Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lebanon and Iran Make Uneasy Bedfellows

By Robert Fisk
This Comment was published in The Independent on 30/10/2010

I think it should be a Beirut Diary this week. Deep background, you understand. The truth. Believe me, it is.

When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad entered the palace dining room to eat with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week – Saad being the son of ex-premier Rafiq who was murdered by ... we'll come to that later – Saad made sure that Beethoven was on the public address system. It was the Ninth Symphony, the "Ode to Freedom". The moment the Iranian President sat down, he turned to Saad and said: "Let's skip the lunch. Let's have sandwiches and go to southern Lebanon together."

Now here was a problem. Saad is a Sunni Muslim; Mahmoud, of course, is a Shia, and the Iranian President was inviting a Sunni Prime Minister of Lebanon to visit the Shia south of Lebanon where he (Mahmoud, that is) would declare that southern Lebanon – he was speaking less than two miles from the Israeli border – was Iran's "front line" against Israel. Saad politely declined the invitation and Mahmoud went on to Bint Jbeil to rally his lads and lassies on his own. Lucky that he was even in Lebanon. The Beirut air traffic control boys (they are, indeed, all lads) had already expressed their concern when the Iranian President's Boeing 707 aircraft made its final approach. Wasn't there a ban on ancient 707s arriving at Beirut's ultra-modern airport? Ban overruled.

Posters the previous day on the airport road. Next day, they honoured southern Lebanon. Khomeini, Khamenei ("Supreme Leader", as we all know) and Ahmadinejad pictures clustered the houses of southern Lebanon. And that half-cut apple that is the symbol of the Islamic Republic. "Could we have our flags back?" the Iranian embassy asked the Lebanese army two days later.

Indeed they could, immediately replaced with billboards of half-naked ladies and watches, swimming costumes and whisky. The Syrians were very pissed off with the Iranians. Why no posters of Bashar Assad, the president of Syria whose Hezbollah-Iranian relations are second to none?

Stopping over in Damascus, Ahmadinejad told Assad he wanted Nouri al-Maliki to be Iraq's prime minister. Assad told his Syrian cabinet – the source is impeccable – that "our friends want Maliki". And Ahmadinajed, like the Syrians, opposed The Hague tribunal which may – so Hezbollah's leader (Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, close friend and confidant of Ahmadinajed) – blame Hezbollah members for the murder of Rafiq Hariri.

Nonsense. Wasn't it supposed to be the Syrians who killed Hariri (or so The New York Times and the London Times would have us believe) that blew Hariri's motorcade up – along with the 21 others whose names we have all forgotten – on St Valentine's Day of 2005? Nope. Since the Syrians offered their assistance to the United States in Iraq, it's been the pesky Iranians (courtesy The New York Times and The Times of London) who, through their Hezbollah allies, have been blamed for the mass slaughter Notice, by the way, how the Syrians and Iranians were blamed for Lockerbie and then, post-Syrian help in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, the Libyans?

Anyway. Amadinejad poured scorn on the UN's Hague tribunal which may – or may not (watch this space) – accuse Hezbollah of killing Rafiq (son of Saad) on Syria's behalf? And lo and behold, on Thursday morning this week, two officers of The Hague tribunal turned up in the southern suburbs of Beirut to examine the records of a gynaecological clinic.

Yes. GYNAECOLOGICAL CLINIC?, I hear you ask. Well, The Hague spokesmen/spokeswomen won't say what this is about. But I can tell you. Between 15 and 17 Shia Muslim women from the southern suburbs of Beirut – who are having pregnancy tests at the clinic – are sisters or wives of leading Hezbollah officials, and The Hague guys wanted their mobile telephone numbers to match them with calls made from the same numbers on the afternoon of Hariri's murder, perhaps by their husbands.

Now, 11 members of the Lebanese Alpha mobile company (Mr Robert's mobile, by the way, belongs to the same company) have been arrested and charged with spying for Israel. Hezbollah claims that Israel has inserted mobile calls into the record of the 14 February 2005 calls – the originals came from the British listening system on Mount Troodos in Cyprus – in order to plant evidence. So The Hague men arrived at the clinic with the usual horde of Lebanese security men to protect them. But they were met by up to 150 ladies, minibussed to the clinic by – Hezbollah? – to complain at this grotesque personal intrusion. Hezbollah denies all knowledge of the affair. Of course. But the women pulled the hair of the Hague's female interpreter and so jostled The Hague men that they managed to get their hands on one of their briefcases.

Needless to say, The Hague won't identify the nationality of their own two foolish officials who thought they could brazenly walk into Hezbollah's fiefdom with their secrets intact in a briefcase. I can reveal that one of them was French, the other Australian.

They had asked for a 9am appointment with the head of the clinic – this appointment was, of course, betrayed to Hezbollah – and they didn't get those mobile telephone numbers. They just lost their briefcase. As I write, the contents are being translated by Hezbollah. What hope The Hague tribunal? What hope Lebanon?

Fear In The Air

This Editorial was published in Arab News on 30/10/2010

The latest terror plot targeting the United States is shocking, but not altogether surprising.

Also not unexpected is the Middle East (Yemen in this case) connection. The security and political situation in Yemen has been deteriorating for some time now. Deservedly or not, this Arab country has a reputation as the breeding ground of groups like Al-Qaeda. While Yemen needs to be more vigorous in its efforts to check international terror and its Arab neighbors need to do everything possible to help the government in Sanaa in this respect, the US authorities and the West should see the big picture all over again. Otherwise they would end up repeating history and mistakes of the recent past.

That this is the second plot in less than a year that has been traced back to Yemen can’t be a coincidence. The case of Umer Farouk Abdulmutallib, the Nigerian underwear bomber, who allegedly tried to blow up a US-bound airliner over the Atlantic in December is still fresh in public memory.  Ten years ago this month the USS Cole was hit by a suicide attack while it was berthed at Port of Aden in Yemen.   Seventeen sailors were killed in the attack. Two years ago, in an attack on US Embassy in Sanaa, 16 people were killed including six attackers.

Clearly, Yemen, a Texas-sized country at the confluence of Asia and Africa with a desperately impoverished population of 23 million, has emerged as a safe haven or incubator for all sorts of extremist groups that pose a clear and present danger not just to the West but Yemen, Saudi Arabia and others in the region.

With both a separatist movement and a rebellion by Shiite Houthi tribesmen raging at the same time and the government writ increasingly being challenged by myriad tribal groups and forces such as Al-Qaeda, Yemen is doubtless going through an existential crisis.  
Interestingly, many of those joining Al-Qaeda in Yemen are Americans like the fiery cleric Anwar Al Awlaki, who now carries a reward on his head, or misguided men like Abdulmutallib who either grew up in the West or have had a Western education. They claim to wage a so-called jihad against America to avenge its blind support and protection of Israel and its perceived injustices and unjust wars in the Muslim world.  

It’s hardly a coincidence, therefore, that the purported targets of the latest plot were Jewish synagogues in and around Chicago. There is a clear method in their madness. While Yemen needs all the support it can get from the US, its Arab neighbors and the world community in tackling this latest challenge to its security and sovereignty, the source of this malaise is elsewhere. 
Yemen, Saudi Arabia or for that matter Afghanistan and Pakistan, the countries facing the extremist threat, could do only so much to check, prevent and neutralize the sinister plots like these.  Imagine the terrible consequences, if this plot had reached its logical conclusion. Which US president wants to be seen “soft” on national security? But what is really needed is surgical attention to the source of this cancer and good intelligence and police work.

Meanwhile, it is heartening to learn that Yemeni authorities are checking dozens more packages in a search for the terrorists. Investigators are examining 24 other packages in the capital, Sanaa. US President Barack Obama said they would spare no effort to find the source of the packages. We hope the US would succeed in its efforts, for in the ultimate analysis this is in the interest of Yemen and its neighbors too.

This is How The Game Is Being Played In Iraq

By Tariq Alhomayed
This comment was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 30/10/2010
The process of forming the next government of Iraq is still ongoing nearly eight months after the elections, and there has been an increase in the media leaks and speculation over different [political] scenarios with regards to this. However the critical question that must be asked here is: what is going on behind the scenes?
A well-informed source told me the following:
That Washington is not in agreement with Tehran over Nouri al-Maliki's nomination, and wants to attract him [al-Maliki] to their side. Washington believes that if it does not do this, al-Maliki will form a government with the support of the Iranians, and that it will be difficult for the US to reach an understanding with al-Maliki following this. Therefore, Washington support for al-Maliki today would guarantee that he does not stand against them tomorrow, on the basis that they [the Americans] are the ones who helped him to remain in power. All that Washington wants from al-Maliki [in return] is for him not to disrupt or postpone the proposed agreements [between the US and Iraq], and particularly the security agreements, whilst what Iran wants from al-Maliki is another story.
The source also said that "Iyad Allawi's mistake, with regards to Washington, is that he negotiated with the Sadrist trend without informing them." When I asked the source about Washington's opinion of al-Maliki negotiating with the Sadrists, he said "this is different, for the Sadrists allying with Allawi means that they will form a larger bloc, and will therefore obtain greater influence [should this bloc come to power], which is something rejected by the US, whilst the Sadrists allying with al-Maliki will not grant them this advantage, and therefore the Sadrists will not be able to dictate their conditions on al-Maliki."
As for the situation in the region, the source said that "an unannounced meeting took place in Doha: attended by everybody from Syria, Turkey, Iran and Jordan." A Turkish source said that this meeting was not planned, and took place on the sidelines of the reception held by the Al Jazeera Center for Studies for Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. During this meeting, the parties discussed the idea of a "new Taif [Agreement] for Iraq" [in reference to the 1989 Taif Agreement that aimed to end the Lebanese civil war and return political normalcy to the country]. According to both Arab and Turkish sources, the Turks have taken a strong position against "neighboring countries" intervening in the formation of the Iraqi government, a reference to Iran. This Turkish position has been supported by Qatar.
The sources also revealed that the news of this "new Taif [Agreement] for Iraq" and the possibility of it being held in Damascus – something that was first reported in Asharq Al-Awsat [19/8/2010; under the headline "Sources – Iraqi Taif Agreement in Syria under Arab – Turkish Sponsorship] – being leaked to the media may have thwarted its occurance. This resulted in another idea being proposed, namely a meeting in Baghdad of all Iraqi blocs [to resolve the issue of the formation of a government]; however this also did not succeed.
As for the Arab world, the sources revealed that there is an idea that has begun to take shape recently that believes that there is a constitutional flaw in the position of the Iraqi Prime Minister. Therefore, the idea of accepting a second term for al-Maliki could help rectify the situation with regards to limiting the powers of the prime minister, not just for the present but for the future, returning some of these powers to the Iraqi President, in addition to increasing the standing of Iraq's parliament. However this idea is facing a new setback today, according to the sources, as the Arabs, the Americans, and even Iran, have been surprised by the most recent media leaks that indicate an agreement being formed between the Iraqiya bloc, the Kurdish blocs, and [Ammar] al-Hakim. This agreement could see Adil Abdul-Mahdi becoming prime minister of the new Iraqi government.
Therefore, is Allawi able to continue surprising us in this manner, and confusing everybody by truly reaching an agreement with the Kurds and al-Hakim? This is yet unknown, but let us carefully monitor the situation.

The Creativity Of The Arab Private Sector Despite The Failure Of Peace

Marrakesh- Raghida Dergham
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 30/10/2010
There is a vast difference between the 1994 conference of the World Economic Forum in Marrakesh and the conference held this year. Back then, the world was eager to put to use the opportunity of the Oslo process to launch negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, with the aim of starting normalization at the level of businessmen, so as for the private sector to pave the way for the public sector in crossing the distance to coexistence between the Arabs and Israel. Today, Oslo has proven its failure – despite its achievements – because it launched a “process” without specific goals for negotiations, leading to the “process” purposely smothering its goals, at least on the part of Israel. This week in Marrakesh, the atmosphere between Arabs and Israelis was unlikely to be optimistic, and in fact suffered a radical relapse, first because of the cycle of frustration and despair over aimless negotiations, and second because of the loss of trust in the commitment – or the ability – of those sponsoring the negotiations to make them succeed, regardless of their good intentions. Here in Marrakesh, the lukewarm interest of the US in achieving the resumption of direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis with specific aims was noticeable, and it was compared to its enthusiasm 16 years ago for the momentum of normalization as a means to achieve the sought-after qualitative leap. The deteriorating relations between the forum’s host-country, Morocco, and Israel were also noticeable. Indeed, Moroccan monarch Mohammed VI – in protest against Israel maneuvering in the peace process – refused to receive Israeli President Shimon Peres as an official visitor to Morocco. Peres therefore decided to boycott the conference of the World Economic Forum, joined in solidarity not just by state officials but also by Israeli businessmen. It was also noted – and that is a truly noteworthy and positive matter – that the private sector in the Arab region has decided not to sit and wait for the promised peace between the Arabs and Israel, considered to be the means to achieve Arab prominence on the regional or international scene, resorting to innovation as a means to produce change. The private sector complained of Arab governments continuing to impose hindrances and to isolate themselves behind their narrow interests, which prevent the necessary complementarity or integration which – if it were to happen – would place Arab countries among emerging nations such as China, India and Brazil in a few years. They complained, but did not stop thinking of ways to move forward in spite of the obstruction of dreams of peace, of governments carrying on with their methods, and of rampant corruption even after wars of “reform” like the one that took place in Iraq, which was claimed to aim at setting off the spark of democracy and reform throughout the Arab World. At the World Economic Forum in Marrakesh, the private sector demanded that priority be given to the education necessary for coming generations, and the tremendous value of talent, skills and training. They focused on the centrality of the issue of water for the future of the Arabs, as well as on the dire need to put to use the abilities of Arab women, considering them to be a cultured, educated and well-trained segment of society that represents half of the Arab working force. They did all this, and yet their eyes, ears, and a large part of their sympathy were focused on political developments in the region and on the fear of instability as a result of the relationship between Iran and Israel and its repercussions, from Lebanon to the Gulf, and as a result of a plague called the sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in the region. Indeed, fabricated and proxy wars find for themselves many who are prepared to fight in the Middle East. This is what makes the North African region think of the West instead of exhausting itself in the wars of the Middle East or in achieving Arab complementarity and integration.

In 1994 in Marrakesh, investments, economics and politics came together in a moment of hope in peace between Arabs and Israelis that would turn the Middle East into a region like no other in terms of coexistence, wealth and prosperity. There are those who say that this had not been a dream, but rather a trick aimed at containing the Palestinian intifada. There are also those who insist on the fact that sectarian wars did not come out of nothing, but rather were the result of a calculated policy by the United States to revive old conflicts for the sake of calculated hegemony through division, serving the interests of military industries or of major oil industries in the region.
In 2010 in Marrakesh, the climate of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship, as described by one Palestinian who has closely experienced the different phases of this relationship, is a phase of “neither negotiations nor intifada”. In other words, the current situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis requires to be settled, and should not be addressed from the perspective of the “alternative”. This is in the sense that those who hold such an opinion consider, first, that there is no alternative to Palestinians clinging to their land, planting olive trees there and investing in the hope that they will be buried in this land, regardless of whether it is an independent state or under occupation; and second, that the clarity of the relationship between the occupying force and the people under occupation is fit for achieving the end of the occupation at the end of the day, and for warding off the Israeli forces that are working to resolve the “demographic problem” through a policy of forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing, in order for Israel to become a “purely” Jewish state.

The clarity of enemy parties or of parties to reconciliation is important in making peace, yet it is what is most important in the formula of survival. As one person said, Palestine under occupation is in a better situation than Lebanon in its current transitional phase, which is exposing it to regional disputes and turning it into an arena for revenge.

This country being quarreled over by regional forces for various reasons is the same country which Israel makes use of at its whim within the framework of its conflicts with countries in the region. It is the country that hangs on regional ambitions, a country locally and internally subjected to meeting the demands of regional players. One must also stress that it is the victim of its own leaderships, loyalties and the submissiveness of its people, not just the victim of the plans of regional or international players.

What is surprising is that the capabilities, skills, creativity and talent of the Lebanese – despite the perspective of internal instability and external disputes – flow out into the Arab World and the world at large. Conferences are held to discuss the ability for resilience, the resolve to move forward and the ability to endure, and half the Lebanese are an example of this.

The message of regional forces surrounding Lebanon, among them the closest neighbor, Syria, as well as the one directed by Hezbollah to Washington, is a clear message. Yet Washington chooses to ignore it, either because it is burying its head in the sand, or because it is unaware of the traditional political wisdom and skill of Iran and Syria, or because the leaders of the Obama Administration are dangerously scattered and are not good at reading Middle Eastern messages.
Israel is crude, not skillful. It speaks the language of force and the military language of resolve and determination. This is why Lebanon for it is only a military arena within the framework of its relations with Iran. All indications point to the fact that Israel would not avoid destroying Lebanon in terms of infrastructure under the pretext of destroying Hezbollah, as it claims to seek to destroy Iran’s nuclear military capability, while what it is actually implementing is the destruction of the two-state solution.

Washington is absent from such plans and maneuvers, as if in a state of complete lack of awareness of what surrounds it. Its regional and international reputation is deteriorating while the Obama Administration is making this reputation contingent on its electoral considerations. The collapse of its reputation which the United States is suffering from is not the responsibility of Barack Obama, as it came at the hands of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Yet what the Obama Administration has done is make the United States lose the compass of leadership.

And that is dangerous, not just for Americans but also for the world, which waits to see what the shape of US leadership will be like and what its impact will be, at the level of security, economics and politics, on the world. Sometimes all the United States has to do is put forth its stances, frankly, clearly and decisively. Indeed, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, for instance, would move forward qualitatively and radically if the United States were merely to put forth its view of the permanent situation of the territories and of the outcome of the negotiations. The Obama Administration has not done this, and some say it never will.

Such lack of clarity, determination and engagement can also be seen in Iraq and in Lebanon, as if engagement were a stable policy limited to talking to Syria and Iran. Equally important is the fact that trust in US leadership has waned at the level of the private sector, not just at the level of the public sector or at that of political leadership. Yet this may well be a blessing in disguise. What is taking place in the Arab region as a result of reduced trust in the United States is an increase in trust in local capabilities and resources. There is therefore qualitative progress, not antagonism towards the United States, but rather more self-reliance and more trust in local leadership, with worldwide repercussions.

At the World Economic Forum in Marrakesh, participants discussed what would be required in order to reform the situation of the Arabs in terms of human and industrial infrastructure equally, as well as what would be required to make this region attractive for investments. What is interesting is not just what it holds in terms of natural resources, but also its youth, its women and its innovators, on the condition that the region understands the centrality of complementarity and integration and pays attention to education and reform.

Speakers at the World Economic Forum in Marrakesh included the likes of Lubna Olayan, the woman with the calm voice and the impressive deeds, at both the regional and international level, showing Saudi women in a completely different light than what many in the West have in mind. Another speaker was Carlos Ghosn, the international Lebanese-French businessman, who speaks the language of integration and that of the dialogue of civilizations, cultures and the private sector, spreading from Japan to France to the United States and to Tangier, which opens up the doors and ambitions of Morocco towards the West, but not in the opposite direction.

In about twenty days a gathering of a different kind will be held in the city of Dubai, one which Arif Naqvi, CEO of Abraaj Capital, insisted on calling a “celebration of innovators from across the spectrum and levels of achievement”. It is a gathering of leading entrepreneurs at the level of the private sector across the spectrum, hosted by Abraaj Capital and Aramex, the company headed by Fadi Ghandour. The message of this gathering, in Naqvi’s words, is that the private sector alone has the qualifications and capabilities to achieve complementarity and integration in the Arab region, and that innovators are the key to the change and economic growth needed to create the changes that have been sought-after for decades.

The World Economic Forum in Marrakesh has crossed an important stage, of which the most prominent feature is to emphasize the following: that economic growth is no longer contingent on peace between the Arabs and Israel. It is the greatest challenge to those who work to create wars and instability.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The EU's Dubious Refugee Deal With Libya

By Bjarte Vandvik
This article was published in The Guardian on 20/10/2010

The EU is paying Libya to deal with refugees seeking a new life in Europe. Can we trust Gaddafi's regime to look after them?

In August, Muammar Gaddafi said the EU should pay Libya at least €5bn a year to stop irregular African immigration and avoid a "black Europe". This month, Cecilia Malmström, European commissioner for home affairs, and Stefan Füle, European commissioner for neighbourhood policy, met with Libyan authorities to close a deal on migration and asylum. According to the European Commission, the EU's financial support to Libya will amount to a total of €50m over the next 3 years.

For the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, which brings together over 60 refugee assistance organisations working throughout Europe, the negotiations on migration between the EU and the dictatorship in Libya are one of the most pressing challenges to refugee protection in Europe.

It is difficult to understand why the EU trusts Gaddafi's regime to stop migration to Europe and to decide on the fate of refugees who will find it now even harder to reach safety. Do we honestly think that refugees are safe in Libya – or are we so afraid of the numbers of refugees trying to reach our shores that we are ready to abandon our human rights standards?

Last year around 250,000 people applied for asylum in the 27 EU member states – about the same as the number of Somali refugees living in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya; about half the number of border guards working in Europe.

Libya is not party to the 1951 UN refugee convention and does not have an asylum procedure or a system for refugee protection. People seeking protection are often detained, sometimes for long periods, in deplorable conditions. Migrants risk being mistreated and dumped in the desert. In June this year, Libya ordered the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, to close its offices in the country, another illustration of Libya's particular understanding of refugee protection and the unreliable nature of the regime under Gaddafi.

EU representatives have committed to assist Tripoli in reinforcing its capacity to prevent migrants from entering Libya through its southern borders and in developing its patrolling capacities in its territorial waters and on the high seas. The agreement also covers the EU's assistance to Libya in screening migrants in order to identify those in need of international protection.

By setting up EU-sponsored asylum processing centres in Libya, EU states would evade their obligations to protect refugees and shift the responsibility to a country with an appalling human rights record. How would the EU ensure that such centres in Libya comply with EU standards on international protection or even basic human rights obligations?

Lastly, the European Commission has committed to assist Tripoli by resettling "some" of the recognised refugees in Libya to EU member states. The EU should clarify how it intends to protect individuals recognised as in need of protection in order to avoid massive long-term warehousing of refugees. For example, in Turkey, 10,000 refugees recognised by UNHCR remain there without being able to benefit from the protection they need and awaiting resettlement. Last year, EU countries resettled less than 7,000 refugees worldwide, a tiny number compared to the 800,000 people in need of resettlement.

The debate about outsourcing the processing of asylum claims to third countries is not new. Similar proposals have been considered and rejected in the past because they were incompatible with human rights law. When seeking support for his programme in 2004, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso unambiguously stated before the members of the European parliament: "I assure you that I stand against the setting up of camps outside the union". Now, in his second term in office, such proposals are still regressive, untenable and unlawful.

The Obsession With Olive Trees

Hassan Haidar
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 28/10/2010

Israel, its government, army and settlers have become morbidly obsessed with olive trees. Rarely does a day pass by without a battle being waged against these trees, which turn into the number one enemy of the state at every harvest season, because they always remind it that it is occupying a land that is not its own. The stubbornness of roots that run deep makes Israelis lose their temper, frenziedly attacking to pull them out and break their branches, in a desperate attempt to erase this symbol from the memory of the Palestinians.

Ever since the late Yasser Arafat carried “the olive branch” to the United Nations, the tree has been classified as “terrorist” and it has become required to prevent it from spreading and to stop it from addressing the world.

The cycle of attacks against olive trees goes on everyday in Palestinian areas close to the settlement belt. Here are a few samples from the past week alone:

In the village of Deir Al-Hatab, inhabitants of the settlement of Elon Moreh murdered two thousand olive trees when they directed the flow of sewage water towards a grove whose owners are forbidden from visiting due to its proximity to the settlement.

And in the village of Burin near Nablus, settlers attacked farmers who had come to harvest their olives, burning the sheds they rest in, before being helped in their assault by the Israeli army, which used tear gas against the owners of the land. The outcome was the loss of 500 olive trees by burning or by having chemicals spilled on them.

In the village of Faraata near Qalqilya, settlers from Havat Gilad attacked the olive groves and destroyed 600 trees.

Settlers also resort to stealing the harvest before burning the trees, based on the religious edicts of extremist rabbis who consider Palestinian land to be “the inheritance of the people of Israel” and its fruits “their property regardless of who planted them”.

In Gaza, where occupation forces have bulldozed 130 thousand trees, the street in which the largest number of civilians was killed in a single hit (22 women and children) during the war on the Gaza Strip is called “Hayy Al-Zaytoun” (Olive Street). And the Palestinians assert that army bulldozers have to this day destroyed one million trees in the West Bank.

Settlers who attack trees are not subject to any lawsuits, and the investigations of pure form conducted by the police never yield any results, like the hundreds of complaints filed by Palestinians that know no fate but that of locked drawers.

Yet burning and destroying them is not the only way to exact revenge on olive trees. Indeed, Israeli army checkpoints obstruct movement between the villages and cities of the West Bank and prevent Palestinian agricultural production, most prominently olives and olive oil, from reaching domestic or international markets, this before the obstacles laid down by exports laws lead to a large part of this production spoiling.

This is a war waged by Israel with all of its constituents and institutions against this ancient and giving tree, which has proven that its ability to resist the occupation was greater than that of rockets being launched here and there aimlessly. Perhaps it has become the Palestinian Authority’s duty to think of adding an olive tree to the national flag, or to raise the banner of this tree in every Palestinian home, even inside Israel.

The olive tree exposes the foreign accents and hands that violate its branches and its memory. As for the land which the settlers coming from Europe and America “discovered” in the leaflets of the Jewish Agency, it waits patiently while saving the experience of centuries of resilience, and it knows that its trees will grow once again every time they are uprooted.

Sudan: Arab Tears And American Excuses

By Osman Mirghani
This comment was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 28/10/2010
There is a great difference between the unprecedented American interest in the Sudanese train accelerating towards secession and partition, and the almost complete Arab absence from a crisis that will have major repercussions not only in this Arab-African country, but in the region in general. Recently, hardly a day goes by without a U.S. official visiting Khartoum and Juba, or a statement being issued from Washington on the developments in the Sudanese crisis. On the other hand, we see that Arab action is limited, and later [than the Americans] of course, represented in sporadic statements, infrequent visits, or meaningless rhetoric such as the statements from the recent Arab summit. Even Egypt, a country that should be more concerned than any other with the issue of unity or secession in southern Sudan, not least because the Nile water issue could pose many complications, has not been active enough until too late. It has also failed to capitalize on the fact that it has hosted large numbers of refugees from southern Sudan.
It is true that the Arab League has sought to organize meetings, and undertake action, but it has been inefficient because the League lacks power, which is a reflection of the status of our Arab world. The crisis in Sudan is one of several pending crises, lamenting the absence of an effective and decisive Arab role. It is enough to highlight the African Union, for example, which has troops in Sudan and Somalia, whilst the Arab League has no mechanism whatsoever except for meetings, paralyzed by differences, and rhetoric, in order to confront the crises that currently ravage the Arab body.
In order to prevent confusion, I must stress here that I am talking about the issue of southern Sudan, because there has been more pronounced Arab activity in relation to the Darfur crisis. One hopes this action will gain greater importance in the coming period, ensuring that Darfur does not go down the same path as the south. Otherwise, a ‘torn’ Sudan would be another testament to Arab weakness, and a factor to encourage further division in the region. It would appear that any member of the Arab community can crumble or erode, without rallying the rest of the members into a vigilant fever.
Returning to the subject of intense U.S. activity regarding Sudan, it must be pointed out that Washington was not always inclined to support the secession of the south. Rather, at one time, it held the view that the south was serving to prevent the emergence of a radical ‘Islamic Republic’ in Sudan. In the 1990s, the Khartoum regime showed a tendency to open its doors to Osama Bin Laden, Carlos [the Jackal], and elements of Egyptian Islamic groups, which attempted to carry out the assassination of Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa. Another factor encouraging America to advocate the unity of Sudan was that John Garang, the late leader of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) in southern Sudan, was himself pro-unity.
It was not until the Sudanese themselves made headway towards secession, that Washington began to endorse the idea. In the 1990s, al-Bashir’s government signed an agreement with southern leaders to encourage them to dissent from Garang, in return for the first official recognition of the south’s right to self-determination. After that, opposition parties followed one another in signing agreements with the SPLM, also agreeing upon the right to self-determination.
This recognition of the south’s right later became the focal point for advocates of separation.
These advocates also believed that the government had raised the slogan of ‘jihad’ in its war with the south, which further encouraged them to distance themselves from the north. Thus we must accept the southern inclination to secede in the referendum next January. However; the situation accurately highlights the inability of the Sudanese political elite to achieve the concept of citizenship, build the identity of a modern state, and resolve the crisis that has plagued the country since its independence. Most southerners still feel as if they lived as second-class citizens, and that the north has always dealt with them at least with a sense of superiority, if not in a racist manner. This is an issue which must be confronted and held to account from within, instead of escaping from reality in search of an American or British excuse.
The current Sudanese government has missed its last chance to save unity, because in the past five years, since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, it has not sought to make unity an attractive option. Rather, through constant disputes, matters have deteriorated to the extent that secession will most likely be the outcome of the forthcoming referendum. It is true that there is external pressure on the government to hold the self-determination referendum as scheduled on the 9th of January, but these pressures are aimed at preventing matters from descending into war. The southerners are threatening such an event if they are denied a referendum, or if the government does not resolve the contentious issues, particularly with respect to the Abyei region, the demarcation of borders, oil and water. The problem is that holding the referendum, without first resolving the contentious issues, would be a worst-case scenario, because it would result in a highly volatile situation, involving two well armed sides, which could ignite a new war between them and other regional parties. Perhaps this explains the words of U.S. officials, stating that Obama is now receiving daily reports on developments in the Sudanese situation.
The only chance to keep the ominous shadow of war at bay is to concentrate internal and external efforts on finding solutions to the outstanding issues, rather than holding the referendum whilst these problems remain. Will we see Arab action, or will we leave the whole issue to Western initiatives and African mediation?
The Arabs are always complaining of the absence of their role in sensitive regional issues, which threaten Arab security, from Iraq to Somalia and many more. Will they act in earnest in Sudan; before it is too late, on the basis that they have a strategic interest in preventing a new civil war between north and south, or will they remain spectators, waiting for the fire to spread to other areas?

An Iran Breakthrough Can Bolster Peace Talks

By Jamil K. Mroue
Publisher and editor in chief of Daily Star
This Editorial was published in Daily Star on Saturday, 30/10/2010

Iran’s affirmative response to the European Union’s proposal to resume talks over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program represents one of the few positive developments in the darkening landscape of Middle East politics.

While we thoroughly welcome Iran’s willingness to return to the negotiating table on November 10, our enthusiasm is tempered by the awareness that this sit-down will also offer one of the last opportunities to resolve the nuclear dispute through diplomatic means. As the Islamic Republic’s stockpile of enriched uranium grows, so will chatter in Israel, the US and elsewhere about a military solution to the crisis.

Even though Iran and Western powers are still haggling over the date to renew the bargaining and the locale of the talks, at least the situation in Iraq – a far more important factor in the standoff between Iran and the US than any logistical concerns – has calmed sufficiently that it will no longer present another high hurdle for the sides to overcome at the table.

More than conditions in Iraq, however, the chances for the success of this coming round of diplomacy will depend on the sincerity of the commitment of both sides to achieve a negotiated end to the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program.

Even though a new round of UN Security Council sanctions – and especially tougher economic sanctions imposed by the US and many EU member states – appear to be squeezing the Islamic Republic, the P5 +1 powers should not insist on new and greater demands on Iran which they know Tehran cannot accept; Iran has already demonstrated its willingness to export much of its stock of low-enriched uranium in an earlier deal with Turkey and Brazil. For its part, Tehran must not use the talks simply as a ploy to buy more time as it enriches more uranium and brings more centrifuges online, in the belief that doing so will enhance its negotiating position later.

If the two sides can make progress in the talks, that could well serve as the catalyst for more progress in other regional crises where these actors are playing a role; for example, both sides have room to take steps in Yemen to calm the still-smoldering civil strife there. In Sudan, meanwhile, progress over Iran’s nuclear program could be the impetus to avoid the January referendum in south Sudan from degenerating into an excuse for more turmoil there.

Most significantly, however, any movement in those negotiations should be parlayed into a push for a breakthrough in the languishing Palestinian-Israeli direct talks; let us hope that the charade of the so-called peace process will not be the template for Iran and the Western powers.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Palestinians' Options

By George S. Hishmeh
This Comment was published in Jordan Times on Friday 29/10/2010

Over 70 years ago, agitating European Zionist leaders were offered by Britain, who then ruled Palestine, about 20 per cent of the Arab country to establish a state there. They accepted the partition in principle, but then demanded more land. The offer was made behind Palestinians backs.

Ten years later, the United Nations approved the Partition Plan that gave Jews 5 per cent of the country, although they hardly owned 5 per cent of the land, while the Palestinian Arabs would retain 45 per cent.

The Palestinians, backed by the Arab states, rejected the plan and resolved to win their land back. However, the Six Day War of 1967 ended with the Palestinians remaining in control of a little over 20 per cent of their country - a turnaround that remains indigestible, if not emotionally devastating.

The Israelis have ever since moved into the occupied territories - the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - more than 500,000 of them, building over 100 colonies there. Yet the whole world stood silent and shameless?for more than four decades, not forcing Israel to pull back or pay a high price for its continued colonisation.

Still, in 1993, the Palestinians signed the Oslo Peace Accords with Israel. They, in the words of a top negotiator, “made the very painful decision to recognise the state of Israel and its right to exist on over 78 per cent of our historic homeland”.

Since then, Nabeel Shaath, who has been involved in negotiations with Israel for 20 years, explained this week in The Christian Science Monitor, that “we have focused our efforts on gaining our independence through the establishment of a state on the remaining 22 per cent”.

On the other hand, all Israeli prime ministers, one by one, have since then maintained the charade, promising to pull out from the colonised territories and reach an agreement with the Palestinians “within a year” - just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did this time around. But none of their promises have come to fruition.

“Thanks to Oslo,” commented Akiva Eldar of Haaretz, “the Palestinians are protecting, the settlers are looting, and the donors are contributing”, adding that “on occasion, the US president hosts Netanyahu at the White House while Jewish patriots from New York get in line to embrace him”.

Although the Israelis withdrew from the Gaza Strip five years ago, the region, under Israeli siege, has degenerated into an open-air prison, especially after Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic group, split from the Palestinian Authority and took over the region, home for some 1.5 million mostly impoverished inhabitants.

Israeli troops have repeatedly conducted forays into the coastal strip, following some border clashes, and in 2008, they led an inconclusive invasion there that cost the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians.

So what are the options remaining to the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whose willingness to negotiate with Israel has run into major obstacles due to Israel’s government, dominated by expansionist and ultra-right-wing political parties.

Counting on positive US intervention remains one option, but considering President Barack Obama’s truckload of serious domestic challenges and the unyielding intervention of the pro-Israel lobby, this should not remain the only course for the Palestinians to take.

The logical conclusion would be for the Palestinians, supported by major Arab countries that have mutually beneficial ties with leading Western powers, to seek international intervention. The UN Security Council may not be as accommodating to the Palestinians as the UN General Assembly, since the big powers can exercise their veto there.

This is a step, many suspect, the US may feel compelled to undertake considering the influence of the pro-Israel lobby within Congress. Besides, it was the General Assembly that voted for the partition plan that led to the creation of Israel in 1948.
All these years Israel never identified borders, a point that many believe explains Israel’s expansionist plans, which are evident in the West Bank nowadays.

This logical alternative would not keep the Palestinians captive to the ongoing give-and-take between the Obama administration and the right-wing government in Israel. Otherwise, a growing number of Palestinians is beginning to see merit in the view suggested a couple of years ago by Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem, that the Palestinian Authority should dissolve itself and “return the keys to Israel”.

Ahmadinejad: The Poorest President in The World

By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid
This comment was published in Asharq al-Awsat on Thursday 28/10/2010
As a critical day draws near in Iran, which will see subsidies on basic commodities being lifted, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has launched a campaign to portray himself as a poor man, a man without a penny in his pocket; Ahmadinejad claims to drive a 1977 Peugeot 504, and says that his original salary as a university lecturer did not exceed $250 per month. [According to this campaign] Ahmadinejad only owns a modest house in a poor neighbourhood in southern Tehran, a house where he continued to reside until he became president. Ahmadinejad claims to have resided in this modest home even after he became Mayor of Tehran, refusing to move into the palace that is the official residence for this post.
All that has been said about his modest lifestyle and poverty may be entirely true, however this must also be subject to scepticism considering the position that he currently holds. However Ahmadinejad cannot conceal aspects of his lifestyle under the ragged coat that he is keen to wear in Iran when he is seen dressed in elegant suits during his most recent visit to New York.
Ahmadinejad is not the only leader to try this; numerous leaders have been eager to portray themselves to the populace as being poor and common people. However this quickly becomes nothing more than propaganda, as was the case with Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Mao pursued many who he deemed to be members of the bourgeois, confiscating their property at the same time that he himself was residing in a number of luxurious palaces. This was also the case with leaders in the Kremlin during the Communist Era, who led a prosperous life enjoying special privileges. All revolutionaries are keen to appear to the public as being underprivileged. For example, prominent leaders in Hamas previously distributed pictures of themselves, living in modest homes. However, following this, they were responsible for the destruction of half of Gaza, contributing to further poverty and fostering equality [amongst its people], albeit in terms of destitution and suffering.
The underprivileged leader who is of the common people is a form of propaganda that may convince the public for a while, and may help in bringing this leader who lives in the palace closer to the populate for a time, however this is a façade that does not last for very long and becomes irrelevant when he fails to manage the state's affairs. This is a situation that Ahmadinejad finds himself facing today. Ahmadinejad will not benefit from portraying himself as a poor man who has an old Peugeot in his presidential garage. In the next few weeks, his government will lift subsidies on meat, vegetables, fuel, diesel and other basic commodities; people will suffer, and the poor will become even poorer. Will the story of the poor president convince them to tighten their belts? I doubt it.
Many talk about the excessive wealth of their leaders, but they would talk about this even more if their leaders were impoverishing them. I believe that Ahmadinejad will face difficult days to come, regardless of his propaganda machine promoting the story of the poorest president in the world, and in fact he will need his suppressive forces and Revolutionary Guards. The people will pay no attention to this story when they are no longer able to feed their children.
US President Barack Obama was born into a middle-class family that was not rich at all. Once he entered the White House, he immediately signed contracts to write his biography in two volumes for $10 million.
Ahmadinejad could be both a great and wealthy leader at the same time, if he could resolve the crisis in Iran whose people are living in hardship due to the policies adopted by Iran's mullahs, who are eager to sit in front of television cameras and boast of their poverty. Iran is in fact wealthier than the all of the Gulf States, yet Iranians look to these states, envious of their wealth, and wonder how the people of their country, which is rich in oil, gas, and agriculture, live upon subsidies and cheap propaganda.

Deterrence Of Strife in Kuwait

By Zuheir Kseibati
This comment was published in al-Hayat on Thursday 28/10/2010
No matter where you turn your face in the Arab region, you are hit with the sight of the residing “visitor” who can undermine entities and knock on the doors of states while feared by all. Some however are attracted by this “visitor” as long as the slogan is defiance: the opposition’s defiance of any authority, even if by abusing freedoms which are always relative… and the governments’ defiance of the detractors, even if only out of self-assertion and to fill the vacuum after the reform contracts were “fulfilled,” and after development reached its peak, the images of hungry children disappeared and analphabetism was eradicated.

The “visitor” residing on the thresholds of borders, governments and oppositions, is keeping everyone concerned with its scary shadows. However, it has surpassed everything that might bring the Arabs together and has become the main amalgamator whose hegemony cannot be ignored, although some have opened the windows to it instead of the doors, in the hope they would deter it!
It is strife whose ball is continuously thrown by both the governments and the oppositions at one another, under the illusion of a salvation whose tunnel is extending every time the authority and its rivals try to outsmart each other by playing with the sword of “conspiracy,” whether it is “soft,” smart or rough.

In reality, there are many types of strife that emerged with the end of the era of Israeli monopolization of the projects to strike the unity of Arab entities. Yet, the suspicion is still present in Palestine and Lebanon where “conspiracy” is still a resident. In Iraq however, strife comes in chapters, some of which are doctrinal and others sectarian. Of course, the “visitor” is not absent from the ready-made projects for Sudan, while even Egypt, the greatest Arab state, is not spared from it as it is moving in Upper Egypt at times and has become a tool to pressure the political decision in Cairo.

In the Gulf, where poverty and partisan alignments are quasi-inexistent, the heavy visitor has chosen to use the sword of some opponents to generate sectarian tensions and render any reformatory file a time bomb.

A few years ago, just like in other Gulf States, the sectarian classification of a parliamentary bloc in Kuwait was not a familiar thing. Some deputies have and are still exercising the “hobby” of interrogating the ministers and defying the alternative without any consideration for the consequences of the chronic turmoil affecting the relations between the People’s Assembly and the governments. This defiance “hobby” even extended to the column of some newspapers, and the language of insults acquired a provoked “legitimacy” by launching attacks against everything.
A new alarm bell was set off by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, upon the inauguration of the promised parliamentary session with a flow of interrogations. In this new round, it may be fine to detonate another battle over the problem of the citizens’ debts and attempt to remove the “mine” of the Kuwaiti Football Association law, going through attacks against a minister accused of exerting sectarianism in his appointments.

Although it is certain that Sheikh Sabah did not lack the courage or the boldness in recognizing the chaotic reality of some politicians in Kuwait, what is dangerous at this stage of political infiltrations in the region – under the cover of doctrinal claims which are suddenly intensifying – resides in the fact that those running behind the heroisms of defiance and screaming lack the courage of reasoning and modesty in programming the reformatory goals and the opposition.

True, the Emir of Kuwait reiterated his warnings against “any attacks on national principles,” the violation of the laws and the use of the street as an arena to convey an opinion and its opposite, but what is also true is that the tone of Sheikh Al-Sabah does not conceal bitterness toward the prevalence of screaming over sensibility. For the first time ever, he thus used the expression “religious conflicts” in recognition of the stage reached by the inclinations of some among those who wish to abuse the available margin of freedoms and parliamentary life that was hindered three times within four years.

Some may say that the flaw must be constitutional. However, the old and renewed question revolves around the extent of the respect of the constitution and the laws by the opposition – whichever opposition – and by those who are loyal to the government. Indeed, Article 11 of the Audio-Visual Media Law prohibits “any offense against the dignity or private lives of individuals or society,” any attacks against the neutrality of the judiciary and the targeting of any group within society and the principles of the constitution.

Across the media outlets in Kuwait (nine dailies and four television channels that are privately-owned), freedom was made available. However, it is facing the arrows of criticism due to the collapse of self-restraints which take into consideration the structure of the authority and the nature of society. Although the statement of Sheikh Al-Sabah paved the way for a stage of legislations which will handle the “mayhem, chaos and futile practices,” the opposition and its deputies must recall tragic Arab chapters which started off by surrendering to doctrinism and sectarianism, as well as to the freedoms of instincts and emotions.

The governments are also making mistakes, but the flaw is planting the seeds of sin each time the role of the state is confiscated by those fighting with its sword.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Shift In Epicenter Of Palestinian Struggle

By Jesse Rosenfeld
This Commentary was published in Daily Star on Thursday, 28/10/ 2010

In a country that continues to call itself “the only democracy in the Middle East,” it would appear that the days of Israel trying to present expanding segregation in the context of liberal values are over.

While the legislation calling for non-Jews to declare loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state has been billed as Netanyahu’s capitulation to his coalition in order to extend a partial settlement freeze, the reality is that Israel has shifted its primary target of controlling Palestinians to its own Arab citizens.

Seemingly in tune with the political climate, days before the vote, the military’s Home Front command, police and prison services held a training operation for a scenario where Palestinian citizens of Israel rioted in response to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority that involved their transfer to a Palestinian state. Israeli radio reported the scenario involved the establishment of a hypothetical internment camp in the Galilee to process those detained in the unrest.
While now being put into action, this shift can be traced back to the last Israeli polls that ran congruently with the Gaza war. Back then, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu leader and now foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, described Israel’s largest threat as its “internal enemy” – meaning Arabs in Israel. At the same time, the centrist now-opposition leader of the Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, had contended that Israel’s Palestinian citizens would need to fulfill their national aspirations in a future separate Palestinian state.

This redirection of political and security attention display both the Israeli establishment’s comfort in their ability to maintain domination in the territories occupied since1967, and desire to solidify Jewish dominance within the 1949 armistice lines.

Speaking recently with Zachariah Zubidi, a leader in the Al-Alqsa Martyers Brigades during the second intifada and formerly topping Israel’s assassination list, he contended that “the Palestinian yard is empty of resistance,” in reference to the struggle in the West Bank. “Now the Palestinians have nothing to do but stay in their land until there is a change in the world,” he said dejectedly, referring to the internal division between Hamas and Fatah and the degeneration of national identity into factional loyalties as obstacles impaling unified struggle.

In this environment, where there is an absence of even internal collective strength to rely on, the blow leveled by the Israeli army is especially debilitating. When the campaign against the Israeli wall’s annexation of local farmland began in 2008 in the town of Ni’lin, it was a forceful symbol of Palestinian unity in mass popular protest. But as the human costs mounted and internal rifts expanded, participation in the struggle took a sharp decline.

However, amidst this sharp decline in West Bank activity and sealing off of Gaza from the rest of the world, much momentum has been gaining in the struggle of Arab-Israelis (48’ers as they’re commonly known in reference to their residence in Israel’s controlled territory at the end of the 1948 war). “The political energy and dynamic is here. People here have started to feel that they are the objective of the main Zionist politics now,” said Samieh Jabbarin, a leading activist of the leftist Palestinian 48’ers movement, Abnaa el Balad (People of the Homeland Movement).

While the struggle of 48’ers isn’t near the level of their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza at the time of the outbreak of the Second Intifada, it is the only sector of Palestinian society to have expanded its resistance since the last Intifada. Clearly this is something Israel has recognized and explains the shifting security attention to defend the increasingly open policies of racial oppression.

It appears that Israel now feels secure enough in its military might, and confidence in the support of its powerful allies that it no longer needs to couch its actions in a progressive case. Yet despite the expanding dispossession, for the first time in 62 years the future of Palestinian liberation appears to lie in the heart of where the Nakba started. And this is the movement that continues to gain strength in the face of every Israeli act of injustice.

The Netanyahu Government Is In The Doghouse

By Jihad el-Khazen
This comment was published in Al-Hayat on 26/10/2010
If the reason behind the global campaign to boycott and isolate Israel is not the Israeli war on Gaza or its raid on the Freedom Flotilla, then the Israeli fascists would gratuitously provide reasons for the campaign to carry on anyway.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, which represents religious extremists, once said that the Arabs are snakes, and prayed for a plague to befall the Palestinians. Recently, he included all non-Jewish peoples in his hatred and bigotry, when he said during a religious sermon, “Non-Jews were created to serve Jews. We will sit back like effendis and the non-Jews will serve us. That’s why God created the world.”

I said in the past that Ovadia Yosef is a swine. He then proved my opinion of him again. The man is not your average extremism. He is behind a religious party that won eleven seats in the last Knesset elections, and that has four ministers in the Netanyahu government including the party chairman Eli Yishai, who is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.

Extremism is not exclusive to one party or one sick Rabbi and his myths. It involves wide scale brainwashing: When a female soldier sang at a ceremony commemorating the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, three religious soldiers left the hall, but were subsequently punished by being imprisoned for one week. Meanwhile, the Military Rabbinate told the soldiers that visiting monasteries is “idolatry”, even if they did that for tourism not for religious purposes.
Then there is the oath of allegiance to Israel, which pushed hundreds of young Israelis to demonstrate in front of the Knesset, describing the decision as racist and undemocratic.
The decision imposed an oath to a “Jewish and Democratic" state. But a state cannot be democratic if it is exclusive to the followers of one faith, which reminds me of the countries of the former Soviet Union. Back then, each and every one of those countries had the word "democratic" in its name precisely because they were undemocratic, and it seems that Israel is now reviving that loathed Soviet tradition.

This toxic atmosphere has made Israeli universities themselves a target for extremists. For instance, the Im Tirtzu group, which is made up of extremist right-wing students, demanded the President of Ben-Gurion University Professor Rivka Carmi to expel professors with a “left-wing” agenda, threatening to put pressure on the university's donors to end their support for the university.

According to Israeli newspapers, extremist students from Likud and other groups orchestrated a campaign against the Israeli lecturers in the University of Haifa that criticize the Israeli government and the army. The university refused to punish those professors, and insisted on their right to freedom of speech and opinion.

Also, we all heard about the Israeli academicians who call for a global academic boycott of Israel in support for the Palestinians under occupation.
In other words, Netanyahu’s government is in the doghouse as I said yesterday, not because of the hostility of Arabs and Muslims, or their media "savvy", but because of the policies of this government and the extremism of its supporters.

The issue then is not limited to the UN General Assembly or the Human Rights Council, but also encompasses Israeli peace advocates and Israeli academicians who oppose such policies and write and boycott [to this end].

In such an atmosphere, the blackout imposed by the traditional media is futile. The news is all over the internet and in blogs, and those who read these blogs are more numerous and more determined when it comes to their exercise of freedom.

The supporters of Israel have lost all credibility. They even now attack J-Street just because it is moderate, and despite the fact that it is pro-Israeli. Their pretext is that the financier George Soros, who is of Hungarian origin, contributes to J-Street. However, Soros is Jewish, and yet, he is being accused of anti-Semitism because he once said that George W. Bush and Israel are factors behind increasing anti-Semitism.

I even read an attack by a Likudnik website against American universities, represented by the Association of American University Presses (AAUP). This association has 135 members, including 95 in the United States and 40 abroad. According to the most recent statistics of the books it publishes (2005), a total of 10159 books were published by the [member] universities.

I did not understand in the beginning the reasons for the attack on university presses which publish books on specialized issues such as the environment, immigration, capitalism, and the history of American warfare. Then I found an item involving Israel which included two books: One on the Israeli nuclear weapons written by Avner Cohen, and it is clear from his name that he is Jewish, and the other on Palestinian women and politics in Israel.

Two books out of ten thousand put the university presses in the dock. In my opinion, such tactics have backfired, and the lies of Israel and its gang abroad no longer fool anyone.

Iran And Karzai

Arab News Editorial published on 26/10/2010

Why does US keep silent about its ally receiving money from a state ‘sponsoring terrorism’?

THE almost 400,000 classified US documents which WikiLeaks has just published on the Internet is meant to tell the real history of US military involvement in Iraq between 2004 and 2009. The whistle-blower organization did the same for Afghanistan in July when it leaked more than 92,000 classified American documents relating to the war there.

Unlike the latest leak, the Afghanistan one made waves, although the revelations were of much the same nature: The main theme in both was the suffering of civilians as a result of the US-led war, criminality and corruption within the two governments concerned and the US turning a blind eye to what was going on.

The Afghanistan leaks also reported Iranian involvement in Afghanistan although little attention was paid to this at the time. Three months on, there is now evidence of that, although what that evidence actually means is hard to ascertain. This week, President Hamid Karzai admitted that his chief of staff had received “bags of money” from Iran but, countering allegations in the New York Times that he received millions of dollars every month from the Iranians, he also insisted that this was purely aid “to help the president’s office” and that the donations were above board.

That Iran would want to make friends with Afghanistan is obvious enough, With the West trying to isolate it and encircle it, it needs all the friends it can get. Moreover, it is Iran’s interests that there be both stability and a friendly strong central government in Afghanistan. It is its neighbor. The last thing it needs is an unfriendly government there.

Why aid would be stashed as cash in bags, however, is another matter. It is anything but the normal method of state-to-state aid and inevitably raises suspicions of murkier dealings. Karzai’s explanations do nothing to dampen them.

However, regardless of the amount involved or what it is for, there is an even more intriguing aspect to the story. It is the American reaction. Washington clearly knows what is going on: WikiLeaks’ disclosures in July show that it keeps a very close eye on what Iran does in Afghanistan. It cannot be happy that a government which the US has installed and 94,000 American soldiers are supporting at vast expense to the US taxpayer is on the payroll of its archenemy. Yet it says nothing.

The reaction would be very different if there were reports that Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal or Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah had been sent bags stuffed with Iranian cash. The airwaves in the US would be screaming about terror funding and proof of Iran’s evil intentions.

In the case of Karzai, the reason the US government says nothing is because there is not much it can do. It certainly does not want to alienate him by publicly criticizing the donations. To do so would also be to invite intense condemnation from the American media that would ask why American soldiers were dying in a far-off country that is taking money from a government deeply hostile to the US. So it turns a blind eye.

Turning a blind eye has, as the Iraq and Afghanistan WikiLeaks revelations show, become an all too regular US policy in both places. It may be politically expedient, but it is not something the American public will appreciate.

Jewish or Israeli?

By Daoud Kuttab
This comment was published in Jordan Times on Thursday 28/10.2010

I have always tried my best to differentiate between Jews and Israelis. It bothers me when Palestinians use these two terms interchangeably.

Every time I cross the Jordan River, I overhear people talk on their cell phones, saying how they just got into the Jewish side, left the Jewish side, or were waiting to go through the Jewish side. Such comments can be heard as people approach or leave an Israeli checkpoint or have any other dealings with Israelis.

Religious preachers use the terms interchangeably when referring to negative actions of the Israelis or the lack of trust in Jewish negotiators, etc.

When I used to cover the Intifada and travel through the occupied territories, I had a similar concern. People would be telling me that Jews came from a certain side, Jewish soldiers beat up someone’s son, Jews shot from behind some trees, statements that referred to the actions of the occupying Israeli forces.

When I would go with foreign journalists, I would have to interpret and I would find myself in a bind, wondering whether I should literally translate words or just refer to the adjective used for the soldiers as Israeli.

Using the word Jew for Israeli is not restricted to Palestinians from certain geographic areas or those from a particular economic background. I would hear it and get upset whenever a university professor or a person from my own family would use the term Jewish referring to Israelis, because I would think of a number of American Jewish friends that I know and who would have nothing to do with the occupiers and the state of Israel, or would be anti-Zionist and share with Palestinians their aspiration to be ?id of the Israeli occupation.

I thought of these terms a lot in recent weeks as we have been inundated with continuous demands by Israel’s leaders that Palestinians not only recognise the state of Israel but its Jewishness as well. These demands also included a set of new laws that the Israeli government has approved, demanding others to refer to the Jewishness of the state and paying little attention to the 20 per cent of the non-Jewish citizens of Israel.

What bothered me was what seems to be a muted reaction from the world’s Jewish population. I can understand the diaspora Jews having special feelings towards the state of Israel for ethnic and religious reasons. But I always thought that those Jews insisted on their local nationality (American, British or Hungarian), while stressing their unique Jewish faith and culture.
Regarding the subject of Jews in the diaspora, I feel that it is problematic to erase differences between Israeli and Jew. The attempts to blur these differences certainly play into the hands of those trying to describe every anti-Israeli action or statement as anti-Semitic.

Palestinians have rejected, and will continue to do so, equating the two terms, for a variety of reasons. Palestinian nationalists insist that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a political national struggle and not a religious one. And although Palestinians have recognised Israelis within the 1967 borders, they totally refuse the concept that Jews have a biblical right to the land of historic Palestine or beyond.

Furthermore, Palestinian leaders will not give up on their brethren who are Palestinian citizens of Israel and whose status would be further hurt by such an attempt that cancels the concept that Israel is the state for its citizens irrespective of their religion.

Right-wing Israeli leaders led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman might think that they have found a winning strategy to obstruct Palestinian demands for an end to their military occupation. Palestinians and most level-headed persons around the world will accept the Palestinian position that Israel can call itself whatever it wants. But by ramming the Jewishness of Israel down the throat of Palestinians, the Israeli leadership is harming the attempts by Jews aro?nd the world to distance themselves from the political state of Israel even if they support it ethnically, culturally and emotionally.

This will have a much longer negative effects on world Jewry than on Palestinians. I hope they will realise this dangerous move and will act to stop it before it is too late.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Who's Interested In Arabism Today?

By Tariq Alhomayed (Editor-In-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat)
This opinion was published in Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday 26/10/2010
An interesting report by the "Washington Post" which was published by our newspaper yesterday highlighted something important about the weakness of the influence that the term "Arabism" currently has in our region in the face of the growth in Islamist movements. This is natural and the result of a number of factors, not just the expansion of [Islamist] fundamentalism, although this is indeed one of the most prominent factors [for the weakening of Arabism]. It is enough to consider the connection – even if unintentional – between the most important components of political Islam, including extremism and its spread via soft power, to the demise of the concept of the state, which eliminates the sense of Arabism.
The most prominent axis in this connection [between political Islam and the demise of the concept of the state] is the Khomeini Revolution, and it is sufficient to see what it is doing today in Iraq and Lebanon, with regards to Hezbollah who we will return to deal with later in detail as a manifest example [of this], not to mention the Muslim Brotherhood. The best example here is the pledge of allegiance that is made to the Supreme Leader [of Iran] which clearly contradicts a citizen's pledge of allegiance to the [national] ruler. The Muslim Brotherhood also, of course, does not believe in the concept of the state, but rather the Islamic ummah [nation], which is why the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide once said "to hell with Egypt!"
There is also the Al Qaeda organization which does not recognize states or borders, for example when the organization wants to refer to Saudi Arabia, it uses the term “the Arabian Peninsula”.
However, as we noted above, it is not only the Islamists who contribute to weakening Arabism, and the following paradox may raise the eyebrows of some readers. The Arab League – whether purposefully or not – is also contributing to weakening the sense of Arabism today, by falling into the trap of [opening up to] "neighboring countries" and in particular opening the door to Iran which until today is sensitive towards the term the "Arabian Gulf." There is also secular Syria, the ally of the fundamentalist party Hezbollah; or Arabist Syria which is balancing its relations with Iran by opening up towards Turkey, rather than the Arab states.
Let us return to the subject of Hezbollah as a model of organized operation to weaken the sense of Arabism. In news that was first reported by Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday in an article under the headline "In 1986 Nasrallah Explicitly Stated: We do not believe in a State called Lebanon" a video of a 1986 speech by the Hezbollah chief has been posted on the internet. In this speech, Nasrallah stated that "we do not believe in a state called Lebanon, but rather in the greater Islamic State. Lebanon and this region are for Islam and Muslims, and they must be governed by Islam and Muslims. We do not have a system to rule Lebanon, we must first remove the Israeli colonialist situation [in the region]…afterwards we can implement our project which we – as ideological believers – have no choice but to adopt, and this is the project of an Islamic State and Islamic rule. This is not for Lebanon to be a sole Islamic Republic, but for it to be part of the Greater Islamic Republic that is ruled by the Hidden Imam and his deputy, according to the concept of the Wilayat al-Faqih [Guardianship of the Jurists] Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. I could not remain for one moment within the framework of Hezbollah, if I was not certain that this party was connected through its hierarchy to the Wali al-Faqih."
These are just observations, and this subject requires more extensive research, however the question that must be asked here is important; is it possible, after all of these organized destructive efforts, to keep the sense of Arabism alive, especially considering that many Arab regimes have suppressed all ideological current that are contrary to radical thought?
I don’t think so.

No Amnesty For Those Who Do Not Appreciate It

Jameel Theyabi
This comment was published in al-Hayat on Monday 25 October 2010
There is a saying that goes as follows: “Slap me once, shame on you. Slap me twice, shame on me.” In other words, if my cheek receives a sudden slap from you, it is your fault because I thought well of you and did not expect you to behave meanly toward me. However, if you are able to slap me a second time, it is my fault and my problem, and may be due to my naïveté, because I was unable to stop you and keep you from repeating that “slap.” This confirms the necessity of benefiting from the experiences and taking the necessary precautions and safety measures to prevent the reproduction of the same mistakes, so that we are not stung from the same hole twice.

The war on terrorism is ongoing and the extremists are still planning and recruiting new terrorist elements to kill, intimidate, bomb and destroy, after their veins were imbued and their minds filled with ideas of Takfir that allow bloodshed, murder and the atonement of the state and the people while awaiting to embrace the “Maidens of Paradise” and the establishment of a Caliphate that would reflect their intentions and terrorist ideas. In the past years, and especially following the detonation of residential compounds in Riyadh and the booby-trapping of Korans in Al-Khalidiya apartment in Holy Mecca, the Saudi security bodies learned many lessons, thus acquiring wide experience and sufficient know-how to manage the war on terrorism. Consequently, they were able to protect the country from the intents of Al-Qaeda and its errant elements. They even managed to thwart terrorist acts that targeted Western and Arab countries through the delivery of accurate security information.

I believe we have accumulated enough experiences to keep us from repeating the mistakes. Ever since the amnesty offered by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, in favor of the elements of the errant factions who surrendered and readopted the right path, a large number of those arrested were released when the Interior Ministry saw that their behavior and conduct had changed.

Some of the wanted men and elements who graduated from the Guantanamo camp and received psychological and social rehabilitation as well as private counseling at the Mohammed Bin Nayef Center for Care and Counseling, relapsed and went back to Al-Qaeda before surrendering again. This was the case of Mohammed al-Oufi and Jaber al-Fifi. In the meantime, others among their companions are still evildoers and continue to constitute a threat, as is the case of Sa’id al-Shihri in Yemen. Unfortunately, some of the latter dealt with the amnesty as though it were a frail and confused one rather than a strong and carefully-chosen one – thus lying and exploiting the amnesty and their release following their rehabilitation and the improvement of their situation, in order to return to Al-Qaeda, detonate the country and intimidate the people. This calls for a thorough reading into the reasons and the causes.

During the past stage, two wanted men voluntarily surrendered. They are Badr al-Shihri from Pakistan and Jaber al-Fifi from Yemen. The latter had been repatriated from the Guantanamo detention camp and had joined the advisory program. However, he escaped and joined the Al-Qaeda organization in Yemen along with his companion Al-Shihri, until he discovered – as he claimed - the size of Al-Qaeda’s lies, errors and bad intentions.

The Saudi government received these returnees, ignored their mistakes and provided them with housing, treatment and decent living. Still, there is a logical fear of seeing them slapping the country a third time, as it was done by suicide bomber Abdullah al-Asiri who carried out the failed attempted assassination of Assistant Minister of Interior Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef. Indeed, the man pretended to be remorseful and claimed to have recanted his ideas, thus countering the amnesty that was extended to him with the “dagger” of treason and deceit, causing his body to be torn apart in a pit he dug for someone else.

A few days ago, the Al-Qaeda organization in Yemen aired a tape about the attempted assassination of Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef. Its military commander, Qassem al-Rimi, assured as he swore by Allah that the attempts to target the country’s leaders, security and stability will continue, saying verbatim: “We will get you in your offices and we will get you in your bedrooms.

We thus advise you to search your beds before going to sleep.” The likes of the latter among those who do not appreciate amnesties or pardons and who listen to Al-Rimi, deserve to be slapped and be handled with the language of power, so that their intentions backfire on them in a more painful way, after they resorted to bombings and acts of Takfir with a bloody wish activated by hatred and spite.

I am not opposed to the counseling program because ideas should be faced with ideas. However, we must make sure that these elements have healed from their criminal illnesses, so that they do not pose a threat to others. Nonetheless, I am opposed to the “pampering” of these criminals through the support offered to them by the government, with monthly allowances, the payment of the costs of their marriages, treatments and housing, while other Saudi young people are suffering from unemployment and are unable to find a place of residence for their families. If those involved in terrorism are compared to the youth of the country who never left its soil and never hurt it in any way, the former terrorized the people, had evil intentions and exercised treason and deceit.

They also planned killings and explosions and lacked any educational qualifications. In the meantime, the young moderate people of the country are working hard. Some of them are unemployed and unable to build homes for their families, despite the fact that they carry degrees, and most importantly enjoy patriotic sentiments.

The terrorist elements must therefore know that the door of pardon is not wide open before them and the stories of their waywardness in order to take into account their insanity and terrorism.

They should know that there can be no forgiveness for those who do not make peace with themselves and reconcile with others. There is no pardon for those who do not appreciate pardon and realize that the country belongs to all. Those who undermine the citizens’ security deserve sanctions, and not forgiveness, incentives, comforting and justifications by saying they were “duped!”