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Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author of sixteen books, including The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK, 2012) and (co-edited with Paul Amar) Dispatches from the Arab Spring (2013). He writes regularly for The Hindu, Frontline, Jadaliyya, Counterpunch, Himal and Bol. PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
In Gaza, the war continues, Israeli attack on Hamas and what they say are military installations and places where rockets get fired, but "collateral damage", of course (quote-unquote around
collateral damage) continues to increase. That means ordinary people getting killed.
Now joining us to talk about what is supposed to be an imminent ceasefire as we do this interview and the general situation in Gaza is Vijay Prashad. He's a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. His latest publications include
Uncle Swami: South Asians in America and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. Thanks for joining us again, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD, PROF. INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, TRINITY COLLEGE: Pleasure.
JAY: So we're doing the interview as we're getting very contradictory reports about a ceasefire. So where are things at as we speak?
PRASHAD: It's evening time in Gaza, and various Arab language news channels like Al Jazeera, Al-Manar, etc., have given very contradictory views on whether there is to be a ceasefire. So far it appears as if both the Egyptian government, the government of Mohamed Morsi, and the Hamas officials have said that a ceasefire is in the offing. The Israeli government, on the other hand, has said that there is no ceasefire, and they refuse to confirm whether they will indeed participate in any ceasefire.
To put it into some context, on the night of 19 November, that is, just a few hours before dusk, the Israeli military began to circulate by throwing little flyers from the air into about half of Gaza asking people to evacuate. This created panic across the Gaza Strip as people rushed towards UN installations. These UN installations are heavily compromised in their own way. Some of them have taken direct fire, including a girls school just near Gaza City. And the purpose of having this population rushed to these so-called safe sites is that right after that, the Israeli military began once again to pummel Gaza. So just as there's been talk of a ceasefire from Hamas and from the Egyptian government, and just as the UN Security Council, without actually being able to pass any kind of resolution, has yet called for de-escalation. It seems that there's very little appetite for de-escalation from Tel Aviv, where the military command has in fact once more started hitting what they consider now to be secondary targets in Gaza and Gaza City in particular.
JAY: Okay. Well, when we know more about the details of the ceasefire, assuming there is one, we will do a new story on The Real News catching up with all of this. But as we speak, the attack on Gaza continues, and rockets are still being fired back into Israel, but without much effect.
But let's talk about the wider context. Towards the end of October, the emir of Qatar visited Gaza, and I thought that was one of the more underreported events, in terms of the significance of what's happening in the region. What do you make of that visit and the role of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and sort of taking even a bigger role in managing the affairs of the Middle East?
PRASHAD: It's very important to backtrack a little bit. A few years ago, the emir of Qatar and also the Saudis began to have a more aggressive posture in the Arab world in general. Some of this they have had since the 1970s, where they believed that they were a bulwark against the Iranians. But for at least two decades, from the late 1970s up to the early 2000s, the Saudis and the Qataris felt a sense of embattlement, maybe. But over the last decade, they have attempted to create an alternative posture, a forward posture in the rest of the Arab world, using their money, using their political influence.
JAY: We should add to that Al Jazeera as well, no?
PRASHAD: Al Jazeera was very much a part of this project creating an Arab-language news channel which would put forward the views not only of the Qatari, you know, political establishment, but also of the Gulf Arab countries. So it's important to suggest that, you know, when the Arab Spring broke out, the Qataris took a very aggressive posture on behalf ofâin particular, on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.
You know, in a crude way, there was a division of spoils. The Qataris were out there financing the Muslim Brotherhood, giving them logistical support, just as the Saudis were out there promoting the Salafi organizations. You know, so in Egypt, the Qataris were promoting the Ekhwan (the Muslim Brotherhood), and the Salafis were being promoted by the Saudis with money and with political support.
When the Syrian uprising broke out, the Saudis and in particular the Qataris took a very advanced position on behalf of the rebels. They were very early to call for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. They were very early to call for the arming of the Syrian opposition. As that seemed to run into quicksand, their posture was a little blocked there.
At the same time, the Hamas leadership decided to quit Damascus, and Khaled Mashal then relocated out of Damascus. Most of Hamas's political bureau left Damascus. Some of it came to Gaza. Some of it came to the Gulf Arab countries. It's at that point that the emir of Qatar made the decision, you know, to in a sense not back off from the Syrian conflict, but to open a different front, to demonstrate, in a sense, the influence of Qatar in the Arab world.
JAY: And didn't Hamas move their main office to Doha in Qatar?
PRASHAD: Absolutely. I mean, the main political office was divided between Gaza and Doha. They had been previously in the Gulf before they went to Damascus. This is not an address that's unfamiliar to them. Many of the Hamas leadership had been previously in Kuwait before they were ejected during the Gulf War, so they are familiar with the Gulf Arab countries, as far as having a political address. So when the emir of Qatar goes to Gaza, he came with the understanding that, you know, the blockage in Syria was not stopping the forward motion of promoting the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, which is a kind of allied organization of that world. That was basically the view.
But as this operation, so-called Pillar of Cloud or Pillar of Defense, you know, has entered its sixth and seventh day, as this massive bombardment has taken place in Gaza, the Qataris have demonstrated that rather than be the leaders of the Arab world, they are heavily constrained by their position as a pillar for U.S. government foreign policy in the region. You know, on the one side, the Qataris have quite boldly talked about arming the Syrian opposition, but not at any point during the pummelling of Gaza did the Qataris say anything about arming the Palestinian resistance or giving a political and logistical support to the Palestinian resistance. And in failing to do this in Gaza, they have burnt their hand, because it is revealed that whereas, of course, they were so willing to be there ahead of the game in Syria, they cannot go all the way in Palestine, because that goes against the goals of U.S. foreign policy, and certainly the leading client state of the United States in the region, which of course is Israel.
JAY: Right. And you can add to that Qatar was out front on the issue of arming the rebels in Libya too, pushing for regime change in Libya. They had no hesitation in supporting armed resistance there. But the issue here is they seem to be working with Morsi from Egypt to manage all of this, the Muslim Brotherhood, as you say, and this seems to be part of a wider plan of sort of a Qatari and Saudi collaboration working with the Muslim Brotherhood to manage the whole Arab uprising on behalf of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United States, and, really, Israel as well, do you think?
PRASHAD: It's not quite as functional as perhaps the Qataris or the Americans would like. You know, right now, Egypt is in a turmoil of a situation. There are protests daily against what is happening in Gaza, just as there had been during the intifada, the Second Intifada. You know, during the time of Mubarak, he could not hold back the massive groundswell of support for the Palestinian people. So Morsi has to deal with that. That's something that the Qataris don't have to deal with. You don't see massive demonstrations in the streets of Doha or in the streets of Saudi Arabia. But in Egypt there is a groundswell of support for the Palestinian people, and in this case, of course, the people of Gaza.
What pressure there is upon Mr. Morsi is very significant. You know, there is a very important strain that is arguing for the abrogation of the Camp David treaty, where, you know, no longer do many people want the Israelis to have an asymmetrical military advantage over the Palestinians and the Lebanese. You know, if the Egyptian military comes back online, that doesn'tâthe Egyptian military doesn't have to invade Israel or cross into Gaza; but if they simply come back online, it puts a barrierâit's like a dÃ©tente shield. It would be the Iron Dome for Palestine. There is a lot of pressure on Mr. Morsi to go in that direction.
But he is not going to go in that, because the Egyptian government has compromised itself on many fronts with the Americans, most recently, of course, with the signing of the IMF deal. And secondly, they have not been able to actually change the views of the military, which is committed to Camp David. So, because of these reasons, there are contradictions that the Egyptians have to deal with which the Qataris do not. These contradictions could open out in a progressive direction, but that is definitely not guaranteed.
JAY: A Palestinian journalist that I talked to recently, he thought, in speaking about the Qatari visit and what the grand plan wasâand this may actually speak to why Israel may accede to one of the demands of Hamas, which is to have more of the border between Gaza and Egypt more open and more simply between Egypt and Gaza. But he thought what was happening here is that Qatar was going to put money into Gaza, in a way to try to create more economicâeven more economic integration between Gaza and Egypt, so as to actually transition Gaza to be in some way more under Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood control. And you kind ofâhe used theâhis term was to try to end the Palestinian project, starting with Gaza.
PRASHAD: This is a plan that the Israelis have had since at least 1967, you know, to in a sense return the Palestinians into the nebulous position of being Arabs, and then to basically liquidate the Palestinian political project. This is a very old game.
JAY: Yeah. I guess what's new here is the idea that maybe Qatar is the one that's going to manage this.
PRASHAD: It may be what Qatar has in mind. It may also be that they want to create another, you know, Gaza. You know, what Saif al-Islam Gaddafi wanted to make a Kuwait on the Mediterranean. Maybe they want to use this to have new kinds of, you know, beachfront resorts. There may be all kinds of plans that they have, but they are underestimating the will of the Palestinian people, where that project is not going to be so easily vanquished.
You know, in Gaza, a plurality of the population is under the age of 25, something like almost 70 percent of the population is under the age of 25. There are children dying in Gaza. There are children being injured. But those children, when they're photographed by the media, so many of them are showing the peace sign, for instance. It's a highly political population. They are, I don't think, willing to lie down before the plans of the Qataris, which might line up with the plans of the Israelis. I think they are overexaggerating their ability to throw their money around and erase the Palestinian project.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Vijay.
PRASHAD: Thank you.
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