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Middle East Press ( 18 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Middle East Press On Hamas, and Netanyahu Courts Arab Voters: New Age Islam's Selection, 18 March 2021


By New Age Islam Edit Desk

18 March 2021



• Would Hamas Complicate US Plans For Reset With Palestinians?

By Andrew Parasiliti, Elizabeth Hagedorn and Joe Snell

• Netanyahu Courts Arab Voters As 'Abu Yair'

By Afif Abu Much

• Clash between Unlikely Allies Turkey And Russia Is Inevitable

By Zaid M. Belbagi

• EU Should Thank Turkey Instead Of Mudslinging

By Melih Altinok

• What Does Turkey’s Call for West’s Help on Syria Mean?

By Serkan Demirtas

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Would Hamas Complicate US Plans For Reset With Palestinians?

By Andrew Parasiliti, Elizabeth Hagedorn And Joe Snell

18 March 2021



Hot take on Hamas, elections and a possible US reset toward the Palestinians:

The world’s eyes are on the Israeli elections next week, March 23, the country’s fourth national poll in three years, and whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can extend his reign as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

But there’s another election next door that will play vitally into both Israeli politics and to the Biden administration’s plan for a reset in US policy toward the Palestinians: elections for the Palestinian legislature on May 22, and then for the presidency on July 31.

The scrum ahead of the March 31 filing deadline, a key benchmark for the elections, is dizzying, and Hamas, which the United States considers a foreign terrorist organization, is well-positioned as a spoiler.

Hamas holds unity card: The divisions and potential alliances within Palestinian politics are, as always, on full display. Yet there also is buzz that the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the Palestinian Authority and the areas under its administration in the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamic resistance party that governs Gaza, could form a unified bloc in the elections.

This is not yet a done deal — and may never be — but if so, it would represent the most unified Palestinian front in decades. But here’s the catch: If the two geographies and factions were united, with Hamas integrated into a combined bloc with Fatah, US-brokered peace talks with Israel could get harder.

Not only does the United States consider Hamas a terrorist group, but Hamas’ very reason for being is resistance, not peacemaking. And don’t forget about the small but influential Islamic Jihad, based in Gaza and backed by Iran, which is weighing whether to support the Hamas slate in the elections.

Fatah divisions: There is reportedly discontent with Abbas, but it’s hard to gauge how deep it is. Breakaway former Fatah leaders with high name recognition might peel off votes — Mohammed Dahlan (backed by the UAE); Salam Fayyad (former prime minister) and Nasser al-Kidwa (former Palestinian ambassador to the UN and nephew of late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Marwan Barghouti (who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison) backs Fatah in the legislative elections, but he may not support Abbas in the presidential elections.

Our take: The safe money is on Abbas, but it’s too soon to tell, given the politicking ahead of elections. We’ll know more after March 31. Whatever the extent of discontent with his leadership, like Bibi, Abbas benefits from a divided opposition. The wild card is Hamas. If the Palestinian leadership comes out more united under Abbas, with Hamas on board, his internal position would be stronger than ever — but the role of Hamas could be complicating. Although Abbas and Fatah would be in charge, the prospects for peace, especially if Netanyahu wins, could be distant as ever. And if there is no Fatah-Hamas deal, the whole process could collapse in disunity, before, during or after the elections, leaving the Palestinian political picture even messier than when it started.

Five quick takes from Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and the Gulf

1. What’s behind the spat between Israel and Jordan?

Osama al-Sharif has the back story on why Amman scuttled Netanyahu’s trip to the United Arab Emirates last week. In short, Jordan’s King Abdullah II was fed up with Netanyahu trying to make an election issue out of custodianship over the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Plus, Ben Caspit has this scoop from Jerusalem: Netanyahu and Abdullah have only spoken once or twice since they last met in June 2018.

2. COVID-19’s economic toll accelerates economic trends in the Gulf

Karen Young explains that the Gulf region’s economic policy response to COVID-19 is an acceleration of trends that were underway before the pandemic hit. COVID-19 is “speeding things along, and we see now a wider aperture across the GCC on tax policy, labor market regulation and immigration policy,” she writes.

3. Turkey’s Kurds not wooed by Erdogan

Amberin Zaman takes us inside a Turkish government-run marriage class in the predominantly Kurdish town of Bismil. The lesson plan? “Islamic piety” for soon-to-be newlyweds.

Officially, the mandatory schooling is meant to “raise healthy generations” of new married couples. But critics say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party has been rolling out religious initiatives to woo sought-after Kurdish voters. Zaman looks at whether those efforts are paying off.

4. US-supported Afghan talks a gift to Ankara

The planned intra-Afghan summit in Istanbul next month could give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the chance to rebuild some ties with Washington, writes Fehim Tastekin. Relations between the two NATO allies are strained, to say the least. Nearly two months into President Joe Biden’s tenure, Erdogan has yet to receive a call from his new American counterpart.

5.  Egypt and Somalia get cozy

Relations between Egypt and Somalia are on the mend, as evidenced by the new Somali ambassador to Egypt’s meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week. One theory for Cairo’s recent outreach is Mogadishu's membership in the Arab League and African Union, both of which could sanction Ethiopia for building and filling the colossal Nile River dam Egypt opposes.

One cool thing: West Bank palaces get a facelift

The West Bank town of Arraba is working to renovate a set of palaces belonging to one of Palestine’s most powerful families in the 18th and 19th centuries, Ahmad Melhem reports. Check out the palaces and learn more about the family who built them.

What we’re listening to: Healing Iraq’s lost generation

Sherri Kraham Talabany, president and executive director of the Iraqi Kurdistan-based SEED Foundation, talks to Amberin Zaman about her work rehabilitating young Yazidi boys in Iraq who were brainwashed and deployed as child soldiers by the Islamic State.

ICYMI: The demise of Israeli democracy?

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, tells Ben Caspit that a decade of legislation targeting Israel’s rule of law, separation of powers, and system of checks and balances has undermined democracy in the Jewish state. “We’ve weathered the storm,” Plesner says, but a Benjamin Netanyahu victory in next week’s election could change that.

What we’re reading: Syria’s war through the lens

“The camera was my way of breathing,” writes Aboud Hamam, one of 16 Syrian photographers selected for this harrowing photo essay published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to mark 10 years since Syria’s uprising.

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2021/03/takeaway-hamas-complicate-us-plans-reset-palestinians.html

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Netanyahu Courts Arab Voters as 'Abu Yair'

By Afif Abu Much

Mar 17, 2021

Netanyahu

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Any foreigner arriving in Israel before the upcoming March 23 election and spending time in the country’s Arab towns and villages would be stunned by all the love being showered on the local residents by a candidate known as Abu Yair. They might think that he's running with one of the Arab parties, but Hebrew letters spelling out “MaHaL” on the campaign posters mean the Likud party, as he is none other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu! (Abu Yair, of course, means, “father of Yair,” a reference to Netanyahu’s eldest son.)

“We’re all with you, Abu Yair!” blare the Arabic-language signs plastered in towns like Rahat and Shfaram. Cars covered with the slogan have been making the rounds in Arab towns and villages. The is a new Arabic-language Facebook page, created in early February, and an Arabic-language jingle (sung by a Jewish artist, for anyone wondering). There are also frequent meetings with Arab leaders and incessant visits to Arab towns and villages by Netanyahu and his retinue as they pitch what they present as a new candidate to Arab voters.

Anyone who has followed the current election in Israel — the fourth in two years — will know that two things have changed. There is no head-to-head clash between Netanyahu and another candidate, like there was between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

The second difference is there has been a drastic change in the way some Jewish parties treat Arab citizens. If the relationship between the Jewish parties and Israel’s Arab citizens was once characterized as distant, in this election Arabs are the most sought-after electorate by non-Arab parties, even Netanyahu himself.

Netanyahu and his party have adopted a new strategy in dealing with the Arab public, rebranding Netanyahu and turning a page on his relationship with the country’s Arab citizens. They hope that Arab voters will forget the old Netanyahu, who frequently incited against them and did everything he could to delegitimize them and boot them out of the political game. He had even said of the Knesset, “Arabs are not part of the equation.”

Will the Arab public connect with Netanyahu's new image and forget about everything he did in the past, now that he is trying to win their votes?

During his previous terms in office, Netanyahu made “right-wing” synonymous with hatred of Arabs to unite his base around him. Now that he sees how the tactic has boomeranged and led to higher voting rates in the Arab public, he is trying a different approach.

Researcher and feminist activist Manal Shalabi told Al-Monitor, “What began as a gimmick when Arabs on social networking platforms started calling Netanyahu ‘Abu Yair’ suddenly turned into a successful election campaign for Netanyahu in the Arab public. He is trying to draw closer to the Arab community while attempting to get Arab voters to forget everything he did in the past, including the demolition of homes, the nationality law and more. He is an intelligent man who is trying to distract Arab voters, but it may not work as well as he hopes. We already see him starting to drop in the polls among the Arab sector. Until recently, it gave him two seats, but now polls show Arabs giving him only 1.5 seats.”

Shalabi pointed out that not only did Netanyahu push for the discriminatory nationality law, he also promoted the law allowing cameras in polling stations for the purpose of suppressing the vote in Arab towns and villages and the Kaminitz law laying out fines for illegal building. His own government admitted that it targeted the Arab population and only later discovered that it affected Jews too. He took steps to advance the muezzin law against the call for prayer in mosques and the acceptance committee law, intended to keep Arab citizens out of Jewish villages, and many other pieces of discriminatory legislation. How someone who promoted all that now could be trying win Arab votes, she asked.

Zeinab Samania, a fellow at the Mandel Foundation for Leadership, told Al-Monitor about the dissonance in the Abu Yair moniker. “On one hand, it is intended to reflect a sense of legitimacy, identification, readiness to help and acceptability for Netanyahu within Arab society. On the other hand, it is disingenuous and inappropriate. The title speaks to the ‘simple folk,’ with the goal of gaining their support and winning their votes.”

Muhammad Zoabi, an LGBTQ activist, told Al-Monitor, “With Netanyahu, everything is personal. If he needs to cajole the Arab public just to remain in power, he will do that. So what if he passed the Kaminitz law and the nationality law? So what if he warned that Arabs were heading to the polls in droves?”

And what about Netanyahu's base, to whom "Arab" has long been a dog whistle to get them to close ranks around him to prevent his government from falling. How will these voters react to this new Netanyahu so cynically courting the Arabs he once attacked?

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2021/03/israel-benjamin-netanyahu-abu-yair-arab-voters-elections.html

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Clash Between Unlikely Allies Turkey and Russia Is Inevitable

By Zaid M. Belbagi

March 17, 2021

Having gone to war at least 12 times over the centuries, Turkey and Russia are unlikely allies. In 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, any accord between the two seemed unlikelier still. And the gunning down of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara a year later was a cause for war if ever there was one. Startlingly, however, the reality since that low point in relations between the countries is that they have grown closer together. As Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to drive a wedge between Turkey and its NATO allies, how this relationship between historical adversaries continues remains to be seen.

As a 17 million square km landmass to its north, Russia is an immovable reality for Turkey. For the Kremlin, the aspirations of 80 million Muslims to once again extend their writ beyond their borders are a threat to Russia’s traditional sphere of influence. It is in the Caucasus that the ambitions of these two regional juggernauts have always and will continue to rub cheek by jowl. Where Turkey sees in Georgia a potential NATO ally, Russia has long seen the Caucasus only as a host to client states it keeps on a short leash. Not since the early 20th century has Turkey considered taking up arms against Russia to reconnect itself with its Turkic brethren to its east. The events of the last year, however, have shown its willingness to engage in a conflict that has actually brought the two sides closer together.

For decades, the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh province of Azerbaijan remained in a state of stagnation, with Baku lacking the will to act independently without aggravating Russia, which concurrently backed its Armenian rival to the hilt. The intervention of Turkey in 2020, however, rather than antagonize the situation, actually led to a peace treaty and a territorial realignment.

Putin summarized his tolerance of Turkey’s military adventures when he stated in November: “Today, they (France and Germany) are jointly performing their NATO defense and security duties the way they think fit. Why can’t we (Russia and Turkey) do the same?” This statement highlights exactly why this marriage of convenience means so much to the Kremlin: In an increasingly multipolar world, it is only through exploring relationships with other powers that Russia is able to project itself. An alliance of sorts with Turkey not only limits the opportunities for other powers to involve themselves in Russia’s sphere of influence, but also has the added value of undermining NATO.

If the fighter jet crisis was a turning point in how Turkey dealt with Russia, it also highlighted how Syria would act as a blueprint for how the two could work together at the expense of other powers. In providing an all-important lifeline to sustain the Assad regime, Russia acted in opposition to international opinion, while extending its presence in a part of the world that had, in many respects, been an exclusively American concern. And by providing an opportunity for Turkey to pummel its Kurdish enemies across the border, the Kremlin was able to show itself as a practical ally.

Where Ankara’s relationship with Washington is governed by personality, elections, institutions and public opinion, its ties with Russia are entirely personal. It was Putin that reportedly forewarned Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the 2016 attempted coup and it was also he who congratulated the Turkish president on his survival. The two have had the most regular face-to-face sit-downs of any world leaders since.

Despite having done all that was necessary to align itself with the European economies for six decades, the chances of Turkey joining the EU are now more remote than ever. However, instead of integrating itself with China’s Belt and Road Initiative and simultaneously reinvigorating ties with the Central Asian Turkic peoples, Russia is now of increasing importance to Turkey. This trend was highlighted spectacularly by the decision to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system. Not only did this exclude Turkey from purchasing fifth-generation US fighter aircraft, but more importantly it was the first time since Bolshevik Russia supported the modern Turkish state against Greece in the 1920s that Ankara had so boldly stepped out of the Western orbit in favor of Russia. Faced with mounting security challenges, Europe can ill afford to lose the second-largest military within NATO, while Turkey would similarly do well to recall Putin’s expediency — Russia will only work with Turkey while its interests are served.

Despite the ability of Russia to sustain a relationship that is not rules-based, it does not provide the economic allure of the West — trade revenue that Turkey can ill afford to lose. Though Turkey and Russia have sought common ground where possible, Ankara will be hesitant to incur further international sanctions given how acute its economic problems currently are. Both sides now know the other has the power and, importantly, the daring to implement the decisions they reach. Before long, a clash is inevitable. Leaders on both sides only need to look at history to pinpoint where this may take place: Around the Black Sea, in the Caucasus or in Central Asia, where Turkish policies increasingly threaten Russia.

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Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1827171

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EU Should Thank Turkey Instead Of Mudslinging

By Melih Altinok

MAR 18, 2021

The shocking statement below that mention Turkey are taken from the European Parliament’s decision on the 10th anniversary of the Syrian civil war.

“Turkey has been intervening directly in Syria since 2016 with a view to occupying the northern parts of the country, predominantly consisting of Syrian Kurdish enclaves, in violation of international law, including by invading in October 2019 territories controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).”

Describing Turkey, which has been shouldering the humanitarian and economic responsibility resulting from the Syrian civil war for the sake of humanity, as an “invader” force is shameful.

Millions of Syrians fleeing the Bashar Assad brutalities have found shelter in Turkey. Currently, the number of Syrians in Turkey has reached 4 million, while this very number keeps climbing as more en route to Europe are intercepted by Turkey.

The burden Turkey has undertaken since the Syrian crisis is not limited to this fact. Ankara has created safe zones in northern Syria through military operations in recent years.

In addition to security, Turkey made significant infrastructure works in the region, including the opening of schools and hospitals. Thanks to the Turkish efforts, further refugee influx was prevented and many Syrians around the world could return to their homeland.

In this process, the established safe zones were freed from terrorist elements such as the bloody Daesh, the PKK terrorist group and the PKK's Syrian wing, the YPG. The crimes committed by these hired killer gangs against civilians in Syria have been repeatedly reported by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.

The SDF, which the European Parliament referred to as a legitimate entity in its recent statement, is a structure under the leadership of YPG terrorists. The YPG/PKK is responsible for the deaths of nearly 50,000 people in Turkey. Many states, including EU members, recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Besides, the European Parliament’s claim that Turkey chose the safe zones from predominantly Kurdish locations does not reflect reality as Ankara did not determine the points based on demographics. All of the safe zones are locations captured from terrorist organizations like Daesh or the YPG/PKK.

Moreover, while the coast guards in European countries such as Greece sink boats carrying refugees and migrants, such as the killed Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, Turkey continues to welcome refugees and migrants regardless of their ethnicity or language.

Traditional propaganda

There is also a significant population of Kurdish descent among the 4 million Syrians living in Turkey. It's even more unethical to call Turkey an enemy of Kurds if you take into consideration the millions of people of Kurdish descent living in the country.

Obviously, while preparing the controversial report about Turkey – a country monitoring and guarding the southeastern border of the EU and NATO – the members of the European Parliament have most probably used the PKK fugitives in Europe as a reference.

If the members were as sensitive to this issue as they said, I wish they had sent a few members of the union to the region along with the pope, who just visited northern Iraq and also met the father of the toddler Aylan.

Later, they would have been able to hear the reality from Kurds themselves, who would tell them that Turkey was the only country that had opened its borders to Kurdish people fleeing the toppled late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s inhumane chemical attacks in Halabja in 1988.

https://www.dailysabah.com/opinion/columns/eu-should-thank-turkey-instead-of-mudslinging

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What Does Turkey’s Call for West’s Help on Syria Mean?

By Serkan Demirtas

March 17 2021

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent Bloomberg article on the 10th anniversary of the Syrian turmoil, “The West Should Help Turkey End Syria’s Civil War,” was important for a number of reasons.

Turkey, a founding member of the Astana Group along with Russia and Iran to end the civil war in Syria, is, perhaps for the first time, issuing a call to the West to help Turkey end the tragedy in this country. (The article did not, in any form, mention the achievements of the Astana Group’s diplomatic efforts since early 2017, but rather identified the Joe Biden administration by name as the recipient of the message.)

Those who still recall the first years of the Syrian civil war will remember the fact that Turkey and the United States were totally on the same page concerning the crisis in the Middle Eastern nation as two active members of the Friends of the Syrian People. But things changed drastically after the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) along with other radical terror groups that stormed all of Syria and Iraq for years.

The U.S. decision to partner with the YPG in the fight against ISIL in Syria, together with Turkey’s extended cooperation with Russia in Syria, resulted in a divergence between Ankara and Washington as well as other Western capitals who were hit by ISIL operatives.

Erdogan’s call should be interpreted as a sign that Ankara is ready to revisit the abandoned cooperation with its Western partners. It has three motives:

First, as seen in the last five rounds of the Geneva meetings, the Constitutional Committee is far from achieving a result. The Bashar al-Assad regime is blocking progress, and the Syrian opposition is still divided. Although Turkey is no longer declaring that “al-Assad must go,” it has reiterated the need for a political and democratic transition in the country. Obviously, there is more the West can do to this end.

Second, the humanitarian tragedy is growing and the COVID-19 pandemic is just adding more to it. As seen in U.N. reports, the Syrian people, particularly children and women, are suffering dearly from the enduring crisis. As there is no foreseeable end to the crisis, millions of Syrians who are displaced internally and externally are not expected to return home soon. That means the international community must immediately help the nations that host migrants, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Third, the continued political vacuum is posing new threats to Syria, neighboring countries and the entire world as there are concerns about the resurrection of radical terrorist elements. The article repeats Ankara’s demands about the YPG, albeit in a softer tone this time. It does not urge a fresh military operation in the region either.

In the larger picture, Erdogan’s article could be seen as part of Turkey’s recent efforts to mend ties with its Western partners, particularly the Europeans and the United States, with whom it has contrasting views about the situation in northeastern Syria.

Turkey and its interlocutors are seemingly ready to accept the status quo in northeastern Syria and divert their attention to the pressing political and humanitarian issues.

https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/opinion/serkan-demirtas/what-does-turkeys-call-for-wests-help-on-syria-mean-163202

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