Fidel Castro

November 28, 2016

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Reprint from International Marxist Tendency

Fidel Castro has died – the Cuban revolution must live!

At 10.29 pm on Friday, November 26, the Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died at the age of 90. His brother Raul Castro announced the news to the Cuban population and the world around midnight in a televised speech. His death was not unexpected, as he had been ill for a number of years and had already stepped down from his formal political responsibilities, but still it came as a shock to both friends and enemies.

Fidel and Che - Public Domain

His whole life was closely linked to the Cuban revolution. An appraisal of his role is in fact an appraisal of the Cuban revolution, the first to abolish capitalism in the Western Hemisphere and one which for over five decades resisted the onslaught of US imperialism, barely 90 miles to the north.

When commenting on the death of Venezuelan president and revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez, Fidel said: “Do you want to know who Hugo Chavez was? Look at who is mourning and who is celebrating.” The same can be said of Fidel Castro. News of his death were received with jubilation by the counter-revolutionary Cuban exiles in Miami, by the reactionary opposition in Venezuela and media commentators around the world, right-wing and “liberal” alike.

On the other hand, Fidel’s death was felt as a blow by millions of workers and youth, revolutionary and left wing activists in Latin America and around the world, for whom Fidel was a symbol of the Cuban revolution, of standing up to imperialism, of guaranteeing good quality healthcare and education for all.

Fidel Castro Washington 1959 - Public DomainFidel Castro in Washington 1959 – Photo: Public Domain

There is a very good reason why the ruling classes around the world hated him so much and why US imperialism plotted over 600 different ways of assassinating him. It was the threat of a good example that the Cuban revolution gave to the oppressed of the world. The Cuban revolution, by abolishing capitalism, was able to eradicate illiteracy, give all its citizens a roof over their heads, create a first class health service which has reduced infant mortality and increased life expectancy to levels in the advanced capitalist countries and massively improved the education standards of its people. All of this in a country which prior to the revolution had been the brothel and casino of the US and despite the decades of terrorist harassment and the criminal trade blockade and embargo imposed by Washington.

We stand unconditionally for the defence of the Cuban revolution, for the same reasons. That is our starting point. Any appraisal of the figure of Fidel Castro and of the Cuban revolution has to be a balanced and critical one, if we are to learn anything from it. But it has to start from the standpoint of recognising the historic gains of the revolution, which were achieved by expropriating capitalists, imperialists and landlords.

To give just a few examples: the Cuban revolution abolished illiteracy and has now abolished child malnutrition. Life expectancy at birth in Cuba is 79.39 years, higher than in the US at 78.94 and over 16 years longer than in neighbouring Haiti’s 62.75. The Infant Mortality Rate (deaths of infants under one year of age per 1,000 Births) in Cuba is 4.5, whereas in the US it is 5.8 and in Haiti: 48.2.

Fidel was born in 1926 in Birán, in the Holguín province in the east of Cuba, into a family of landowners. He attended private religious schools in Santiago and then Havana. He became involved in politics when he started to study Law at the university in Havana.

Cuba was the last Latin American country to achieve formal independence, but as soon as it had freed itself through revolutionary struggle from decaying Spanish imperialism, in 1898, it fell into the claws of rising US imperialism. The powerful neighbour to the north dominated the Cuban economy almost completely and through that exercised control of its political set up. For a period of time, the Platt amendment formalised this humiliating domination in the form of a clause in the Cuban Constitution which allowed for US military intervention in the country. A burning sense of injustice and a deep felt desire for national sovereignty inspired several waves of revolutionary struggle in the first half of the 20th century. Fidel became acquainted with, and was inspired by, the most important figures of Cuba’s war for independence

At the same time, the island had a large working class which had developed militant traditions, starting with a powerful anarcho-syndicalist trend, then later a militant Communist Party, a large Left Opposition, an insurrectionary general strike in 1933, etc. National and social liberation had become closely intertwined, for instance in the thinking of Julio Antonio Mella, the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, of Antonio Guiteras, the founder of the Joven Cuba movement and others.

Fulgencio Batista with U.S. Army Chief of staff Malin Craig - Public DomainCuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, with U.S. Army Chief of staff, Malin Craig – Photo: Public Domain

In 1945, when Fidel went to university the generation of middle class youth that was becoming involved in radical politics was not at all attracted to the Cuban Communist Party (officially known as the PSP), rather, they were repelled by it. The PSP, following the “democracy against fascism” policy of the Stalinised Comintern, had participated in the 1940-44 government of Fulgencio Batista.

Fidel was attracted to anti-imperialist policies, which included his participation in a failed military expedition to the Dominican Republic to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship in 1947. In 1948 he was part of a delegation to a Latin American students congress in Colombia, where he witnessed the Bogotazo uprising which followed the assassination of radical leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on April 9.

Castro also became linked to the Ortodoxo Party of Chibás, a popular senator who denounced the corruption of the Auténtico Party, which he had originally belonged to and who committed suicide in 1951.

By 1952, Fulgencio Batista had carried out his second coup. Fidel and a group of his comrades (including his brother Raúl, Abel Santamaría, his sister Haydée and Melba Hernández) started to organise a fighting organisation, mostly drawn from the youth of the Ortodoxo Party. On July 26, 1953, they carried out a daring assault on the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago. Their aim was to capture a large number of weapons and issue a call for a national uprising against the Batista dictatorship. The attempt failed, and nearly half of the 120 young men and women who took part were killed after being captured.

Fidel’s speech in the dock, which he used to explain his program and ended with the famous words “Condemn me! History will absolve me”, made him famous. The program of what became known as the July 26 Revolutionary Movement (M-26-7), was summarised in 5 revolutionary laws they had planned to broadcast:

  • The reinstatement of the 1940 Cuban constitution.
  • Agrarian reform.
  • The right of industrial workers to a 30% share of company profits.
  • The right of sugar workers to receive 55% of company profits.
  • The confiscation of holdings of those found guilty of fraud under previous administrations.

It was a progressive national democratic program, which also contained a number of points aimed at improving the conditions of workers. It certainly did not go beyond the limits of the capitalist system, nor did it questione private property . After a period in jail, Fidel was amnestied and went to Mexico.

On the basis of the Moncada program they organised a group of men to travel in the Granma boat to Cuba at the end of 1956. Again, their idea was that this would coincide with an uprising in the east of the country, around Santiago. Yet again, their plans did not work out and most of the members of the expeditionary force were either killed or captured in the first few hours. Only 12 remained and retreated into the Sierra Maestra mountains. And yet, within just over two years, on January 1, 1959, Batista was forced to flee the country and the Cuban revolution had triumphed.

The victory of the revolutionary war was due to a series of factors: the extreme rottenness of the regime, the guerrilla war in the mountains which, using revolutionary methods of agrarian reform, had managed to win over the peasantry and demoralise the army conscripts, the widespread opposition in the llano (the plains) amongst the middle layers and, last but not least, the powerful participation of the worker’s movement (which is less known). The final blow to the regime was the revolutionary general strike called by the M-26-7 which lasted for a week in Havana until the arrival of the guerrilla columns.

For the next two years, there was a process of rapid radicalisation of the revolution. The implementation of the national democratic program of the Moncada, particularly agrarian reform, provoked the wrath of the ruling class, the shedding of the more moderate elements from the first revolutionary governments, the enthusiasm of the masses of workers and peasants who were pushing for more, the counter-reaction of US imperialism and in response to all this ever more radical measures of the revolution against imperialist properties on the island.

The consistent implementation of a national democratic program had led to the expropriation of US multinational corporations and since these dominated key sections of the economy, this led to the de facto abolition of capitalism by 1961. Once I asked a Cuban comrade who had been involved in the revolutionary and trade union movement in Guantánamo since the 1930s, how he would characterise Fidel and the leadership of the M-26-7, and he replied that they were “revolucionarios pequeño-burgueses guapos” (courageous petty bourgeois revolutionaries). Here “petty bourgeois” was meant not as an insult but as a description of the class origins of many of them, as well as a description of the program they had fought for. The fact that they implemented their program courageously pushed them much further than they had anticipated. It is to the credit of Fidel Castro that he did carry the process to the end.

The existence of the USSR at the time, also played a role in the course events took after the revolutionary victory. This is not to say that the Soviet Union encouraged them to move against capitalism. On the contrary, it is on record that the Soviet Union discouraged them and advised them to proceed cautiously and slowly. In spite of this, the fact that the Soviet Union was able to fill the gaps left by the growing belligerence of the US (selling them oil, purchasing sugar cane, breaking the blockade) was an important factor.

For about 10 years, however, the relationship between the Cuban revolution and the USSR was an uneasy one. The Cuban Communist Party (PSP) had only joined the revolutionary movement in its last stages and the Cuban leadership was proud of its own independence and had its own base of support. The first period of the revolution was one of wide ranging discussions and debates in all fields (foreign and economic policy, the arts and culture, Marxism) in which the Stalinists attempted – not always successfully – to impose their line.

Mexican Gulf - Nick HammerImage: Nick Hammer

Fidel and the others were deeply suspicious of the USSR, particularly after the way in which Khrushchev had reached a deal with the US at the time of the 1962 missile crisis without even consulting them. Furthermore, particularly at the insistence of Che Guevara, they attempted to spread the revolution to other countries in Latin America and beyond, something which clashed with the policy of “peaceful coexistence” pursued by the Soviet Union as well as with the profoundly conservative outlook of most of the Latin American Communist Parties.

Those attempts to export the revolution failed, partly because of the crude way in which the experience of the Cuban Revolution was generalised. The idea that a small group of armed men taking to the mountains would in a short space of time lead to the overthrow of reactionary regimes (which was in itself an oversimplification of the conditions which allowed the Cuban victory) was proven wrong in practice. Perhaps the most extreme example was that of Bolivia, a country which had seen a partial agrarian reform and which also had a militant and politically advanced mining proletariat, and where Che Guevara’s attempt led to his death in 1967 at the hands of US imperialism (which had also learnt some lessons from Cuba).

Progressively, the Cuban revolution became isolated and therefore more dependant on the Soviet Union. The failure of the 1970 “ten million ton sugarcane crop” and the economic dislocation it caused, only increased this dependency. Close ties with the USSR allowed the Cuban Revolution to survive for three decades, but also brought in strong elements of Stalinism. The Quinquenio Gris (Five Grey Years) of 1971-75 saw the use of repressive measures to impose Stalinist thinking in the fields of the arts, social sciences and many others. It was also at this time that homophobia and discrimination and harassment of gay men (which already existed and had been inherited from the previous regime) became institutionalised.

The way the revolution had triumphed, through the leadership of a guerrilla army, also played a role in the bureaucratic nature of the state in the revolution. As Fidel himself explained: “a war is not led through collective, democratic methods, it is based on the responsibility of command”. After the revolutionary victory the leadership had huge authority and widespread support. Hundreds of thousands took up arms at a moment’s notice in 1961 to defeat the Bay of Pigs invasion. One million people gathered in Revolution Square in 1962 to ratify the Second Declaration of Havana.

However, there were no mechanisms of revolutionary democracy through which ideas could be debated and discussed and, above all, through which the masses of workers and peasants could exercise their own power and hold their leaders to account.

The Cuban Communist Party, for instance, which resulted eventually from the fusion of the Stalinist PSP, the M-27-6 and the Revolutionary Directorate, was founded in 1965, but did not hold its first congress until 1975. And it was not until 1976 that a formal constitution was passed.

A planned economy needs workers’ democracy as the human body needs oxygen, as this is the only way of keeping a check and control over production.

This process of bureaucratisation also had an impact on the foreign policy of the leadership of the Cuban revolution. The Cuban revolution has a record which is second to none in terms of international solidarity, sending medical aid and help around the world. It also played a crucial role in the defeat of the South African regime in Angola, a struggle in which hundreds of thousands of Cubans participated over many years.

However, in revolutions such as that of Nicaragua in 1979-89 and in Venezuela more recently, while offering invaluable practical and material support and solidarity, the political advice given by the Cuban leadership has been that of not following the same path as the Cuban revolution in abolishing capitalism. This had disastrous consequences in both countries. In Nicaragua the USSR applied enormous pressure for the Sandinista leadership to maintain a “mixed economy” – i.e. a capitalist one -and then to participate in the Contadora peace negotiations which ended up strangling the revolution. The Sandinista leadership was very close to and had a lot of respect for the Cuban revolution. Fidel’s advice, however, was the same as that of the Soviet Union: do not expropriate the capitalists, what you are doing is as much as can be done in Nicaragua today. That advice proved fatal.

In Venezuela too, while the Cuban revolution provided invaluable support (particularly with the Cuban doctors) and solidarity, the political advice which was given was again that of not going down the road the Cuban revolution had travelled 40 years earlier. The result of making half a revolution we can see clearly today: a massive dislocation of the productive forces, the rebellion of capitalism against any attempt to regulate it. This advice not only had a negative impact on the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan revolutions, but it has also compounded the problem of isolation of the Cuban revolution itself.

The heroic resistance of the Cuban revolution after the collapse of the USSR is truly impressive. While the leaders of the “Communist” Party in the Soviet Union moved swiftly and effortlessly towards restoring capitalism and looting state property, Fidel and the Cuban leadership defended the gains of the revolution. The “special period” as it was known, was also a testament to the vitality of the Cuban revolution. A generation was alive which still remembered what life was like before the revolution and others could compare their own living standards with those of neighbouring countries under capitalism.

Aaron Escobar-Cuba_LibrePhoto: Aaron Escobar

The leadership resisted, and the Cuban people, in a collective manner, found ways and means of overcoming the economic hardship. Completely isolated in the face of the US blockade, Cuba had to make important concessions to capitalism, while maintaining the bulk of the economy in state hands. Tourism became one of the main sources of income, with all the accompanying evils it comes with.

The development of the Venezuelan revolution, particularly after the failed coup in 2002, provided another lifeline ten years later. This was not only due to the exchange of Cuban doctors for Venezuelan oil, but it also rekindled the enthusiasm of the Cuban masses in seeing revolution developing in Latin America again. Economic difficulties and the exhaustion of the revolution in Venezuela – precisely because it did not go all the way and expropriate the property of the oligarchs and imperialists as Cuba had done – means that this is now coming to an end.

The impasse the Cuban revolution finds itself in has pushed an important section of the leadership in the direction of Chinese or Vietnamese-style market reforms and concessions to capitalism. Many steps have already been taken in this direction. They hope that such measures will at least bring some economic growth. That is an illusion. Today the world capitalist system is in crisis and it is doubtful how much it will want to invest in Cuba. Cuba does not possess the enormous reserves of cheap labour which are one of the key factors of the Chinese economic “success”. Even if all of this were not true, the restoration of capitalism in China has been accompanied by a massive polarisation of wealth, the brutal exploitation of the working class and the destruction of the conquests of the Chinese revolution.

It is in this context that Obama attempted a shift in US tactics. The strategy remains the same: the restoration of capitalism in Cuba and the destruction of the gains of the revolution, but instead of continuing with the failed tactic of direct confrontation, funding of counter-revolutionary and terrorist groups, etc., they have now decided that it might be wiser to destroy the revolution from within by using the domination of the world market over a small island with very few resources and a very low level of labour productivity.

Clearly, the imperialists saw Fidel, even after his formal retirement from official political office, as an obstacle to this process. He publicly denounced bureaucratism and growing inequality and warned of the danger of the revolution being destroyed from within. In a famous speech at the University of Havana in November 2005, he talked of “”our flaws, our mistakes, our inequalities, our injustice”, and warned that the revolution was not irreversible and could end up like the Soviet Union.  “This country can self-destruct; this Revolution can destroy itself, but they can never destroy us; we can destroy ourselves, and it would be our fault,” said Fidel, and he added, “”Either we defeat all these deviations and make our revolution strong, or we die.”

Bureaucratism, however, is not just a deviation, or the problem of a few individuals. It is a problem which stems from the lack of workers’ democracy in the running of the economy and the state and is strengthened by the isolation of the revolution. Having said that, it was clear that the strategists of capitalism believed that so long as Fidel was alive, little progress would be made on the road to capitalism in Cuba.

With his passing away, they hope that the process will now accelerate. Already there are major contradictions and a growing process of social differentiation has begun within the country. The main factors in this process are: the stagnation of the bureaucratically planned economy and the extremely unequal status of Cuba within the world economy, which in turn results from the isolation of the revolution. “Socialism in one country” once again is being proven to be impossible.

From this it follows that the only way forward for the Cuban revolution passes through the struggle for democratic workers’ control in Cuba and for socialist revolution across the world. That is the only way to defend the gains of the Cuban revolution.

Today, the imperialists everywhere go on about the lack of “human rights” in Cuba. These are the same people who turn a blind eye to the Saudi regime and fly its flag at half mast when its reactionary semi-feudal rotten dictator dies. These are the same people who had no problem in installing and supporting the most brutal regimes in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras… The list is endless.

We are not talking here about the long and distant past either. Not so long ago, US sponsored coups were attempted in Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador and Bolivia. No, when Obama and Clinton talk of “human rights” what they mean is the right of the capitalists to exploit labour, the right of landlords to evict tenants, the right of wealthy tourists to purchase women and children.

Today more than ever we say: defend the Cuban revolution, no to capitalist restoration, fight capitalism worldwide!

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Trump Presidency Brings Realpolitik Back To Mid-East

November 19, 2016

 

“We just had an election and most journalists were shocked! Why? Because they had been reporting from their own bias instead of from reality, and some journalists even said so. But this isn’t just about elections: it happens in many areas, including Israel and the Palestinians.” (HonestReporting)

dt-101Trump presidency means new better era in U.S.-Israel relations as well new scenarios in Mid East conflicts. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, his transition team and his advisors are already planning new U.S. foreign policy approach which probably will include new visio(s) for solutions and new roadmap towards them. Same time the main players, especially Israel, are preparing their answer to this new ‘Trumpoportunity’.

There has been discussions whether U.S. President Obama will make a final intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before he leaves office. This could include giving a speech on parameters for a peace agreement between Israeli and the Palestinians, or by the U.S. supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Trump team warned Obama not to make any Lame-Duck major moves on foreign policy, such as a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace push based on U.S. drafted parameters.

New developments in Israeli-Palestinian conflict will probably been supported via wider geopolitical shift during Trump presidency. Especially one can wait more pragmatic approach in U.S.-Russia relations. While United States has been gradually retreating from the Middle East and Russia has been filling this vacuum a new deal is possible which of course can have its political spin-offs or even spill-over effects besides Mid-East also in Europe.

 

Trump & Israel

“Israel is the one true democracy and defender of human rights in the Middle East and a beacon of hope to countless people,” (Donald Trump)

Already in 2013, before becoming a politician, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stated support for Israel and admiration for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Then famous as a billionaire and entrepreneur, Trump took part in a video showing his support for Netanyahu and the Likud party ahead of Israel’s 2013 general election. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. billionaire and world-renowned entrepreneur, Mr. Donald Trump, took part in a video showing his support for the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu and The Likud Party in general elections in Israel next week: “Vote for Benjamin, terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.”

Donald Trump has been investing flamboyantly also in the Arab world, but he’s never done a deal in Israel. In 2006 the deal was close as land on the border of Tel Aviv really had been bought for a Trump Tower in Israel.. The plan was to build a 70-story skyscraper bearing the Trump brand, it was to have been the tallest building in Israel. By 2007, the project was dead. Lesser-known stabs at business in Israel that went nowhere include the Trump Hotel extravaganza in Netanya and the Trump Golf Course in Ashkelon.

Trump, for one, has made it very clear he will support Israel and its preferences. A post-election statement by Trump’s advisers on Israel said, “A two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians appears impossible as long as the Palestinians are unwilling to renounce violence against Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.” Israel staunchly opposes any move by Obama to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution seen as hostile to Israeli interests — especially if he asked other world powers to embrace U.S.-drafted parameters for a two-state solution. Trump team warned Obama not to make any Lame-Duck major moves on foreign policy, such as a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace push based on US drafted parameters. Source: The Politico

Israel and the US recently signed a new ten-year Memorandum of Understanding on defence aid which constitutes a renewal of America’s commitment to Israel’s security and a further fortification of Israel’s qualitative military edge.

During election campaign there was charges that Trump – or his some of his supporters – is flirting with Jew-hatred. However New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman felt compelled to note that, “Trump has a son-in-law who is an Orthodox Jew, and a daughter [Ivanka] who converted to her husband’s religion. Mr. Trump has bragged about his Jewish grandchildren.” One could add that son-in-law Jared Kushner might be the real ‘grey eminence’ during Trump’s presidency.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Authority conflict would be “the ultimate deal,” US President-elect Donald Trump told Wall Street Journal, adding that, as a master dealmaker, he relishes the challenge. “I’d like to do…the deal that can’t be made. And do it for humanity’s sake,” Source: Behindthenews

 

Israel’s aims with Trump

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already been invited by Trump to the White House at the earliest opportunity. Netanyahu called Trump “a true friend of the State of Israel. We will work together to advance the security, stability and peace in our region.”

PM Netanyahu has already started preparing his first meeting with President-elect Donald Trump – . a meeting that could take place at the end of March 2017 when the prime minister speaks at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.

According Al-Monitor a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official dealing with Israel-US relations on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu is expected to raise three major issues in his first meeting with Trump:

First, Netanyahu wishes to remove the resolution of the Palestinian issue from the list of elements necessary for regional stability and convince the new president that fundamentalist terror is the root problem of the region. Netanyahu will argue that the Islamic State, Hezbollah and Hamas are the real enemies of both Israel and pragmatic Arab countries. Thus, the region should align around the battle against Iranian-sponsored terror, not the Palestinian statehood issue.

The second topic for Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump would be, according to the Israeli side, the Iran deal. The prime minister intends to persuade the new president to cooperate closely with Israel on Iranian compliance with the agreement.

Netanyahu’s third issue would be preventing American and international pressure on Israel on settlement construction, public assurances that the United States will veto any U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel and the prime minister wants the new administration to foil any EU member state initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the French initiative on a two-state solution.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made on 16th Nov. 2016 a statement, suggesting Israel must cool its heels over Trump’s election and approach him with modest proposals regarding settlement construction. Speaking to political reporters Liberman said, “If we receive confirmation of the Bush-Sharon understandings, we should grab it with both hands.” The Bush-Sharon understandings recognized the need for construction to support the growth of the existing population in Judea and Samaria inside the settlement blocks — but no launching of new settlements.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer told media in New York City on 17th Nov. 2016 that there’s “no doubt” President-elect Donald Trump is a “true friend of Israel.” He added that also “Vice-President-elect Mike Pence was one of Israel’s “greatest friends” during his decade in Congress, and “one of the most pro-Israel governors in the country.” Dermer said Israel looks forward to “working with the Trump administration, with all of the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, and making the U.S.-Israel alliance stronger than ever.” [Bannon, Trump’s special adviser, the former CEO of Breitbart News, who gave considerable website space to the alt-right, is claimed to be anti-Semite, Bannon himself says he is a Zionist].

Israel Foreign ministry’s secret memo “The Trump Administration — Preliminary Comments” attempts to determine the future president’s foreign policy, with special attention to China, Russia and Europe, and domestic policies. The main message of the paper, which represents the position of the ministry’s professional echelons, is that the Trump administration is expected to conduct an isolationist policy. The researchers say that at the start of his term, Trump will try to differentiate himself from the foreign policy of President Barack Obama, but he could be expected subsequently to adopt Obama’s belief that the United States must stop trying to be the world’s policeman. The report concludes that: “Trump does not consider the Middle East to be a ‘wise investment,’ and is likely to strive to limit his involvement in the region. The peace process is not a top priority for the new administration.” (Source e.g: Forward )

 

A Murky Picture in the Middle East by Stratfor

Stratfor has published its view about possible developments in Israel’s neighbourhood during Trump presidency. Following an abstract:

Trump promised throughout his campaign a tough fight against Islamist extremism at home and abroad — and a harder stance on combating the Islamic State in particular. When Trump takes over as commander-in-chief in January, military operations in Iraq and Syria to combat the Islamic State core will be well underway, particularly in Iraq. U.S. support for Kurdish militias will likely continue, pushing Turkey further away from the United States, but Turkey is already on a unilateral path to deepen its footprint in northern Syria and Iraq.

The biggest shift on the battlefield would stem from a U.S.-Russia negotiation where the United States agrees to reduce aid for Syrian rebels. (Trump has already expressed doubts on the policy of supporting rebels who could be characterized as Islamist extremists.) This would bolster the positions of Syrian President Bashar al Assad and Iran, which would greatly unnerve the Sunni bloc led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. A pullback of U.S. support for Syrian rebels would spur Turkey and Saudi Arabia to step up their involvement, thereby intensifying the broader ethno-sectarian struggle with Iran.

Trump’s victory also raises questions about Iran’s own presidential election next May and the fate of the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump is unlikely to throw out the deal outright. Iran, despite its political divisions, broadly agrees on the need to avoid an escalation with the United States and bring in much-needed investment while it deals with its other proxy wars in the region. Tehran will continue to telegraph to the international community how it is fully adhering to the International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines. It will also appeal to European signatories to the nuclear deal to try to ensure that the United States does not pull out of the agreement or attempt to revive sanctions.

Hard-line opponents of President Hassan Rouhani have used ballistic missile testing and harassment of U.S. vessels to assert Iran’s military power and differentiate their camp from the moderates. But under a Trump presidency and Republican Congress, any infraction of the JCPOA or aggression outside of the nuclear deal has the potential to lead to additional sanctions. Iran would interpret this as a violation of its overall understanding with the United States on backing off sanctions, applying heavy stress to the deal. Even if the United States does not immediately jeopardize the JCPOA, it is likely that European investors will move cautiously forward with investments into Iran’s financial system because a Trump-led administration will be far less accommodative to Iran’s concerns or potential infractions.

Trump’s new foreign policy approach could be described as “U.S. Interests First Approach” which is based on the United States making ‘good deals’ and getting “paid back” for protection or intervention abroad. This would end the U.S. role as world’s policeman, a step away from the familiar American liberal interventionist policy. As Trump has regularly called for letting Putin, Assad and ISIS fight it out in Syria some even claim that Trump will outsource Middle East policy to Putin.

Trump has been roundly criticized for his lack of foreign policy knowhow. Trump regularly cites Israeli policies which could be replicable for the United States; such as “the [security/separation] wall” in Israel as an example of why the United States should build a wall with Mexico, or “taking out the families of terrorists,” one long step further from the Israeli policy of demolishing terrorists’ homes.

 

Jason Greenblatt-adviser with kippah at work

One of President-elect Donald Trump’s senior level advisors is Jason Dov Greenblatt, who will most likely be appointed as the US envoy to the Middle East; he probably will rewrite a foreign policy differing from that of U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Greenblatt, currently works for Trump as a real estate attorney. Trump has identified Greenblatt as one of two Jewish lawyers who would be his top Israel advisers; the other is bankruptcy expert David M. Friedman of the Kasowitz law firm.

Greenblatt, 49, has an unusual resume for a prospective presidential adviser on Middle East affairs. An Orthodox Jew has worked for Trump for the last 19 years dealing exclusively with real estate and company matters. His titles are executive vice president and chief legal officer. He has self-published three travel books, one about a family trip to Israel, and runs a parenting blog, InspireConversation.com.

Greenblatt was interviewed e.g. in IDF Radio explaining Trump’s stances here some key notes (Source: BICOM ):

Trump believes that “peace must come from the parties” and if the US dictates an agreement it might be one that “breaks apart the next day.” “He is not going to impose any solution on Israel.”

Mr. Trump does not view the settlements [Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria] as being an obstacle for peace. The two sides are going to have to decide how to deal with that region, but it’s certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activity should be condemned and that it’s an obstacle for peace – because it is not the obstacle for peace. I think he would show Gaza as proof of that. In an interview with The Associated Press in December 2015, Trump was asked whether Israel should stop building in Judea and Samaria, Trump responded, “No… I think Israel should have – they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward.”

Trump will follow through on his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would mark a departure from Washington’s long-term policy.

 

David Friedman, Walid Phares and Michael Flynn reverse the negative policy trends

“Mike Flynn is a straight shooter and a no-bullshit kind of guy. And that’s exactly what we need in terms of senior leaders giving advice to the national leadership.” (David Deptula)

Senior Trump adviser David Friedman said a Trump administration would not “put its finger on the scale and try to force Israel into a particular outcome, but rather will support Israel in reaching its own conclusion about how to best achieve peace with its neighbors.” According The Algemeiner Friedman stated e.g. following:

We trust Israel. We think it is doing an excellent job of balancing its respect for human rights and its security needs in a very difficult neighborhood. Israel is a partner with the US in the global war against terrorism. And we want our partner to be attendant to that task and not distracted by foreign countries telling it what to do. That’s really the overall premise of the policy — to respect Israel as a partner, and not to unduly influence its decisions.

Walid Phares, a Trump top foreign policy adviser, told BBC Radio on Thursday [10th Nov. 2016] that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is a Trump top agenda item. “He is ready and he will immediately move to try and solve the problem between Palestinian and Israelis,” Phares said. “He told me personally that, as the author of ‘The Art of the Deal,’ it’s not going to be impossible for him to broker a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. At least he’s going to go in that direction and not waste eight years — four years for now — not doing something for the Palestinians and Israelis.” According to an interview with the pro-Egyptian government news website, Youm7, Walid Phares said on 9th Nov. 2016 that Trump would pass legislation to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist group”. The US House Judiciary Committee in February approved legislation calling on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a foreign terrorist organisation. The Senate has referred a partner bill to its foreign relations committee.

Trump’s new security advisor is retired a three-star General Michael Flynn. Flynn deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from spring 2012 to fall 2014 to where he was named and sacked by Obama administration. Having been a lifelong Democrat, he anyway was at Donald Trump’s side for months during the presidential campaign. Flynn built a reputation in the Army as an astute intelligence professional and a straight talker. He retired in 2014 and has been a fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s White House and Pentagon, taking issue with the administration’s approach to global affairs and fighting Islamic State militants. Flynn, described also as a Zionist Christian, is a harsh critic of Muslim extremism and the religion itself and a staunch ally of the Zionist entity. He is an active member of several Israeli advocacy groups such as CFR, ADL, AIPAC, WINEP, etc.

 

Palestinian reactions

nimeton-106The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has made their first analysis about initial Palestinian reactions; here some highlights:

  • The remarks of senior figures in the Palestinian Authority (PA), hinted at concern over a greater pro-Israeli bias in the new American administration, based on statements made by Trump during the campaign. Their worst to concerns are that the new president will abandon the two state solution, support construction in the settlements, and move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv Jerusalem.
  • Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said that if Hillary Clinton had been elected she would have been no better than Trump because the Palestinians’ bitter experience had shown that when she was secretary of state no progress had been made in the Palestinian cause
  • Riyad Mansour, permanent Palestinian observer to the U.N. He threatened president-elect Trump, saying the Palestinians had an arsenal of diplomatic weapons in the UN. He warned that if Trump moved the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Palestinians would “make his life miserable” in the UN agencies.
  • Hamas spokesmen, in the meantime, were skeptical about the chances for a change in the United States’ traditional tendency towards pro-Israeli policies in the wake of Trump’s victory.

Jibril Rajoub, a senior leader in Fatah, the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, attacked both Trump and Obama as Zionists and racists, but with different tactics.

 

My conclusions: Trumportunity

The cases of Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict indicate that the United States could be gradually retreating from the Middle East, Russia is now filling this vacuum. In Syria Moscow and Jerusalem have agreed to coordinate their actions in Syria as well as share intelligence. Intelligence-sharing also greatly benefits Moscow, which receives more balanced intelligence, allowing it to put into perspective the kind of information provided by its allies from the Baghdad coordination center. With Israeli-Palestinian conflict Kremlin is ready to meditiate and has proposed to host Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow for direct talks, to which both reportedly have agreed.

Based on main issues during U.S. elections – e.g. have strong isolationist tendencies – it could be predicting the President-elect Donald Trump will watch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the sidelines. Based on latest statements of his advisers I conclude that the opposite scenario is more realistic.

The imaginable terms of a settlement with Two-state solution were embodied in the 2000 ‘Clinton Parameters’ or the deal proposed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. The current Israeli government is unlikely to offer as much (for example, shared sovereignty over Jerusalem) and in any event, Abbas spurned Olmert’s offer. It is of significance to note that Trump’s policy is diametrically opposed to the one adopted by President Barack Obama and his administration, which has for example repeatedly condemned Israel for its presence in Judea and Samaria and even for its approval of plans for further building. Based on these factors the Trump’s new foreign policy approach might in my opinion have i.a. following outcome:

 

  1. Trump and his top Mid-East advisors have good personal relationship with Israel and pro-Israel attitude which will develop US-Israel relationship further and sure to better level than during Obama administration
  2. Trump probably will develop pragmatic relationship with Russia and even make a deal with Putin to stabilize the (Great) Middle East and so there is no need to increase US ‘boots on the ground’ in region
  3. Israel will be the main stabilizing actor in Mid-East so blocking Islamist Jihad as well decreasing refugee crisis which both factors serve Trump’s election campaign goals.
  4. Trump is ready to find solutions ‘outside of the box’ which means new approach towards ‘Two-State-Solution’ and its roadmap – or better to say dumping them .
  5. As pragmatic politician Trump might well understand possible Israeli unilateral solutions.
  6. Israeli border security systems – especially the new ones on Gaza border – are second to no one and U.S. might use this experience on Mexican border if Trump implements his promises to block illegal immigration.
  7. Extend and expand defence cooperation. “Enhance Israel’s sense of security and confidence in the United States by committing to expanded missile defense, anti-tunnel, and cybersecurity cooperation under the terms of the September 2016 long-term defense assistance Memorandum of Understanding.”

My bottom line: Trump’s presidency will usher in a new, better era in US-Israel relations – Tr(i)ump(h) for Israel!

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