Friday, January 14, 2005


Azmi Bishara on Palestinian Elections

Azmi Bishara does a good job of looking at what exactly is the value of the recent Palestinian presidential elections in an opinion piece in al-Ahram. In a broad look at what "democracy" has meant and is coming to mean (a worthwhile investigation, given our current President's emphasis on it), Bishara writes, "electoral campaigns are an exercise in distorting the will of the people."
There is influence, pressure, money, lies, fraud and deception, all used in various ways to manipulate the electorate.... Deliberate tampering with the polls through such means as removing names or adding fictional names to voter registration lists, altering or forging ballots, or falsifying the tallying of votes, are thus rendered unnecessary. Tampering tends to be the recourse of underdeveloped political forces or rulers that are weak or unable to afford the luxury of costly campaigns. But an election that is free of the first set of ills is a rare bird indeed. One has the strong impression that the recent elections in Ukraine marked a victory of the first set of ills over the second.

But is there any real difference between the two? The first set does just as much to falsify the popular will as the second, and apply in varying degrees to all electoral processes, beginning with the tailoring of the process itself and passing through methods of financing it, the purchasing of votes through direct payments or through promises of jobs or services, control over access to the media, false pledges made and lies and insinuations spread against rival candidates. It happens everywhere, even in the most established democracies. And then of course there is the more recent problem - US intervention in elections abroad, through ambassadors and other envoys, aid and finance agencies, and democracy approval ratings.
Essentially, though, I think Bishara does distinguish between the two. The difference, Bishara says, is that in the first scenario (with honest polls and dirty campaigns) at least the candidates and parties are forced to make an effort to appeal to the people:
the elections were a political process and those participating were compelled to outline their political views and objectives and to state their apprehensions, leaving the ultimate say to the voter, regardless of the powerful regional and international factors at play.
And he extends some very pointed criticism at Palestinian political parties who have abdicated their duties as political parties; that is, maintaining a relationship with the people on the streets, constituents.
Political parties cannot survive on their past laurels or on declaring responsibility for a resistance operation from time to time. If they have a policy or a programme to which they subscribe they must lay this before the public. Yet, today, we find that some political parties no longer bother to produce a newspaper, let alone convene popular rallies or other forms of grassroots mobilisation. It would appear that the problem resides in the absence of political party life in the simplest sense.
In the end, Bishara is adamant that the Palestinians, despite the flaws in the elections, should not walk away from the process with nothing gained. True, there is a certain futility in electing a president with no authority over a territory with no sovereignty. There is a certain sense of apathy that comes from an election in which less than half the eligible population participated and in which the second largest political party fielded no candidate. In which there was little doubt about the candidate prefered by the United States and Israel, in which the second most popular candidate sits inside an Israeli prison and whose in again-out again campaign status was handled far from the realm of the popular will. But as a tool that can be used to build a civil society, can be harnessed to involve the people in politics (is this not the true definition of democracy?), the elections can help to play a part, to encourage democracy, participation, and eventually the hopes that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be arranged in a manner that is acceptable to the people, and not just to the winners of elections.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


"and your home in the grave"

I am a firm believer that Sasha Baron Cohen is a comedic genius. Check out this New York Post online gossip column:
TV prankster Ali G, a k a Sasha Baron Cohen, is at it again. Posing as one of his hilarious aliases, Kazakhstan journalist "Borat," the British comic nearly incited a riot while singing the national anthem at a rodeo in Salem, Va., the other day. Cohen-as-Borat claimed he was filming a documentary and convinced organizers to let him sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" to show his appreciation for the U.S.A. Speaking in broken English, Cohen told the crowd he supported the war on terrorism. "I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards," Cohen declared. "And may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq." After warbling what he said was his own native national anthem, Cohen proceeded to sing a butchered version of the "Star-Spangled Banner," ending with the words, "your home in the grave." By then, he was drowned out by boos and getting flipped off by the crowd. "If he had been out there a minute longer, I think somebody would have shot him," attendee Robynn Jaymes told the Roanoke Times. Rodeo producers, who suddenly realized they had been hoaxed, escorted Cohen from the building.
(Thanks, Maha!)


Kids say the darnedest things

There is a very interesting article by Akiva Eldar in today's Ha'aretz about Israeli children and their view of Palestinians. In it, Eldar focuses on Assi Sharabi's Ph.D. thesis for the London School of Economics, in which he asked Israeli children in three schools (on in a city, one in a settlement, and one in a secular kibbutz) to draw pictures and write an essay from the point of view of a Palestinian child writing about Israel. As you would expect, it is chock full of very depressing writing. It seems that at times children are able to filter complex ideas down to their very essence, and Eldar closes with a quote from a child's essay (a girl who actually decided to ignore the rules and write from her own perspective) that sums up the attitude of Israelis and hardcore supporters of Israel toward the Palestinians and their situation.
"It is necessary to reach a peace agreement and I don't understand why both we and they don't agree to sacrifice a few things and that way we could live together. It is necessary to look at the glass as half full and if not then to pour the glass that is half empty into a smaller glass and then it will be completely full."
Yes, keep giving the Palestinians smaller and smaller glasses until the droplet or two of water that you offer is more than it can hold. And then what will they have to complain about? Their cup will be overflowing!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Palestinian Voter Turnout

Since the low voter turnout in the Palestinian elections on the 9th, there has been a concerted effort to deny that the voter turnout was anything less than solid, significant, or strong. The truth is that it was none of these things, no matter how much we all want to believe that this is a turning point, an opportunity, etc. etc. (I even read somewhere, and am now forgetting where, that this marked the end of the intifada). The truth of the matter was that about 45 percent of eligible voters participated in the Palestinian presidential elections on Sunday. Ali Abunimah at ElectronicIntifada has a breakdown of the figures (he arrives at a figure of 46.7 percent voter turnout) as well as an analysis of the attempts by the media and what he calls the "international peace process industry" (government officials, think tank people, columnists, etc.) to skew the turnout numbers in a more positive direction.

Meanwhile, in Ha'aretz, Amira Hass has more analysis with regard to why the turnout was so low. She writes:
What's left is to examine the reasons for the low turnout: 45 percent of the eligible voters. Palestinian society is supremely political. So the abstention was also very political. It proves that the Palestinian public is not suffering from the illusion about who really rules over its life. It is not Abu Mazen, or Fatah, but the Israeli government and its emissary, the army. At no point on election day was it possible to forget that. At the Jabalya election station, a school that had been hit in the past by missiles; at Beit Lahia, the farming town in Gaza whose greenhouses and orchards have been erased by order of the army; at the voting station in Khan Yunis, which could only be reached through the rubble left behind by the army as it defended the settlements of Gush Katif; in Tel Sultan in Rafah, where the roads crushed by IDF tanks have not been repaired yet.
Finally, I just saw that ABC News named bloggers the "people of the year." What the hell is that crap? As a blogger myself, I can honestly say that I am not the person of the year. And whoever thinks that I am/we are is an absolute moron.


No More Peace Pipes

According to the Forward, Daniel Pipes is out at the US Insitute of Peace. Looks like Danny boy had a hard time getting along (note: does not play well with others), this becoming most obvious in March of 2004.
Last March, he clashed with the organization, lambasting it in his column for hosting a conference with a group, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, that Pipes charged employs personnel who are Muslim "radicals.”

The institute’s director of congressional and public affairs, Kay King, responded to the criticism in a letter that Pipes posted to his Web site,

"The Institute was aware of and took seriously the accusations made against CSID and some of the speakers at the event,” King wrote. "These allegations were investigated carefully with credible private individuals and U.S. government agencies and found to be without merit. The public criticism of CSID and the speakers was found to be based on quotes taken out of context, guilt by association, errors of fact, and innuendo.”
Quotes taken out of context, guilt by association, errors of fact, and innuendo? Gee, you don't say. It seems to me that Pipes has made himself a nice career in the right-wing media out of these exact tactics. It's a joke that this guy was ever part of the USIP and I'm happy to see him thrown out on his ass.


Halliburton wins Iran gas contract despite sanctions

According to the Daily Star, Halliburton has won a major contract to drill for gas in Iran.
Iran said Monday that U.S. oil giant Halliburton had won a major contract to drill for gas, despite U.S. sanctions against foreign investment in the country's energy industry. "Halliburton and Oriental Kish [an Iranian company] are the final winners of the tender for drilling South Pars phases 9 and 10," Pars Oil and Gas Company managing director Akbar Torkan said, according to state television. An unidentified Pars company board member said the deal for the gas fields in the Gulf off the south coast of Iran was worth about $310 million. He said Halliburton had not directly signed the contract but that it had offered its services via Oriental Kish. Under a law introduced in 1996, the United States threatens sanctions on both American and foreign companies investing more than $40 million in Iran's petroleum industry.
Well, if that's the law then I'm sure sanctions will handed down shortly. Hahahahahahhaha! Whew, that's a good one.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Aunt Deb, your "partner" comment made me remember this amazing Tom Toles cartoon in the Washington Post (from December 16, 2004). I think it's worth reposting at this time, n'est pas?

Monday, January 10, 2005


Palestinian Elections

The big story of the Palestinian elections is going to be voter turnout. Somehow, despite all of Richard Gere's efforts, the chairman of the Palestinian election commission put turnout at about 43 percent of eligible voters. Now, that's not very high. And that's not good for Abu Mazin, who got 66 to 70 percent of the vote, a number that represents the votes of between 28 and 30 percent of eligible Palestinian voters. There are obvious reasons why the turnout was so low, many of them are explored in this Serene Mulham article that appeared in al-Ahram before the elections. And while Israeli actions made conditions for elections far from perfect (see Graham Usher's al-Ahram article here for good coverage of that), as Amira Hass writes:
When it was reported yesterday, at around 5 P.M., that the Palestinian Central Elections Committee would keep the polls open another two hours, until 9 P.M., people in the Jabalya refugee camp knew the official reason given (Israeli delays of voting in Jerusalem) is not the main one.
Given that in recent municipal elections there was upwards of 80 percent turnout and even less scrutiny on Israeli obstruction (not to mention greater incentive for Israelis to obstruct elections where Hamas encouraged participation), there was simply a large segment of the Palestinian population who chose not to vote. And, as people wrote over and over and over again in the leadup and followup to the US presidential elections (which, despite their "importance," saw sadly low voter turnout figures), low voter turnout is largely the result of a sense of disempowerment, the sense that voting doesn't make a difference. Given the largely undemocratic manner in which the election took place (with backroom wheeling and dealing keeping Marwan Barghouti out of the race) and the undemocratic framework in which the election is taking place (in which no matter who is elected is subject to the will of Israel and the US) this is not that surprising. And of course there was the Hamas boycott (which, however you slice it, does not account for the low turnout completely).

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