Friday, August 20, 2004


Post-withdrawal plan for Gaza

From al-Ayyam (translated by FBIS), here is a report on the 18 point initiative developed by Marwan Barghouti and leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad
This initiative was developed in accordance with contacts in Hamas and Islamic Jihad until it was reshaped into a formula accepted by the parties working on it, which are the same parties that reached the truce that lasted 52 days last year. The group working on the initiative includes Barghuthi himself, along with Hamas' political bureau chief, Khalid Misha'al, and the Islamic Jihad's secretary general, Ramadan Shallah. The sources say the endeavor is receiving the support of Egypt.
Honestly, these are the people that get things done in Gaza (as noted by the 52 day truce), so this 18 point plan should be looked upon with interest. I don't think it's even been mentioned in the American press, and only alluded to in English language press elsewhere. Here is the text of the initiative as drafted by Barghouti.
"These are proposed ideas that do not necessarily give answers to all the details. Yet they constitute a first step for an agreement.

I think that there is a need to accelerate the drafting of a Palestinian national document, and if it is not possible to reach a comprehensive agreement on all the issues, it will be necessary to split the agreement into two phases: The first will have to do solely with the Gaza Strip, while the second will tackle comprehensive political issues.

We need to and can reach an agreement that solely handles the situation in Gaza and realizes the following objectives: Concluding a preventive agreement that can be thrown in the face of the international community and Israel so as to deter aggression. Second, it should be an agreement that revives hope and confidence among the Palestinian people. Third, it should be an agreement that introduces partnership and the building of a new political system if there is a comprehensive Israeli withdrawal from Gaza's land, sea, and airspace in a way that gives the chance for national sovereignty on the Palestinian-Egyptian border, the airport, and a sovereign Palestinian road that links the Gaza Strip with the West Bank. The withdrawal should lead to the release of the Palestinian prisoners of war and detainees, starting with the residents of the Gaza Strip.

If that is achieved, a Palestinian leadership body (a follow-up committee) should be set up comprising representatives from the factions, public figures, and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. This body shall be tasked with supervising and monitoring the implementation of this document and following up on its proceedings.

These items are:

1. All Islamic and national forces pledge to maintain and protect national unity and to work to strengthen this unity on a democratic basis.

2. The forces stress the sacredness of Palestinian blood and reject and denounce the use of violence to solve any dispute or internal problem for any reason.

3. The forces stress that exercising national sovereignty after the complete and comprehensive withdrawal will be exclusive to the Palestinian Authority and its agencies.

4. The leadership body (the follow-up committee) shall monitor the implementation of its decisions through coordination with the Palestinian government.

5. The forces deem the arrest of persons for political reasons a prohibited practice that the Authority should refrain from under all circumstances.

6. The forces will continue enhancing and strengthening the Intifadah until the end of the occupation and settlement in the West Bank.

7. The leadership body (the follow-up committee) shall supervise all properties evacuated by the occupation forces in the Gaza Strip, and ensure through coordination with the Palestinian security forces that these properties are not touched or trespassed upon.

8. The national and Islamic forces shall declare a halt to all attacks and armed operations from the Gaza Strip after the withdrawal mentioned above.

9. All parties shall bring an end to military parades, firing guns in the air during celebrations, and carrying weapons in public places.

10. All political powers shall have full freedom to practice political and partisan activities and shall be guaranteed the freedom of expressing opinion, thought, and belief.

11. Municipal and local elections shall be held in a period not exceeding six months from the date of the complete and comprehensive Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

12. The door shall be open for all members of the military apparatus of the factions to join the various Palestinian security forces, where they will be trained and given the appropriate ranks.

13. As of the date of the Israel withdrawal, the security forces shall be banned from interfering in any political activity. Members of these forces shall be banned from expressing political opinion or becoming members in any political party. The forces shall move to revoke the membership of any individual recruited by the security forces. In case an individual wants to engage in political activity, he will have to resign his job. Therefore, the security services shall as of the abovementioned date act as a body subject to law.

14. Three months after the comprehensive withdrawal, all armed fighters, forces, and citizens shall hand over their weapons to the Palestinian security forces, which will compensate them for these weapons.

15. Administrative, fiscal, and security reform shall be conducted at the Authority's agencies, while all those persons who have committed violations, acts of trespassing, or (illegal) seizure of properties shall be referred to the judiciary. A committee headed by a judge shall be set up to receive complaints.

16. All laws issued by the Legislative Council that ensure the independence of the judiciary shall be enforced, along with civil service and pension laws.

17. All forces deem presidential and legislative elections to be a prelude to building a democratic regime in Palestine. The forces shall work to achieve this goal in accordance with the circumstances.

18. These suggestions and ideas are considered a first step toward reaching a comprehensive national struggle-based political agreement that governs national ties and embodies the goal of setting up a joint reference framework."

The most important points to me are numbers 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 14. The ability of a post-withdrawal authority/governing body to reduce the influence of armed militias/militant groups basically allows the Gaza withdrawal to happen without a Palestinian civil war breaking out and the Gaza strip being divided up amongst warlords. While the plan is obviously ambitious (some might say unrealistic) I think the fact that the people behind it are the heavy hitters in Palestinian society, the people that can motivate people to give up their weapons, to put an end to military parades with people firing into the air, etc., is very encouraging.


The beauty of a doctrine of preemption

is that it catches on. It's the hot new fad and now Iran wants a part of the party!
"We won't sit with our hands tied and wait until someone does something to us," [Iranian Defense Minister Ali] Shamkhani told Arabic channel Al Jazeera when asked what Iran would do if the United States or Israel attacked its atomic facilities.

"Some military leaders in Iran are convinced that the pre-emptive measures that America is talking about are not their right alone," he added in Persian.
Well I for one am overjoyed at the warm, open, democratic, and peaceful environment that we've managed to craft in the Middle East. Congratulations, America! We all win!


Jose Saramago on Democracy

"Let us consider what our democracy really is and what purpose it serves, before claiming, in accordance with the obsession of our time, that it should be compulsory and universal."

From "The Least Bad System is in Need of Change: Reinventing Democracy" in Le Monde Diplomatique.


US Failing in Public Diplomacy

I mean, this isn't really shocking news, but there are definitely some interesting quotes from this article in the Washington Post today.
On its boldest policy ideas, such as the Greater Middle East Democracy Initiative, the administration has limited its follow-through or deferred to the very governments that have most resisted democratic reforms, specialists and some U.S. officials say.

"It's worse than failing. Failing means you tried and didn't get better. But at this point, three years after September 11, you can say there wasn't even much of an attempt, and today Arab and Muslim attitudes toward the U.S. and the degree of distrust in the U.S. are far worse than they were three years ago. Bin Laden is winning by default," said Shibley Telhami, a member of a White House-appointed advisory group on public diplomacy and Brookings Institution scholar.
Worse than failing? Bin Laden is winning by default? These are damning statements.
"This is all feel-good mumbo jumbo," said a State Department official familiar with public diplomacy efforts who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Particularly in light of [people detained without charges at] Guantanamo Bay, it's unclear how this will make us safe. If this is so important, where's the money?"
Hmmm... where is all that money? Did somebody say Halliburton?
Rice, in a speech yesterday at the U.S. Institute of Peace, conceded that public diplomacy is an area the administration wants to "look harder at" and said, "We are not obviously not very well organized for the side of public diplomacy."
I don't even know where to start with this one. Oy vavoy! What a disaster.


The possibility of a shift in Israel

Yesterday I tried to get my head around the current Israeli political scene, with the possibility of shifting alliances to form a unity government, or the possibility of early elections. In today's Guardian, Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi, who teaches Israeli politics at Oxford University, was able to break it down quite a bit more coherently than I did. In essence, Ottolenghi concludes that the opposition within Likud to Sharon's disengagement plan and to his inclusion of Labor in a unity government may end up coming back around to bite them in the ass. The major reason to believe this is that the majority of Israelis support Sharon and his Gaza withdrawal plan. Those Likudniks who are unwilling to compromise are on the losing end of this battle. If they force the issue they may end up empowering Labor (which, after the last election, looked as if it might be gone for good). My inclination to agree with this analysis is a bit of wishful thinking, but Ottolenghi backs it up with historical precedent, which is even more encouraging.
In 1998, Israel's nationalist right punished Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's double "sin" of withdrawing from most of the West Bank town of Hebron and signing the Wye River agreements with Yasser Arafat by toppling him - only to get a Labour government. Today's rebels face a similar choice: neutralising Sharon's plan will only bring Israel's defeated left back to power. Theirs is the fate of ideologues: they might rule the central committee, but they have lost the people. Sharon knows that. That's why his defeat is only temporary.
While I am beyond unexcited to hear that Sharon's defeat may only be temporary (as I'd like to see him gone for good), I would very much like to see the rise of some kind of moderating power. My fingers are crossed and, as always, I'll believe it when I see it.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


So I heard things were going well in Iraq

But then I read here that Sadrist arsonists had torched the headquarters of Iraq's South Oil Company, and I started getting worried. But then I remembered that this war had nothing at all to do with oil and everything to do with weapons of mass destruction, or getting Saddam, or liberating the Iraqi people, or something - but definitely not oil. That means everything is OK right?


2 Iraqis Shot Dead by US Forces at Abu Ghraib

Abu Ghraib in the news again.


Early election scenarios in Israel

Yesterday, Ariel Sharon was sent a clear message from Likud party activists at the Likud convention yesterday.
Seeking to cripple Sharon's disengagement plan and foil his related effort to forge a coalition government with the Labor Party, Likud convention delegates handed the prime minister a head-ringing drubbing in a late Wednesday vote to bar him from talks with Labor. (Ha'aretz)

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, suffered a massive blow to his project to withdraw from settlements in the Gaza Strip last night when his party refused to allow him to invite new partners into the government who might have backed his plans. (Guardian)

Convention members were asked to vote on two resolutions - one from Sharon, authorizing him to carry out coalition negotiations with any Zionist party, and a competing one from Minister Uzi Landau rejecting a coalition with Labor. Sharon's own proposal was defeated by just 5 votes - but Landau's passed 843 to 612, a majority of 231. The votes were hand counted following a computer breakdown. (another Ha'aretz)

There seem to be two options for rebuilding a unity government. The first is to stay the course with the disengagement and bring Labor into the government. This faces major opposition both within Likud (as seen in the results of the Likud convention vote) and from Labor. I think Labor is hoping to rebuild some of the power it lost in the last round of elections, in which case, they would benefit from elections sooner rather than later, exploiting the rift in Likud that is most evident at the moment. Here is the reaction from some Labor party bigshots:
Labor negotiator MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said he would demand the negotiation team disband. "We cannot sit in a government with a prime minister who is a lame duck," he said. "We must reach an understanding with the Likud about early elections."

Labor MKs Dalia Itzik, Ophir Pines-Paz and Ephraim Sneh called for early elections. Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres will convene the negotiation team to further discuss the matter.
The other option is to build on his current coalition by adding Shas or UTJ, but risking losing Shinui.
The prime minister has called [Shinui's] bluff and started negotiating with United Torah Judaism and Shas. Both parties demand as a minimum a halt to all Shinui-inspired secular legislation such as a bill introducing civil marriages.
I also think it would be very difficult to maintain this coalition through an actualized Gaza withdrawal. They might be on board for the talk, but they might bail before the walk. Also knowing that Shinui would lose seats in any upcoming election would swing power disproportionately to the parties further to the right and the ultra-orthodox parties.

Finally, there is the early elections scenario.
Barring possible challenges in the coming months, the government will likely face a crucial Knesset test over the State Budget, which by law must be passed by March 31, 2005.

If the budget fails to pass by that date, early elections will be held in late June. The Likud vote may have lent momentum to the latter route.
I have no idea what the polls indicate as far as how an early election would change the government make-up. My guess is that Shinui will lose out. If Labor can win some of the lost Shinui voters, they would have a much better hand to play if they were to join the Likud. What, then, does Labor stand to gain from joining a coalition now? They will probably quit over the budget in March anyhow. Will they emerge stronger if they join with Likud now or if they stay on the outside? Or do they figure to enter elections the strongest if they call for elections now? Of course, no matter what, the Gaza withdrawal plan is going to have to wait a while longer before anything actually happens.


Drawing the under-35 crowd

From Ha'aretz:
In the West Bank refugee camp of Ein Beit Ilma, near Nablus, Israel Defense Forces troops rounded up dozens of Palestinians early Thursday and corralled them in a schoolyard.

The troops moved into the camp at about 6 A.M., ordering men under the age of 35 out of their homes, residents said. Residents said the men remained in the courtyard at mid-afternoon.

About 150 people were taken to a nearby school, where they were held in a courtyard closed by barbed wire. TV footage showed the men lifting their shirts - to show they didn't have an explosives belt - as they marched into the area.

Mahmoud Kilani, who lives next to the school, said the Palestinians had not been fed. The IDF did not immediately comment.
Also in Ha'aretz, there is a short news article that I found quite confusing. The title of the article is Despite court rulings, Shin Bet still tortures 'ticking bombs'. But the lead of the article is this:
The Shin Bet security service continues to use violence in its interrogations of suspected terrorists, despite a 1999 High Court of Justice ruling that forbade violent interrogations except in the case of a "ticking bomb," a Shin Bet document obtained by Haaretz reveals.
It seems to me that the High Court of Justice ruling allowed for the torture of prisoners that qualify as 'ticking bombs'. So it's not that the Shin Bet still tortures 'ticking bombs' despite the court ruling. The real issue here is not that the Shin Bet is somehow refusing to comply with the court ruling, but to what extent the Shin Bet is able to exploit the caveat that the court ruling made explicit. Namely, what constitutes a 'ticking bomb'? It seems that, to some degree, the Shin Bet is free to choose who they decide is a 'ticking bomb' and who isn't, effectively rendering the court's ruling toothless.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


No wonder things in Iraq are going so swimmingly

An article in the Jerusalem Post picked up by Common Dreams indicates that the US is training in Israel under the instruction of the IDF in urban and guerilla warfare response tactics. This is not really a new thing for the US military since 9/11.
In November last year, US generals visited Israel to study tactics adopted by the IDF in its ongoing war against terror. A report in the New York Times claimed US military officials were studying the tactics and strategy used by IDF forces operating in the West Bank and Gaza within densely populated Palestinian areas.

US Army officials later adopted the IDF's policy of demolishing houses belonging to terrorists suspected of attacking US troops in Iraq, set up checkpoints similar to those in the West Bank, deployed sniffer dogs to seek out explosives, and in a number of cases arrested relatives of terror suspects to glean information.
Well, that's just great. First of all, home demolitions are despicable acts of collective punishment. You will never be able to justify them to me - especially for people suspected of attacking US troops in Iraq. A little proof might be in order, don't ya think? Second of all, how on earth can the US military expect to be recieved as anything more than hostile occupiers if this is what they are going to do? These tactics haven't helped the Israelis work things out with the Palestinians. Not to mention the fact that involving yourself so closely with the IDF is a sure-fire way to piss people off and alienate yourself from them in the Middle East to begin with. And you know the Arab press is going to pick up on this. It seems that every step the US takes puts it at a more and more adversarial and confrontational relationship with the Iraqi people. What a disaster!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Israel to move forward with plans to build 1,000 new settlement units in the West Bank

Here in Ha'aretz, here in the Guardian. As usual, the Israelis' official spokespeople muddy the waters and avoid the issue:
Officials in Jerusalem maintained that this was an old project, approved prior to the government's May 2003 pledge to limit construction, and one that in any case would be built within the confines of existing housing. (Ha'aretz)

Housing Ministry spokesman Kobi Bleich said that the six settlements earmarked for expansion are within "the Israeli consensus," meaning they are among those Israel plans to keep in any scenario. "All the relevant authorizations have been received," Bleich said of the construction bids. (Guardian)
All this really means is that the Sharon government has always meant to further expand settlements in the West Bank, feels no pressure to stop doing so from the US, and has simply waited until it was politically convenient to announce specific moves. The timing is good for Sharon because it is a) one day before a Likud convention where he hopes to regain the support of some of the hardliners he lost with his Gaza withdrawal plan and b) in the middle of the presidential race in the US, meaning nobody of any consequence in either the Bush or Kerry camp is going to say a thing about the settlements.

Monday, August 16, 2004


Recent information discloses that BBQ is the result of a Zionist conspiracy

I know this isn't funny at all, but it seems just too cartoonish to comment on seriously - apparently the Israelis are threatening "jailhouse barbecues to entice hundreds of Palestinians prisoners to break a hunger strike launched this week to protest conditions, a spokesman said Monday."
As the protest continued into its second day Monday, prisons spokesman Ofer Lefler said authorities were considering grilling meats near the prisoners, hoping the enticing aroma would weaken their resolve.
It just seems so wrong, but then again it definitely seems better than banning cigarettes and family visits, which was the Israelis first reaction. Anyhow, the item of actual interest in this same Guardian article (and I'm not sure why this doesn't warrant it's own article or at least lead the article instead of the BBQ story) is this:
As the hunger strike began Sunday, the most prominent Palestinian prisoner was working on a smooth transition in the Gaza Strip after Israel's planned withdrawal next year, according to a document obtained Sunday by The Associated Press.

The document shows that Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, presented an 18-point plan for Gaza to the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Barghouti is taking part in the hunger strike, his daughter Aruba told the AP.

A source close to Barghouti said the groups had responded "positively, in principle" to the plan, under which the militants would halt attacks on Israel from Gaza in exchange for a role in running the area.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Mohammed al-Hindi, however, said Monday the group had not received the document or had any contact with Barghouti.

Al-Hindi said he suspected the report had been fabricated by Israel "to measure the reactions of the Palestinian factions regarding important items, including our holy right to fight the occupation."

There was no immediate reaction from Hamas.

Since Israel announced its pullout plan, concerns have been raised about a power vacuum and a possible takeover by Islamic militants.

Under Barghouti's plan, Arafat's Palestinian Authority would be the ruler in Gaza, but a "monitoring committee" with representatives from all groups would have considerable say.
I'd like to read that document and know what it says. I also think that it's pretty sad that the only person in the PA who seems to be really trying to build some kind of plan in case this Gaza withdrawal happens, Marwan Barghouti, is sitting in jail. This guy is ten times more effective from inside a jail cell than 99% of these other bureaucrats and PLC members and Arafat appointees on the outside.

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