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Middle East Press (02 May 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)



Iraqi Kurdistan: Playing the Independence Game: New Age Islam's Selection, 02 May 2017






New Age Islam Edit Bureau

02 May 2017

Iraqi Kurdistan: Playing the Independence Game

By Leonid Issaev and Andrey Zakharov

Polarized Media a Challenge to US Perceptions of Arab World

By Stephan Shakespeare

EU Says Turkey Is Bigger Than President Erdogan

By Barcin Yinanc

Erdogan Raises the Stakes in Syria

By Semih Idiz

Days of Wonders, Week of Surprises

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

A Deep and Dangerous Knowledge Gap

By Ray Hanania

The Moral Imperative to Support Macron

By Guy Verhofstadt

Pride or Shame in Balfour

By Chris Doyle

Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

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Iraqi Kurdistan: Playing the Independence Game

By Leonid Issaev and Andrey Zakharov

02 May 2017

At the end of March, Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani met new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and once again drew attention to a forthcoming referendum called to allow the region the right of "self-determination".

The Kurds' desire to determine their own future is understandable. To date, about 20 million Kurds live in the Middle East and the South Caucasus countries - Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Armenia. The presence of such a large ethnic group that after two world wars has not acquired its own nation-state, could be considered a geopolitical paradox.

As a result, the Kurds along with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS), in recent years have turned into one of the most influential forces openly encroaching on the administrative-territorial order that emerged after World War I and decolonisation.

So, what kind of an arrangement are the Iraqi Kurds living under today and why does the option of independence seem attractive to them?

Federalisation: Failure or Success?

After the collapse of the Baath regime, Iraq was transformed into an asymmetric federation. Iraqi federalism is often criticised for giving preferences to one ethnic group, which is a minority, at the expense of others.

According to the 2005 Constitution, only three of the 18 Iraqi provinces which have Kurdish population are part of the autonomous Kurdish region. But the autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan is truly boundless: Its government has the right to have its own armed forces, conduct independent foreign policy, and attract foreign investments.

The 15 provinces, in which the Arabs live, do not have anything of that kind, which gives them legitimate reasons for discontent. In this regard, in the academic and political communities of the Middle East, where the traditions of monolithic and indivisible power are strong, the Iraqi federalist experiment is often recognised as a failure.

But what, in fact, can be considered a success of federalisation in an ethnically and religiously diverse society torn apart by civil unrest?

If we consider the preservation of the state within the borders recognised by the international community as success, we can say that Iraq's federalisation has been successful.

The decentralisation of power allowed Iraqi Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the country's population, to remove the issue of complete independence from the agenda in the mid-2000s. The federation that combines self-rule and shared rule, assumes "dosed" sovereignty: While the complete political autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan would not suit any of the regional political players, a configuration that offers semi-independent Erbil within the framework of a common state is much less troubling and thereby contributes to the maintenance of regional security.

Moreover, the 2005 Constitution consolidated a division of oil revenues that is currently comfortable for the Iraqi leadership, mainly because the principal issues concerning the distribution of tax revenues have not yet been resolved in full. At the same time, the status of primus inter pares allows Erbil to attract oil investors through tax rates that are lower than federal ones. By mid-2010, the government of Iraqi Kurdistan signed more than 40 major international contracts mainly related to oil production. Baghdad, of course, grumbles about this, but after all, Iraqi Kurdistan has no autonomous access to the sea, and all the pipelines are controlled by the Iraqi state.

In general, the federal reorganisation of Iraq made it possible to preserve the territorial unity of the country, to satisfy an eternally dissatisfied minority and to divide the commodity rent. Never in Iraq's history have Iraqi Kurds enjoyed such freedom politically, economically, and culturally as now.

Nevertheless, contrary to the evidence and common sense, Erbil again announced the preparation of an independence referendum. Why?

A Political Game

The revival of this bargaining chip can be explained by several factors.

Firstly, there are the personal ambitions of Masoud Barzani whose legitimacy as a leader is being questioned. Formally, Barzani's powers as the president of Iraqi Kurdistan expired on August 19, 2015 when the regional parliament refused to extend the term of his mandate.

At that time, the growing threat from ISIL obscured the conflict between the president and the legislators, but the gradual decline of the terrorist threat once again has raised questions about the legitimacy of the Kurdish leader.

This is what makes him think about new big projects to undertake, one of which inevitably is the "game of independence".

Furthermore, ISIL's ongoing retreat in Iraq and Baghdad regaining control over territories occupied by the group is weakening the Kurds' position in negotiations with the federal state. As the chance for a revision of the federal contract is diminishing, Erbil is trying to act ahead of the game and not allow Baghdad to take political advantage of the military successes.

Finally, the threat of independence can be used by Erbil to try to expand the territories of Iraqi Kurdistan. The constitutional deal between the Arabs and the Kurds was supposed to resolve the issue of disputed territories claimed by both communities. It was at the Kurds' insistence that the 2005 Iraqi Constitution introduced the provision that a referendum in Kirkuk must be held before the end of 2007 - either leaving these oil territories under the control of Baghdad or transferring them to Erbil (Article 140). The Iraqi government has not yet fulfilled this condition, and the threat of secession posed by Kurdistan can serve as an effective means of persuading Baghdad to act on it.

Since real secession, if it takes place, would be unreasonable, because it would only worsen the situation of the Iraqi Kurds and their elites, this renewed talk of independence is most likely a political game - a deliberate and purposeful bluff meant to frighten an opponent and force out concessions.

All this litigation is reminiscent of the so-called "parade of sovereignties" that unfolded in Russia in the 1990s. Back then Tatarstan and other resource republics repeatedly threatened the federal centre with independence, but did not really consider pursuing it. Instead, they used this threat to acquire maximum advantage within the federal union.

In the Russian case, this tactic proved effective: even now, after a unitary system was built in the country, the Kremlin still has not succeeded in taking away from the resource republics those advantages that they claimed for themselves 15 years ago.

Time will only tell whether Iraqi Kurdistan will be equally successful in its independence game.

Source: aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/04/iraqi-kurdistan-playing-independence-game-170424081305405.html

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Polarized Media a Challenge to US Perceptions of Arab World

By Stephan Shakespeare

2 May 2017

We are living at a time of rising global tensions, with fears of new wars and even nuclear conflict becoming more real than at any moment since the 1970s. America appears more isolationist since the advent of President Donald Trump and yet at the same time more willing to intervene fast with military action, defying Russia with a surprise attack in Syria and threatening to confront the unstable North Korea. Whatever one’s views of these situations, everyone surely hopes for an increased understanding between the peoples of the world.

It is in that context that the partnership between YouGov and Arab News has been created: To shed light on what people think within the Arab region and about the region, and why.

With the survey we publish today, we find out more about the sources of news that create the American view of the Arab world. I believe our survey gives three reasons for concern and one for optimism.

The first cause of concern is the low level of understanding about the Arab world. Only one-quarter of Americans who follow international news claim they follow news about the Arab world, compared to 56 percent for news of Europe.

So it was not surprising that when our poll asked them to identify which of three maps represented the Arab world, only 19 percent chose correctly, which is much less than even a purely random choice would have yielded. Although 45 percent of the respondents identified Saudi Arabia as the leader of the military alliance to combat Daesh, 36 percent thought it was Iran. The second concern is that people tend to take a negative view of the Arab world. The main reason given by people who do not take an interest in the Arab world is that “there is a lot of negative news coming out of this region.” Three-quarters reject the idea of visiting the Middle East.

The third concern is the fracturing and polarization of the American news media, which poses new challenges to creating a better understanding about the Arab world. Not so long ago, most Americans got their news from the big TV networks and from their local newspapers, which tended to express a consensual, somewhat progressive view of the world. Now media is much more fractured and Americans are served by sources that take opposing sides in big political debates. Anyone with an Internet connection can be a journalist. The upside is a multiplicity of voices being heard and news being spread quickly and widely. But it has also created confusion about the quality and trustworthiness of sources. For supporters of both of the main parties, smaller websites and social media have become almost as important sources of news about the Arab world and these tend to be even more likely to take positions outside the mainstream.

But there are also some more hopeful signs. By almost two-to-one, Americans think that Arabs who have migrated to the US and other Western societies have made an effort to adapt and integrate. Over half are concerned about Islamophobic statements leading to hate crimes. About a third say they would like to see more media coverage about social, cultural and scientific aspects of the region. There appears to be some readiness to consider broader and more positive types of news.

How to meet the challenge? It is noteworthy that some Arab news sources are gaining traction among the American population and are getting a positive response. And when we asked whether the Arab-owned English-language outlets were balanced or biased, 47 percent said they were “very” or “reasonably” balanced, against 37 percent who thought them to be biased or unreliable. This suggests there is a real opportunity to increase the influence of the Arab voice in America through new media innovations.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1093286/columns

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EU Says Turkey Is Bigger Than President Erdogan

By Barcin Yinanc

May/02/2017

“So what happened with the European Union?” a friend of mine asked in a Facebook post. She is a scholar who specializes in Turkey–EU relations. “If you don’t understand, it’s only natural for us not to understand,” replied some of her friends.

The confusion stems from the contradictory steps and statements that we keep seeing from both sides. There are those on both sides who want to use every occasion to bash the other side, while others are left to try to conduct damage control.

In addition, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) decision to reopen the monitoring procedure on Turkey has further muddied the water in terms of Turkish–EU relations. How could it not?

PACE decided to place Turkey under the monitoring procedure until “serious concerns” about respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law “are addressed in a satisfactory manner.”

PACE is concerned about what the EU calls the Copenhagen criteria, which need to be fulfilled in order to be a candidate for EU membership. PACE’s decision practically strengthens the arguments in Europe that Turkey’s accession process should be officially suspended. I say “officially” because accession talks are physically frozen at present.

But the EU’s political body avoided taking such a decision in its meeting last Friday, saying the door is still open to Turkey becoming a member and it was up to Ankara to do its part to keep this door open.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that despite the doubts expressed by some foreign ministers during the meeting, Brussels for now is in favour of continuing the protracted accession talks with Turkey.

“It is up to them to express their willingness to continue to be a candidate country and to continue to be interested, or to not join our family,” Mogherini said.

As I have been arguing for some time, the EU does not want to be the one to push the button to end Turkey’s membership process, which would not serve its interests in the medium or long term.

Talking about closing the doors on Turkey may well be beneficial for populist leaders building their careers on the fears of voters who think that building walls can be a panacea to their problems. But leaders with common sense know that freezing accession talks with Ankara will not be the magical formula to decrease unemployment levels and increase growth in Europe. For now, populist leaders have not yet taken over the EU.

That is why until Turkey gives a definite sign that it no longer wants to be a member, the EU will abstain from being the one to say “it’s over.”

Some in Europe might argue that Turkey has already given such a sign by voting “yes” in the referendum.

 Some short-sighted commentators in Europe, especially in Germany, almost celebrated the result that came in favour of Erdogan. “You Turks voted for Erdogan and this means you have a made a choice: You don’t want to be part of the EU,” you can almost hear them say.

But it’s worth pointing out that Americans as a nation have not been the target of such demonizing rhetoric despite electing someone like Donald Trump, nor have Hungarians been targeting for repeatedly electing Victor Orban, someone you can hardly label as a beacon of democracy.

The EU has taken into consideration that one in every two Turkish citizens voted against the constitutional changes favoured by Erdogan. Instead of equating Turkey with Erdogan, it said “Turkey is bigger than Erdogan.”

But obviously it will be increasingly difficult to keep Turkey under the “candidate” status while it continues to fall short of fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria. Ultimately, a credit account has been opened for Turkey, which will come under review after the German elections this autumn.

Source: hurriyetdailynews.com/eu-says-turkey-is-bigger-than-president-erdogan.aspx?pageID=449&nID=112617&NewsCatID=412

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Erdogan Raises the Stakes in Syria

By Semih Idiz

May/02/2017

Unable to change the course of events in Syria, where he is increasingly up against the U.S. and Russia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided on a high-stake disruptive game aimed at trying to secure Turkey’s interests.

The recent Turkish strike in Syria against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara says is a Kurdish terrorist organization, provides a clear indication of this. The YPG is supported politically and militarily by both the U.S. and Russia, so there can be no doubt that Erdogan’s message was targeted at these powers.

He went on later to indicate that Turkey would continue with these strikes whenever it feels they are necessary. This is a show of force on Ankara’s part and its long term results remain to be seen.

The first results however are in and they are obviously not pleasing for Erdogan.

Turkey’s operation against the YPG was condemned by both Washington and Moscow as “unacceptable.” Turkey’s strike against the YPG has united the U.S. and Russia despite the fact that they are on different sides in Syria.

Claiming that Turkey had not only hit a U.S. ally, but also put U.S. soldiers in harm’s way, Washington quickly dispatched forces to stand watch – presumably against Turkey – alongside YPG fighters.

Turkey’s strike not so long ago against YPG fighters, and signs that Turkish forces were preparing to move against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria had also pushed Russia to deploy force there to establish a buffer between the YPG and Turkish forces.

Ankara is also aware that both powers are interested in seeing a Kurdish representation at the Syria talks in Geneva under U.N. auspices, and neither is averse to offering cultural autonomy to the Syrian Kurds in any final settlement.

Erdogan says that will not happen because Turkey will do all it can to prevent it. He has some strong cards in his hands. The most significant one being that Washington and Moscow are trying to curry favour with him in order to keep Turkey on their side, given their global rivalry.

This is clearly a recognition of the fact that Turkey holds a very strategic place on the map and is a vitally important regional player, one way or another.

That having been said, it is also a fact that both the U.S. and Russia have done little so far to help Turkey advance its own strategic interests in Iraq and Syria.

While they clearly want Turkey on their side, the U.S. and Russia are only prepared to mollify Ankara in various ways to keep on board, rather than bow to Turkish demands.

The strike against the YPG, on the other hand, has shown once again that when their interests are at stake they will not shy from expressing what they feel and take the necessary steps in spite of Turkey.

Whether Turkey can repeat such strikes under these conditions is an open question. If it does, Erdogan could also lose the credit he clearly has with President Donald Trump, whom he is due to meet in Washington in two weeks.

Erdogan is also due to meet President Vladimir Putin in Sochi in the coming days, and it will be interesting to see if he can turn Moscow against Syrian President Bashar al Assad – Erdogan’s nemesis – and convince the Russian side to stop supporting the YPG and its openly expressed desire to give the Syrian Kurds a place at the Syrian table.

The bottom line is that Erdogan has opted for what looks more and more like a zero-sum game with the U.S. and Russia in regards to Syria. Turkey’s record of success in Syria, or Iraq for that matter has not been that great.

The stakes are high and Erdogan stands to either win or lose because he has left no room for other options.

Source; hurriyetdailynews.com/erdogan-raises-the-stakes-in-syria.aspx?pageID=449&nID=112618&NewsCatID=416

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Days Of Wonders, Week Of Surprises

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

May 2, 2017

PRINCE Khaled Al-Faisal, in a famous poem, says: “We live in a time of wonders. What is left to be revealed? Every time we think they were over, came something new.”

I am reminded of his words a lot these days. In the past, mega events came in line — one by one. Like in a speech ceremony, you hear one speech at a time — no words crowding or overlapping. You have enough time to listen, absorb, analyze, discuss and make sense of what you heard. You also have enough space for shock, excitement, joy or sorrow.

Since the War of Partition in Palestine (1948), we had a lot of shocking events, but plenty of time to take them in. In 1952, we had the Egyptian military coup against King Farouk rule. Then comes the Suez crisis of 1956.  Later, Egypt and Syria united in 1958, then separated on bad terms in 1962.

The Yemeni Civil War and Egyptian involvement came soon after and raged on for a decade (1962-1968). In 1967, we had the six-days Arab-Israeli war. In one stroke, we lost Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and Sinai. There was a lot of digesting to do, but we had six years to, till the 1973 War, Camp David Peace Accords (1978) and President Sadat’s assassination at the hands of his own soldiers (1981).

The 1979 Iran revolution, which brought us a fanatic religious regime, was soon followed by the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988). Two years later, Iraq invaded Kuwait (1990), leading to a fully-charged year of tension that ended with the Liberation of Kuwait in (1991). Ten years later, we went through the trauma of 9/11, which led to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Major events followed, but in similarly reasonable pace: Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in Beirut in 2005, Israel burned Lebanon in 2006 and Hezbollah terrorized the country in 2008.

In 2010, it seems like the Arabs had decided to live the “fast and furious” digital age. Suddenly, they lost their patience with the status quo, and decided to change their governments all at once. It started with Tunisia, then, weeks later, Egypt was on fire. The peoples in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain didn’t wait for us to follow up and digest what was happening. They all came up and out, and the train of change gathered pace — from slow to bullet speed. They probably were not aware that they were participating in a huge, complex play, directed by regional and super powers to change our world order — destructing and reconstructing it.

Today we no longer wait for months, or even weeks, to witness a shocking event. Daily, some times hourly, changes and crises happen all around us. It is like we are part of a crazy circus or in a maddening roller coaster, witnessing the unthinkable, unimaginable, unbelievable casually happenings, like it was a daily routine.

Who could have thought that an Arab regime would use chemical and weapons of mass destruction against its own people? Or that a few thousand terrorists would rule third of Iraq and Syria, against the will and muscles of 68 armies, including those of the superpowers of the world? How would you explain the ongoing civil wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen? How can you fathom the fall of a great Arab nation like Iraq under the weight of the same country that fought it for eight years but failed to defeat it?

Explain to me, if you may, how dare Russia send its wings of death and jump like a bear in a China shop in a region of so much importance to the United States, Europe and NATO!

As for Iran, the scheme is clear, the methodology is consistent and the motives are understandable — declared four decades ago.

However, some of the surprises were pleasant, like a cool, refreshing breeze in a blazing summer. In one week, Qatar secured release of its kidnapped citizens in Iraq, including Saudis, and its former Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani visited his tribe in the heart of Saudi Arabia. The GCC ministers of interior, defence and foreign affairs met to arrange the affairs of the Gulf security, militarily and politically. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, after a summit meeting, announced consensus on the main regional issues. The week ended with the sweetest surprises for Saudis, with the fiscal deficit falling, national income improving, and the return of salaries, bonuses and benefits to its previous level, seven months after the freeze.

The Chinese used to tell their enemies: “May you live in interesting times!” I hope that is not our curse, too!

Source: saudigazette.com.sa/opinion/days-wonders-week-surprises/

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A Deep and Dangerous Knowledge Gap

By Ray Hanania

2 May 2017

Americans are the most educated people in the world but the least educated about the world.

The American education gap widens when it comes to topics of the Middle East, an area they should be better informed about considering that in the past nearly two decades, more Americans were killed or injured there than in any other international region.

A new survey by YouGov in partnership with Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English-language newspaper, reports that two countries — Iraq and Saudi Arabia — stand out in Americans’ minds as being part of the Arab world.

I am sure the reasons are simple: More than 4,500 Americans have died in Iraq since the US first invaded that Arab country in 2003. Oil from the Middle East countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, fuels the cars Americans need to sustain their lifestyle.

Yet in the survey of more than 2,000 Americans by YouGov and Arab News, the gap in American knowledge about the Middle East is staggering.

A large segment of those polled, 65 percent, admitted they do not know much about the Arab world.

Nothing says that more than the fact that 21 percent of those surveyed actually identified the “Sultanate of Agrabah” as an Arab country.

Apparently, Americans were really moved by the Hollywood lyrics, “Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”

Agrabah, Arabia is the “City of Mystery” located “this side of the Jordan river” that was home for Aladdin in Disney’s 1993 children’s animated movie.

It does not exist. But 38 percent said that Agrabah should be added to the US travel ban if its “citizens” pose a threat.

Why is all this important? Because the future of the Middle East is being driven by the policies made by the American administration, which is driven by the beliefs and stereotypes its 325 million populations have about the Middle East.

The polling showed other startling realities of how Americans view the Arab world, such as that only 19 percent of Americans could actually identify the region on a map.

The Arab News/YouGov poll shows Americans do want more information about the Arab world, with half of the respondents blaming the US mainstream news media for not providing enough coverage.

On the one hand, the survey shows that Americans are ripe for understanding more about the Arab world. That is great for the growing English-language segment of the Arab world’s news media, like Arab News, which is growing in popularity in the US market.

But the survey also points to a fundamental problem that exists. It is not just that the Americans do not know much about the Middle East before they send their sons and daughters to fight in that region. It shows that the Arab world is not doing its part to inform Americans.

Unfortunately, the Arab governments invest little or no money in public relations and communications strategy to promote their events, culture, tourism, and more importantly, issues to the American people.

In contrast, Israel, which 36 percent of the respondents to the poll identified as being a part of the “Arab world,” spends hundreds of millions of dollars on public relations and communications campaigns, and it pays off big time.

The US Congress is planning cutbacks on funding to foreign countries. It provides $35 billion in foreign aid each year to 135 countries, including $1.5 billion to Egypt, $1 billion to Jordan, $373 million to Iraq, $210 million to Palestine, $156 million to Lebanon, $155 million to Syria, and $82 million to Yemen.

But America gives $3.1 billion a year to Israel, which engages in the oppression of Arab citizens and civilians and fuels public antagonism and perceptions against many Arab countries.

So there is little wonder that more than 54 percent of Americans sympathize with Israel in the conflict with Palestine, while only 19 percent sympathize with Palestinians, according to a 2016 PEW Research Center study. And a survey last year by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs showed that only 36 percent of American voters support allowing Syrian refugees to enter the country.

American perceptions have a direct impact on the Middle East. The YouGov and Arab News survey helps us understand why that impact has not been positive.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1093281/columns

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The Moral Imperative to Support Macron

By Guy Verhofstadt

2 May 2017

As the two names on the French presidential election’s second-round ballot make clear, a political paradigm shift is underway in Europe. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen represent alternative worldviews that depart from, and transcend, the traditional left-right divide.

Recent elections elsewhere in Europe have also pitted progressive, free-market, pro-European parties against nationalistic populist movements. But in a country as important to Europe’s future as France, the stakes could not be higher. Those who wish to tear apart the EU are well aware of this. Russian hackers have launched numerous cyberattacks against the website of Macron’s En marche! movement, and the Kremlin is publicly supporting Le Pen.

Many French voters still seem unaware of the geopolitical dynamics at work in their country’s election. And yet a grave responsibility rests upon their shoulders. Indeed, the fate of the EU — and the West — is in their hands.

France has left its mark on almost all of its neighbors, starting with my own country, Belgium, where nearly half of the population speaks French. Historically, France was one of the world’s great conquering powers, before it became a founding member of the EU. As different as these legacies of imperialism and multilateralism appear, both have embodied France’s commitment to globalization. Ironically, that commitment is now being betrayed by those who would close off France from Europe and the world in the name of “patriotism.”

Although current opinion polls suggest that Macron will win handily, he has not yet secured his place in the Elysee Palace. Relativism and anti-establishment sentiment are trending in French public opinion, and electoral forecasts predict a surge in abstention rates among potential Macron voters. Le Pen’s supporters, on the other hand, will almost certainly flock to the polls to vote for her, demonstrating the disciplined fanaticism for which the National Front has long been known.

The pollsters, despite being maligned during the campaign, have been right so far, so we need to pay attention to how surveys of voter intentions can affect electoral outcomes. In other recent elections in Europe, populist candidates such as Norbert Hofer in Austria and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands ultimately lost because their rising popularity in polls prompted a last-minute surge in electoral activism to defeat them.

In the second round of the French election, however, Macron is the one currently enjoying a comfortable lead. But his margin over Le Pen could falter. Between now and May 7, National Front propaganda will belittle him constantly; Russian cyber-trolls will step up their attacks; and his political opponents will deride him for his brief stint as an investment banker and cast doubts on his stated commitment to fight for French workers.

Indeed, if you listen to the campaign messages from the National Front and its allies (foreign and domestic), you would think that Macron is responsible for every rain cloud and flat tire in France and Europe. All of the more mainstream candidates who lost in the first round must actively resist a Le Pen victory, which means actively working to secure Macron’s victory in the runoff — a victory for the French Republic over those who hold it in contempt.

Free-market liberalism has a bad reputation in France. But, if anything, Macron should be commended for campaigning as its champion, and for being honest about the reforms France needs. Forty years ago, France’s GDP was about 9 percent larger than the UK’s; today, it is smaller. Those who have distanced themselves as much from Macron as from Le Pen in the name of French workers clearly have their priorities mixed up.

If Macron wins on May 7, everyone who voted for him will still be free to criticize and oppose his every move. And they can rest assured that he poses no threat to the rule of law or the fundamental institutions of democracy. In fact, a key feature in his legislative program is a pronounced effort to clean up public life.

The same could not be said of a President Le Pen. Even if those who are unwilling to support Macron can look past Le Pen’s bigoted and atavistic political program, they cannot guarantee that the core institutions of French democracy would survive her time in office. In other words, unless Macron’s first-round opponents back him, they cannot guarantee their own future.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1093276/columns

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Pride or Shame in Balfour

By Chris Doyle

1 May 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May expects the British public to be proud of one of their most terrible colonial disgraces and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. The then British government promised to support a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, albeit then stating that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

May claims that “it is an anniversary we will be marking with pride.” The reality, as she surely knows, is that the “we” will not include a hefty part of the British population who will be appalled.

Leading Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi has described the Balfour Declaration as “the single most destructive political document of the 20th century on the Middle East.”

This was never a pledge made for the benefit of the Jewish people who had suffered so much, not least in the pogroms of Russia but also in the immediate interests of the British state in the middle of World War I. This was a pledge rooted in both colonialism and anti-Semitism.

Ever since Lord Palmerston in 1840, there were British politicians who hoped to encourage Jews to settle in Palestine and leave Britain. The one Jewish member of the Cabinet in 1917, Edward Montague, wrote that: “I wish to place on record my view that the policy of His Majesty’s Government is anti-Semitic and in result will prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world.”

Balfour’s inherent racism was clear. Far from being interested in the welfare of Jews, as prime minister in 1905, he introduced severe immigration controls to prevent a Jewish influx from Eastern Europe. He preferred that the Jews find a home outside of Britain. He was even more contemptuous of Arabs. In 1919, Balfour stated that “in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.”

It is this sort of attitude that allowed the British government to ignore the earlier promises it made to Sharif Hussein of Makkah to create an independent Arab state there.

At the time of the Balfour Declaration, the Arabs constituted around 90 percent of population of Palestine. There were more Christian Arabs than Jews. Britain ignored the political rights of the non-Jews, that of the overwhelming majority. Unsurprisingly, Palestinians rejected this and it brought about the emergence of the Palestinian national movement.

All this should be obvious to a British prime minister, both then and now. Not only is May claiming to be proud of this but she has even invited the Israeli prime minister to Britain to celebrate the occasion. Moreover, Prince Charles will visit Israel to mark the occasion in what is to be the first state visit by a British royal. The Foreign Office issued a telling statement: “The Balfour Declaration is a historic statement for which Her Majesty’s Government does not intend to apologize. We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves toward peace.” In Parliament, the Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood did admit in a debate that “the Balfour Declaration had its flaws,” however. Before he became foreign secretary, Boris Johnson was more colorful in describing it as a “masterpiece of Foreign Office fudgerama.”

This contrasts with the very welcome position of the current Earl of Balfour, who has called on Israel to recognize a Palestinian state and for Jerusalem to be an “internationally protected capital for all three Abrahamic faiths.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded an apology and having been informed it will not materialize, has claimed that Palestine will sue the British government. How this is possible is not at all clear. There may be grounds to sue the British government on a host of fronts but not for the writing of what was essentially just a promise of support in a letter to a British citizen.

May frequently preaches and moralizes about supposed British values, but casts these aside every time she deals with Israel. Does the prime minister believe that Britain in 1917 had the moral right to give away another people’s country? Israel was created, and for many Jews this is something to celebrate, yet the Palestinians are long overdue their state too. How does May think Palestinians will feel as they watch the British government celebrate their dispossession and loss?

If May wants to retain any credibility on the Middle East, she needs to own up to Britain’s heavy historic responsibility. She should reflect on her hostile attitude toward the Palestinians. Historical apologies may be welcome but positive and concrete policy changes are needed. It is time for Britain to make a powerful new declaration that sets aside Palestine a place on the map just as Balfour paved the way for Israel. This is the only remotely ethical way to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and May still has six months to change her mind.

Source: arabnews.com/node/1093206/columns

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URL: http://www.newageislam.com/middle-east-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/iraqi-kurdistan--playing-the-independence-game--new-age-islam-s-selection,-02-may-2017/d/110983




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