In this week's Monday Briefing, MEI experts Yousef Munayyer, Randa Slim, and Paul Salem provide analysis on recent and upcoming events including Israel's expected announcement of new settlement expansion, the escalating risk of a clash between U.S.-backed and pro-Iranian forces in southeastern Syria, and Lebanon's efforts to pass a reformed election law.

Israel to Announce Settlement Expansion
Yousef Munayyer, MEI Scholar

Yousef Munayyer

The Israeli government this week is expected to announce yet another expansion of its illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. This particular expansion will add to the size of two of the most obstructionist Israeli settlements, Maale Addumim and Ariel. Both of these massive settlements are deep inside Palestinian territory, and have been noted obstacles to the goal of disentanglement and separation because of their geographic location. Their existence and growth makes an independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian state impossible.

Perhaps more significant than the actual announcement is the context in which it is taking place. This week marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war that resulted in the beginning of the Israeli occupation, and opened the door to its colonization project in occupied territory. The outcome of the 1967 war was in part due to the strategic ineptness of Arab states, and the inability to form a unified political front.

On this 50th anniversary, Israel seeks to exploit major political rifts emerging between Arab regimes in an effort to secure its occupation and settlement enterprise into the next 50 years. Today, just as then, Israel is unlikely to change is policies toward the Palestinians so long as it is getting away with them unchecked, and the muddled politics of the region continue to ensure that remains the case.

Pro-Iranian, Syrian Regime Forces Eye Al-Tanf
Randa Slim, Director of the Initiative for Track II Dialogues

Randa Slim

The post-ISIS fight over who will control Syria’s borders is starting to take shape. A gathering of Iraqi, Syrian, Russian and Iranian national security advisors took place outside Moscow on May 23. The focus of the discussions was the coordination of their respective efforts in Syria and Iraq to assume control of the Iraqi-Syrian border security.

This meeting came on the heels of a May 18 U.S. air force attack on a convoy of pro-Syrian regime militias moving toward a training facility used by U.S. troops northwest of al-Tanf, located about 20 miles from the Syrian-Iraqi border. According to the U.S. military, the convoy moved inside a 55-km deconfliction zone surrounding al-Tanf, which is also close to the Syrian-Jordanian border.

On May 29, the head of the Iraqi PMUs announced his forces have reached the Iraqi-Syrian border from the west Mosul side. Controlling the Tanf border crossing is critical to Iran securing a land bridge from the Iranian-Iraqi border through Iraq and Syria to the Syrian-Lebanese border.

There are recent reports of additional Syrian regime and pro-Iranian forces gathering in the area near al-Tanf, portending a potential military confrontation between Iranian-backed militias and U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army militants located in the area. The U.S.-led coalition has recently announced it has reinforced its footprint at the al-Tanf base, declaring that it viewed the pro-Iranian forces a threat to its troops fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Hezbollah’s recent announcement of redeploying its forces from the Lebanese side of the Syrian border should be read as part of this larger Iranian-led strategy to enforce new military realities on the ground in southern Syria.

Lebanon on Brink of Passing Reformed Election Law
Paul Salem, Vice President for Policy Analysis, Research, and Programs

Paul Salem

Lebanese officials have only two weeks to agree on a new election law, before the current parliament’s term expires. This parliament was elected in 2009 and has extended its own term twice since 2013. After years of bickering, there is an emerging convergence toward adopting a proportional representation system.

Lebanese elections have been held on the winner-takes-us majoritarian system since 1927. The old system helped leaders maintain monopolies of representation each within their own sectarian community and electoral district. Adopting a proportional system would be a significant departure and should introduce more plural representation within each community and in each sub-region of the country.

Adopting proportional representation has been a demand of Lebanese civil society since the 1990s as a way to weaken the hold of the ruling oligarchy; this recent convergence among the oligarchy itself reflects narrower calculations regarding how each party figures they might gain—and their opponents might lose—in a changed electoral system. If the law is passed, elections will likely be scheduled for the spring of 2018 and the parliament will add a ‘technical extension’ of its own term to cover the gap.

Much can go wrong between now and the final dates of this parliament’s term on June 20, but if adopted, this new law would be a step forward in terms of more proper representation, and would allow groups and parties—that could never think of being represented in parliament before—to organize and seek a seat in parliament.