Commentary

Hope and Fears Greet 2017

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

Regional editorials and observers have been busy prognosticating about what we should expect in the new year. With a changing of the guard in the White House and other important political and security challenges looming, many are greeting 2017 with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Though some hope for a stable and peaceful year and an end to the wars in Syria and Yemen, others see things getting worse before they get better.

According to a recent Gulf News editorial on the topic, 2017 will continue to manifest the dystopian reality of a world lacking real leadership: “During 2017, the existing structure of the global community will face the challenge [of] surviving under world leaders who do not care about it. Those who support the multilateral and inclusive system, under which the human race has flourished for more than 70 years, lack the necessary charisma to reignite a global fight for liberalism and tolerance. The global institutions have become discredited....The Middle East may see more stability after years of anarchy, but that stability will be based on military imposition of law and order and any inclusivity will be regarded as a luxury that can be jettisoned. The Iraqi assault on Mosul should eventually defeat Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), but the narrow and sectarian government in Baghdad will be in danger of failing (again) to ensure the inclusive governance that will attract the largely Sunni population of Mosul and northern Iraq. The defeated Daesh will revert back to its deeply abhorrent terrorist origins, and a wave of gross bombings are likely to shock all of us.”

But Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, makes an effort to point out that 2017 is likely to be a year of changes and unknowns: “Amid tears, destruction and continuous killing, there is a ray of hope with the new year. There is a possible solution in Syria and a plan for solving the crisis in Yemen. We are also hearing about a call for reconciliation in Libya, and possibly the Mosul offensive will end with the liberation of the city and the elimination of ISIS after two years of fear, chaos and terrorism. Ray of hope or deceiving mirage? We don’t know. There are positive signs and hopeful promises, thus we only have to wait, wishing that 2017 will be better than the preceding deadly five years....While in Yemen, the war failed the ceasefire test and only stopped for few days. Yet, the peace plan suggested by the U.N. delegate remains the one thing that fighters can agree upon. There is great hope that everyone would resort to it with the new year and upcoming new U.S. administration....In any case, 2016 was a very tough year, and hopefully the new year will bring [the] joy that millions of orphans, homeless, and the distressed are looking forward to.”

But not all commentators are seeing the sunshine. Looking at the implications for Israel in 2017, Times of Israel’s Gerson Sher sounds downright apocalyptic: “It is now clear that the two former world superpowers are on the path to being the world’s two most powerful fascist governments. Russia already has a classically fascist form of government. The United States of America is about to get one....If fascist governments typically sign mutual nonaggression agreements as a prelude to massive military intervention in a third country, what would be the next targets for the world’s two new fascist superpowers?...What does that mean for the United States, and in particular for Israel?...Beware the foreign policy of fascist governments. For in the end, they lose. And their smaller allies, such as Italy, also lose, bigtime. And Israel? This is the discussion that the American Jewish community should now be having, and in which it must also engage with Israel. Many Israelis (and American Jews) may welcome Donald Trump with open arms, and many others may not have a problem with Vladimir Putin. But it makes a difference who your allies are, and who your allies’ allies are. The ally of your ally is not necessarily your friend.”

Meanwhile, commenting on the prospects for a better future for the Palestinians, Jordan Times’s Hasan Abu Nimah suggests that 2017 might prove to be a turning point for them: “The passage of the UN resolution perhaps marks a change. The fact that it was adopted by 14 votes for, none against and one abstention shows that the world, including even Israel’s European protectors, is fed up. It no longer buys, or is no longer willing to pretend to buy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that Israel is still committed to a two-state solution or the peace process. But the sudden ‘courage’ of the outgoing Obama administration and the Europeans comes very late. Probably too late....There is concern that the new U.S. president could be even less forthcoming with regard to the prospects for peace between the Arabs and the Israelis than his predecessor who only made empty promises and gave unconditional support to Israel’s military. Let us hope that that will not be the case....The beginning of 2017 poses many challenges to Palestinians, as well as to all those who truly want peace. But it also offers an opportunity to break with the failed policies of the past.”

The sentiment is echoed by Ramzy Baroud, who, in an op-ed for Ma’an News, argues that the election of Donald Trump may push the Palestinian leadership to turn away from Washington’s “embrace” and pursue new alternatives: “The next year hardly promises to be any kinder, as the new U.S. administration under Trump exhibits all the signs that suggest U.S. support of Israel will remain steadfast, if not take an even darker turn....Nonetheless, there is hope. The resolution is a further affirmation that the international community is unconditionally on the side of Palestinians....The Palestinian leadership needs to understand that the age of ineffectual American leadership is over. No more lip service to peace and handouts to the PA, while bankrolling the Israeli military and backing Israel politically. The next administration is [a] pro-Israeli administration, absolutely. This may be the clarity Palestinians need to understand that begging and pleading for American compassion will not suffice. If a united Palestinian leadership does not seize the opportunity and regain the initiative in 2017, all Palestinians will suffer. It is time to move away from Washington and to embrace the rest of the world.”

Finally, Daily News Egypt commentator Ahmed Shams El Din looks at important changes that have taken place in Egypt and elsewhere in the region and urges an honest look at internal dynamics and courage in making tough choices: “We Muslims know that the world is getting fed up with us. We know that it is not helpful anymore to condemn the barbaric medieval acts of those criminals who torture, rape, and kill under the name of God....We, Egyptians, know that we are trading away our standards of living that were already mediocre for the majority of our society....I hope our ruling elite will learn the lessons of the past; democracy is not on top of the list of humankind’s best inventions, but in its national/local form, it is the most effective, and sustainable, way to protect a society’s social fabric. I also hope our policy makers will not get any relief in case the foreign inflows in the local stock market continue through 2017, and will continue to tackle the structural imbalances in the economy. By the same logic, I hope effective reform programmes will continue across the Gulf Cooperation Council nations irrespective of oil prices.”


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