5. Middle East Followups

Dec-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A quick last look around the Middle East. In Egypt, we’ve heard all sorts of rhetoric about Morsi being bad, with surprisingly little discussion of the actual proposals he’s made for the constitution. Harron Siddiqui has a fine piece (with a stupid and racist title from the Toronto Star), while the Guardian follows up with a major change. Juan Cole looks at the increasingly inevitable fall of Assad, while War Tard both analyzes brilliantly the forces that push Assad towards chemical weapons, and the forces against. He is also very good on what will happen after Assad goes. The Bloat and Flail  looks at the positive reasons for hope in the UN recognition of Palestine as a state, while three different commentators look at the utter failure of the West’s invasion of Afghanistan.

* Haroon Siddiqui on the Egyptian ConstitutionToronto Star

The constitution is problematic, though it’s not all that different from Anwar Sadat’s 1971 constitution.

His said that “Islam is the religion of the state and the principles of sharia are the main source of legislation.” Sharia already governs family and property matters. But the new draft ties sharia doctrine to “Sunni Islam,” as interpreted by “the majority of Muslim scholars,” raising fears that it could be interpreted any which way.

The draft restricts freedom of religion to “monotheistic religions.” Thus Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, etc., get no rights. The old constitution had no such exclusion.

On women’s rights, the draft has as much gobbledygook as the old constitution. It says the state should “guarantee co-ordination between the duties of the woman and her public work,” vs. the old formulation that women are equal “without violating the rules of Islamic jurisprudence.” Many hijabi women oppose this new draft.

The draft concedes too much power to the military — perhaps as quid pro quo to the army staying out of politics or helping the Muslim Brotherhood.

Societies in transition need Nelson Mandelas. Morsi has failed to be a conciliator. In fact, he has polarized Egyptians, notwithstanding the undemocratic machinations of the opposition.

 * Egypt: Mohamed Morsi cancels decree that gave him sweeping powers The Observer

The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has scrapped a decree that had generated widespread unrest by awarding him near-absolute powers. But he insisted a referendum on a new constitution would go ahead as planned this week.

The announcement, which is unlikely to placate Morsi’s opponents, came after Egypt’s military warned that failure to resolve a crisis over the drafting of the constitution would result in “disastrous consequences” that could drag the country into a “dark tunnel”.

* Obama Recognizes Syrian Opposition as Government Juan Cole Informed Comment

President Obama announced on Tuesday that the US now formally recognizes the Syrian opposition as the legitimate government of Syria:

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Tuesday that there were no further indications of the Syrian regime priming itself to deploy chemical weapons. (My own suspicion is that Israeli intelligence planted that story in the first place, because it wants the US to militarily secure the chemical weapons lest they are transferred to Hizbullah. The Obama administration dealt with Netanyahu by saying deployment of chemical weapons would be a red line for the regime, and then declaring that the warning worked.)

Obama’s recognition comes as the momentum is turning slowly against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Baath Party. Alarabiya reports on how the Free Syria Army has reorganized itself, assigning each sector of the country to a rebel general. 

* Syria: Will Assad go full chemical? War Tard

Anyone who’s ever played a hand of poker knows that you double down on the bluff when your credit line just got cut off. Maybe someone will believe that crazy look in your eye. So you push all your chips into the middle of the table. That’s Assad right now. Chemical weaponry is a way of breaking the bank.

Personally, I can’t believe Assad is serious here.

It’s certain death multiplied by the destruction of your country.

But you know what?

Wounded animals are more dangerous. Dictators are prone to shitty decision making when confined to a bunker. When you know you’re about to die and you’ve got nothing else to lose, sometimes it’s fun to just sit back and set the ignition fuse on the firework.

* Three Good Things That Came From The Palestinian Statehood Vote  The Globe and Mail

One of the Israeli government’s key ambitions is to join the European Union, which is its main and crucial trading partner. By ending complacent acceptance of Israel’s lassitude, the Middle East analyst Juan Cole notes , Europe now has “the opportunity to play the kind of honest broker between the two sides that the U.S. pretended to be but almost never did.”

In other words, writes Sharon Pardo of Ben-Gurion University, “Europe could offer Israelis and Palestinians the sweetest carrot in its arsenal in the form of a European vision, including perhaps eventual EU membership. Europe would have to condition such a vision on a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.”

Even some conservatives who sometimes support Mr. Netanyahu saw the declaration as a minor breakthrough. “It was striking to me,” David Frumwrote , that Mr. Abbas’s speech to the UN “was conciliatory, not provocative… it is a much more explicit statement of co-existence than was ever offered from a UN rostrum by Abbas’s predecessor… Abbas spoke for legality and democracy in a future Palestinian state.”

This, Mr. Frum noted, puts Israel in a corner, one that is best escaped by reciprocating the gesture: “Israel, too, has reason to show a friendly face to the word. If Abbas talks peace, let Israel talk peace. If Abbas expresses a wish for a two-state agreement, let Israel do the same.”

* Dereliction of Duty: The Sequel  Stephen M. Walt

According to the New York Times, the Pentagon has just issued a gloomy new report suggesting that we’ve made far less progress in the war than is often claimed. Money quotation:

“A bleak new Pentagon report has found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners.”

The Times continues: “The report, released Monday, also found that violence in Afghanistan is higher than it was before the surge of American forces into the country two years ago, although it is down from a high in the summer of 2010

 * Insurgency Encroaching On Central Afghanistan   The Long War Journal

The increasing danger associated with traversing the once-dependable road system linking Bamyan with Kabul has prompted provincial officials to demand additional resources from the Karzai regime for safer modes of transportation.

“We have asked the central government to provide us with helicopters,” Ahmad Alia, a spokesman for the Bamyan police chief explained to the New York Times in late October. “Local government officials are not traveling by ground anymore, and they want to have helicopters so they can go to Kabul or other provinces.”

* Doonesbury on Afghanistan

click on strip to enbigify



Nov 30th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 39

Nov-30-2012 | Comments Off

Second last issue: Middle East Focus

1. Gaza and Hamas

Bird’s Eye: A three parter, as we look at the long term effects on the Middle East of the Gaza-Israel war. We start by looking at Hamas and its allies, who seem to be the big winners. And that’s particularly true in Egypt, where Morsi gained significantly.

* Ceasefire A Sign Of Middle East’s New Political Reality  Telegraph

The declaration was made in Cairo by the Egyptian foreign minister, in front of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state. Under the terms of the truce, both sides will hold off from hostilities until further notice. After the truce has held for 24 hours, talks will begin to address Hamas’s demand that Israel’s blockade of Gaza be lifted.

There was no mention of Israel’s requirement that Hamas be prevented from rearming, either immediately or in the future. But the deal was announced in Cairo by Mohammed Kamel Amr, the foreign minister of Egypt, through which any arms would have to travel to reach Gaza, standing alongside Mrs Clinton. The Israelis believe this amounts to a guarantee their security concerns have been accepted.

The deal was reached after 24 hours of frantic diplomacy which saw Mrs Clinton land in Jerusalem for talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister and travel on to Ramallah to meet Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. She then flew to Cairo to hammer out a deal with Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, who has emerged as Hamas’ key international backer. President Barack Obama was careful to thank Mr Morsi as well as Mr Netanyahu for reaching the agreement. 

* Hamas finds greater support in a changed Middle East  The Washington Post

As the conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip intensifies, Arab governments are throwing their weight behind the territory’s long-isolated Islamist leaders in a reflection of the region’s shifting political dynamics after nearly two years of upheaval.

Long kept at a distance by Arab autocrats wary of Hamas’s hard-line ideology, the group has found a new set of highly influential friends — including the democratically elected governments of Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, all U.S. allies. Those backers give Hamas stronger standing internationally, and perhaps greater room to maneuver as it faces the second major Israeli operation in Gaza in four years.

* Morsi Emerges as Key Power Broker Juan Cole Informed Comment

Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi, a member of the same Muslim Brotherhood that gave birth to Palestine’s Hamas movement, has emerged as a key broker in the Gaza crisis. President Obama is said to have called him for the third time in 24 hours on Tuesday!

Morsi sympathizes with the stateless Palestinians, who are being kept without a state and without basic human rights by the right wing Israeli government. But more, he sympathizes with Hamas itself, which the US and Israel have branded a terrorist organization. Because the US has put Hamas on the terrorist list, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cannot talk to the government of Gaza (which seems rather stupid), and Morsi is therefore a key interlocutor



3. The Future of Israel

Nov-30-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Yogi Berra once famously said, “Prediction is very difficult, particularly about the future.” So we offer three radically different views. Uri Avnery, founder of Gush Shalom (the Israeli peace movement), who views Palestinian recognition at the UN as a wonderful thing, for Israel. Jeffrey Goldberg, a fairly right-wing commentator at The Atlantic, offers one set of views while Ian Welsh, differs strongly, and sees the writing on the wall for Israel. One of these three is probably right… we report, you decide.

* Celebrating Palestine: The Strong and the Sweet Uri Avnery Palestine Chronicle

It was a day of joy. 

Joy for the Palestinian people.

Joy for all those who hope for peace between Israel and the Arab world….

What has happened is that the foundation of the State of Palestine has now been officially acknowledged as the aim of the world community. The “Two-State solution” is now the only solution on the table. The “One-State solution”, if it ever lived, is as dead as the dodo.

Of course, the apartheid one-state is reality. If nothing changes on the ground, is will become deeper and stronger. Almost every day brings news of it becoming more and more entrenched. (The bus monopoly has just announced that from now on there will be separate buses for West Bank Palestinians in Israel.)

But the quest for peace based on the co-existence between Israel and Palestine has taken a big step forwards. Unity between the Palestinians should be the next. US support for the actual creation of the State of Palestine should come soon after.

* The Iron Dome, Press Bias, and Israel’s Lack of Strategic Thinking  Jeffrey Goldberg  The Atlantic

What is Israel’s long-term strategy? Short-term, I understand: No state can agree to have its civilians rocketed. But long-term, do Israeli leaders believe that they possess a military solution to their political problem in Gaza? There is no way out of this militarily. Israel is not Russia, Gaza is not Chechnya and Netanyahu isn’t Putin. Even if Israel were morally capable of acting like Russia, the world would not allow it. So: Is the goal to empower Hamas? Some right-wingers in Israel would prefer Hamas’s empowerment, because they want to kill the idea of a two-state solution. But to those leaders who are at least verbally committed to the idea of partition, what is the plan? How do you marginalize Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Jews and the Jewish state, and empower the more moderate forces that govern the West Bank? 

Here’s one idea: Give Palestinians hope that Israel is serious about the two-state solution. And how do you do that? By reversing the settlement project on the West Bank. It is not unreasonable for Palestinians to doubt the sincerity of Netanyahu on the subject of the two-state solution, when settlements grow ever-thicker. There’s no way around this: The idea of a two-state solution will die if Israel continues to treat the West Bank as a suburb of Jerusalem and Kfar Sava, and not as the future location of the state of Palestine.

* The Gaza Reminder   Ian Welsh

Israel is doomed.  The generation of young American Jews do not have the loyalty to Israel, no matter what it does, that older American Jews, as a group, have.  The world is coming to see Israel as an apartheid state, which is what it is.  The demographics are against it, and at some point America will cut Israel off, and Israel’s economy is not sustainable without the US.

And more to the point, somewhere, alive today, is the person who believes that losing Jerusalem is an acceptable price for wiping out Tel Aviv.  That person has been created by Israeli policy, by Western policy and by Saudi policy.  Israel is a small country.  It will not exist in 50 years.  It may be destroyed in an apocalyptic terror attack, it may be destroyed in military action, it may be destroyed by demographics, it may fall apart economically.  Its military advantage is already going away.   Hezbollah took away Israel’s armor advantage, straight up defeating them in their last invasion of Lebanon.  The Israeli air force was unable to substantially dent Hezbollah’s missile force, despite complete air supremacy.  If Hezbollah had had the good missiles, it could have wreaked much more damage.

Right now Hamas has rockets.  They look like something out of the 15th century.  They are pathetic.  It won’t stay that way forever.

All this before we get to the fact that Israel’s military is incompetent.  They are no longer the Israeli military of 68, they are an occupation military, and occupation militaries are only good at fighting weaklings, they always become corrupt, brutal and weak themselves.

Israel faces a stark choice: the two-state solution is no longer viable, there is not enough water and arable land, and too much population.  It can no longer work.  Israel can either become a secular single state, giving a vote and rights to everyone, it can ethnically cleanse out all Palestinians and become a pariah state, or it can cease to exist (option 2 and 3 may both occur).  Its end, moral or physical, may occur through terror, demographics, war, economic collapse, military decline or more likely, some combination, but it is as close to any historical process comes to inevitability.



4. Israel and the A-Word

Nov-09-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Regular readers will have noticed a decrease in Israel articles: that’s mostly caused by Haaretz charging for links. But they now allow access to ten free articles a month… and the Gideon Levy analysis of the Israeli attitudinal survey is worth reading. Meanwhile Netanyahu and Lieberman have mined forces, and an upcoming election looms. Interesting times in the Middle East, as always….

* It’s Official, Most Israelis Want To Live In An ‘Apartheid State’ Mondoweiss

In the United States nothing stops a conversation on Israel shorter than dropping the “A” word, “apartheid.” Literally millions are spent to counter events like “Israel Apartheid Week,” and there are pro-Israel advocacy groups and public relations firms whose raison d’être is presenting the Jewish “democracy” as more democratic than anywhere else in the Middle East. “Where in the Middle East do Jews and Arabs Play Together?” asks one billboard by the San Francisco-based Blue Star PR—“Only in Israel.”

But according to a new poll by an Israeli data firm a majority of Israelis don’t want to play—or study, live, eat or drive anywhere near an Arab. Rather, they want an Apartheid state.

In two articles by Gideon Levy published today in Haaretz the results of a survey by Dialog are presented: 58% of Israeli Jews believe Israel practices apartheid in the West Bank, and they are fine with that. In fact Israelis are so comfortable with institutionalized discrimination that a third said they do not want Palestinians citizens of Israel to have the right to vote and 69% do not think Palestinians in the West Bank deserve to vote in the case of Israel annexing the occupied territory.

* Meet the Israelis Gideon Levy Harretz

Nice to make your acquaintance, we’re racist and pro-apartheid. The poll whose results were published in Haaretz on Tuesday, conducted by Dialog and commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund, proved what we always knew, if not so bluntly. It’s important to recognize the truth that has been thrown in our faces and those of the world (where the survey is making waves ). But it’s even more important to draw the necessary conclusions from it.

Given the current reality, making peace would be an almost anti-democratic act: Most Israelis don’t want it. A just, egalitarian society would also violate the wishes of most Israelis: That, too, is something they don’t want. They’re satisfied with the racism, comfortable with the occupation, pleased with the apartheid; things are very good for them in this country. That’s what they told the pollsters.(Includes poll results.)

 * Calling Israel’s Discrimination What it Is Rabbi Brant Rosen Shalom Rav

Forward columnist Philologos recently took the Israeli daily Ha’aretz to task for using the term “apartheid” in its reporting on a poll that showed most Israelis support discrimination against Arab citizens. “Apartheid” and mere discrimination are two very different things, Philologos claimed. He suggested that Ha’aretz should be censured for using such a damning epithet.

Philologos went on to define what he sees the critical difference between “apartheid” and “discrimination.” The former refers to “the systematic segregation of one people, race or group from another,” while the latter means “the systematic favoring of one people, race or group over another, such as exists in numerous countries around the world today.” And while Israel may practice regrettable discrimination against its Arab citizens, he claimed it was a “lie” to suggest that it is in any way an apartheid state.

While Philologos may be a fine linguist, his knowledge of international human rights law is sorely lacking….

At the end of the day, it really is academic whether we choose to label this kind of policy — and many others like it — to be “discrimination,” “institutional racism” or “apartheid.”

The real question before us not what to call it. For Jews who purport to cherish human rights, the right question is: what are we willing to do about it? 



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