Middle East. Personally. Yours.

05/24/2017 01:55 am ET | Updated 26 minutes ago

Trump in Saudi Arabia with king Salman

The United States President, Donald Trump, was all smiles as he strode down the red carpet in Al-Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. He clearly enjoyed the royal welcome, the gold, the glitter, the huge weapon deal and the generous donation made to Ivanka Trump’s new fund for women entrepreneurs. And so, the idea promoted years ago by former U.S Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, of creating an alliance between Arab states, Israel and the United States against Iran, was brought back to the table. Saudi Arabia assumed a leading role in the alliance, namely, to combat Islamist terrorism worldwide. It is no secret that to this very day Saudi Arabia invests vast sums of money in spreading Wahhabism – the most puritan and radical of all Islamic Sunni streams – in many countries in African and Southeast Asia, thereby nurturing future generations of jihadist terrorists. One may also recall that shortly before President Trump’s visit to Al-Riyadh, the Saudis effectively blocked a proposal made by the Trump administration to impose sanctions on a Saudi branch of ISIS. The motion to add the Islamic State’s Saudi affiliate to a list of terrorist groups in the UN Security Council was sabotaged by Trump’s newly acquired best friends. It seems the Saudis did not wish to acknowledge the existence of an ISIS branch in their Kingdom, despite evidence to show otherwise. This was quite a peculiar move for a country that intends on playing a vital role in a newly formed anti-terror alliance. However, this doesn’t seem to bother Donald Trump.

Furthermore, the new American agenda for the Middle East, as presented by President Trump, will greatly impact the region’s ability to attain stability, or otherwise collapse. To date, the region’s prospects are not promising. The conditions that led to the rise of the Arab Spring have remained as they were, including unemployment, frustration, despair, and sparse opportunities for the younger generation, which make up a majority of the population. Top that off with corruption, a failing economy, and incompetent ailing Arab monarchs, presidents and prime ministers, who were forever supported by the United States, and occasionally Europe, and you have an estimate as to how well prepared the region is to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Nearly one hundred years ago, the Ottoman Empire was nicknamed “The Sick Man of Europe”. Today, most countries in the Middle East, excluding Israel and perhaps Tunisia, fall under a similar category. The wave of revolutions in 2011 was sparked from what were possibly the most personal stories in the history of humankind, with figures such as the Egyptian blogger Khaled Saeed, and the Tunisian vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi. People easily identified with their personal suffering and took to the streets in mass protests. However, it appears the leaders of the Arab states, followed by their Western friends, continue to turn a blind eye to the individual needs of their people. They have yet to take a close and careful look at the region and shape their policy vis-à-vis the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Middle East isn’t only suffering from bloodshed. It is also suffering from insufficient medical care, meagre wages, unemployment, power outages, rising costs of basic staples, rampant corruption, and a constant threat to people’s personal safety. If no one addresses these issues, or takes notice of the next Mohamed Bouazizi or Khaled Saeed, we will find ourselves back at square one. We will witness the chaos that serves the precise dark powers of extremism, which Donald Trump has promised to fight.

Is the Middle East capable of evading such a gruesome fate? The answer can’t be summed up with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but rather a ‘perhaps’. Perhaps with sufficient combined efforts, cooperation and critical thinking that address the region’s problems, a suitable Marshall Plan can be devised for the Middle East. Perhaps if the American President refrains from sweeping the human and individual rights of the region under the rug and takes a closer look at what’s really going on, the situation will improve. The young people of the Middle East deserve his time, efforts and close attention, so that he truly sees them. A good deal in the Middle East must benefit actual people, real women and men. It must include and apply to individuals. In the words of the Godfather: “It’s all personal, every bit of the business”.

MKs, IDF accuse media of fomenting conflict in West Bank; journalists’ groups say security forces are increasingly violent towards reporters.

“With all the importance of the press in a democratic country,” MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) began, “we cannot get confused and must always give priority to the IDF’s operational freedom of action, because they are acting to save lives.”Yogev accused the press of behaving like an “imbalanced theater.”

MK Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) compared the press to a car, saying that in some cases it is helpful and brings progress, and in other cases it can be destructive.

According to Eichler, a former journalist, objective reporters should be given freedom of action, but reporters who “take a side in the conflict” should be given less access.

MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) said there is no justification for violence against journalists, but added: “We cannot ignore the fact that the press takes an active, one-sided and tendentious stance in covering the conflict, and therefore, it is part of the game.

“We know with certainty about many cases that were staged and orchestrated, so the media needs to ask itself if it is truly balanced,” Oren stated.

IDF Spokesperson’s Unit representative Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner said forces in the field sometimes have to deal with “media traps” or events that would not have happened if the press was not present.

Lerner explained that the IDF works to allow the press to act freely, while considering operational limitations, and that aim is backed by military orders and regulations.

“We make sure to be in the field to help the press and when necessary, we act to prevent violent incidents,” Lerner stated. “The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit gives instructions and simulations at all levels in the field, under the assumption that [operations] will be covered [by the press] and documented.”

Lerner admitted that there was an increase of violent incidents in recent months, but said they are exceptions that do not reflect the general situation.

He also pointed out that an officer who was violent toward the press was fired.

Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova, a former Arab affairs reporter for Russian-language media who has written for The Jerusalem Post, initiated the discussion and said, “Freedom of action for the media is a central component in a democratic state. Unfortunately, recently, it seems that some reporters are seen as the enemy or as a foreign agent acting against the State of Israel.”

She added, “Violence against the press hurts Israel’s good name in the world.”

Foreign Press Association secretary Gila Sugarman said that in the past two years there has been an increase in physical violence against journalists and their equipment.

Union of Journalists in Israel chairman Yair Tarchitsky called the phenomenon fairly common and said the violence generally comes from low-level soldiers or police officers who are not aware of the way they should treat the press.

“The general feeling is that they see journalists as an annoyance,” he said. “Security forces have to understand the job of the press in a democratic country, even if the truth is uncomfortable for the country.

Our job is to reflect reality as it is to the broader public.”

Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) closed the meeting by calling the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit to review the complaints from press representatives and make sure that they are present in sensitive situations to hold a dialogue with reporters.

“IDF commanders are not trained or authorized to deal with the press; it’s not their responsibility,” Hanegbi said.

“They are focused on security and executing their operational orders. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit must send people to events with the potential for conflict, in order to avoid obstacles to reaching operation goals, on the one hand, and harm to journalists’ work, on the other.”

Hanegbi also said he will discuss the issue with Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud), whose panel is responsible for overseeing police and border police actions, to hold a similar discussion about complaints of police treatment of the press.

According to Bayit Yehudi MK, the lack of policy in Judea and Samaria has allowed for a situation of lawlessness

The IDF has failed to tackle the issue of illegal Palestinian building, particularly those projects funded by the European Union, charged MK Moti Yogev during a stormy meeting Wednesday of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee subgroup on Judea and Samaria.

“Officers in uniform are not doing their job, and we will insist on a commission of inquiry to deal with it,” Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) angrily stated.

The lack of policy has simply allowed for a situation of lawlessness, added Yogev, who chairs the committee subgroup.

Hundreds if not thousands of illegal Palestinian homes were built on state land in Area C of the West Bank, he said.

The Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria “has abandoned that territory,” Yogev said.

“This is simply construction terrorism directed by the Palestinian Authority with funding from the European Union that amounts to “110 million euros annually,” Yogev said.

The EU has also supporting the illegal construction of Palestinian infrastructure, such as roads, in Area C, Yogev charged.

Representatives of the civil administration, the Foreign Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office for Judea and Samaria took issue with Yogev’s words.

Civil administration deputy head Uri Mendes said that his office is cracking down on illegal Palestinian building. It is destroying all such structures, save for those that are the subject of legal cases or are protected by a court injunction.

Civil Administration deputy head, Col. Uri Mendes, Brig. Gen. (ret) Dov Sedaka and MK Motti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi)

He explained that there is a fair amount of illegal building on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians in Area C. In 2014, 904 illegal structures were built, of which 408 were destroyed, Mendes said.

But Merav Ettinger, the legal adviser for the Judea and Samaria police, took issue with his words.

“Enforcement [of building laws] is a top priority for us. We are disappointed that the civil administration has not asked for more help from us on this matter,” she said.

Foreign Ministry Department for European Organizations director Avivit Bar-Ilan said that her office has persistently brought up the matter with the Europeans, who have characterized their activities as humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi) seemed surprised by her words.

“Why are we letting EU equipment into Area C?” she asked. “Why aren’t we confiscating it?” She added, “You are talking and talking. I have never heard so many words that amount to nothing. Such behavior is intolerable. If you can’t do your work, you should return your keys.” At some points the debate turned into a screaming match, with Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) and Nurit Koren (Likud) yelling at each other in rapid-fire fashion.

Koren took issue with the Svetlova’s use of the words “occupied territory.” “We’re the sovereign power there,” Koren said.

Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) and Nurit Koren (Likud) at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee sub-group on Judea and Samaria.

“What are you talking about?” yelled Svetlova. “We aren’t ruling over a population there. Are you saying that everyone is Israeli there?” MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) attempted to clarify that Israel has authority over the area but is not the sovereign power there.

“We rule there according to international agreements. We have the responsibility and the authority to prevent illegal Palestinian building there, including from the EU,” he said.

He charged that the EU was “blatantly creating facts on the ground” with the aim of helping the Palestinians create a state without negotiations.

The matter needs to be dealt with at the policy level and the responsibility for it rests with the government, Oren said.