The U.N.'s controversial Human Rights Council met today to consider a proposal to investigate claims of human rights abuses by both sides in Sri Lanka's recently concluded civil war. The stakes were high for the council said Mark Leon Goldberg this morning:
Now that the fighting has stopped, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamils are trapped in concentration camps run by the Sri Lankan military. These camps are off limits to the media and most international humanitarian organizations, like the International Committee for the Red Cross. In a recent trip to the region, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called the IDP camps, "by far the most appalling scenes I have seen" -- this, from a man that has visited Darfur, Gaza, and Eastern Congo, mind you.
So, in all, this meeting is an important test of the Human Rights Council. A few weeks ago it proved able to authorize an investigation of alleged human rights abuses in Gaza committed by Israel and Hamas during Operation Caste Lead. Should the council vote against action on Sri Lanka it opens itself to familiar accusations that there are double standards when it comes to Israel--which is a charge that may become more resonant should member states maintain that the situation in Sri Lanka is a wholly internal matter undeserving of the attention of the Human Rights Council.
Well, we appear to have an answer:
China, Cuba, Egypt and 26 others on the 47-member council voted in favor of a resolution that described the conflict as a "domestic" matter that did not warrant outside interference. The council also supported the Sri Lankan government's decision to provide aid groups only with "access as may be appropriate" to refugee camps.
Twelve mostly European countries opposed the resolution after failing to get support for a resolution that criticized both sides.
All in all, the implications of this vote for the image of the human rights council itself, as described by Mark, were probably larger than those for Sri Lanka. The HRC regularly condemns Israel's actions, (thanks largely to the fact that the Palestinians, unlike the Tamils, enjoy a good deal of international support) but the possibility of condemnation doesn't seem to be much of a factor in Israeli government decision making. I can't imagine it would be that much different for Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government appears to still be fighting with remnants of the Tigers.
Israel's internal security service is warning citizens to be wary of who may be lurking on the popular networking site:
In a recent incident, a man who called himself "a Lebanese agent" offered an Israeli Facebook user money in exchange for classified information. The Israeli notified the Shin Bet of the incident and immediately cut off contact with the man.
The Shin Bet has advised Israelis to refrain from broadcasting personal information on their network profiles, including phone numbers, areas of residence and e-mail addresses.
Despite budget cutbacks at the foreign affairs ministry, Israel has announced that it will open an embassy in Turkmenistan following a round of secret talks. In addition to being a major source of natural gas, Turkmenistan shares a border with Iran.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has shown an interest in expanding Israel's footprint in Central Asia before, leading delegations to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan while he was interior minister. Israel is keen to promote security ties with Central Asian states to limit Iran's regional influence.
The U.S. has been making moves in the 'stans this week as well. As mentioned in yesterday's morning brief, the U.S. will once again be supplying troops Afghanistan through Uzbekistan, with an assist from South Korea. Josh Kucera also reports that the new State Department budget includes major aid increases for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with an eye on keeping supply lines to Afghanistan open.
There's an interesting quote from the Post's account of Pope Benedict's visit to Israel's Holocaust memorial:
Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev said he considered Benedict's remarks a "serious and important" acknowledgment of what the Holocaust represents, but said he also found the language "a bit restrained." He and other officials at the memorial said they were expecting a more personal expression of empathy, rather than the general remarks Benedict delivered. "Maybe our expectations were too high," Shalev said.
If Shalev was expecting a Larry King-style expression of remorse for Benedict's youthful involvement with Nazism or his pardon of Richard Williamson, he was definitely expecting too much. If this pope has demonstrated anything so far, it's that he has little patience for the ritual expressions of "humanity" demanded by the modern news cycle. (And Benedict's spokesman probably did him no favors by denying that he was ever a member of the Hitler Youth, even though the pope had admitted as much himself in his autobiography.)
For even the most media-savvy public figure, this trip would hae been a tough act to pull off. Some had hoped that the pope could use his spiritual authority to make a positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but at this point, Benedict probably has too little credibility with either Jews or Muslims to pull that off. Any non-platitudinous statement he made on behalf of Palestinian rights would just reinforce Jewish skepticism of him and vice versa.
As for doing damage control, the Holy Land actually seems like the worst possible place to reach out to Jews or Muslims (particularly if you're trying to reach out to both.) As Marc Lynch noted in his discussion of why Jerusalem would have been an ill-advised choice for Barack Obama's address to the Muslim world, it "would have been a security nightmare, a political football, and at any rate would have turned it into an 'Israeli-Palestinian' event instead of a Muslim world event."
The pope must have realized this all too well when he had to leave a conference in East Jerusalem yesterday after a Palestinian began railling against Israeli crimes. It would have been difficult enough for this pope to pull off a high-profile conciliatory gesture to Jews, or to Muslims. But trying to do both at once while standing on top of the world's most volatile political-religious fault-line is damn near impossible.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
Here at FP, we watched U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. John Kerry's speeches at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. We parsed the response to the two-state solution proffered by both. We considered their call for a settlement-freeze. We read about Netanyahu's reception.
Israel and Palestine -- and AIPAC especially -- tend to be tinder-box issues, and we expected to find ourselves amid some policy or defense discussion (flamewar?) in the blogosphere.
Oddly, what we noticed most was the sound of crickets.
Why the silence? Barack Obama isn't speaking (the big reason for last year's spike), The Israel Lobby is old news, there's relatively little violence between Israel and its neighbors, and the Israeli elections are over; plus, no one has yet said anything too contentious. The issues that make AIPAC's conference hot are, for the moment, relatively cool.
An extremely unofficial measurement of the response -- Google Trends -- seems to bear the observation out.
The worst offenders are all usual suspects, but I suspect the most attention will be garnered by the three countries that slipped from "free" to "partly free": Israel, Italy, and Hong Kong. Here's the explanation on Israel from the report's overview essay:
Israel, the only country in the [Middle East] to be consistently rated Free, moved into the Partly Free range due to the heightened conflict in Gaza, which triggered increased travel restrictions on both Israeli and foreign reporters; official attempts to influence media coverage of the conflict within Israel; and greater self- censorship and biased reporting, particularly during the outbreak of open war in late December.
Hamas, in the eyes of the United States government, is a terrorist organization. It is illegal for the Palestinian Islamist party to receive American aid because it fails to meet three criteria established by U.S. law: it refuses to acknowledge Israel, renounce violence, or abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In the event of the formation of a coalition government between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, this fact would prevent American aid from being delivered to the PA. To sidestep this problem, Secretary of State Clinton pressed Congress last week to amend a law, in order to keep money flowing to the PA should there be a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
The Obama administration’s plan would allow the PA to receive American aid as long as the Hamas members of the coalition government met America’s three criteria, even if Hamas as an organization did not. Clinton noted that the United States continues to provide aid to the Lebanese government, despite the fact that Hezbollah is a member. She argued that cutting all of America’s financial strings to the PA would deprive it of the ability to affect a gradual change in Hamas’s behavior.
In addition to an ethical dilemma, this scheme also presents a bevy of political ones. Opinions of Democratic and Republican members of Congress have ranged from skeptical to hostile, with one Republican Congressmen describing it as similar to supporting a government “that only has a few Nazis in it.” An anonymous Israeli political source stated that the proposal was “painful and worrying.”
Obama deserves credit for bravery in putting forth a plan which will inevitably be portrayed as benefiting Hamas, an organization easily and deservedly vilified. However, the widening rift between the rival Palestinian factions makes the question of a unity government purely hypothetical, and suggests that Obama’s plan will have a greater impact in Washington and Jerusalem than it ever will in Ramallah.
At the controversial U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quite predictably began railing about how the Holocaust had been used as a pretext for establishing a "totally racist state" -- Israel -- in the Middle East. Dozens of delegates promptly stormed out of the conference hall:
Earlier in the speech, a heckler put a new spin on the "shoe-ing" trend by "clown-nosing" Ahmadinejad:
Israel is still fuming about the conference, even recalling their ambassador from Switzerland in protest. But in a lot of ways, Ahmadinejad's speech and the delegates' reaction to it was the best PR Israel could ever have hoped for.
CQ's Jeff Stein writes, in an explosive story today, that California Representative Jane Harman was recorded on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene on behalf of American Israeli Public Affairs Committee officials, who were being charged with espionage:
Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.
In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.
Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”
The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, and officials were extremely skittish about going beyond Harman’s involvement to discuss other aspects of the NSA eavesdropping operation against Israeli targets, which remain highly classified.
But according to the former officials familiar with the transcripts, the alleged Israeli agent asked Harman if she could use any influence she had with Gonzales, who became attorney general in 2005, to get the charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies.
AIPAC official Steve Rosen had been charged with two counts of conspiring to communicate, and communicating national defense information to people not entitled to receive it. Weissman was charged with conspiracy.
AIPAC dismissed the two in May 2005, about five months before the events here unfolded.
Harman responded that Gonzales would be a difficult task, because he “just follows White House orders,” but that she might be able to influence lesser officials, according to an official who read the transcript.
According to Stein's story, Justice Department attorneys were prepared to charge Harman, but Gonzales intervened on her behalf in exchange for her support during the forthcoming scandal over the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. And she did whole-heartedly defend the program when it was revealed in the New York Times. Ironically, Harman may turn out to be the highest profile victim of an NSA wiretap to date.
Thankfully, nobody actually benefited from this exchange: Harman never got her chairmanship, the justice department still charged the AIPAC officials, and Gonzales was forced to resign, partly because of the NSA scandal.
If this is true, it's corruption on an awe-inspiringly audacious scale on Harman and Gonzeles's part. But former CIA directors Porter Goss and Michael Hayden as well as former director of national intelligence John Negroponte were all informed of the wiretap and allowed Gonzales to protect her.
It also makes one wonder how extensive the NSA wiretapping of members of congress was during this period and what other past phone conversations are keeping congressional leaders up at night right now. The Harman tap was part of a larger investigation of Israeli covert action in Washington and it's hard to imagine that she was the only member they were looking at.
The Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman reached new levels of Stalin-esque photoshop audacity by doctoring photos of Israel's new government to remove female ministers Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver and replacing them with male ministers. (Click the photo for a larger version.) If Tzipi Livni had been elected, I would imagine the paper would have been pretty text-heavy on most days.
Unfortunately, no one has yet invented software that can make Foreign Miniser Avigdor Lieberman disappear.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been sworn in as the leader of Israel's 32nd government. The controversial Avigdor Lieberman will, as feared, be foreign minister while Labor Party leader Ehud Barak will keep his role as defense minister.
I doubt Bashar al-Assad really thinks Benjamin Netanyahu is going to hold to this deal:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights during indirect peace talks with Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
In an interview which appeared in the newspaper's Wednesday edition, Assad said Israel and Syria were within "touching distance" of clinching a peace agreement.
The Syrian premier told La Repubblica that during the Turkish-mediated peace negotiations, Olmert indicated to Turkey's prime minister, Reccep Tayip Erdogan, that he is ready to relinquish all of the Golan Heights to Syria.
Assad added that both sides were very near an agreement, and that all that remained was to finalize last details over the precise route of the 1967 line which would serve as the future border between the two countries.
Most likely, he's trying to blame Israel for the Golan negotiations' likely failure. Assad also says that, "in principle," he wants to meet with Obama. But he's "not looking for a photo opportunity. I want to see him, to talk."
Haaretz reports that Israeli negotiators are staying in Cario for an extra day to secure the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas since 2006, and are close to an agreement. The head of Hamas's military wing is reportedly heading negotiations on their side. Citing the pan-Arab paper Al Hayat, the article describes the possible conditions for Shalit's release:
The newspaper also reported that Israel is willing to release 300 Palestinian prisoners out of 450 on a list presented by Hamas, but maintains its opposition to the remaining 150, some of whom have been convicted of involvement in terrorist attacks.
If so, you can kiss the peace process goodbye for a while, if it is not gone for good. Israel's international standing is going to take a major nosedive.
Already, EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana has warned that the way "the European Union will relate to an (Israeli) government that is not committed to a two-state solution will be very, very different."
Lieberman's party, Yisrael Beitenu, is getting five additional cabinet slots, including internal security.
If you've been following the Chas Freeman saga, you'll certainly want to check out the former nominee's interview with The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss. In the interview, Freeman addresses the blistering e-mail message that The Cable's Laura Rozen featured on Tuesday:
The only thing I regret is that in my statement I embraced the term ‘Israel lobby.' This isn't really a lobby by, for or about Israel. It's really, well, I've decided I'm going to call it from now on the [Avigdor] Lieberman lobby. It's the very right-wing Likud in Israel and its fanatic supporters here. And Avigdor Lieberman is really the guy that they really agree with. And I think they're doing Israel in.
Freeman also says he wasn't too surprised by the unproductive conversations he had on Capitol Hill:
Well, they didn't go badly. But I'm one guy talking to one or two people, and they're quite a number of people and they're feeding all sorts of disinformation in, and they have established channels and they also have clout. So there wasn't much hope on my part that I could get many people to stand up and support me, because the down side of doing that is so obvious. Because if you go against this group, they either curtail your contributions or they arrange to contribute to an opponent. So it's not realistic to expect courage on the Hill. And I didn't.
Bashar al-Assad, the lisping former opthamologist who rules Syria with an iron fist, has got to be enjoying himself these days.
First, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her interest in seeing the Turkish-mediated, indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria succeed. Next, two U.S. officials, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro, visited Damascus last week to open a dialogue with the Syrian regime after year of isolation. On Tuesday, Syria opened its first stock market. Then, the Saudis hosted a mini-summit in Riyadh Wednesday with the thinly veiled aim of enticing the Syrians away from Iran.
It seems like everyone is intent on wooing Damascus.
Everyone, that is, except Israel. Turns out the incoming Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu isn't so hot on the Syria track:
Benjamin Netanyahu will likely shelve recently revived Israeli peace talks with Syria given its territorial demands and alliance with Iran, a senior adviser to Israel's prime minister-designate said on Thursday. Uzi Arad helped Netanyahu when he was premier in 1996-1999 to craft indirect contacts with Damascus and is widely considered to be his choice for national security adviser.
He suggested Israel's new regional priorities may make negotiating with the Palestinians a more viable prospect than Syrian talks.
I'm going to have to throw the BS flag here. More likely, the very fact that the Syria track is becoming increasingly viable is what makes Netanyahu and other Israeli hardliners nervous -- they don't want a deal because they simply don't want to give up the Golan Heights. They're ideologues, but they're not naive: There's no way they think the Palestinian track is going anywhere right now.
You can tell that Arad is being disingenuous from this bit of flim-flammery:
Western interest in advancing Israeli-Arab peace could best be served by curbing Iran's nuclear programme, he argued.
Israel, which is assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, has endorsed U.S.-led efforts to use sanctions to get Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment, a process that can produce bombs though the Iranians deny having any such intent. "The more Iran becomes strong, the closer it gets to nuclear weapons, the more terrified the moderates in the Arab world and the Palestinian people become, and the more emboldened the radicals and the extremists are," Arad said. "So whichever way you look at it the order of priority is: blunt Iran first, move vigorously on peace after, and based on that. Should you act in the wrong order...you will have a sterile, perhaps failed process with the Palestinians and at the same time you will end up with a nuclear Iran."
Remember when the argument was that Saddam had to go before any progress could be made on Israeli-Palestinian peace? How's that working out?
The bottom line: It's a real shame that just as the United States is finally putting together a smart diplomatic strategy for the region, its supposed best friend is gearing up to ensure that America fails.
The depths of stupidity in the U.S. Congress never cease to astound me:
[W]hile the people of Gaza would seem to have enough problems without getting embroiled in a budget fight in Congress, Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, pushed for an amendment barring any money for relocating refugees from Gaza to the United States.
Not that the bill ever designated any money for that purpose. Mr. Kyl just wanted to be extra sure and, in doing so, to force Democrats to take a politically charged vote. The same was true for another amendment Mr. Kyl put forward to prevent any money in the bill for reconstructing Gaza from being diverted instead to Hamas.
Emphasis mine. As a close observer of the budget fight told me Friday, there was never any question that U.S. taxpayers would be funding a scheme to move Gaza refugees to the United States (more here). But reality is one thing, and politics another.
Then there's the issue raised during the floor debate by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. What if there are good people who want to come to the United States? From the record:
[T]he Senator from Arizona [Kyl] has offered amendment No. 629, which would prohibit the use of any funds in the omnibus to resettle Palestinians from Gaza into the United States. We are going to vote on that tomorrow.
Frankly, it is unnecessary and for the United States, a nation of immigrants, it goes against everything we stand for.
We don't resettle anybody from Gaza, nor do we resettle anybody from Gaza who is living in the U.N. refugee camps in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, or Jordan. The amendment is a solution looking for a problem. If a Palestinian from Gaza gets to a place like Italy, or somewhere in Europe, the amendment would prevent the State Department from even considering that person for resettlement to the United States. We would have to tell them sorry, you can't come in, because you are from a place that has terrorists.
The official position in Washington is that Barack Obama's administration will work with whatever Israeli government is ultimately established. Beyond that, American officials are keeping mum.No American official is likely to convene a press conference publicly condemning Lieberman's appointment. However, such a choice will almost certainly encourage the U.S. administration to keep its distance from Benjamin Netanyahu's government, as Washington will not want to take the flak absorbed by demonstrating closeness to a government whose public face is widely considered to be a racist.
But the "Lieberman question" continually arises in State Department briefings for journalists and in other forums. And opinion columns in the American press have presented Lieberman in an extremely negative light, with comparisons to Austria's Joerg Haider and even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, (both use "ultranationalist rhetoric of hate," one paper charged).
I find it kind of doubtful that a U.S. administration would ever "keep its distance" from an Israeli government. Netanyahu could probably appoint Skeletor as foreign minister and U.S. officials would still meet with him.
That said, Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell can't be looking forward to peace negotiations with someone who has made it clear he considers them a waste of time. Not that any of that bothers America's own Lieberman.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
To accompany Fareed Zakaria's cover story on "learning to live with radical Islam," Newsweek created an interactive map showing the state of religious freedom throughout the world. Unfortunately they made one tiny little error in the last part of the world where you want to do this kind of thing:
The map shown is, of course, not the Palestinian Territories, but Israel.
I can only imagine the phone calls they're getting on West 57th St. It's clearly an honest mistake rather than anything nefarious, but as someone who's done fact-checking for Newsweek, it's still kind of painful to see.
Since yesterday's item on Chas Freeman, more commentators have sallied forth to attack and defend President Obama's controversial pick to run the National Intelligence Council.
In today's Wall Street Journal, Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Witherspoon Institute says that Obama wants to place "a China-coddling Israel basher in charge of drafting the most important analyses prepared by the U.S. government." He argues that Schoenfeld's views on China should worry us as much as his thoughts about Israel and ties to Saudi Arabia:
On the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Mr. Freeman unabashedly sides with the Chinese government, a remarkable position for an appointee of an administration that has pledged to advance the cause of human rights. Mr. Freeman has been a participant in ChinaSec, a confidential Internet discussion group of China specialists. A copy of one of his postings was provided to me by a former member. "The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities," he wrote there in 2006, "was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud." Moreover, "the Politburo's response to the mob scene at 'Tiananmen' stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action." Indeed, continued Mr. Freeman, "I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be."
The Daily Beast's Ashley Rindsberg explains another political strike against Freeman, his past business dealings with the bin Laden family:
As chairman of Projects International Inc., a company that develops international business deals, Mr. Freeman asserted in an interview with the Associated Press less than a month after September 11 that he was still “discussing proposals with the Binladen Group—and that won't change.”
In the same interview, Freeman also contested the notion that international companies who had business with the bin Laden family should be “running for public-relations cover,” noting that bin Laden was still “a very honored name in the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]”, despite its family tie to the Al-Qaeda leader.
The New Republic's Martin Peretz adds his take, calling Freeman "bigoted and out of touch."
The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss defends Freeman here calling the campaign against him "scurrilous":
If the campaign by the neocons, friends of the Israeli far right, and their allies against Freeman succeeds, it will have enormous repercussions. If the White House caves in to their pressure, it will signal that President Obama's even-handedness in the Arab-Israeli dispute can't be trusted. Because if Obama can't defend his own appointee against criticism from a discredited, fringe movement like the neoconservatives, how can the Arabs expect Obama to be able to stand up to Israel's next prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu?
My co-blogger David Rothkopf also takes up the issue, noting that while he vehemently disagrees with Freeman's views on Israel, Saudi Arabia, and China, his continued willingness to utter uncomfortable truths to power make him the perfect pick for Obama's intelligence briefer:
Part of the reason he is so controversial is that he has zero fear of speaking what he perceives to be truth to power. You can't cow him and you can't find someone with a more relentlessly questioning worldview. His job will be to help present the president and top policymakers with informed analysis by which they can make their choices. His intellectual honesty and his appreciation for what is necessary in a functioning policy process is such that he will not stack the deck for any one position. He wouldn't last five minutes in the job if he did. (And Denny Blair, the wise and canny Director of National Intelligence wouldn't tolerate it.) Further, the chairman of the NIC does not directly whisper into the president's ear in a void. He helps prepare materials that will become the fodder for active debate among a national security team that is devoid of shrinking violets.
FP's Laura Rozen is also following the Freeman debate closely. Stay tuned to "The Cable" for more details as they emerge.
However, an incident occured last week at a crossing into the Gaza Strip that gave a very different impression to a senior observer. When Senator John Kerry visited the Strip, he learned that many trucks loaded with pasta were not permitted in. When the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee inquired as to the reason for the delay, he was told by United Nations aid officials that "Israel does not define pasta as part of humanitarian aid - only rice shipments."
Kerry asked Barak about the logic behind this restriction, and only after the senior U.S. official's intervention did the defense minister allow the pasta into the Strip. The U.S. senator updated colleagues at the Senate and other senior officials in Washington of the details of his visit.
Kerry wasn't the only U.S. official to complain about the pasta ban. Representatives Brian Baird and Keith Ellison also toured Gaza last week and criticized Israel's "idiosyncratic and arbitrary" food aid policies. "When have lentil bombs been going off lately? Is someone going to kill you with a piece of macaroni?" asked Baird.
The IDF agreed to allow lentils and pasta into Gaza last weekend. Laird applauded the move but said it was only symbolic of a generally misguided sanctions system.
"You look stupid and petty and over-controlling when you do this."
(Hat tip: Passport reader Sierra Millman. Check out her reporting on the Middle East here.)
Correction: This post originally misspelled Rep. Baird's last name.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Last week, FP's Laura Rozen broke the story that former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman is the Obama administration's pick to head the National Intelligence Council, the internal think tank for the intelligence community responsible for producing National Intelligence Estimates.
Since Laura's story hit the Web, critics have been attacking the appointment over Freeman's views on Israel and ties to Saudi Arabia. Former AIPAC staffer (himself a pretty controversial guy) Steve Rosen, now of the Middle East Forum, is leading the charge against the appointment. Here's one controversial comment of Freeman's from a 2005 speech:
As long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected. Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands is inherently violent.
He's also committed the unforgiveable sin of saying nice things about our colleague Steve Walt and publishing the original "Israel Lobby" article in his organization's journal.
There's also the fact that his organization, the Middle East Policy Council operates "thanks to the generosity of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia" (his own words) and that he's an advocate of improved U.S-Saudi relations.
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg argues:
It would be inappropriate to appoint an official of AIPAC to run the National Intelligence Council (though it must be said that AIPAC doesn't receive any funding from the Israeli government) and it seems inappropriate to give the job to a Saudi sympathizer as well.
On the other hand, as Ben Smith notes:
Other appointees have worked for policy groups that accepted money from foreign governments -- though perhaps few as domestically unpopular as the Saudis. Ross, for one, is still listed as the chairman of the board of directors of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an Israeli government arm.
As General Zinni learned the hard way, no appointments are final until they are confirmed and the politics of this certainly don't bode well for Freeman. It would be a shame if he were spiked. Freeman's an experienced and highly qualified foreign-policy practitioner and one would hope that his critics can do a little better if they really hope to prove he's the agent of a foreign government. At the same time, one would also hope the Obama team anticipated the possible controversy and have good answers to some reasonable questions about Freeman's views and affiliations.
Want more Freeman? Check out this interview about the Taiwan Strait (he's also an old Asia hand who served as Richard Nixon's translator in China) that he gave to FP in 2007.
Photo: The Middle East Policy Council
U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman was in Israel over the weekend where he got the chance to meet with his namesake, right-wing politician and recent electoral kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman. Joe says he wanted to meet with Avigdor because "he will play an important role in the next government so it's important that we in the US get to know him well." But as the senator well knows, the controversial Israel Beiteinu leader is auditioning for the job of foreign minister and a meeting with a high-profile U.S. politician can only help his cause, and undermine negotiation efforts.
First of all, Joe Lieberman is helping to give international legitimacy to someone who describes peace negotiations as "a critical mistake" that will lead to Israel's destruction. Second, while Lieberman may deny that he's a racist, his quasi-fascist supporters don't even bother. Third, the guy's currently under investigation for money laundering.
I know it's a funny coincidence that they have the same last name ("Lieberman is the best name in the world," remarked an enthusiastic Avigdor after the meeting.) but is this really the company Joe wants to be keeping?
(Hat tip: Matt Yglesias)
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
I see that American officials in Israel are outraged that U.N. staffers had the temerity to hand John Kerry, who was touring Gaza recently, a letter purportedly from Hamas to U.S. President Barack Obama. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman himself has now caught the vapors:
Kerry turned the letter over to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem on Friday and his spokesman told FOX News that the Democratic senator was not aware that the letter was from Hamas when he accepted it from an official with the U.N. relief agency.
Kerry told FOX News that he never read the letter because it was sandwich among other promotional papers the U.N. gave him. A State Department official confirmed to FOX News that it was from Hamas and is now under review.
A potential concern was whether such a letter would violate the United States' policy toward Hamas. Obama has said his administration will not engage in diplomatic talks with Hamas unless the group renounces terrorism and affirms Israel's right to exist.
This is all rather silly. What's the harm in accepting a letter? There's no obligation to do anything with the information. And shouldn't U.S. officials at least be interested to see what Hamas, or those claiming to be its representatives, have to say? Even if its clear that Hamas has no intention of recognizing Israel anytime soon, this policy of pretending that the group doesn't exist -- even as it steadly takes over the Palestinian territories -- is completely baffling to me.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
Mr Khalil said Gaza used to export as many as 40 million flowers a year, so he dismissed the shipment of 25,000 carnations as "insignificant".
"We had to feed the flowers to the animals because we couldn't export them," he said.
"We are afraid of losing our reputation in Europe and are afraid to plan ahead."
For more on the miracle of globalization that is the international flower industry, check out Amy Stewart's 2007 FP article, "Flower Power."
SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images
McClatchy's Dion Nissenbaum speculates
that an 11th hour endorsement from Israeli supermodel and current Sports Illustrated
Swimsuit Edition cover girl Bar Rafaeli may tipped
Here's what Rafaeli told Time in an interview on Monday:
I actually don't know who I would vote for. If I knew I was going to, I'd probably research more. I think I'd probably go for [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni, but I don't know.
Yeah, it's not quite "He's the one," but you never know. It looks as if the military vote may decide the final results so we'll have to see how many fans Rafaeli has in the IDF.
Nissenbaum muses, "Now all that is left to discuss is what cabinet post Livni will give Refaeli." As my former colleague Mike Boyer once blogged, Israel has never been above a little bikini diplomacy.
Jeffrey Goldberg is blown away by Israel's strange and inconclusive election results:
The stunner, for me at least: The Labor Party is dead. More than that, the peace camp is dead, or comatose, at least. According to exit poll numbers I heard, Haifa and Tel Aviv went for Livni (who is no leftist, except in comparison to Netanyahu and Lieberman); the south went for the hard right. The rockets voted, in other words.
The RAND Corporation's Claude Berrebi, who I spoke with for a piece on October surprises before the U.S. presidential election, has quantitatively demonstrated this effect by showing that a terrorist attack within the past three months in a given area of Israel has historically resulted in an average 1.35 percentage point increase in the level of support for right-wing parties. As this election shows, 1.35 percent is nothing to sneeze at in an Israel eleciton.
Berrebi also argues that terrorists know exactly what effect this has on the electorate:
“Our past research has shown that the behavior of terrorists is highly rational, even more so sometimes than leaders in the West,” he says.
Rather than behaving irrationally, more likely they are either trying to perpetuate a cycle of tit-for-tat violence with an overly aggressive government that will end in Israel’s destruction, or—the explanation Berrebi prefers—they hope terrorist attacks will cause the entire political spectrum, including the right, to move in the long run toward a more moderate stance. The more accommodating policies adopted in recent years by one-time hard-liners such as Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert may be evidence of this shift.
Tzipi Livni probably also belongs on that list. And as Nigel Ashton argues, Benjamin Netanyahu may yet surprise everyone by moving toward a more accommodating position. Somehow I don't think Avigdor Lieberman is moving anywhere, though.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
As a general rule of thumb, low turnout tends to favor fringe or opposition parties, whose voters tend to be more committed and fervent. Conversely, higher turnout may boost Kadima and Labor, who hope for a last-minute push against the poll-leading opposition Likud.
Another important group to watch is Israeli-Arabs. A strong turnout in this sector could offset expected big gains by rightist Jewish parties, in particular Avigdor Lieberman's high-flying Yisrael Beiteinu.
The consensus view seems to be that the Likud Party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, will be the big winner in the next week's Israeli elections, a development that has peace advocates in the United States nervous, given the positions Netanyahu has taken over the years and his performance as prime minister during the 1990s.
But a more troubling development may be the continuing rise of far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman (above). Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party seems likely to pick up another five seats and may wind up with more seats than the Labor Party. Given how Israeli coalition politics works, Lieberman seems perfectly positioned for an influential role in a Netanyahu government.
The Moldovan-born Lieberman is famous for his inflammatory statements and aggressive style. My colleague Becky Frankel recommends this 2007 profile of Lieberman from her old magazine Moment, in which Lieberman lays out his view of the contemporary Middle East:
There is no 'new' Middle East," he tells me. Lieberman rejects outright the notion of a contained Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to him, "whoever thinks so, is plain stupid. We face an existential threat. It's really about the survival of the fittest, and with neighbors like Syria, Iraq and even Egypt, we have to be realistic. We are not, being Jewish. It is a genetic disease. When Hitler came to power, we chose to look the other way. That's now the attitude toward [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. There is no difference between him and Hitler, and we fail to understand it. That’s pathological behavior.”
I guess "realistic" is one way to describe that way of looking at things.
Photo: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
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