Ed: 37: July/2012
Since Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced on May 28 that he would be increasing funding to the UN Relief and Works Association for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), there has been a great deal of focus on the true nature of UNRWA and its activities.
UNRWA is the single biggest influence on the current situation of Palestinian refugees (or more correctly, ‘Palestine refugees'), which itself is perhaps the most serious outstanding issue in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians insist that the millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled the 1947-1948 war have a "right" to return to what is now Israel. This would mean, in effect, the destruction of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. For this reason, it is a condition that no conceivable Israeli government could accept, but on which Palestinians refuse to compromise.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), formed as a temporary organisation in 1949 to take care of the immediate needs of the Arab refugees from Israel's existential War of Independence, has evolved into a sprawling, politically compromised advocate of the Palestinian narrative, according to Asaf Romirowsky, an adjunct scholar at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Romirowsky, who has devoted a decade of post-graduate studies to UNRWA, visited Australia in early June.
Just last month, Tareq al-Suwaidan, a leading Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood figure, was granted a visa to give lectures in Sydney and Melbourne, including at a forum on the campus of Monash University. It was his second visit to Australia.
Al-Suwaidan has a long history of espousing antisemitic statements, such as stating that "the most dangerous thing facing the Muslims is not the dictatorships. The absolutely most dangerous thing is the Jews. They are the most dangerous. They are the greatest enemy," and "power lies with the politicians, who are influenced by two things and two things only: money and the media, both of which are controlled by the Jews." He has also openly called for "armed resistance" against the "Zionist entity."
In recent years, Israel has been coming to sees its future as increasingly linked with Asia. This fact is underscored by changing strategic realities, the region's influential emergent economies, and American and European woes in an unresolved global financial crisis. Three of the world's largest economies (Japan, India and China) are Asian, and four out of every seven persons on this planet live in Asia.
The Jerusalem-based Israel-Asia Centre (IAC), established in 2009, aims to promote a shared future, "investing in the next generation of leaders in Israel-Asia relations, by building dynamic networks to maximise their continued engagement and cooperation."
There are a lot of things to worry about following the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Morsi in the Egyptian Presidential election. The Brotherhood is of course effectively the parent organisation and model for all radical Sunni Islamist groups - from al-Qaeda, through Hamas, to Somalia's al-Shabaab, Nigeria's murderous Boko Haram and Indonesia's Jemaah Islamiyah. It also comes with a worldview which places absolutely no intrinsic value on democracy - to them, democracy is tactically valuable only as long as it helps achieve Islamist ends and the moment other ways of doing so appear to be better, it becomes an obstacle to be eradicated. Even if the Brotherhood allows relatively free elections to continue, its theocratic worldview makes it unlikely to encourage the development of the free public square which is essential for genuine democracy to flourish.
From the tastefully placed pavement plaques to the grand museums, from the confronting and disorientating Holocaust Memorial to the larger than life-sized photographs of citizens fleeing Communist dictatorship, Berlin is a city steeped in memory.
It is also a lively, vibrant locus of arts and anarchic extravagance. In a way, the east of the city, which I visited this June, feels as if it is consciously contradictory and self-mocking - acknowledging the cruelty which has emanated from, and engulfed, the metropolis.
Over the past decade, Indonesia's counter-terror operations have been undeniably effective, with all of the key Jemaah Islamiah (JI) leaders either dead or behind bars. The successes pile up, yet the extremism and intolerance that provided the basis of the worst acts of terror still finds expression in less violent but perhaps more pervasive form.
The former was illustrated yet again by the seizure of more than US$800,000 in assets belonging to an alleged terrorist group in North Sumatra on June 22, but most notably with the conviction of JI kingpin Umar Patek on the previous day.
The Patek conviction, however, has not been universally greeted as a successful prosecution.
For both Middle Easterners and Americans, Muhammad Morsi's victory in Egypt's presidential election is a watershed moment. Eighty-four years after an obscure schoolteacher founded the Muslim Brotherhood, and nearly 60 years since the Egyptian army overthrew King Farouk and established a republic, Morsi's success raises the prospect of Islamist governance in the most powerful and populous Arab state. For the United States, Morsi's election, coupled with Osama bin Laden's killing a year ago, underscores a shift from the threat of violent Islamist extremism to a new, more complex challenge posed by the empowerment of a currently nonviolent but no less ambitious form of Islamist radicalism.
Today, the Muslim Brotherhood is the most important international political organisation in the Arabic-speaking world. It just won the presidency of Egypt and is the dominant party in Egypt's Parliament, having obtained about 47% of the vote there and in the Tunisian Government, having received 40% of the ballots. In the form of Hamas, now an explicit branch of the movement, it rules the Gaza Strip.
It is the leadership of the opposition in the Palestinian Authority (West Bank) and in Jordan, while the local Brotherhood controls the internationally recognised leadership (the Syrian National Council) of the Syrian opposition in the civil war there. Much smaller Brotherhood groups exist in several other Arab countries.
Compared to the revolutionary upheavals in the Arab states, the Jewish state is a haven of political stability, domestic quiet and economic prosperity. And while it involves a hazardous, overland desert journey fraught with Bedouin marauders and human traffickers, Israel's largely unfenced Negev border with the Egyptian Sinai has nonetheless seen between 1,000 to 2,000 foot-weary, traumatised Africans crossing into Israel each month over the past few years.
However, entries are expected to fall dramatically when the 247-kilometre-long fence being constructed along the Sinai border is completed by the end of 2012, according to Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu.