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Middle East Press on Israel’s Nation-State Law, Emiratis in Jerusalem and Biden’s Policies on Israel: New Age Islam's Selection, 23 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

23 December 2020

• Israel’s Nation-State Law Aimed to Discriminate against Minorities, and It Does

By Yossi Mekelberg

• The Emiratis In Jerusalem Are A Slap In The Face For Palestinians

By Jalal Abukhater

• What Will Biden’s Policies on Israel Look Like?

By Richard Silverstein

• Palestinian Spirits Sag As Coronavirus Steals Christmas

By Aziza Nofal

• Is There Still A Place For Polls In US Politics?

By Kerry Boyd Anderson

• Reviving Russia’s Gulf Security Proposal Faces More Hurdles

By Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

• Israeli-Palestinian Peace-Talk Effort Continues After Biden Victory — But It Is Too Early To Succeed

By Osama Al-Sharif


Israel’s Nation-State Law Aimed to Discriminate against Minorities, And It Does

By Yossi Mekelberg

December 22, 2020

A common human trait is the need for vindication, which often manifests itself in the post-facto, fleetingly satisfying though entirely futile expression: “I told you so.” This temptation to self-congratulate is best resisted, because what does it matter when the damage has already been done?

Yet there are those cases when the “I told you so” comes as a warning that if not reversed, the situation could get worse, much worse. One of these instances is Israel's wretched nation-state law, which was passed by the Knesset in 2018 and anchored in law the already widespread discrimination against Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. Increasingly, we are witnessing the rotten, racist fruits of this poisonous piece of legislation.

Last month, an Israeli judge cited the contentious nation-state law in rejecting a lawsuit brought to court by two siblings aged 6 and 10, through their lawyer uncle, who asked to be reimbursed for their daily expenses incurred while traveling to an Arabic-speaking school outside the Galilean city of Karmiel.

In dismissing the suit, the chief registrar based the ruling on the nation-state law, stating that “Karmiel, a Jewish city, was meant to establish a Jewish settlement in Galilee,” and that to fund such transport raised the concern that it would lead to an influx of Arab-Israeli citizens and consequently change the demographic makeup of the city.

Hence this ruling is my rare occasion of “I (in this case some of us) told you so” after we had warned that Israel’s nation-state law was from the outset a legal license for discriminatory and racist policies deliberately aimed to put the Jewish character of the country above the equality of all its citizens.

It could be argued that above all, the nation-state law was merely the legal rubberstamping of an already existing, daily discriminatory state of affairs for millions of Arab-Israeli citizens. In this case, the plaintiffs sued the Karmiel Municipality for 25,000 shekels (about $7,500), probably more in hope than belief that the solemn promise of the 1948 Declaration of Independence — that the new Jewish state “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants” — would be applicable to them too as they are after all Israeli citizens, apparently with the same rights as the Jewish population.

The country’s founding fathers promised to establish a nation that guarantees equality of social and political rights “to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” as well as freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. To ensure that children belonging to a minority that comprises more than a fifth of the population would be able to learn in an Arabic-language school is the epitome of respect for such values.

But instead, the court’s ruling put the nation-state law and its bold racist overtones above the notion of equality and respect for diversity. And as a matter of fact, the nation-state law unashamedly states that the country’s ethos “views the development of Jewish settlements as a national value and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening.”

Hence, as abhorrent as the decision by the court is, it follows the law to the letter, not to mention its spirit. Therefore, the politicians who were so callous in voting for such a xenophobic statute should first and foremost be held accountable for legalizing racism.

Yet what kind of a judge in a country fashioning itself as a liberal democracy could, without feeling a deep sense of shame, justify his ruling by defining Karmiel as a Jewish city intended to “solidify Jewish settlement in the Galilee part of Israel,” and claiming that establishing an Arabic-language school there or even funding school transportation for an Arab student would jeopardize the demographic balance and with it the city’s Jewish character?

How could the judge’s hand not have been shaking as he wrote such xenophobic and bigoted words? No political or judicial system in a country calling itself a democracy would so cynically deprive young children of exercising their basic right to study in their own language, one legally approved by Israel’s Ministry of Education, with the aim of maintaining “ethnic purity.”

This law is no more than a tool to deter other Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel from exercising their natural right in a free society to live wherever they choose to and enjoy the same services as everyone else. It is a further demonstration of the Jewish population’s paranoia and obsession with making the country exclusively Jewish, while sacrificing the values of universal human rights in doing so.

The Israeli authorities are making it next to impossible for Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel to purchase land or obtain building permits in the cities, towns and villages where they constitute an absolute and complete majority. The authorities are also imposing draconian measures to prevent them from moving to places where the population is more or less entirely Jewish.

Beyond the concern that Israeli society is turning into one that habitually discriminates against religious and ethnic minorities, this also raises the fear that at least for some, this is part of a grand strategy to make the lives of its Palestinian Arab citizens so miserable that they either submit to whatever whims the state feels inclined to inflict on them, or conclude that their future lies elsewhere.

I am allowing myself one further, final “I told you so” moment: That the rot of racism and discrimination currently spreading in Israel is closely correlated to more than half a century of submitting millions of Palestinians to a regime of occupation and blockade, where violations of basic human rights are corruptly enshrined in both Israeli law and customary behavior.

To oppose the subjugation of a people to life under occupation because it also destroys the occupier could hardly be the main reason for objecting to such daily violations of the human, political and civil rights, including the right to self-determination, of millions of people. However, it adds to the moral argument and is a practical reason to oppose such behavior.

It is an especially poignant point, as Israel has embarked on a course of self-inflicted destruction of its democratic system, as made clear by the nation-state law and its interpretation by the courts.


Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.


The Emiratis In Jerusalem Are A Slap In The Face For Palestinians

By Jalal Abukhater

22 Dec 2020

This past year was full of adversity and hopelessness for many around the world. But for we Palestinians, it was even harsher – we were forced to face a deadly pandemic in an apartheid state, amid a collapsing economy, and a general feeling of hopelessness and abandonment.

In the second half of the year, a series of Arab states added to our collective misery by announcing their decision to normalise their relations with Israel. By effectively abandoning their supposed commitment to supporting Palestinian self-determination for money, weapons and a few short-term political gains, they sent us a clear message that our suffering and struggle for the most basic human rights no longer matter to them.

While every normalisation deal Israel clenched with an Arab state undoubtedly hurt us, none of them was as painful for us as the one signed by the United Arab Emirates. After the deals, popular displeasure was evident on the streets of Morocco, Sudan and even Bahrain. We knew that the masses in these countries were overwhelmingly opposed to the decision made by their political leaders, and this was a consolation for us. But the situation was different in the UAE. The Emiratis, across every level of their society from political leaders to regular citizens, came out forcefully in favour of a warm and cozy relationship with Israel.

One of the most shocking and enraging developments in the fast-paced love affair between the UAE and Israel was the mutual visa waiver agreement – a first between Israel and an Arab country. After the signing of the agreement, Emirati and Israeli airlines were quick to announce direct flights between the two countries. This is it, we thought, the Emiratis are coming!

And they did come, with much fanfare and propaganda. The photos of Emirati tourists in their traditional outfits posing in historic Jerusalem next to Israelis were plastered across newspapers. The Israeli government started sharing on its official social media accounts testimonies of Emiratis explaining how “safe and secure” they feel in the country.

But almost no one wondered what we, the Palestinians, are feeling about all this.

The arrival of hundreds of Emiratis in Israel to enjoy the historic sites of Jerusalem and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque was a slap in the face for us. After all, millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, just two dozen kilometres away from Al-Aqsa, can only dream about stepping foot in the mosque that is the third holiest site in Islam.

Of course, we Palestinian Jerusalemites were already used to seeing Muslim pilgrims from Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia or other non-Arab Muslim-majority countries at Al-Aqsa. Over the years, Palestinians rarely had any problem with these visitors, as they overwhelmingly believe this holiest of mosques should not be monopolised by any subset of Muslims, even under the devastating conditions of an occupation.

But the Palestinian Jerusalemites were not as accepting of Emirati tourists as others. While some still took the position that all Muslim tourists, whatever their citizenship, should be welcome in Al-Aqsa, many others protested against Emirati tourists being awarded with the right to easily visit Jerusalem’s holy sites for betraying the Palestinians and forming an alliance with their oppressors.

We have every reason to be frustrated when we see Emiratis and Bahrainis in Jerusalem, roaming freely under the protection of the Israeli police, taking pictures and buying souvenirs as if they are visiting just another tourist site.

For a start, it might sound unbelievable to those not familiar with our reality, but millions of Palestinians living in Palestine are denied access not only to Al-Aqsa but the entirety of Jerusalem by Israel’s occupying regime. Over the past two decades, Israel has built a complex system of checkpoints, supported by the Apartheid Wall, to deny Palestinians freedom of movement within their own homeland. An entire generation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza grew up without ever stepping foot in Al-Aqsa.

And this Israeli “travel ban” is not only targeting Palestinians living in Palestine. Palestinian refugees and members of the diaspora living in neighbouring countries are still denied their right to return, even for a brief visit.

Another point of frustration is the fact that Emiratis can now simply take a direct flight from Dubai to Tel Aviv, and walk freely into the country. And Israelis can now directly fly in to the Emirates, with almost no questions asked. This is not an option for most Palestinians. A Palestinian living in Ramallah, for example, would have to first cross into Jordan and then take a flight from the Queen Alia airport in Amman to reach Dubai. This is an arduous journey that involves many checkpoints and takes almost an entire day. Even Palestinians holding American passports cannot just fly into the Tel Aviv airport, if they are also in possession of a Palestinian ID card. So you can see why visa-free travel between the UAE and Israel is irritating to many of us, the natives who are denied that same right in our homeland.

I do not believe that anyone, including we Palestinians, deserve unconditional love and support from any nation. But the Emiratis are not even brave enough to openly say that they do not care about us and support our struggle. Instead, they repeatedly claim that the normalisation between the UAE and Israel will eventually be “beneficial” for the Palestinians. I struggle to see any logic in this assumption. All the current evidence points to these normalisation deals further emboldening Israel and its apartheid. After all, none of the normalising states, and especially the UAE, are challenging Israel on its decades-long illegal occupation of Palestinian territories or its inhumane treatment of its Palestinian citizens and occupied subjects.

It is a criminal injustice bestowed upon us by Israel – we have no freedom of movement in our own historic homeland. We cannot support an Emirati citizen having the right to walk in and out of our lands at our expense, as we continue to languish in open-air prisons and struggle to survive under Israel’s illegal occupation. Whatever leaders of the Arab states normalising relations with Israel may say, their actions are not aimed at helping peace and none of these deals will ever benefit Palestinians. Those sovereign countries chose to sign those deals to serve their own national interests; they do not have the Palestinians in mind, and they should be honest about this fact.


Jalal Abukhater is a Jerusalemite. He holds an MA in International Relations and Politics from the University of Dundee, Scotland.


What Will Biden’s Policies On Israel Look Like?

By Richard Silverstein

22 Dec 2020

As President-elect Joe Biden announces the final choices for his cabinet, many in the American political establishment are breathing a sigh of relief. Predictability, moderation and centrism in policymaking are the words of the day.

Though progressive Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez loomed large in efforts to bring Democrats out to vote in record numbers, Biden seems to have turned his back on them and their progressive agenda as he fills federal agencies and cabinet positions.

That holds true in foreign policy as well. Many pundits are expecting continuity with the Democratic administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. This middle of the road approach was recently confirmed by Biden’s pick for secretary of state – Antony Blinken – who has an impeccable Democratic pedigree. Blinken’s father and uncle served as ambassadors under Clinton and his step-father served in the Kennedy administration.

Blinken has been described as a “multilateralist” and “internationalist” who believes in close ties with European allies. He is also known to firmly stand by Israel and support the Iran nuclear deal. So what does this mean for Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East – Israel?

“Status quo” in Palestine

Given the dysfunctional federal government Biden will inherit from outgoing President Donald Trump, including a massive COVID-related economic and public health crisis, his administration will have to concentrate on resolving domestic issues.

US foreign policy will most likely focus on countering China’s expansionism, Russia’s interference in European, and American affairs and Iran’s antagonism provoked by the Trump administration. These issues pose a major challenge to US policymakers and will absorb much of the energy of the Biden foreign policy team.

?This means the Biden administration is unlikely to put forward any major initiatives to resolve the conflict in Israel-Palestine. It may reverse some of the pernicious policies of the Trump administration, reopening the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington and the US consulate in East Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians, and resuming funding for UNWRA.

However, Biden will not move the US embassy to Israel back to Tel Aviv, as he made clear ahead of the elections. Blinken, his secretary of state pick, has also said such a move “would not make sense practically and politically”.?

Blinken has also made a number of controversial statements regarding the Palestinians, accusing them of being responsible for the failure of negotiations. “In the category of ‘Never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity’, I think a reminder to Palestinians … that they can and should do better and deserve better and that requires leadership: leadership to make clear the reality of the Jewish state; leadership to make clear the need to end incitement and violence; leadership to bring people along for the prospect of negotiating,” he said in May, using the words of former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban.

The Biden campaign has also made its stance on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement quite clear. Ahead of the election, it released a statement saying it “firmly reject[s] the BDS movement, which singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into antisemitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices” – although the latter part referring to the Palestinians was later removed after it provoked controversy in the Arab-American community.

Biden is likely to revert to the historic US position on Israeli settlements – that they are illegal and an obstacle to peace – but he and Blinken are unlikely to do anything about it. They will likely favour the “status quo” in Palestine, which means the Israeli government will continue undisturbed to move farther towards its goal of absorbing the Occupied Palestinian Territories into Israel proper, leaving Palestinians stateless aliens in their own land.

No cheerleader for Netanyahu

Unlike Sanders, who has advocated for tying US military assistance to restraining Israeli settlements, Biden fully supports unconditional aid for Israel. Both he and Blinken have declared to Israel lobby audiences that withholding aid would be a hostile act against Israel and rejected it outright.

That said, Biden is unlikely to serve as a cheerleader for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Israeli radical right, as Trump did. There will be no Israeli election campaign banners featuring Netanyahu and Biden, hanging on skyscrapers.

Although relations with the Israeli prime minister may not be as icy as they were under Obama – who personally disliked him – Biden is unlikely to go out of his way to maintain Likud in power. He will not produce electoral gifts for Netanyahu, by backing Israeli annexation of the West Bank or recognising Israeli sovereignty over illegal Israeli settlements, as Trump did.

Thus, if Israel goes to the polls – as many observers expect – for the fourth time in two years, Netanyahu may not be re-elected. He will likely face court on the three corruption counts he is charged with and may get sentenced to prison.

But even if he loses power, this is unlikely to moderate Israel’s current policies. Given the lack of real ideological diversity in the choices for prime minister, Biden would eschew any intervention on behalf of any candidate.

His administration will probably support the process of Arab normalisation started under Trump and championed by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But given that Kushner spearheaded this effort with the close cooperation of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, normalisation may decelerate under Biden, as US relations with these states may become quite tenuous. One of the main reasons for that will be Biden’s declared aim of returning to the nuclear agreement with Iran.

The Iran deal challenge

Policy on Iran will be one area in which the incoming Biden administration will clash not only with Gulf allies but also with Israel. Netanyahu campaigned tirelessly against the nuclear agreement before it was signed. After Trump took office, the Israeli prime minister urged Trump to reject it, which he did.

Biden has repeatedly said he wants the US to return to the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He is seeking a return to a more stable, less contentious relationship with Iran – one which guarantees it will not develop nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future in return for lifting punitive economic sanctions.

Israel – with the help of Trump – is trying to prevent this from happening. The recent assassinations of a senior al-Qaeda figure in Tehran and the country’s leading nuclear scientist, Moshen Fakrizadeh, are designed to box Biden in and undermine his efforts to reach out to Iran. Israel hopes this killing, as well as the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by a US drone in January, will convince Iranian hardliners to reject a return to nuclear negotiations. Given Blinken and Biden’s exceedingly close relations with the Israel lobby, they will be torn between pursuing their own policy agenda and mollifying Israel’s hawkish demands.

They will also have to restrain Israel’s military adventurism, including its oft-stated goal of regime change and attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Obama restrained Netanyahu from such attacks, but the Israeli leader has shown nothing but disdain for Democratic presidents and their warnings.

Can Joe Biden say no to Israel? And if he does, will Israeli leaders accept such a rejection? Or will they continue their reckless policy of assassination, sabotage, and perhaps even an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities? All of these challenges will show what Joe Biden is really made of.


Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in the Middle East Eye, The Nation, Jacobin, the New Arab, the Guardian, and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the collection, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).


Palestinian Spirits Sag As Coronavirus Steals Christmas

By Aziza Nofal

Dec 22, 2020

While visiting Taybeh, a village northeast of Ramallah in the West Bank that is known as the only town in Palestine where all residents are Christan, I found myself outside Zahra Thalji’s grocery shop on the main roundabout in the center of town. Thalji greeted me with a warm smile, until I asked why she had not put up a Christmas tree.

“What celebration? We live in a coronavirus nightmare,” she said.

Thalji, 72, has been working since 1978 alongside her husband in the grocery store in front of their house.

This has been the couple's hardest Christmas season. “Even during the intifada, when young men were hiding from Israeli soldiers, we did not experience moments of fear like these days. For me, the true Christmas is when this pandemic is over,” Thalji lamented, her concern clear on her face.

Thalji recalled traditional holiday celebrations that have not changed since she was a child in her home village of Zababdeh, inhabited by both Christians and Muslims in the northern West Bank. She vividly remembers Christmas after the June 1967 Nakba and the occupation of her village and others.

She spoke of how her family celebrated the holiday and quoted her father, “We resist by continuing living our life and by being joyful despite the occupation.” After she got married and moved with her husband to Taybeh, Thalji continued to celebrate Christmas amid the uprisings and unrest. She said that Christmas was special in Taybeh, whose residents are all Christians.

“COVID-19, however, defeated us all and put fear in our hearts. We were never afraid to leave the house. I cannot receive any of my family members or even visit them in the northern West Bank. Could it get any worse than this?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

Thalji’s concerns are shared by the rest of Taybeh's residents, who have historically gone all out in celebrating Christmas. The village is usually vibrant during the holiday season, with every house decorating its own Christmas tree. All the residents, young and old, normally get together to put lights on a big one in the center of the town.

This year is different. The village tree was lit Dec. 12 with only clerics and representatives of the municipality present.

Youssef al-Basir, 74, recalled past holiday seasons. He said that his town was special, with collective celebrations and joy filling the village, and Muslims from neighboring towns visiting to participate in the festivities.

“This year we will not be able to go to the church to attend Christmas mass, as we are concerned over the coronavirus,” Basir told Al-Monitor.

Basir did not decorate his house, not even a tree. He said he will not leave the house and will only host his son’s family for Christmas eve.

“I will be exchanging holiday greetings with friends and family over the phone or via social media, which I learned how to use during [lockdown] because of the pandemic,” he said.

His son Raafat concurred as he told Al-Monitor that Christmas greetings will be exchanged over the phone with friends and family because the coronavirus outbreak in Ramallah, which is close to Taybeh, has reached their town. “I cannot put my father’s and my children’s health at risk,” he said.

Youssef Basir recalled his childhood, when he used to collect flowers from the nearby forest and his mother’s garden to decorate the Christmas tree in the village center, opposite the historic Khodr Church.

After lighting the tree, families used to gather in diwans (meeting houses) or large homes, where women would distribute cakes filled with dates. These gatherings would continue until dawn throughout the season.

With the Palestinian government’s Dec. 17 announcement of new measures against COVID-19, the village is bracing for new restrictions to be imposed on the celebration of Christmas.

The government said that it would allow prayers to be held in places of worship, including churches, during the holiday season, but according to health protocols that have yet to be announced.

Johnny Abu Khalil, the pastor of the Latin Church in Taybeh, told Al-Monitor that the church and the municipality are obeying health guidelines. He said plans are being explored to allow all congregants to participate in the church service while respecting social distancing in the church’s hall, which can fit 200 people. The clergy hopes to conduct prayers and facilitate the participation of as many worshipers as possible by holding masses several times a day for small groups of people.

“We will not allow the Easter scenario to play out again, when people were locked out of churches on Easter Sunday. This was an unprecedented event not just in Taybeh but in the entire world,” Abu Khalil said.


Is There Still A Place For Polls In US Politics?

By Kerry Boyd Anderson

December 22, 2020

In the wake of the US elections in November, pollsters have been reviewing what went wrong with many of their predictions and what it means for the future of polling.

After the 2016 presidential election, there already were accusations that polling was proving inaccurate. The criticisms often exaggerated the errors, but there were certainly some problems in a few states and with specific demographic groups. Many pollsters worked hard to correct those errors in the hope of providing more-accurate forecasts this year.

Instead, the 2020 election raised further profound problems for polling companies. The polls this year were not significantly less accurate than the ones in 2016, especially at the national level. However, the adjustments pollsters had made since 2016 failed to produce better results, which has led to more urgent questions being asked about the value of polling in the future.

On the national level the 2020 polls were off by about four percentage points, in Joe Biden’s favor — this is not a major error, historically, in terms of national polls. However, the US president is not chosen by the national popular vote but by votes allocated by individual states in the Electoral College, and so polls conducted in the key battleground states that determine the outcome are particularly important.

In some of these states, such as Arizona and Nevada, polling tended to be accurate. However in others, such as Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio, many of the polls missed the mark significantly.

This led to much soul-searching by pollsters and the political media. There are always challenges involved in polling: members of some demographic groups are more likely to respond than others, for example, and polls always lag somewhat behind election day. Pollsters have developed tools to manage those challenges, such as weighting the data for underrepresented groups and providing transparency about a poll’s likely margin of error.

The 2020 electorate presented challenges that went beyond the usual tools pollsters use to tackle them, however. The analysis is ongoing but some trends are already clear. In particular, many polls failed to sufficiently reflect the voting intentions of Latino and rural voters, and polls struggled in several Midwestern states.

There are several potential reasons for the polling mistakes this year. A fundamental challenge that will extend far beyond this year is technological changes. Decades ago, pollsters knocked on doors to get their answers. Then they used landline telephones, which was an effective way of gaining random samples in specific areas.

The proliferation of cell phones created significant problems for pollsters, including the ease with which people can take their cell phone, and their exiting number, with them when they move. In addition, pollsters must now compete with campaign fundraisers, telemarketers and other callers — many people are weary of all these “cold calls” and so much less likely to answer and respond to a pollster’s call than used to be the case. Some pollsters have employed digital tools, which also present multiple methodological concerns.

Another potential problem is that Democrats might be more likely to participate in polls than Republicans. There are several possible reasons why this might be true, including the fact that Donald Trump has frequently portrayed polls and the media as untrustworthy. Polling firms work hard to try to ensure that their samples accurately represent Democrats and Republicans, but they may have failed to do so. It is also possible that the Republicans who did respond to polls perhaps were less likely to strongly support Trump than those who did not.

A constant challenge pollsters face is determining who are “likely voters.” Polls stop before election day, so they try to identify who is most likely to actually show up and cast a ballot. This may have been particularly challenging this year.

Another theory is that the polling challenges in 2020 were specific to the pandemic. Many states allowed more mail-in ballots and early voting than normal, because of public-health concerns. Democrats strongly advocated for mail-in voting and early voting, and so Democratic voters were more likely to use those methods than Republicans.

Trump was openly disdainful of mail-in voting, and so Republicans were more likely than Democrats to vote in person on election day. This complicated the ability of pollsters to identify likely voters, and may have favored Democratic turnout in their polling forecasts.

Some of these problems might be fixable. Polling companies might be able to make adjustments. Some are certainly considering new ways to weight populations. However, some of the challenges might fundamentally alter the accuracy of polls.

Furthermore, modern-day US politics might simply be too competitive for polling. If presidential elections frequently come down to a couple of percentage points or less in key states, or congressional races are often tight, they might fall within unavoidable margins of error in polls.

For example, two Senate races in Georgia next month will determine which political party controls the Senate — but polls offer limited insights into the Jan. 5 runoff elections, because the likely outcomes are so close they are expected to be well within the margin of error for most surveys.

Polls will probably continue to have some value in the future, however. They help inform media narratives about politics, for example. They can also identify significant changes in the electorate. In a large, diverse country, polls provide data on what the population is thinking. There is no reliable, alternative source of such information.

Nonetheless, the media and political strategists might need to reduce their reliance on polls, particularly when analyzing tight races. Polls still have an important place in journalism and campaign strategy — however, reports based on them need to clearly communicate their limitations and should include other forms of political journalism.

Campaign strategists need to rethink the extent to which they use polls to guide them on where they focus resources. Meanwhile, pollsters must consider what they can fix and what limitations they must accept.


 Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 16 years of experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica and managing editor of Arms Control Today.


Reviving Russia’s Gulf Security Proposal Faces More Hurdles

By Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

December 22, 2020

When Joe Biden is sworn in as US president in January, one of the critical issues his administration will have to address is superpower rivalry in the Gulf. The Obama administration’s toolbox may no longer be adequate to do the job; competitors may have some contrarian views on the matter, including Russia, China and Europe.

After four years of apparent rapport between the Kremlin and the White House, Biden might initiate a reset. Revelations last week about a massive cyberattack against the US, blamed on Russia, could make such a shift inevitable.

Furthermore, Moscow’s view of Gulf security appears to conflict with that of Washington, regardless of who is the president, as a recent discussion at the UN Security Council revealed. The security of the region could therefore become a thornier issue of disagreement if the US-Russia cold war intensifies under Biden.

Moscow has long sought a greater role in the Gulf. It has authored several permutations of its view of regional security and its role in it. In August 2019, Russia’s representative to the UN revealed his nation’s latest blueprint for a collective security system in the Gulf. The long-term objective of the proposal, he said, was the creation of a security and cooperation organization in the region that would include “in addition to the Gulf countries, Russia, China, the United States, the EU, India and other stakeholders as observers or associated members.”

In October this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov presented an abbreviated version of the proposal, which he said was premised on the “assumption that ensuring peace in the Gulf region is an important goal for the entire international community” and that “the unhealthy situation in this area destabilizes international relations.”

In an indirect reference to the assassination in January of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Lavrov said the incident could have triggered a “large-scale war in the Gulf,” thus highlighting the need to work collectively to de-escalate.

His choice of example was curious, as many thought that Iran’s massive attack on Saudi Arabia in September 2019 was a greater potential trigger for war, compared with taking out a master terrorist in the field of his operations. But that choice revealed some of the weaknesses of the Russian view.

Lavrov went on to say that “blackmail, … demonization and accusation of only one party are wrong and dangerous,” clearly singling out the US pressure on Iran for criticism, and not the latter’s destabilizing behavior in the region.

He asserted that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, “made it possible to avert the threat of an armed conflict.” However, there is evidence to the contrary - that the nuclear deal unleashed greater destabilizing activities from Iran in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, as hardliners thought expanding Tehran’s influence in the region was their reward for acquiescing to the deal.

Lavrov also mentioned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to hold an online meeting of the heads of state of the UN Security Council’s P5 nations (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US), plus Germany and Iran, to “develop measures aimed at preventing further escalation and forming a reliable collective security system in the Gulf."

Note that at this initial meeting there is no mention of representatives from the Arab nations of the Gulf. At a later stage, Lavrov said he envisages the participation of “the coastal countries, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other stakeholders” in “the practical steps to implement these concepts.”

In other words, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and/or the organization itself will be involved only in the implementation stage of what others have already decided.

Critics have raised important questions about the Russian proposal. Firstly, there is a serious problem with imposing a security system from the outside, or excluding GCC countries during the planning stages of a proposed system and expecting them to take part only in the implementation phase.

Secondly, the Russian proposal is quite similar to one that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani proposed in 2007, when he was secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, for the establishment of a security and cooperation organization in the Gulf. This indicates some alignment between the two countries on this idea, as a way for Iran to shed its rogue-state image.

Thirdly, the proposal in its current form is quite invasive, overlooking the mistrust that exists among the parties — not only between the two sides of the Gulf, but also between international players, especially the US, Russia and China.

Faced with this skepticism from key players in the region, Moscow has recognized that the goal of establishing a collective security architecture “won’t be short, nor will it be easy,” as Lavrov told the UN Security Council in October. He said that “the countries of the region must travel it themselves. The external players’ job is to help them create proper conditions.” This was an important recognition that previously was overlooked.

Lavrov also added an important new element: that confidence-building measures must be the starting point for improving the situation in the Gulf region, which is something the GCC has stressed for some time. He said that those measures should be “based on respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of states, in strict accordance with international law and the UN Charter.”

In its communications with Iran, the GCC has stressed that a commitment to these principles is necessary to establish trust and prepare the way for more-constructive engagement. Commitment to those principles means that Iran should stop using force to meddle in the affairs of its neighbours, and cease funding, arming and training terrorists and sectarian militias to wreak havoc in the region, from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. It also means that Tehran should halt missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia, and stop harassing oil tankers in the Gulf and the Red Sea, whether directly or through its proxies.

When Moscow succeeds in persuading Tehran to commit to the UN Charter and restrict its regional destabilizing activities, as a way to rebuild trust with its neighbours, the proposal for a new collective security organization might become more acceptable.


Dr. Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News.


Israeli-Palestinian Peace-Talk Effort Continues After Biden Victory — But It Is Too Early To Succeed

By Osama Al-Sharif

December 22, 2020

Ahead of the transition next month to a new US administration, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are intensifying their diplomatic efforts to prepare the ground for a common stand on resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

A trilateral meeting in Cairo last Saturday that brought together the foreign ministers of the three countries resulted in a joint statement calling for the resumption of peace negotiations.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki urged Israel to return to the negotiating table for peace talks based on the two-state solution. He said that the Palestinian Authority is ready to cooperate with US President-elect Joe Biden to achieve a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, on territory captured by Israel during the 1967 war. He added that coordination with Cairo and Amman is a “center point” that would establish a “starting point” in dealing with the incoming Biden administration in Washington.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the challenges faced by the Palestinians “make coordination a necessity so that we can work together to serve the Palestinian cause, which we all agree is the Arab first and central cause.” He added that “there is an absence in the political horizon, and there is a stalemate in the negotiations process.”

Both King Abdullah of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi have made statements in the past few weeks reiterating support for the Palestinians and for a just and lasting solution to the conflict that delivers a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The recent flurry in diplomatic activity comes in the wake of the US presidential election last month. During a conversation with King Abdullah last month, president-elect Joe Biden expressed his support for the two-state solution — something that President Donald Trump had deviated from. The Trump administration’s peace plan, which was unveiled in January, had few takers in the region or beyond.

Peace talks have been stalled for years under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has abandoned the two-state solution and expressed reservations about the prospect of allowing the Palestinians to have their own state.

In fact, under Trump’s presidency Netanyahu’s right-wing government accelerated the building of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and was close to formally annexing the Jordan Valley last May. Jordan and Egypt rejected the Israeli move, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had already severed ties with Washington, suspended security coordination with Israel.

While Trump’s peace plan did not move forward, a number of Arab countries have formalized normalization-of-relations agreements with Israel under US auspices.

Now the Palestinian leadership feels there is room to build regional and international consensus for a new peace initiative. Abbas met King Abdullah in Amman and El-Sisi in Cairo last month. He renewed his call to convene an international peace conference, and for a bigger role for the Quartet on the Middle East (the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) in sponsoring the talks under the umbrella of the UN.

Abbas hopes that the Biden administration will reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington and the US consulate in East Jerusalem, resume key aid to the Palestinian Authority, support the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and commit to the two-state solution.

Jordan and Egypt are backing the Palestinian position and hope to use their ties with Washington to encourage the new administration to adopt such steps.

The announcement last week of the appointment of a new UN envoy to the Middle East will add to the fresh activity in the months ahead. Veteran Norwegian diplomat Tor Wennesland will replace Nikolay Mladenov, who held the position for six years and will step down next month.

Wennesland is an experienced diplomat who served as an assistant to Norwegian official Terje Rød-Larsen, one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and has been involved in efforts to resolve the conflict since then.

Jordan, Egypt, France and Germany had hoped to kick-start informal talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis in Cairo this month. Safadi held a rare meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi at a Jordan River border crossing this month and is believed to have invited his Israeli counterpart to a meeting in Cairo on Dec. 20 but no representatives from Israel showed up.

Israel is facing a political stalemate that could lead to new Knesset elections next year, as Netanyahu’s partnership with Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz appears to be breaking down. But even as his Likud Party undergoes splits, polls show that Netanyahu may still be able to form a right-wing government.

Netanyahu and his far-right partners continue to represent the main obstacle to a resumption of peace talks. For them, the two-state solution is unacceptable. In contrast, Gantz told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper last week that that Palestinians should have an independent “entity” with territorial continuity, and that there is room in Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital — but reiterated that Israel “won’t go back to the 1967 borders” and “Jerusalem must stay united.”

If peace talks are to resume, however, two key players will have to state their positions. The first is President Biden and his foreign-policy team. The second is Netanyahu, who during the time of President Barack Obama was able to challenge and neutralize the White House.

The diplomatic stage might be set but it is still too early for a new push to bring the Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiation table.


Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.



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