UPDATE 10/13: The Israeli army ordered the evacuation of the entire north half of Gaza, home to 1 million people, on Thursday night. The United Nations said that the evacuation order — which originally gave Palestinians only 24 hours to leave — was impossible to fulfill, and the Norwegian Refugee Council argued that Israel’s plans amount to “to the war crime of forcible transfer” of civilians.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in a speech late on Thursday that Egypt was committed to providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, but that Palestinians must “remain on their land” because their removal from Gaza would bring “the elimination of the [Palestinian] cause.” He had earlier claimed that “Egypt will not allow the Palestinian cause to be settled at the expense of other parties.”
The Biden administration is working to set up a “humanitarian corridor” for Palestinian civilians in Gaza to flee to Egypt, but Cairo is signaling that it will not accept a solution that forces Palestinians to leave Gaza without any hope of return.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Egypt rejected the idea of evacuations in order to protect Palestinians’ right to stay on their land. A chorus of Egyptian officials, media personalities, and religious authorities have stated over the past two days — with almost exactly the same wording — that Egypt will not tolerate Israel pushing Palestinians into Egypt at the expense of “Egyptian sovereignty.”
Speaking anonymously to Cairo News, high-level officials denounced the “calls for a mass exodus” from “some parties,” which are a “proxy for emptying the [Gaza] Strip of its inhabitants and liquidating the Palestinian issue itself.” The statement seemed aimed at Israeli member of parliament Ariel Kallner, who called for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza this week.
Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar seminary, meanwhile, put out a statement on Wednesday urging Palestinians to remain “steadfast,” because “leaving your land is the death of your cause and will cause the disappearance of your land forever.”
Israel, reeling from the murder of hundreds of Israeli civilians by Hamas guerrillas, has begun an intense retribution campaign against Gaza, the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas. The Israeli military has cut off food, water, and electricity to Gaza while bombing the area more intensely than ever before.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely expected to launch a ground invasion.
International calls for a “humanitarian corridor” have mounted as food rations dry up and hospitals run low on vital supplies. However, different parties have very different visions in mind. The World Health Organization is demanding that medicine be allowed into Gaza, while the Biden administration has apparently focused on evacuating civilians out of Gaza.
It is unclear whether the Biden administration would pressure Israel to allow Palestinians to return to Gaza after the war is over. U.S. officials have publicly called on Israel to respect the laws of war.
The situation resembles the siege of Karabakh over the past few months. Azerbaijani authorities had cut off food supplies to the Armenian enclave of Karabakh for several months, leading to mass starvation. Last month, the Azerbaijani military began a campaign to retake Karabakh, while advertising a “humanitarian corridor” — in those exact words — for locals to flee to Armenia.
Israeli politicians have indicated that they prefer a similar solution in Gaza, and perhaps the entire Palestinian territories. The idea of solving the Palestinian issue through “population transfer” has grown more popular with the Israeli public over the past few years. Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli minister in charge of the West Bank, once proposed a “Decisive Plan” that would give Palestinians a choice between accepting permanent Israeli rule or emigrating.
Kallner, the Israeli member of parliament, wrote on social media that Israel should have “one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join!”
The Nakba refers to the mass exile of Palestinians during the Israeli war of independence in 1948. Around 700,000 people left their homes, with many fleeing to Gaza, then under Egyptian control.
Egypt relinquished its claim to Gaza in the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1978. The treaty, known as the Camp David Accords, called for Israel to establish Palestinian self-rule in the territory instead. Jordan agreed to a similar principle in the 1980s, giving up its claims on the West Bank in favor of the Palestinian independence movement.
Jordanian leaders often say that their goal was to prevent Israel from trying to create an “alternative [Palestinian] homeland” on Jordanian soil. Khaled el Gendy, an official with Egypt’s ministry of religion, brought up the same specter in a Tuesday speech.
“Now some calls have appeared to push the Palestinians out of their land and put them into the Sinai to create an alternative homeland,” he said, referring to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. “This cannot happen, ever.”
The Israeli ambassador in Cairo stated on social media that Israel has no designs on taking the Sinai from Egypt.
Of course, it is possible to evacuate civilians from Gaza without Egypt's involvement. Israeli authorities could allow Palestinians to travel from Gaza to the West Bank — or they could set up refugee camps within Israel proper. Such a solution would assuage concerns that Israel plans to permanently depopulate Gaza.
However, Israel does not appear interested in taking in Palestinian refugees. All checkpoints controlling access to the West Bank are also under complete lockdown.
Matthew Petti is an independent journalist and a non-resident fellow at the Kurdish Peace Institute. He worked for various Jordanian news outlets as a 2022-2023 Fulbright fellow. Previously, he worked as a reporter at Responsible Statecraft and a national security reporter at The National Interest. His work has appeared in The Intercept, The Daily Beast, and Reason Magazine.
FILE PHOTO: A view shows houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo
Senator Lindsey Graham had two options walking into the Doha Forum in Qatar this weekend: find a way to triangulate his full-throated support for Netanyahu policies in Israel for the largely Palestinian-supportive Muslim audience Sunday, or wave his own flag without reservation. He went with the latter.
The South Carolina Republican made it clear he was no stranger to the region — he touted a long friendship with his host the Emir of Qatar and lauded the kingdom's role as international mediator and host to America's Fifth Fleet. But he didn't bat an eye to tell this audience — thousands of Muslims assembled from across the Gulf and the broader Middle East, plus attendees from Global South nations and Europe — that the U.S. veto of the ceasefire was one of the few things he thought the Biden Administration got right.
"President Biden ...You have risen to the occasion after October the seventh," he said, addressing the audience Sunday. "I have a world of difference with President Biden on many things. But when he vetoed the ceasefire resolution, he did the right thing and let me tell you why. Every ceasefire Hamas has ever entered has been broken and we're not going to do a ceasefire until hostages begin to be released like promised and would give the Israeli military the time and space they need to make sure that Hamas ceases to be a threat to Israel and the Palestinian people."
"So as a Republican, I am standing behind President Biden's decision, that resolution and the one that comes next."
He also said the only way there will be peace in the Middle East will be to get Iran — the real culprit. And the only way to start building a state for Palestine ith the Israel-Saudi deal the icing on the cake.
"I pledge in front of the world to help President Biden secure the votes in the United States Senate to make it possible for Saudi Arabia to have a defense agreement with us, which would then make it possible for Saudi Arabia, to recognize Israel," he declared. "Before the world I pledge my support, to help reconstruct a new Palestine but none of this is possible until you have a less corrupt younger Palestinian Authority, replacing the one we have. And a Hamas can no longer wreak havoc on Israel, on their own people.”
That potential U.S.-brokered Israel-Saudi deal have been deemed all but dead after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel. Graham contended that aside from hating Jews, Hamas launched the attacks to kill any hope for that deal to go forward. Observers have come to similar conclusions — that the so-called Abraham Accords had left the Palestinians on the cutting room floor, inciting anger among the militant elements in Gaza. But unlike Graham, these critics' hold that the agreements are the problem — that regional leaders' shouldn't have allowed Israel to shunt the peace process to the side in the first place.
Not only did Graham ignore this fatal flaw of the agreements, he reveled in his own blind spots, choosing to ignore any culpability of the Netanyahu government over the decades leading to the violence and what appears today, an endless bombardment and on-the-ground military operation in Gaza with chances for further talks between the two sides dwindling by the hour. Instead, he appeared to blame Iran for everything.
"The biggest fear of the Ayatollah is that the Arab world, in conjunction with Israel, marches toward the light away from the darkness. (Iran hates) the idea that everybody in this room can find a way to work with Israel and live with Israel where everybody makes money and can live in peace. Because let me tell you, their agenda is different than yours. So I believe we cannot let Iran win."
He said he was committed to a two-state solution, and if there was any moment in his talk where he put any responsibility on Israel it was this: "I'm going to Israel soon and here's what I'm telling Israeli friends — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, none of these Arab countries can help you. Unless you make a commitment for a two state solution. ...To my friends in Israel the best thing you can do to beat Iran is to give the Palestinians a life where they're not dependent upon terrorist organizations that they can live and work and be prosperous."
How Israelis could get there, from here, was not explained by Lindsey Graham, or whether he honestly thought that was possible given the "hell on earth" Gaza is becoming today. But we know he doesn't believe that the civilian crisis on the ground now will reduce the chances for peace tomorrow, because of the way he reacted to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's remarks earlier this month.
Austin said “the lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. In this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”
“Strategic defeat would be inflaming the Palestinians? They’re already inflamed,” Graham continued. “They’re taught from the time they’re born to hate the Jews and to kill them. They’re taught math: If you have 10 Jews and kill six, how many would you have left?”
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Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Dec. 10. (Vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
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