Voices from the Arab Press: The right of return shall prevail

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, US. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, US.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al Jazeera, Qatar, August 9
The Canadian government finally exposed the true face of the Saudi regime last week, when a harmless tweet posted by the Canadian Foreign Ministry sparked an aggressive diplomatic Saudi attack on Ottawa.
The original tweet called on Saudi authorities to release all human rights activists arrested in the kingdom in recent months, including Samar Badawi, a notable human rights activist who has been detained in Riyadh since 2012 for “defaming Islam.”
The Saudi response was not only rash, but also extremely disproportional. Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador from Riyadh, recalled its own ambassador from Canada, placed a freeze on all bilateral trade agreements with Canada, halted all commercial flights between Riyadh and Canadian cities, and revoked all permits of Saudi citizens studying in Canada.
The Canadian response, meanwhile, was calm and measured. The Canadian Foreign Ministry simply responded by claiming that it stands by its original message of protecting human rights around the world.
An important thing to note in the wake of this crisis is that Canada was not alone in criticizing Saudi Arabia’s treatment of human rights groups. A report published by the US State Department earlier this year devoted an entire chapter to Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, which includes extra-judicial killings, imprisonment of activists and harassment of political dissidents.
Yet Riyadh did not respond to the American report, and most certainly did not recall its ambassador from Washington.
This is because the Saudi economy is far too dependent on America to afford any heated response against US President Donald Trump.
Justin Trudeau, however, is a different case. Canada quickly became the prime target of a barrage of Saudi attacks. Thus, this crisis is far more telling than we even realize. It not only brought to the fore the human rights abuses that take place in Saudi Arabia on a regular basis, but also exposed the kingdom’s hypocrisy of retaliating against certain criticisms while ignoring others. We can only hope that other countries will follow Canada’s footsteps and confront the government in Riyadh for its problematic behavior.

–Ali Anuzlan
Filasteen, Gaza, August 10

One of the most dangerous aspects of US President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” is that it is designed to unfold gradually, in order to eliminate any objection it may possibly face.
At first, we were informed of the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump decided to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize Israel’s authority over the city. Arab leaders, many of whom are beholden to Trump and his whims, refrained from reacting to this move. Responses remained merely symbolic, as millions of Muslims around the world watched their holiest site [sic] handed over to the Israeli government.
Then came the issue of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. Senior White House officials, including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, were cited calling to cut funding for the organization in an effort to “curb” the Palestinian refugee problem. Instead of dealing with the problem at its core, by providing tangible solutions to one of the worst refugee crises of our time, Trump and his aides chose to “solve” this problem by simply abolishing the organization that deals with it.
This is a very dangerous move, given the invaluable work conducted by UNRWA both inside and outside the Palestinian Territories.
By targeting UNRWA and its funding, the White House has depoliticized the Palestinian refugee problem and reduced it to a mere humanitarian issue. It treats the Palestinians as a group of people who need shelter and food rations, rather than a national group that deserves the right of self-determination in its own homeland, which has been colonized by an occupying force for over seven decades. This is Trump’s ultimate objective: to erase any Palestinian claim to the land, while pushing the Palestinian leadership to the corner, where they will have to accept any agreement presented to them.
Thankfully, the Palestinian ambition for self-determination and sovereignty will not be dictated on the basis of US funding. It will neither wane nor diminish, regardless of what the Trump administration decides to do with UNRWA. No power in the world, not even the United States, can deny the right of the Palestinian people to return to their own homes. This unalienable right has been ratified time and again throughout the years, including in several UN Security Council decisions.
Let Trump have it his way. He will quickly learn that the Palestinian refugee problem will continue to exist with, or without, UNRWA.
–Jibril Awda
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, August 11
Anyone who ever reads what I have to say about Hamas knows that I am far from being a supporter of the Gaza-based Islamic Resistance movement. Hamas has wreaked havoc upon the people of Palestine, both inside and outside of the Gaza Strip, and has undermined their collective struggle for liberation. Yet Hamas’s leadership surprised me in the past week in a very positive way. In its decision to enter a long-term Egyptian-backed ceasefire agreement with Israel, Hamas demonstrated that it is a strategic player capable of making nuanced political decisions for the betterment of the people of Gaza. In its acceptance of a truce, Hamas proved that it has far more political skill than its competitor in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority.
While the details of the cease-fire with Israel are still unknown, it seems like the two sides agreed to enter a long-term truce, wherein both sides refrain from attacking each other. Hamas will halt all of its hostilities against Israel, including the digging of underground tunnels and the firing of mortars on Israeli towns and cities. Israel, meanwhile, will de facto recognize Hamas as a legitimate political entity, lift limitations on the cargo allowed to enter the Gaza Strip and expand the territorial waters available to Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip by more than 10 kilometers. There are also talks about a potential release of several Hamas prisoners from Israeli jails.
Whether this deal will succeed or not remains to be seen, yet it is meant to last for at least a few years.
Surprisingly, it was the PA that dismissed the terms proposed by Israel during the negotiations. While Hamas leaders set off to Cairo to meet with their Egyptian counterparts, it was PA President Mahmoud Abbas, sitting in Ramallah, who rejected the Israeli and Egyptian attempts to restore stability to the Israel-Gaza border.
Abbas miscalculated Hamas’s intentions. Thinking that the organization would never accept a truce, Abbas tried to adopt an even harsher anti-Israel stance than Hamas. But he soon found himself sidelined by both Israel and Egypt. Hamas, in turn, upgraded its status, both internally and externally, and became the go-to Palestinian representative.
The movement’s leadership understood that instead of solving its issues domestically, with the Palestinian government in Ramallah, Hamas could work directly with the Israelis and gain much-needed international legitimacy. It is Israel, after all, which controls the Palestinian financial system, its energy infrastructure and its border crossings. By working directly with the Egyptian and Israeli authorities, Hamas has managed to bypass and weaken Abbas. We are now witnessing Hamas becoming the PA, and the PA becoming Hamas.
–Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed
Al-Okaz, Saudi Arabia, August 8
The differences between Turkey and the United States, two NATO allies, have been growing wider and wider over several key issues in recent months. An oped published in The New York Times last week, written by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warned the American president that he must respect Turkey’s sovereignty. US President Donald Trump, on his end, announced new tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum, causing the value of the Turkish lira to plunge 14% versus the US dollar.
And yet, there seems to be no end to this crisis. Relations between the two leaders have been shaky for quite some time now, following Washington’s refusal to extradite Turkish political dissident Fethullah Gulen, and Turkey’s arrest of an American pastor by the name of Andrew Brunson in Istanbul.
Yet things seem to have taken a downturn in recent weeks, following Erdogan’s public pledge of allegiance to the mullahs in Tehran; a move that instigated fury among members of the Trump White House.
Erdogan expressed his support for the Iranian regime and spoke out against the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Several Turkish officials, including Erdogan’s minister of finance, went as far as to encourage European states to defy the American sanctions that have been recently reimposed on Iran.
Interestingly, Erdogan’s vision for Turkey is very much in line with Trump’s vision for America. Both men seek to turn their respective nations into empires that enjoy unlimited power. Erdogan, however, believes that this will be achieved with the rise and proliferation of political Islam, be it Sunni or Shi’ite, throughout the Middle East. It is for this reason that he has been supportive of some of America’s worst enemies, including Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Erdogan, however, must remember that he is a populist leader. His success in the recent elections was made possible, in large part, due to the improvements he implemented in the Turkish economy. A deflating exchange rate of his currency is no laughing matter for many Turkish citizens, who might defy Erdogan’s rule if the situation continues to escalate. In hoping to restore Turkey to its glorious empire days, Erdogan might be pushing the Turkish economy off a cliff, making it weaker than it ever was before.
Leaders with large egos like Erdogan and Trump may envision great futures for their countries. But they may also destroy their own nations while engaging in personal battles of pride and ego.
–Mashry al-Zaidi
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