The Middle East Channel

Israel Suspends Peace Talks After Fatah-Hamas Unity Deal

Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (AP) Thursday in response to an announcement Wednesday of a unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions, Fatah, led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The move came just days ahead of the April 29 expiration date of U.S. sponsored Israeli and Palestinian negotiations, which were already faltering. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "I will never negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas terrorists." However, he appeared to leave the door open if Abbas "changes his mind." Palestinian officials have said that a unified government shouldn't be a bar to talks, and the United States said it would not yet declare the talks over though President Barack Obama said neither party has shown the political will to take the steps to advance negotiations.

Syria

As Syria transfers its final shipments of chemical weapons ahead of an April 27 deadline, British officials have said the government has failed to declare all of the elements in its chemical stockpile. Director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Uzumcu is considering launching an investigation, on his own initiative, into claims of chlorine gas attacks in Syria. Russia's foreign ministry said on Friday that accusations that Syrian government forces used "poisonous chemicals continue to be fabricated." Meanwhile, efforts by Britain's metropolitan police to enlist families, particularly Muslim women, to prevent young Muslims from traveling to fight in the Syrian conflict is being met with controversy.

Headlines

  • Iran cut a portion of fuel subsidies Friday sparking a surge in gas prices of up to 75 percent in a move President Rouhani hopes will strengthen the economy.
  • Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels have agreed to talks over the prospect of the group's disarmament.
  • Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri described the first round of the presidential election in the parliament as a "rehearsal" and said next week's session will move to the stage of electing a president.
  • Ethiopia's prime minister said its Nile River hydroelectric dam is about 32 percent complete and called for talks urging Egyptian authorities to "avoid unnecessary complaints."

Arguments and Analysis

'For Netanyahu, another excuse to miss an opportunity' (Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel)

"And still, if Netanyahu weren't so busy looking for excuses to not talk to the Palestinians, he would discover a few interesting things about the agreement.

First, Abbas brought Netanyahu and the international community what they were demanding: a government, with no Hamas representatives, made up only of technocrats, without politicians and with Abbas himself at its head. The government is supposed to deal not only with the West Bank, but also with the Gaza Strip.

And maybe that is what is making Netanyahu nervous. If the agreement does go into effect, a government presiding over the Gaza Strip and West Bank is created, and elections are held, Netanyahu could find himself facing a real partner in the person of Abbas. All the "no partner" claims citing the fact that Abbas doesn't rule the Gaza Strip will cease to be relevant."

'#SaveKessab, #Save Aleppo, and Kim Kardashian: Syria's Rashomon Effect' (Elyse Sermerdijian, Jadaliyya)

"While #SaveKessab intended to draw attention to the dramatic depopulation of Kesab and Turkey's role in the event, as a social media campaign, it fell prey to "hoaxes" that typically spread viral on the internet-thinkBonzai Kitten. Making Kardashian the fall girl for misinforming the public about Kessab merely highlighted the way in which celebrities rather than experts are looked to as purveyors of knowledge in an environment of anti-intellectualism. After all, the mainstream media quoted Twitter, Facebook pages of pro-opposition activists, lobbyists, and celebrities in search of the Kessab story which is hardly rigorous journalism.

While the internet has its own ability to produce gullible consumers, history shows there is a reason why such fears are easily stoked within the Armenian community. Images of sectarian murder have spread virally on state and social media paralyzing minority communities into submission to not only the Asad regime but to political interests more broadly. Turkey also got involved in the game-as did opposition activists-to dismiss sectarian concerns that were chalked up to mere hype. There was little effort to acknowledge what the loss of Kessab meant to the Armenian community and why its capture would produce such internet hysteria. The state sought to capitalize on the outrage over Kessab as it launches its campaign against opposition forces in Latakia province. Kessab is yet another manifestation of the Syria conflict's Rashomon effect as each faction works to produce their own reality to gain support amid a hopeless political stalemate."

'IRI Poll: Tunisia's Democratic Success Builds Cautious Optimism and Heightened Expectations' (International Republican Institute)

"With Tunisia's passage of a constitution and formation of an interim government, a majority of Tunisians have reaffirmed they are satisfied with democracy and believe the country's political system is on a democratic path.  IRI's survey (PDF) found that 53 percent of Tunisians continue to prefer democracy, even with instability, over a stable authoritarian government. 

At the same time, there is a broad perception that their path to democracy is not yet complete.  Forty percent said Tunisia is a flawed democracy, and a clear majority (79 percent) believe political parties are not doing enough to address Tunisians' needs."

-- Mary Casey

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Palestinian Factions Hamas and Fatah Announce Reconciliation Deal

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have signed a reconciliation deal aiming to end seven years of division. The accord came after talks Wednesday in Gaza and paves the way for a unity government within five weeks and parliamentary elections in six months. The move is the latest attempt to repair relations between the groups after previous deals were not implemented. The agreement has come less than a week ahead of the deadline for U.S. sponsored peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately denounced the deal saying Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas would have to choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Washington was "disappointed" with the deal, which she said could jeopardize peace efforts. Abbas said that a reconciliation agreement would contribute to negotiations with Israel. The United States has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, therefore a senior U.S. official noted Thursday that the United States would have to reconsider its annual $500 million in assistance to Palestinians if a unity government is formed.

Syria

The heads of five U.N. agencies have said that diplomatic efforts to end suffering caused by the over three-year war in Syria have failed. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused all parties in the conflict for "flagrant violations" of international law preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to nearly 3.5 million civilians in need after a Security Council resolution passed in February demanded uninhibited access. Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an air strike on a market in the village of Atareb in Aleppo province killed up to 25 people Thursday. The air raid came as part of a regime offensive that began in December 2013 targeting opposition-held areas in the province and the city of Aleppo.

Headlines

  • Iran's highest prison official Gholam Hossein Esmaili has been removed and transferred following protests by inmates' families accusing guards at Tehran's Evin prison of attacking a cellblock.
  • Saudi Arabia reported two more people have died from the MERS virus and 13 more cases have surfaced just days after the kingdom replaced its health minister.
  • A suicide car bomber killed at least 11 people and wounded 27 others in the Iraqi city of Hillah during Thursday morning's rush hour.
  • Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian accused Turkey of "utter denial" of the mass killings of Armenians during WWI marking the 99th anniversary of the massacres.
  • The militant group Ajnad Misr (Egypt's Soldiers) claimed responsibility for a car bombing that killed a police officer on Wednesday saying it was in retaliation for killings and arrests of Morsi supporters.

Arguments and Analysis

'Why Israel may need to rethink its assumptions on Palestinian unity' (Christa Case Bryant, The Christian Science Monitor)

"Israel's approach rests on two assumptions: that Mr. Abbas, who is also leader of Fatah, could enforce a peace deal without reconciling with Hamas; and that Hamas would never give up its stated intention to destroy Israel. Both may need rethinking. 

Abbas, elected eight years ago, has consistently marketed himself as a committed peacemaker who will show Palestinians it is better to negotiate than resort to violence. But two rounds of negotiations later, the Israeli settler population in the West Bank has grown by more than 60,000 or 22 percent, and talks with Israel have failed to deliver a single meaningful benefit to Abbas's constituency. 

His legitimacy is wearing dangerously thin, and he lacks the leverage to convince Palestinians to make the sacrifices necessary for lasting peace. Hamas could sabotage any deal he reaches with Israel by sending rockets into Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv."

'Of Transitology and Counter-Terror Targeting in Yemen' (Sheila Carapico, Muftah)

"The GCC and the United States are engaged in retrograde policies in Yemen. The American role is especially reactionary. Washington does not have a Yemen policy, much less a progressive vision for the country. Instead, American policies in the Peninsula privilege the permanence and prosperity of the GCC monarchies, notably the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations have regarded Yemen as a real place with real politics. Instead, they have bowed to the misogynist Saudi gerontocracy in treating Yemeni politics as a problem to be managed for the sake of Gulf stability. President Obama's visit with King Abdallah on March 28/29 is meant to reassure the House of Saud that Washington has its interests at heart."

'How Iran's Gadget Bloggers Became Victims of the Revolutionary Guard' (Danny O'Brien, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

"The Narenji team's treatment is another example of how technologists are targeted by governments worldwide as a result of their work. It doesn't matter if you're writing a blog about Android development or distributing anti-censorship proxies: to many governments, simply being well-known online or having a latent power to influence or change society through your technical knowledge can quickly turn you into an unacceptable threat to the social order.

Popular but apolitical bloggers like Narenji's also risk being caught in internecine battles over which they have no control. Iranian political experts we've spoken to consider that Narenji's arrest by the local Kermani Revolutionary Guard may be a deliberate response by local radicals against the Rouhani administration's encouragement of tech entrepreneurs: a signal that makes clear that Tehran should not go too far in its moderation. Narenji's high visibility may not have given them protection against the Revolutionary Guard; rather, it may have made them more of a target."

-- Mary Casey

SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images