Ed: 38: August/2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement on July 19 that Israel and the Palestinians had reached an agreement that establishes a "basis" for the resumption of peace negotiations was certainly a very welcome development after almost five years without substantive peace talks. But this does not change the fact that a cloud of uncertainty surrounds where matters currently lie and where proposed negotiations go from here.
There is an ongoing and to my view, generally inconclusive debate in Israel and among Israel watchers about the genuineness of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a peacemaker. It is certainly true that, in terms of his consistent opposition to violence and terrorism, he represents a major improvement over his predecessor Yasser Arafat. And some who have met him insist that he sincerely wants to reach a genuine and final peace deal that Israel can live with.
On the other hand, sceptical analysts can point to a lot of uncompromising statements in Arabic - honouring terrorists; engaging in apparent incitement; characterising Israel as an eternal, zero-sum enemy; and rejecting any Jewish historical connection to Palestine or Jerusalem. This is on top of behaviour vis-à-vis peace talks which seems to indicate an unwillingness - or perhaps political inability - to reach a final deal, or, for the past five years, even negotiate about one.
In November 1947, two years after saving Europe from totalitarianism and two years after being booted out of office, Winston Churchill told the House of Commons he had concluded that, "democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried".
The military leaders who toppled Egypt's democratically elected Mohammed Morsi last month might have been better acquainted with another Churchillian sound-bite: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
The unpalatable reality, which Churchill would have grasped more swiftly than Europe's current crop of political leaders, is that the zeitgeist of the Middle East has almost nothing to do with democracy.
Two decades after the signing of the Oslo Accords, and half a decade after they last discussed peace, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) agreed to resume negotiations for a final-status agreement on July 19.
The deal, which followed US Secretary of State John Kerry's hectic shuttling between Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman, is an accomplishment for him, but for the protagonists themselves it is fraught with uncertainty, acrimony and risk.
The downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt earlier this month has been widely described as a blow to Hamas and its de facto government in the Gaza Strip, but the real damage has been to the Islamist group's pocketbook. The Egyptian Army's ongoing operations against the subterranean tunnels connecting Egypt to the Gaza Strip, which have long served as key arteries for bulk cash smuggling, are wreaking havoc on Hamas' finances. One senior Israeli security official told me that, in the current environment, an additional reduction of 20 to 30% in Hamas' revenues could "destroy" the movement.
In Egypt on July 3, 2013, for the first time in the modern history of the Middle East, an Islamocracy was ousted from power. The Muslim Brotherhood's 80-year dream to take over Egypt ended in a fiasco, barely one year after one of its own was democratically elected to the office of President of Egypt. The army, which had been severely beaten a year ago by the same failing president, made its comeback after having warned all year that it would intervene if "Egypt was about to fall into an abyss."
The toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood power in Egypt by the army is an event of historic importance. It is important chiefly because it represents an enormous setback in a process which only a few months ago looked inexorable and unstoppable. That process was the replacement of the military-republic regimes in the Arab world by new regimes based on Sunni Islamism, with franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood most prominent among them.
In early July, al-Jazeera staffers were driven out of a news briefing held by the Egyptian military - apparently because of perceptions by those in the crowd that the Doha-based network is biased toward the Muslim Brotherhood government. This incident is only the latest salvo in what's emerging as an ongoing media war in the Middle East.
Jane Caro, explains that she is an atheist and introduces the book by writing how "revealing (it was) to me personally to see what we all agree on" with "grace, humour, civility, flexibility and decency." If only those words were true. It is hardly gracious of Antony Loewenstein to dub the only Jewish State in the world "an occupier and a brute" and write that "mainstream Judaism has largely become, a deformed beast."
Not that long ago, if you entered the terms "Jew" and "Australia" into one particularly ubiquitous search engine, the first links to appear were to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other antisemitic conspiracy theories.
When the company which ran the search engine was informed, its answer, in summary was "is there a law against it?"
Morality wasn't an issue, defamation of an identifiable section of humanity wasn't an issue, credibility was not an issue - but the law was.