The Middle East Channel

Israel announces new settlements after release of 26 Palestinian prisoners

Israel has released 26 Palestinian prisoners shortly after midnight Wednesday, the second phase of four in part of a U.S. brokered peace plan. Five of the inmates were released to Gaza, and 21 to the West Bank to celebratory crowds. Almost all of the prisoners had been detained over 20 years ago with life sentences ...

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Israel has released 26 Palestinian prisoners shortly after midnight Wednesday, the second phase of four in part of a U.S. brokered peace plan. Five of the inmates were released to Gaza, and 21 to the West Bank to celebratory crowds. Almost all of the prisoners had been detained over 20 years ago with life sentences on charges of murdering Israelis and some Palestinians. On Tuesday, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a last minute appeal by Israeli terror victims’ organizations. In a move believed to be aimed at easing tensions in Israel over the contested prisoner release, the Israeli Interior Ministry announced it would proceed with a plan for the construction of 1,500 additional housing units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government approval of the housing projects was in "compensation" for the release of the 26 Palestinian prisoners. However, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the move as "destructive for the peace process."

Syria

The Syrian regime has fired Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil shortly after he met with a U.S. official to discuss the proposed Geneva peace conference. Jamil reportedly met with U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford over the weekend in Geneva. Jamil has been an outspoken proponent of reform and the planned peace talks. Syrian state news agency SANA said Jamil was dismissed for holding meetings "outside the homeland without coordination with the government and overstepping institutional norms and the state’s overall structure." Some Syrian officials said Jabril, who describes himself as a regime opponent, was fired so that he can take a more active role in planning for peace talks as a member of the opposition. Meanwhile, U.N. and Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi met directly with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday for the first time in 10 months, in efforts to lay the groundwork for the Geneva conference.

Headlines  

  • Egypt has arrested senior Muslim Brotherhood figure Essam al-Erian meanwhile General Tohamy, suspected of covering up corruption under Mubarak, has emerged as a leading advocate for the crackdown against the Islamist movement.
  • A group of U.S. Senators has warned President Obama that Prime Minister Maliki’s "mismanagement" may be contributing to the surge in violence in Iraq ahead of his visit to Washington.
  • A blast hit the Tunisian resort town of Sousse in what is believed to be the country’s first suicide attack, meanwhile police caught a suspected suicide bomber targeting former President Bourguiba’s tomb. 

Arguments and Analysis

Rethinking US-Egyptian Bilateral Relations: A Rights-Based Approach‘ (Corinna Mullin, Suzanne Adely, and Azadeh Shahshahani , Jadaliyya)

"The United States has been complicit in the violation of Egyptian popular sovereignty ever since it began providing aid and support to the Egyptian state on the basis of geostrategic interests fundamentally at odds with those of the Egyptian people. These violations have become even more apparent in recent years, in light of Egypt’s revolutionary momentum. In its support for Egypt’s repressive security apparatuses, US aid is now implicated in blocking what Barnard Professor Mona El-Ghobashy describes as ‘the basic challenge raised by the Egyptian revolution, the task of crafting a state that works for its people.’

In response to the latest round of state repression, the Obama administration announced its cancellation of scheduled joint US-Egyptian military maneuvers as well as plans to withhold a portion of its military aid along with a certain ‘big-ticket’ items such as M1A1 tanks and Apache helicopters. However,  the eight billion dollars pledged by Washington’s Persian Gulf allies should do more than make up for the budgetary gap produced by any suspension of US aid. Taken together with US promises to continue the flow of spare parts as well as equipment and training used for ‘counter-terrorism’ activities and maintaining ‘security’ in the Sinai, it appears the structural basis of Egyptian-US bilateral relations will remain intact."

A new age in U.S.-Mideast relations‘ (Rami Khouri, The Daily Star)

"Only in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations does the United States expend real energy these days, for very sensible reasons: This long-running conflict and the American official policy of favoring Israel on major issues have been perhaps the most important reasons for the United States’ declining standing in the eyes of people across the region. Washington woke up and realized about three years ago that a perceptibly Zionist American Middle East policy generated strong, widespread and persistent anti-American sentiments, which often hindered American goals and in some cases even endangered American lives in the Middle East.

We have no idea what is happening in the American-mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but it is obvious that Washington is expending real political energy there, which is in sharp contrast with its approach to the rest of the region. Washington should and will be judged by the results of its diplomacy here, so we must wait to learn if the effort has been, for a change, serious and impartial.

The American downsizing of its core national security interests in the Middle East is probably a good thing, given the terrible and continuing damage that was done by repeated American military and other adventures in the region in the past quarter century. The debate within the United States about the role of the U.S. in the Middle East is low-key and peripheral to more pressing domestic and global concerns. This leaves the region largely to fend for itself, with new balances of power to be shaped by regional powers that interact with and check one another within the new regional strategic framework that will be defined in coming years much more significantly by actors like Turkey, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel and Egypt."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

 Twitter: @casey_mary

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