Saturday, July 31, 2021

A Prime Minister's Visit to Washington, Proposed Changes to the Personal Status Law, and Hisham al-Hashimi's Assassination: What does this trifecta tell us about Iraq's political future?

In his 2002 State of the Union address, George W. Bush coined the famous term, the “Axis of Evil” to characterize 3 countries, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.  Despite the disingenuous nature of the speech, since the United States knew Saddam Husayn’s regime did not possess weapons of mass destruction and wanted to manipulate public opinion to legitimize the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the inclusion of Iran as a despotic rogue state has only become more clear as time has progressed.   


Although Iran appeared it might be moving in a reformist direction with the election of al-Khatami in the 1990s and more recently Hussain Rouhani as presidents, we now see an even more repressive regime under the control of hardliners, such Ebrahim Raisi, the new president whose infamous role as the “hanging judge” of the 1980s resulted in many Iranians dissidents. Among its reprehensible activities, the Tehran regime has engaged in international criminal activities such as kidnapping dissidents aboard and returning them to Tehran for trail and execution. 


Iran’s repression is by no means limited to within its national borders.  Increasingly Iran is imposing its repression on Iraq.  The three issues mentioned above – the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the effort to change Article 57 of Iraq’s progressive Personal Status Law, and the attempt to solve the killing of Iraq’s top security analyst, Dr. Hisham al-Hashimi – all lead us back to Iran and its increasingly destructive impact on Iraq.  What then links these 3 issues together and how do they demonstrate Iran’s growing interference in Iraqi politics and society. 


In short, these 3 concerns underscore the extent to which Iraq has fallen under Iraqi control.  Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s recent trip to the United States where President Joe Biden and he signed an agreement to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq by the end of this year is a clear demonstration of Iranian influence in Iraq.  Iran’s proxy militias have attacked Iraqi military bases where US and European Coalition Forces have

In short, these 3 concerns underscore the extent to which Iraq has fallen under Iraqi control.  Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s recent trip to the United States where President Joe Biden and he signed an agreement to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq by the end of this year is a clear demonstration of Iranian influence in Iraq.  Iran’s proxy militias have attacked Iraqi military bases where US and European Coalition Forces have been stationed in an effort to have them leave the country.  These attacks have been carried out at Iran’s bidding.   


In part, the attacks are designed to put pressure on the US as it negotiates an effort to reinstate the JCPOA agreement of 2015 which was designed to reign in Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. However, the attacks are also intended to end the United States’ military presence in Iraq so Iran’s proxy militias gain even greater control of Iraq’s political and economy.  By calling the attacks as part of the “resistance movement,” the militias work to inculcate among their followers that the US is an enemy of Iraq. 


Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Joe Biden after reaching an
agreement to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq
Prime Minister al-Kadhimi’s trip to meet with President Biden was in large measure political theater.  Its purpose was to reduce militia pressure on the Iraqi leader by his obtaining a declaration that US combat troops would in fact be withdrawn (after Iraq requested they return to help the decimated Iraqi army after the Islamic State seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and much of the northwest of the country).  However, al-Kadhimi and the Biden administration have created an exemption for US forces who provide training, intelligence and logistical support to the Iraqi army. In practice, this means that the 2500 troops currently in Iraq will most likely continue to help Iraq in its effort to prevent the return of the IS to western and northwestern Iraq. 


Still, the very fact that al-Kadhimi found it necessary to visit the United States demonstrates Iran’s growing influence.  The continued effort to curtail United States military presence hurts Iraq in a least 2 ways.  First, it makes it harder for the Iraqi army to eliminate the many cells which operate in the Sunni Arab majority provinces of al-Anbar, Ninawa, Salahidin and Diyala provinces.  IS terrorist cells have found that the Hamrin Mountains in north central Iraq and the marsh areas near the city of Kirkuk provide favorable terrain for launching attacks on towns and villages and assassinating local and government leaders. 

Second, Iraq’s economy is dependent on oil for over 95% of its foreign currency revenues. As the global demand for fossil fuels subsides during the coming decade, the imperative to diversify the Iraqi economy grows every year.  However, Western businesses are increasing hesitant to invest in an economy which is increasingly beholden to Iran’s proxy militias, especially since they engage in extortion, smuggling, theft and control many government contracts.  Indeed, I refer to Iraq at present as a “militia-mafia” state where business practices aren’t stable and contracts often can’t be enforced.   Crime syndicates and foreign investment don’t mix.


In 1959, Iraq passed one of the MENA region’s progressive personal status law.  Article 57 awards custody of children to the mother following a divorce proceeding that has the right to custody of the family’s children.  Under the proposed law, women would lose this right.  The effort to change the Personal Status Law has sparked outrage and large demonstrations throughout Iraq. 

Iraqi women demonstrating against changing
Article 57 of  Iraq's Personal Status Law
The issues surrounding the change in Article 57 are larger than women’s and family rights.  Many Iraqis see Iran’s hand in the proposed legislation. Specifically, their view is that Iran is attempting to impose its repressive and patriarchal distortion of Islam on Iraq.

Child Rearing: Will the Proposed Change to Iraq's Personal Status Law be Implemented? 

 Iran’s goal is to indoctrinate Iraq’s male populace into the ultra-patriarchal ideology of the so-called “Islamic Republic.”  This strategy is especially directed at poor and uneducated Iraqi youth. Not only is it an attempt to spread Iran’s repressive ideology, but it also helps divert attention from the widespread unemployment and poverty in Iraq.  Giving males more power over women and their families works to offset attention from their deteriorating material conditions.  


Under the strong influence of tribalism, which has reasserted itself since the 1980s, and intensified after 2003, Iraqis have not been susceptible to radical Islamism, especially in its sectarian form.   Instead, large numbers of Iraqis are more loyal to tribal customs (al-‘urf), themselves very patriarchal, than to Islamic norms.  Tribal norms continue to predominate in rural areas and poor neighborhoods of urban quarters.  

However, marriage between Shi’a and Sunni Arabs has always been widespread. Even though there was a downturn during the sectarian conflict in Baghdad between 2004 and 2008, marriage rates between the two sects have risen again. Few Iraqis have embraced radical Islam, and it has neither been encouraged by Sunni clerics, nor Shi’a clergy who subscribe to the idea that religion and politics should be separated.  Thus, the effort to mobilize a deviant form of Islam to curtail women’s rights does not emanate from Iraqi society but rather from Islamist parliamentarians in Iraq’s Chamber of Deputies who are  pro-Iranian and seek to do Iran’s bidding. 


The amendment proposed by a number of deputies includes reducing the age of custody of a divorced mother for her children (currently the age of custody can reach the age of 15, while in the new proposal it lasts only until seven years of age). Further, to retain custody of her children, a woman may marry again.  However, this requirement does not apply to the father if he marries a second woman and seeks to obtain custody of the children.  In the event of the father's death, the proposed amendment to Article 57 makes the paternal grandfather more entitled to custody than the children’s’ mother. 

Iraqi girl asks that Article 57 not be changed
Viewing the upcoming elections, and unwilling to tackle Iraq’s pressing problems, such as lack of electricity which is killing Iraqis who lack access to air conditioning in sweltering heat, lack of jobs as Iraq’s poverty rate climbs, and the failure of the state to address the growing water shortages which are damaging Iraqi agriculture, Islamists are exploiting a spurious issue to run for parliament and please Iran in the process.  



In addition to the widespread protests over changing Iraq’s Personal Status Law to Iraq women’s disadvantage, another rejection of politicized region is evident in Iraq’s ongoing October Revolution (Thawrat Tishreen).  The protest movement, which began in October 2019, has been entirely peaceful by the demonstrators.  However, government security forces, particularly those from the Ministry of the Interior, and Iran’s proxy militias have attacked the protestors.  To date, over 600 have been killed, more than 20,000 wounded, and many kidnapped and tortured before being released while others seized have disappeared. 

The highly respected Iraqi security analyst killed by its proxy
militia in Iraq on orders from Iran
I have written extensively on the October Revolution for The New Middle East.  However, the murder of Dr. Hisham al-Hashimi, a highly respected Iraqi security analyst, by members of one of Iran’s proxy militias, points to another disturbing area of Iranian influence in Iraq.  While the government of Prime Minister al-Kadhimi recently arrested a lieutenant in the Ministry of Interior and supposedly obtained his confession to killing al-Hashimi, it is still unclear who ordered the assassination and which organization is responsible for the killing.  There have been rumors that the killer is associated with the pro-Iranian, Kata’ib Hizballah, but little information has been released by al-Kadhimi’s office on the details of the killing.

The Killing of Qasem Suleimani and the October Revolution  


The killing of youth leaders of Thawrat Tishreen and many other prominent democracy activists have yet to lead to a single conviction.  After the arrest of Qasim Muslih, a member of a pro-Iranian militia, was arrested for the killing of a prominent activist in Karbala’, Ihab al-Wazni, the government was forced to release him when the judiciary declared “it lacked evidence to hold him in custody.”  These events point to the impunity with which Iran’s proxy militias operate in Iraq and that the militias are more powerful militarily than the Iraqi army. 

مقتل سليماني وثورة تشرين في العراق: ما الذي عجز المحللون الغربيون ان يوصلونه لك وما الذي تحتاج ان تعرفه


The idea of Iraq moving towards greater democracy is belied by Iran’s increasing control over its politics, security forces and economy.  Its proxy militias play a key role in insuring that this control persists. The "hands off" Biden administration policy towards Iraq and neighboring Syria suggests that Iran’s ability to create and dominate Iraq, Syria, and through Hizballah, Lebanon, means that its repression will continue to plague neighboring states.

Hisham al-Hashimi: He fought the Da'ish and the Militias and was murdered by the bullets of treachery   


Iran’s new hardline president has already indicated that he will not make any concessions to the United States which foreshadows a failure by the US and Europe to reinstate the JCPOA. Repression of the Iranian people, always used against dissidents, seems likely to become worse under Ebrahim Raisi. Only a robust response by the Biden administration towards Iranian repression at home and in Iraq can help prevent Iran from further efforts to export its tyranny to Iraq and the Arab Mashriq. 


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Neither Sovereign Nor Failed: The Destabilizing Impact of Iraq’s Militia-Mafia State

Members of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (al-Hashad al-Sha'bi)
The continue killings of democracy activists in Iraq, especially youth, without anyone being held accountable, highlights the complete lack of control of Iran’s proxy militias by the Federal government in Baghdad.  The ability of the militias to dominate large swaths of Iraq’s economy points not just to the Iraqi state’s inability to control the means of violence within its borders, but the extent to which Iraq has become a country of mafia style crime syndicates.   

What does this violence and criminality tell us about  state formation in the Middle East? The Iraqi state is neither sovereign, because the central government has only nominal control of its security forces, not failed, as the state continues to provide salaries to its employees and social services – however degraded – to its citizenry.  The larger issue is what does imply for Iraq’s future and for the political stability, of lack thereof, of the Middle East, especially the attempt to reign in Iran’s meddling  in neighboring countries? 


States in the Arab world can be characterized as stable autocracies, e.g., Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, competitive authoritarian regimes, e.g., Algeria, failed and quasi-failed states, e.g., Yemen, Libya and Syria, and proto-democracies, e.g. Tunisia and Sudan. However, a new type of state has emerged in Iraq and Lebanon – the "militia-mafia state."  In the militia-mafia state, elections occur and a central government exists.  However, the military power and control over much of the economy lies in the hands of powerful militias, whether Hizballah in Lebanon or Iran’s proxy militias in Iraq.  


In considering this state formation, we can find other examples beyond the Middle East.  The FARC have for many years controlled much of Columbia’s economy through cocaine production and sales as the Taliban have likewise dominated much of the Afghan economy with heroine production and sales.  For many years, crime syndicates in southern Italy, such as La Cosa Nostra (Mafia), Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta, controlled government contracts in the south and continue drug and human trafficking as well as penetrating Italy’s banks in the northern part of the country. 

Although the militias who control much of the Iraqi economy have adopted  “religious” titles, such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, Kata’ib Hizballah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’, their goals and behavior have little or nothing to do with Islam.  As a movement which begin under Bush administration auspices in 2003 with the return to Iraq of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its militia, the Badr Corps, it blossomed after the Islamic State (IS) seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city in June 2014. 


As IS forces took control of Mosul and much of north central Iraq, the Iraqi Army collapsed, largely due to the corrupt and sectarian behavior of then Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. On June 13, 2021, as the IS was approaching Baghdad, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa entitled, “Collective Responsibility” (wajib kifa'i) which called upon all able-bodied Iraqis to defend their nation.   


Sistani’s call to arms was embraced by large numbers of Iraqis, especially in the Shi a dominated south.  A number of new militias were formed and the established militias’ influence grew and attracted many new recruits.  Officers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrived to help the militias fight the Dacish and US military trainers joined the battle as well. Once the Islamic State advance was halted, and the militias were no longer  needed, it was expected that the newly established ones would disband and other militia members would be integrated into the Iraqi army. 


It quickly became clear that the militias, both established and new, had no intention of giving up their newly enhanced political power.  Over time, the militias have become a major part of the Ministry of Interior’s elite security forces, providing full-time government jobs for poor youth who lack the possibility for finding meaningful employment. Thus, the militias have developed a loyal social base among those poor youth who lack education and skills. Likewise, they have been recognized by the Federal Government as official members of Iraq’s armed forces.  


Nominally under the control of the Office of the Prime Minister, the militia movement has become increasingly powerful and ignored the central government.  As its military power has grown, it has institutionalized its armed units and engaged in attacks on the remnants of the Islamic State in al-Anbar, Salah al-Din, Ninawa and Diyala Provinces.  It has coordinated much of its military activity with the IRGC which has seen its influence in Iraq grow substantially since 2014. 

Much attention has been given to the PMUs ability to operate military apart from control by the Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Less attention has been given to the parallel economy it has developed as a result of widespread illicit and criminal activity.  First, it has assumed control of many Iraqi highways where, under the claim that is providing security, it monitors traffic and collects tolls.  In addition to control of highways, the militias collect fees at border crossings where they engage in smuggling goods into Iraq without paying customs duties. 


After the defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul, the PMUs have seized considerable land and allowed some of it to be placed under the control of the Shici Waqf Endowment, despite the fact that Mosul is primarily comprised Sunni Muslims. While there are also a number of Sunni militias, the Shici militias dominate the military and economic activity of much of the Sunni Arab provinces which adds to local sectarian tensions.  


Iran has tried to defuse these tensions by developing ties to local notables. It is known that Muhammad al-Halbusi, the Sunni Speaker of Parliament, is closely tied to Iran.  Nevertheless, many Iraqis are fearful of the growth of Iranian political and economic influence in Iraq. These feelings have been vocally expressed by the youth supporters of Thawrat Tishreen (October Revolution) which began in October 2019.   


As demonstrations supporting October revolution have spread in Baghdad and throughout the south of Iraq, the militias have been in the forefront of attacking the peaceful protestors. At the time of this writing, more than 600 demonstrators have been killed and over 24,000 wounded.  Many leaders of the protests and democracy activists have been killed, abducted and tortured. To date, not a single militia member accused of killing protestors have been brought to trial. 


Complicating matters still further is the destabilizing role the militias are playing in the struggle against the Islamic State’s efforts to reestablish itself in the Sunni Arab province of North central and Western Iraq. Since the defeat of the Da’ish on the battlefield in the summer of 2017, the militias, working on behalf of Iran, have been trying to force US and NATO troops to leave Iraq. This has resulted in an increasing number of attacks on Iraqi airbases directed primarily at US aircraft. 


The tension between Iran’s proxy militias intensified when Donald Trump ordered a drone strike on IRGC general, Qasem Suleimani, on January 3, 2020, which also killed the leader of the PMU movement, Abu Mahdi Muhandis, who was accompanying him. Angry demonstrations ensued and the militias mobilized parliamentary members supportive of Iraq to vote on a resolution that US forces immediately leave Iraq.   


The resolution was passed without a quorum and thus had no legal status.  Nevertheless, it led to an attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad and increased efforts to end the US and NATO coalition training mission for Iraqi Army forces.  At first, US forces were attacked with crude. missiles from launchers near the airbases.  More recently, using more high technology drones which carry explosives and fly below radar detection, the attacks threaten to become more lethal.  


The growing power of the PMUs and tensions with the US have led to two air strikes – one last February and one this June - on militia bases along the Syrian border and one in Iraq.  The attacks were meant to destroy rocket launchers and drones.  New demonstrations by militia supporters and calls for US forces to leave Iraq have intensified.

At the same time that the United States is trying to negotiate with Iran to reinstate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Operating Agreement (JCPOA).  Both sides seek to reach an agreement – the US wants to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and Iran is desperate to end the hundreds of US sanctions which have seriously compromised its economy.  

However, the US cannot tolerate attacks on its forces in Iraq. Engaging in counter-attacks on Iran’s proxy militias, such as happened this past week, complicates the negotiations because it brings Iraq into the equation.  No matter how antipathetic to the militias, Prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi cannot allow the US attacks on militia forces to go unanswered. 

In short, the militia state in Iraq has created a "state within a state" which possesses more power than the central government.  It is already having a detrimental impact on Iraqi politics and society and could threaten the negotiations with Iran to curtail nuclear weapons proliferation in the MENA region.  This "political dualism" constitutes a new form of the state - a "militia-mafia state."  It may take hold in other states in the Middle East, foreshadowing even more political instability in already unstable region. 


Sunday, May 30, 2021

What Next? Paths Towards Finding a Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Jewish and Arab Members of the Israeli Knesset argue over Palestinian rights
The Hamas rockets are no longer raining down on Israel and Israeli jets have stopped attacking the Gaza Strip.  The majority of both Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza have breathed a sigh of relief that the fighting has ended. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has pledged $22 million to rebuild the Gaza Strip which was badly damaged by Israeli bombing. Apart from Biden’s pledge, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has largely disappeared from the news. What will happen next?  What can be done to address this intractable struggle?   

The view expressed here is that the solution to the conflict begins in Israel. If Israeli politics was not controlled by the hard right, the prospects for peace and addressing the Palestinians’ legitimate rights for a sovereign state and the ability to enjoy democracy, prosperity and dignity could be met.   


The key to such change is the active involvement in Israeli politics of its Palestinian citizens.  If Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel had more power, they might be able to translate that power not just into improving the lives of Palestinian Arabs in Israel proper but Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well. How could that process move forward? 


In the current political scenario, neither Israel’s  center-right nor the center-left has been able to form a stable government. The political instability which has resulted is evident in the four snap and inconclusive elections Israel has held since 2019.  Israelis have become increasingly disenchanted with their fragmented political system. 


Recently, a major change has been in the making with the willingness of Israel’s Jewish political parties to consider forming coalitions with Israel’s Palestinian Arab parties, even if indirect.  With several seats in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament -  the Palestinian parties hold the balance of power in deciding which coalition can form a government. Even Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vilified Palestinians, whether Israeli citizens or living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza, tried in the March 2021 elections to attract Arab voters to his political coalition. 

Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Mansour Abbas (United Arab List)
With the announcement today that the center-left Change Party (Yesh Atid) and the far right New Right Party (HaYamin HeHadash) – led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett respectively – will form a collation to oust Benjamin Netanyahu and end his 12 year reign as prime minister, Arab support for the new coalition government is essential.  Lapid and Bennett will run a minority government which will need Arab votes if it is to insure at least the required 61 seats in the Knesset.  

 Would the support of Arab Knesset members for a ruling coalition led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, specifically those of the Islamist Raam Party, bring about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  Not at all.  However, working with other political parties, the Palestinian Arab bloc could make its support of the new government contingent on providing more material and social assistance to Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens.  If a serious effort could be made to address the second class status of Israel’s Arab citizens, then that in turn would encourage more active political participation on their part. 

Should the proposed minority government survive with Arab support, it will become clear to Israel’s Jewish citizens that their Palestinian counter parts have decided to become full players in politics and use the electoral process to improve their lives.  These “facts on the ground” would have the effect of eroding the ability of Israel’s far-right to argue that the Palestinian Arabs – 20% of Israel’s 9 million population – constitutes an ongoing threat to the nation-state. 


Once they became supporters of the new governing coalition, with the ability to bring down the government if their party withdrew its support, Palestinian Arab Knesset members would possess considerable power due to the roughly 50-50% split between center right and center left voters in Israel.  This division within Israel’s Jewish electorate is unlikely to change anytime soon, and the coming attacks on the new coalition by Netanyahu once he is no longer prime minister will only make Israel’s political coalitions even more fragile. Palestinian Arab Knesset support will thus become even more important, ironically giving them the ability to act as power brokers. 


As key coalition members, Palestinian Arab members of Knesset would acquire the power and influence to insist on a number of important changes. One would be to end their marginalization within the Knesset.  Since 2012, several bills introduced by Arab Knesset members, which were intended to address discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian citizens, were never allowed to come up for a vote.  Likewise, a 2016 legislative amendment allows the Knesset to vote to expel members who criticize Israeli policies.  Arab Knesset members feel that law in intended to silence them. In their new position of power, they could demand that this amendment be annulled. 

Israel Discriminatory Measures Undermine Palestinian Representation in the Knesset

Arab parties could also insist that their ongoing political support of the Change-Yesh Atid government is contingent on reigning in far right settlers who seek to expropriate Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank.  Under Netanyahu, not only were these settlers not constrained, but they were tacitly encouraged to pursue policies which further repress the Palestinian rights.  While Naftali Bennett would react negatively to such pressure, there is a strong likelihood that he would support the rule of law over losing his governing position, especially since his party only received 5% of the vote in last March’s elections.  

The Sheikh Jarrah Expropriation


Arab Knesset members could demand other concessions as well.  While Palestinian Arabs constitute 20% of Israel’s population, only 7% of judges in Israel are Arab.  Placing more Arab judges on Israel’s courts would have a positive impact by allowing Palestinian citizens to more effectively contest discriminatory government policies, such as poor municipal services, sub-standard education funding, and poor health care facilities.  If Arab Knesset members could demonstrate their ability to improve the Israeli Palestinians’ standard of living, this would be another step towards making Israel a truly democratic state. 

Only 7.7% of Israeli Judges are Arab, New Study Finds

At the same time, the international community needs to add its voice to this process.  The European Union, the United States, the United Nations and other nations committed to the peace process would need to step up its financial support. This financial support would be especially helpful if it promoted collaborative projects between Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian citizens.  Many such projects have been underway but funding them publicly would have a positive effect not only in helping them succeed but demonstrating to the world that efforts to establish peace are not just talk but a reality. 

Our Generation Speaks


As I wrote in a recent post, the recently established ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, and Egypt and Jordan earlier, suggest new relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors and possibilities for jump starting the peace process.  With its large sovereign wealth fund, and the investments it is already making in the Israeli economy, the UAE has special leverage in helping to improve the status of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.  Already it has offered a $10 billion investment in Israel’s energy and other sectors of its economy. 

The Future of Arab-Israeli Relations: A Middle East Common Market?


The UAE could directly invest in existing Palestinian enterprises in Israel and assist new start-ups to become successful entrepreneurial ventures.  It could likewise provide funds for joint Jewish-Arab NGOs, social entrepreneurial ventures and peace-building education initiatives.  Following the example of Brandeis’ University’s Our Generation Speaks, the UAE could invite Jewish and Palestinian social entrepreneurs to its Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, and the Youth Hub, run by the Federal Youth Authority, to encourage joint ventures across religious and ethnic lines and to build ties of trust among Palestinian and Jewish Israelis. 

Youth Hubs in the United Arab Emirates


The UAE has paid special attention to its youth population as seen in the appointment as age 22 of Shamma Bint Suhail bin Faris al-Mazrui as Minister of Sport, and Noura al-Kaabi as Minister of Culture and Youth.  The UAE is well situated to develop projects which are directed at educating youth as to the benefits of peaceful cooperation and coexistence, especially though the development of social entrepreneurial ventures. One simple example could be the promotion of restaurants which serve Middle Eastern cuisine loved by both Arabs and Jews. Indeed, this is one of the few places in Israel where Palestinians Arab and Jewish Israelis come into contact, e.g., in the very popular restaurant, Shawarma Emile, in the northern city of Haifa 

Shawarma Emil - Haifa, Israel

What will be the results of inaction?  A recent Opinion column in the Washington Post by Farid Zakaria touted Israel’s impressive technological development and economic dominance in the MENA region. Its military superiority dwarfs all of the states of the region.

The Only Way to Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Problem 


However, Zakaria fails to discuss the internal fault lines of Israeli society.  Just as many outside observers viewed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as secure in his power given Iran’s oil wealth, his support by the US and his powerful military, his regime fell during the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79. While the parallels with Israel may seem a bit far-fetched, the recent violence between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis during the 11 day war between Hamas and the Israeli military should be of serious concern.  The attacks carried out by mobs on Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods, houses of worship and businesses does not bode well for the future.  


With demonstrations occurring in the West Bank as well, and Hizballah threatening to enter the conflict, the Israeli government realized that military might could not quell civil disturbances.  Much effort has been made, especially since the 1990s, to build cooperative associations of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.  However, even within Haifa, the purported model of Jewish-Arab relations, coexistence remains tenuous and the city largely segregated. 

Haifa the Capital of Coexistence is Segregated


The greatest threat to Israeli democracy is the far right settler movement which seeks to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem and the West Bank of Palestinians who live there. The settler movement is hostile to all principles of liberal democracy. Violence is one of the main tools in its arsenal to achieve its goals. Ultimately, it is not just the enemy of Palestinians, both citizens of Israel and those in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but of secular liberal Israelis who sincerely would like to live in peace with Palestinians, both citizens and non-citizens. 


Beyond Palestinian Arab political parties using their influence in the Knesset to improve the standard of living of Palestinian  citizens, and the UAE deploying its investments not only to strengthen ties with the Israeli government, but to assist Israel’s Palestinian citizens, the Israeli center-left would be well advised to seek out Palestinians to develop a broad based political movement which could counter the far right settler movement. Such a movement might just be the beginning of solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

No more wars -the killing must stop!