Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Path To Middle East Peace

By Jimmy Carter
This commentary was published in the Qatar Tribune on 28/05/2011 
It was not a new US policy concerning the borders of Israel, nor should it have been surprising to Israeli leaders, when President Obama stated: “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states.” UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967, concluded the war of that year and has been widely acknowledged by all parties to be the basis for a peace agreement.

Its key phrases are, “Emphasising the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” and “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” These included the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, plus lands belonging to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria.

At Camp David in 1978, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat accepted the following words: “The agreed basis for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and its neighbours is United Nations Security Council resolution 242, in all its parts.” Specifically concerning the West Bank and Gaza, the Israelis and Egyptians mutually agreed: “In order to provide full autonomy to the inhabitants under these arrangements the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of these areas.

...” As a result of the Oslo Accords of 1993, a self-governing authority was freely elected in January 1996, with Yasir Arafat as president and 88 Parliament members.

The International Quartet’s Roadmap for Peace in April 2003, supported by President George W. Bush, began with these words: “A settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors.

The settlement will resolve the Israel- Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967.

...” In addition, all 23 Arab nations and all 56 Islamic nations have offered peace and normal relations with Israel, but called upon Israel to affirm: “Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967.

...” All these statements assume, of course, that Israel may live in peace within its internationally recognized borders — but not including territories it occupied during the 1967 war.

Israel withdrew from Egypt’s Sinai as a result of the 1979 peace treaty, but still occupies and is colonizing with settlers the Golan Heights of Syria, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

(When I was negotiating during the 1970s, it was clear that neither Israel nor Egypt wanted to retain control of Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in August 2005, but continues to hold under siege.) For more than three decades, Israel’s occupation of Arab land has been the key unresolved issue.

Stated simply, Israel must give up the occupied land in exchange for peace.

There has never been any question regarding the occupied territory in international law as expressed through United Nations resolutions, the official policies of the United States, nor those of the International Quartet (the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia).

A number of peace proposals have included the caveat found in President Obama’s recent speech: that the pre- 1967 border can be modified as a result of mutually agreeable land swaps to permit Israeli settlers in areas close to Jerusalem to remain in what is now occupied Palestinian territory, with an equivalent amount of Israeli land to be transferred to the Palestinians.

One interesting proposal that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made to me in 2005 was that this exchanged land might comprise a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank (about 35 miles), on which a railroad and highway could be built.

It would be provided security by Israelis but owned and operated by Palestinians.

This is just one possibility.

Two recent developments add urgency to the peace process: moves to unite the major Palestinian factions so they can negotiate with a single voice, and the potential vote in the UN General Assembly in September to recognize Palestine as a state.

It is likely that about 150 UN members are prepared to take this action.

The only viable peace alternative is good faith negotiations, with the key issue remaining the same: Israel’s willingness to withdraw from the occupied territories, with the exception of small land swaps as mutually agreed with the Palestinians.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of US, is the founder of the Carter Center. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

A Tale From The Frontline Of Palestinian Protest

By Robert Fisk 
This commentary was published in The Independent on 28/05/2011

I went to see Munib Masri in his Beirut hospital bed yesterday morning.

He is part of the Arab revolution, although he doesn't see it that way. He looked in pain – he was in pain – with a drip in his right arm, a fever, and the fearful wounds caused by an Israeli 5.56mm bullet that hit his arm. Yes, an Israeli bullet – because Munib was one of thousands of young and unarmed Palestinians and Lebanese who stood in their thousands in front of the Israeli army's live fire two weeks ago on the very border of the land they call "Palestine".

"I was angry, mad – I'd just seen a small child hit by the Israelis," Munib said to me. "I walked nearer the border fence. The Israelis were shooting so many people. When I got hit, I was paralysed. My legs gave way. Then I realised what had happened. My friends carried me away." I asked Munib if he thought he was part of the Arab Spring. No, he said, he was just protesting at the loss of his land. "I liked what happened to Egypt and Tunisia. I am glad I went to the Lebanese border, but I also regret it."

Which is not surprising. More than 100 unarmed protesters were wounded in the Palestinian-Lebanese demonstration to mark the 1948 expulsion and exodus of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in Mandate Palestine – six were killed – and among the youngest of those hit by bullets were two little girls. One was six, the other eight. More targets of Israel's "war on terror", I suppose, although the bullet that hit Munib, a 22-year old geology student at the American University of Beirut, did awful damage. It penetrated his side, cut through his kidney, hit his spleen and then broke up in his spine. I held the bullet in my hand yesterday, three sparkling pieces of brown metal that had shattered inside Munib's body. He is, of course, lucky to be alive.

And I guess lucky to be an American citizen, much good did it do him. The US embassy sent a female diplomat to see his parents at the hospital, Munib's mother Mouna told me. "I am devastated, sad, angry – and I don't wish this to happen to any Israeli mother. The American diplomats came here to the hospital and I explained the situation of Munib. I said: 'I would like you to give a message to your government – to put pressure on them to change their policies here. If this had happened to an Israeli mother, the world would have gone upside down.' But she said to me: 'I'm not here to discuss politics. We're here for social support, to evacuate you if you want, to help with payments.' I said that I don't need any of these things – I need you to explain the situation."

Any US diplomat is free to pass on a citizen's views to the American government but this woman's response was all too familiar. Munib, though an American, had been hit by the wrong sort of bullet. Not a Syrian bullet or an Egyptian bullet but an Israeli bullet, a bad kind to discuss, certainly the wrong kind to persuade an American diplomat to do anything about it. After all, when Benjamin Netanyahu gets 55 ovations in Congress – more than the average Baath party congress in Damascus – why should Munib's government care about him?

In reality, he has been to "Palestine" many times – Munib's family comes from Beit Jala and Bethlehem and he knows the West Bank well, though he told me he was concerned he might be arrested when he next returns. Being a Palestinian isn't easy, though, whichever side of the border you're on. Mouna Masri was enraged when her sister asked her husband to renew her residency in east Jerusalem. "The Israelis insisted that she must fly from London herself even though they knew she was having chemotherapy.

"I was in Palestine only two days before Munib was hurt, visiting my father-in-law in Nablus. I saw all the family and I was happy but I missed Munib very much and so I returned to Beirut. He was very excited about the march to the border. There were three or four buses taking students and faculty from the university here and he got up at 6.55 on the Sunday morning. At about 4pm, Munib's aunt Mai called and asked if there was any news and I began to feel uneasy. Then I had a call from my husband saying Munib had been wounded in the leg."

It was far worse. Munib lost so much blood that doctors at the Bent Jbeil hospital thought he would die. The United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon – disastrously absent from the Maroun al-Ras section of the border during the five-hour demonstration – flew him by helicopter to Beirut. Many of those who travelled to the border with him had come from the refugee camps and – unlike Munib – had never visited the land from which their parents came. Indeed, in some cases, they had never even seen it.

Munib's aunt Mai described how many of those who had gone on the march and by bus to the frontier felt a breeze coming across the border from what is now Israel. "They breathed it in, like it was a kind of freedom," she said. There you have it.

Munib may not believe he is part of the Arab Spring but he is part of the Arab awakening. Even though he has a home in the West Bank, he decided to walk with the dispossessed whose homes lie inside what is now Israel. "There was a lack of fear," his Uncle Munzer said. "These people wanted dignity. And with dignity comes success." Which is what the people of Tunisia cried. And of Egypt. And of Yemen, and of Bahrain, and of Syria. I suspect that Obama, despite his cringing to Netanyahu, understands this. It was what, in his rather craven way, he was trying to warn the Israelis about. The Arab awakening embraces the Palestinians too.

The Muslim Brotherhood As Helicopter Parent

By Nathan J. Brown 
This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 27/05/2011

Soon after I began teaching, a student came to my office hours because she had been ill and missed a portion of the class. That was not unusual -- but what did seem a bit out of the ordinary was that she brought her mother. I explained to the student that she could take an incomplete but that I advised this only as a last resort, since it would not be easy to make up the work after she had begun a new set of courses the next semester. Her mother piped in, "He's right honey. You know how I feel about incompletes." I had encountered my first "helicopter parent"-- those who hover closely over their grown sons and daughters, monitoring their choices, offering unsolicited advice, and intervening in their daily interactions.

There is no image that better captures the behavior of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood toward the political party it claims only to be launching, and that may be a problem for Egyptian democracy. The new Freedom and Justice Party will be free, says the parent Muslim Brotherhood, to make its own choices. But the Brotherhood as helicopter parent cannot resist suggesting to its offspring who the new party's leaders will be, what it stands for, how it will be organized, who should join it, and who its candidates will be. The party is completely independent in decision making -- so long as it does precisely what it is told. And actually, it is not only the party that is being told what to do -- individual members of the Brotherhood movement have been told to join no other party and to obey movement discipline in the political realm. This kind of relationship between movement and party is already making the Brotherhood a difficult partner for other political actors; over the long term, it may make the Islamists awkward electoral actors.

A close relationship between party and movement was to be expected, but this relationship is more than close; it is micromanaged. In a recent meeting of the Muslim Brotherhood's Consultative Council (a policy making body with approximately 100 members that had not been able to gather in the Mubarak years for fear of arrest), as well as in a series of other decisions widely reported in the Egyptian press, the protective parent movement has taken the following steps:
  • After repeatedly insisting that the party would be able to select its own leader, the Brotherhood has been unable to resist giving its offspring an unusually generous gift: three members of its top body, the Guidance Bureau, will move over to the party to run it.All three (Muhammad Mursi, Saad al-Katatni, and Issam al-Iryan) are skilled and experienced in all sorts of ways -- in speaking to the press, organizing and running movement affairs, and serving as parliamentarians.While their personalities are very different, all come across as very capable figures. But all three also stand out as very loyal to the Brotherhood movement.
  • The movement (and not the party) is also said to have put the finishing touches on the party platform. And that platform is not likely to be a terse or vague document; earlier leaked drafts suggested a very detailed set of policy proposals.
  • The movement has not only written the party's platform, it has also approved its bylaws.In the process, it has left its very strong imprint.Those bylaws, for instance, make clear that the party is dedicated to peaceful and gradual reform along Islamic lines. Reform of what? The party aims to "reform the individual, the family, the society, the government, and then institutions of the state." Reforming political institutions is standard stuff. But it takes a very special kind of political party to tell voters that it wants to reform them and their families as well.Actually, that is the traditional mission of the parent Brotherhood movement -- it makes much more sense for a movement like the Brotherhood to focus on helping its members improve themselves than it does for a party to run on reforming the individual and the family as a program
  • The movement (and not the party) has decided that it will contest up to one-half of the seats in parliament. (Earlier, movement leaders had consistently suggested they would seek at most one-third of the seats, though they were often careful to add that no final decision had been made.) The raised electoral horizons for the party were not well explained -- the most plausible argument was that competing for the extra seats would be the best way to ensure that the party would wind up with the target it seems to want: something like one-quarter to one-third of parliamentary seats; the crossed signals surrounding the decision may have also been an outcome of transferring authority from the small and more cohesive Guidance Bureau to the larger, more diverse, and less wieldy Consultative Council.
  • The movement is not only determining the number of candidates for upcoming parliamentary elections; it also seems to be picking the names.According to at least one account, the movement is actually preparing separate candidate lists, some for a party list system(full of skilled parliamentarians), and some for a district-based system (full of those likely to serve their local constituencies well).The final list of candidates will therefore not be determined until the new electoral law makes clear the blend of list and district voting.
  • The movement has also made clear how much it expects its members to be bound by its guidance in the political realm. Brotherhood members are not required to join the party, but they are told not to join any other.The movement decided that its members will not contest the presidency; if former Guidance Bureau members Abd al-Minaam Abu al-Futuh actually files for candidacy, that will likely be grounds to evict the estranged leader from the organization. There are numerous accounts that the Brotherhood is going beyond telling its members what not to do; local branches are also reportedly suggesting which of their members should go into the political work of the party.
When pressed about their close management of the party, movement officials react defensively: this is only to get the party off the ground, they claim. Once it is founded, it is free to evolve as its members see fit. But with its structure, leaders, members, and program so closely shaped by the movement, it is not likely it will evolve very much at all.

The movement is currently exploring its options in realms far from the political sphere. It has suggested intentions of forming youth clubs, broadcast media, and even soccer teams (leading to some Egyptians joking that Brotherhood players will follow the path of the political party by seeking only to tie every game). If the Brotherhood does develop in so many different directions while keeping close control over the various aspects of the movement, it will post difficulties for Egyptian democratic institutions. Historically, it is precisely the Brotherhood's broad focus and diverse interests that has made it a difficult coalition partner. When a secular political leader sits down with someone from the Brotherhood, he or she finds that the potential partner is cautious, anxious to protect a broad range of activities, and wary about committing to specific agendas or compromise over programmatic issues.

Recently the Brotherhood's general guide explained that while the movement stands for democracy and freedom, it did so within an Islamic reference and that "democracy cannot make permitted what is forbidden, or forbid what is permitted" in religious terms, "even if the entire nation agrees to it." Such a general formula actually has an ironically populist resonance in what remains a fairly conservative and religious society. The problem will come when the movement's leaders watch closely to ensure that the party interpret that general formula in accordance with its own strict instructions. Other political actors will likely find that a Brotherhood party tied closely to such a movement to be a difficult partner in the rough-and-tumble game of democratic politics. And indeed, the revolutionary coalition that brought down Husni Mubarak is already showing serious signs of fraying over precisely such issues. The Brotherhood absented itself from some recent meetings and demonstrations held by other political forces with an oppositional flavor. But it did not hesitate to send its representatives to an official sanctioned gathering.

The close relationship with the movement will probably serve the party well in the electoral realm -- in the short term. It will have a nationwide army of dedicated workers to organize its campaign. But in the long term, the movement and party have very different organizational impulses. A party interested in winning elections wants to attract large numbers of voters. A movement interested in an ideological mission is more concerned with the level of commitment of its core supporters. In recent days, a former Brotherhood parliamentarian was videotaped telling Brotherhood members that they should only marry within the movement. It is that sort of insular attitude -- one that served the movement well under harsh authoritarian conditions -- that makes the transition to mass democratic politics such a challenge. But with the close watch the movement is keeping over the party, the tension between seeking large numbers of votes and fulfilling the movement's mission is not likely to be felt over the short term.

To compare the Freedom and Justice Party to my student contemplating an incomplete is not an exact analogy. When it comes to democratic transformation, the party's helicopter parent is giving its offspring the precise opposite advice to that provided by my student's mother: it is very much recommending an incomplete.

Nathan J. Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The Whiff Of Revenge Taints The Arab Spring

By David Ignatius 
This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 28/05/2011 

“Revenge, at first though sweet, Bitter ere long back on itself recoils.” The wisdom of that couplet from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” extends in many directions. But let’s consider the context of the Arab Spring and its transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Revolutions can go off the rails for many reasons. But history shows that one of the most dangerous (if also understandable) mistakes is the desire to settle scores with the deposed regime. That toxic whiff of revenge has been in the air lately in Egypt, and it poses a danger for the Tahrir Revolution and the other movements that emulate it.
The New York Times reported last week that Egypt’s transitional military council intends to try deposed President Hosni Mubarak for conspiring to kill unarmed protesters. Conviction could mean the death penalty. The new regime also plans to prosecute Mubarak and his two sons, along with a wave of business cronies, on charges of corruption.

This prosecutorial zeal has frightened conservative Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which has warned that it won’t provide economic assistance to Egypt if Mubarak is humiliated. But the greater danger is that Egyptian and international investors will steer clear of the country if they think doing business there might expose them to legal risks.
Sen. John Kerry had it right when he told a gathering of the trustees of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last week that a vengeful legal assault on Mubarak would be an “enormous mistake.” The biggest cost, Kerry said, is that it would undermine the economic strategy of innovation, investment and entrepreneurship that was the overlooked centerpiece of President Obama’s big speech on the Middle East.

What’s needed in Egypt and the other Arab countries that have suffered from dictatorship is a sense that the rule of law will prevail, with safeguards against vindictive prosecution. This protective legal framework is as important as democracy itself, which as Alexander Hamilton and other American founders warned more than 200 years ago can be bent to become the tyrannical will of the mob.
On my visits to Egypt since the Tahrir Revolution, I have been struck by the growing polarization between Christians and Muslims and the vindictiveness against Mubarak’s family and friends. It’s nice to see Egyptians lining up at newspaper kiosks (to buy real newspapers, as opposed to canned official lies), but my Cairo friends say that too many headlines carry the implicit message, “Off with their heads!”

There’s a difference between accountability for the crimes of the past, which is healthy, and a spirit of vengeance, which is not. South Africa sought that balance with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which denounced apartheid but also tried to reassure whites that they had a future in a multiracial democracy. Rwanda has struggled to craft a similar process that reconciles Hutus who perpetrated the 1994 genocide with the Tutsi victims (who now run the country).
Neither the South African nor the Rwandan efforts have been entirely successful. But both established a legal process of justice that had reconciliation as its explicit goal, which checked the impulse for vengeance.

Failure to develop such a framework can have disastrous consequences. The French Revolution of 1789 was inflamed by the Committee of Public Safety and its practice of national purification by guillotine; the Iranian revolution of 1979 was manipulated by zealots who, from the first months, began purging those they judged insufficiently devoted to Ayatollah Khomeini.
Finding a post-revolutionary path to reconciliation is especially important in the Middle East, whose nations are mosaics of different religions, tribes and clans. Unless an inclusive spirit of “truth and reconciliation” can be nurtured, these countries will fracture into pre-modern loyalties, as happened in post-Hussein Iraq.

This transition process is especially volatile in Syria, where a blood feud between the ruling Alawite minority and the Sunni majority has been building since the 1970s. Exacerbating this religious fracture is the regional tension between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
For an example of how the blood feuds of the past can poison the present, one need look no further than the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Both sides are so embedded in their narratives that they can’t write the common document of a peace treaty. They could use a little truth and reconciliation, too.

As the Arab Spring rolls forward, the new revolutionaries must build pathways to a stable and tolerant future, even as they take proper account of the past. Otherwise, as the movie title had it, “there will be blood.”

Lebanon: Unjust Rewards

This editorial was published in The Daily Star on 28/05/2011 

The explosion that wounded six Italian peacekeepers is of course a tragedy not only for the casualties and for UNIFIL – obviously – but also for Lebanon, underlining how the country is losing its grip on its traditionally tenuous stability.

It must be remembered that the Italian troops – as well as all the members of UNIFIL – have left their countries on a mission to secure peace for Lebanon and to protect it from conflict and harm. An assault on them means an assault on Lebanon and its stability.
Friday’s bombing in Sidon, however, needs to be put into the context of what is happening in Syria and the region. Given the resolve coalescing in Europe and the U.S. against the relentless crackdown undertaken by President Bashar Assad’s regime, the attack could also represent a message to Europe – and the other nations which provide UNIFIL troops – that pushing Syria will have consequences.

The bombing could also be meant to serve as a way to divert attention from the events in Syria by puncturing the fragile calm in Lebanon. Indeed, Lebanon has almost always been a weak state, with a wide array of armed groups operating here in the interests of outside powers. The country has compiled a sad litany of violent incidents intended merely to send a message from one power center to another through mayhem and the loss of civilian lives.
At this time, Lebanon also finds itself tumbling toward its fifth month without a government, so the attack also underscores the worsening absence of authority. Economic and social conditions are spiraling downward, and Friday’s explosion adds the country’s security conditions to the list of the endangered. Not that Lebanon was a paragon of security before Friday – the seven Estonian cyclists are still missing, without any substantial clue of their whereabouts or their kidnappers.

The sorry irony of the Sidon attack is that the Italian Embassy in Beirut had just announced that 50 Italian businesspeople from some 47 companies and associations would be taking part in Project Lebanon 2011. The Italian contingent would be the largest European presence at the construction and environmental-technology trade fair and the largest Italian role to date.
Friday’s attack thus sends a message to Italy about Lebanon: in return for UNIFIL troops, as well as trust and confidence in Lebanon’s prospects, Italian peacekeepers will be the targets of murderous violence.

Regardless of the situation in neighboring countries, Lebanon is sliding toward the category of failed state. The Lebanese authorities must immediately determine and arrest the perpetrators of the Sidon bombing; but who really has any confidence that they will do so? The Italian peacekeepers deserve respect for their sacrifices, but Lebanon’s leaders must recognize the attack as a message to take steps instantly to earn back the respect of the international community.

Hezbollah Parrots Iran

By Ahmed Al-Jarallah  
This commentary was published in The Arab Times on 28/05/2011

Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, in his recent speech, did not go beyond the instructions given by his masters in Tehran. He did not say anything new and made the same attacking noises as ever. 

Nasrallah, however, revealed in clear terms his political identity and his passion for political assassinations, maiming, killing and massacres which are the hallmarks of his identity and which do not require further explanations or proof beyond incidents of the past years. The last of such acts includes support to the mysterious massacres perpetrated by security agents and monstrous gangs against citizens who are just demanding reform in Syria. Nasrallah calls for giving the bloody government a chance, which in reality means encouraging further bloodletting and detention of people in prisons. The Syrian government, instead of adopting an amicable solution by implementing reforms, chose the language of force as a means of dialogue with citizens.

It is not surprising that Nasrallah described the Syrian Baath government as ‘resistant’ and reformist. We can imagine the kind of resistance the Baathi government has been making as the Syrian-Israeli border has been peaceful for the past 40 years and it did not take any notable action to liberate Golan Heights from occupation. What kind of resistance permits dialogues with Israel? As for reforms, President Assad has been talking about it for the past 11 years, but citizens only see killings, detention, and intensified restrictions on their liberty and freedom of expression. It seems Nasrallah and his party, which perpetrate the worst clampdown on people’s liberty in areas they control through a parallel government against the country’s wishes, consider the gagging of people’s mouths, political assassinations and oppressing the populace as resistance and reform. 

Nasrallah remained silent for one month and when he spoke he deliberately distorted facts and upturned the balance by calling the Persian expansionist conspiracy a revolution. And he described revolution against the oppressive government as a conspiracy. Does he think people can be swayed by outdated speeches that can’t even convince toddlers? 

It is clear that any stoppage of finance from Iran to Hezbollah, as well as closure of the ‘destructive door’ by Syria will make Nasrallah and his resistance group a forgone issue. Also, those who hail him now will turn against him and all his legions will hide in North Lebanon and none will remain in the South. In such a scenario, all his so-called missiles will become useless. There is a popular saying ‘I am speaking to the daughter-in-law for my neighbor to hear.’ In this case, Nasrallah is threatening Israel through his menacing speech to Lebanese people and is trying to show off that he has ammunition. According to one of his speeches, Israel should listen to him or else it will witness another “May 7 seventy fold.”  

The last speech of Nasrallah was possibly revelation of bankruptcy, because all keen followers noticed horror, panic, haste and jitteriness. He could not hide his fear of the unknown after Iranian citizens took to the street demanding their freedom, as well as by the outcry against Nasrallah and his party. The implosion in the Iranian government and intense international sanctions on the country have gradually dried the sea of finance. The problem is complicated by indications of Syrian government collapse due to the national revolution. This means Nasrallah has read a speech to condole his party and the wicked governments that were protecting him.

Iraq's Quest For Stability

Mohammad Akef Jamal writes: Insecurity was due to an internal failure that was magnified by foreign interference, and can only be resolved by the people 
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 28/05/2011

The concept of stability is an important part in the life of any individual in any location around the world. Stability at all levels is considered by all strategists as a guarantee to the success of plans set by people and community establishments.

On the economic level, experts do not hide their contentment with the stability of financial markets, while consumers are happy when commodity prices become stable, and any family with an ailing member is glad when his medical reports point to a stable health condition. In any given country, stability is its biggest security guarantee. Moreover, there are elements that have to be achieved to attain stability; Some are political, others are economic, and others still are cultural. Furthermore, some of these stability elements are related to foreign, regional, and international balance of power.

Since the fall of the former Iraqi regime in 2003, many Iraq-related researchers point to the new unstable phase in the country's history. This deduction is not accurate, as stability was not always present in Iraq. Looking at the country's history, it would be correct to point out that neither during Iraq's monarchy phase nor its republican phase had it witnessed complete stability.

Nevertheless, the country hit its height of instability after the July 14, 1958 revolution which paved the way for a series of military coups and the accompanying political assassinations and killings.

The occupation of Iraq in 2003 added new foreign and internal instability factors.

It also contributed towards awakening forces with clashing interests, and vague intentions from a long hibernation. These forces pushed instability to new and unprecedented levels, transforming the country into a conflict arena, between different forces, each with a different agenda.

Security void

Lately, Iraq's instability, the reasons behind it, and its repercussions has been the topic discussed, coinciding with the approaching year's end when the US troops pullout from Iraq is due, according to the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the US and Iraq. The stability issue is also connected to the security void to be left behind after the US forces walk out of the country. Hence, many lawmakers in Parliament have called for the setting up of a Regional Strategic Cooperation Council to include Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and a number of other neighbouring countries to maintain and preserve Iraq's security and stability.

Such calls will also lead us to investigate the foundations these councils rest upon, because of their importance at many levels.

Entering strategic cooperation councils demands a commitment to its rules and regulations determined by political, economic, or military frameworks, and also calls for procedures and precautions to face dangers from one or more countries, or to pay dues resulting from environment or climate conditions in the specific geographic location.

These coalitions and councils are usually set up to achieve political, economic, security, or military goals between countries that have similar if not identical strategic visions. These countries may also have joint perceptions to the sources of threat, and all their regimes enjoy stability which they are keen to maintain through such alliances.

There are many alliances that have been built and set up on similar foundations, such as Nato, the Warsaw Pact, the Baghdad Pact, the GCC, the Opec, and other pacts and treaties.

Countries which enjoy stability benefit from these coalitions, as they provide additional security, while unstable countries such as Iraq become the victim of such pacts. Furthermore, when such countries enter these pacts, it will be at the expense of their interest and will not gain anything.

Instability in Iraq is due to an internal failure that was magnified by foreign interference.

Finally, only the Iraqi people can maintain stability in their country through rectifying the political process.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.

The Required Arab Response to Netanyahu

By Raghida Dergham  from New York
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 27/05/2011

The preconditions put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech before the joint session of the Senate and the U.S. House this week, are his and Israel’s onus alone. The most appropriate Arab response to the strategic framework proposed by Netanyahu for the peace process is to ignore it and act on the basis that this affair does not concern the Arabs. Each of the Arab and Israeli sides has its own visions and strategic frameworks, and within each camp, there are disagreements on both essence and implementation. At the end of the road, however, everybody’s options are limited.

Just like war with Israel is not an option for the Arabs, war with the latter at this juncture is not option for Israel either. The Israeli government seeks to preserve the status quo intact. But nonetheless, Israel fears that this may not be possible amid the winds of change blowing across the region. For this reason, Israel proposes peace offers that it has already constrained with impossible conditions with the aim of evading the implementation of the two-state solution […].
Once again, Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to retreat forward to avoid the commitments of peace-making, and to extend the status quo between war and peace, while continuing to manipulate the Palestinian fate through occupation and the postponement of the two-state solution. In this regard, Netanyahu was perhaps most angered by President Barack Obama’s reference in his speech, to the Palestinians’ “right of self-determination”, in addition to the strategic framework proposed by Obama for the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, namely, two states along the armistice lines of 1967, with land swaps agreed upon by both sides.

Netanyahu wanted to go ahead with the peace ‘process’ but without arriving at any outcome. For this reason, he was furious at what Obama said; that it is time to clearly define the goal of these negotiations. Netanyahu also found change on the Arab arena an excuse to postpone serious negotiations for the establishment of the Palestinian state. However, Obama responded by saying, “I do not agree”, that the time is not appropriate now, but rather the opposite is true. Netanyahu thus became more and more furious. However, it is not the U.S. President alone who provoked the ire of the Israeli Prime Minister, but also a considerable segment of Israeli society that opposes his hindrance and obstruction of the two-state solution. He was also infuriated by a significant proportion of American Jews who want to see a permanent solution and who challenge the domination of the Jewish organizations active in the United States to impose their extremist ideas when it comes to Israel, even at the expense of American national interests. Benjamin Netanyahu thus turned to AIPAC, one of these Jewish organizations, to protect him from Obama’s pressure on him to make peace. However, his strongest sanctuary by far was the U.S. Congress, and its blind support for any Israeli government, even if this government’s policies run contrary to the interests of Israel itself.

Certain media outlets, especially television networks, showed the same amount of subservience to Netanyahu as the U.S. Congress, and carried sound bites and snippets from Netanyahu’s speech, for the purposes of media sensationalism, in an amazing show of naivety. However, this does not invalidate another reality on the U.S. scene, be it the media, the public opinion, the government or in policymaking circles, which is the explicit disagreement with the Israeli Prime Minister and his prohibitive ideas for the peace process. The Congress is solitary among U.S. official institutions, which have lined up behind the strategic framework adopted by the U.S. President. This is while bearing in mind that the State Department, the National Security Council and also the Department of Defense are all in agreement with the gist of Obama’s speech, as they consider the matter at hand to be at the core of U.S. national interests. At the international level as well, Netanyahu is leading Israel to major isolation by rejecting the internationally recognized foundations of the two-state solution.

Today, there are four initiatives or proposals, either conflicting or complementary to one another, regarding the Arab-Israeli question:

* The Arab Peace Initiative, which offers recognition of and peaceful coexistence with Israel, in return for its withdrawal to the 1967 lines to end the occupation and allow the establishment of the Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

* The non-governmental Israeli initiative for peace proposed by 40 prominent politicians, and military and cultural figures in Israel, which came as a response to the Arab Peace Initiative. The signatories included the former head of the Shin Bet and former IDF Chief of Staff, as well as former head of the Mossad, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s son and others. The crux of this initiative is that the Palestinian state must be established on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied in 1967, with land swaps, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the status of the Palestine refugees must be settled either through reparations or their return to the Palestinian state, except for some cases whereby some refugees are allowed to return to Israel proper.

* The U.S. President’s initiative is very similar to the unofficial Israel initiative, which revolves around the fundamentals laid down by the former Democratic President Bill Clinton, and the vision of the former Republican President George W. Bush, who in turn had spoken about putting an end to the occupation of the territories of 1967. However, what’s new about Obama’s proposal is that it has clearly set out the features of the outcome of the negotiations, with two states on the basis of the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps, thereby putting an end the ‘process’ lasting indefinitely. In other words, he said something to the effect of, that the two states must have boundaries and the process must have limits, because patience, too, has its limits.

* The official Israeli initiative as put forward by Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress, outlines the conditions for implementing the two-state solution by rejecting the 1967 lines, and keeping the settlements, while insisting on Jerusalem as a unified capital of Israel, in addition to security guarantees that comprise permanent Israeli military deployment along the Jordan River. This is in addition to prior recognition by the President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas of Israel as a Jewish state, and his abandonment of the agreement he concluded with Hamas within the framework of Palestinian reconciliation.

But it is necessary for Benjamin Netanyahu and all those who support him in his bid for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state to define what this means exactly. It is the duty of the European countries and the parties to the Quarter to call upon Israel to guarantee it would not deport Israeli Arabs, which number around 1.5 million, and also guarantee them full equality with the Jews in Israel in the so-called Jewish state.

Hamas too must clarify the meaning and end the ambiguity in its stances if it is truly sincere with regard to its willingness to accept peace with Israel on the basis of the two-state solution with the borders of 1967. It is not logical to conduct negotiations with an entity that Hamas refuses to recognize or recognize its right to exist. Hamas must choose and clarify, just like Israel must do. For this reason, ambiguity is a common denominator to both parties, and this does not serve the cause of the two-state solution and instead undermines the chances of its success.

In regard to Netanyahu’s demand that Abbas discard the Palestinian reconciliation and his comparison of Hamas to al-Qaeda, this is sinister because in reality, his goal is to incite and provoke, in order to obtain an excuse to evade U.S. and international pressure to achieve peace.
The strategy of nonviolently besieging Israel and through civil disobedience is more effective than the strategy of provoking Netanyahu through military action. Israel is well versed in war, but is befuddled and confused when it is faced with an unarmed march towards the border, civil disobedience or peaceful uprising like the one taking place within the Arab spring.

Continuing to build the institutions of the Palestinian state and providing financial, moral and political support to this state will force Israel to deal with a de facto reality that is outside of its control, and which will practically lead to the end of the occupation against Israel’s will, and not with its consent.

For this reason, ignoring Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposals as a strategy adopted by the Arabs is a good decision, along with persistent lobbying with Europe, Russia, the UN and the U.S. administration in order to bolster and enhance international consensus over the form of the final solution, should the negotiations be resumed. The ‘process’ of buying time and stalling, with a view to continue the ‘peace process’ for and by itself, has now stopped. Barack Obama has dared break that vicious cycle that in reality was the foundation of U.S. policy in this regard, and practically masterminded by Mr. Process himself, i.e. Dennis Ross. In truth, Ross himself today is part of Barack Obama’s vision, in his capacity as the person responsible for drafting U.S. policies on the Middle East at the National Security Council.

The U.S.-Israeli, or Jewish-Jewish dispute, has nothing to do with the Arabs. The Arabs must instead push forward with the Arab Peace Initiative, civil disobedience, and Palestinian state-building on the ground, while mobilizing international support for the accession of the Palestinian state to the UN. They must launch an intensive campaign in the media to show that the Arabs are advocates of peace and coexistence, and that Netanyahu’s Israel rejects both peace and coexistence. The Arab Americans meanwhile, are attempting to put pressure on Congress, but they will most probably fail. This is because the political structure of the U.S. Congress and the American electoral process relies greatly on Jewish funds and votes.

Sudan: Escape To War

By Osman Mirghani
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 27/05/2011

Is Sudan heading towards a new war between the North and the newly formed state in the South?

This question sprang to the minds of many after confrontations arose in the disputed region of Abyei between the North and the South, as the Sudanese armed forces dispatched tanks to the area to gain control. The Defense Minister announced that the troops would remain in the area "until a decision dictating otherwise is issued by the government." These developments came after months of tensions and skirmishes in the area, and only hours following an ambush targeting the Sudanese army and an accompanying UN patrol. What fuels the fears of many is that tensions in Abyei are growing at a time when southern secession is actually being implemented, with the official declaration of the "Republic of Southern Sudan" expected on 9 July, 2011. This might herald a new period of turmoil, and lead to the renewal of Sudanese civil war.

In February, Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie, an aide and advisor to the Sudanese President who is counted among the "hawks" in the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), addressed an NCP audience and was quoted as saying "The secession of the South is a good thing … [it includes] every good [thing]." Nafie scoffed at those who have suggested that the pre-secession and post-secession periods as being sensitive stages, and maintained that the coming period will be a point of "progress and takeoff", by which he means a period of single-party rule, following the secession of the south. This is because, until now, all indications suggest that al-Bashir's regime has abandoned the unity of Sudan, without guaranteeing peace or stability in return. Certainly, some Islamists from the ruling regime in Khartoum had considered the South an obstacle standing in the way of an "Islamic Republic". Thus they proceeded to bolster the secessionist project, and refrained from exerting any effort to make the unity of Sudan an attractive option to the people of the South. At the same time, a large section of Southerners viewed the al-Bashir government as the "Trojan Horse" through which they could fulfill their dream of secession.

In a more recent speech, Nafie himself returned to acknowledge the gravity of the unresolved problems between the North and the South, and hinted at the possibility of the renewal of war. Of course nothing good could come of this, let alone "every good". Whilst campaigning in support of the NCP electoral candidate for South Kordofan, Nafie asserted that the government would not compromise on Abyei, stating "we will not leave, even if we have to shed blood." No one bothered to correct Nafie's statement; the government did not reject more bloodshed, nor did it explain to the people why it had sacrificed the country's unity, when it couldn't guarantee peace in return. On the contrary, President al-Bashir affirmed that matters were unmistakably heading toward escalation and a possible renewal of war, when he recently stated that Abyei would remain a northern region, and that if this could not be achieved through ballot boxes, it would be achieved via boxes of ammunition. Earlier, President al-Bashir threatened that the North would refuse to recognize the South's independence, if Juba persisted in staking claim to Abyei.

The question now is: If the government knew that Abyei was a serious problem that could lead to war, then why did it leave it amongst the other unsettled issues? Why did it not insist on resolving this issue before the southern self-determination referendum? Furthermore, why did the government agree to hold the referendum before all outstanding issues were settled, so that nothing would be left to strain relations, or cause such dangerous problems, which could bring about a return to war?

The reality of the situation is that the government failed in organizing the secession, just as it failed in making unity an attractive option to the Southerners, or to all Sudanese citizens. There is a current in the North that sees "every good" in the secession process, without providing any evidence of this promised "good". Everyone knows that once the secession is implemented, Sudan will lose more than a quarter of its land mass, including agricultural and water resources, over 80 percent of the country's overall oil wealth, and more than 5 million of its citizens. There are also fears that the southern secession will whet the appetite of other parts of the country to demand special status, particularly as the war in Darfur rages on, and tensions continue in other areas along the border with the South.

The majority of the Sudanese people might have accepted the South's secession, whether happily or reluctantly, if they were convinced that matters would move toward stability, that the chapter of war in Sudan would draw to a close, and that the loss of part of the country and a portion of its wealth would be compensated by steering Sudan towards construction and development, and an opening up towards democracy and a peaceful transfer of power. But unfortunately, none of this happened. The government wasted 6 years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in procrastinations and political wrangling, reinforcing its iron-fisted grip on power, and dividing up and spending oil revenues. This led to a variety of beneficiaries and corrupt figures affiliated with the regime. As tensions heighten in Abyei, and with the return of the language of war between both sides, as well as the exportation of problems across the tense new border, people are beginning to wonder about what "gains" secession will bring, and how the government handed this issue and whether it had any ulterior motives. The Sudanese government, in addition to the escalatory language it is now using to cover up for its failure in managing matters prior to secession, has resorted to the Islamic Sharia Law issue, and proposed the idea of an "Islamic Republic", or as al-Bashir described it: "a second republic, or a new form of salvation government."

The current "salvation" government has been ruling Sudan with an iron fist for nearly 22 years, which was long enough for multiple aspects of the state structure to erode. Today, as the Sudanese leadership watches other Arab citizens' stage revolutions and uprisings against subjugation and suppression, they resort to security arrests, and escaping to war in order to divert people's attention away from a reality that warns of a host of forthcoming crises, which is something that certain does not bode well [for Sudan].

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lessons From The Arab Spring

By Gabriel G Tabarani 

Since February 2011, following the uprising in Tunisia, the populations of many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have successively made the headlines by taking part in revolts and popular demonstrations against their corrupt ruling regimes.

To a careful observer, there is no doubt that a common scenario has been repeated in each of these countries. During their time in power, the leaders of these states attracted and gathered around them a circle of privileged individuals or groups to which they delegated important powers, and their associated trappings. In return, these leaders demanded their protégés’ blind submission, creating a quasi-dictatorial regime and the necessary internal security structures to ensure unwavering support.
These privileged few, in turn, exercised strict control over the population to keep the masses in ignorance and to prevent protest. Fearing for their privileges, they fought a constant battle against transparency and direct citizen participation in governance. This, with the aim of hiding what was going on behind the government’s closed doors.

The Tunisian and Egyptian masses have finally rid themselves of their "tyrants." However, serious doubts remain about the possibility of a definitive purification of local government and the departure of former entourages from power.
In some countries, the revolution has already begun, with varying chances of success. In other countries, negotiations are underway between the rulers and the ruled to institute some mitigating reforms. In all countries, the following questions will be asked of those who manage to take power from, or to share power with, leaders currently in place.

1. What system should be used to ensure the fair distribution of state resources through the entire population going forwards?
2. Should the administrations and experts who had been set up by the "tyrants" be replaced; and how should this be carried out?

3. How to ensure that the management of the state will be rational, efficient and above all fair, and that it will ensure sustainable development in the country?
In fact, as mentioned by a Tunisian professor at a conference on this subject a couple of weeks ago, the young revolutionaries in Tunisia need (to begin with) to deal with the same players who held centre stage during the successive terms of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. It is logistically impossible to replace at short notice, technicians, experts, officials and political professionals who have to their credit many years of experience in their respective fields.

To prevent the fruits of the revolution from be monopolized again and diverted to a new ruling clique that merely displaces its predecessors, it would require that in each country revolutionary committees be formed to establish new priorities that are fairer for all. I refer in particular to the case of Libya which is currently experiencing the darkest period in its history.
This would include the creation of a new development plan from which a new system of governance, with the necessary checks and balances would be introduced and applied. Citizens should reserve the right to monitor their governments to ensure that all the objectives of the revolution are achieved. For this purpose, it would be important to make use of three key elements: transparency, planning and participation.

Transparency is a term that is easily understood, though its implementation has generally proved to be "mission impossible" to date in the Middle East and North African countries.
Planning is essential to developing a program tailored to each nation’s particular circumstances as so to develop and sustain its economy while ensuring the welfare of its people.

Participation; it implies the association of the people in the governance of the country. The success of such an enterprise is essential to prevent a return of the old tyrants or the emergence of new dictators. This participation should enable the people to join in the creation of plans, determination of national objectives and in monitoring the implementation of reforms envisaged in these plans.

JIHAD’S NEW HEARTLANDS: Book Of Reason and Logic On A Fanatical Issue

By Robert A. Smith
Osama bin Laden’s recent death at the hands of US Navy Seals in Pakistan raises many pertinent questions regarding the future of Islamic radicalism, not only in the Afghanistan and Iraq operational theatres but across the broader Islamic world also.

Gabriel G. Tabarani’s latest book; “Jihad’s New Heartlands: Why The West Has Failed To Contain Islamic Fundamentalism”, is likely to be the first of a new wave of books offering insight into Islamic radicalism in the post-bin Laden era. It must be said that this book does not disappoint, tackling this most pertinent and important of issues by not only analysing recent developments but also by undertaking a bottom-up analysis of Islamic fundamentalism itself, a topic often overlooked.
The author brings not only a life-long, and highly successful, career in Middle East political journalism but also two years’ of dedicated primary and secondary research to this work. This allows Tabarani to provide readers with the historical context required to understand the current environment.

Tabarani’s comprehensive analysis begins with an explanation of the true meaning of Islam and addresses fundamentalism’s roots - set during Islam’s rapid rise and spread in the 7th Century through to its great modern revival in 1928 with the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a response to British colonial rule. This is particularly pertinent given the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in current post-revolutionary Egypt as well as the broader Middle East; for example its role in creating the Jihadist movement in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
His overview of the modern fundamentalist landscape is further embellished by a detailed analysis of the various other Islamist bodies currently active across a host of regions such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb and the Levant. Each geography is given a thorough historical and political introduction to highlight the patch-work and decentralised nature of the modern Islamist movement. Moreover, the author looks profoundly on al-Qa’ida, discussing its objectives and strategies before and in the post bin Laden environment.

Further to his strong grasp of the political landscape and Islamism’s role within it, Tabarani also possesses in-depth understanding of Islam and its teachings, for example explaining how the religious term “Jihad” has been transformed from its original and intended meaning to a synonym for holy-war. This two-pillared approach provides an unparalleled insight into the political machinations of the broader Islamic faith as well as its more militant variants.
The author expands his already substantial analysis by investigating the rise of home-grown Islamism in Europe, Russia and the USA, analysing the challenges posed by Islamic radicalism in the West and whether their Muslim populations constitute an enemy within. Furthermore, Tabarani lucidly discusses the compatibility between Islam and Western democracy, in particular the USA.

Tabarani suggests that Islamism is a multi-headed beast that was not fully understood by Western agencies and regional governments, resulting in a failed containment strategy. This allowed Islamism to gain a foothold over recent decades resulting in several militant-fundamentalist groups having formed autonomous operating structures. Thus bringing us to the sad conclusion that whilst the death of Osama bin Laden has decapitated the beast its limbs are still active, autonomous and highly dangerous and unless the correct course of action is taken by Western authorities, both at home and overseas, the situation will continue to deteriorate with potentially disastrous consequences.
Fortunately, Tabarani concludes this engrossing and complete piece closes with an insightful and pragmatic overview of how Western governments can successfully contain the Islamist threat both at home and abroad before the situation becomes unsalvageable.

Robert A. Smith is an American journalist and book reviewer who writes for several newspapers

US Wilts Under Israel Pressure

Patrick Seale writes: There was no hint in Obama's speech of any action to implement the vision of two states, Palestine and Israel
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 27/05/2011 

US President Barack Obama's failure to stand up to Israel's land-hungry Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bitterly disappointed opinion in the Arab and Muslim world. It has confirmed the belief that Washington has sold out to Israeli interests.

Heralded as an attempt to extend a hand of friendship to the democratic wave in the Arab world, Obama's speech on May 19 was met in the region with indifference or derision. The Arab-Israeli peace process is now thought to be all but dead.

Obama's weak-kneed approach has alarmed some European leaders. They now have to consider whether it is time for Europe, in defence of its own security interests, to break ranks with Washington and adopt a tougher stance towards Israel. One can only wonder what David Cameron, Britain's Prime Minister, said to Obama on this subject when the latter visited the UK this week.

In his speech, Obama threw a bone to the Palestinians by saying that the borders between Israel and Palestine ‘should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.' But when Netanyahu made furious objection, he snatched the bone back. Addressing AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby, last Sunday, Obama sought to correct what he complained was a wrong interpretation of his words. ‘Mutually agreed swaps', he said, meant ‘that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians— will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.' In other words, the drawing of the border was to be left to a negotiation between a lion and a mouse.

There was no hint in his speech of any US action to implement the vision of two states, Israeli and Palestinian, living side by side in peace and security. Instead his remarks were widely seen as a further demonstration, if one were needed, of the way pro-Israeli interests have taken control of America's Middle East policy.

It is now clear to most independent observers that Netanyahu wants land, not peace. He and like-minded Greater Israel ideologues will not yield to persuasion. Only serious pressure — even a threat of sanctions — might yield results. Over 500,000 Israeli colonists already live beyond the 1967 borders, and colony construction in the Occupied Territories is proceeding apace. On the very eve of Netanyahu's visit to Washington, Israel defiantly announced the construction of 1,500 new homes for Jewish colonist in Occupied East Jerusalem.

But, as he campaigns for re-election next year, Obama has evidently decided that he cannot expend hard-won political capital on the unpopular cause of Palestine. The Congress is overwhelmingly pro-Israeli, AIPAC and The Washington Institute, its sister organisation, are powerful pressure groups, and American Jews are major contributors to Democratic Party campaign funds.

Cairo was the only Arab capital where Obama's speech attracted some favourable comment because of his offer to Egypt of $1billion (Dh3.67 billion) in debt relief and an additional $1 billion in loan guarantees. But as Saudi Arabia's English-language Arab News commented on May 20: ‘If Obama wants our trust and friendship, then he must work on the one area where he has failed so disgracefully to deliver — Palestine... We do not want American bribes. He can keep his cash. The US economy needs it more than we do'.


Consider what Obama actually said in his May 19 speech. To Israel, he offered the following important commitments:
  • ‘No peace can be imposed,' he said. This is familiar short-hand for saying that Israel will face no US pressure to allow the emergence of a Palestinian state.
  • ‘Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations won't create an independent state... efforts to delegitimise Israel will end in failure.' With these words he announced his opposition to the Palestinians' plan to seek recognition for their sovereign state at next September's meeting of the UN General Assembly. By saying that the US would ‘stand against attempts to single [Israel] out for criticism in international forums' he indicated that the US would continue to use its veto in Israel's favour — as it did astonishingly last February, when it vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning colony expansion, the very policy the US had itself favoured until that moment!
  • In his speech to AIPAC, Obama described the Fatah-Hamas agreement as ‘an enormous obstacle to peace.' Adopting Israel's objections as his own, he said that ‘No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organisation sworn to its destruction.' Needless to say, he made no mention of the fact that Israel had tried to destroy Hamas when it invaded Gaza in 2008-9, leaving 1,400 Palestinians dead.
  • Obama repeated the mantra that ‘our commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable.' To AIPAC, he repeated the US commitment to guarantee Israel's Qualitative Military Edge (QME) — that is to say its ability to confront and defeat any Arab threat. He made no mention of security for the Palestinians or indeed for Lebanon, which has suffered repeated Israeli aggressions and invasions. Any future Palestinian state, he said, should be ‘non-militarised'. Clearly, in Obama's vision, none of Israel's neighbours has the right to defend itself.
  • On the subject of Iran, Obama reaffirmed America's opposition to Iran's ‘illicit nuclear programme and its sponsorship of terror' — remarks straight out of Israel's propaganda book.
Obama listed what he described as America's ‘core interests' in the Middle East as follows: ‘Countering terrorism.' (Together with its backing for Israel, America's brutal interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen are the main causes of terrorism.) ‘Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.' (This is a pledge which Arabs will see as maintaining Israel's regional monopoly of nuclear weapons. The Israeli daily Haaretz has reported that the US has secretly pledged to enhance Israel's nuclear arsenal.) ‘Securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region.' (Arabs and Iranians will ask who, apart from Israel, might threaten the security of the region.) ‘Standing up for Israel's security.' (This is clearly an overriding American interest.) ‘Pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.' (This has so far been a total US failure.)

Addressing the Arab world, Obama declared that ‘we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, history and faith.' But there was nothing in his remarks that offered Arabs and Muslims the slightest assurance of America's good intentions.

On Iraq, he said that ‘we have ended our combat mission', but he made no mention of the troops he plans to leave behind. On Afghanistan, he claimed that ‘we have broken the Taliban's momentum.' But the Taliban's ever more lethal attacks suggest that nothing is less certain. He took pride in the killing of Osama Bin Laden — a ‘mass murderer' who was engaged in the ‘slaughter of innocents'. But he failed to recognise that the innocent victims of America's wars — and indeed of Israel's as well — are infinitely more numerous than the men and women Al Qaida has killed. If Obama truly wants a better relationship with the young men and women driving the ‘Arab Spring' he had better think again.

Patrick Seale is a British commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs

Egypt: Mubarak's Trial Poses Challenge To Judiciary

By Samer Al-Atrush 
This analysis was published in The Kuwait Times on 26/05/2011

The trial of ex-president Hosni Mubarak will pose several challenges to Egypt's court system, chiefly how to assure a skeptical public that the ousted dictator will be judged impartially, legal experts say. The formal charges of murder and graft following Mubarak's initial detention in April came amid the threat of mass protests which the ruling military-seen as rather out of its depth-wants to avoid. That, according to human rights lawyer Gamal Eid, is reason to fear that Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades, may still manage to escape justice if pressure is not kept on the military. "The problem is that justice has not moved according to the law, but because of popular pressure," he said. "This increases suspicion that if people are not alert, there will be no justice.

Mubarak is accused of involvement in the killings of anti-regime protesters and several counts of corruption. An official inquiry has said that at least 846 people died in the protests that overthrew him. His two sons, who face the same charges, are in a Cairo prison. But the former president, who turned 83 this month, has managed to avoid jail after he reportedly suffered a heart attack during an interrogation in April. He is in police custody in a hospital in the Red Sea town of Sharm El-Sheikh, which issues almost daily reports on his health.
His condition is said to have improved but the interior ministry, tasked by the public prosecutor with transferring him to a military hospital and then a prison hospital, does not appear close to carrying out the order. A medical report commissioned by the public prosecutor said Mubarak was in stable condition as long as he received treatment for his heart condition, but he had to be kept in a place ready to deal with any deterioration in his health. The delay in transferring Mubarak may indicate that putt ing him on trial will be very difficult, Eid said. "Maybe they'll say Mubarak will be tried, but only when his health improves," he said.

Mahmud al-Khodeiry, the former deputy head of the appeal court and a judicial reformer, said Mubarak was healthy enough to stand trial, even if he had stay in hospital between hearings. "Mubarak's health shouldn't prevent him from being tried. He could go from the hospital to court appearances," he said. The date for the trial of Mubarak and his sons, and its location, have not yet been set. The official MENA news agency reported it will be held in a Cairo district criminal court, but the court could be moved to Sharm el-Sheikh.

Ahmed Mekki, deputy head of Cairo appeal court, said such a move would have no precedent. "But it is allowed by law. They can all be tried there, because of the security conditions, for example." Wherever it happens, the court must do its best to make the unprecedented trial as transparent as possible, Mekki and Khodeiry said. The Egyptian judiciary has avoided the purges that targeted the police and government after the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11. It generally enjoys a reputation of integrity, but it also has its doubters who point to serving judges famous for harsh sentencing of dissidents under Mubarak.
It has also never dealt with a trial on this scale. Several ministers are on trial, on charges ranging from involvement in violence against anti-regime protesters to corruption, but trying a former president is a different matter. Mekki and Khodeiry said a moratorium on filming trials should be waived in this instance. "The trial should be filmed. We need it to be broadcast, because secrecy will make people suspect the proceedings," Khodeiry said. "This is a unique trial, and it is a cause for anxiety. Can it be a fair trial? It will be a test," Mekki said.- AFP

Following The Palestinian Autumn

By Zuheir Kseibati
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 27/05/2011

It is with a storm of exceptional applause and enthusiasm that the American Congress chose to support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the face of President Barack Obama, in order to topple the president’s public recognition – for the first time – of the necessity to negotiate along the Palestinian track based on the 1967 border, although Obama recanted this recognition three days later in the context of his explanation of the modifiable border during the negotiations between the two sides.

This enthusiasm carried a double message. The first was addressed to Netanyahu and talked about the understanding of his stringency with the Palestinians, and especially his insistence on getting them to recognize the Jewish state in Israel as a condition for the negotiations. After this, there will be nothing left to negotiate over when coupled with the “no’s” of the leader of the Likud, i.e. No concessions in Jerusalem, No return for the refugees and No peace talks based on the Security Council resolutions.

As for the second facet of the message, it was addressed to Obama himself and assured that the second presidential term could not be secured by twisting Netanyahu’s arm and imposing solutions on Israel against its own wish, especially during the era of the Arab revolutions.

The revolutions which were tackled by the prime minister, who said they conveyed a conflict between tyranny and freedom in a hypocritical tribute to these revolutions, are the same ones troubling the Israelis. Indeed, no slogans were raised on the change squares threatening to wipe out the Hebrew state - as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad usually does. And yet, the Israelis know full well that the Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans who haul out their freedom from the heart of tyranny and oppression, cannot but support the Palestinians when they launch their comprehensive uprising against the state of thieves and racial segregation in Israel.

One slap to the enthusiasm of Congress as it was listening to Netanyahu’s speech was enough. It was seen in the cry of Jewish activist Rae Abileah who interrupted him and condemned the war crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians, at a time when he was reiterating the lies related to its democracy before an audience that believed him. He even wished he could claim that this “democracy” had inspired the revolutions of the “Arab Spring!”

After Obama’s attempt – in the speech he delivered before AIPAC – to appease Netanyahu’s anger toward the public recognition of the 1967 border, it became clear that the latter was the one who managed to twist the president’s arm. He thus forced him to adopt the Israeli position toward the Palestinian reconciliation verbatim, but also to ignore the Jerusalem issue and the right of return of the refugees. It is likely that the campaign of the American presidential race, which requires the blessing of the Jewish lobby in the United States, will prompt Washington to exercise all possible pressures on the Palestinian side, in order to foil its efforts to earn the United Nations’ recognition of the independent state in September. What is certain at this level, is that an administration preoccupied with the priority of winning these elections, will not rethink of ways to resume the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations before 2013.

Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives Eric Cantor - among the most enthusiastic applauders of Netanyahu’s speech - pledged to enhance Washington’s support for the Jewish state as “its only democratic ally in the region,” although by saying so, he overlooked the entire Arab Spring. More importantly, the double standards in the United States’ foreign policy disprove its claims regarding the defense of political morals, as it mobilized the entire West to internationalize the human rights file, except when it came to the rights of the Palestinian people and the Israeli crimes.

It might be said that the Palestinians are once again facing the wall following the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, as neither the extremism and racism of the Israeli right-wing will be transformed by the winds of the Arab uprisings, nor is the United states capable of imposing a settlement overcoming Israel’s wish to see a “Canton” state for the Palestinians. And after the Hebrew state used the September 11 incidents to establish a partnership with Washington in “the war on terrorism” and proclaimed war on the resistance movements, it now seems ready to use the pretext of the advancement of the Islamists in the Arab region following the uprisings, as a card to justify its rejection of the “quite small” border that is “indefensible.”

Will the Palestinians remain silent? When will their autumn arrive?

Once again, political morality conveys the inability of the West to get rid of the complex of the persecuted or besieged Israelis, at a time when the latter are exercising all sorts of persecution and fast killings in cold blood against an entire population. As for Europe, which is the spearhead of the internationalization of the battle of Arab human rights and the confrontation of the Arab tyrants, it has probably not yet found a classification for the Israeli tyrants who are fiercely defending the democracy of the Jews, which can only persist with the humiliation and shattering of the humanity of the Palestinians.

Egypt And The Fear Strategy

By Amir Taheri
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 27/05/2011

Politicians opposed to reform and change have always used fear as a means of persuading the people to forswear choice in the name of stability.

Their mantra recalls that of Democritus, nicknamed by Avicenna as "The Happy Philosopher."
Democritus' slogan was: "Desire what you have!"

However, when change has already happened, its opponents abandon Democritus in favour of Alice, Lewis Carroll's little explorer of the Wonderland. There, the slogan is: "Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday; but never never today!"

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the use of both stratagems in Tunisia and Egypt.
At first, the dominant elite were insisting that change could only lead to disaster. When change came and the roof of heavens did not fall, the elite switched to arguments in favour of postponing elections "at least for a while."

This is now the tune being played by some politicians in Egypt, among them some actual or putative presidential candidates.

"It would be wise to postpone for a while," says Amr Moussa, a former Secretary General of the Arab League and presidential candidate.

Five years ago, Moussa had used the same argument in a conversation we had about Iraq during a Davos gathering.

"Iraqis are not ready," he told me. "It is better to wait for a while."

I think that Moussa was sincere then and is sincere now.

However, I also think he was wrong then and is wrong now.

The reasons why he is wrong are many.

To start with, it is not clear how long "a while" would be.

Former President Hosni Mubarak also thought that Egypt had to wait "a while" before holding meaningful elections.

Moussa has not spelled out why it would be wise to postpone the elections.

Others, however, are more specific: early elections could only benefit the Muslim Brotherhood because it is the best organized group at the moment.

That argument, however, is too clever by half, to say the least.

To start with, at any given time, one party could be identified as the best organized.

For example, had elections be held just six months ago, the best organized party would have been the National Democratic Party. Today, it doesn't even exist.

Next, the argument assumes that there is a one-size-fits-all degree of organization for all parties.
There isn't.

At any given time some parties are more organized than others. One cannot wait until all parties, in the case of Egypt over 60 of them, reach a standard level of organization.

In any case, who is to decide what that standard level of organization is?

The argument is based on the false assumption that if we postpone the elections, all parties, except one, would quickly organize to the unknown level we desire.

The exception would be The Muslim Brotherhood.

However, if The Brotherhood were ready to risk imprisonment and execution by getting organized under the nose of the police state, would they just lie on the beach now that they have the chance to grow their movement in an atmosphere of freedom and security?

The argument for "postponement" could be questioned on a far more important ground: the implicit claim that the judgment of the people could be trusted only if it produces a certain result. In other words, elections would be good for Egypt only if The Brotherhood is the loser.

However, The Brotherhood is part of Egyptian society and it is up to Egyptians to decide what place to assign it in a future pluralist system.

Those who fear elections always refer to Hitler's electoral victory in Germany in 1932. However, that was one of the few historic exceptions that prove the rule. More importantly, the Nazis were not the best organized party at the time. That title routinely went to the Communist Party.

In 1992 and 1993, the Algerian military-security machine opposed elections with the argument that it was imperative to prevent the Front for Islamic Salvation (FIS) from winning. That strategy pushed the country to the edge of civil war and ended up claiming over 100,000 lives.

In the end, what helped Algeria gain a measure of stability and serenity was the series of elections held from 1995 onwards. Though far from perfect, those elections, provided opportunities for defeating the radical Islamists on the political battlefield.

The sooner Egypt and Tunisia hold elections the better the chances of building a pluralist system.

What is needed right away is a snapshot of opinion in Tunisia and Egypt as they emerge from decades of despotic rule. By showing where those societies are today, the snapshot would also reveal their respective potentials for progress towards pluralism.

There is no doubt that The Brotherhood is a profoundly anti-democratic party, if only because its ideology allows no space for individual freedoms.

However, let us not forget that The Brotherhood, created and continuing to thrive under successive despotic regimes, has had no choice but to reflect the violence and intolerance of those regimes. Under a new democratic regime, The Brotherhood might find it politically profitable to move towards a more moderate posture.

There are already signs that The Brotherhood is trying to adopt the so-called "Turkish model" that has helped the Justice and Development Party (AKP) increase the Islamist share of the vote from five per cent in 1983 to 43 per cent three years ago.

The Tunisian branch of The Brotherhood, known as an-Nahda (Awakening) has publicly committed itself to emulating the AKP.

A quarter of a century ago, the Rifah (Welfare) Party was a clear and present danger to Turkish democracy. Today, the AKP, though a reactionary party, is no such danger.

For decades, we saw a similar development in Western democracies as their Communist parties moved away from a radical revolutionary posture and adopted relatively moderate positions within parliamentary systems.

More recently, we have also seen this in the case of some radical Islamist parties in Iraq.

Progressive and secular parties in Tunisia and Egypt should reject the strategy of fear and trust the judgment of the people. They could win a majority through good arguments and hard work, not by dreaming of scenarios to cheat their rivals out of an uncertain victory.