Blinken gets Bibi to bend on Ukraine

5 mins read

The United States and Israel make quite a pair. They tango, they align, they scratch each other’s back, they can be bitchy toward each other, and have a Faustian deal but are also lone rangers — and Israel lets the Big Brother feel he’s the one taking all major decisions.

Which of the above templates is currently at work is a moot question, as the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday to persuade the latter not to press ahead with the UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate halt to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. 

The proposed resolution, drafted by the UAE is in response to the announcement by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Sunday that it would be “legalising” nine outposts and advancing future plans for creating around 10,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank. It demands that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Consistent with the US doublespeak on the Palestinian problem, the Biden Administration spoke on record against Jerusalem’s plans but is also pushing back against the Palestinian effort to bring the resolution to a vote. If push comes shove, US won’t hesitate to veto the resolution but its optics will be very damaging at a time when Biden is holding high the banner of democracy, human rights, UN Charter, rules-based order, etc. 

Blinken later also called Netanyahu to update him on his conversation with Abbas. There is nothing new in this pattern. But an interesting coincidence merits attention — Blinken’s activism came just two days after the visit by Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen to Kiev and his meeting with President Vladimir Zelensky on Thursday. 

This is the first visit by a Israeli foreign minister to Ukraine since the Russian special operations began and during this period, some chill had descended on the Ukraine-Israel relations as Tel Aviv stood neutral on the conflict in Ukraine and refused to criticise Russia or supply Ukraine with military hardware, the US entreaties notwithstanding. 

Blinken must be pleased about the development. He can take credit for it, since a subtle shift in the Israeli stance on Ukraine began appearing following his visit to Israel on January 30 and his meeting with Netanyahu. 

At the joint press conference of with Blinken, Netanyahu made a cryptic remark about how Iran has begun “export[ing] aggression beyond its border and beyond the Middle East.” And Blinken completed with alacrity the ellipsis in Netanyahu’s articulation: “Just as Iran has long supported terrorists that attack Israelis and others, the regime is now providing drones that Russia is using to kill innocent Ukrainian civilians. In turn, Russia is providing sophisticated weaponries to Iran. It’s a two-way street.”

Blinken went on to disclose that “Russia’s ongoing atrocities only underscore the importance of providing support for all of Ukraine’s needs — humanitarian, economic, and security — as it bravely defends its people and its very right to exist, a topic that we also discussed today. One of the most effective ways to make Israel more secure is to continue to build bridges in the region and even well beyond the region.”

Ukraine issue and the Iran question have become intertwined in the US-Israeli talking points. But this is not so much because Iranian drones are being used by Russia to attack Ukrainian targets, but the alchemy of Russia-Iran relations has dramatically changed since the drone deal. A strategic axis is taking shape between the two countries with a robust military and economic content to it, which has the potential to radically change the balance of forces in Israel’s security environment. 

Netanyahu appreciates that the Biden Administration is determined to use all options on the table to contain Iran and that includes regime change. No American president has gone thus far. This was also the impression created by the White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan when he met Netanyahu on January 19 (ahead of Blinken’s visit) — albeit Sullivan’s visit was packaged as consultations over the new Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plan and Biden’s concerns over “the effect it might have on Israel’s democratic institutions.” 

Israel’s dependence on US to contain Iran is more critical than ever before. Tensions are spiralling since the drone attack on the Iranian assets in Isfahan on January 28. Two Israeli officers have since been killed; an Israeli tanker attacked. On Saturday, there was a missile attack on the US base near Al-Omar oil field in Deir Ezzor (Syria), and early Sunday, central Damascus came under Israeli missile attack. Meanwhile, the US has begun a renewed attempt to incite anti-government protests in Iran.  

In sum, the US and Israel realise that Iran has gained huge strategic depth during the past year in the geopolitical realignment triggered by the Ukraine conflict. Thus, During the state visit of President Ebrahim Raisi to China last week, President Xi Jinping voiced strong support for Iran against US interference in its internal affairs and for Iran’s nuclear brief. 

In a highly significant statement, the Chinese Communist Party daily Global Times wrote that “Iran’s ‘Look to the East’ policy meant the transition from its policy of negative balancing and non-alignment to building alliances with non-western world powers that have similar political structures to Iran, such as Russia and China.” 

Since his return to Tehran, Raisi disclosed that Xi has supported Iran’s BRICS membership. Iran recently became a member of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, too. 

Now, what form the Israeli shift on Ukraine conflict will take remains to be seen. Israel participates in the Pentagon’s Ukraine Defence Contact Group. But Cohen gave few details after his meting with Zelensky other than that they agreed to step up cooperation in a shared struggle against Iran. He was evasive: “We spoke about deepening cooperation with Ukraine against the Iranian threat in the international arena.” 

Cohen said Israel would provide $200 million in loan guarantees to build hospitals in Ukraine and reiterated an Israeli pledge to give Ukraine a sophisticated air-defence warning system. But he was not specific when that system might be delivered; nor did he make any mention of Russia or how Israel would respond to Ukrainian appeals for Israeli arms.

Cohen said, “Israel, as stated in the past, stands firmly in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and remains committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” He refused to answer questions on intelligence cooperation.

The big question is whether Israel will continue to walk a tightrope between assisting Ukraine and avoiding friction with Russia with which it has strategic regional interests. But Ukraine conflict has shown the potential to reshape global alliances and Russia has warned Israel against supplying weapons to Ukraine. 

The Russian ambassador in Tel Aviv told Jerusalem Post on Friday that Moscow has taken “serious note” of Israel’s “diplomatic and balanced position” and would hope that “this position … will remain unchanged and there will be no weapons components provided by the Israeli authorities to Ukraine.” 

Israel’s understanding with Russia is far from limited to Syria. It is a multifaceted relationship where “Russia holds many important cards,” as a commentary in Middle East Monitor took note even as Cohen was travelling to Kiev. 

Netanyahu would have to convince himself first about the wisdom of jettisoning Israel’s neutrality, as he’d know that with all his ingenuity, it will be difficult to characterise any Israeli move to supply weaponry to fight Russian forces in Ukraine as an act directed against Iran.

Palestine Mission in Colombo Requests Public to Stand against Israel Brutality

1 min read

Palestine Embassy in Colombo appeals to all believers of Justice and Humanity to raise your voice in support of Palestinians who are presently under a bloody Israeli attack

The Embassy of the State of Palestine presents its compliments to the Members of  Parliament from all Political parties in Sri Lanka, Human and Civil rights organizations, the Print and Electronic Media and Friends of Palestine and has the honour to urgently inform, that Israeli apartheid forces in a criminal and bloody operation which is still ongoing from the early hours of this morning, have killed at least nine Palestinians including an elderly woman and wounded over a dozen others in an outright massacre in Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership has warned the world that this extreme and racist new Israeli government had a clear will and intention to commit such crimes against Palestinians. This government from day one highlighted its racist agenda and apartheid policies in all spheres to make the lives difficult for Palestinians, ranging from political, economic, invading holy places, confiscating lands, building settlements and increasing the arrests of innocent Palestinians.

This volatile escalation will fracture the stability not just in Palestine but also in the region and around the world.

Therefore, we appeal to all responsible governments, States and supporters of justice and humanity in the world to not just only condemn the Israeli apartheid regime and its ruthless crimes of violence against Palestinians but also to take the much-needed steps to protect the lives of Palestinians and end the apartheid regimes acts of brutality. The international community’s deafening silence makes Israel feel that it is above the law and can commit its violations without being held accountable and do as they please. Israel should abide by international law and international humanitarian law and be held accountable in all its crimes against humanity.

The Embassy of the State of Palestine avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the Members of the Parliamentary of all Political parties in Sri Lanka, Human and Civil rights organizations, the Print and Electronic Media and Friends of Palestine, the assurances of its highest consideration.

Statement issued by the Palestine Embassy in Colombo

Ukraine: The Missing Link

4 mins read

I once asked my younger son if he could pass the salt, only to be met with the response, “Of course I can!” When I repeated my request, he snapped back: “You asked me if I could do it, and I answered you. You didn’t tell me that I should do it.”

Who was freer in this situation – me or my son? If we understand freedom as freedom of choice, my son was freer, because he had an additional choice about how to interpret my question. He could take it literally, or he could interpret it in the usual sense, as a request that was formulated as a question out of politeness. By contrast, I effectively renounced this choice and automatically relied on the conventional sense.

Now, imagine a world where many more people acted in everyday life the way my son did when he was teasing me. We would never know for sure what our partners in conversation wanted to say, and we would lose an immense amount of time pursuing pointless interpretations. Is this not an apt description of political life over the last decade? Donald Trump and other alt-right populists have capitalized on the fact that democratic politics relies on certain unwritten rules and customs, which they have violated when it suits them, while avoiding accountability by not always explicitly breaking the law.

In the United States, Trump’s Republican Party lackeys are pursuing such a strategy ahead of the next presidential election. According to a fringe legal theory that they have embraced, a loophole in federal election law would permit a state’s legislature to appoint its own presidential electors if the secretary of state decides that he or she cannot certify the result of an election. Republican election deniers are now running for the offices that they will need to override the will of the voters in 2024. The GOP thus is attempting to destroy one of the basic conditions of democracy: that all political participants speak the same language and follow the same rules. Otherwise, a country will find itself on the verge of civil war – an outcome that almost one-half of Americans now expect.

The same conditions apply to global politics. For international relations to work, all parties must at least speak the same language when they talk about concepts like freedom and occupation. Russia obviously is undermining this condition by describing its war of aggression in Ukraine as a “special operation” to “liberate” the country. But Ukraine’s government has also fallen into this trap. Addressing the Israeli Knesset on March 20, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “We are in different countries and in completely different conditions. But the threat is the same: for both us and you – the total destruction of the people, state, culture. And even of the names: Ukraine, Israel.”

Palestinian political scientist Asad Ghanem described Zelensky’s speech as “a disgrace when it comes to global struggles for freedom and liberation, particularly of the Palestinian people.” Zelensky “reversed the roles of occupier and occupied.” I agree. And I also agree with Ghanem that, “every possible support must be given to Ukrainians as they resist [Russia’s] barbaric aggression.” Without Western military support, most of Ukraine would now be under Russian occupation, destroying a pillar of international peace and order: the integrity of borders.

Unfortunately, Zelensky’s Knesset speech was not a singular event. Ukraine regularly takes public positions in support of the Israeli occupation. In 2020, it quit the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; and just last month, its ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, declared that: “As a Ukrainian whose country is under a very brutal attack by its neighbor, I feel great sympathy towards the Israeli public.”

This parallel between Israel and Ukraine is totally misplaced. If anything, the Ukrainians’ situation is closest to that of the West Bank Palestinians’. Yes, Israelis and Palestinians at least acknowledge their adversaries’ otherness, whereas Russia claims that Ukrainians are really just Russians. But not only does Israel deny that the Palestinians are a nation (as Russia does with Ukraine); the Palestinians also have been denied a place in the Arab world (like Ukrainians vis-à-vis Europe before the war). Moreover, like Russia, Israel is a nuclear-armed military superpower that is de facto colonizing a smaller, much weaker entity. And like Russia in the occupied parts of Ukraine, Israel is practicing a politics of apartheid.

While Israel’s leaders welcome Ukraine’s support, they have not returned the favor. Instead, they have oscillated between Russia and Ukraine, because Israel needs Russia’s continuing toleration of its own military strikes on targets in Syria. But Ukraine’s full support for Israel mainly reflects its leaders’ ideological interest in presenting their struggle as a defense of Europe and European civilization against a barbaric, totalitarian East.

This framing of the fight is untenable, because it requires glossing over Europe’s own roles in slavery, colonialism, fascism, and so forth. It is crucial that Ukraine’s cause be defended in universal terms, around shared concepts and interpretations of words like “occupation” and “freedom.” To reduce Ukraine’s war to a struggle for Europe is to use the same framing as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “court philosopher” Aleksandr Dugin, who draws a line between “Russian truth” and “European truth.” Confining the conflict to Europe reinforces Russia’s own global propaganda, which presents the invasion of Ukraine as an act of decolonization – part of the struggle against Western neoliberal domination and a necessary step toward a multipolar world.

By treating Israel’s colonization of the West Bank as a defensive struggle for freedom, Ukraine is validating another power’s aggression and thus compromising its own fully justified struggle for freedom. Sooner or later, it will have to make a choice. Will it be truly European, by participating in the universal emancipatory project that defines Europe? Or will it become a part of the new right’s populist wave?
When Ukraine asked the West, “Can you pass the howitzers?” the West did not cynically quip, “Yes, we can!” and then do nothing. Western countries replied reasonably by sending weapons to fight the occupiers. Yet when Palestinians ask for support of any kind, they receive nothing but empty statements, often accompanied by declarations of solidarity with their oppressor. When they ask for the salt, it is handed to their opponent.

Courtesy: Project-syndicate. Click here to read the original

Claiming sovereignty is our right – Israel

1 min read

We are not planning to annex any part of Palestinian territory but we are planning to claim our sovereignty,” Director of Foreign Affairs at Israel’s Likud Party, Eli Vered Hazan said. Joining by Nilantha Ilangamuwa, former editor of Sri Lanka Guardian, from his house in Jerusalem, Mr Hazan, a strong supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to justify every action of the incumbent government which is under fire due to a series of protests in locally and internationally as well as lack of majority in the Knesset. However, Mr Hazan did not hesitate to give us his frank opinions on reports issued by the international community including, The United Nations over Israel and President Donald Trump’s favourable policies on Israel.

Mr Eli Vered Hazan is also a lecturer at the S.I.D College and a regular guest and contributor to Israeli and international news channels.‏ He has served as an adviser to the Minister of Education; a Parliamentary adviser to the Chairman of the Likud faction and the Coalition; and a publicist for Israel Hayom Newspaper. Studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Eli has completed a German language course at the University of Vienna, Austria.

Click here to listen to this episode