Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Egypt's intelligence head meeting with Hamas tonight

From JPost.com:

Head of Egyptian intelligence Omar Suleiman was meeting Tuesday evening with members of a Hamas delegation on a possible prisoner exchange deal that would allow for the release of kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

The Hamas delegation from Syria arrived in Cairo Tuesday afternoon, a day after US National Intelligence Director John Negroponte arrived for a two-day visit, officials at Cairo International Airport said.

US embassy officials declined to comment on Negroponte's visit, which coincided with that by Hamas officials who also arrived in Egypt Monday.

On Monday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told his cabinet that "a deal to secure the release of Shalit [was] almost closed."

Former PA security commander Jibril Rajoub, who serves as an adviser to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was also due in Cairo for meetings with the Hamas delegation on solving the crisis in the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, Hamas representative in Lebanon Osama Hamdan said that Israel had not yet agreed to the kidnappers' demands but that there were "positive signs."

"If Egyptian mediation fails, Hamas will still try to solve the issue but won't change its demands," Hamdan told BBC Arabic.

He said that the delegation in Cairo would try to "clarify the Israeli stance on the issue."

PA spokesman Ghazi Hamed said that Israel was being "stubborn" but that the general framework of a prisoner swap deal had been agreed upon

"Israel has agreed in principle to a prisoner exchange but we need more time to discuss the names of the Palestinians that would be freed," said Hamed.

Monday, October 30, 2006

UN to map disputed Shaba farms area on Israel-Lebanon border

From today's Haaretz:

The United Nations will appoint a cartographer to map the precise location and area of the Shaba Farms, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reported to the cabinet on Sunday.

The status of the territory on the slopes of Mount Hermon is disputed by Lebanon, Syria and Israel and its boundaries have never been precisely defined.

Livni said the cartographer would start working in mid-November from UN headquarters in New York, and not conduct surveying at the site itself at this stage.

The move was decided on following the periodical report of UN envoy Terje Larsen about the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559.

Israel took over the area in 1967 and sees it as part of the Golan Heights. The UN accepted this position following the IDF's pullout from Lebanon in May 2000 but Hezbollah and Lebanon claim that this is Lebanese territory still under Israeli occupation.

During the recent war in Lebanon, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Israel should leave the Shaba Farms and place the area in UN custody until the sovereignty issue is settled.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to persuade Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert to agree to discuss Shaba Farms, but he refused.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Israeli minister cancels Qatar trip

Some might say that this rather pathetic item shows how reluctant Israel is to have even the semblance of peace with the Arab World:

Reuters - 29 October, 2006
Israeli Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni has cancelled plans to attend a U.N. meeting in Qatar because of the expected presence of legislators from the Islamist militant group Hamas, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.

Israel has low-level ties with Qatar, and Livni's invitation to a United Nations convention on democracy would have been the first visit by a leading Israeli government minister to the Gulf state in a decade.

For full report click here

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Meshal in Cairo - progress on Shalit deal?

Interesting piece. Much has been made in internal discussion within the Foundation of the seeming rift between the Egyptians and the Palestinians over the Meshal issue. It remains to be seen if he and Suleiman have met today, and whether progress has been made. The agreements under discussion here are absolutely vital if diplomacy is to progress.

By Haaretz Correspondents and Reuters, published today:

Osama al-Muzaini, a political leader of the governing Hamas Islamist group and mediator between the Egyptians and the kidnappers of Israel Defense Forces Corporal Gilad Shalit said on Saturday that Israel has agreed on the number of the Palestinian prisoners it is willing to release in exchange for the captured soldier, but has not yet agreed on their identities.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, Hamas downplayed claims by a separate Palestinian militant group of an imminent solution to the kidnapping, saying that while there had been "real progress," a prisoner swap was not about to take place.

Shalit was kidnapped in June during a cross-border raid by the Gaza militants, including members of the Hamas military wing. Two other IDF soldiers were killed in the attack on their base, close to the Gaza border.

The Popular Resistance Committees, another of the three Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip holding Shalit, said earlier in the day that it expected an end to the crisis within days.

A statement by the PRC that the three groups had agreed to an Egyptian proposal for the release of Shalit that would also see an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel. The PRC said the deal now depended on Israel.

Hamas and Fatah officials, however, were less optimistic. Al-Muzaini said: "Real progress has been made over the issue of Shalit but that progress did not get to the point where we can say a swap was imminent."

Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat of Fatah said it was premature to think the crisis would soon be resolved.

"I don't think we're closer today to solving Shalit's problem than we were yesterday," Erekat told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

On Friday the Arabic-language newspaper Al Hayat reported a senior Hamas official in Damascus is demanding that Israel release Palestinian prisoners at the same time that Hamas frees Shalit.

According to the report, Hamas was awaiting an Israeli response to the proposal. The paper quoted the senior Hamas source as saying that the group was expecting Israel to be flexible on the timing of Shalit's release and that of the Palestinian prisoners.

Fatah officials had previously said that an Egyptian prisoner swap proposal calls for an initial release of Palestinian prisoners along with Shalit. The Fatah officials said a small group of prisoners would be freed in the first phase and a larger group would be freed two months later, including Palestinian prisoners considered to be political leaders. Altogether, 1,000 Palestinian prisoners would be released in the exchange.

Commenting on this proposal, Israeli sources said that "Israel can live with such a deal."

More than a week ago, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman presented Meshal and his aides in Damascus with an initiative that includes the prisoner swap proposal and a deal on the establishment of a national unity government for the Palestinian Authority.

Meshal slated to hold Cairo meeting on Shalit deal
Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas's political bureau, was slated to meet with senior Egyptian officials in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the proposed prisoner exchange. However, it was unclear whether Mehsal will actually attend.

Sources involved in the talks described the meeting as "critical," adding that if Meshal really does come from Damascus to attend the session, he will probably accept the proposed deal.

Israeli and Hamas sources said that they were pessimistic about the chances of a deal actually materializing at the end of the Cairo meeting.

Senior Palestinian sources said Thursday that following the Cairo meetings, further consultations are expected to take place in Damascus among representatives of Fatah, Hamas, Syria, Qatar and Spain in order to solve the unity government conundrum.

The sources explained that Spain is willing to send representatives to these talks in an effort to solve the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

However, a senior Hamas official told Haaretz on Thursday that he is not optimistic that the talks in Egypt will result in either Shalit's release or the establishment of a national unity government.

An Israeli government source similarly said that "there is no reason to get excited about Meshal's visit to Cairo."

Government sources explained that they are not aware of any significant progress having been made in talks about a prisoner exchange.

Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit's father, told Haaretz on Thursday that he was skeptical about the results of the meeting between Meshal and Suleiman.

He added that not a single Israeli official has reported to him on the government's expectations of this meeting.

"I hope that this meeting will take place and be fruitful. However, as long there is no such meeting, we have nothing to say on this matter," Shalit said.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Chris Doyle reports from CAABU that:

Yesterday, the Israeli PM persuaded Avigdor Lieberman to join his government (Guardian, Daily Telegraph, FT, Times, Independent). Mr Lieberman is anti-Arab and the leader of the Israel Beitenu (Our Home) party. It is reported that he will become the "vice-prime minister in exchange for committing his party's 11 MPs to the coalition led by Mr Olmert."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Israel accepts Egypt's plans for soldier's release

Min. Ben-Eliezer: Israel accepts Egypt's plans for Shalit's release

By Avi Issacharoff , Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters

Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said on Thursday that Israel accepts many of Egypt's ideas on how to conduct negotiations over the release of an Israel Defense Forces soldier being held by a Hamas-linked group.

"We are looking forward to and we have accepted the framework that has been crystallized by the Egyptians," Ben-Eliezer told reporters after talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

But it was not immediately clear if Mubarak had floated any proposals beyond those he made after Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier near Gaza on June 25.

According to the proposal, the Palestinian militants would free the soldier in return for an Israeli commitment to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners at a future date.

Egypt blamed the Islamist group Hamas for preventing a deal on those terms.

Cairo has been mediating between the two sides on and off for more than three months, without any apparent progress.

Ben-Eliezer said the Egyptian government was working hard to bring about stability in the Middle East and "to change the situation in the south of Israel and mainly in Gaza".

Asked about a prisoner swap in exchange for the Israeli soldier, he said: "Because today the Egyptians are running the whole thing, I don't want to go into details."

"Egypt, as the leading power and the leading nation in the Arab world, knows exactly the sensitivity on both sides and I believe that they could come, they have come with a framework that will be accepted," he added.

Hamas, Fatah to meet in Cairo
Hamas and Fatah members will meet in Cairo in the next few days,a Palestinian Legislative Council spokesman said on Thursday morning, as negotiations continue to try and find a solution for the Palestinian government.

According to the PLC spokesman, during the meeting, Fatah and Hamas officials will discuss a new Egyptian initiative for a unity government in the Palestinian Authority.

The PLC spokesman also said the rival factions will discuss the release of Shalit.

Hamas, Abbas spar over technocrat gov't
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas sees a government of technocrats as the best alternative to a national unity government, an adviser for Abbas said on Wednesday.

However, if no agreement is reached on a technocrats' cabinet within two or three weeks, a referendum would be held on whether to hold elections, Abbas' media adviser Nabil Amr said.

The idea of a technocrats' government, in which all cabinet members would be independent professionals and experts in their fields, rather than politicians, has gained the support of Fatah and several independent leaders and is being viewed favorably by Hamas, he said.

Hamas: May accept Abbas idea

PA spokesman Ghazi Hamed said Wednesday that Hamas is considering acceding to Abbas' plan to form a cabinet of technocrats to ease international sanctions on the impoverished Palestinian territories.

A few hours later, Hamed denied that Hamas was considering Abbas' idea favorably.

Hamed told the Palestinian news agency Ma'an that Arab mediators are currently in the process of formulating an agreement between Hamas and Fatah on the possible new government.

Hamas sources told Haaretz that Hamas was willing to add experts to the Hamas-led government, but would not go beyond that.

The sources said Damascus-based Hamas politbureau head Khaled Meshal did not support the idea of setting up up a national unity government for just a year, and then have early elections at the end of 2007.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The following comes from Shai Feldman at Brandeis:

Below please find the link to the eleventh Middle East Brief: “The Sixth Arab-Israeli War: An Arab Perspective" by Dr. Abdel Monem Said Aly. Dr. Said Aly is director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo and is a Senior Fellow at the Crown Center. His Brief analyzes the Arab debate on the Hezbollah-Israel War, assesses the war's course and consequences, and evaluates the behavior of Arab leaders and states during the war.

A PDF of Dr. Said Aly's Middle East Brief can be accessed through the following link: "The Sixth Arab-Arab Israeli War: An Arab Perspective."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hamas readying for war with explosives, arms

By Amos Harel / Haaretz

Hamas wants to create a "balance of terror" with Israel in the Gaza Strip, in order to deter the Israel Defense Forces from making a major ground forces incursion into the territory, IDF officers have concluded on the basis of the organization's greatly accelerated munitions acquisitions over the past few months.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 20 tons of explosives, anti-aircraft missiles and antitank missiles have been smuggled into Gaza.

Senior IDF officers told Haaretz recently that Hamas is working to improve its offensive capabilities, with an emphasis on Qassam and Katyusha rockets, while at the same time establishing a solid defensive position in order to prevent the IDF from entering built-up areas within the Strip. By increasing the range of its missiles, the deadly force of their warheads and above all, by using high-quality blast explosives, Hamas hopes to heighten the threat to the northern and western Negev from the direction of Gaza.

If Hamas succeeds in improving the rockets in its possession, it will be able to store them for months, as opposed to just days, as it does now. That would enable the organization to fire massive salvos at the Negev for days at a time during periods of escalation, as Hezbollah did in northern Israel during the second Lebanon war.

The defensive preparations are aimed mainly at Gaza's cities, and are being carried out mainly by Hamas's popular army, the Murabitan. These militants have been organized by specialty in preparation for possible Israeli attacks.

Arms smuggling is also continuing. Recently, Hamas took possession of a shipment of dozens of Russian Concourse antitank missiles. These relatively precise missiles have a range of 4.5 kilometers, similar to those used by Hezbollah during the war. IDF officers believe that Hamas will try to smuggle in hundreds more.

The IDF's assaults in Gaza, which have continued with little hindrance since the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit over three months ago, are a source of great frustration for Hamas. More than 300 Palestinians have been killed in the operations, many of them militants. One IDF soldier has died, a Golani soldier hit by friendly fire. The Hamas leadership in Damascus is applying heavy pressure on militants in Gaza to cause casualties in the IDF's ranks.

Hamas is searching for ways to combat Israel's military superiority in this confrontation, which it sees as the result of Israel's use of tanks and relatively well-protected armored personnel carriers combined with the Israel Air Force's effective deployment in hunting down Hamas operatives and Qassam launchers.

Officers in the IDF Southern Command see a guiding hand behind Hamas's efforts to expand its power: They believe that the organization's leadership abroad is bending the armed forces in Gaza to its own needs. The IDF is still working on ways to combat Hamas's plans. The next stage of IDF operations in the Strip is expected to include an expanded offensive focused on impeding weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza via Rafah.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Palestinian displacement: a case apart?

The September 2006 issue of Forced Migration Review, the in-house magazine of the University of Oxford's Refugee Studies Centre , includes a major feature on Palestinian displacement. Twenty-eight articles by UN, Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations examine the root causes of the displacement of Palestinians and the consequences of the failure to apply international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The articles discuss how failure to address the Palestinian refugee crisis represents perhaps the gravest shortcoming of the UN since its foundation. The international community has not exerted sufficient political will to advance durable solutions consistent with international law and Security Council resolutions requiring Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967. Durable solutions for displaced Palestinians have been discussed without reference to the legal norms applied in other refugee cases. Refugee rights, entitlements to compensation or restitution and the rights to protection of those Palestinians living under continued military occupation were not central to the now-moribund Oslo peace process, nor are they part of the subsequent US-sponsored Ĺ’Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution‚. Creeping annexation continues unchecked. Upon completion of Israel's Wall, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be restricted to a series of non-contiguous enclaves which constitute an eighth of the area of historic Palestine. Despite pro-democracy rhetoric, Western response to the internationally-validated Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 has sparked a politically-induced crisis and crippled the Palestinian economy. Ordinary Palestinians are suffering as donors freeze funding required to maintain humanitarian assistance and development programmes.

Three-quarters of the Palestinian people are displaced. Approximately one in three refugees worldwide is Palestinian. More than half the Palestinian population are displaced outside the borders of their historic homeland.

Full texts of all articles are online . The magazine is available free of charge. Please email for a copy.

Posted by Mehreen

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Multiculturalism condemned

This comment from Palestinian writer Nonnie Darwish was sent to us by Felix who thought it would be of particular interest to NCF members:

I lived on the southern border of Israel for thirty years. I was born and raised as a Muslim in Cairo, Egypt, and I grew up in the Gaza strip, a time when President Gamal Abdal Nasser of Egypt was committed to defy the Arab world, destroy Israel and stand up against Western interests around the world. In the ‘50s my father headed the Egyptian military intelligence in Gaza and he headed the Fiday in operations against Israel. They made cross-border attacks into Israel and caused much damage, destruction and death to civilians. In response to the terror one night, Israeli commandos came into our heavily guarded home in Gaza City and they only found my mother and us children; my father on that night happened to be in Cairo. They left us unharmed. The Israeli soldiers did not hurt us or kill us, even though the Fidayin did kill Israeli women and children.

In Gaza elementary schools I learned hatred as a normal thing and I thought teaching hatred from teachers was also normal. Peace was never an option, it was a sign of defeat and weakness. As the film showed, they filled our hearts with fear. They didn’t go right away to hatred, they filled our hearts with fear for Jews. And that made hatred come easy. And then it made terrorism tolerated and even encouraged – who wouldn’t want to kill monsters? Expectations and pressure on Palestinians from surrounding Arab countries was extremely high. To fight, to fight Israel and never accept peace. I realised that when Arabs were controlling Gaza on the West Bank. Those who wanted peace among the Palestinians were called by Arab countries “traitors.”

My father was eventually killed by Israel in a targeted assassination in Gaza City in ’56. I was eight years old. In Nasser’s famous speech to nationalise the Suez Canal he hailed my father as a national hero [unclear]. He vowed to take revenge and he never mentioned the reason why Israel killed my father. He never mentioned the heavy toll of death and destruction that was caused by his blood hate, by his Fidayin. My siblings and I were asked by top government officials in Egypt after my father’s death, “which one of you will avenge your father’s blood by killing Jews?” they asked us. We looked at each other, myself and my siblings, we were speechless. We were mourning for our father’s death. We didn’t want to be told go kill Jews.

When the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands its infrastructure, economy, were neglected by the two – by all of the Arab world. They used the two regions simply as launching grounds for war on terror, against Israel. Is it any wonder why the Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza line up for work on the – not on the borders of Egypt, not on the borders of Saudi Arabia or Jordon, they line up to work on the very – on Israel, on the border with Israel, the very country the Arabs told them to terrorise.

While the West was helping finance the economy of the two regions, Arab money was spared to finance them. The West should never finance supporting or support Hamas. It has now become convenient to blame today’s worldwide Islamic terrorism on the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. But what about the terrorism against Israel, that I had witnessed as a child? And that happened before the ’67 war and before the occupation. It was the placement of the United Nations forces after the ’56 war that stopped the Fidayin.

After my father’s death my mother had to face life alone with five children in Cairo, in a culture that gave respect only to families headed by a man. Arab women are expected to sacrifice families by giving up their husbands and sons for martyrdom. Conditions had even gotten worse for Arab women, who are now expecting to give respect, stature to themselves only if they – or even themselves engaged in jihad. Not merely to celebrate their sons’ and husbands’ deaths, but they are encouraged to leave their own babies and go kill Jews. What kind of society have we become? What kind of society would give its mothers up, mothers of babies, to explode themselves to kill for the sake of killing [non-Muslims].

I lived for 30 years in the Middle East in despotic dictatorships and police state, police state under Nasser. I lived through the ’56 war, the ’67 war, and the ’73 war. And all in between. And I – but tyranny and wars don’t end up with Israel. Muslims were silenced and forced to look the other way when Muslims tortured and terrorised other Muslims. I witnessed honour killing of girls and I know personally a girl who was killed because she was raped at age 16. I noted, I witnessed oppression of women, Muslim women, female genital mutilation and polygamy. And the devastating effects on family dynamics. And here we see some Western countries who want to bring Shariah law and polygamy to the West. It took me many years to change and it wasn’t easy. I realised I was indoctrinated with propaganda of lies, hate and fear.

But one experience in particular changed my outlook on Israel. It showed Israel’s compassion and competence. Ten years ago my brother suffered a stroke in Gaza City and was not expected to survive, he was unconscious. The Egyptians around him asked, where do we take him now? Cairo Hospital, or Hadassah Hospital? Each and every one around him said, if you want him to live, take him to Hadassah. In time of crisis I truly believe that Arabs trust Jews. They trust – they trust their expertise and compassion. I thank the Israeli government, doctors and nurses of Hadassah for choosing the higher moral ground and for doing the right thing.

I hear some today say – and some even Jewish people say, if only the State of Israel was not established in 1948. We would see the Jews in the Middle East live in harmony and peace with Muslims. But how can the people who believe in this explain why Christians, Armenians, Greeks and other minorities have also been driven out and discriminated against in the Middle East after the World War II and after the departure of the colonials, colonial powers, the British and French. If Israel was the cause, how come all others have left, even the Coptic Christians of Egypt, who are the original Egyptians before Islam even came to Egypt. They are being persecuted and are leaving Egypt in droves, in large numbers.

In Arab culture, multiculturalism and diversity is not a value as it is in the West. As a matter of fact, it’s a source of shame. We learn that non-Muslims are desecration, their existence on Muslim land is a desecration, a kind of occupation, just by mere existence. Jews and Christians cannot safely practise their religion in Muslim Middle East countries. On April 20 the Times of London reported that Muslim students in London are being taught to despise unbelievers, meaning non-Muslims as filth. When I heard this, I remembered immediately the word [negas] which we in the Arab world called the Copts of Egypt. [Blue born], we called them.

Meanwhile multiculturalism in the West has become a disease. We have taken it too far. And turned it into exactly what it was not supposed to accomplish. We are in the West tolerating intolerance. We are tolerating hatred. We are tolerating people who hate us and who live among us. Muslims in the West demand tolerance, though. And no profiling and not to be judged by the actions of the terrorists. But Muslims do not apply the same principles themselves to the West. When one Danish cartoonist offends them, they blame all of Denmark and even demand an apology from the Danish government, they even blame the West. There was a contest, in retaliation in Iran, there was a contest to get Holocaust cartoons. And what does the Holocaust have to do with the Danish cartoonist? I don’t know.

The golden rule of treat others the way you want to be treated does not apply when it comes to radical Islam. They feel it’s within their right to offend other religions in Muslim land. But they don’t see the dumbest thing. Some Muslim critics say that the film encourages hatred of Muslims. When I was in Canada speaking, there was a few articles by Canadians and by the Muslim society in Canada. They said that it’s very offensive. They got us Arab critics and reformists and critics of terrorism as the problem. But we’re not the problem, we are speaking the truth. And are calling for reformation for the welfare, for the welfare of everybody. It is the terrorists and their many defenders who are giving Islam a bad name. It’s not the reformists who are hurting Islam’s image. It is the terrorists, and that’s what I’ve told some of the Muslims in the audience. They expect us after 9/11, Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, to stick our heads in the sand and defend the indefensible. Will our denial bring sympathy and appreciation of Muslims? We must be in the front lines of the war on terror to be credible. If we want to be credible, Muslims will be more respected when we look after our own moral conduct. And not when we pretend that the problem of Islamic terrorism does not exist.

First, the Holocaust denial and now jihad denial. Where is our credibility? Most goers– good Muslims, the moderate Muslims, must require better from their teachers. They must reform their mosques. Many Muslims in America and many Muslims don’t go to mosques because of the hate speech that they encounter when they go there. They must ask reformation from our teachers, from our politicians, from our media. Reformation will not come easy, Muslims themselves must fight for it. Enough is enough. Terrorism is the warfare of desperate people. Arabs should not be desperate. They need to be grateful for many blessings, land from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf and huge wealth from oil. They don’t have a shortage of land. They have a shortage of freedom and tolerance. Terrorism is the lowest form of warfare. It’s not a sign of strength, but a sign of a decay in culture in turmoil and contradictions. A culture that’s trying to hide its failures by finger pointing, blaming others and destroying the competition. In this dynamic, Israel has become the most useful enemy, the scapegoat. That’s why the current state of Islam is not as powerful as some might think. Anyone can have temporary power with terrorism. Reformation and peace must be pursued as a value from within the Muslim world. That’s why Israel’s fence must remain stronger and higher during this very dangerous transition.

After 9/11 I did a lot of soul-searching. I did a lot of jihad, but peaceful jihad. Terrorism is not just hurting the West and Israel, but most of all, it’s also destroying the moral fabric and goodness that I know exists in Arab culture and Islam. I speak out of empathy for Israel. A country that deserves our respect and not our hatred and terror. I now support Israel because it’s the right thing to do. Being pro-Israel does not mean anti-Arab. We can support both if truly our common goal is peace. I get very discouraged when the media call terrorists “freedom fighters.” They think they are championing the underdog. But terrorists are not the underdog, they are brainwashed killers and murderers, and they represent the hope they do not represent the hope of the future of the Middle East. But they represent the oppressive, dark past of the Middle East. They are the hidden hands of tyrannical and despotic regimes who want to turn back the clock and keep Muslim women in bondage and keep Muslim men under the authority of the tyranny. The true freedom fighters are the brave, moderate Arab voices who risk their lives and speak from inside the Arab world advocating peace with Israel, advocating democracy and freedom. And many of them right now are in Arab jails. They – the freedom fighters are the Iraqi voters who defied the terrorists and went and voted. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, the freedom fighters are the people of Israel. I am in awe at your resilience. You are the silent heroes who go about the business of living, riding buses, working, creating and contributing to the world and above all, maintaining your democracy and moral standards despite of the hatred, terror, war and boycott for 58 years. The world must see that, Western media must advocate that. It must be God’s protective hands over Israel that you survived all of what I’ve seen from the other side of the fence. You are an inspiration and a blessing in this region.

And to conclude, Israel should not be criticised for creating a physical fence to protect its citizens, and then they call it “apartheid state”. We Arabs have been surrounding you with an ugly psychological war of hatred, boycott and an “us against them” attitude for many decades. It is time for the Arab psychological wall, we have a psychological wall surrounding you. It’s time for this wall to come down in order for your physical wall to become unnecessary. The way the Jews have been treated by my culture is tragic and a disgrace. In today’s world no people should be called “infidels” and no group of people should be called “enemies of God” by any religion. I long for the day when Muslim preachers promote peace and tolerance. They will serve their people and their God best by being a source of comfort, wisdom and hope. They will bring back half of the Muslim population who don’t go to mosques, who have practically – are not practising anything. We need to start having the religion back, of tolerance and peace. By dialogue, by building bridges with Jews and Christians in the Middle East, Muslim scholars say Islam is a religion of peace. Then let us teach peace and forgiveness, from the mosques and from the pulpits of mosques. I have forgiven Israel for the death of my father and I hope, I hope and I know that Israel is capable of forgiving us. Forgiving the Fidayin and forgiving the Arab world for the anti-Semitism and hatred and terror. Let us extend the famous Arab generosity to welcome you in our region. As neighbours, and as an asset in the region and not as an enemy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mediation efforts between Hamas, Fatah

Interesting story on Qatar's failed effort to mediate between Hamas and Fatah. Pretty hard to please Israel and the West by saving Fatah in the absence of internal reform within the party:

Kuwait News Agency - 11 October, 2006
Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdelrahman Al-Ateyyah praised on Tuesday the initiative of Qatar's first deputy premier and foreign minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani in mediating between Hamas and Fatah movements.

For full story click here

New Links forged between Israel and Ukraine


President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko speaks during his statement in Kiev, 05 October, 2006. Photo courtesy of Myshko Markiv and AFP.
by Staff Writers
Kiev (UPI) Oct 11, 2006

Pro-Western Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko wants to forge what could be a dramatic and strategically far-reaching missile defense alliance with Israel. Israel Today reported Oct. 4 that Yushchenko "met with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and offered strategic cooperation in the area of ballistic missile defense systems and satellite control systems."
Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine's military industries were a central component in supplying the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces. Yushchenko has previously revealed that under his predecessor, President Leonid Kuchma, Ukrainian corporations secretly sold a dozen nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran.

Ukraine and Israel have the potential to offer each other a lot in joint ballistic missile and ballistic missile defense cooperation. Ukraine has an enormous and widely dispersed industrial base that Israel lacks, especially in the Donbas, on Don Basin. Israel is exceptionally advanced in its electronic high-tech sector, an area where Ukraine lags. The Ukrainians also lack Israel's massive web of connections and credibility with defense ministries and corporations around the world from the United States and Taiwan to India.

"We will be very glad to cooperate with Israeli scientists and developers in the area of missiles and satellites. Development of advanced technological weaponry could be the basis for further strategic cooperation between the two countries," Yushchenko told Peres according to the Israel Today report.

Peres is a lifelong high tech enthusiast and he was the director of Israel's fledgling nuclear program at Dimona back in the mid-1950s. According to the report, he also suggested during his talks with Yushchenko that Ukraine and Israel could work together to create a new generation of anti-terror weapons and security devices based on nano-technology, another area where Israel is a world leader.

Source: United Press International

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jewish academic's lecture cancelled in New York

In N.Y., Sparks Fly Over Israel Criticism
Polish Consulate Says Jewish Groups Called To Oppose Historian
By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 9, 2006; Page A03

NEW YORK -- Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel and American Jewry.

The historian, Tony Judt, is Jewish and directs New York University's Remarque Institute, which promotes the study of Europe. Judt was scheduled to talk Oct. 4 to a nonprofit organization that rents space from the consulate. Judt's subject was the Israel lobby in the United States, and he planned to argue that this lobby has often stifled honest debate.

An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was too controversial.

"The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure," Kasprzyk said. "That's obvious -- we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that."

Judt, who was born and raised in England and lost much of his family in the Holocaust, took strong exception to the cancellation of his speech. He noted that he was forced to cancel another speech later this month at Manhattan College in the Bronx after a different Jewish group had complained. Other prominent academics have described encountering such problems, in some cases more severe, stretching over the past three decades.

The pattern, Judt says, is unmistakable and chilling.

"This is serious and frightening, and only in America -- not in Israel -- is this a problem," he said. "These are Jewish organizations that believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle East away from anyone who might listen."

The leaders of the Jewish organizations denied asking the consulate to block Judt's speech and accused the professor of retailing "wild conspiracy theories" about their roles. But they applauded the consulate for rescinding Judt's invitation.

"I think they made the right decision," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "He's taken the position that Israel shouldn't exist. That puts him on our radar."

David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, took a similar view. "I never asked for a particular action; I was calling as a friend of Poland," Harris said. "The message of that evening was going to be entirely contrary to the entire spirit of Polish foreign policy."

Judt has crossed rhetorical swords with the Jewish organizations on two key issues. Over the past few years he has written essays in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books and in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz arguing that power in Israel has shifted to religious fundamentalists and territorial zealots, that woven into Zionism is a view of the Arab as the irreconcilable enemy, and that Israel might not survive as a communal Jewish state.

The solution, he argues, lies in a slow and tortuous walk toward a binational and secular state.

He has, of late, defended an academic paper -- co-authored by professor Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and John J. Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago -- which argues the American Israel lobby has pushed policies that are not in the United States' best interests and in fact often encourage Israel to engage in self-destructive behavior.

These are deeply controversial views -- Foxman of the ADL and writer Christopher Hitchens, among others, have attacked the Walt and Mearsheimer paper as anti-Semitic. And Judt's advocacy of a binational state has drawn a flock of critics, the more angry of whom accuse him of "pandering to genocide" as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America put it. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum said Judt was pursuing "genocide liberalism."

Foxman has referred to Judt's views of Israel as "an offensive caricature."

The Mearsheimer and Walt paper, however, has drawn praise in some quarters in Israel, particularly on the left. So, too some Israeli writers, not least Israeli historian and social critic Amos Elon, have praised Judt's writings on Israel. Nor are Judt's arguments without historical precedent: Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky, who is Jewish, has advocated a binational solution in Israel, a view that three decades ago sparked such anger that police stood guard at his college talks. More recently, the ADL repeatedly accused DePaul University professor Norman G. Finkelstein, who is Jewish and strongly opposes Israeli policies, of being a "Holocaust denier." These charges have proved baseless.

"There is an often organized and often spontaneous attempt to marginalize anyone in the Jewish world who offers a critique of Israeli policy," said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal magazine Tikkun. "It's equated with anti-Semitism and Israel denial."

Foxman says such complaints are silly. "Nobody has called Judt an anti-Semite," Foxman said. "People who are critical of Israel and of the Jewish people often flaunt their Jewishness. Why isn't that an issue?"

Judt replies that he only reluctantly talks of his Jewishness, in no small part to inoculate himself against charges of anti-Semitism. "For many, the way to be Jewish in this country is to aggressively assert that the Holocaust is your identification tag," Judt said. "I know perfectly well my history, but it never occurred to me that my most prominent identity was as a Jew."

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Foreign Policy Logics of Jewish Statehood

An interesting article from the latest edition of MIT's Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies by Virginia Tilley. She places Israel's latest war in Lebanon firmly in the context of broader Israeli policy - namely the preservation of its national identity.

Israel in Lebanon; The foreign policy logics of Jewish Statehood

"To date, Israel‘s motives in the 2006 war with Hizbullah have not been clarified by the rush of academic analyses. The dominant explanation, that Israel sought simply to end the threat of Hizbullah‘s rocket attacks, is narrow to the point of inaccuracy, particularly since those attacks had taken few Israeli casualties over the past decade. Some scholars have described background motives: e.g., Ilan PappĂ© has described an under-utilized Israeli military seeking to justify its budget and demonstrate its prowess.1 Some offer close analyses of proximate security logics: e.g., Robert Blecher has detailed how Israel‘s strategy toward the Palestinians has influenced its response to Hamas and Hizbullah.2 Other explanations incline toward motives and identities that derive more from polemics than scholarship: e.g., generic accusations of Israeli expansionism, US imperialism, and radical Islam (or _Islamo-fascism_). Attempts to deepen these models too often psychologize the conflict by blaming primordial ethnic hatreds or cultural clash: e.g., Arab prejudice against Jews, Jewish-Zionist racism against Arabs, Muslim _rage,_ or an East–West _clash of civilizations_. Many of these factors, even when imaginary, are not precisely incorrect or irrelevant, as they shape the behaviour and influence of key actors. But most lack theoretical and empirical rigour as explanations, for they focus not on the causes but the effects of a more fundamental problem. At root, Israel‘s motives in Lebanon trace to one primary source: the ethnic imperative of Jewish statehood — the belief that a Jewish state requires an overwhelming Jewish-ethnic majority within Israel‘s territory — which has been incorporated into the Israeli government‘s understanding of state security. Focusing on Israel‘s domestic ethnic doctrines might seem counterproductive at this juncture, diverting energies away from urgent conflict resolution in southern Lebanon and toward an ideological dispute that has long proved irreconcilable. The purpose here is not to engage in moral or ideological contest, however, but to redirect analysis toward the strategic logics that steer Israel‘s foreign policy, which are inseparable from its domestic geostrategy. So far, the international community has proved unwilling to tackle this _third rail_ of Middle East politics. But until Israel‘s doctrine of ethnic statehood is addressed, none of its spin-off effects, including Israel‘s continuing military ambitions in Lebanon, can be addressed effectively either. This discussion will briefly explain why international pressure on Israel to democratize and enfranchise Palestine‘s native people is not only essential to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but is also fundamental to collective security."

To read rest of article go to http://web.mit.edu/cis/www/mitejmes/intro.htm

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Pessimistic view from Patrick Seale

Writing in Al-Hayat, Patrick Seale sees no attempt by the Bush administration to resolve any of the conflicts afflicting the Middle East. He argues that it is a small group in the White House that is fanning the flames of violent outcomes to the simmering disputes from Iran, to Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinians. Even Israel interests are not best served by US government policy.

by Patrick Seale from Al-Hayat 6th October 2006

Arab leaders are reported to be seeking a summit meeting with President George W Bush to persuade him to change course before the whole region goes up in flames.

This is the clearest indication that American blundering in the Middle East has reached such catastrophic levels that even the most moderate and pro-American regimes are being moved to abandon their usual caution and speak out in alarm.
Will Bush agree to take advice and criticism from a conclave of Arab leaders? He may be excused for thinking that this is not the right time. Under intense domestic pressure over the war in Iraq and with his attention focussed on November's mid-term elections, the last thing he would welcome is a public airing of his Middle East policies.

Bush may duck out of a meeting with the Arabs but he cannot ignore the signs of a gathering rebellion against almost every one of his policies. One such sign is the stiff resistance U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has run into on her visit to the region this week. Her reception was courteous enough - the Saudis, Egyptians and Gulf sheikhs are invariably hospitable and polite - but behind the diplomatic niceties was a rejection of almost everything she said or had come to achieve.
For Arabs, particularly wrong-headed is her attempt to downgrade the importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict in favour of a campaign to mobilise the region's so-called 'moderates' against 'extremists,' and especially against Iran. This is seen as a crude attempt to divide and rule.

The one thing the Arabs want most urgently from Washington is to curb Israel's aggression, halt its expansion, persuade it to withdraw from land seized in 1967, and force it to negotiate a just and honourable peace with its neighbours, which would allow the emergence of an independent Palestinian state. In this, 'moderates' are united with 'extremists'.

But it would seem that to hope for any such initiative from President Bush is to whistle in the wind. He does not appear to have the personal authority or the grasp of the problem to act decisively. His administration is paralysed by profound internal differences. Fervently pro-Israeli officials, such as Eliott Abrams at the National Security Council, can be counted on to sabotage anything the State Department might propose. After the debacle of the Lebanon war, Ehud Olmert's government in Israel, fighting for its political life, is incapable of any serious movement towards peace.

Meanwhile, Israel's nationalist-religious settlers, emboldened by the crisis, are busily expanding their scores of illegal outposts on Palestinian land, with the tacit support of the army and the government. Needless to say, the United States is doing nothing to halt this pernicious activity which, more than any other, is destroying any prospect of peace.
Condoleezza Rice knows it, but all that she found the will to propose was to ease, ever so slightly, the suffocation of Gaza by stationing international observers at the Karni crossing which Israel keeps closed most of the time. In the face of the current political and humanitarian disaster, such palliatives are wholly inadequate.

In the meantime, America's goals in the Middle East are either unattainable or are profoundly disruptive. What are these goals? They are to force Iran to abandon its nuclear activities under the threat of sanctions or military attack; to overthrow the democratically-elected Hamas-led Palestinian government by lending support to the more pliant Mahmud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority; to isolate Syria, depicted as an inveterate trouble-maker, and neutralise Hizballah.
As is now evident to even the most casual observer, the pursuit of these goals has produced the very contrary of what the U.S. hoped for. Rejecting American bullying, Iran is more determined than ever to pursue its nuclear program for what it claims are purely peaceful purposes.

In a recent development, it has suggested a partnership with two French companies to enrich uranium under French control but on Iranian soil. The two companies, largely owned by the French state, are Areva, the world's largest nuclear energy company, and its subsidiary Eurodef, with which Iran has had long-standing ties going back to the time of the Shah.
If America can overcome its paranoia about Iran and engage in a sensible dialogue with it, this proposal might provide a sensible way out of the current crisis. It might also serve to calm Israel's nerves, which continues to depict any breach of its regional nuclear monopoly as an 'existential threat.' Olmert repeated this again to Condoleezza Rice this week, apparently unashamed at the hint of blackmail in his position: if the U.S. does not act against Iran, Israel will have no option but to do so!

In Gaza, America's support for Israel in its attempt to destroy Hamas -- by besieging, starving and bombing the civilian population against all the norms of humanitarian law -- has brought this grossly over-crowded and suffering territory, where nearly 90 per cent of the population are below the poverty line, to the very edge of total breakdown.
When will Israel and America learn that the more the Palestinians are cruelly oppressed and the longer their legitimate national rights are denied, the more radical they will become, with all that this means for the future security of Israel and its American patron?

As for Syria and Hizballah, they can be neither isolated nor neutralised. They are essential actors on the Middle East scene. There can be no regional peace without the return of the Golan to Syria. In Lebanon, Hizballah is far and away the major political force. Any policy blind to these realities will be doomed to failure.

U.S. threats of 'regime change' in Damascus or Israel's nefarious habit of murdering its political opponents - the assassination of Hizballah's leader Hasan Nasrallah is openly discussed - are no substitutes for dialogue, compromise and true conflict-resolution.

Resolving conflicts, and in particular the Arab-Israeli conflict, should be America's top priority, as numerous present and former world leaders never cease to urge.

Just this week, 135 respected global leaders - former presidents, prime ministers, foreign and defence ministers, congressional leaders and heads of international organisations, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter - have called for urgent action to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. They advocate a three-point plan: support for a Palestinian national unity government and the end of the financial and political boycott; final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians; negotiations between Israel, Syria and Lebanon, sponsored by the Quartet, the Arab League and key regional states.
These are crucial steps towards a global settlement. But so far, the U.S. is deaf to these entreaties. Bush and Rice speak of the creation of a Palestinian state, but do nothing about it.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair says that Middle East peace will be the main concern of his last months in office, but he has so far not translated his words into action. No doubt little can be done until the United States regains its independence of decision-making from Israel and its powerful American friends. So long as the Israeli tail continues to wag the American dog, no progress can be expected. As more than one Israeli has commented, this stranglehold on America's Middle East policy is far from being in Israel's best interests.

A second condition would be for the U.S. to insist on reciprocity from Israel in its dealings with the Palestinians. It is all very well to insist that Hamas recognise Israel, renounce violence and respect all previous agreements, while Israel refuses to recognise Palestinian political rights, kills them on a daily basis and violates every agreement ever signed.

A third necessary development would be for President Bush to outline in reasonable detail his parameters for a global Middle East settlement - as Bill Clinton attempted to do, unfortunately too late in his presidency - backed by some real political will and financial muscle.

The real questions are these: Can America change course? Can the structure of political power in Washington allow it? Or must the headlong rush to the abyss continue unchecked?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Saudis / Syrians / Israel / US

An extract from an interesting piece on the Haaretz website

On Wednesday, the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki Al Faisal, gave a speech at Washington's Center for International and Strategic Studies. The topic was U.S.-Saudi relations but much of the talk was devoted to the Palestinian arena. Bush's activity in the Middle East at present, Faisal said, is a "direct result" of the Saudi effort, which he reconstructed as follows:

Early in May Faisal met with Bush and told him that only a solution of the Palestinian problem would lead to solution to the other problems in the Middle East. Three weeks later the regular "strategic talks" between the United States and Saudi Arabia were conducted, and again the message was: Take care of the Palestinian problem. Bush, said the ambassador, instructed Rice to try to make progress in this arena, but then the Israeli soldiers were abducted and war broke out. In July, during another visit by the Saudi foreign minister, he again raised the issue. And in August Prince Bandar bin Sultan came to Washington to do some more pushing.

Bandar is also mentioned frequently in Woodward's book. He was the ambassador to Washington for 22 years before stepping down a year ago and returning to Saudi Arabia. Bandar's father, Prince Sultan, one of the seven older brothers in the royal family, was named crown prince after the death of King Fahd. Bandar was appointed head of the National Security Council, and in his new role he continues to act as his country's leading diplomat. In the summer of 2001, says Woodward, Bandar brought a blunt message to Bush, the sharpest ever delivered by him to an American president. The crown prince, Bandar told the astonished president, is planning to cut off all ties with you. We will not consider any U.S. interests and will act as we see fit.

Why? Because of then prime minister Ariel Sharon and his war against the Palestinians. It is clear to us, the Saudi ambassador told the president, that the U.S. has made a "strategic decision" that means "adopting Sharon's policy." Bush protested. That's not true, he said to the ambassador. Two days later, Bush sent the crown prince a two-page letter in which he declared, for the first time, his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Riyadh. diplomacy

Bandar has for years been active in Arab-Israeli peace efforts, the height of which was his attempt six years ago to convince PA Chairman Yasser Arafat to accept the proposals of Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton for a final status agreement. First he was dispatched by Clinton as a covert emissary to Syrian President Hafez Assad, in a last-ditch effort to revive the Syrian negotiations channel. In a rare interview to The New Yorker in 2003, Bandar spoke about the heartbreak he suffered as a result of the collapse of the peace process toward the end of Clinton's tenure.

Saudi Arabia, the guardian of the Islamic holy sites, is meticulous about maintaining a frosty attitude toward Israel in public and has never agreed to meetings between foreign ministers and senior diplomats. The unofficial liaison between Riyadh and Jerusalem was Prince Bandar, from his luxurious suburban Washington home in McLean, Virginia. Bandar's Israeli contact is Mossad head Meir Dagan, who discreetly reported on their meetings to Sharon. The connection was maintained when Bandar returned to Saudi Arabia, and according to Israeli sources became closer during the war in Lebanon.

Last month Dagan arranged a meeting between Bandar and Dagan's new boss, in Jordan. Few real details were leaked in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper story two weeks ago that broke the story. The article emphasized the common Iranian threat shared by Israel and Saudi Arabia. Olmert, who was left without a political agenda when the convergence program was shelved, has a clear interest in creating such an impression. He has publicly praised the Saudis for not supporting Hezbollah during the war.

One can guess that the Saudis pressured Olmert to revive the peace process with the Palestinians, and this was their goal. It is hard to find a statement by Bandar or any other Saudi leader that does not mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the heart of the region's problems. King Abdullah always mentions that he is personally affected by pictures of dead Palestinian children. His four-year-old initiative for an overall Israeli-Arab agreement stemmed from his desire to clear this minefield.

The Saudis are realistic: Bandar blamed Arafat, who rejected Clinton's proposals, for the tragedy that led to the intifada and thousands of unnecessary casualties on both sides. In one of the conversations between Bandar and Bush described in Woodward's book the prince tells the president that Arafat is a "liar." He's a "schmuck" - that was the word he used - but a schmuck we have to work with.

Damascus. Disregard

In the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem they are treating the peace proposals of Syrian President Bashar Assad like the buzzing of an annoying bee. Requests for a response are answered with a shrug of the shoulders: There's that nudnik Syrian again. This week Assad said an agreement could be reached in six months if the talks are resumed "from the place where they were halted." Israeli officials say Assad is looking to avoid fallout from the imminent report of the inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri, which is expected to come down hard on the Syrians.

It could be that Assad is laughing at everyone and only looking for excuses to shrug off U.S. pressure; that he is actually a creep who supports terror, is arming Hezbollah and delaying the deal for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Nevertheless, on the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War today, October 6, it is hard to avoid the historical analogy to 1973. At the time the Egyptians proposed an agreement, with U.S. mediation, Prime Minister Golda Meir said "no" and the rest is history. At the time Moshe Dayan said it was better to have Sharm al-Sheikh without peace than the opposite, just as Olmert is saying today that the Golan Heights is an inseparable part of Israel and "as long as I'm prime minister, I'm convinced that the Golan will remain in our hands."

In 1973 Israel ignored President Anwar Sadat's war threats, on the grounds that the Egyptians were weak and would not dare to attack. In 2006 Israel is treating Assad's threats of "resistance" in a similar spirit. On one hand they are being taken seriously. Military Intelligence warned of the change in Syria's attitude as a result of the war in Lebanon, which denied Assad the use of Hezbollah as a platform against Israel and pushed him into talking about opening a front on the Golan. On the other hand, Syria is being treated dismissively, just as Egypt was before the 1973 War.

Certain senior Israel Defense Forces officers want a conflict with Syria in which that country will feel the power of the Israel Air Force. "There are lots of military targets there," they saying. "It's not Lebanon, where the enemy hides behind the civilians." Nor is there a pro-American government in Damascus that has to be "strengthened," as in Beirut and in Ramallah, and it will be possible to destroy infrastructure, which the U.S. prevented the IDF from doing in Gaza and Lebanon. In any case, some Pentagon officials also believe that an armed conflict with Syria is the only way to either get Assad to fly right or to bring him down. It is difficult not to hear in these words echoes of Israel's "We'll break their bones" immediately prior to the 1973 War.

The recent war in Lebanon demonstrated that Damascus is much more sophisticated than it was considered to be in Jerusalem, and that Hezbollah was the arm of Assad as well as being an extension of Iran. We can assume that the Syrians did not neglect preparations for war in the Golan Heights while Israelis made fun of "the rusty tanks and planes" of their poor and disintegrating army.

The logical conclusion is not that we should panic and flee the Golan tomorrow. Israel has legitimate demands of the Syrians: normalization, security arrangements, expulsion of the terror organizations. The question is whether it would not be better to behave with diplomatic sophistication, to quietly examine the possibilities for negotiations and not to taunt Assad in vain.

It's true that this will neither strengthen Olmert's public image nor win Israel points with the U.S. administration. Washington has a long account with Assad, partly due to his unwillingness to cooperate with preventing terror in Iraq, partly due to the U.S. fear that talks with Syria will be interpreted as an invitation for it to interfere in Lebanon again.

The Israeli interest may not coincide exactly with the U.S. interest when it comes to Syria. In that case, the Americans are invited to declare publicly that they are opposed to negotiations and they should bear at least some of the blame for the dead end. We must remember this: Golda's tremendous popularity and her good relations with President Richard Nixon did not save Israel from the catastrophe of 1973. U.S. aid would arrive, as it did then, but only after the war begins.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Saudi Ambassador raps US on reform calls

Agence France-Presse - 05 October, 2006

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States hit out at US "bombast" in calls for reform in the kingdom and warned action was needed now on the Israeli-Palestinian peace track.

Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal's remarks came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toured the Middle East in a bid to court moderate Arab states which have shown growing impatience with US policies in the region.

While he said US-Saudi relations were in much better shape after a number of upsets in recent years, there were still areas of contention.

"We don't mind being criticized. There is a well-known saying in Arabic: Your true friend is one who tells you the truth rather than one who simply agrees with you," Prince Turki said.

"But it is the way in which Americans criticize, whether it is politicians or public figures or thought leaders, that causes us concern.

"We often hear political rhetoric and bombast and not constructive commentary," he said noting Americans wanted reform and change in Saudi society.

"That is on the agenda ... but we're not going to change just because you tell us to," Prince Turki said. "Making dictums leads nowhere. Constructive comments, on the other hand, are more helpful."

His comments came in the context of President George W. Bush's instruction to Rice to engage moderate Arab allies of the United States on strengthening Palestinian security services loyal to president Mahmud Abbas.

"I am hopeful something concrete will come out," Prince Turki said, referring to Rice's visit, which included talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

"But talking is not enough," he added, saying Prince Saud told Rice that efforts to solve the Palestinian question must now get results.

"We have talked about procedure for 50 years, now we have to talk about how to tackle the hard issues of the Palestinian problem," Prince Turki said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) here.

"This is what we are looking for from the Secretary of State."

"We think that this may be a time for the United States to put its foot forward."

Rice earlier Wednesday called for a Palestinian government able to pave the way to a two-state solution and vowed to redouble efforts to support the Palestinians.

But the Bush administration has been assailed by recent demands for action from impatient Arab allies angered by staunch US support for Israel in the Hezbollah conflict and what they see as US inaction on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

On Tuesday, Rice held talks with foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan and the monarchies that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

Prince Turki also said the United States should engage Iran directly over the nuclear crisis, and not refuse to talk to its long-time enemy.

"I think for the United States not to talk to Iran is a mistake," Prince Turki said.

"We've found, in our experience, that when we did not talk to Iran -- our relations were broken for a period of a few years in the '90s -- we had more troubles with each other."

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey sidestepped Prince Turki's comments, but said Washington had a "important," and "friendly" relationship with its ally which permitted a two-way dialogue on issues of concern.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Islam and democracy

Adel attended a Foundation meeting on Monday and an exchange developed between himself and Baria on Islam and democracy. This is Adel's subsequent comment, which is of interest:

Regarding last night's meeting, it is rather regrettable you misunderstood my comment on Islam and democracy, and took it as a criticism of Muslims.

I meant Islamists political leaders who are now influencing both governmental policy and media in the region that is forced to spread the message. I didn't mean the populace - although the latter of course never think for themselves

The fact is that fundamentalist faith ( any faith) is incompatible with democracy. You only look at what the Vatican said in 2004 ( that Democracy was blasphemous and man's law should never replace god's law); or the fundamentalists in Israel ( near 200,000 of them) who don't serve in the army, or pay tax or vote as they believe it is sinful for the Jews to have a state, hence they don't recognise Israel !.

Same applies to Muslim clergy ( and all of them and that what I meant by all, but unfortunately you misunderstood it) who believe that all Muslims should follow god's laws not man's laws, hence they reject democracy.

There isn't one single government in the Middle East today which has not compromised itself and gave in to Islamists blackmail, and trying either to appease them or appear to be more Islamic. If you name one single exception of a government from the Atlas Mountains to the Persian Gulf, I will be happy to learn something new.

One case in point was the Egyptian ministry of information ( although the minister is among the most westernised and enlightened), banning an issue of the Guardian Weekly and a German magazine from sale and display on the stand because they published an essay that included quotes from the pope's lecture; while, for example the very subject of the pope's lecture( Hellenistic philosophy's analysis of the faith) was covered in two volume excellent book by the late existentialist Egyptian philosopher Dr Abdel Rahamn Badawi, some 60 years ago ' the Fundamentals of Hellenic philosophy' published in French and Arabic by Dar al-Maaref in Cairo. He had the same quotes and even worse quotes about Islam and how it was spread by the sword and the illogical interpretaton of the work of god etc. Yet. it was not banned and Cairo university students were reading it openly.

Hence was my comment when I said all of them ( i.e. those making public opinion, government and media ) are under influence of clergy who believe in the fundamentals of Islam which is and will never be compatible with democracy, except, when there is a separation between state and church, and the national constitution doesn't mention that one faith was the source of legislation. This for example was like how Egypt used to be before the 1952 military coup with multi-party parliamentarian democracy , hence books like Taha Hussein's ' al fitna al-Kubra' ( stronger than Salman's Rushdie's) or Dr Badawi's books were never banned.

But because it is precisely now that ALL governments in the region are appeasing Islamists, then democracy will have no chance ( there are other factor of course).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Qatari plan for the Palestinian government

By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent

Qatar on Tuesday presented the leaders of Hamas and Fatah with a plan for a new Palestinian unity government, which would accept international demands on the recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and compliance with previously signed interim accords.

The proposal also secures the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Palestinian militants in June.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud has agreed to the terms of the new plan, but it is not yet clear whether exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal would do so too.

Palestinian sources said that Meshal had agreed in principle, but senior Hamas officials in Gaza denied the claims, telling Haaretz the movement had never agreed to the proposal.

There were also Palestinian reports saying Abbas had sent an aide to Meshal to finalize the details of the plan.

According to the agreement, the new Palestinian government would accept three terms posed by the Quartet - recognizing Israel, complying with the accords signed in the past and renouncing violence, to enable renewed peace talks.

Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani presented the agreement to Abbas and Meshal.

The plan presented by Al-Thani contains six main points:

1) The establishment of a new government headed by an independent figure not identified with any party or faction. This government would include ministers from Hamas, Fatah and other parties as well as independent ministers.

2) A diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the principle of two states for two peoples.

3) Violence between Israel and the Palestinians would be bilaterally and simultaneously halted.

4) The new government would recognize the agreements and obligations signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

5) PLO institutions would be rehabilitated according to the Cairo agreement secured at the beginning of 2005; this would include the absorption of Hamas into PLO institutions. The newly-reconstituted Palestinian National Council would convene within one year.

6) Abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit would be released within the framework of a prisoner exchange agreement.

Meanwhile, the head of the Fatah faction in the PA parliament, Azam al-Ahmed, announced all Palestinian factions except for Hamas have agreed to extend the deadline for the formation of a unity government by two weeks.

Al-Ahmed warned that Abbas would disband the current Hamas government if it failed to form a unity government within two weeks.

He added that negotiations with Hamas and other Palestinian factions were underway and that there was still a possibility to form a unity government before the deadline passed.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Monday that Israel has agreed to release 900 to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including women, children and elderly prisoners, as part of a deal to ensure Shalit's release, but Hamas turned down the offer.

Egypt threatened Meshal that if an agreement for prisoner release is not reached by the end of Ramadan - the Muslim month of fast that ends October 22 - the Hamas leader would be held responsible for a wide-scale Israeli military attack in the Gaza Strip.