Geopolitics

Bad Actors, Same Script: Israeli-Palestinian Tragedy Plays On

The current spiral in the Middle East is a stinging reminder for the world, and particularly the United States under Joe Biden, that the violence will always return.

Building damaged by airstrikes in Gaza on May 12
Building damaged by airstrikes in Gaza on May 12
Piotr Smolar

-Analysis-

Violence, rockets, sirens, airstrikes. Shared fear. Israeli shelters, gutted buildings in Gaza. Deaths on both sides. Concerned communiqués from abroad calling for deescalation. The usual script of the Israeli-Palestinian drama advances in proper order. Each actor returns to his role, with no certainty of tomorrow or long-term plan, with no other acceptable recourse than lethal force, while waiting for a future return to a precarious, necessarily precarious, calm.

A "perfect storm" is an aggregate of meteorological circumstances that leads to an extraordinary event. No one knows at this moment if it will happen. But the quantity of rockets fired on May 11, with absolute cynicism, by armed Palestinian factions in Gaza, and the clashes between Jews and Arabs in several Israeli cities, have no precedent in the last 20 years.

The current spiral in the Middle East is a stinging reminder of reality. A reality that many countries — in particular Joe Biden's United States — had chosen to detest, by calculation or weariness, as one longs of getting rid of an antique.

But a seemingly insoluble conflict is not dissolvable. Over the decades, Palestinians have been stripped of their political rights, their freedom of movement, their land. The recent expropriations by settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah are just one episode in a long policy.

The dream of a Palestinian state has faded, and the hopes raised by the 1993 Oslo Accords are a small pile of ashes. The political issue has been replaced by that of living conditions, turning Palestinians into demoralized and divided needy people. Yet every time the Palestinians protest, throw stones, fire rockets, the Israelis seem surprised at their lack of docility.

This is to forget too quickly the notion of dignity, which Hamas and Islamic Jihad instrumentalize, by linking their fight to Jerusalem. The Esplanade of the Mosques (Temple Mount for the Jews). in the occupied Old City, is the most sensitive location in the Middle East. The Al-Aqsa Mosque remains the beating heart of Palestinian identity. Its photos and posters adorn almost every Arab living room in East Jerusalem. As a place of worship and socialization, Al-Aqsa brings people together, while everything else falls apart. One would have to be clueless to ignore it.

The Palestinian youth, unlike their elders, no longer believe in the fable of a state.

Despite this, in the middle of Ramadan, the Israeli police restricted access to the site. Repressive reflexes take over when Israel's political future is uncertain. The country is in the midst of a political stalemate, without a coalition after the fourth national election in two years, and as Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial continues. The prime minister has plenty of experience of such feverish moments and does not like the military ordeal. However, the show of force by the Palestinian factions is pushing him to outdo himself.

To survive politically, "Bibi" has sold the soul of Israeli democracy to the xenophobic far right. He has whitewashed it, turned it into a coalition partner. He has encouraged the stigmatization of the Arab minority. The religious nationalist camp, on the other hand, sees Palestinians as violent and hostile by nature, not by historical circumstances: Arabs among others, who would do better to leave Israel. It is therefore astonishing that we are surprised by the radicalization, in mirror image, of a part of the Palestinian youth, who, unlike their elders, no longer believe in the fable of a state.

Clashing with police forces May 10 — Photo: Europa Press/ZUMA

But the Israelis do not like to talk about all this. Netanyahu has engaged them in a double illusion: the end of the Palestinian question and the great reconciliation with the Sunni Arab countries.

For a long time, there was a consensus on one idea: Only the end of the conflict would allow regional normalization for the Jewish state. But the transactional and pro-Israeli commitment of the Trump administration was met with the weariness of the Arab countries, otherwise focused on Iran. Thus, the Abraham Accords were concluded with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

When he arrived at the White House, Joe Biden unconvincingly took up the language of Oslo, on the two-state solution. He has reopened the floodgates of funding for UNRWA, the aid mission for Palestinian refugees. But he also assumed the Trump legacy: the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital, and the Abraham Accords. Above all, he has made it clear that he does not intend to devote any effort to resolving an exhausting conflict, so far removed from the 21st century's challenges his country faces. A terrible clue of priorities in Washington: There is still no designated American ambassador or consul general in Israel.

And the Europeans? Inaudible, for lack of room to maneuver. A purely verbal watchdog role, with endlessly repeating communiqués.

This crisis allows Hamas to remind itself that it still holds a power of nuisance.

The last element of the perfect storm is the Palestinian democratic denial. It is a co-production. Legislative and then presidential elections were to be held by July, while the political apparatus is deprived of legitimacy, ossified and fragmented.

Mahmoud Abbas, 85 years old, has claimed that he is in favor of this exercise. And once again, he used a pretext — the non-holding of the vote in East Jerusalem due to the lack of an Israeli agreement — to cancel the vote.

Did Hamas believe that the aging "raïs' would agree to submit to the popular will, taking the risk of a high turnout for the enemy movement in the West Bank? In reality, no one, and especially not the Americans, wanted an unpredictable election. They want to keep the conflict under wraps.

For its part, Hamas has found itself in its usual configuration: isolated, ruling over the great slum that is Gaza and its distressed population. While the lines are moving in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia is talking to Iran and Qatar, the Palestinian Islamic movement is holding onto old grudges. This crisis allows Hamas to remind itself that it still holds a power of nuisance, causing mostly material damage with its only currency, rockets. Meanwhile, two million people in Gaza are held hostage.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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