An unusual visitor is being hosted by Lebanon's political leaders today: Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political bureau of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, is making the diplomatic rounds in Beirut. In the past, Hamas's primary interest had been in its activities within the Palestinian territories, and the organization had exerted only limited influence on the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
The visit puts Lebanon's pro-Western leaders, particularly Sunni leaders such as Saad Hariri, in an awkward situation. Hariri has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian resistance, which is a prerequisite for maintaining his status as leader of Lebanese Sunnis. However, he cannot ignore the United States, which has propped up his government, and will not look kindly on Hariri's embrace of a leader they consider a terrorist.
So, why would Hamas leaders risk upsetting this delicate balance of political alliances by heading to Beirut?
It is possible that, as they feel more secure in their control of Gaza, they are looking to extend their influence to the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. They would find ample opportunity in the Ain al-Helwe camp, which has been a consistent flashpoint for violence between Palestinians loyal to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and those belonging to the disparate Islamist groups in the camp. Meshaal specifically mentioned Ain al-Helwe after meeting with Lebanese officials, calling for "the launch of a Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue to discuss all the problems of Palestinian camps, Ain el-Helwe or others."
If Hamas is indeed looking to move in on the PLO's turf in Lebanon, don't expect much from the PLO-Hamas "reconciliation" talks scheduled to take place in Cairo on Nov. 10.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Just a few days ago, it looked as if things were on track for Tzipi Livni. Israeli President Shimon Peres had just granted the prime-minister designate a two-week extension to gain the coalition support necessary to secure the Kadima's Party's ruling position. And since she had already brought the Labor Party on board, it appeared Livni might be able to cobble together the remaining 13 seats she needed.
But in an unexpected move today, Livni announced that that she was giving herself a new deadline: Sunday. Her decision came after talks with the Pensioners Party failed and a series of negotiations with the Shas Party fell apart, in both cases over social welfare benefits.
The hope is that the hagglers in those parties will now be forced to make up their minds, while Kadima members rally others to get in line behind them. Livni's play also sends a clear message to those who seek to take advantage of her plight: No dice, fellas. "I am not willing to pay any price or to cross a line I deem to be irresponsible," Livni said in her announcement.
If nothing else, it's a gutsy move, one that could serve her well if she can't pull together a coalition by Sunday and -- if she keeps her word to go to snap elections -- has to campaign. While polls give the right-wing Likud Party a clear lead in that scenario, Livni's reputation for being a clean and honest leader just might put her over the top.
Photo: DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
With Turkey-brokered talks involving Syria and the Palestinians slowing, discouraged Israeli negotiators are instead turning a hopeful eye to the recently resuscitated 2002 Saudi plan for peace in the Middle East.
At the core of the agreement is a trade: In exchange for a Palestinian state, Israel would gain normal relations with 22 Arab countries, all of which would recognize Israel's legitimacy. (The Arab League has long endorsed the deal, giving an official stamp of approval in 2007.) The accord also calls for Israel to give up the occupied territories won in the 1967 war -- the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem.
Renewed interest in the proposal comes at a pivotal juncture in Israeli politics. Would-be Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, still wooing potential coalition partners, could make a tremendous power play with this deal and her supporters seem to be paving the way for her to do just that. Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak had some encouraging words for Israeli Army radio:
There is definitely room to introduce a comprehensive Israeli plan to counter the Saudi plan that would be the basis for a discussion on overall regional peace."
On all fronts, Livni, is having a good day. President Shimon Peres granted her an extension, giving her two more weeks to gather the support necessary to take the PM spot.
However, potential pitfalls loom. The ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which could bring the Kadima Party leader the coalition seats she needs, continues to withhold its support. Shas insists that Livni promise not to negotiate or relinquish any piece of Jerusalem.
Of course, any such promise will provoke a firestorm in the Arab world, so she's in a bit of a bind here. But if the revived Saudi peace gambit is enough to somehow put the peace-minded Livni in the prime minister's office, it's a start.
While Sarah Silverman is doing her part to shake up the Jewish vote on behalf of Obama, it would appear that Rev. Jesse Jackson is doing his part to muck up the works.
During an interview with the New York Post during yesterday's World Policy Forum in Evian, France, Jackson said that an Obama administration would bring much-needed change to U.S. foreign policy, particularly in terms of the Middle East. The Post's Amir Taheri writes:
Jackson believes that, although 'Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades' remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House."
While Jackson was careful to clarify that he was just "a supporter" of Obama's and not an advisor in any official capacity (indeed, he recently threatened Obama with some very uncomfortable payback for "talking down to black people"), I'm guessing his comments induced a lot of hand-wringing at campaign headquarters.
If uncertain Jewish voters begin to associate Jackson's underlying sentiment -- that Zionism (ahem, Israel) has a deathly chokehold on U.S. policy -- as Obama's position, they're likely to give pause. It's my feeling that just as often as some confuse being Jewish with being a Zionist -- of course they're not the same thing -- the stretch on the other end runs the same short distance. Jackson's "support" has a much better chance of assuaging oh, Ahmadinejad, on an Obama presidency than your average on-the-fence U.S. Jewish voter.
Both campaigns have already responded. The Obama camp refutes Jackson's statements (calling attention to Obama's pro-Israel advisors) while the McCain camp takes advantage (hinting that Obama is a Hamas sympathizer).
The Jews have a response for such a blunder: oy vey. I'm sure Obama supporters are hoping that will be the extent of any backlash.
The creative minds inside Israel's Border Police have invented a new crowd control weapon, one that pays homage to that devil of a stinker, Pepé Le Pew.
Israel's police force has a bad rep when it comes to deploying force against protestors -- both left-wing Israeli activists and Palestinians. Critics have called into question the use of rubber-covered steel bullets (which when shot at close range can shatter bones) and tear gas (which burns the eyes and induces vomiting) on numerous occasions.
The push to find alternative, less dangerous weaponry began in 2000 after 13 Arab Israelis were killed by police fire. In a conscious effort to reduce potential injury when force is required (and to avoid future flak), Israeli security forces are now employing a new invention: "The Skunk."
The concoction, sprayed in a cannon-like stream into the air, showering down upon crowds, is said to be highly effective.Here's how one BBC reporter describes it:
Imagine the worst, most foul thing you have ever smelled. An overpowering mix of rotting meat, old socks that haven't been washed for weeks -- topped off with the pungent waft of an open sewer.
Imagine being covered in the stuff as it is liberally sprayed from a water cannon.
Then imagine not being able to get rid of the stench for at least three days, no matter how often you try to scrub yourself clean."
The stench -- which apparently lingers on the skin and in hair for days and can be smelled from quite a distance -- is a serious problem. Apparently, neither soap nor tomato sauce is doing the job. It's so potent that even police stations can't store Skunk, as the smell permeates containers.
While some are still unsure that Israel's police force has found its silver bullet, amazingly, the substance is completely non-toxic and contains zero poison. The head of the police's department of technological development, David Ben Harosh, who, much to the dismay of his family first tested Skunk on himself, says it's so safe, "You can drink it, and you would definitely have a great protein drink."
Many in Israel and Palestine are likely to celebrate the steps the Israeli police are taking to reduce violence, but I doubt anyone caught in the spray will be toasting The Skunk.
Haaretz reports that Israel's ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen, has had his term extended for three months because no one else wants to take his job:
[Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni had hoped to replace Cohen with another prominent senior diplomat, or barring that, a well-known public figure or politician. She had also hoped the selection process would send a message to Egypt that its relationship with Israel was a priority for Jerusalem.
However, she soon discovered that eligible candidates were hardly jumping at the vacancy. She and Abramovitz offered the position to four of the ministry's deputy directors general, and all four turned it down.
The problem is that most of Israel's communication with Egypt is handled through the defense ministry or the prime minister's office, so the ambassador is little more than a symbolic representative in a country where, despite 30 years of peace, Israel still isn't all that popular with the general public. It's not that hard to understand why prominent Israeli diplomats aren't jumping at the opportunity.
It will be interesting to see if the foreign ministry will take a more prominent role if Livni succeeds in becoming prime minister.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was slated to give a speech at today's rally sponsored by New York Jewish groups protesting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the United Nations General Assembly. The organizers of the event canceled her appearance to avoid the appearance of partisanship. (New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was also scheduled to talk but backed out last week after learning Palin had been added to the line of speakers.)
Palin's scheduled remarks, published today in the New York Sun, are in some ways fairly predictable. Yet in addition to the standard calls to support Israel and stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the vice presidential nominee's speech is peppered with phrases guaranteed to hit the fear button in the Jewish community -- "Final Solution", "Never Again," and "Holocaust." The close of Palin's speech offered this:
Senator McCain has made a solemn commitment that I strongly endorse: Never again will we risk another Holocaust. And this is not a wish, a request, or a plea to Israel's enemies. This is a promise that the United States and Israel will honor, against any enemy who cares to test us. It is John McCain's promise and it is my promise."
As, I said last week, I don't think for a second that Iran is experiencing, or will experience, a change of heart when it comes to Israel or the United States. But anytime a politician uses the vocabulary of fear in this manner to incite solidarity, I get extremely wary.
I doubt Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent warm fuzzies across Israel yesterday when he said that it's not Israelis Iran has a problem with, just the Israeli government.
"We have no problem with people and nations," the Iranian president declared. "Of course, we do not recognize a government or a nation for the Zionist regime."
Some analysts suggest that Ahmadinejad's words reveal a softening on Iran's feelings toward Israel, if only as a response to Western pressure.
My take? That's giving far too much international weight to the president's comments, which were likely meant only as a domestic show of support for Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, Iran's vice president. Mashai caused a lot of controversy in July when he said that Iranians were friends to all people, "even Israelis and Americans."
It's hard to believe, moreover, that such a lukewarm statement from Ahmadinejad constitutes a change in policy. The Iranian president was quick to add that it Israel is perpetrating a holocaust on the Palestinian people and repeat his certainty that the Holocaust was "fake." And which Israelis will be charmed by the stipulation that they were duped by an evil Zionist regime?
Finally, if there were any confusion on where the government of Iran really stands on this matter, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did his part to reassure the world that indeed, the Islamic Republic's hostility to Israel and its people still runs red hot. Khamenei, while addressing thousands of worshipers in Tehran today, predicted the two countries were on a "collision course":
Who are Israelis? They are responsible for usurping houses, territory, farmlands and business. They are combatants at the disposal of Zionist operatives. A Muslim nation cannot remain indifferent vis-à-vis such people who are stooges at the service of the arch-foes of the Muslim world."
So, how much backtracking is really going on here? I'd hazard a guess and say: absolutely none. Ahmadinejad, who scoffed on Thursday at the idea of a two-state solution, said, "I have heard some say the idea of Greater Israel has expired. I say that the idea of lesser Israel has expired, too." Hardly the words of a changed man.
By 431 votes, Tzipi Livni -- a 50-year-old lawyer and former Mossad agent -- bested rivals and stepped in to replace Ehud Olmert as head of Israel's Kadima Party today. But there was little time for celebration as the clock's a-tickin' for both Livni and her party.
Once Olmert officially resigns, Livni will have 42 days to pull together a government so that she might step in as prime minister. If she can't keep the ruling 67-seat, Kadima-led coalition intact, Israel will hold a snap general election. Polls predict the winner will be Likud, the right-wing party led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Livni began the heady task of reaching out to other party leaders today, but judging from the chatter coming out of the Knesset she'll be fighting an uphill battle. Some, like Yossi Beilin of the small Meretz Party, have already pledged support for Livni's plan to wrap up the ongoing peace deals with the Palestinians. Beilin even hopes that she'll continue on to forge relations with Syria and Lebanon. Others, such as Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, will likely side with Livni only to keep Likud from taking power.
It's clear that Livni's toughest challenge is wavering coalition member Shas, the ultra-Orthodox party that currently holds 12 crucial Knesset seats. The Shas party line is more in tune with Likud's tough talk on the Palestinians and its call to end talks with Syria than it is with Kadima's peace initiatives. Completely aware of their pivotal position, party leaders are already voicing demands of Livni, such as the call to increase child-benefit allowances (an initative rather unpopular with Treasury officials). Whether she will bend to them to stave off an election remains to be seen.
But Likud is champing at the bit to test its popularity with voters now. Far from bedding down with Livni, Netanyahu said yesterday that to throw his support to Kadima would be like joining the board of Lehman Brothers. "The cleanest and most democratic thing to do is to hold a general election," he told reporters today.
Not so fast, Bibi. The clock's ticking, but time hasn't run out yet. If Livni manages to pull together a majority coalition, she'll be the first Israeli woman to lead the country since Golda Meir.
Today, Sept. 17, is the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Camp David Accords. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin met with U.S. President Jimmy Carter at Camp David, Maryland, for 13 tense days -- from Sept. 5 to Sept. 17, 1978 -- to hammer out the agreements that led to the March 26, 1979, peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Under the terms of the treaty, Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai, Egypt agreed to allow Israeli ships to traverse the Suez Canal, and the two agreed to establish normal diplomatic relations.
|Carter and Sadat on Sept. 6, 1978||Carter and Begin on Mar. 26, 1979|
Of course, those days weren't the last time Carter met with the leaders of Egypt and Israel. Here are a couple recent shots of the former president, still at it:
|With Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Apr. 17, 2008||With then-interim Israeli PM Ehud Olmert on Jan. 22, 2006|
The one-year anniversary of the Annapolis Conference is fast approaching and the forecast for peace between Israel and Palestine is looking cloudy at best.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's quick retreat from the scene (he announced he would resign this month to deal with corruption charges) has stalled movement. And Palestinian President Authority Mahmoud Abbas told Ha'aretz that he is not happy with the lack of progress.
Further complicating matters, Abbas's presidential term is up on Jan. 9, leaving the two-state solution table without its key players. The Palestinian media reported that Abbas plans to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), set up temporary government, and extend his term by a year.
But Hamas has already said that it will not accept his leadership after Jan. 9. Without elections, under Palestinian law Abbas would be succeeded by either the speaker or the deputy speaker of the PLC. Both men, conveniently enough, are members of Hamas.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be waxing optimistic that Annapolis's goals will be met in the coming months, but hearing that the IDF is already training units in the West Bank to prepare for the fallout in Abbas's absence, I'm thinking things are going to get worse before they get better. Memo to the next U.S. president: Don't wait until your seventh year in office to get things moving.
Anticipating round five in a series of peace talks with Israel, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced that his country submitted a six-point proposal to Turkish mediators during a summit in Damascus today, which brought together leaders of France and key Middle East peace brokers, Qatar and Turkey.
As Syria and Israel gear up for their first face-to-face meeting since 2000, conditions appear to be warming. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Assad joined President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris in July, their meeting was chilly -- no hand shake or even eye contact was exchanged.
Yet Sarko was clearly undeterred. His visit this week makes him the first Western leader to come to Syria since the country was blamed for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
While Turkish facilitators are "very happy" with previous talks, potential obstacles loom. Olmert's July resignation leaves Israel without its chief negotiator and as a result this fifth round, initially set for this week, has been postponed to later in the month.
Assad, who already wants to wait for a new U.S. administration before elevating talks to the next level, made it clear today that real progress also banks on whether or not Israel's new prime minister will, as he put it, move in the same "direction Olmert had followed."
The general proposal Syria offered today concerns the "withdrawal line" and the degree to which Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights. It's a touchy subject -- the same point collapsed negotiations in 2000.
While Olmert's office has yet to comment, some, like Israeli writer Ari Shavit, are calling for leaders to work fast while the iron is hot:
But if there is any step that could at present become a trend in the entire region, it is an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement. Such a treaty would bring about a positive strategic change: It would isolate Hezbollah, cause difficulties for Hamas, threaten Iran and provide support for the concerned moderate forces in the Sunni Arab world."
It's a smart move. Let's hope the peace train, however, keeps moving.
Great quote from Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency:
Ahmadinejad is our greatest gift," Halevy told the Arab language television network Al-Hurra on Tuesday. "We couldn't carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran."
Underscoring the point, the Iranian president wrote on his Web site Wednesday that Israel is a "germ of corruption" to be removed soon.
All the bluster of a "new Cold War" of late has been a bit much for my tastes. Recent developments in the Middle East, however, have been hard to ignore:
As Syria renews its Soviet-era close ties with Moscow, many here fear that the Middle East could once again become a theatre for the two great powers to exert their spheres of influence, militarily and politically, in the volatile region.
As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visits Russia today seeking deals for new missile systems, he's been dutifully trumpeting the Kremlin's party line on Georgia. He accused the West of "total disinformation, distorting facts and attempts at international isolation" (and he would know a bit about international isolation) but also took aim at Israel's alleged role in the conflict in the Caucasus:
Moreover, the West and Israel continue to put pressure on Russia. ... I think that in Russia and in the world everyone is now aware of Israel's role and its military consultants in the Georgian crisis.
(Israel says its government does not sell arms to other countries but its private firms are free to do so.)
In the wake of recent indirect talks between Israel and Syria, it would be a shame for Russia's resurgance to ruin any potential progress. As an editorial in The Asia Times notes, the very same neoconservatives who want to escalate the showdown with Russia may be harming their interest in the security of Israel at the same time.
Nobody ever could have predicted that easy listening would fail to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict:
A West Bank radio station that sought to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to the tune of pop music has gone of the air because of a lack of funding.
RAM-FM had been broadcasting English-language talk shows and artists like Michael Bolton and Air Supply from a studio in the town of Ramallah since last year.
I guess songs like "How Can We Be Lovers" and "Can I Touch You...There?" don't excite the same emotions in the Middle East as they do in... wherever it is one can find Michael Bolton fans these days.
UPDATE: Chris Blattman chimes in from Liberia:
As I read the post, none other than Michael himself was crooning over the speaker of the Cape Hotel in Monrovia.
He's also a favorite in northern Uganda, although Bolton is easily eclipsed by Dolly Parton and Bette Midler. "Wind beneath my wings" still conjures images of dusty displacement camp canteens in my mind.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Michael Bolton caused the wars in northern Uganda and Liberia to end, but it is the power of love...
I'm only mildly insulted that Chris filed his post under the "drivel" category.
Somehow, I don't think this comment from Iran's Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai is going to help anyone sleep easier in Tel Aviv:
Iranian media are quoting the country's vice president as saying Iranians are "friends of all people in the world — even Israelis."
As Haaretz observes, this isn't the first time Mashai has sounded a conciliatory note about Israel:
In late July, Mashai made similar comments, saying: "Iran wants no war with any country, and today Iran is friend of the United States and even Israel.... Our achievements belong to the whole world and should be used for expanding love and peace."
I see that the good folks at Little Green Footballs are outraged about Thursday's photo essay on a Hamas-affiliate's graduation ceremony in Gaza. The LGF author writes of FP, "They're currently running a light-hearted slice-of-life photo essay on a Hamas terror training camp."
At issue is this bit of text:
Think you have what it takes to join the Islamic resistance? Here’s how Hamas militants in Gaza have been spending their summer.
Commenter Tazzerman writes,
This is beyond the pale. I'm sorry but it sounds like a Hamas training brochure. Do these people at FP understand or realize what they're doing here? This is an out and out BLATANT advertisement for Hamas recruiting.
"It makes me sick to my stomach that someone actually is trying to glorify these cowards," says FldDoc.
"[W]hy is a reputable magazine giving positive propaganda to these ersatz stormtroopers?" Outrider asks.
Mosse wonders, "Is this postmodern drollery or something more sinister?"
Let's all take a deep breath, people. As the person who put this thing together for ForeignPolicy.com, let me make one thing clear: Nobody here is trying to glorify Hamas, which is duly listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and others. It's pretty newsworthy, though, that the Hamas-affiliated Popular Resistance Committees (PRCs), also widely considered a terrorist organization (though not explicitly listed by State), are training in this way and so openly, and the captions tell a broader story of the rising tensions that threaten to destroy the fragile Gaza cease-fire. As for the photographs themselves, I think we can all agree that they make for compelling viewing.
It's clear, however, that LGF commenters are furious that this photo essay doesn't take a strong, anti-Hamas line. Do they really fear that somehow, FP readers will be motivated by these photographs to join the "Islamic resistance"? I'm not worried.
One final note: Analytically speaking, I'm not so sure about using the term "terror training camp" to describe what is going on at this facility. I don't think the PRCs aren't terrorists, mind you -- of course they are -- but from these photographs it doesn't look like they are learning terrorist methods such as firing rockets at civilians or blowing up buses (and the PRCs have certainly done such things in the past) but rather learning how to fight like an irregular army. Other Palestinians are probably just as much a target as Israel. If anyone has any information to the contrary, please send it my way. But the real terrorist training happens far away from the cameras, I'd wager. This stuff is all just for show.
With Ehud Olmert's resignation announcement today, the floodgates have opened for speculation on who will emerge as the Kadima Party's choice in the September 17 primary. As I noted earlier, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz are the two likeliest candidates. The two candidates lead in the polls at 38 percent and 33 perfect, respectively.
Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation and a one-time advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, stressed to me in an interview this afternoon that the differences between the two candidates are incredible. Livni is a narrow frontrunner, he says, as numbers show her ahead of the hawkish Mofaz, who made headlines in June by saying that an Israeli strike on Iran was "unavoidable" if Iran did not abandon its nuclear program.
Levy figures that Livni has a better chance to defeat the likely Likud Party candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a general election. "She's way more popular, and would be way more competitive [than Mofaz]," he says.
Livni is also a much better fit for the centrist reputation that Kadima has tried to build for itself. Mofaz? Not so much, according to Levy:
He looks and sounds a lot more like a Likud politician. He began his campaign by saying he might move to live in the Golan Heights. He has been a skeptic of the peace process. He's got quite a lot of baggage to carry... He is not considered to have been an effective chief of staff or defense minister. Many people look at the army that fought the Lebanon War [in 2006] and say, 'Well that was your army, Mofaz; you're the one who led to a lot of the cuts in training, the focus on the West Bank rather than being prepared for more significant missions.'"
But lest we rule him out, Levy says, there are quite a few things working in Mofaz's favor, including a more effective political machine inside Kadima and a potential endorsement from Olmert -- both of which are extremely important in a small, Kadima-only voting electorate.
It should be an interesting summer.
In a (somewhat) surprising move, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that he will resign after his ruling Kadima Party chooses a new leader on September 17.
And who might be replace Olmert, both from party ranks and in the next nationwide election? Check out FP's list -- which we compiled more than a year ago. Our friend Ehud was able to hang on longer than we thought.
Updated for today, we might add Shaul Mofaz, the transportation minister, to the mix. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is still the most likely to succeed Olmert -- at least within Kadima -- but the hawkish Mofaz could use the Iranian threat to his advantage. Beyond that, there's no telling whether other parties will be able to push for a general election that could unseat Kadima.
Some weeks back, I blogged on an Israeli human rights group's campaign to distribute video cameras to Palestinians, who could then capture incidents involving Israeli settlers, soliders, and the abuses that often take place as Israel continues to build new settlements in the West Bank. Recent attacks by Israeli settlers have included an assault on elderly Palestinian shepherds using sticks, as well as an attack last week on a Palestinian village by 20 Jewish settlers.
The human rights group, B'Tselem, says it has succeeded in educating not only Western readers and viewers, but also Israeli citizens, who do not always have a clear picture of what transpires in the disputed areas and settlements.
Diala Shamas, the coordinator for B'Tselem's "Shooting Back" project, explains:
It started bridging the gap between what is happening in the occupied territories and what the Israeli public can see. There is a silence surrounding not only settler violence, but abuses by the IDF as well. This footage is mostly shocking to Israelis."
The project seems to be doing some good. After footage supplied to B'Tselem by a 17-year old Palestinian girl showed a bound and blindfolded Palestinian prisoner being threatened and then shot in the foot by Israel Defense Forces troops, the IDF opened an investigation that led to the suspension of an Israeli colonel after it was discovered that he ordered a subordinate to shoot the unarmed prisoner. The Guardian has published sample footage online, which includes the shooting mentioned above.
In an ongoing struggle where neither side is innocent, the videos have the potential to help. At the very least, they can keep those on both sides, as well as international observers, more aware of what is actually going on. Who knows? They could help tilt the balance of Israeli politics away from the settler movement, and show Palestinians that nonviolence can get results. And just maybe, cameras can succeed where stones and bombs have failed.
Sure, Barack Obama is quite popular in Europe and has received his fair share of endorsements from unusual areas, but the Arab media has had some other things to say.
Courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League, a sampling of political cartoons from Middle Eastern media sources:
Although the ADL lists the collection under the banner of "Anti-Semitism in the Arab/Muslim World," you might want to take this with a grain of salt. Some of these cartoons are undoubtedly offensive (including some toward Obama's race), but others simply echo familiar claims and criticisms regarding the close U.S.-Israel relationship. Personally, I've seen similar cartoons in the Western media as well.
Here's what Barack Obama wrote in the guestbook at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial. You have to admit, the man has a way with words:
I noted yesterday that Haaretz columnist Shmuel Rosner believes that Israel will attack Iran to force the international community to act. Now, maverick Israeli historian Benny Morris weighs in on the New York Times op-ed page, declaring flatly that "Israel will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months... an Israeli nuclear strike to prevent the Iranians from taking the final steps toward getting the bomb is probable." Say what? Earlier, this week, I questioned a story in The Times of London saying that Washington had given Tel Aviv an "amber light" to proceed with attack plans.
What's going on? I have a guess: Israel is playing bad cop to America's good cop. The Times story provides one clue: "[T]he Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from American forces and will not be able to use U.S. military bases in Iraq for logistical support." It's hard to imagine the Israelis could or would pull off a strike without U.S. help, so this is probably disinformation intended to send the message that Israel could act alone (which is doubtful for geographic, technical, and diplomatic reasons).
So, when Undersecretary of State William Burns meets with Iranian officials this weekend, he can thus implicitly present himself as their protector from the big, bad Israelis. Look here, Mr. Jalili: The United States is the reasonable one, willing to negotiate and compromise -- and only George W. Bush can talk the Israelis out of launching Osirak II. All you need to do is freeze your uranium enrichment and we can start talking for real. I'm sure Iranian leaders are aware of what is going on, but there may be just enough doubt in their minds to make this an effective gambit.
In the modern Middle East, victory in war is often in the eye of the beholder. Yesterday's prisoner swap between Hezbollah and Israel is no exception. Some critics say that Israel gave up too much, while others argue that the deal will only encourage future hostage-taking by the militant Lebanese Shiite group.
As Ari Shavit from Haaretz put it, "Hezbollah is bringing home a living murderer, and Israel is bringing home two dead soldiers - over whose capture it sacrificed 160 other soldiers and civilians."
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Co. seem to agree with the Israeli critics, as they threw a huge party for their freed prisoners in Beirut, styling themselves as the victors in this fight.
Not so fast. One leading Arab newspaper, the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat, noted that, in the final analysis, the deal "cost Hezbollah over $7 billion, more than 1,200 dead and 4,500 wounded Lebanese citizens."
Ouch. That's one way to rain on a homecoming parade.
Haaretz correspondent Shmuel Rosner, writing in the The New Republic, argues that Israel might attack Iran not to destroy its nuclear program -- which it probably can't do -- but to force the international community to act:
The main goal of a hit would not be to destroy the program completely, but rather to awaken the international community from its slumber and force it to finally engineer a solution to the crisis. As one former Israeli official put it, any attack on Iran's reactors--as long as it is not perceived as a military failure--can serve as a means of "stirring the pot" of international geopolitics. Israel, in other words, wouldn't be resorting to military action because it is convinced that diplomacy by the international community cannot stop Iran; it would be resorting to military action because only diplomacy by the international community can stop Iran.
I don't believe this is Israel's first option. More likely, Israel's threats are intended to ratchet up the pressure on Iran to compromise. But as Rosner notes, "The more Israel pledges to stop Iran, the more it becomes necessary to deliver." If you keep crying "wolf!" and nobody listens, the best way to get people's attention is to shoot the wolf.
Fareed Zakaria sat down with Barack Obama Sunday, and this is how the candidate styled himself on foreign policy:
One of the things that I want to do, if I have the honor of being president, is to try to bring back the kind of foreign policy that characterized the Truman administration with Marshall and Acheson and Kennan.
OK, that doesn't tell us anything so far. George W. Bush also sees himself as Truman's heir. All sides of the U.S. political spectrum have tried to appropriate different aspects of the Truman legacy. But then Obama went on:
But also characterized to a large degree -- the first President Bush -- with people like Scowcroft and Powell and Baker, who I think had a fairly clear-eyed view of how the world works, and recognized that it is always in our interests to engage, to listen, to build alliances -- to understand what our interests are, and to be fierce in protecting those interests, but to make sure that we understand it's very difficult for us to, as powerful as we are, to deal all these issues by ourselves.
It'll be interesting to watch how people react to this, especially as Obama heads to Israel
later this week next week.
I, for one, admire the pragmatism of Brent Scowcroft and James Baker. But these are curious role models to cite for a man prone to such soaring rhetoric. Moreover, some folks on the right-hand side of Israeli politics find the two realists par excellence, who under the first President Bush advised meaningful pressure on the Israeli government to stop its settlement activity, not to their liking. Liberal hawks, meanwhile, see them as too bloodless, their realism too narrow.
Readers, what do you think?
(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)
Over the weekend, Drudge and a good chunk of the blogosphere linked credulously to this story in The Times of London, written by one Uzi Mahnaimi. The story alleges that U.S. President George W. Bush has given Israel an "amber light" to attack Iran, according to a "senior Pentagon official."
Amber means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when you're ready," the official said.
If you read the entire piece, you'll see that it doesn't quite live up to its dramatic headline: "President George W Bush backs Israeli plan for strike on Iran." (The official is later quoted as saying, "If there is no solid plan, the amber will never turn to green," he said.)
The alarmism isn't entirely Mahnaimi's fault, since editors usually choose headlines. But our friend Uzi has a track record of breathless stories about alleged Israeli preparations to attack Iran. Here's one from January 2007 (using tactical nukes!), and another from December 2005. Or we could go back to July 2004. And remember that attack on Gaza? Mahnaimi is also notorious for reporting in 1998 that Israel was developing a biological weapon -- an "ethnic bomb" -- that would only kill Arabs.
The real story here is that the Israelis have developed plans to hit Iran's nuclear facilities -- did anyone think they hadn't? -- but the United States (correctly) thinks it's a bad idea. Read Jim Hoagland. He gets this story right.
After lampooning America as "Borat," it appears the world's most notorious British comic may be setting his sights on the Middle East. His next film, featuring the character "Bruno," a flamboyant
German Austrian homosexual, is set for release in May 2009. And, if this encounter with two über-serious advocates of Israeli-Palestinian peace is any indication, it's going to be hilarious:
We exchanged astonished glances. "Hamas," we explained, "is a Palestinian Islamist political movement. Hummus is a food."
"Ya, but vy hummus? Yesterday I had to throw away my pita bread because it vas dripping hummus. Unt it's too high in carbohydrates."
The Hamas-hummus confusion went on for several minutes. Then, the interviewer declared: "Your conflict is not so bad. Jennifer-Angelina is worse."
RAFAH - EGYPT CROSSING, GAZA STRIP - JULY 01: Palestinians try to pass a child over the gate of the Rafah border crossing to Egypt on July 1, 2008 in the southern Gaza Strip. Egypt opened the border crossing with Rafah on Tuesday for three days for the limited passage of people such as Palestinians stranded in Egypt and Gazans seeking medical treatment abroad.
For all of its past rhetoric on Hamas, Israel may be bending just a bit. The BBC reports today that a truce has been reached between Israeli officials and representatives of Hamas in Egypt. While Israel appears to be treading lightly, reaching a ceasefire agreement with Hamas -- the militant group that controls the Gaza strip and is believed to be responsible for rocket attacks against Israeli citizens -- is a big step.
This deal, set to take effect on Thursday, is not exactly an anomaly in Israel's recent relations with traditional enemies. A prisoner-exchange agreement with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, has apparently been brokered and may occur as early as next week. Israel and Syria agreed today to hold additional talks in July, mediated by Turkey.
The most interesting question now is how Washington will react. Bush is unlikely to change his tune at this late stage on a group he considers a terrorist threat, though he tacitly agreed to let Egypt broker this new agreement. But a President McCain or a President Obama might make a different calculation. It's hard to see how a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be reached without Hamas, as the group has held a majority in the democratically elected Palestinian parliament for two years. Can the United States really facilitate a peace deal between the people of Israel and Palestine without inviting the officials that the latter have voted into office?
And of course, how can Hamas negotiate with an entity that it doesn't even recognize? It seems like a lot of players must change their views for peace to have a chance.
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