Full Spectrum Jordan: Forest For The Trees

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Several times in this newsletter I have said that there has to be more thought into a future strategy, and preparation for the coming reckoning. The Middle East will look very different - the rules of the game will have changed. But before looking at the Middle East for a while, everything hinges on the fate of Gaza - Gaza which has already seen the destruction of an entire generation with 10,000 killed, 4,000 of which were children, over 80 UN workers killed, several journalists, doctors killed still working in the hospitals as they were being bombed. The state of Gaza will determine predictions into how the Middle East will change.اضافة اعلان

This is wider than defending the civilian population - especially the children - of Gaza. This about the Arab street relating to the US, the US relationship with Israel, Arab leaders looking impotent in front of their own citizens, and the role of Iran in the region. It is also about the ongoing deterioration of faith in government statements and media, with increased deep social divisions and partisanship. 

Three Things You Should Know:
The Status of Gaza:Gaza has been destroyed almost past reconstruction. An inventory of items destroyed would go for pages - briefly, roads, medical points, schools, mosques, dozens of residential buildings, infrastructure, the olive trees and other agriculture, economic infrastructure. For context, following the February earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria, just in the Turkish district of Hatay 19 temporary sites were designated to store rubble, with a total area the size of 200 football fields. 

The rubble often leads to environmental contamination of whole areas. Gaza already has raw sewage flowing down streets. Further contaminants such as the illegal white phosphorus destroy flora and fauna and endanger human health. The return of agriculture may be impossible. 

There are 1 million displaced. They likely don’t have homes or occupations or communities to return to. They will become refugees in their own land. I can’t express the tragic irony of Gazans fleeing a refugee camp in Gaza, and finding themselves refugees two times over. Let me clarify this. Some Gazans already lived in refugee camps in Gaza, and now are displaced as their refugee camp was bombed. This is a population on the move, in need of basic necessities such as water, food, shelter, and medicine. 

There is a population of over 2 million suffering from collective trauma. Even after the fighting, the deaths won’t stop as those still missing, wounded, suffering from chronic disease without healthcare, or under rubble. 

The Players:Jordan, Egypt, and who? Who is acceptable for Gazans? Who can afford to take the lead on governance of a traumatized land and population. Israel will push against the UN playing any role now that UN leadership brought up international law. The US will want power behind the scene but it is unlikely Gazan will have faith in Washington’s efforts. Trusted leadership is in Jordan, and geopolitical influence is in Egypt. Blinken met with Abbas concerning a role for the Palestinian Authority, but Netanyahu seems to disagree. However, figures in the Palestinian Authority do have trust, though this would be post-Abbas.  The longer this goes on the more likely Gaza will become a new West Bank - and the more tenuous its fate. Thus, strong outside hands with a history of support and strength are required. 

Polling shows Marwan Barghouti as a favorite candidate among Palestinians both in Gaza and West Bank. His governance skills have not been tested. This would be another reason for strong guidance. 

The failure of the Arab summit to provide a robust statement beyond condemnation showed how the Arab states are unable to self-organize. If they cannot agree on several key points related to messaging about Gaza, they won’t be able to manage affairs and bring guidance. The neighbors (Jordan and Egypt)  are the obvious choice.

The fact that Iran is the voice coming out of the summit, championed online by Middle East youth, talking not about armed struggle but boycotts and global pressure, is dangerous. 

Jordan, Egypt, and a post-Abbas Palestinian Authority.

The Chaos of Political PromisesWe are looking for a way out. We can’t go back to the status quo ante. But before we can plan the future, the present is under dispute. Western countries add layers of nuance to their previous statements as media outrage shifts. Polling (and massive protest) in the US drove several in the Democratic Party to urge caution in both policy and rhetoric. Now that the world believes Netanyahu is on his way out, Bibi is doubling down on hawkish positions. Here are three specific examples:

1)  Arab States came out with strong rhetoric and condemnation for the Israeli revenge campaign against Gaza, however on Friday they failed to reach consensus on a joint statement. Reportedly on the US using bases in its countries to aid Israel, whether to cut ties with Israel, whether to allow Israeli civilian aviation over Arab states, etc. 

2) Biden shared the fake news of the 40 beheaded babies, decided that the hospital bombing “was done by the other team” and outright dismissed the civilian casualty count (we’ve passed the 10 thousand, more than 400 of which are children - while Israeli media reports that their bombing resulted in almost 20,000 civilian deaths in Gaza. Now the White House and Blinken are backtracking and have begun addressing the horror of civilian casualties in Gaza and Blinken has urged Israel to minimize civilian casualties. 

3) The fog of war here is more than uncertainty about facts - it is deliberate distortion or hiding of facts. The sides dispute casualty numbers, damage numbers, video of ‘friendly fire’ by Israel, the use of human shields, the culprit of the hospital bombing and many more. With such disputing of facts, chaos and confusion are the goal not the method. Instead, each side can remain certain in its conviction with its own media, own facts, own political machine.

My Take:So we have a destroyed land, over a million with an uncertain fate, and a political shell game where leaders now run away from the narrative rather than try to control it. What we need to look for is a practical way out, and the trusted players who take the lead in getting there. 

A ceasefire is not a goal, a ceasefire is a first small step in a very long and painful process. The longer it takes, the less likely anything can be done. While stating the need for a PA to take control over Gaza, unifying PA authority - the question of annexed lands, illegal settlements and Palestinian collective trauma and the refusal to reconcile that comes with it is not simple, is not easy and it needs sober minds and strong leadership. It needs partners that are committed to peace, partners that value Palestinian dignity and partners that can help navigate the choppy waters of post war politics - Jordan and Egypt. 

Now, about many of the Arab leaders…There are millions of frustrated youth who are looking at their own leaders who are unable to mobilize, unable to prevent the slaughter of children, and unable to stand up. How long until these youth realize that these leaders who cannot mobilize for Gaza are the same who are unable to provide domestic stability for their own citizens?  Heated talk about World War III is exaggeration, but an Arab Spring style movement is not impossible. 

All of this is to say that the denouement, the ending of this, is a critical moment for the entire region. There is disappointment in the US, and it's breaking of faith with the Arab street. This is especially true for Germany. There is the public outcry about the ethnic cleansing of Gaza in the US, puncturing that well established special relationship between Israel and the US. There is disappointment by Arabs in several of their own leaders who have not been vocal, not focused on humanitarian support, not focused on ceasefire, and these leaders also have horrid economies, high corruption, and poor democracy records. Their own citizenry knows this and this will bring change. Finally, look at this glorification of Iran and Syria, this cheering of Hassan Nasrallah and his reframing of the situation is catching fire. For example, look at how regional media discusses the Houthi militia (Yemeni military) and Shiite militia in Iraq (Islamic resistance in Iraq). That deserves attention. 

Ceasefire Now. Make room for the regional neighbors Jordan and Egypt to play a role in Gaza’s future. Post-Abbas Palestinian Authority should take a role. Israel needs to be held accountable. These are the things that have to happen to move forward. 

Saving Gaza, and saving Palestine is saving the Middle East and saving the peace infrastructure that has been set up.

Katrina Sammour was first published on Full Spectrum Jordan, a weekly newsletter on SubStack. 

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