Friday, April 22, 2005

 

Graham Usher on Abbas's First 100 Days

Graham Usher has a very good piece in al-Ahram on Mahmud Abbas's first 100 days as President of the PA. Usher's article is especially valuable in its ability to point out both Abbas's accomplishments (presiding over a surprisingly peaceful transfer of power, as well as bringing Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO and thus reconsolidating decision-making that was splintered since the start of the al-Aqsa intifada) and the failures (an overwhelming sense of disappointment -- on all sides -- and the continued inability to bring results to the Palestinian people) and to weave them together in order to get a perspective on the overall situation. Usher closes the article with this:
Last month Abbas warned his Fatah movement that if his decrees were continually flouted he would resign. Few took the threat lightly. Unlike his predecessor, Abbas has the reputation of being a quitter. And if the next 100 days are similar to the last, every Palestinian is aware that the threat could become fact.
Abbas is one of the few Palestinian leaders recently to threaten to quit and to actually follow through (as he did when he was the PA's first prime minister), as opposed to Ahmad Qurai`, who reportedly handed in his resignation what seems like half a dozen times as prime minister, always to be coaxed back to the position, or the Central Elections Committee, which supposedly resigned en masse twice since the presidential elections on 9 January, but still somehow manages to be functioning at full capacity. And one can hardly blame Abbas -- he is hardly in an enviable situation. "What do I need this for?" you would have to imagine Abbas asking himself every day as he wakes up.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

 

A bit of tension between Pakistan and the US

A Guardian article reports that Lieutenant General Safdar Hussain, who leads 70,000 Pakistani troops in the tribal belt region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is fed up with U.S. statements and general interference with his operations. The Guardian states that Hussein:
described as "highly irresponsible" comments by Lieutenant General David Barno that Pakistan was about to launch an anti-terrorist operation.

"He should not have made that statement. It was a figment of his imagination. There is no bloody operation going on until we have the right intelligence," he told the Guardian at his headquarters in Peshawar...

"I don't want to give the nation the impression that Barno can come down here and dictate the operation," he said.
Here we have one of the most essential "allies" of the U.S. government in the "war on terror" publically tiffing with the U.S. -- one more embarassment for the Bush administration around the world. You'd have to imagine this is the result of Pakistani forces, who are probably not all that thrilled with being aligned with the U.S. in the "war on terror" to begin with, facing increasing hostility from anti-US sectors of the Pakistani population and certainly from Afghan tribesmen as well.
"There is a lot of anti-Americanism in the tribal belt, and al-Qaida knows how to take advantage of it," said Talat Masood, a retired general.

The army has scored a large but costly victory against al-Qaida in the South Waziristan tribal agency. An operation last year that involved 25,000 troops, fighter jets and laser-guided missiles, resulted in the death of 306 militants, over 150 of whom were foreigners. According to official figures, 251 Pakistani soldiers were killed.
Two hundred and fifty-one soldiers is not an insignificant number. With losses like that, you would have to imagine that the Pakistani military is starting to chafe at the increasingly tough position they are being put in by the U.S., one in which they are asked quite a bit of by the U.S. and are offered less and less support domestically and regionally as the opinion of the U.S. heads down the toilet.

 

Shake-up at AIPAC (hey that almost rhymes)

According to yesterday's Forward, AIPAC is firing their two top officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. Please feel free to compare statements from Rosen and Weissman's attorneys, and with an AIPAC source quoted in the Forward:
Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman have not violated any U.S. law or Aipac policy,” said the statement by Lowell and by Weissman’s attorney, John Nassikas. “Contrary to press accounts, they have never solicited, received or passed on any classified documents. They carried out their job responsibilities solely to serve Aipac’s goal of strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

In response, a person aligned with Aipac [this is revealed to be AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton in the Washington Post story today] said: "The statement made by Rosen and Weissman represents solely their view of the facts. The action that Aipac has taken was done in consultation with counsel after careful consideration of recently learned information and the conduct AIPAC expects of its employees.”
Hmmm... doesn't look good for Rosen and Weissman. And you can't possibly say it looks good for AIPAC either, given the stature of these two. If this was two low-level schmucks, AIPAC could easily throw them under the bus and move on. I don't think that this is a fatal blow to AIPAC -- they are far too strong an organization to write off -- but it certainly gives a heavy dose of fuel to those (and there certainly are a few) who are interested in reducing AIPAC's prestige and power. I think much will depend on how effectively AIPAC's opponents are able to mobilize and use this opportunity to introduce some other viewpoints to Washington.

(Thanks to Aunt Deb for sending this to me.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

 

David Hirst piece in the Guardian

Sorry, no time to blog today, but I would like to direct attention to David Hirst's Dangerous Democracy in today's Guardian. Hirst, as usual, does a very good job of exploring the different facets of that phrase we've come to hear so much, "democracy in the Middle East."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

 

Take Hamas seriously

"Hamas" -- I think most Americans think of it as some kind of cross between al-Qa`ida and the PLO. A combination of the two craziest kinds of brown-skinned savages (Palestinians and Islamists). It becomes so overwhelming that they can't think, their brains shut down. And so "Hamas" is just a buzz-word that TV people can throw out there to make people think "scaaary."

It seems, though, that people are going to have to start rethinking that stereotype. Akiva Eldar has a very interesting article on Ha'aretz about the recent meetings between Europeans and Americans and Hamas officials. It might be that Americans -- driven by their fear and hatred of Hamas evoked by images of suicide bombers and the twin towers and whatever else springs up inside the "American mind" -- want nothing to do with the group, want to alienate it, designate it a "terrorist organization" and make sure that there are no contacts between the U.S. government and Hamas. But in order to have any kind of meaningful dialogue about the Middle East, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is no way of avoiding Hamas.

Eldar writes:
Middle East scholar Mati Steinberg, who was a special advisor to the two most recent heads of the Shin Bet security service, said he sees in the comments of Abu Marzouq's group signs of a Hamas plan to take over the Palestinian government using democratic means. "It is evident that they are trying to transmit to the West, particularly to the United States, the message that Hamas is not only a political factor but that it is also the most effective organization among the Palestinians," said Steinberg, immediately adding an assessment of his own: "They are indeed the most dynamic factor in the territories and therefore they have an interest in fair elections and also in foreign observers, and a promise in advance that the results will be accepted at home and in the West. Hamas sees the elections as setting a seal on the character of the regime of the Palestinian state and its constitution," he said.

Steinberg said Abu Marzouq's remarks on the intention to join the PLO confirm the suspicion that Hamas will not be content with just taking control of Palestinian society in the territories. At a demonstration held in Beirut a few days after the encounter with Crooke's group, Khaled Meshal, Abu Marzouq's boss, said that Hamas wants to become the patron of the Palestinian refugee leadership in Lebanon and presented plans of action. Meshal emphasized the weak presence of Fatah among the refugees and he knows how to use their anger and frustration, which is growing as a result of their feeling that Fatah has abandoned them, Steinberg said.
You see, Americans like to talk a big game about "democracy in the Middle East," but promoting democracy in the Middle East means that you accept the results of democracy, whether you like them or not, and you work with what you get. The situation of the U.S. government with regards to Hamas is now that they have so demonized Hamas (with the help of the media) that they are now in a position that if Hamas wins, they are stuck between their two rhetorics: Hamas is evil and cannot be negotiated with, and democracy in the Middle East. Of course, there's no real way to undo the image of Hamas in the U.S. quickly. And, of course, the "democracy in the Middle East" rhetoric is not subject to strict enforcement in terms of actions -- we already know that. However, simply ignoring the situation is not going to result in good things for the U.S. You'll have another situation, as with the PLO before Oslo, where the U.S. refuses to recognize the validity of the Palestinians. And as the U.S. learned then and may have to learn again, ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away. It's time for the U.S. to start taking Hamas seriously as a political force, and not simply as a convenient boogieman to scare little Americans.

Monday, April 18, 2005

 

China-Japan relations and students in the streets

Let me start this post by saying that I am wholely unqualified to comment on this story. However, there is an aspect of it that I think has not been given full attention in the American media. I saw footage of young Chinese protestors marching, throwing rocks, burning Japanese flags, etc., all over the TV this weekend as the news commentators spoke about textbooks and Taiwan and Japan's economic strength vis-a-vis China and vice versa. I didn't see anybody mention the fact that there is an element of street protest that has very little to do with textbooks, or economic factors, etc -- that there is quite a disconnect there. It seems to me that there are a large number of young people in China (and from the shots I saw, many many of these protestors looked like they were students or in their twenties) who do not feel comfortable protesting against the Chinese government (it hasn't exactly been smiled upon in the past), and here is an opportunity for them to get out on the streets, vent some frustration, throw rocks, defy Chinese police in riot gear, and the like. And while sentiments toward Japan might be generally hostile or antagonistic, it doesn't really have as much to do with Japan as it does with China (as the saying goes, all politics is local). I'm sure the Chinese government realizes this and thinks that this is probably a fairly safe way to allow people out on the streets, to allow them to vent frustrations, without it being directed against the Chinese government. So it's a win-win situation, right? Well, I don't know enough about Chinese society to be able to comment too much on this, but I believe that people like to push boundaries, and so if this is the Chinese government's way of opening the steam valve to relieve a little bit of pressure, I don't know if it's going to be as easy as that. And that's my (uninformed) two cents.

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