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Middle East Press On Israeli Arabs, Iran’s Ties With Al-Qaeda, Abiy Ahmed And Antony Blinken: New Age Islam's Selection, 24 November 2020


By New Age Islam Edit Desk

24 November 2020

• Israeli Arabs Enjoy Fruits Of Normalization With The Emirates

By Afif Abu Much

• The Future Of Iran’s Ties With Al-Qaeda Under New US President

By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

• International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Definition Will Not Help Fight Anti-Semitism

By Mark Muhannad Ayyash

• How Abiy Ahmed Can Bring Back Peace To Ethiopia

By Ashok Swain

• Antony Blinken, Biden’s New Secretary Of State Ready To Take On The Middle East

By Elizabeth Hagedorn

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Israeli Arabs Enjoy Fruits Of Normalization With The Emirates

By Afif Abu Much

Nov 23, 2020


Egyptian actor and singer Mohamed Ramadan found himself at the center of a storm on social media following his photos in Dubai with Israeli singer Omer Adam and Israeli-Arab soccer player Dia Saba. Both Adam and Saba arrived to Dubai following the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Still, this controversy does not seem to stop the momentum created by the agreement, including one within the Israeli-Arab public.

In fact, several Israeli Arabs have decided to ride the momentum of the agreement. They have started flying to the Emirates, a destination that up to now had been closed to those with an Israeli passport. Some of them fly for business, others for pleasure.

It started with the Bank Hapoalim initiative that sent Sept. 8 a delegation of 14 businesspeople, among them businessman Ahmad Dabbah from Dir al-Assad, for an official visit to the UAE, which included meetings with the commerce department and representatives from the financial and banking sectors. On Sept. 14, the chairman of the Board of Bank Leumi, Samer Haj Yehia, headed a delegation of businessmen including Ahmad Afifi of Nazareth. At the end of their visit they announced the signing of an agreement with banks from Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

So far this month, an increasing number of Israeli-Arab citizens have flown to Dubai to enjoy this beautiful city, which is home to the tallest tower in the world, Burj Khalifa, the largest shopping mall in the world and an indoor ski slope.

Hadeel Tellawi of Taibe, who is currently visiting Dubai, told Al-Monitor, “I’m visiting Dubai for the first time and I’m amazed at the beauty of this city. In my view Dubai is a source for Arab pride, a city we can be proud of all over the world. What is striking and surprising to me is the sheer cleanliness of the city, where they clean and wash the streets and entertainment venues every day. When I went up Burj Khalifa I was thrilled that an Arab country managed to build the tallest building in the world. [Dubai is] a gorgeous, unique, interesting and charming city.” When asked how the UAE is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, she said, “They enforce the restrictions and wearing of masks and don’t let anyone take off the mask even for a second, so you feel very safe.”

In the past, a number of Israeli Arabs have visited the UAE for business and pleasure. Most did so with a Palestinian passport they obtained from the Palestinian Authority (PA) after much bureaucracy, which enabled them to fly to a variety of destinations in the Arab world through the airport in Amman, since an Israeli passport prevented them from doing so.

Examples of such visits were those of Israeli-Arab singers Haitham Halaila and Manal Mousa, who participated in the "Arab Idol" competition, the most popular TV show in the Arab world, in 2014 in Lebanon. This gave them the opportunity to perform in many Arab countries, including in the UAE.

The normalization agreement has not only made travel between Israel and the UAE possible, it is also, according to many, an opportunity to build bridges and connect with the Arab world. The first to reap the fruits of the agreement was Israeli national soccer team player Saba from Majd al-Krum, who made history and joined Al-Nasr Dubai in a deal that is considered historic on many levels, becoming the first Israeli soccer player to play for the Emirati team.

Amir Assi from Kafr Bara is another example of someone who has taken advantage of the normalization agreement. Assi heads Al-Amir Group that specializes in building business and tourist connections with the Arab world and the PA, including arranging flights to Saudi Arabia for hajj and umrah, the nonmandatory pilgrimage that can be undertaken throughout the year. He has recently signed an agreement with Flydubai to arrange direct flights from Ben-Gurion Airport to the UAE.

In a conversation with Al-Monitor, Assi said that he was on his way to meet with one of the most well-known businessmen in Dubai. “We have recently opened an office for Al-Amir Group in Dubai and our representative in the office is Manal Mousa, who became famous for her participation in 'Arab Idol.'”

Assi noted that his company is the first from Israel to sign an agreement for direct flights to Dubai, whether for business or pleasure. “Up to now five of our flights have flown to Dubai — the passengers were half Arab and half Jewish. The decision to open an office in Dubai came in response to a wave of requests we received to advance business connections in the UAE. We are now working to set up a delegation that will include 70 to 80 leading businessmen in Israel, to hold business meetings with the owners of Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa at the beginning of January.”

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/israel-united-arab-emirates-manal-mousa-haitham-halaila.html

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The Future Of Iran’s Ties With Al-Qaeda Under New US President

By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

November 23, 2020

 

Al-Qaeda

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The announcement of the killing of Al-Qaeda’s deputy commander in Tehran has again raised questions about the Iranian regime’s relationship with the terrorist organization and has provided a fresh reminder of the need to analyze the regime’s strategy based on using the organization as an asset and providing safe havens for its leaders.

On Nov. 14, 2020, American media outlets cited reports from US officials confirming that a covert joint operation by US and Israeli intelligence services had resulted in the assassination of Al-Qaeda commander Abu Mohammed Al-Masri in the heart of Tehran on Aug. 7, 2020. Al-Masri was involved in the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The Iranian Foreign Ministry predictably dismissed the reports of Al-Masri’s killing on Iranian soil, describing them as “fake news.”

In the face of significant evidence from various sources repeatedly confirming the longstanding relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda, the regime in Tehran insists on sticking unyieldingly to its policy of denial. It cites sectarian differences and conflicting ideological views as supposedly compelling evidence of the lack of any connection between Tehran and Al-Qaeda, and it reiterates the animosity between the two sides. However, a closer look at both the trajectory of relations between the two sides and their ideological similarities will quickly reveal the deep-rooted ties between them and show the Iranian regime’s success in forging an alliance with Al-Qaeda and employing its operatives to meet Iranian objectives.

In theory, there are two different schools of thought within Al-Qaeda in relation to dealing with Shiites in general and with Iran in particular. The first school of thought, spearheaded by Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Abu Mohammed Al-Maqdisi, believes that targeting Iranians and Shiites in general is not a priority for the organization because they are excused for their ignorance of the “true” understanding of Islam, which Al-Qaeda claims to monopolize. Also, this school is somewhat more lenient and flexible in its attitude toward Shiites when compared to the second school of thought, which will be discussed in the following lines. According to this first school of thought, precedence should be given to confronting the more evident enemy: The West, the US and those aligned with them.

The second school of thought within Al-Qaeda was spearheaded by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, a student of Al-Maqdisi and the assassinated leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who believed in the necessity of expanding the organization’s terrorist operations against Shiites with the aim of sparking a Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq.

On the ground, meanwhile, Iran’s regime has provided a safe haven for Al-Qaeda operatives who had been trapped in Afghanistan following the US invasion of Kabul in 2001. Many members of Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups found they had no choice but to escape to Iran, particularly in light of the Iranian regime sharing the organization’s animosity toward the US and feeling they had no hope of fleeing to Pakistan given the strong CIA presence there.

By having these Al-Qaeda members and affiliates on its soil, Iran found additional assets for extending its terrorist capabilities in the region and beyond. These assets had the potential to carry out whatever terrorist operations the Iranian regime wished to mount or potentially serve as a useful bargaining chip with the US, to be swapped — if necessary — to achieve its interests against the US.

Meanwhile, Al-Zarqawi directed his extremist vision toward the Shiites in Iraq in order to cause the greatest possible disruption for the remaining US troops in Iraq in order to drive them out of the country, enabling Iran to take control of Iraq. It is worth noting that Al-Zarqawi had first fled to Iran following the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan before moving to Iraq.

Although 20 years have passed since the confrontation between the US and Al-Qaeda reached its peak, Iran still maintains the organization as an asset and bargaining chip, harboring senior Al-Qaeda commanders such as Saif Al-Adel, a high-level member of the organization’s shoura council, on its soil. Experts believe that Al-Adel has tremendous field experience, with most observers agreeing that he is still in Iran according to a UN report released in 2018. Other prominent Al-Qaeda associates still in Iran include the family of the terrorist organization’s deceased founder, Osama bin Laden.

With the “alliance and employment” relationship between Al-Qaeda and Iran’s regime proven and well-documented, it seems probable that the future of the Washington-Tehran relationship under the incoming US President Joe Biden will put the Iranian regime under significant US pressure no less than the extreme pressure imposed on the regime by President Donald Trump.

Despite the expected gradual settlement of the crisis surrounding the nuclear deal during Biden’s time in office, the problems resulting from all the other Iranian excesses will emerge more than ever before. These excesses include Iran’s expansionism across the Middle East, the regime’s support for armed militias and terrorist groups, its human rights abuses and the issue of detainees with dual Iranian-European citizenship in Iranian prisons. Each of these excesses and aggressions by Iran’s regime is sufficient to provoke sanctions against Tehran and they should be as severe as those imposed on it due to its nuclear activities. The foregoing is based on the assumption that US sanctions will be lifted all in one go after Biden comes to power, which we believe to be rather unrealistic.

For its part, Iran, for the first time, announced the upcoming release of several detainees from its prisons shortly after the announcement of Biden’s victory in the US presidential election. After Trump filed lawsuits challenging the validity of the voting process in a few states, Iran slowed down in taking the remaining steps to release the detainees. This was in addition to the growing debate within the Iranian ruling elite about the possible future scenarios in relation to the US position on the nuclear deal under Biden and the best way to deal with them.

While dragging its heels on releasing some detainees, Iran was expected to release some of the imprisoned dual nationals. A significant number of dual nationals have been arrested while visiting their relatives in Iran. The regime levels various implausible allegations at detained dual nationals, such as accusing them of carrying out espionage missions for Western countries, and effectively uses them as bargaining chips during its negotiations with the West. One of the best known among these cases is that of Iranian-British dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, detained in Tehran since April 2016.

Based on all the mentioned points, even if the assassination of Al-Qaeda leaders in Iran carried out by the US and Israel results in the close relationship between Tehran and Al-Qaeda coming to the fore again, this will serve Iran indirectly, relieving the regime of the burden of harboring Al-Qaeda commanders, and significantly reducing the likelihood of future escalation between Iran and the Biden administration. This is especially so when we put the killing of Al-Masri in Iran on Nov. 14, 2020, side by side with the success of French forces in killing Bah Ag Moussa, an Al-Qaeda military leader in the organization’s North African wing on Nov. 13, 2020, and with Afghanistan’s announcement of the killing of one of Al-Qaeda’s senior commanders on its soil, Mohammad Hanif Rezai, on Nov. 12, 2020.

This means there are a number of files related to Al-Qaeda and its collaboration with certain governments, first and foremost Iran, that are about to be closed, meaning the policy of “alliance and employment” that Iran has pursued with Al-Qaeda may come to an end. In the meantime, the current US administration is hastening its withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, making them conducive arenas for the spread of terror activities of Iranian militias operating on the ground in both countries.

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Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1767291

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International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Definition Will Not Help Fight Anti-Semitism

By Mark Muhannad Ayyash

23 Nov 2020

Following in the footsteps of various European and North American local and national governments, the Legislative Assembly of Canada’s Ontario province was set to become the latest political body to adopt a controversial definition and list of illustrative examples of anti-Semitism.

First put forward in December 2019, the Combating Antisemitism Act, or Bill 168, sought to revise the province’s definition in accordance with what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has outlined constitutes anti-Semitism.

But on October 26, the day before public hearings were set to begin, Premier Doug Ford instead issued Order in Council 1450/2020, which declared that the Ontario government would recognise the IHRA. Unlike Bill 168, however, the Order in Council did not reference the illustrative examples or amend existing statutes. It remains unclear whether Bill 168 will be shelved and whether decision-makers will still be encouraged to interpret the Order in Council as including the illustrative examples.

According to the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Many advocates for justice in Palestine find nothing wrong with this definition, and they indeed support the necessary fight against anti-Semitism. The problem, however, as they point out is the conflation of this definition with critiques of Israel. Even though the IHRA insists that it does not wish to censor criticism of Israel, the effect of adopting this definition and its examples is certainly to police and censor the Palestinian critique of Israel.

Despite the IHRA’s claim that the definition is non-legally binding, the definition and its adoption, according to American scholar Rebecca Ruth Gould, “comes to function as … a quasi-law, in which capacity it exercises the de facto authority of the law, without having acquired legal legitimacy”.

In short, the IHRA definition seeks to make rather banal and soft criticisms of Israel acceptable (eg, policy X failed because of certain unintended consequences, a misreading of the political conditions, etc.) while censoring more serious and necessary critiques (ie, the Palestinian critique of the colonial foundations of the Israeli state and the need to transform them).

Of the examples presented in the IHRA definition, three in particular stand out. The first casts as anti-Semitic any argument in which we may find the following feature: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

The list of academic articles and books that would become anti-Semitic if we accepted this example is indeed astounding. It would include the writings of Hannah Arendt, Edward Said, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Joseph Massad, Achille Mbembe, Robert Wolfe, Angela Davis, Hamid Dabashi, Audra Simpson and many others. In fact, an entire academic journal, Settler Colonial Studies, would have to be removed from all of our libraries.

What is really alarming about this example is that it posits the nation-state as a natural and irrefutable fact of social and political life, and one that is beyond reproach, critique and deep analysis. The historical reality is that the nation-state is a relatively new mode of social and political organisation.

The overwhelming majority of nation-states that exist today, including Israel, only came into being as modern nation-states during the 20th century. Academic theorisations and analyses of the nation-state are replete with critiques of these states as founded in violence, and as based in racial and sexual contracts that foundationally discriminate and attack certain racialised and gendered bodies.

Israel is not singled out when its statehood is called a racist endeavour. It is, in fact, treated with the same level of critique that is often directed against all nation-states, including Canada. The equivalent of this example if applied to Canada is to render the following statement as hate speech and potentially criminal: “Canada’s foundational structure is racist.”

If this is the path the IHRA is promoting, then let us stop all pretention and censor Indigenous studies and critical race theory, as well as all textbooks that mention these theoretical traditions and schools of thought. I realise that the Ford government and other conservative governments would welcome such a censorship, but the majority of the world’s scholars and thinkers would not.

Moreover, this example paradoxically violates another example put forth in the IHRA definition. As they state, “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” By stating in the first example that no one shall point out the racist endeavour that underpins the Israeli state, it actually applies a different standard to the Israeli state. The first example dissolves the very equality of standards that this second example is alleging to promote.

But there is also another serious problem with this example. What sort of behaviour qualifies as “not expected” of any other democratic nation? Supporters of Israel often argue that criticism of Israel’s violent actions in Gaza and other Palestinian territories, or maintaining the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land, or questioning Israel’s alleged democratic character constitutes anti-Semitism.

But is ending a siege on a native population “not expected” of a democratic nation? In Israel’s case, that would be Gaza, and in a country like Canada, that would be the political siege on Indigenous communities which allows the government to get away with not providing basic services to them, such as clean drinking water.

Is the demand not to kill civilians in military operations never asked of Canada or the United States when they commit war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq? Is the demand to allow Palestinians sovereign rights to their land and resources not also demanded of Canada when we are debating and critiquing the building of pipelines and their infringement on Indigenous sovereignty?

More generally, are we, as activists, scholars and citizens not allowed to ask questions about what constitutes a “democratic nation”, what demands and behaviours we ought to expect from our governments and other governments? As a Palestinian-Canadian scholar myself, am I not allowed to interrogate the nature of government in Israel? Do we expect Kashmiri-Canadians to not interrogate the Indian state and make demands of it? Or Irish-Canadians to not do the same in regard to the United Kingdom?

If that is the case, then more bodies of work need to be removed from our libraries: democratic theory, critical political and social theory, all Marxist analysis of democracy, postcolonial theory and feminist theory.

While we are at it, we had better remove Aristotle from our libraries as well. He does at one point suggest that democracy is not a favourable form of government because it does not serve us well in achieving the “common good”, and that might encourage students to question what makes a democracy a “democracy”, how its current structure may fail to achieve the common good, and this might lead them to challenge the accepted and conventional norms of what we ought to expect from a democracy.

And this in turn might lead Palestinian-Canadian scholars and others to question what we might demand of Israel and the nature of the Israeli state.

Finally, there is the third, more complex example: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” Personally, I do not engage in this kind of comparison. I am mindful of the pain that this comparison can inflict on members of the Jewish community. But more to the point, I do not find it historically accurate or illuminating. For me, it is much more insightful to compare Israeli policy and violence with colonial (British) and settler-colonial states (the US, Canada, and Australia).

Nonetheless, one needs to ask here a very uncomfortable question but one that the example itself brings to bear: are the Holocaust survivors who themselves have made this comparison in the past, are they anti-Semitic? Does this mean that we ought to censor those particular accounts from Holocaust survivors, or books by Israeli and Palestinian academics who attempt to think the Holocaust and the Nakba (the 1948 catastrophe) side by side?

I realise that some will see my line of argument as an effort to extend these examples to absurd conclusions that do not really concern the proposed IHRA definition. This response in fact affirms my main point in this piece. Proponents of the IHRA will surely argue that they are not interested in censoring Indigenous theory, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, democratic theory, accounts of Holocaust survivors or Aristotle. And my retort to that assertion is why not?

All of these schools and ideas conjure a kind of critique that can deeply challenge the nation-state as a racist and ethnonational endeavour that ought to be transformed. Why is it that only when these critiques are applied to Israel that we ought to censor them?

The answer is that this definition and these examples are only interested in how Palestinian scholars and supporters of justice for Palestinians have taken up these critiques and directed them against Israel. That is their only target, and as such, this is a purely political manoeuvre, not a substantive one. These examples are, on a fundamental level, anti-Palestinian.

The absurdity here is not the logical conclusion I am drawing out of these examples. Rather, absurdity is embedded within these examples and guides them. These examples reveal that the effect of the IHRA definition is not the necessary, timely and important work of combatting anti-Semitism, but rather the censorship and erasure of Palestinian opposition to the violence that continues to dispossess them.

The strategic context in which all of this is taking place is critical to underscore. Palestinians are weaker than the Israelis militarily and politically. The only advantage that Palestinians hold is the justness of their cause and struggle. The moral basis of their struggle is what still connects many people across the world to the Palestinian cause, for example through the BDS campaign.

By painting Palestinian resistance, which comes in the form of a radical and deep critique of the Israeli state, as anti-Semitic, the IHRA definition effectively seeks to gain the upper hand for Israel and for supporters of Israel in the moral domain as well.

It should be noted that member countries in the IHRA are all European or the products of European settler colonialism – almost all of which are, to varying degrees, allies and supporters of Israel as a result of that shared colonial foundation and world view.

Regardless of what transpires in Ontario, one thing is clear: the IHRA definition with its illustrative examples will accomplish nothing in the fight against anti-Semitism. But it will present a serious obstacle to the work of scholars, groups and organisations that are struggling for Palestinian freedom and liberation, and thus, it stands in the way of peace and justice in Palestine/Israel.

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Ayyash is the author of A Hermeneutics of Violence (UTP, 2019). He was born and raised in Silwan, Jerusalem, before immigrating to Canada. He is currently writing a book on settler colonial sovereignty.

https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/11/23/the-ihra-and-the-palestinian-struggle-for/

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How Abiy Ahmed Can Bring Back Peace To Ethiopia

By Ashok Swain

November 23, 2020

 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addresses members of parliament at the Parliament building

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Abiy Ahmed became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in April 2018. After only 18 months in office, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019. He was given this honour for achieving peace and resolving the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

Prime Minister Abiy’s effort to bring a swift end to more than two decades of bitter bilateral conflict was then appreciated by the world. However, the way the internal security dynamic in Ethiopia has evolved since then and the civil war is raging in its northern province Tigray, doubts have started arising about a peaceful Ethiopia.

After coming to power in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy pursued a reform agenda, freed political prisoners, allowed political exiles to return home. He also took some praiseworthy steps to promote democracy in the country and started to promise to build legal and institutional frameworks for the protection of human rights.

The Nobel Prize

Besides his landmark deal with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, all these promises of reforms convinced the Noble Committee to give him the Nobel Prize.

I was in Ethiopia in December 2019 when Abiy received his prize in Oslo. People were everywhere listening to his acceptance speech and there were mass celebrations. Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic nation, and the major ethnic groups are the Oromo, the Amhara, and the Tigrayans. Amhara elites had been traditionally dominating Ethiopia, though the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated Ethiopian politics from 1991 to 2018, through the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Abiy came to power in 2018 with the support of the largest ethnic group, Oromo, and the traditionally powerful ethnic group, Amhara. However, in the summer of this year, the killing of famous Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa and the violent riots afterward brought a question mark over the largest ethnic group’s support for the Abiy.

The rise of Abiy due to an alliance of Oromo and Amhara political pushed the TPLF to its home state Tigray under the leadership of Debretsion Gebremichael to remobilize itself. Abiy has pursued a policy of centralisation of power to strengthen his Prosperity Party.

There is a conflict going on in the Ethiopian northern region which has forced thousands of poor people from Tigray to take refuge in neighbouring Sudan. The UN estimates that if the fighting continues for some more time, the refugee number might go up to 200,000. Abiy has the support of Eritrean President Isaias but to tame the battle-hardened TPLF, he needs Sudan on his side.

Sudan, going through a transition period, is in very bad shape economically. A large number of refugee influx from Tigray has already become its concern.

GERD negotiations

Sudan has already strengthened its position in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiation as it has told on 19 November that it will not participate in the future deliberations unless its demand for a mediation body with the greater role of the African Union is accepted.

For the first time, Sudan has taken this strong stance in this negotiation. In this long-drawn negotiation process over the filling and operation of the dam, the negotiation was mostly between Egypt and Ethiopia, but Sudan now demands its pound of flesh. TPLF’s censure has already limited Abiy’s hands in GERD negotiation with Egypt, and now he has to deal with an assertive Sudan.

Prime Minister Abiy has given a deadline for TPLF to surrender. He, however, needs to end the military conflict in Tigray as it has resulted in a serious humanitarian crisis. But, Ethiopia is yet to accept the mediation offer of the African Union, and a UN report believes it is going to be a long war.

Abiy has to go back to the promise and hope he had shown in the initial months of his administration, and engage in negotiation with political adversaries, to commit to power-sharing under a federal system. Ethiopia in particular and the region in general badly needs peace and development, not war.

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Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Sweden

https://gulfnews.com/opinion/op-eds/how-abiy-ahmed-can-bring-back-peace-to-ethiopia-1.75444261

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Antony Blinken, Biden’s new secretary of state ready to take on the Middle East

By Elizabeth Hagedorn

Nov 23, 2020

 

Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of state

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President-elect Joe Biden named foreign policy veteran Antony Blinken as his pick for Secretary of State on Monday, tasking a trusted aide with fulfilling his campaign pledge to reassert America’s standing on the world stage.

Blinken, 58, has worked alongside the incoming president for nearly two decades, dating back to Biden’s chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Blinken also served as a senior director at the national security council and foreign policy speechwriter in the Clinton White House, and later rose through the ranks of the Obama administration to serve as deputy secretary of state from 2015-2017. Blinken was Biden’s chief foreign policy adviser during the 2020 presidential campaign.

If confirmed by the Senate as expected, Blinken will take the helm at the State Department at a time when deadly civil wars rage in Libya, Yemen and Syria, the Islamic State poses a simmering threat and the rift among the Gulf states remains unresolved.

Blinken would oversee a drastically different foreign policy than that of current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose embrace of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy the Biden team has vowed to reverse.

“We’d actually show up again, day in, day out. But to engage the world, not as it was in 2009 or even in 2017 when we left it, but as it is and as we anticipate it will become,” Blinken told CBS’s Intelligence Matters podcast in September.

One of the Biden administration’s early foreign policy priorities will be salvaging the landmark Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018. Biden has called for rejoining the accord if Iran resumes compliance.

Doing so, Blinken has said, would put the United States "in a position to use our renewed commitment to diplomacy … but also we'd be in a much better position to effectively push back against Iran's other destabilizing activities.”

The incoming administration will face a long list of challenges in Syria, where a brutal civil war has killed hundreds of thousands and spawned a massive refugee crisis.

Blinken, who played a key role in crafting President Barack Obama’s troop drawdown in Iraq, has criticized Trump’s move last year to pull troops from northeast Syria as one that “gutted American credibility.”

During a May interview with CBS, Blinken advocated for keeping US boots on the ground in Syria and expressed regret over the Obama administration’s actions — or lack thereof — in the nearly decade-long conflict that saw the former president draw a “red line” on chemical weapons use that he never enforced.

“We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement … something I will take with me for the rest of my days,” he said.

In war-wracked Yemen, another country where civilians are bearing the brunt of a protracted civil war, the president-elect has pledged to end US support for the Saudi-led military campaign.

In 2018, Blinken and several other former Obama administration officials signed an open letter calling on the Donald Trump administration to withdraw support for Riyadh’s military campaign, which rights groups have accused of war crimes.

The US relationship with Saudi leaders and other Middle East autocrats would “look very different” under Biden, his chief foreign policy adviser said in July.

"We would review the US relationship with the government of Saudi Arabia, to which President Trump has basically given a blank check to pursue a disastrous set of policies, including the war in Yemen, but also the murder of Jamal Khashoggi [and] the crackdown on dissent at home," said Blinken.

Blinken has also signaled tougher US policy on Egypt. He accused Trump of undermining "our moral standing globally and our ability to lead" through his relationship President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the military strongman who Trump reportedly referred to as his “favorite dictator.”

Blinken, who is the stepson of a Holocaust survivor, has touted Biden’s “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security and recently questioned whether the Trump administration’s planned sale of F-35 stealth fighters to the United Arab Emirates would undermine Israel’s qualitative military edge.

“[Biden] believes strongly that a secure Jewish homeland in Israel is the single best guarantee to ensure that never again will the Jewish people be threatened with destruction," Blinken told the Times of Israel.

Blinken has also said his boss would ensure disagreements with Israel are kept private.

“Joe Biden believes strongly in keeping your differences as far as possible between friends behind doors, maintaining as little distance in public as possible,” Blinken told a pro-Israel Democratic group in May.

Biden has rounded out his foreign policy and national security team with a number of other Obama-era officials, including career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his pick for US ambassador to the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield, who served as the top diplomat for African affairs from 2013 to 2017, has called for the new administration to bring back career diplomatic staff forced out under Trump.

“The United States needs a top-to-bottom diplomatic surge,” she and Biden adviser Nicholas Burns wrote in Foreign Affairs. “The Trump administration’s unilateral diplomatic disarmament is a reminder that it is much easier to break than to build. The country doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for a generational replenishment.”

Biden also named Avril Haines as the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence and Jake Sullivan, a former official in the Clinton State Department, as national security adviser.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as Biden’s special presidential envoy for Climate, suggesting the new president will make climate policy a major focus of his administration. Biden has already pledged to rejoin the Paris climate agreement on day one of his presidency.

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/antony-blinken-secretary-of-state-biden-transition-foreign.html

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