Friday, July 30, 2004

 

Say what?

Does anybody else get the feeling that the headline for this Washington Post op-ed is completely off target? I mean, it's great that the people of Afghanistan want democracy. It's fantastic. But it doesn't make it a success story until it's implemented. If every place where people had high hopes was a success story, the world would be success story after success story. Let's wait until we see some results before we start talking about success stories. Let's not forget that Doctors Without Borders (a truly fearless group) has just pulled out of Afghanistan because the conditions were too awful. Let's live in reality, not the world of make believe. Or maybe I'm just what's wrong with America, with all my negative energy and criticism. Hell, if Afghanistan isn't a thriving democracy by next year, I'll consider myself personally responsible.

 

Who woulda thunk it?

Who would have guessed that suporting a brutal dictator in Uzbekistan might somehow not endear the people there to the American way? Don't they love freedom and democracy (if only in the abstract, since it sure as hell is not available where they are)? Apparently not, as there were some suicide bombings in Uzbekistan today.
Suicide bombers hit the U.S. and Israeli embassies Friday, killing at least two Uzbeks, news reports and police said.



A third blast hit the general prosecutor's office and caused "deaths," a Russian news agency reported.


The Interfax news agency said a man with an explosive belt on his waist detonated bomb outside the American Embassy and Uzbek security forces surrounded the compound, stopping all traffic. Israel radio said the attack on the Israeli Embassy also was a suicide assault and that one of the dead there was an Uzbek security guard.
Bad times.

 

Shikaki calls for elections in Wall Street Journal

Khalil Shikaki writes a well-reasoned commentary in today's Wall Street Journal calling for Palestinian elections. For those of you, like me, without an online subscription to the WSJ, here is the full text.

Let Us Vote

By KHALIL SHIKAKI
July 30, 2004; Page A10

Gaza is responding to Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan. Israel's impending disengagement has triggered the current turmoil there, as nationalist warlords and other leaders of the young guard jockey to ensure that they will come out on top in the post-withdrawal period.

They calculate that once Israel is out of Gaza, they may lose the justification to arm themselves and maintain their independent militias (such as al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades), the most effective means they have today to assert themselves and weaken the grip of their old-guard rivals in the Palestinian national movement. If their efforts fail, they will have a stake in the continuation of Palestinian-Israeli violence after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. The resolution of this power struggle, therefore, has implications for all parties in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

As Israel readies itself to pull out of Gaza, leaders of the nationalist young guard have exploited the fact that most of Yasser Arafat's loyalists are corrupt and inept, and hated by the public. Because Israel is withdrawing unilaterally, the leaders of the old guard are no longer needed to negotiate the end of Israeli occupation. So in the eyes of the next generation, they have become increasingly irrelevant. The mounting public clamor for fundamental reforms and clean government has emboldened young-guard leaders to challenge Arafat directly, and the current turmoil in Gaza represents the most serious challenge to Arafat's leadership since 1983.

Most of the underlying causes for the turmoil, however, have always been present. A dysfunctional Palestinian political system has led to serious divisions and fragmentation within the nationalist camp, an empowerment of Hamas and other Islamists, and a specter of the Palestinian Authority's disintegration and loss of legitimacy. The armed intifada of the last four years has allowed young nationalists to intensify their fight against a cadre that is perceived by the public as responsible for failures in state-building and peacemaking. Arafat's lack of vision and inability to project clear direction during these difficult intifada years, and the resulting Palestinian political paralysis, has led many Palestinians to question his judgment and leadership. The increased scrutiny of PA finances by the international community, and Arafat's subsequent loss of control over the public purse, have made it difficult for him to continue to secure his position through money.

Palestinian public perception of widespread corruption in the PA and its security services have created greater frustration and despair than ever. A survey conducted last month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 87% of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank believe that corruption exists in the PA; while two-thirds believe that public officials involved in, or accused of, corruption are often not charged or brought to account.

The survey found that 92% support internal and external calls for fundamental political reforms in the PA, but that only 40% believe the PA is actually carrying out such reforms. Perhaps as importantly, the survey shows alarming concerns among the public: 59% are worried about possible Palestinian infighting after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza; only 30% believe the PA has high capacity to control internal matters after the withdrawal; and only 31% believe life in Gaza will fully resume in an orderly manner.

It is these conditions that provided fertile ground for those wishing to challenge Arafat, and which emboldened them to come out in the open. A similar political challenge is under way in the West Bank, but at a slower pace. The era of the old guard could be coming to an end.

The current crisis will probably weaken Arafat's control and might be followed by further developments in the next 18 months, culminating in making merely nominal his, and the PA's, hold on Gaza. Arafat's control there will most likely be replaced by that of Islamists. In order to be able to gain and consolidate power, warlords and other young leaders will need to strengthen their alliance with the Islamists and to make a deal with Israel in which Israel -- which refuses to negotiate its withdrawal with Arafat's PA -- agrees to full withdrawal in return for full cessation of violence from the Gaza Strip.

In the short term, Israel may gain some peace and quiet, but this will not be sustainable in the long run. Israel, which will continue to occupy the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, will find itself facing a much stronger foe across the Gaza border, and violence will return. In the meanwhile, the Islamists will probably become stronger and will test the nationalists when the first opportunity presents itself. Infighting between the nationalists and the Islamists could signal the beginning of a long-term internal conflict and the threat of civil war. No one stands to gain; all -- Palestinians, Israelis, and the international community -- would be losers.

Only national elections now, before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, can help the Palestinians avert this outcome. Elections would help them get rid of the old guard, and thereby provide the young guard with the means to give up their arms without losing political power. Indeed, elections will provide the latter with the opportunity to translate their popular base into political empowerment. Elections would also weaken Arafat's authoritarianism (even if he is re-elected), integrate the Islamists into the political system, and bring about a governing coalition of young guards and independents. Only elections can bring an end to the current political anarchy, chaos, lawlessness and political paralysis. Only elections can make the Palestinian political system truly accountable.

The ability of the international community to influence the chaotic conditions in the Palestinian areas today is not great. Only by facilitating Palestinian national elections can Israel, the U.S. and others contribute to immediate stability, to the creation of a democratic Palestine with a more accountable leadership, and to a more peaceful Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

Mr. Shikaki is director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

 

Use of Strength, Perception of Weakness

Juan Cole today writes a response to Dick Cheney's speach at Camp Pendleton in which the Vice President stated: "Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness." Cole makes a very persuasive argument that while the perception of weakness can indeed spur terrorist attacks, the use of strength can absolutely be the cause of terror. Cole point to Lebanon in the 1980s as a perfect example of Israel's use of strength resulting in terrorist attacks from the Shiites of Lebanon. (Let's see here... pre-1982 invasion: no Hizbullah. post-1982 invasion: Hizbullah. Yes, I'll buy that.) Backing up Cole is an article in today's Ha'aretz by Amira Hass. Hass writes about the decision by the IDF to attack Palestinian militants in civilian neighborhoods and the willingness to accept civilian casualties as a result. It is not the case, Hass argues, that the IDF simply strikes when it has the opportunity, fearing that a missed opportunity will result in Israeli civilian deaths.
If they are under observation on their way to shoot at an army position, it should be possible to keep them under surveillance until they are out of the civilian neighborhood. But the army creates the impression that it has another goal in the killing of armed men inside residential neighborhoods, undeterred by the killing of civilians. The IDF hopes to isolate the gunmen in their own society, to make the civilians turn their populist anger on the gunmen. Apparently, the army has also failed at this, even though many share the view of the Palestinian security source that the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades behavior is "stupid."

As far as Palestinian civilians are concerned, the armed men are the same as the Israeli fighter pilots, bulldozer drivers and soldiers at the checkpoints are to Israeli society. After all, they are part of their society, known and accepted in their surroundings irrespective of the houses they blew up or demolished, the civilians they killed or ailing patients they delayed at checkpoints. Killing armed men - no matter how junior - in civilian neighborhoods actually strengthens the popular Palestinian perception that the the armed factions have the right to attack Israeli civilian neighborhoods: people who will become soldiers also live there, as do senior commanders in the Israeli military. The capabilities might be limited, but the motivation is there. So, the IDF kills junior gunmen with no experience or ability because of their motivation and when they are killed the motivation around them increases, and more young people are ready to become junior gunmen who get killed.
What exactly has been the perception of weakness by Israel under Sharon? The (as of yet unimplemented) Gaza withdrawal? Please. There has been show of strength after show of strength. To anybody with half a brain it seems obvious that a good dose of their own medicine is the last thing that is going to stop terrorists.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

 

From Emmanuel Todd's "After the Empire"

Thanks to Aunt Deb for sending me this excerpt from Emmanuel Todd's "After the Empire". I thought it might be of interest to others. Here it is:

"The Decline of Universalism Abroad: Choosing Israel"

American loyalty toward Israel is truly a mystery for specialists
of strategic analysis. A perusal of the recent classic studies
offers no explanation. Kissinger treats the Israeli-Palestinian
question in detail but with the exasperation of a longtime
realist who has to deal with irrational populations fighting for
the possession of a promised land. Huntington places Israel
outside the sphere of Western civilization that he wants to
consider as a strategic bloc. Brzezinski does not discuss
Israel, nor does Fukuyama. This is rather odd if one considers
the importance of the link with Israel within the establishment
of a generalized American antagonism toward the Arab world, or
more generally, the Muslim world.

The rationality and purpose of this link are difficult to
demonstrate. The hypothesis of necessary cooperation between
democracies is unconnvincing. The injustice committed day after
day toward Palestinians by the Jewih colonization of what remains
of their landisitself anegation of the principle of equality that
is the foundation of democracy. Other democratic nations,
notably those in Europe, do not have the same unconditional
sympathy toward Israel that America feels.

...

Another new and original type of support for Israel originates on
the Republican right, which projects onto the context of the
Middle East the preference for inequality that characterizes
America today. It is not impossible to prefer inequality and
injustice after all.

...

Because Israel is becoming less virtuous at the same time as
America, the latter approves of Israel's increasingly ferocious
behavior toward the Palestinians. America is sliding toward a
firmer belief in the inequality of men and believes less and less
in the equality of the human species.

 

al-Jazeera sign taken down at Democratic convention

A friend of mine told me about this a couple days ago, but here is something about it in the Guardian. It seems that John Kerry's advisors thought it unwise to allow any photo ops of John Kerry with an al-Jazeera sign in the background. So what happened?
Convention organisers have irked the Arabic network by whisking away the 20ft, $30,000 sign that had adorned its broadcasting "skybox" behind the podium where John Kerry will deliver his presidential nominee acceptance speech.

The al-Jazeera sign was replaced with another that said JohnKerry.com.
Ahhh, you gotta love democracy in action. Convention spokewoman Peggy Wilhide broke it down for those of us who might have been befuddled:
"We're trying to create the kind of atmosphere we want to best present John Kerry and the Democratic party."

That atmosphere will include the signs of the big US networks such as CBS, ABC and CNN, but not al-Jazeera, which has 16 staff among the 15,000 journalists covering the event in Boston.

Ms Wilhide pointed out that giant US cable network Comcast also had its sign taken down on the weekend.

An al-Jazeera spokeswoman said: "I don't think anyone would deny that the al-Jazeera logo and name are not part of John Kerry's communications plan".
It's pretty sad that John Kerry and the Democrats are playing into the atmosphere of fear and anti-Arab sentiment that has been fostered by the Bush administration. Not that this kind of thing is suprising - not in the least - after all, it's election time! I just wish that we, and I choose to speak for the American people here, were given a little bit more credit. As if a picture of John Kerry with the al-Jazeera logo in the background would swing my vote, would lead me to believe that he is some kind of radical Islamist, that I would forget everything he said about Israel. Even if that's the case with some people, I don't want to be treated as though that's the case for me. Stand above it, will you! Don't sink down into the muck.

 

Is Shimon Peres Ashamed Yet?

I pretty much lost all respect for Shimon Peres when he kept the Labor Party in the last Sharon government for so long, but now he is upset that Likud Party members don't want to join a coalition government with Labor. Note to Shimon - that's the reason that they don't join your party to begin with. The biggest reason that Labor has fallen in standing in Israeli politics is because they have the mentality of a little kid who wants to play with the big kids. It seems to me that Labor would do better for itself by mobilizing as a strong and outspoken opposition party than by trying to hop onto the coattails of Likud at every opportunity. I know I am being a bit hard on old Shimon, but he just comes off as whiny. Should he really be suprised that Likud (a right wing party) would "say no to a secular-left government"? Jeez.

Also in Ha'aretz, Nazir Majali forces the "silent Jewish majority" to confront Israel's racism.
The question is, how will the Jewish majority in the State of Israel treat this struggle? Its stances, built up and nurtured by Israeli governments over 55 years, today encourage the government not only to absolve itself from its commitment to equality, but to intensify discrimination and racism. The law that forces an Israeli Arab to choose between his homeland and the Palestinian woman he loves is one example among many.

How will the Jewish majority react to the Arabs' fight against these phenomena? Will it act as other peoples have acted in the history of the Jewish people? Will it be drawn in by the illusion that the deterioration of the struggle with Israel's Arabs provides an opportunity to carry out the transfer plan? Or do we dare hope that the Jewish majority will come to its senses and once again view the attitude toward Arabs as a national challenge, a test of its humanism; will return to its sources - the Declaration of Independence and the founders of Zionism, who at least declared that they were striving for a humane Jewish country, a true democracy.
The only question is whether these questions will be heard by those that need to hear them. Whether they might not be asked only after too much has happened, after Israel has disgraced itself beyond repair, after true democracy is out of reach. It's a shame that something like this would not be printed in an American newspaper, a place where it seems to be needed the most.




 

Congratulations Dave and Kendra!

This is an amazing article for anybody who knows Dave Stein: Police chase of speeding dad, mom ends in roadside birth. Of all the ways to announce the birth of your child in the paper, this is probably not the most common.

Monday, July 26, 2004

 

Human Chain in Israel

Ahh... If I were Richard Cohen I'd be writing my article for the Washington Post today about the beauty of Israeli democracy, the shining beacon of hope for the Middle East. And I don't write here to take anything away from non-violent protest and I think that a human chain from Gaza to Jerusalem is much preferable to an assassination attempt on Ariel Sharon (even though I disagree completely with the cause of the non-violent protest and hate Sharon's guts). But the coverage of it is an absolute failure of journalism. The glowing article on CNN.com pretty much writes Palestinians out of the story. The word Palestinian only comes up once: "Other Israelis believe relinquishing the settlements is a precondition for reaching peace with the Palestinians." As if this protest and the withdrawal plan are actions whose impact will be solely on Israelis and that Palestinians are not at all involved. In essence, it writes out the settlements' role in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The other issue that this article raises is that democratic rights are not evenly distributed among all Israelis and especially not to Palestinians under Israeli control. The ability to have a peaceful protest, such as a human chain, is something that must be allowed by the state. Non-violent protests against the wall in the West Bank have time and time again been broken up by the IDF using tear gas and bullets. There is no fawning CNN.com story with accompanying photo gallery. The story then is just one of the millions of "violence in the Middle East" stories. This is not because of the inherent violence of Palestinians (as many of the anti-wall protestors were Israeli Jews or international activists) but because of the conditions imposed by the State of Israel. So watch for that Richard Cohen column in the Post, and remember that rights are only truly rights (and not priveleges) when they apply to every citizen.

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