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Middle East Press on the US Presidential Elections, Post-Pandemic World and Israeli Annexation: New Age Islam's Selection, 30 September 2020


By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

30 September 2020

• Trump, the Teflon President

By Marwan Bishara

• Lebanon Awaits the US Presidential Elections, But Will Collapse Faster While It Waits

By Hanin Ghaddar

• Do We Still Need Cities In A Virtual, Post-Pandemic World?

By Fahd Abdulmohsan Al-Rasheed

• Annexation without Declaration: The Israeli Case

By Najla M. Shahwan


Trump, the Teflon President

By Marwan Bishara

29 Sep 2020


US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters during a news conference inside the James S Brady Briefing Room at the White House on September 27, 2020 in Washington, US [Reuters/Ken Cedeno]


Watching the United States election season from across the Atlantic, I am reminded of the story of the 19th-century French writer Guy de Maupassant, who hated the Eiffel Tower but had lunch at its restaurant because it was the one place in Paris where he could not see it.

Indeed, Americans are increasingly losing sight of America, of the big picture, as they turn inward and against each other with such venom, blinded by racial hatred, religious bigotry and the cult of personality.

Watching the “quantum of solace” drop fast, as political incitement diminishes tolerance, promotes violence and spreads panic, one wonders if the country will descend into civil strife if incumbent President Donald Trump loses the upcoming election.

In many ways, the presidential vote is not only a referendum on his character and leadership, but also a referendum on the character of the country and its standing in the world.

The Moral Argument

Predictably, liberals and Democrats blame Trump and his Republican enablers for all that is ailing America today, though, as the president himself puts it, he would not be in power in the first place if it were not for their failings and follies.

They see him as a mean, vulgar, cheating, lying character, who either practises or embraces racism, chauvinism and bigotry.

They see him as an immoral, divisive and dangerous leader who has torn the country apart to stay on top, serving the narrow interests of one group over another.

They argue that he is an incompetent and lazy commander-in-chief, unfit to serve the common good of the country, as he has demonstrated during the pandemic.

They believe, as president, he is more interested in the trappings of the office than the workings of the presidency; that he prefers talking about himself over working for the country; that he is obsessed with his image but indifferent to America’s standing.

Now, a sceptic might question such damning criticism by the opposition party in the heat of battle, even though much of it is collaborated by media reports, including this week’s damning revelations about his taxes.

And that is not all.

Democrats are not alone in their criticism of Trump. Republicans have also harboured similar and no less damning sentiments.

Leading Republican senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Susan Collins as well as former Republican governors like Nikki Haley and Rick Perry, and the likes of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who cheer Trump today, have all severely criticised, if not condemned him in the past.

They took turns calling him a liar, narcissist, authoritarian, ignorant, demagogue, bully, crook, crazy, delusional, a racist bigot and unfit for office.

In other words, there is a consensus of sorts across the political spectrum over Trump’s defects and derelictions.

All of this begs the question: why, despite their low opinion of the president, do an overwhelming majority of conservatives and Evangelicals, as well as, a majority of white and male Americans continue to support Trump?

The ‘Pragmatic’ Argument

Alas, most Republicans seem unmoved by their own “moral judgement”, arguing that Americans propelled Trump to victory in 2016 despite his multiple personal scandals.

Indeed, their response to the moral argument is straightforward, self-serving and rather cynical. They believe, to paraphrase one of their favourite philosophers, Adam Smith, that it is not from the benevolence of the baker that you get bread for dinner.

In this way, whatever Trump is losing among liberal Republicans who see him as anathema to their traditional Republican values, he is making up by gaining the support of certain independents. Those who think Trump has done well on the economy are more likely to vote for him – as many as 82 percent of them, according to the latest polls.

In other words, as long as Trump implements the conservative agenda by cutting taxes, lifting regulations, appointing conservative judges etc, Republicans will stand behind him, regardless of his lies, transgressions and divisiveness.

As long as the president uses his popularity among the hardcore right-wing voters to boost Republicans’ own chances for re-election, they will return the favour, come what may.

All of this has made Trump into Teflon president par excellence. No scandal, no matter how great or grave, can damage his popularity. Indeed, any of his political, financial or sexual scandals could have utterly diminished another candidate, but not Trump.

It is political cynicism at its worst.

All of this makes one wonder if this week’s damning revelations about his tax avoidance or potentially tax evasion will hurt him “bigly”, as he might say… or be treated like any other scandal.

But that is not all.

Many Republicans seem to support Trump for his traits, not despite them.

Some may support him because he knows how to pay very little or no taxes to stiff the “welfare state”. Others may back him because he is aggressive and tenacious, willing to do all to win.

Once they realised they could not beat him, Republican leaders joined him unconditionally, some grudgingly, others happily.

Either way, they have supported his nationalist policies and xenophobic, populist and chauvinist rhetoric which are tearing the country apart, viewing him as the white male antidote to establishment liberals like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

And they support him despite his rhetoric undermining the electoral process and rejecting the peaceful transfer of power, especially when he insists he is destined to win unless the Democrats cheat, which threatens to pave the way for a prolonged political battle that may spill over onto the streets.

To be sure, a constitutional crisis or an electoral implosion at a federal level will trickle down to all levels of US society and polity, where confidence in the ballot box is indispensable to the stability and wellbeing of states, cities, counties and boroughs that regularly elect over half a million officials.

And that is not all, either.

A Machiavellian Leadership

In fewer than four years, Trump has been able to take full control of the Republican party, bullying its traditional leaders and demolishing its liberal wing.

Despite being a political novice with no articulated vision, Trump has managed to dictate the party agenda, message and policies to his favour through stick – blackmail and coercion – and the occasional carrot in the form of budget allocations and government appointments.

Nowhere has his grip on the party been more obvious than in its last convention, which for the first time lacked any written platform, and instead was fully dedicated to honour Trump and his family.

It is indeed mind-boggling how this intellectually challenged, politically inexperienced real estate developer has been able to mount a hostile takeover of a major political party, brand it like he brands his towers, and begin to transform the world’s leading democracy.

An untold number of those who could speak out are afraid of doing so because they would be ruthlessly labelled and tweeted into infamy by the “brother leader”.

If re-elected, Trump will come back next year with greater vigour and vengeance, and there may be little to stop him from ruling like an autocrat, ala Vladimir Putin.

This may seem like an exaggeration, but it is useful to make this comparison to point to where the problem with the Republican Party really lies today.

Many Americans, especially Republicans, believe that the end justifies the means, ie, that using any and all means possible, even undemocratic and illiberal, is justified to maintain power.

So eager to defeat the Democrats, Republicans are slowly but surely turning undemocratic. They are willing to support the president if he cuts their taxes, echoes their religious beliefs and satisfies their sense of importance.

The rest is history.

But in a liberal democracy, the means are just as important as the end. In fact, to a large extent, the means are the end. Justice, liberty, equality and the rule of law are neither abstract nor expendable; indeed, they are indispensable for the long-term prosperity, security and survival of any democracy.

Populist authoritarian means may be attractive for some in the short term, but make no mistake – they are detrimental to any democracy.

And that is what ails America.

On The Brink

A majority of Americans may be increasingly aware of the danger facing their country, which could explain why Trump is trailing Biden in the polls.

But here on the other side of the Atlantic and across the Mediterranean, Europeans and Middle Easterners have a long and painful history with populist-nationalist leaders exploiting the political process to take over and impose their will on their nations.

It looks all too familiar and utterly disturbing to watch Trump borrow a page or more from infamous populist hyper-nationalist European leaders who brought their nations, and indeed the continent, to their knees.

If the election produces a more insular, authoritarian and aggressive American leadership, the implications for the world’s leading liberal democracy will be catastrophic and perhaps irreversible.

It will also trigger a dramatic domino effect in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, where populist leaders, far-right demagogues, and dictators look to Trump for inspiration and momentum.

Alternatively, a Biden win may have different implications, but I will leave this for another time.


Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst. He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.


Lebanon Awaits the US Presidential Elections, But Will Collapse Faster While It Waits

By Hanin Ghaddar

29 September 2020



Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran realized that they do not have to make concessions in Lebanon – or anywhere else for that matter – before the US presidential elections on November 3. They would rather use the Lebanese crisis as a negotiating chip when the new administration in the US – whether a new Biden administration or another Trump one – starts new talks with Iran.

Until then, neither the initiative of French president Emmanuel Macron, nor any other regional or international initiative, could force Hezbollah to concede.

After Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Adib recused himself, Macron gave a rare and specific press conference, focused on the Lebanese crisis. Although he did not declare any punitive measures against the Lebanese political elite, he did name and shame those who hindered his initiative, namely, Hezbollah and the other Shia political party Amal.

On Sunday, Macron accused Lebanon’s leaders of betraying their promises over their failure to form a government, and he gave the country’s political class four to six weeks to implement his roadmap. Macron said the political elite in Lebanon had decided “to betray” their obligations and had committed “collective treason” by failing to form a government. But more specifically, Macron pointed at Hezbollah, warning that the group should “not think it is more powerful than it is.... It must show that it respects all the Lebanese. And in recent days, it has clearly shown the opposite.”

During the six weeks that Macron gave to the Lebanese parties to sort out the problems, the US presidential elections will have taken place, and Macron and those in Lebanon will know which administration they’ll be dealing with for the next four to eight years.

Accordingly, Macron understood that Iran will not give him any win in Lebanon and that they prefer to negotiate directly with the US after the presidential elections. Macron’s initiative has failed, and until November 3, Lebanon will enter a phase of rapid deterioration – economic, social and security deterioration – as all parties will try to increase their odds of a favorable outcome ahead of the next round of talks. Macron will focus on the humanitarian aspects, the Trump administration on more sanctions on Hezbollah and probably more of its allies, and Iran on its survival and the survival of its proxies.

If Trumps wins a second term, his Iran policy will probably be the same. Although he said he is willing to negotiate a deal with Iran, it will probably include addressing Iran’s malign activities in the region.

However, the question remains what route Biden will take if he wins. Will he pursue a strategy that will save the Iranian regime and its proxies in the region, or is this is some kind of wishful thinking by Hezbollah and its sponsors?

Biden was part of the Obama administration that signed the JCPOA with Iran, but that doesn’t mean that Biden necessarily has the same outlook or that he endorses the same Iran policy as Obama. It is too early to tell, especially given that Biden’s foreign policy team has not been formed. But the one aspect that might differentiate Biden’s Iran policy from Obama’s is the fact that Biden is not in a hurry.

When Obama decided to move on with the negotiations, he was already in his second term, and Iran was by no means in a rush to reach a deal. Iran’s economy was much better, and the regime was stronger and less challenged. So Iran was able to practice its strategy of patience and play its waiting game to secure its regional interests before agreeing to any deal brokered by the Obama administration.

Accordingly, Iran’s interests in the region and its plans of expansionism were not challenged by the deal. Iran was able to expand its powers in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen without US hindrance, until Trump’s administration came along and sanctions were imposed.

However, this time around, Iran is in the corner and does not have the luxury of time. On the other hand, Biden would be at the beginning of his first term and will be in no need to rush signing a new deal with Iran, although he might ease off some of the pressure. Biden will also have other priorities, such as the COVID-19 challenges, China, and Russia.

In Lebanon, until Hezbollah faces the reality that Lebanon is not going to be Trump’s or Biden’s priority, and that time is not on their side, Lebanon might be completely lost and become a failed state.

Meanwhile, it has become clear to all parties involved – the US, the Europeans, the French, regional powers, and all of the Lebanese, including the Shia community – that Hezbollah is the main culprit behind the failure of the French initiative, and the reason why Lebanon has collapsed. It will be very difficult to walk back from this.


Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant.


Do We Still Need Cities In A Virtual, Post-Pandemic World?

By Fahd Abdulmohsan Al-Rasheed

September 29, 2020

Ever since the first cities were established some 7,000 years ago, humans have been ineluctably drawn to one another. Whether round fires to keep warm or round town squares to be part of the commercial action, we are a species innately inclined to congregate, thanks to our basic needs and wants.

And when it came to habitation, the majority of us were compelled to set up sticks in urban centers. Over millennia of industriousness and innovation, we gradually transformed these urban hubs into dynamic hives of activity, which kick-started human productivity, innovation and invention.

These human hives of activity came to be known as cities. And they, in turn, became the heartbeat of our economies, the lifeblood of our societies.

Today, 55 percent of the world’s population live in cities. Combined, our cities produce 70 percent of the world’s GDP. By 2050, the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs predicts that 68 percent of Earth’s population will live in urbanized areas.

In the last nine months, however, the road we were travelling forked unexpectedly and we, as a collective humanity, collided with a major speed bump. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changed our world and the way we live.

As the new reality dawned, our cities became the front lines and the epicenters of the chaos caused by the virus. And many struggled to cope with the sudden increase of public-health demands placed on them.

Typically, the infrastructure of the city is not designed to deal with a viral pandemic that spreads most effectively in close human contact. Dense living quarters, large gatherings, public transit systems, skyscrapers, shops and restaurants are all designed for the very opposite of social distancing. They are built to bring many, many of us together at the same time, in the same place.

Amid this time of reckoning and a new virtual reality, an urgent question emerged: Have cities become obsolete?

This question has driven the work done by the Urban 20 (U20) Engagement Group’s work for the last nine months. It has informed and infused the hundreds of pages of research and urban analysis conducted by our three special task forces.

And it is being discussed and debated at great length during the 2020 U20 Mayors Summit, where we will officially present our communique to the G20, with policy recommendations to create more sustainable and inclusive urban spaces in the years ahead.

Before we do that, however, let us say this much: The city will never be obsolete. We are a social species that does our best work and achieves our best when we are together. We will always be drawn to the excitement and buzz of the city. But they will have to change and adapt with the times if our socioeconomic development is to continue sustainably.

It was also telling that, in our hour of utmost need, our cities demonstrated an inherent flexibility, agility and resilience. Many were able to transition to a virtual world almost overnight. They supported us when we needed it most.

Despite the momentous shock that we underwent — adapting to working from home, families, friends and colleagues relocated or stuck at home, in some cases in different continents — we have never been better connected. Everything changed, but our productivity did not slow; in fact it increased.

You may think that this returns us to the question: Do we really need cities in 2020? The answer does not change. While we can now seamlessly host summits and forums virtually, cutting travel and commute times, virtual meetings don’t allow us to develop the trust, rapport and chemistry required for us to build highly productive and cooperative relationships.

Virtual events don’t spring the random chance encounters, the ad-hoc ideation, co-inspiration and the spontaneous meeting of the minds that have driven innovation throughout history.

Virtual meetings are planned meetings. But cooperation, ideation and innovation happen, in many cases, when spontaneity is at its unfettered best — through chance, unplanned encounters.

While friends and families can catch up over a virtual dinner through an app, it will never replace the genuine social bond that grows and blooms from sharing that same meal face-to-face across the same table.

And while our kids can learn from home and do their homework on their smart devices, we should remember the reason we have schools is not to just to offer children a structured pedagogical curricula, but to also, and almost as importantly, to provide them with exposure to social situations that equip them psychologically with the skills required for them to succeed in the outside world.

Although this pandemic has forced us into social distancing and to productively digitize many of our daily routines, we yearn for that deep and inherently human connection that comes from physically connecting and congregating. And that will never change.

So, the real question should be: How can we enable cities to adapt to this and future shocks? The answer is: Investment in agility and resilience measures. The importance of investing in the resilience of our cities and our citizens is the headline takeaway from 2020 for urbanites and city planners.

We must find a way for our people to thrive, in business and in private life, regardless of circumstance. We must help people adapt. We must help people become more agile and resilient. We must prepare them for a future shaped by climate change, contagion and connectivity.


Fahd Abdulmohsan Al-Rasheed is the Chair of the Urban 20 (U20) 2020 and the President of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City.


Annexation without Declaration: The Israeli Case

By Najla M. Shahwan

SEP 30, 2020

In the previous months, the world was sent up in arms by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex 30% of the West Bank. However, after the plan was halted temporarily the outcry faded, an alternative date remained unannounced, and it began to matter little whether the annexation had a formal date or that there was not, in fact, a continuous de facto annexation gradually taking place on the ground in the West Bank.

As part of the Oslo Accords, the occupied West Bank was divided into three parts. Area A constitutes 18% of the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) controls most civilian affairs and internal security, while Area B constitutes about 22% of the area in which the PA is in charge of education, health and the economy. Area C makes up 60% of the occupied West Bank and was supposed to be gradually handed over to the PA, but instead, Israel still retains total control of it.

Israel's exclusive control includes law enforcement, planning and construction, while most of the area has been reallocated for the benefit of Israeli settlements or the Israeli military, at the expense of Palestinian communities.

The Palestinian population in Area C comes to around 300,000, most of them small herding communities scattered in remote areas, mainly on the eastern and southern slopes of the West Bank.

Twenty-five years have passed since the Oslo Accords, and this complicated situation became a permanent condition of ever-tightening Israeli control over Palestinian life and development in Area C, within a process of dispossession and land seizure designed to expand Israeli settlements and restrict the territory available to the Palestinians who live in the region.

The process has involved the demolition of Palestinian homes, schools, medical facilities and a refusal to recognize private property rights.

Israel’s apartheid project not only violates international law and the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination but jeopardizes hope for a two-state solution, making territorial compromises increasingly difficult.

Years of neglect and suppression have left the Palestinian people living in Area C in a desperate situation, isolated from other areas in the West Bank and highly vulnerable to forcible displacement and ever-worsening policies.

Israel’s ongoing control of all critical aspects of security and civil affairs in this area has been guided by the intertwined goals of minimizing the Palestinian population while facilitating the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements and settler population in the same territory which ballooned from just 1,500 in the early years of occupation to almost 430,000 in 2020.

Israel's Silent War

Recently, a report by Israeli daily Haaretz has shed light on Israel's battle over Area C, as the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held two meetings, late July and mid-August, dealing with what they called a "Palestinian takeover" of Area C, complaining in the discussion of Palestinian construction in 61% of the West Bank, which they claimed was choking off Israeli settlements and sabotaging the chance for further expansion – which is the opposite of the reality on the ground.

Furthermore, the report highlighted Israel's intensifying demolition campaign in Palestinian communities targeting the existence of Palestinians in Area C and how the Israeli officials proudly testified in the meetings about the efforts taken to target and destroy Palestinian agriculture and construction in Area C.

According to the head of Israel's Civil Administration, Israeli forces have uprooted 42,000 trees planted by Palestinians over the past 20 years, including 7,500 in 2019 while in the same year, Israeli forces confiscated 700 excavators and other equipment from Palestinians.

Figures from the Civil Administration show that from 2016 to 2018, Palestinians submitted 1,489 requests for building permits in Area C but approval for only 21 of these – 1.4%. During this same period, 2,147 demolition orders were issued for Palestinian structures in the same area.

Haaretz noted that senior Israeli officials had drawn up regional priorities for demolishing Palestinian structures, which "at this stage" include "the area surrounding Jerusalem," the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley.

According to Knesset committee member and senior Likud MK Nir Barkat, Israel aims to settle 2 million Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, adding: "They have enough territory in A and B."

In another step, Israel has significantly reduced the number of internationally (mainly European) financed Palestinian projects in a plan to eliminate European involvement in financing humanitarian projects in Area C.

According to Haaretz, last week the Israeli government allocated about $6 million to survey and map out unauthorized Palestinian construction in the West Bank's Area C, which is under full Israeli control. This is the first time that funds have been specifically allocated for such a survey as part of the state budget.

Even though the authority for enforcing the Israeli law on illegal construction in Area C is in the hands of the Civil Administration, the survey budget was allocated to the newly founded Settlement Affairs Ministry.

In addition, 19.5 million shekels ($5.64 million) were allocated for grants to local government in West Bank settlements. These funds were approved as part of an 11 billion-shekel addition to the budget, while no final state budget for 2020 has been decided on.

New Settlement Construction

In complete defiance of international outcry against the Israeli regime’s land grabbing and illegal settlement expanding policies in the occupied lands, last week the Palestinian Ma’an Arabic news agency cited a report published by Israel’s Channel 7 media network that the 70-year-old chairman of the Likud political party had given the green light for plans to build over 5,000 units, after more than six months during which such construction had been frozen.

The report added that there have been contacts between settlement leaders and Netanyahu over the past few days, where Jewish extremists have called on the Israeli premier to end the freeze on settlement construction activities in the West Bank or face large-scale protests against his administration.

On Aug. 13, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to a U.S.-brokered deal to normalize relations and under the agreement, the Israeli regime has supposedly agreed to "temporarily" suspend applying its own rule to further areas in the occupied West Bank and the strategic Jordan Valley that Netanyahu had pledged to annex.

While Emirati officials have described the normalization deal with the Israeli regime as a successful means to preventing annexation and save the so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli leaders have lined up to reject the UAE's bluff, the Israeli prime minister himself having underlined that annexation was not off the table, but had simply been delayed.

On the other hand, Palestinians, who seek an independent state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza with east Jerusalem as its capital, view any Arab normalization deal with Israel as a betrayal of their cause.

U.N. Data

Last week Jamie McGoldrick, the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released data on the demolishment of Palestinian structures built without Israeli building permits.

Between March and August 2020, 389 structures owned by Palestinians in the West Bank were demolished or confiscated – including in Areas A, B, and in east Jerusalem. On average, this is about 65 structures a month, which, according to the U.N. agency, is the highest average number of demolitions in the past four years. About 79% of the structures demolished or confiscated were located in Area C.

Their demolitions “hit the most vulnerable of all and undermined emergency operations,” the statement said.

Adding that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli authorities indicated that they would restrain their longstanding policy of demolishing inhabited Palestinian homes. "Sadly, demolitions during the period March-August 2020 left 442 Palestinians homeless, further exposing many to risks associated with the pandemic. In August alone, 205 people were displaced, more than in any other single month since January 2017," he said.

Beyond homes, the targeted buildings included water, hygiene or sanitation assets and structures used for agriculture, among others, undermining the access of many to livelihoods and services. Moreover, 50 of the structures had been given to Palestinians as humanitarian aid, and their destruction hit the most vulnerable of all and undermined emergency operations.

"Of specific concern is Israeli authorities' increased use of an expedited procedure (Order 1797) for the removal of structures as soon as 96 hours after delivering a notice, largely preventing owners from being heard before a judicial body," added the U.N. coordinator, saying these took place without “declaration" or fanfare. Israel is grabbing more lands, expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and by all unlawful means turning out the Palestinian lands of Area C into Israeli territories.


Najla M. Shahwan is a Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers




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