Friday, December 10, 2004

 

Joseph Massad on Anti-Semitism

In an article in al-Ahram Weekly, embattled Columbia University professor Joseph Massad takes on the idea that Arabs cannot be anti-Semites because they are, techinically, Semites. Let's just say he's having none of it. I was going to try to pull out a paragraph or two but I think I would end up putting the whole thing up here, so just go read it if you are interested.

 

Democracy Undermind in Palestine, or The Problem with Fatah

There is an article by Graham Usher in al-Ahram Weekly about the candidacy of Marwan Barghouti, which in my opinion is very perceptive in getting to the bottom of what politics are really at play here. I think the issue here is that Fatah is, at the moment, essentially a non-democratic institution. Fateh as the largest and most powerful political organization in the Palestinian territories is in favor of democracy in terms of national decision-making because it knows that it is the most powerful. But internally, this is not the case. As Usher writes:
Like many in Fatah, he had been angered by the way Abbas had been chosen. It had remained the prerogative of Fatah's Central Committee (FCC) and Revolutionary Council (FRC), two institutions dominated by the so- called "old guard" or those "outside" Fatah leaders who had returned from exile with Arafat and who derived their position (and privileges) solely from him.
So within Fatah there is a difference between democracy and power. The idea that Barghouti's candidacy is "dividing Fatah" is somewhat of a canard. The implication is that Barghouti is weakening Fatah. This is not the case - as Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan's wife, says in an interview:
He is not dividing Fatah. Marwan is Fatah. And there are lots of people in Fatah -- including leaders from the first and second Intifadas -- who will support his candidacy.
Marwan is Fatah. Not that he encapsulates what Fatah is or isn't, but he is a member of Fatah and is a Fatah candidate (whether he is running as an "independent" or not, everybody knows that he is Fatah). Whether he or Abu Mazin wins, it will be a Fatah victory. And his entering his candidacy in no way reduced the possibility of a Fatah victory. There is no non-Fatah challenger in this race. As much as I admire Mustafa Barghouthi, this is the truth. So what, then, is meant by "dividing Fatah"? Essentially it means dividing Fatah's power internally. It means diluting the power held by the FCC and the FRC, taking the decision-making out of their hands and putting it in the hands of the voters. And this is what makes the FCC and the FRC, and the "old guard" in general, fundamentally undemocratic. These men are not interested in democracy so much as in power. And those of the "young guard" or "insiders" such as Zacharia Zubeida of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who have now come out against Marwan Barghouti's candidacy are exposing themselves as having a greater interest in power than in democracy. And to some extent, this is the more attractive option. Abu Mazin travels to Syria and Lebanon; as for the Barghoutis, Marwan is imprisoned and Mustafa is beaten up by the IDF and cannot travel to Gaza or even into Hebron. Writes Usher, "Mahmoud Abbas's home in Ramallah is a palatial villa spread on a hillside surrounded by black limousines and a ring of Palestinian police. Marwan Barghouti's home is a second floor flat in a six-storey concrete apartment block." This is the choice of the Palestinians.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

 

Say goodbye to the sexy primates

A real bummer of an article in the Guardian about Bonobos, the ape considered to be man's closest relative, being on the brink of extinction. Not least among the factors involved is the long-running civil war in Congo. So so sad.

 

This guy can't get a break

Talk about a tough campaign. The same week that he gets held up at a checkpoint at gunpoint and refused entrance to Hebron (see here), Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, Palestinian presidential candidate, was beaten by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint outside of Jenin. What's next, the First Intifada Veterans for Truth? Seriously, though, folks, this is hardly what you'd call a free and open election. Indeed, yesterday Barghouti held a press conference to talk about these issues, leveling charges at Israel and others:
"The Israeli occupation authorities have been barring me from travelling to the Gaza Strip. How can we conduct an effective and orderly election campaign if one is unable to meet one's supporters?" he said....

"There are certain sides that have already declared the winner even before the organisation of the election," he said.

Al-Barghuthi pointed out that the international community and Israel were giving Fatah's official candidate, Mahmud Abbas, preferential treatment, which he said constituted a tacit interference in the election process.

"He can travel both inside and outside Palestine unfettered, but I can't reach Gaza." (from al-Jazeera)
A statement on PalestineMonitor.org, a website affiliated with Barghouthi, also leveled charges directly at the US as well as Israel.
Only last month US Secretary of State Colin Powell promised Palestinians full American support for elections, and Israel made assurances that it would aid the elections by easing travel restrictions. On November 22nd Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom stated that it was in Israel’s interest to see that the Palestinian elections go forward, that “Israel will do everything in its power to ensure their smooth running,” and that Palestinians would have “freedom of movement.”

Today’s events clearly show Israel’s blatant efforts to obstruct the Palestinian democratic elections, once again demonstrating their disregard for human rights. If the presidential candidates themselves are forced to endure such violence and humiliation, it is unlikely that the remaining Palestinian population, who face these hardships on a daily basis, will be granted the necessary freedom to vote.
Both of these statements are essentially indictments of the democratic nature of the upcoming Palestinian elections. Barghouthi is absolutely correct that there is a vast difference between the capabilities of Abu Mazin and himself (not to mention Marwan Barghouti, whose ability to campaign is, how shall I put this... limited - although I expect that he will soon withdraw his candidacy). I think that Israel and the US are to a certain degree genuine about wanting to have a Palestinian election. But to what extent are they interested in fostering democracy and openness and in general strengthening the political and civil society in Palestine? Well, maybe not that much. It could be they just want to be able to get Abu Mazin in there (and he is expected to win the election) and go from there. It's about the ends, not the process. Whereas I think to somebody like Mustafa Barghouthi, somebody who is really interested in having a democratic society in Palestine, the process is maybe even more important than the results. And the process doesn't work under occupation.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

 

Read about Babar in the New York Review of Books. A good find by Abu Aardvark.

 

convincing


An Israeli soldier points his gun towards Palestinian presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouthi (R) as he was prevented from entering Hebron's old city during a campaign stop, December 6, 2004. Barghouthi is running as an independent candidate in the upcoming Palestinian elections January 9, 2005. (REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun)

From President Bush's press meeting with General Musharraf of Pakistan:
And the solution in the Middle East is for there to be a world effort to help the Palestinians develop a state that is truly free -- one that's got an independent judiciary, one that's got a civil society, one that's got the capacity to fight off the terrorists, one that allows for dissent, one in which people can vote. And President Musharraf can play a big role in helping achieve that objective.

None of us can convince the Palestinians to say -- or make the Palestinians adhere to this point of view, but we can help convince them.
Just a little convincing, that's all that's needed.

 

Bush slip from Musharraf press session

I just found this in the transcript of the press session with President Bush and General Musharraf of Pakistan and thought it was a funny freudian slip.
Q Thank you. Mr. President, what do you make of the warning sounded yesterday by Tommy Thompson that the American food supply may be at risk to terrorist attack?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Tommy was commenting on the fact that we're a large company -- country, with all kinds of avenues where somebody can inflict harm.
Yes sir, one big company.

Monday, December 06, 2004

 

Funny, I don't remember hearing that this weekend

The Guardian really suckered me in with this headline they had online today: Pakistani president denounces war on terror. I would have to argue that the headline is a bit misleading, as the article didn't really supply any quotes from Musharraf that would quite qualify as a "denouncement" of the "war on terror." Still:
Mr Musharraf claimed that the war on terror had failed to address the causes of terrorism, saying that although terrorists were being tackled head-on militarily, there was also a "strategic long-term dimension" to the problem.

"That is getting at the core of what creates terrorists, what creates an extremist, militant environment which then leads on to terrorism," he said. "That is the resolution of political disputes."
Which is a bit more critical than anything that was heard from the statements here in Washington following a Musharraf-Bush meeting. Maybe this happened behind closed doors, but maybe Musharraf wouldn't want to embarass our buddy W with all those weapons deals coming his way. Hmmm....

 

Will Barghouti back out?

Marwan Barghouti, who announced his candidacy for president last week, is now facing substantial opposition from within the ranks of Fateh. Ha'aretz reports that Farouq Qaddoumi, the new head of Fateh, stated from Tunis:
"As the presidential election draws closer, any Fatah member who goes against decisions of the movement's central committee should resign and his membership would be cancelled."
And while Qaddoumi is certainly one of the "old guard" of the Fateh movement, it should also be noted that he is not simply a company line kind of guy, considering his break with Arafat (and Abu Mazin) over Oslo, which he strongly opposed. Qaddoumi also said the he hoped that Barghouti would reconsider his candidacy and that he had sent some people to talk to him about it.

Meanwhile, Danny Rubinstein has a brief but effective breakdown of the three high profile candidates in the PA presidential race: Marwan Barghouti, Mustafa Barghouti, and Abu Mazin. In it he writes:
A widespread campaign against Marwan Barghouti is being waged in recent days among the Palestinian public. In every corner of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, groups of Fatah members, veterans and younger men, have been organizing and denouncing Barghouti's candidacy for head of the Palestinian Authority. The branches of the Shabiba, the Fatah youth organization; the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the military arm of the organization; and even the organization of Fatah prisoners in Israeli prisons - all have been publicizing notices of support for Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and reservations concerning their friend Barghouti. Everyone is careful not to taint the honor of the most famous Palestinian prisoner - "the architect of the intifada," as his fans call him - but are asking of him: Please withdraw your candidacy. "If you respect democracy and the principle of majority decision, you must change your mind and support Abu Mazen," they are writing him.
If I am not mistaken, I remember reading that the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had endorsed Barghouti instead of Abu Mazin - it is interesting now that after Barghouti has thrown his hat into the ring they are taking a different position (although it is possible that the report then was incorrect, the report now is incorrect, of that each report refers to a different branch of the Brigades - which, from my impression, seem to be highly decentralized). The major concern seems to be that Barghouti will not receive enough of the vote to defeat Abu Mazin, but only take enough votes from Abu Mazin that he will not have a strong mandate to lead (and we here in the US know a thing or two about mandates, don't we?). The first article linked above cites a Bir Zeit University poll that has Marwan Barghouti with 46 percent support among respondents who have decided to vote and Abu Mazin with 44 percent support (with Mustafa Barghouti with 6.7 percent). Another poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, has Marwan Barghouti at 21.9 percent, Mustafa Barghouti at 13.6 percent, and Abu Mazin at 39.8 percent. I'm not a pollster, so I cannot explain the pretty significant differences in these results, but I did notice that the Bir Zeit poll was broken down much more among those respondents who indicated that they had decided to vote, those who were undecided, and those who had decided that they were not going to vote. The Bir Zeit poll also shows that 64.4% of those surveyed believe that Abu Mazin will win the election (for whatever that is worth).

Also noteworthy in the PCPO poll were responses to questions about Hamas's decision to boycott and Marwan Barghouti's decision to enter the election. The poll showed 44.4 percent thought that Hamas's decision to boycott was the wrong decision (compared to 36.9 percent who thought it was the right decision). The poll also showed that 39.9 percent thought Barghouti's decision was the wrong decision (compared to 39.1 percent who thought it was the right decision and 21 percent who didn't know). Of Fateh members polled, Barghouti received 26.4 percent support compared to 73.6 percent for Abu Mazin. This seems like a pretty significant backlash against Barghouti's decision. I cannot believe that he would want to be stripped of his Fateh membership, and there is the possibility that his political career would never fully recover from something as significant as that. Obviously looking at two polls that say two pretty different things it is hard to say what the reality is, but I would think that if Barghouti gets the sense that he has no real chance to win this election, he will withdraw his candidacy.


 

Winter in the kitchen - tomatoes and chestnuts. (photo by my dad)

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