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October 31, 2007
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There are concerns, even speculation, about the role former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will play in his new commission as the Quartet’s envoy to the Palestinians. (The Quartet comprises the United States, EU, UN, and Russia). We hope he is fully aware of the intensifying global jihad raging throughout the world. A political insider in Washington summed up Blair’s activities by saying he is simply carrying “a tin cup” around the world accepting financial support for the Palestinians. Blair’s original brief was to promote Palestinian economic development and advise on building the institutions required by the proposed Palestinian state. In his final parliamentary Question Time, Blair said, “The absolute priority is to try to give effect to what is now the consensus across the international community—that the only way of bringing stability and peace to the Middle East is a two-state solution.” The Palestinian territories now have their own two-state problem. Columnist Daniel Pipes called them “Hamastan” and “Fatahland.” Until those rivalries are resolved, any Palestinian state will be dynamite in the region. Next door, there is the serious problem of “Hizbullahland,” the new title pundits have given to Lebanon.

Blair accepted the position of envoy to the Middle East and then went back to his bosses and asked for a change in the job description. He wanted effective involvement in the political process too. Blair attempted to have a peacemaker clause added to his portfolio. He met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and with officials from the Quartet who refused his request. “Mr. Blair is happy with the mandate as it will allow him to do the job that he wants to do,” a spokesman from his office said in a typical political spin.

The Shiite Crescent It is interesting that new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had personal reservations about Blair playing the political envoy. Brown is wary of Blair interfering with the economic strategy for the Middle East. The sensitivity of the appointment was underlined when one British ministry chief said, “There’s nothing we can do about it. It was pushed by Bush, and we have to accept it.” A Washington journalist called the goals for the envoy “Mission Impossible” and labeled the former prime minister “Agent Blair.” The Russians originally objected to the Blair appointment. Yevgeni Primakov, the former Russian prime minister said bluntly that Blair was too close to Bush to be effective or persuasive with all parties. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) applauded the appointment.

Blair will set up offices in Jerusalem and Ramallah. How will he cope with violent reactions to his efforts? As a British Labor leader, he has experienced rowdy meetings, red-faced accusations, and, in Ireland, he must have been impacted by the passions in that crisis. His brief initially addresses Palestinian concerns, then the wider conflict between Israel and Palestinians.

Grappling with Hamas

He can be sure of such responses here. Every step he takes toward Abbas and the Fatah group will bring instant reaction from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the rest of them. Abbas has charged that Hamas has tightened its connections with Al-Qaeda. Others warn that Abbas has a history of his own with Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. There are serious questions asked about giving large amounts of financial handouts to Abbas without effectively monitoring how those funds are actually used.

Then there is the Hamas connection within a wider vision of global jihad. When leaders like Abbas and official Palestinian and Egyptian media refer to the new entity formed in the Gaza Strip as being an “Islamic emirate,” what do they mean? Since Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip in June, they have created a radical Islamic political entity with characteristics not unlike those of a sovereign state. “It is home to about 1.4 million people living in poverty and without any real economic infrastructure. That political entity is ruled by Hamas, a movement that holds radical Islamic views and embraces terrorism as a means to achieve its goals” (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center). Hamas is closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and to Iran, which is ruled by a radical Shiite Islamic regime.

An intelligence report highlighted the mounting tension by quoting Abbas: “It is a struggle between the national (Palestinian) project of the homeland and the project of the emirate or fictitious statelet.” He went on to say, “The plot [is] to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] and establish an emirate or statelet ruled by one color and one faction [i.e., radical Islam] characterized by fanaticism and radicalism.”

Egypt had the jitters with the Hamas takeover. Muhammed Ali Abraham, the editor-in-chief of Egypt’s official daily Al-Gomhuria, published this comment: “An Islamic emirate on our border: The Muslim Brotherhood is happy about the victory achieved by Hamas in the Gaza Strip—and not over Israel!” According to his article, the Hamas success simply highlighted the desire of all Islamic factions in the world. The Islamic emirate dream is to take over the ruins of a country and establish control, which is an obvious development with the situation in Lebanon, involving Palestinian terrorists fighting the Lebanese army. The term “Islamic emirate” has a strong negative connotation in the history of Islam. In modern times, it is used to refer to a small territory ruled by the emir (amir, leader) of a fanatic Islamic sect attempting to impose radical Islam, separating itself from its “infidel” environment. The significant majority of Islamic underground movements ever to operate in Egypt (and other Arab/Islamic countries) sought to form an “emirate” ruled by the laws of Islam.

According to Makram Muhammad Ahmad in Cairo weekly Al-Ahram, “What Egypt fears is Hamas becoming a force of chaos and destruction that exports violence to Egypt, among other places, while holding 1.5 million Palestinians hostage and using them for blackmail. At the same time, Hamas sides with Iran and, driven by its lust for power, causes severe damage to the interests of the Palestinian people.” It is interesting that Ahmad refers to the holding of the Palestinian people as hostage for use in blackmail. This has been a Palestinian policy from the Arafat era where people have been held in “refugee camps” and used in propaganda against “the Israeli occupation.” This is not a new strategy, and it is interesting to see an Egyptian journalist referring to the tactic. Fatah official Samir Mashharawi said to the London daily Al-Hayat: “Hamas aims to establish a mini-state in the Gaza Strip modelled on the Taliban (state) in Afghanistan.”

Dore Gold, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN wrote: “Hamas did not seek a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but rather an Islamic state to replace Israel and take over territories, more broadly in the Levant [the general region of Israel, Jordan, and Syria]. What was driving Hizbullah and Hamas were not local considerations alone, but chiefly the strategic ambitions of their primary state sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran…The implications of the Second Lebanon War went far beyond Israel and its immediate neighbours. In truth, the war has probably been misnamed and should be called the First Israeli–Iranian War.”

Assessing the Shiites

The Arab world is in serious tension. In December 2004, King Abdullah II of Jordan warned that an emerging “Shiite crescent” that would encircle the Arab world, beginning in Iran. The Shiite majority in Iraq, the Alawi minority in Syria, and the growing Shiite population in Lebanon are all potential jihad resources in the region. They can influence the destiny of their own nations and impact the future for peace throughout the world. The Arab Gulf states have substantial Shiite communities. In Kuwait, Shiites account for 30% of the population. The United Arab Emirates has a 16% Shiite component. Bahrain has an absolute Shiite majority estimated to be 75% of the population. There are 3,000,000 Shiites in Saudi Arabia, and a substantial Shiite population in Yemen.

It is fair to say that many of these Muslims are not ready to simply overthrow the Sunni regimes in the region, but Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made this comment in April 2006: “The Shiites are always loyal to Iran. Most of them are loyal to Iran and not the country they live in.” The call to global jihad is made with a sense of victorious momentum. Israel failed in its war with Hizbullah. The United States publicly parades its pain over Iraq, and every debate fuels the fire. The Shiites are part of the Middle East and larger global Islamic equation that Blair will need to take into account.

Dealing with Abbas

Into this region comes Agent Blair. He will be negotiating with Abbas, the man perceived by the Bush administration and the Quartet as a moderate leader.

In a message delivered to the press at the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Yaalon said: “Another type of threat to the regional state system has arisen in the Palestinian Authority, a weak quasi-state actor. Since January 2006, Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hamas has taken control. Ironically, however, Hamas’s official policy of refusing to recognize Israel and its engaging in terror against the Jewish state has strengthened Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s case for international sympathy and support. His claims that he is too weak to enforce law and order and turn back Hamas’s terror policy without external support may or may not be true. Various PA security forces have a combined strength of nearly 50,000 men. However, Abbas was described by a senior Fatah PA security official as someone who ‘could not move a tea cup from one side of a table to the other without expressing fear that the cup might tip over.’”

The cry-weakness strategy was employed artistically by Abbas’s mentor, Yasser Arafat. He constantly argued that he lacked the ability to rein in Hamas and the terrorist groups. Nevertheless, he died with a very hefty bank balance.

Bush has little more than a year to go as president of the United States. If Blair is depending on the Bush administration to support his plans for the creation of a Palestinian state, he will have to move quickly. Blair is a gifted speaker. He must have excellent negotiating skills to have survived in the public arena so long, but he will need much more than words and smiles to achieve success as the Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East. We wish Blair well in his new job, but without profound wisdom and an understanding of the scope and seriousness of the situation, he will have an uphill climb.

By Ron Ross, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio

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