Interview by Hayder al-Shakarchi
The following interview is part of a series published by Al Bawaba News, exploring the viewpoints, convictions, partisanship and consensus that exists in Washington D.C. around Middle East issues.
This author of this series will speak to analysts, policymakers and experts in their own words. Our aim is to provide a sense of the discussions taking place in the world's most powerful capital. This does not in any way imply an editorial edorsement of the individuals or policy proposols put forward. Al Bawaba is indepenent and does not align with any existing political party or ideological group.
Hayder al-Shakarchi is an Arab-American journalist and an international news analyst based in Washington, D.C.
al-Shakarchi: Did analysts truly believe that the Jerusalem deal would happen, or was it simply a campaign pledge? How will this decision impact the so-called 'deal of the century'?
Nematt: “I think that at this stage, we could say that this is just a concept that has not been spelled out by any entity; not by the U.S. administration or anybody else, for that matter. There is no real deal, as far as I’m concerned, until the deal is announced. Thus, what we’re talking about here is a set of proposals from the U.S. administration delivered to some of the parties, not all the parties, in the sense that the Palestinian authorities have not been meeting with U.S. officials.
So, I can not honestly say that there is a deal if the other side of the deal [the Palestinians] are not even in on it. So, we’re at a situation in which the U.S. is saying, ‘We want this grand bargain to achieve a Middle East peace solution,’ while the Palestinians, who are at the heart of it, are not even involved… It sounds like a joke or simply an attempt to impose something on a weaker party that does not have the ability to say yes or no.
I’m afraid that with the U.S. decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and with Washington taking the side of Israel all the way, I cannot see how any peaceful political solution can be reached through such a bargain which only has one side [the Israeli side.] Israel has America’s full support, and the Palestinians are absolutely helpless and are not even being consulted with on anything.”
al-Shakarchi: How about the timing, wasn’t it a bit off, especially with all the border killings?
Nematt: “In the Middle East, the timing is always off. If you look at the big picture, it’s clear that the current U.S. administration, which is suffering a major political crisis, is too preoccupied with ongoing investigations regarding possible links and collusions of the Trump campaign with the Russian government. They’re always trying to run away from this issue [Israel-Palestine] by seeking foreign initiatives, such as the so-called ‘deal of the century’ for the Palestinians and the Israelis. I honestly think that all of this is purely theatrics and not set in actual reality.
It doesn’t look like the Israeli government is actually serious about any peaceful settlement. If it were, it would stop building settlements on the Palestinian territories that it occupied, that are supposed to be returned to the Palestinians, if there is ever going to be a two-state solution.
I believe that this is just buying time, once again, as Israel continues to create ‘new realities’ on the ground as the Palestinians remain absolutely alone. The Arab countries of the region have their own set of problems that are paramount to their own national security. Hence, in a sense, you could say that the Palestinians have been left alone to deal with this… Without even having a representative Palestinian leadership. All theatrics… Elections have not been held in the Palestinian territories, whether it be the West Bank or Ghaza, since 2005. The current Palestinian president or chairman are not actually representatives since terms have expired (and the same can be said for the Ismael Haniyeh government in Gaza, led by Hamas, which has also expired.)
There is this Israeli-Palestinian collusion to not hold elections in the West bank or Ghaza to ensure that the Palestinians do not have a leadership that could speak for the people. This is a situation which really can’t encourage anybody to believe that there is anything that the U.S. administration could do to reach a genuinely peaceful and just settlement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As far as I’m concerned, Israel is simply putting on a play through their continued theatrics… Something to be watched on reality television rather than anything that can really be worked out on the ground.”
al-Shakarchi: Speaking of theatrics… Do you believe that show will ever end? Will Israel/U.S. ever be serious, and why all the theatrics?
Nematt: “The theatrics give the illusion that they’re trying to do the right thing, but when the U.S. takes Israel’s side and says, ‘I want to come up with a solution,’ that’s obviously coming from the Israeli perspective. How can one be a moderator or a powerbroker, or simply an independent player, if it only takes one side against the other?
That is absolutely undermining their own role [U.S.} in the Middle East by saying, ‘Hey, we want to mediate a peaceful solution, but we’re siding with the Israelis against the Palestinians, against U.N. resolutions, against the security council, against the will of the people of the Palestinian territories… Against international rules of justice and legalities.’ How can this take place? I can’t see a scenario in which such a solution could be imposed.
You can’t just say to the Palestinians, ‘Hey, just forget about it… Forget about having your own state, forget about having rights within the state of Israel, forget about the people’s rights altogether.’ We have a defacto situation of apartheid and nobody can do anything about it. It’s as simple as that. It’s just perpetuating the status quo as the the Israeli side continues hoping that within time, the Palestinians are just going to forget about it since the Arab nations are too busy with all their problems [in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere.] Israel is simply hoping that a new reality would just set in to the point that it becomes the norm.
I don’t think that this is wise on Israel’s part, I don’t think that this is wise on the U.S. administration’s part. Unfortunately, wisdom doesn’t seem to be in currency in Washington nor Tel Aviv. I believe that’s a really sad thing… There’s an opportunity for a genuine settlement that could give minimal amount of rights to the Palestinians, who have been under occupation for the longest time. It’s not exactly what the people want, and it’s definitely not what should happen, but I do not see this leading to anywhere else (to be perfectly honest.)”
al-Shakarchi: So basically, it’s a Broadway production that Israel has been running since 1967?
Nematt: “Yes. The only difference is that now, the Israeli side is much more powerful because of what’s been happening on the Arab side; the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Jordanians… Everybody is just so pre-occupied with major crises across the region and the Palestinians have become a much less significant issue to deal with on anyone’s list of priorities.
The Palestinians have been left alone with only international law on their side, while the U.S. continues to side with Israel. This is all just negating the foundations of finding a peaceful security resolution council. Israel invaded East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and occupied it all (illegally, obviously.) How is a resolution going to occur? By magic? I don’t believe in magic. I don’t believe that any of these theatrics will solve the problem, and again this brings us back to the sad reality of the perpetuation of injustice to the Palestinian people while the superpower of the world [U.S.] is taking the wrong side of the formula, rendering them incapable of playing the role of the honest broker.”
al-Shakarchi: But why is Israel so powerful? Do you believe that if all the Arab nations banded together, they would be able to outnumber Israel?
Nematt: “This is not a question of numbers; this is a question of military superiority. When it comes to the Arab side, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not on their list of priorities. If you look at Saudi Arabia, they’re more concerned with Iranian expansionism into Iraq, as we’ve seen, and into Syria, which threatens their very own internal existence. They have their own Shia problems, or what they consider to be a problem with their own population.
They have a problem with extremism; fighting it at home and abroad, as well as the issues spilling over into other issues across the region. Nothing is going to change the status quo in Saudi Arabia. Then, there’s Iran continuing its expansion, spreading its influence into Iraq and Syria and creating what Saudi Arabia refers to as the so-called ‘Shia Crescent’ across the region: This scares the hell out of the Saudis, as well as other gulf countries. Hence, the Jordanians are undergoing a major economic crisis in return while they continue to host the biggest refugee population with the Palestinians from the war of 1948 [and the further occupation in 1967.]
The Israelis are just continuing to ignore international law, continuing to build settlements, continuing to push Palestinians out of their own homeland… And all of this is costing Jordan, both politically and economically. Looking at the big picture, this really isn’t an issue of the forces that are aligned with Israel… That is not even on the table. Not one country in the region would dare to challenge Israel as it is a nuclear superpower… Israel is, and will always be, backed by the major superpower [U.S.] in the world and nobody could ever challenge Israel in the long run, both strategically or militarily.
The only chance that the Arab side has is to politically fight to try and sway Washington from being completely biased in favor of the Israelis.
The Arab side’s only chance lies in trying to create some kind of balance in its approach so that maybe, just maybe, the world can witness the genesis of a process that would ensure that Palestinians would begin reaching self-determination and begin gaining the right to establish their own state on their own land to finally end the Israeli occupation, which has lasted for over 60 years.”
al-Shakarchi: In your opinion, is the world blind as to what Israel is doing to the Middle East… Wait, do you believe that they’re blind?
Nematt: “No, I don’t think that they’re necessarily blind; I actually believe that most of the world actually backs the Palestinians when it comes to General Assembly meetings and resolutions at the U.N. They try to back the Palestinians with the Security Council, but then there’s always the American veto, which they constantly use to undermine any resolution against Israel and their sanctions. There are even particular European counties that ban certain Israeli officials from visiting because they have committed crimes against humanity with the war against Ghaza and against the Palestinians, in general. I wouldn’t say that the world is blind… They’re simply helpless because there’s this superpower [U.S] that has a permanent seat at the Security Council and can undermine any resolution, often single-handedly, while we have 14 other nations that need to be considered.
Thus, all 14 of the other members could vote in one direction and then with one single veto by the U.S., any resolution against Israel is immediately aborted. And if it’s not the Americans that abort it, sometimes you get the Russians or the Chinese, who are also permanently on the Security Council, that can also abort any decision. It’s basic incompetence; pure and simple. The system is not allowing the international will to have its way, and that is exactly why the U.S. is the power broker. The biggest problem?
The U.S. refuses to play the honest broker and would rather continue siding with Israel; a very powerful country, not only militarily, but politically, since it has huge leverage over the power levers in Washington. It even has its way over congress. Israel has more support in the U.S. congress than any U.S. president. Ever. Israel will always gain the majority vote while U.S. administrations, including popular ones, would never even get close. Hence, we’re talking about a very powerful U.S. lobby in Washington [APAC) and an overwhelming support in congress, which is something that neither Trump nor Obama had witnessed before, as we’ve witnessed.
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly did not stand by the previous U.S. administration because of irreconcilable differences regarding the peace process. Then suddenly, Netanyahu is once again invited to Congress, against the will of the U.S. and the U.S. president, where he receives a nearly unanimous standing ovation? This is something that no U.S. president has ever had! Israel endows incredible power inside Washington and it can play that together with their influence over the media to ultimately favor Israeli policies rather over anyone else’s.”
al-Shakarchi: How about the U.N.? They continue to say, “No, we have to find a way to end this.” Is the U.S. just going to remain vetoing until the end of time?
Nematt: “We never know what’s going to happen in the future, but the U.N. General Assembly is helpless as the U.N. doesn’t have an army; they don’t have the power of that one single country [U.S.], and there’s no possibility of changing that unless someone comes along and says, ‘Okay… There shouldn’t be permanent members of the Security Council; countries should be equal.’ However, nobody is going to accept that because all of this is a set-up that resulted from World War II, in which the victors of that war basically dictated all the terms… They are the ones that put themselves on permanent representation of the Security Council and that definitely reflects the powers that were formed following World War II.
Now, until there is a leadership that emerges in Israel which clearly states, ‘Enough. We should not continue occupying other people against their will. We should have our own state and they should have their own state. Otherwise, it’s going to be a catastrophe down the road.’ I genuinely believe that it’s not going to get any better… It’s only going to continue getting worse and worse, unless a genuine indigenous Israeli leadership emerges, possibly in the next generation, that would say, ‘This is ridiculous. We must end the occupation… Not simply because of the Palestinians, but because of us Israelis.
We should not want to be looked at, all throughout the globe, as a spurious state; as this aggressor that is victimizing these Palestinian men, women, and children as we continue to ban them from their natural human aspirations for freedom and for their own state.' Ultimately, I believe that unless Israel makes that first move, I do not see how the U.N. or the Security Council, or anybody else from all the other sides, can change anything.”
al-Shakarchi: Do you believe that the U.S. is under Israel’s thumb?
Nematt: “Well, I wouldn’t say that, but I would say that we see the basis; at least with the current administration completely taking Israel’s side. For instance, the U.S. would send someone like Trump’s son-in-law [Jared Kushner], who’s clearly a Jewish fundamentalist, to go and negotiate and broker an honest deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians? That’s a joke! He is more pro-Israel than the Israelis, and we’re meant to expect that he wants to help with the other side? Let’s be serious; it doesn’t work that way. If the U.S. is actually serious about this, they know where they should go with it.
If the U.S. is actually serious regarding a resolution, they need to aim at one common thread: The Security Council’s resolution 242, calling for Israel’s withdrawal from the territories which they had illegally occupied during the aftermath of the Israeli invasion/occupation of the West Bank and Ghaza, and then work their way up from there. There could actually be many resolutions that stem from essential questions: What of Jerusalem? What of the settlements? What of the influx of refugees? To reiterate, the Palestinians were kicked out of their own homes in 1948 and then again in 1967, and you can’t just ignore all of this when you’re trying to facilitate a settlement.
The U.S. needs to understand that between four to five million Palestinians have suffered greatly. They’ve been scattered all over the region after having lost their homes and land in the process. If there isn’t a settlement that at least satisfies the majority of the Palestinians, I do not see how any settlement could ever be brokered.”
al-Shakarchi: How has Jordan been assisting the U.S. in Syria?
Nematt: “Jordan has been assisting on two fronts, but mainly on the humanitarian front. Jordan has received the largest number of refugees, alongside Lebanon, and have attempted to aid these refugees, in coordination with the U.N. and donor nations that support Jordan in its efforts. Jordan has also been playing a political role in coordination with the U.S., as well as with Russia, to protect the northern border with Syria [Daraa region] to ensure that it remains stable and to prevent the spread of radicalism and the flow of extremists across the border, which is definitely a matter of utmost importance to Jordan.
Because of this, Jordan has been trying to distance itself as much as possible from becoming completely embroiled in the internal Syrian civil war. We’re not dealing with one country here… We’re dealing with a Syrian regime that is vulnerable and dominated by the Iranians, along with the Russians, which both dictate the terms since they have the military upper-hand. Then, of course, there’s Turkey with their influence in the north. Hence, there are at least four countries that are competing for positions inside of Syria, and Jordan is simply a player from the outside that is trying to protect itself from either side of the formula… This is a very complex and liquid situation. It’s not static and changes on a daily basis.
For this reason, Jordan is certainly essential in calming down the situation politically, thereby putting an end to the military strife without having Israel continue in their creation of status quos. In which direction is this going to go? Again, the U.S. policy on Syria has always been inconsistent. On one end of the spectrum, the U.S. has helped the Syrian regime, along with the Russians, in crushing ISIS. On the other end of the spectrum, the U.S. has its own geopolitical interests that clash with the Syrian regime, as well as the Russians and the Iranians.
The Iranians want everybody to leave, including the Russians, so that they can impose their own will as they’ve done in Iraq and in Lebanon. However, this is not tenable because the Russians are not just going to let the Iranians take over by themselves. The issue is so far from being settled… The Jordanians are trying to coordinate with the U.S. as much as possible, but how can they when the U.S. continues to have inconsistent policies? When it’s not even defining what it really wants out of this involvement? This just makes things much more difficult for Jordan and the situation is terribly confusing; very complex indeed.”
Updated: This article was updated with additional questions and commentary on 23rd Octover 2018.