jump to navigation

Fatah’s Leadership Crisis Deepens July 25, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
comments closed

Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Jul 24 (IPS) – Fifty years ago, a small group of Palestinian teachers and engineers living in Kuwait founded a secretive movement aimed at liberating those portions of previously British-ruled Palestine that became the State of Israel in 1948.

The group they founded, Fatah, went on to dominate the entire Palestinian political scene. In 1969 it took over the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which had been founded by the Arab states – as a counter to Fatah – a few years earlier.

In 1993, it was Fatah/PLO head Yasser Arafat who signed the ‘Oslo Accord’ with Israel; and the following year Arafat became president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) established in occupied Ramallah.

But for several years, Fatah has been in crisis, and now that crisis is coming to a sharp head. Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is planning to convene a meeting of Fatah’s policymaking General Conference Aug. 4. By insisting on holding it in occupied Bethlehem – which will enable Israel’s security forces to completely control who attends and who does not – he has helped split the group’s historic leadership down the middle.

In mid-July, Farouq al-Qaddumi, a longtime Fatah leader who is senior to Abbas within the movement, lashed out at Abbas, accusing him of having conspired with Israel and the U.S. to poison Arafat, who died of unknown causes in late 2004.

(more…)

Advertisements

Turkey Gets Boost from Pipeline Politics July 18, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
comments closed

Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Jul 17 (IPS) – The political geography of the modern Middle East has been affected for one hundred years by the appetite of westerners and other outsiders for the region’s hydrocarbons.

On Monday, the region’s “pipeline politics” took another step forward with the signing in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, of an agreement to build a new, 3,300-kilometre gas pipeline called Nabucco, running between eastern Turkey and Vienna, Austria.

The project underlines the new influential role that Turkey, a majority Muslim nation of 72 million people, is playing in the Middle East, and far beyond.

The new project’s name was chosen, Austrian officials said, after the Verdi opera that representatives of the five participating countries – who include Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, along with the two terminus states – saw together during an earlier round of negotiations in Vienna.

But the name also gives clues to two intriguing aspects of the project’s geopolitical significance. The theme of the opera is the liberation from bondage of slaves held by the ancient Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (‘Nabucco’) – and it is a widely discussed feature of the Nabucco project that many European nations want access to a gas source that is not under the control of Russia.

Last winter, several European nations suffered severe gas shortages after Russia, locked in a tariff dispute with transit-country Ukraine, closed off the spigots completely.

But the other implication of the name is more strictly Middle Eastern. The modern-day home of Nebuchadnezzar is Iraq. Washington has given strong support to the Nabucco project – and one of the reasons U.S. officials give for this support is their hope that once Nabucco is up and running in 2015, Iraq can be one of the nations that reaps large profits by feeding gas into it.

(more…)

MIDEAST: Succession Issues Face Key U.S. Allies July 12, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
comments closed

Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Jul 12 (IPS) – Two key U.S. allies in the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are now both facing succession crises that may absorb, or even split, their political elites. This promises a period of political unpredictability ahead in both countries.

It may well also complicate Pres. Barack Obama’s Israeli-Arab peace diplomacy, which is based centrally on the role these two large allies – and one smaller one, Jordan – can play in solving inter-Arab problems, reassuring Israelis, and helping to tempt everyone to the peace table.

Since January, the head of Egypt’s military intelligence, Lieut.-Gen. Omar Suleiman, has been in charge of three key Middle East mediations. He has been mediating between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas over both strengthening the Gaza ceasefire and winning a prisoner exchange between them. He’s also been mediating a chronically elusive reconciliation between Hamas and the other big Palestinian movement, Fatah.

(more…)

IRAQ: Questions Remain About the U.S. Role July 6, 2009

Posted by Helena Cobban in Uncategorized.
comments closed

Analysis by Helena Cobban*

WASHINGTON, Jul 6 (IPS) – The United States largely complied with a plan, negotiated with Iraq’s government last November, to withdraw its troops from the centre of all Iraqi cities by Jun. 30.

But the late June announcement that Vice President Joe Biden will be playing a lead role in coordinating the Barack Obama administration’s policies in Iraq, and Biden’s performance during the three-day visit he made to Iraq in the first days of July, raised some serious questions about whether Washington will be a helpful force as Iraqis continue their push for full independence and functioning self-governance.

The new U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Christopher Hill, has scant experience of Iraqi history or politics, while Biden has for several years tried to follow Iraqi affairs closely from his seat on – and then as chair of – the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden’s voice in the intra-administration discussions of the months ahead is therefore likely to be a powerful one.

Inside Iraq, Biden is best known – and widely criticised – as a co-author of the 2006 “Biden-Gelb Plan”, which urged that as much real power as possible be devolved from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad to three mini-states that would divide the country along ethnic and religious lines.

On Biden’s latest visit to Baghdad, his first as vice president, he was greeted by at least one sizeable anti-U.S. demonstration, in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. A McClatchy News reporter wrote that one demonstrator there said, “Biden’s visit sent the signal to us that Iraq will be divided. Biden’s background doesn’t allow him to play any role in reconciliation.”

(more…)