The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘UAE

US-Israeli relations hit 20 year low. Crisis?

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A Palestinian protester runs with a burning tyre during clashes with Israeli police. Image Credit: AP/Gulf News

It seems the fiasco of the 1600 slaps received by Joe Biden has escalated somewhat, newspapers are now calling it a ‘crisis’. The big piece of news came when details of a telephone conversation between Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu came to light.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades.

Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.” [WaPo]

Strong words perhaps, but it remains to be seen how the relationship and the supposed damage that has occurred to it will unfold. Israel’s response so far has been to order an enquiry into the matter, which will probably turn into the usual political obfuscation of the truth. I’m not entirely sure what this enquiry is even supposed to ascertain. According to Khaleej Times:

“The prime minister has decided to create a committee bringing together ministry directors to examine what happened during vice-president Biden’s visit and lay down rules to ensure such incidents are not repeated in future,” a government spokesman said.

But it’s clear what happened. An ill-advised announcement about settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem was made at an inopportune time, showing more signs of arrogance in the Israeli government’s approach to peace. This is nothing new. As for, ‘rules’, what possible rules can be laid down? Something like, let’s make controversial announcements at more opportune times when we’re less on the international diplomatic radar? What’s the point of the exercise?

The latest is the following from Haaretz:

Instead of accepting Netanyahu’s partial apology and letting bygones be bygones, Obama issued a stern warning to the Israeli prime minister and is now demanding that he take “specific actions” to show he is “committed” to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to the peace process itself.

Netanyahu is still governing a fragile and cumbersome coalition which includes a good number of prominent right-wingers who are against any negotiation and any compromise over East Jerusalem (some over the West Bank altogether). Where, up until this point, Bibi has ridden the trend of defiance against Washington and reaped its domestic political benefits, with this added pressure to actually maintain the diplomatic relationship and the ball now firmly in his court, what happens next remains to be seen.

An editorial in Haaretz:

There is one reason for the crisis: Netanyahu’s persistence in continuing construction in East Jerusalem, in placing Jews in Arab neighborhoods and evicting Palestinians from their homes in the city. This is not a matter of timing but substance. Despite repeated warnings and bitter experiences, he stokes the flames over the conflict’s most sensitive issue and is bound to get himself in trouble. Netanyahu has made it clear by his actions that American support for Israel, especially essential now in light of the Iranian threat, is less important to him than the chance to put another few Jews in the Sheikh Jarrah or Ramat Shlomo neighborhoods. Even if Netanyahu’s adversaries in the U.S. administration have exploited his misstep to push him into a corner, as his “associates” will certainly argue, a statesman as experienced as he should have been especially careful.

There was news today that the statesman placed a few calls to Europe, namely Merkel and Berlusconi, telling them that Israel has no plans to “accelerate” the pace of settlement construction in East Jerusalem. Bibi is probably trying to cut his losses and limit the fallout from the 1600 slaps after the Quartert (The US, Russia, the EU and the UN) also condemned the settlement announcement. It should be noted that, in all public statements to this date (including the announcement of the enquiry), Bibi has expressed vehement condemnation… but only at the timing of the announcement, rather than the announcement itself. This is of course understandable, Bibi still holds the ideological position of support for housing expansion in East Jerusalem, but I wonder if he thinks vehement condemnation of timing will be enough to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

Speaking of his ideological position, Aluf Benn in Haaretz seems to think that the shit has hit the fan, so to speak, for Netanyahu who “has reached the moment of truth, where he must choose between his ideological beliefs and political cooperation with the right on one hand, and his need for American support on the other.” Benn rightly points out that Obama has been fearful of exerting too much pressure and causing the fragile coalition to collapse, creating an volatile and unpredictable power vacuum. Better the devil you know? We soon shall see.

I’m predicting some sort of diplomatic overture, a few public statements about peace and some efforts to restart peace negotiations. Netanyahu probably knows that some well-mannered stalling is now his safest route but I’m sure he has on intention of actually taking any real action. He still can’t afford to rock the boat in the Knesset, even if he wanted to. The Obama administration, while mindful of being treated like a doormat and losing face in the eyes of the international community, is also mindful of its own domestic problems over health care and wars and its need to get reelected. It can’t afford a total public break with Israel right now. The name of the game right now is not ‘actions’, at least not the sort we expect, it’s face saving and politics.

In other ‘action’-related Israeli news, Israel has put the West Bank on lockdown and restricted access to the Al Aqsa mosque after increased clashes with troops in response to the East Jerusalem announcement and the usual frustrations with living under occupation. UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has said that Arabs won’t continue to support Middle East peace talks until Israel halts colony expansion, putting further skids on the peace process which now appears completely dead in the water.

Aftermath of the alleged Mahmoud Al Mabhouh assassination

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Mahmoud Al Mabhouh's father holds up a picture of his late son. Image credit: AP

By now you should have heard about the alleged Mossad assassination in Dubai of Hamas commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh that occurred on January 20. Developments have been coming thick and fast in the last few weeks and the incident seems to have spawned a serious diplomatic rift between Israel and Great Britain. According to Haaretz:

Israel’s ambassador to Britain has been summoned to a meeting with a senior Foreign Office official Thursday, to clarify what London called the “identity theft” of six British citizens living in Israel.

Israel’s ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, Zion Evroni, said Wednesday that he too had received a summons from the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and would be meeting with Minister Michael Martin on Thursday.

In Jerusalem, Foreign Ministry officials declined to comment on the matter, but an Israeli diplomat said on condition of anonymity that the government has decided to withhold a public statement until the British message is received, and would then choose how to respond.

Haaretz also asks some serious questions about the alleged assassination in a strongly-worded editorial, casting doubt over the cleanliness of the operation and its necessity, particularly noting that it “placed in harms way” the Israelis whose identities were allegedly stolen, and that it endangers relations with European allies and embarasses the authorities of the United Arab Emirates, considered a moderate Arab regime and a possible US ally in a future strike against Iran.

Hamas has responded by vowing revenge, not particularly surprising, but this adds further fuel to the fire that instead of any moves towards reproachment with Hamas, Israel is still acting as the aggressor.

Another interesting read is Gideon Levy for Haaretz, who asks what actual benefit comes from Israel assassinating key enemy figures:

We eliminated Abbas al-Musawi? Well done, Israel Defense Forces. We got Hassan Nasrallah. We killed Ahmed Yassin? Well done, Shin Bet security service. We got a Hamas many times stronger. Abu Jihad was eliminated? Well done to the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit – of course, according to foreign news reports. We killed a potential partner, relatively moderate and charismatic. As a bonus, we got revenge attacks like those after “the Engineer” Yihyeh Ayash was slain. We also got the danger hovering over every Israeli and Jew in the world each anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, which was also blamed on Israel.

It is important to remember that political assassinations are illegal and possibly immoral, but if we look at the alleged assassination from a strategic point of view, what benefit will come to Israel? Levy does an excellent job of pointing out how previous assassinations have contributed nothing positive to Israel’s security in the long term, only possibly harmed it. The Haaretz op-ed points out the international political implications of the hit and the moral implications for Israelis (and Jews considering migrating to Israel) everywhere. It doesn’t hurt to also point out that the current political climate, with advances (albeit small) made by J-Street and the Goldstone Report in helping Israel gain international notoriety for potential human rights abuses may not make the best climate to botch an assassination in a place as globally prominent as Dubai. I don’t think this will lead to any tangible result, such as a conviction, but it will definitely lead to more questions asked by the international community about where exactly Israel is heading as a state and where the lines are to be drawn on our support for it. And that can’t be good for the Israeli PR machine.

Written by alexlobov

February 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Indian Labourers in Dubai to get a new Code of Standards

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photo credit - limeasia.net

photo credit - limeasia.net

Well we’ve been a little obsessed with the Goldstone Report over here recently, which is all fine and dandy really because it’s kind of a big deal. There’ll be more to come on it but now for something slightly different.

The cause of migrant rights in the Gulf is a long standing one and there has been a lot written recently about the exploitation of migrants and the adverse working conditions under which they labour. For more of a background on the issue, I suggest you visit Mideast Youth as they do a lot of work and have some great information about the issue.

Having lived and worked in the Gulf myself, it’s an issue that I’ve come face to face with on numerous occasions, and the disparity between rights and lives of migrant workers in the Gulf is really quite confronting.

However, it seems changes may be afoot, as Abu Dhabi’s the National reports:

A set of minimum standards covering working and living conditions is to be introduced to protect Indian labourers from exploitation, and companies that breach them face action from the UAE and Indian governments.

In the Emirates, offending employers could be fined, banned from hiring expatriate workers or have their businesses downgraded.

While these changes are being worked out by the Indian and Emirati governments, meaning they will only be enforced on behalf of labourers from Indian (and not labourers from other countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, etc.) it is still an important step forward.

India’s ambassador to the UAE, Talmiz Ahmed, explains that these standards are not focusing on wages, or attempting to implement a minimum wage system, but rather more focused on living conditions:

“You may get good wages, but if you are living in squalid conditions, without air conditioning, eating inferior food or having to do long hours of compulsory overtime, you won’t be happy. So, living and working conditions are as important for me as minimum wages.”

There isn’t any word in the article when exactly these conditions will come into force or, indeed, how stringently they will be enforced. However it seems any implementation this year is unlikely as:

The embassy is looking for a company to prepare the software for the programme in time for it to be presented at the next conference of Indian ambassadors in New Delhi in November.

Mr. Ahmed also notes that increasingly, due to the economic downturn’s adverse effect on Dubai, more Indian labourers are leaving Dubai and heading for Abu Dhabi.

Written by alexlobov

September 19, 2009 at 5:00 pm