Friday, March 11, 2005


Fatah eyes legislative elections

In this week's al-Ahram, Khalid Amayreh writes about the divisions within Fatah that are starting to reveal themselves after the death of Arafat, the election of Abbas, and in anticipation of Palestinian legislative elections that are scheduled for this coming July. Amayreh reports on the resignation of 15 prominent regional Fatah leaders from the party, writing:
The resigning leaders, who included Ahmed Ghuneim, Mohamed Hourani, Hussein Al-Sheikh, Qaddura Faris, Jamal Shubaki and Hatem Abdul-Qader, warned that Fatah would suffer a resounding defeat in the upcoming legislative election, slated for 25 July, unless radical organisational reforms within the movement were introduced sooner rather than later.

In a press interview earlier this week, Ghuneim argued that Fatah was losing to Hamas in the Palestinian public opinion due to "mistakes and blunders" made by the movement's leadership, particularly the Fatah Executive Committee, controlled mainly by "outsiders" who returned from abroad after the creation of the self-rule authority in 1993.
The resigning members are also connected to Marwan Barghouti, whose status also suffered as a result of the presidential elections and the whole fiasco with that. The major complaint is that Fatah as a political organization functions with very little input from the bottom and in a very undemocratic manner. This lack of democratic tendency is also evident in the fact that:
Some Fatah leaders, fearing a poor showing and even poorer results in the elections, are already sending out feelers suggesting and recommending that the elections be postponed at least six months in order to give the movement sufficient time to enhance its popularity and winning prospects.

Indeed, such suggestions and "whisperings" might eventually evolve into a formal demand by Fatah, given present difficulties and the image problems it is facing.
What a strategy... if you're doing poorly, simply postpone elections. Interestingly, a recent poll (in pdf format) by the Palestinian Center for Research and Cultural Dialogue shows that 54 percent of Palestinians believe that the Palestinian political factions are not characterized by democracy and transparency. Also, in light of the possibility of postponing the legislative elections, 83.1 percent support holding them this July. As Amayreh points out, if Abbas were to postpone the elections, it would most likely serve only to push Fatah even further into disarray, and would certainly hurt their popularity. If Fatah wants to win more elections (the same poll shows that if elections were held today, 35.9 percent would vote for Fatah, 19.3 percent for Hamas, and around 10 or 11 percent for independents, either national or Islamic), they would be better served by listening to those voices of dissent inside the party rather than trying to enforce a strict party line from above.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


The Impermanent Revolution

I really must recommend Ronald Aronson's review of Isaac Deutscher's Trotsky trilogy in the Nation. Not to give away the ending or anything, but I think that the last paragraph is quite compelling in a broader, more general sense, outside of the context of Deutscher's books (as any good review should hope to achieve) for those of you who don't have the chance to go read the whole thing:
It turns out that hope based on illusion is no more than a false hope, and has led, time and again, to disaster. But that is the easy lesson. The more difficult one is that sometimes it takes a lifetime, even generations, to dispel the power of illusion. Earlier generations of the left fell under its spell; gone today is our faith in history, gone today is the belief that radical acts of will can transform the world without degenerating into brutality. Perhaps the illusion that we have most recently abandoned is, as the late Nation writer Daniel Singer (himself a Deutscher protégé) said, the kind of thinking that misses "the connection between ends and means." To put it crudely, but in a way that indicts Trotsky and some of the wilder spirits of the New Left no less than Stalin, we have learned that force cannot create a humane society. It is a lesson that the neoconservative architects of the Iraq War and their liberal hawk fellow travelers have yet to absorb.
Well said.


U.S. to Israel: Thanks, but No Thanks!

Is the U.S. administration starting to see Israel as a liability? Well, not completely. But, according to Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer relayed a message to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom asking Israel to stop calling for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Eldar quotes "a Western diplomatic source" as saying:
"You don't have to be a political genius to understand that public pressure from Israel for steps to be taken against Syria on the Lebanon issue could boomerang, since it would turn the U.S. and Europe, in Arab eyes, into puppets of Israel."
You don't think Israel's posturing had anything to do with the high turnout on Tuesday's Hizballah-led pro-Syrian rally, do you? Hmmm... well, maybe just a little?

On the same day, Eldar also reports the US administration is warning Israel that a failure to remove settlement outposts (a hot topic as a result of the release of Talia Sasson's report to Ariel Sharon on governmental support for outposts) could "harm relations between the countries and could have an impact on American aid to Israel." I would guess that this amounts to pretty much an empty threat, but empty threats are a step above no threats at all (in diplomatic terms at least). It seems that Israel seems to be rubbing the Bushies the wrong way, acting like a bit of a bump in the road toward the great Middle East democracy project maybe.

Now who would have ever guessed that US support for Israel wouldn't bring popularity and credibility throughout the rest of the Middle East?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Jane Harman: Idiot

I saw Jane Harman (D-CA) on Fox News this morning talking about how yesterday's Hizballah-led rally in Beirut was just an attempt by Hizballah to make it seem like they are a Lebanese organization. Excuse me, Representative Harman, but if Hizballah isn't Lebanese, what the hell are they? I'll refer you again to James Wolcott's suggestion that we're going to be hearing a lot more about Hizballah in the upcoming days, weeks, and months. Unfortunately, most of what we'll be hearing is uninformed crap (such as the ludicrous insinuation that Hizballah is a foreign group operating inside Lebanon).


Israeli Government Complicit in Funding and Constructing Settlement Outposts

Here are three articles, from Ha'aretz, the Guardian, and the Washington Post regarding Talia Sasson's report on settlement outposts that is supposed to be released sometime soon. I've been trying to locate a copy of the actual report, but I'm not sure that it's available in English yet. As soon as I find an English-language copy, I will post a link.

In the meantime, I think it is interesting to see how the different newspapers focus on this report and its findings. Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper leads with the following:
Some of the illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank were both planned and funded by the Housing Ministry, including a number of those built on private Palestinian land, the author of a report on the West Bank outposts told reporters Wednesday.
I've noticed that the headline on the Ha'aretz website now is something about certain ministries and agencies refusing to provide requested information to Sasson for her report. The Ha'aretz story delves into this issue in the third paragraph:
Sasson also told reporters at Wednesday's press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem that a number of government ministries had failed to hand over some of the information she requested.

"I was unable to access all the data I asked for from government ministries," Sasson said, adding that the list of outposts that appears in the report is not a complete one. "I do not have a full picture of all the outposts," she said.

In light of the severe accusations, Sasson recommended that the Housing Ministry be stripped of authority over construction of settlements in the West Bank, and that this power be transferred to the cabinet.
Again, a strong focus on the role of the Housing Ministry. The Guardian, however, leads with the idea that this could mean a criminal investigation aimed at Ariel Sharon.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, could face a criminal investigation after an inquiry today found government funds had secretly been used to set up illegal West Bank settlements.
A report by the former state prosecutor Talia Sasson called for Israel's attorney general to consider initiating criminal proceedings after discovering various ministries and official institutions had cooperated in channelling money to help to establish unauthorised outposts over the past decade.

Ms Sasson said the discovery called for "drastic steps" to be taken in order to protect Israel's democracy. Although she did not say by name who should face investigation, commentators said Mr Sharon would have played a key role in setting up outposts.
Throughout the story, the focus continues to be Sharon, as current housing minister Yitzhak Herzog is given the unsavory role of defending Sharon.
"The prime minister is displaying unusual courage in the recent period, including on this issue [outposts]," Mr Herzog told Israeli army radio. "The prime minister was connected to this issue, as someone who led the settlement movement ... for many years.

"But to unload the whole story on the prime minister is not right," Mr Herzog said.
Now I can think of several reasons that Herzog, of the Labor party, would take this line of reasoning. First, the Labor party wants to maintain influence in the Sharon government, especially if there is a shake-up around the time that the budget needs to be passed. Or Herzog might want to deflect criticism, in general, so that he will have an ally in Sharon when the attacks on the Housing Ministry start to heat up. Related to this, Herzog will essentially have to defend himself with the same line, i.e. "that was something in the past that is no longer happening" (more plausible for Herzog than Sharon, since he is new to his position as housing minister). Finally (and I suppose this is the most pure of the motives), Herzog could be trying to make sure that the focus is not placed on one man when it is quite obvious that the settlement expansion and outpost expansion is an institutional problem, an issue in which few are without blame (though surely many will escape without it).

As for the Washington Post story, the focus is on the violation of Israeli law and "international mandate." The story reads:
The Israeli government is funding and building Jewish settlement outposts across the West Bank in violation of its own laws and international mandates, according to a government-sanctioned report scheduled to be released Wednesday....

In the report, Sasson concludes that "the violation of the law has become institutional and institutionalized" in some government agencies, according to the newspaper account. "There is blatant violation of the law by certain state authorities, public authorities, regional councils in [the West Bank] and the settlers."

Government agencies have long denied complicity in the construction of settlement outposts in the West Bank, usually blaming Jewish settler organizations that officials say are independent of the government. But Sasson's report describes direct involvement by the Israeli government -- including the ministries of Defense and of Construction and Housing -- in outpost construction that violates not only Israeli law but the "road map" peace plan backed by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
I'm sorry, but who really cares about the "road map"? I mean, is it really news that Israel is not adhering to the "road map"? And furthermore, the story seems to imply that the "road map" is somehow more important as an "international mandate" than international law or UNSC resolutions? There is no mention of international law in the article; the focus is on the outposts and not on the actual settlements themselves. Indeed, the article states that "settlement expansion" (as opposed to the entire settlement enterprise) is "one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians."

Also interesting was noticing where in the story it is mentioned that some of the outposts were built on privately-owned Palestinian land. Ha'aretz leads with this fact, including it in the first and second paragraphs of the story. The Guardian brings the issue up in the 6th paragraph, but does not explicitly state the claim until the 7th paragraph. The Washington Post references it in the 9th paragraph of the story only.

Like I said, I'll post excerpts and a link to the full report as soon as I can find it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Washington Post Bullshit

The lead editorial of today's Washington Post is not only humorously linked on the website's front page (as follows: "Lead Editorial: Arab Dictators Resist Democracy" - as though this is somehow news to somebody, or as though this is a trait peculiar to Arab dictators, as opposed to all the other dictators who are so open to democracy) but full of rotten Orientalism within, embodied particularly in this sentence:
The old forces of the Middle East -- founded on autocracy, Islamic extremism and terrorism -- are facing off in Lebanon against its brand-new one, based on liberal values and peaceful "people power."
Though I am used to reading this kind of tripe in the op-ed pages of the Post, it's usually in Charles Krauthammer's column. I feel affirmed that I am no longer subscribed.


So tell me again how this is all going to work out?

According to the Guardian, tens of thousands joined in a Hizballah-led pro-Syria rally in Beirut today. Now forgive me if I'm wrong, but this throws a little hitch in the smooth transition to flourishing democracy that all the pundits are declaring as the legacy of George W. Bush. How exactly is the Lebanese "opposition" going to see about getting Hizballah to disarm? It seems to me that they are either going to call on international intervention (which some already have) meaning foreign involvement (not exactly the hallmark of sovereign democratic rule) or there is going to be a conflict between rival Lebanese groups. As somebody once said, "This won't be Ukraine of 2004, but maybe Lebanon of 1975." The press here in the US has been covering this like it's one big party, with people waving flags in the streets. But at some point the flags are going to come down and some real issues are going to have to be dealt with here. And it may not be pretty.

UPDATE (8 March, 11:50 a.m.): According to Reuters (via Ha'aretz), it's hundreds of thousands attending the rally, which "dwarfed previous Lebanese protests demanding that Syrian troops quit Lebanon." According to Hizballah and Lebanese security sources, the rally turnout was one million people (I'll stick with hundreds of thousands for now).

Also, Tom Toles once again proves his genius (I tried to get the image to post here, but my computer is experiencing some serious problems, so I could not do it).

Monday, March 07, 2005


Informed Comment

The professor Juan Cole writes quite eloquently today on terrorism and its root causes.
Let's think about terrorism in the past few decades in a concrete and historical way, and it is obvious that it comes out of a reaction to being occupied militarily by foreigners....

In contrast, authoritarian governments like that of Iraq and Syria, while they might use terror for their own purposes from time to time, did not produce large-scale indepdendent terrorist organizations that struck itnernational targets. Authoritarian governments also proved adept at effectively crushing terrorist groups, as can be seen in Algeria and Egypt. It was only in failed states such as Afghanistan that they could flourish, not in authoritarian ones.

So it is the combination of Western occupation and weak states that produced the conditions for radical Muslim terrorism.

Democratic countries have often produced terrorist movements. This was true of Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States in the late 1960s and through the 1970s. There is no guarantee that a more democratic Iraq, Egypt or Lebanon will produce less terrorism. Certainly, the transition from Baathist dictatorship has introduced terrorism on a large scale into Iraqi society, and it may well spill over from there into neighboring states.
Add to this Abbas Kadhim's comparison of pre-invasion Iraq to post-invasion Iraq.
When I lived in Iraq (1960's, 1970's and 1980's), Iraqi streets used to be among the best in the world. You could walk any time in the 24 hours and never think that someone will rob you. Men, women and children alike used to walk in the streets without fear. The sanctions changed the situation in a negative way in the 1990's and up to 2003, but Iraq still remained a very safe country (the same safety standard in advanced countries). Exceptions to that is the behavior of Saddam's son (`Uday) and his trouble making. But in a country of 20 millions, the chances of meeting him in the street is like being hit by a comet. There were also problems with economic reasons behind them -- due to the sanctions -- and some incidental highway theft. Not enough to justify calling Iraq unsafe.

After 2003, Iraq has become a living hell for all Iraqis. One needs to kiss his kids good-bye every time he leaves home, even for buying some bread. No place in Iraq is safe. It is true that some places have more problems than others, but the recent attacks in Hilla proved that it is fake safety that can be shattered any time.
The problem is that, just as with the conflation of al-Qaeda and the Baath party, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of terrorism in the United States has been completely intertwined with the idea of unfriendly regimes. To "win" anything, though, the two must be separated. As Cole writes:
I'm all for democratization in the Middle East, as a good in its own right. But I don't believe that authoritarian governance produced most episodes of terrorism in the last 60 years in the region. Terrorism was a weapon of the weak wielded against what these radical Muslims saw as a menacing foreign occupation. To erase that fact is to commit a basic error in historical understanding. It is why the US military occupation of Iraq is actually a negative for any "war on terror." Nor do I believe that democratization, even if it is possible, is going to end terrorism in and of itself.

You want to end terrorism? End unjust military occupations. By all means have Syria conduct an orderly withdrawal from Lebanon if that is what the Lebanese public wants. But Israel needs to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which belong to Syria, as well. The Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must be ended. The Russian scorched earth policy in Chechnya needs to stop. Some just disposition of the Kashmir issue must be attained, and Indian enormities against Kashmiri Muslims must stop. The US needs to conduct an orderly and complete withdrawal from Iraq. And when all these military occupations end, there is some hope for a vast decrease in terrorism. People need a sense of autonomy and dignity, and occupation produces helplessness and humiliation. Humiliation is what causes terrorism.

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