Thursday, December 30, 2004

 

A belated Christmas greeting. Photo of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

 

Sharon, Bush, and the generous offer of a Palestinian state

Azmi Bishara, a member of Israel's Knesset, has a fantastic (if a bit poorly edited) piece in the current al-Ahram Weekly, in which he discusses the recent talk by Bush and Sharon that expresses interest in the creation of a Palestinian state. Bishara writes:
But more importantly to Sharon, the state has now become a prerequisite for continuing negotiations over a final settlement. Yes, what since Rabin had been regarded as a distasteful inevitability of a permanent settlement has become an Israeli demand that must be fulfilled not just before a permanent settlement but instead of a permanent settlement To Sharon, a Palestinian state is another word for a protracted interim period. Whether this state is created on a little more or a little less than 40 per cent of the occupied territories is not the point; the point is to make it the cornerstone of a drawn-out interim phase after which negotiations will take place with a government that has demonstrated its mettle as a government, which is to say proven its ability to monopolize the means of violence and to organize its legal and social affairs. Once this state is in place, according to Sharon's way of thinking, everyone can relax, because then negotiations over a the outstanding issues of a final settlement can proceed in a nice, genteel pace until the end of time if the negotiating parties so desire, because then the nature of the conflict will have been transformed into a dispute between two states. And what outstanding issues might two states have to settle between them? Borders of course. Niggling details over borders. Certainly not national rights or other matters pertaining to national liberation. And certainly not the Palestinian right to return. Naturally, the Palestinian state established in Gaza and a portion of the West Bank will have the right to grant passports to Palestinian refugees if it wants. In fact, it can even grant them the right to return to the areas within its borders. That would be its right as a state, which Sharon would gracefully acknowledge or, if not gracefully, he would object and then grudgingly make another "painful concession."
Similarly, the Gaza disengagement plan (the plan, not the actual disengagement) has turned the predominant view of Sharon from a fairly negative one (ranging from war criminal to politically savvy bully) to a generally positive one (ranging from the guy you don't like personally but gets things done to courageous clairvoyant starting martyrdom in the eye). Sharon has managed, with the help of George W. Bush, 9/11, and the lack of a strong counternarrative, to engage the world on his own terms. And thus, he will give the Palestinians what even Barak, with his "generous offer," did not give them: a state. Sharon will offer a state and, coming from him, it will be seen as the generous offer to end all generous offers. And maybe, as Bishara points out, it will fulfill none of the needs and desires of the Palestinian people. But if they turn it down, this will also work to the benefit of Sharon. Once again, the greedy Palestinians will have missed an opportunity for peace. And once again it will be proven that what they (the murderous Arabs) really want is to destroy the state of Israel and drive the Jews into the sea.

Thus, Sharon is willing to take the short-term losses (removing settlements from Gaza, a few from the West Bank, allowing the Palestinians to vote) in order to achieve a greater strategic advantage over the Palestinians. And he has to skillfully play the others in the Israeli right who have a hardline mentality, where any small concession is a step toward the annihilation of Israel. This is why he must deny comments by Ehud Olmert that there is going to be more disengagement from the West Bank following the current disengagement plan. But if you really read what Olmert said, it fits together.
In the interview, Olmert was quoted as saying, "There is no option of sitting and doing nothing. Israel's interest requires a disengagement on a wider scale than what will happen as part of the current disengagement plan". Olmert declined to define the extent of the second pull back, but said it was necessary to prevent Israel being forced to give up all the lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

But Olmert, a Sharon confidant, said the second withdrawal would go ahead regardless of whether the expected talks are successful. [italics are mine]
And giving the Palestinians a state is part of this whole game of changing the terms of engagement. As Bishara writes:
This is Sharon's concept of a Palestinian state. It is his alternative to a fully sovereign state with a capital in Jerusalem, to the 1967 borders and to the Palestinian right to return. And not one word of the roadmap contradicts his "vision." It is also his alternative to having to negotiate with a national liberation movement. There is a vast difference between negotiating a final settlement with a state and with a national liberation movement. Dozens of states have borders disputes; there is nothing particularly urgent or unsettling about them, unlike national liberation causes.
Take for example, the issue of Palestinian Jerusalemites voting in PA elections. Israel has stood in the way of their participation in the upcoming presidential elections. Expressed in terms of national liberation, you have a people denied democratic expression, denied representation in government, because of their nationality. However, if there is a Palestinian state that does not include East Jerusalem, then it is simply a matter of absentee balloting. Israel can argue that it is hardly it's responsibility to provide polling places for foreigners. And so you have a dramatic shift in perceived responsibilities when you shift from a national liberation movement to a state-state conflict.

Okay, I realize that's a whole lot of reading, but I really enjoyed Azmi Bishara's piece and I won't be writing much of anything else until next week. I hope everybody has a safe and happy new year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

 

PFLP endorses Mustafa Barghouthi

The PFLP officially endorsed Mustafa Barghouthi for president today at a press conference in Gaza City. It's not going to really make much of a difference, unfortunately, since the PFLP was not fielding a candidate and Barghouthi was already getting much of the leftist vote anyhow. And it's not like the PFLP would really turn out more than about 5 percent of the vote in any scenario. Still, as I wrote below, I think he is running a solid campaign, and hopefully he will emerge from this elections as more of a player in things.

UPDATE: 30 December 2004
Here is the press release from the PFLP regarding its endorsement of Mustafa Barghouthi.
From: Press Office-Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Dec 30 , 2005

The PFLP engaged in efforts to unify the democratic forces behind one candidate in the presidential elections, and, therefore, presented two main points for agreement on one united candidate. The first was the Democratic National Program (DNP) and the second was a commitment to an objective mechanism to select the candidate.

This was rejected by some of these forces leading to a dead-end process, especially when each force chose to nominate a representative of its own.

The PFLP then opened a dialogue with our comrades in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the People's Party, and the National Initiative. We have reached an agreement with our comrades in the National Initiative to endorse comrade Mustapha Barghouti as the candidate for the presidential elections, based on the Democratic National Program, which is comprised of the following points:

1-Commitment to our Palestinian National Rights; at the forefront being the Right of Return for Palestinian Refugees who have been displaced by force since 1948, the right of self-determination, and the right to establish our independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

2- Opposing both the "road map" and the racist Sharon plan, as well as every other political process that is based on the Oslo agenda and its "security approach" to solving the Arab Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Rather, supporting the national solution, which guarantees and protects our national goals.

3- The continuation of the Intifada and the resistance, by all forms and means of struggle - the political, the military, and the mass forms of our struggle - and to develop the strength of the Intifada and to accumulate its successes, on the road to achieve all of our people's goals.

4 -To struggle for the rebuilding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the main tool for the unity of our people and to activate its role and institutions.

On the internal Palestinian situation and the task of democratic change, we have agreed on the following points:

1- To continue our struggle to mandate the election law, and to provide a national and democratic process, in order for the elections to serve as a tool in the hands of our masses for self-determination, and therefore, to decide upon their options of resistance. Also, to develop a time line and schedule for the elections of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) , Palestine National Council (PNC), local councils, unions and popular institutions. This is the only basis to guarantee mass participation in the decision-making process.

2- To struggle for a democratic Palestinian political system and the separation between the three branches of the authority (legislative, executive and judicial).

3- To continue the struggle to resist administrative and financial corruption and to try anyone who is and/or was involved in corruption.

4- To build for a political development program which reflects and meets the needs of the popular impoverished classes, to develop our health and educational institutions, to support the struggle of our women and our youth and to preserve our national culture.

On these bases, the PFLP has decided to support a candidate who agrees to the Democratic National Program to confront the current political challenges. Therefore, the PFLP calls upon all of its members, cadres, and supporters to back and support Dr. Mustapha Barghouti, to support the path of resistance which opposes the current Zionist plans, to challenge the hegemony and unilateral leadership that is unrepresentative of the Palestinian people, and to protect the political program which calls for reforms and democratic change, by voting for Dr. Mustapha Barghouti.

Glory to the martyrs

Freedom for the prisoners of freedom

Victory belongs to our people

2004- 12- 30

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

 

PR, Mustafa, and You

Ihad al-Jariri is working very hard these days. Jariri is campaign manager for Mustafa Barghouthi, who is also working very hard these days. Both are working hard to get noticed, to thrust the hypocrisy of Israel (which says it is doing everything to facilitate PA elections while maintaining an occupation that has quite the opposite effect) and the US (which says that it is interested in fostering democracy in the Middle East, in Iraq and Palestine) into the light of the world. Democracy doesn't work when the candidate who is second in the polls is arrested for trying to campaign. This should be obvious. And my guess is that this was in fact a calculated maneuver by Jariri and Barghouthi to try to highlight these kinds of contradictions. (I really do believe that if Taisar Khaled of the DFLP can get the permit to have a campaign rally in Jerusalem, Barghouthi would have been allowed a permit also. The question, though, is whether a PA candidate should be required to seek an Israeli permit to campaign.) Unfortunately for Jariri and Barghouthi, the US media just does not care. They feel little desire to open up this hornet's nest of Israel/Palestine. So not a single major US newspaper will print more than a line or two (buried on page A30 or thereabouts, if we are lucky) about Barghouthi's arrest. Their coverage of the Palestinian elections means showing up for Abu Mazin's acceptance speech sometime in January. Meanwhile, most major papers will have a headline about Israel's "goodwill gesture" of releasing about 160 prisoners. This is the way the PR game works, and Israel knows it well and plays it well. Still, I give Jariri and Barghouthi all the credit in the world - they are really trying their best to wage an effective campaign both in Palestine and abroad.

Monday, December 27, 2004

 

Real Palestinian Elections

Well, there wasn't the fanfare that we saw in Afghanistan or we are likely to see with the presidential elections in Palestine or in the upcoming Iraqi elections, but elections took place in Palestine last week. With results coming in and the air beginning to clear yesterday, there are articles about the results of these local elections in the Israeli press, the European press, the Arab press. But where do we read about it in the American press? Well, there is a paragraph in the World in Brief section on page A30 of the Washington Post. Where is the Bush press conference praising the desire of a people under occupation to turn out to the polls to the tune of 81 percent (over 90 percent turnout in some areas)? How's this for an inspirational story:
Of the 306 newly elected local council members, 46 will be women. By law, two seats on every local council were set aside for women, and 21 of the new councilwomen were elected thanks to these "safe" seats.

However, 25 of the new councilwomen ran against male candidates and won, sometimes by wide margins. In Beni Zayid al-Sharkiya, northwest of Ramallah, for instance, Fatma Sahwil received more votes than any other candidate, beating out 11 men. In another town, a woman candidate received the third largest number of votes.
Pretty impressive, eh?

The problem is that the elections did not result in putting into power accommodationists who will bend over backwards to keep the US happy. But for all these reasons (high turnout, feel-good stories, legitimate results) and for the fact that these elections were actually contested by Islamist parties (who have the second largest constituency in Palestine), these will be the more important and the more democratic elections in Palestine.

 

David Hirst in the LA Times

Somehow in the madness of the holiday season I managed to miss this David Hirst piece in the LA Times the first time around. Hirst throws it all out there on the table, from Israel and Palestine to Iraq and Iran, in a neat breakdown of why the death of Yasir Arafat hardly means a new opportunity for peace. In a way, it's a bit of an anti-David Brooks analysis. Brooks, who takes a putridly clever jab at all the "nay-sayers" who thought that Ariel Sharon wasn't a great man of peace, and who thought that George W. Bush wasn't a righteous genius who will soon solve all of our Middle East problems, and who didn't think Yasir Arafat was the obstacle to peace that just needed to be removed for everything to fall into place. Well allow me to say that I think David Brooks is counting his chickens before they are hatched. Things are getting worse for Palestinians. Things are getting worse for Iraqis. Just because both might have "elections" does not mean that the people there are going to suddenly forget their problems. And the US is not going to be able to disentangle ourselves from these issues so easily; we have our hands in this up to our elbows and everybody knows it. As David Hirst writes:
Arabs wonder anxiously whether, in the headiness of reelection, Bush will embark on more of the Iraq-like enterprises envisaged in the neocons' grand design for the region. Continued, incorrigible partisanship in Palestine, combined with remorseless deterioration in Iraq, certainly makes it more likely.

And, to Washington's growing exasperation, Iran now has two "colonial" situations to exploit: the old one in Palestine and the new — and better — one in Iraq.

Any showdown will almost certainly come over nuclear weapons and the belief that Iran is about to get them. That would be very dangerous mainly because Israel already has them, is determined to preserve its monopoly and has suggested that if the U.S. doesn't do something about it, it will do so itself — an act liable to reduce Iraq to a case of merely moderate turbulence compared with the regional tempest that would then ensue.

 

Armenians pledge troops to Iraq

In some very sad Christmas eve news, Armenia's parliament voted to send 46 non-combat troops to Iraq. Now, of course 46 is not a very large number, but, as is pointed out in this AP story, far more than 46 lives are at stake here.
But the proposal had been widely criticized by opposition parties, many Armenians and even the 30,000-strong Armenian community in Iraq, which feared being targeted for attacks if the troops were sent.

"We shouldn't even be sending humanitarian troops to Iraq, because we can't jeopardize the security of Armenians living Iraq, said Viktor Dalakyan, a leader with the opposition party Justice. "Moreover their lives are already being threatened."

In August, an Armenian Apostolic church in Baghdad was hit in a wave of attacks on Iraq's minority Christians that that killed 11 people and injured more than 50.
So what would lead Armenia to risk increasing tensions within Iraq and further expose Iraqi Armenians to violence? Well, in case you didn't notice, Armenia hasn't been doing so well recently. It's a very poor country, and it has put itself in a very bad situation with its neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, with territorial disputes. So, most of Armenia's borders are closed off to trade. Not a good thing for a small, struggling nation's economy. So what does this have to do with Iraq? Well, by sending these troops, even if it means endangering tens of thousands of Iraqi Armenians, "[Armenian President Robert] Kocharian has sought to portray the decision to send troops to Iraq as a way to boost ties with Europe." Yes, boosting ties with Europe, and of course the United States as well, which might mean (depending on the mood of Europe or the US) pressure on Turkey to begin to open borders to trade, which could mean economic support, which essentially means just a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, a small spark of hope. So the small and powerless nations see fit to act in a way that is almost surely going to have negative repercussions for other people so that they might get a sniff at a glimmer of hope from the rich and the powerful. Merry Christmas everyone!

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