Age Islam Edit Bureau
02 May 2017
Kurdistan: Playing the Independence Game
By Leonid Issaev and Andrey Zakharov
Media a Challenge to US Perceptions of Arab World
By Stephan Shakespeare
Says Turkey Is Bigger Than President Erdogan
By Barcin Yinanc
Raises the Stakes in Syria
By Semih Idiz
of Wonders, Week of Surprises
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
Deep and Dangerous Knowledge Gap
By Ray Hanania
Moral Imperative to Support Macron
By Guy Verhofstadt
or Shame in Balfour
By Chris Doyle
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Leonid Issaev and Andrey Zakharov
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?
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
“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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Of Wonders, Week Of Surprises
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
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!
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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