The Middle East Channel

U.S. Considers Releasing Israeli Spy to Extend Peace Talks

The United States is discussing releasing Jonathan Pollard, an American-Israeli convicted of spying for Israel, in part of a deal to extend peace talks. Pollard is a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who was arrested in 1985 for passing classified documents to Israeli agents. He is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison and Israel has long sought his release. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an unscheduled visit to the Middle East on Monday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in efforts to salvage peace talks amid a dispute over an Israeli delay in the release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners. According to U.S. officials, the release of Pollard would be part of a broader agreement to extend negotiations past the April 29 deadline. According to an anonymous source close to the talks between Kerry and Netanyahu, the agreement could include a suspension of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank (not including East Jerusalem), an extension of negotiations into 2015, and the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners as selected by Israel. U.S. officials say no decision has been made and Pollard's release would require President Barack Obama's approval. 

Syria

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 150,344 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. According to the group, the figure includes 51,212 civilians, 37,781 opposition fighters, and 58,480 regime forces. On Monday, Syrian government forces recaptured Observatory 45, a strategic position in the regime stronghold of Latakia province, countering recent opposition gains in the region. Amidst the violence, Moaffak Makhoul and a team of six other Syrian artists have created a mural made of recycled materials in Damascus setting a Guinness record.

Headlines

  • British Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood over alleged links to violent extremism and to determine if the group is using London to plan attacks.
  • Two Tunisian policemen have been sentenced to seven years in prison for raping a woman in a case that triggered protests after she was initially charged with violating modesty laws.
  • The Lebanese army has stepped up efforts to quell violence in the northern city of Tripoli deploying troops and conducting raids.
  • Three Al Jazeera journalists were again denied bail by an Egyptian court Monday after they denied charges that they have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Arguments and Analysis

'Jonathan Pollard: Why Israel wants him free, why the U.S. doesn't, and what might happen next' (Adam Taylor, Washington Post)

"The Obama administration is reportedly considering freeing spy Jonathan Pollard in return for concessions from the Israeli government.

If it happens, it certainly would be a bold move. The release of Pollard, who was arrested in November 1985 after passing secret documents to Israel while working as a civilian analyst working for U.S. Navy, would mark a reversal of decades of official U.S. policy.

It could also, however, be a key step forward for Middle East peace negotiations.

Why is Israel so keen to have Pollard released? And why would the United States change its mind now?

Pollard's case is a remarkable one for many reasons. A Jewish-American, Pollard is reported to have felt an extreme loyalty to the Israeli state. He was working as a research analyst at the Navy's Field Operations Intelligence Office, specifically the Threat Analysis Division in the office's Anti-Terrorist Alert Center, when he was recruited by Israel in the summer of 1984.

According to an Associated Press report from the time, Pollard was paid around $50,000 for his leaks, and expected to eventually earn more than 10 times that amount. His leaks eventually caught the attention of colleagues, who notified the FBI, and he was arrested while trying to request asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington (his attempts were rebuffed)."

'Investing in the Arab World' (Financial Times)

"The world may be recovering from the financial crisis, but the Middle East's attempts to lure investment have lagged behind during three years of political unrest.

Global foreign direct investment rose 11 per cent in 2013 to $1.46tn, a level comparable with the pre-crisis average, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. West Asia, however, was the only region to witness a fifth consecutive year of declining FDI in 2013, falling another 20 per cent to $38bn.

Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab recipient, faced a decline of 19 per cent to $9.9bn; Unctad said: "The worsening political instability in many parts of the region has caused uncertainty and negatively affected investment."

But despite the continued unrest across the region, large companies and some private equity funds are starting to deploy capital across the Middle East again. Some are also considering countries still reeling from political turbulence."

-- Mary Casey

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Erdogan Declares AKP Victory in Local Elections

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in local elections. Preliminary results Monday showed the AKP receiving about 45.6 percent of the vote while the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) held around 28 percent. Facing a graft scandal and criticism for bans on social media, the election was projected as a referendum on Erdogan's 11-year rule. The strong showing of support for his ruling party could embolden Erdogan to act against his opponents, whom he labeled "terrorists" from the campaign trail. Addressing supporters at the AKP headquarters, Erdogan said of his enemies, "They will pay the price, they will be brought to account. How can you threaten national security?" An AKP win may prompt the prime minister to run for the presidency in August, the first time voters in Turkey will directly elect the president.

Syria

Two Spanish journalists have arrived in Madrid after being held for over six months in Syria by militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Javier Espinosa, Middle East correspondent for El Mundo, and photojournalist Ricardo García Vilanova, were kidnapped in September when they were trying to cross into Turkey after a two-week reporting mission in Syria. They were reportedly released and handed over to Turkish soldiers on Sunday. Meanwhile, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has accused Turkey of sending foreign fighters across the border to fight government troops in Latakia province, traditionally a regime stronghold.

Headlines

  • An Israeli court convicted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of bribery on charges related to a property deal while he was mayor of Jerusalem.
  • Egypt's presidential elections have been set for the end of May as a hashtag mocking Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi translated as "vote for the pimp" is sweeping Twitter.
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to the Middle East in efforts to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as Israel delays the release of a final group of Palestinian prisoners.
  • Thirteen Bahrainis have been sentenced to life in prison, and another man to a10-year jail term, after being convicted of trying to kill two policemen during a March 2012 protest.
  • A suicide car bomber Saturday killed three soldiers and wounded four others at a Lebanese army checkpoint close to the town of Arsal near the Syrian border.

Arguments and Analysis

'Sisi's presidential bid doesn't unravel the mystery' (H.A. Hellyer, Al Arabiya)

"Some may implore Sisi, once he becomes president, to take a more inclusive and rights-based approach. But given the record of the past nine months, where more civilians have died at the hands of state forces than any other time in Egyptian history, with little accountability imposed by the authorities, and a crackdown against dissent from various quarters, there are few who appear optimistic at present. His opponents are unlikely to view him as legitimate - for the long-term - and his speech will not have swayed them in that regard.

But that does not mean Sisi's speech was not a success last week. He wouldn't have drawn new support from his critics - but then, it is hard to see what he could possibly do in order to get that after so much blood has been split. On the other hand, his supporters would have been deeply satisfied by the speech, as well as that small section of the population still sitting on the fence about a presidential run by the military officer. The speech delivery was effective - on a superficial level; it was humble, if determined, particularly against "foreign interference." The tone was soft, but it left no room for doubt in that Sisi would continue to "confront terrorism" - including, somewhat disconcertingly, beyond Egypt in the region.

If one examines the substantial components of the speech, there are a few key points to be extracted. The first is that Sisi seems to have sent a message to the sprawling bureaucracy - an establishment infested with corruption, composed of bodies that have become more akin to cliquey silos than actual state institutions."

'Turkish "prohibition" culture explained' (Pinar Tremblay, Al-Monitor)

"Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has achieved world notoriety by first banning Twitter, then YouTube. (Oddly, even some of his party members defy the ban.) This is just the latest in Erdogan's long list of "prohibited" acts. From alcohol sales to cesarean operations to co-ed housing for college students, Erdogan has been awfully eager to generate bans. More perplexing to many Turks - especially the younger generation - is how he gets away with arbitrary legislation. There are several interrelated factors that adequately answer this question, but a partial reason is Turkish political culture. This, of course, predates the Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration of the last decade.

Consecutive Turkish governments have ruled with "bans" of one sort or another. When an administration fails to provide solutions to collective problems, its propensity to introduce "new and improved" prohibitions increases. The struggles of nascent Turkish democracy can be told as a history of complicated bans, whether economic, social, cultural or political. What cannot be controlled smoothly has been banned legally. Yet, bans have rarely helped resolve collective dilemmas."

-- Mary Casey

ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images