underscored three principles for dialogue with Iran: “credibility, trust and transparency”. As for the Saudi foreign minister’s Bahraini counterpart, he was of the opinion that Al-Qaeda and IS were not the most important threat to the region, but rather that this was Hizbullah “which receives support from countries that are, themselves, involved in funding terrorism”.

But if the “Iranian peril” is of such a priority to some members of the GCC, it is clearly not such an obsession with others. This applies to Oman in particular which, in November 2014 hosted, officially and publicly this time, a round of negotiations between Iran and the US and EU. This division over Iran and the prioritising of the Iranian threat poses a major challenge to the Arab order and Gulf leadership in stimulating and rebuilding that order.

The Israeli danger aggravates all the challenges in view of the Israeli determination to put paid to the two-state solution in favour of its “one land for one people” solution, which is to say transforming Palestine into a single country exclusively for the Jewish people and without Palestinians. The Israeli cabinet’s decision to approve the “state judaicisation” bill and free the government’s hand for settlement expansion confirms the end of the two-state solution. But it also confirms that the conflict with the Zionist entity has, by virtue of an Israeli decision, shifted from a “political conflict” to a “religious conflict”.

That shift will generate dangerous and pivotal ramifications in view of the rise of the Salafist jihadists who are bent on imposing a theocratic project, or reborn Islamic caliphate, as the alternative to the Arab order. In other words, religious conflict reaching new and dangerous territory will escalate in the coming years.

 

The Islamic caliphate “alternative”: Clearly, the huge challenges facing the Arab order, in terms of the fragmentation of Arab states into ethnic and sectarian statelets, a process aided by the dangerous repercussions of the obvious failures and setbacks of the Arab revolutions, threaten the disintegration of the current Arab order and the advent of an alternative. That alternative is the system of the Islamic caliphate posed by the creation of IS on 29 November 2014. That project, should it succeed, will pose a serious threat to the future of the Arab region for three reasons.

Firstly, its priorities deviate from current Arab priorities, which accord a central position to the Palestinian cause. To IS, the importance of the liberation of Palestine and the conflict against the Zionist entity recedes in favour of its project of establishing an Islamic caliphate. Therefore, it prioritises the tasks required to achieve that aim, namely destroying existing Arab states on the grounds that they and their societies are all heretical, so that it can build its envisioned caliphate on the ruins. Then it will have to fight more “heretics” in the process of consolidating that new order. Ultimately, the confrontation against “the Jews” will probably be deferred to the “end of time”.

 The IS project was initiated by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, cofounder of the “Islamic State in Iraq”, with Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi. The project had its origins in a dispute between Al-Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden leading the former to break away from Al-Qaeda. In the first edition of Dabiq, a magazine produced by IS in English, the organisation asserts that it was Al-Zarqawi who paved the way for the Islamic State. After he was killed, Abu Hamza Al-Muhajer and Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of the “Islamic State in Iraq” with Al-Baghdadi as its “emir”. Then Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi assumed control over the organisation founded on the antitheses of the priorities of Al-Qaeda.

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi derived his ideas for building the “Islamic State” from those of Al-Zaraqawi and Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi. When vowing to create the Islamic State, Al-Zarqawi said that this would take place in several stages: firstly, the elimination of the enemy (i.e overthrowing the heretic states and corrupt tyrannies that stand in the way of the establishment of the caliphate); secondly, the establishment of the Islamic State; thirdly, military campaigns to seize control over all other Islamic countries; and fourthly, doing battle against the heretics. This is the reverse order of the priorities of Al-Qaeda, which ranks doing battle against heretics first and creating the Islamic State last.

Palestine does not fit into either of these sets of priorities. Or if it does, it comes at the end, after overthrowing the heretic states and societies, establishing the Islamic State, expanding that state to impose the caliphate over the rest of the Islamic world, making war on heretics (the West) and, lastly, fighting the Jews. According to IS thinking, the day of judgement will not come “until the Muslims do battle with and kill the Jews”. In its second edition, on page 4, Dabeq remarks: “With regard to the massacres taking place in Gaza, the actions of the Islamic State speak louder than their words. It is only a question of time until we reach Palestine to fight the barbarian Jews.” Yet at the same time, IS regards the calls by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for legislative elections as “an act of apostasy”.

The second reason why the IS project constitutes a threat to the Arab world is that its top priority of overthrowing “heretical” Arab states helps to strengthen the Zionist entity. Destroying these states means destroying their armies, their economies, their political and social entities and fabrics, and clearing the way for fragmentation and partition and the creation of sectarian and ethnic petty states on the ruins. The Zionist entity could not dream for more. With the destruction of the armies in Iraq and Syria, the exhaustion of national resources and capacities, and the revival of the project to partition the Arabs, there will be no cohesive force left to fight the Zionist entity. The significance of Kurdish activity in northern Syria near the borders with Turkey in the framework of their defence against the onslaught of IS should not be lost on us. In fact, it is noteworthy how preference is given to the attribute “Kurdish Kobani” over “Syrian Ain Al-Arab” when referring to one side of that war. It serves to remind us that that war, and Kurdish activity in its context, is preparing the way for the eventual secession of a Kurdish entity from the Syrian state and that a similar process is underway in Iraq. Moreover, these will be just the beginning of the project to partition and fragment the Arab world.

The third reason behind the IS danger resides in how closely the “Islamic State” project harmonises with the Zionist project to create a “Jewish State” in Palestine or, more precisely, the Netanyahu government’s project to impose Israel as a Jewish state. After all, the so-called “Jewish State” bill is effectively another term for the scheme to create the envisioned “Greater Israel” as an exclusively Jewish state on the ruins of the peace process founded on the two-state solution.

Netanyahu and other prominent Israeli officials have been working to lay the concrete foundations for that scheme by stepping up settlement construction and the judaicisation process in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

In a press conference held with UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon on 13 October, during the UN secretary general’s visit to Israel following an Egyptian-Norwegian sponsored conference on the reconstruction of Gaza in Cairo, Netanyahu took pains to respond, if “indirectly”, to the proceedings in that Cairo meeting. He felt it his duty to clarify certain “ambiguous issues” related to the project of the “Jewish State”, or his scheme for voiding the two-state solution of all substance so as to be able produce “one land for one people” on the whole of historic Palestine. Accordingly, in the presence of the UN secretary general, he asked all concerned, which is to say the Palestinian people and their leaders and the Arab people and their leaders, to differentiate between what was happening in Gaza and what was happening in the West Bank on the grounds that “there is no Israeli occupation of Gaza”. The inference, of course, was that the status of the West Bank was different: it was part of Israel and Israel had the right to build on it, to continue to expropriate territory and Palestinian property on it, and to construct settlements.

The crucial message that Netanyahu wanted to drive home to all is that there is no such thing as the Palestinian cause. Or rather, if such a cause exists, it is not the cause of the conflicts that are taking place in the Middle East. Those conflicts are borne from conditions within their own societies. They are a product of the realities of the “failed” Arab states, which were incapable of realising national cohesion because they contained ethnically and religiously heterogeneous peoples and because they were dictatorships and not democracies.

To further clarify the ultimate objective of his drive, the Israeli prime minister took advantage of the commemorative ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of minister Rahbaam Zaifi to say, “The war of liberation that began in 1948 has not ended yet. It will continue for years to come.” By “war of liberation” he referred to the first Arab-Israeli war that ended with the creation of the State of Israel. His purpose was to revive the Old Testament-based claim that the whole of Palestine belongs to the Jews and that, in 1948, the Jews “liberated” it from its Palestinian or Arab occupiers. As the Arabs and Palestinians remain antagonistic towards Israel and reject Israel as a Jewish state, the Jews must continue their war of liberation in order to impose that state as a reality on the whole of the “Promised Land”. He put all this more explicitly when he stressed, on the same occasion, that: “United Jerusalem has always been and will remain the eternal capital of Israel.”

The Netanyahu project chimes well with the IS project that seeks to impose sectarian and ethnically based theocracies as the alternative to the nation state and the aim of realising Arab unity. It simultaneously supports US views that conflict with Washington’s official position as an advocate of the two-state solution in Palestine. The fact is that the US does not seek a viable peace settlement on the basis of the creation of a Palestinian state within the pre-June 1967 borders. The Kerry initiative made no mention of the need to establish a sovereign Palestinian state, to halt Israeli settlement construction, to establish a timeframe for the declaration of Palestinian statehood or any other of the crucial issues. The same applies to the ideas that are currently taking shape in the US for fresh negotiating efforts that may or may not go beyond the PR purposes that prevailed during the run-up to the Congressional midterms and that sought to court the support of pro-Zionist organisations for Democratic Party candidates in part by touching up the image of US-Israeli relations that had been strained by differences between Obama and Netanyahu over Iran.

The Jewish State project is the other side of the coin of the Islamic State project, which is why Israel is counting on IS’s success. This is a major reason why the IS project is so dangerous. It is the “spearhead” for a drive to overthrow Arab regimes and dismantle Arab states in favour of a project whose architects use the name of Islam as a mere facade in order to promote a new form of tyranny that will destroy societies, damage Islam and the Islamic creed, and lend weight to the campaigns to make Islam or “Islamic terrorism” the substitute for communism in the so-called civilisational war that has once again captured the attention of Western think tanks and strategic planning rooms.

 

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