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Friday, July 31, 2009

Ex-Soviet States Meet For 'Russian NATO' Summit

Ex-Soviet States Meet For 'Russian NATO' Summit
The Collective Security Treaty Organization is holding a meeting in Kyrgyzstan starting Friday.

From AFP:

CHOLPON-ATA, Kyrgyzstan (AFP) – The presidents of seven ex-Soviet states ended a summit Friday of a Russia-led security grouping touted as an eastern counterweight to NATO but riven by disagreements.

The leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) sought at a lakeside resort in Kyrgyzstan to smooth out differences over a June 14 deal to establish the group's first joint rapid reaction force.

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More News On The CSTO Summit

CSTO Leaders Gather For Informal Summit -- Radio Free Europe

Russia, Kyrgyzstan to sign base deal: official -- China Daily

Russia wants second base in Kyrgyzstan -- AP

Former Soviet Republics Expected to Form Joint Rapid Reaction Forces -- Novinite

Saudi Arabia Rejects President Obama's Approach To Middle East Peace

Saudi Arabia Rejects President Obama's Approach To Middle East Peace

Saudis Reject 'Incrementalism' Of U.S.-Backed Peace Plan -- CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia on Friday bluntly rejected a call for step-by-step moves toward Middle East peace, an approach supported by the United States.

The United States had hoped that the Saudis would announce "confidence-building measures" that would break the current impasse and lead to a new round of talks.

"Incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not and -- we believe -- will not lead to peace," Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said at the State Department Friday after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Read more ....

My Comment: This is a major rejection and repudiation of President Obama's approach towards resolving the Israeli - Palestinian conflict. This is a major setback .... and one that has been completely under reported in the American Press.

More News On Saudi Arabia's Rejection Of U.S. Middle East Peace Efforts

Saudi FM puts burden on Israel to make peace -- AFP

Saudi Minister Takes Hard Line Against Peace Gestures to Israel -- Voice of America

Saudi Arabia rejects U.S. pleas on Israel -- Reuters

Saudi rebuffs US on improving ties with Israel -- AP

S Arabia rejects ties with Israel -- Al Jazeera

Remarks With Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal -- U.S. Department Of State

Arabs losing hope in Obama's ability to broker Mideast peace



Arabs losing hope in Obama's ability to broker Mideast peace

In a push for progress, three heavy hitters from the administration – Mitchell, Gates, and Jones – visited the region this week.

Ilene R. Prusher

JERUSALEM -- Nearly two months after President Obama's historic address to the Muslim world from Cairo, his administration made a high-profile drive this week to shore up Arab and Israeli support for a comprehensive peace deal.

A trio of senior officials – US Mideast envoy George Mitchell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and US National Security Advisor James Jones – have visited officials throughout the region, with particular emphasis on Israel.

Since his June 4 Cairo speech, Mr. Obama has shown a new US willingness to take Israel to task for its expansion of settlements in the West Bank. But he has simultaneously begun to press the Arab world to do its part to foster peace, sending letters in advance of this week's visits to encourage action from leaders who are reluctant to make a move before Israel agrees to end the official state of war with its Arab neighbors.

"There's far more motion right now in US policy," says Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

But Mr. Obama and his team are running up against Arab skepticism. Though Obama still commands credibility in the eyes of many citizens from Syria to Saudi Arabia, many are still waiting for clear progress – or even a concrete plan.

"Where is this initiative?" asks Saudi businessman Turki F. Al Rasheed, who says Obama has retained credibility among Saudis despite doubts about what he can accomplish. "There is talk, but no initiative. If Obama wants peace, he has to come up with a clear-cut plan," not requests for Arab states "to give Israelis a nice gesture."


The Saudis came up with such a plan in 2002, but Israel has yet to act on it. The so-called Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel full diplomatic normalization and peace with all Arab states in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in a shared Jerusalem.

From the Arab perspective, to give a dramatic gesture in advance of an Israeli halt to settlement expansion in the Palestinian territories – which many see as jeopardizing an eventual Palestinian state – would open Arab governments to criticism from their own people for giving something away for nothing.

"Normalization comes after achieving these goals, not before it," Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali told Agence France-Presse this week. "As we all know, Israel is continuing to take unilateral measures by changing the geographic and demographic facts on the ground, by building settlements and expanding the existing ones."

The Obama administration has publicly insisted that Israel freeze all expansion – even in East Jerusalem, which Israel claims as part of its undivided and eternal capital.

So far, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defied Washington's demand, though senior US officials have indicated that an agreement is forthcoming.

"Netanyahu has made it clear from the very start that he's not interested in peace," says Sami Moubayed, a political analyst in the Syrian capital, Damascus. "It shows you exactly what the Syrians have been saying for the last three or four months: There is no peace partner today. People thought Barack Obama would have enough clout to force Netanyahu to change his attitude, but there's only so much Obama can do."

Saudis also express doubt that Obama will succeed.

"We think Obama maybe came at the wrong time [because], unfortunately, with the current Israeli government, we think there is no hope to make any progress," says one senior civil servant who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the matter.

Mr. Rasheed, the Saudi businessman, points out that when Netanyahu visited the White House in May, "he basically told Obama to get lost. So now, what is the president of the United States going to do?"

He notes that many of Obama's close Mideast advisers are considered pro-Israeli – a point echoed by Zaim Abdullah, an unemployed recent graduate of Sanaa University in Yemen, who argues that Obama is so sympathetic to the Jewish perspective that he practically shares their religion. But Mr. Abdullah also criticizes Arabs.

"Arab countries, if unified, could destroy everyone, but they are all divided," he says. "That is the biggest problem."


Many Arabs are looking for a tougher approach from Obama, with some invoking a popular Arabic saying: "You can't chew meat unless you have some teeth."

"We're willing to make peace, but we want the [Israeli-occupied] Golan [Heights] back," says Ahmad, a taxi driver in Damascus. "Until the Americans match their actions with their words and put the Israelis under real pressure, nothing will happen."

But others are more optimistic. "His credibility is [high] and a lot of people have a lot of hopes invested in him," says Muhammed al-Katatni, a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated member of Egypt's parliament.

In Syria, there was a new surge of enthusiasm after Mitchell informed President Bashar al-Assad this weekend that the Obama administration would work to ease US sanctions. The US also recently announced that it would send an ambassador to Syria, ending a four-year hiatus in diplomatic relations.

"That Mitchell has come twice in such a short period of time shows that the Americans are serious [about restarting peace talks]. This is a sign that something is happening, that they are going into more details," says Thabet Salem, a Syrian political analyst.

"The Syrians are happy ... because the Americans are bringing the Israelis back to reason," he says. "They believe that the Americans are serious about doing something this time."


Palestinians, meanwhile, have been trying to sway Arab countries from moving toward normalization.

"The Arabs must also remember that they have offered the maximum they can give through the Arab initiative, and until now, Israel did not move one inch forward to show that it is serious about peace," Mohammad al-Soudy wrote Wednesday in the West Bank-based newspaper al-Ayyam newspaper. "The Arabs must also remember that it is easy for Israel to resume settlement expansion, but it is very difficult for them [Israel] to revoke normalization once they start with it."

Saudi Arabia, which, together with Egypt, has the clout to push the Arab Peace Inititiave forward, is loath to budge without a move from Israel. But it's also fed up with Palestinian infighting, says Abdullah A. Al Shammri, a Saudi political observer.

"We are feeling cool to the Palestinian issue, since we are seeing Palestinian fighting and arguing every day. We consider it ... a shame that they are killing each other and arguing with each other."

In addition, the Saudi public is divided about which Palestinian faction to support. While the government is pro-Fatah, many influential religious and business figures favor Hamas. These divisions, and the public's impatience with Palestinian internal dissension, lessen the government's willingness to take dramatic steps, Mr. Shammri adds.

Still, some Saudis are not yet ready to dismiss Obama's efforts.

"I think it's too early in the game to say the efforts are not a success. We really need to give this time," says a Saudi who keeps in touch with the royal court. Recalling the landmark 1979 peace deal between Israel and Egypt reached at Camp David, he notes: "It was a long time before a deal was consummated."

Caryle Murphy, Ashraf Khalil in Cairo, Julien Barnes-Dacey in Damascus, and Benedict Moran in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed reporting.

Commentary: Flipping enemies By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE UPI Editor at Large

Commentary: Flipping enemies

UPI Editor at Large

Two academic specialists on Afghanistan argue the Taliban insurgency can be flipped. A third academic, and the most knowledgeable on the Middle East and South Asia , says flipping Taliban is a “fantasy.” Pros and cons — and the cons have it.

WASHINGTON , July 30 (UPI) — Geopolitical trendies ran a new one up the international flagpole to see if anyone saluted. It claimed to be the magic formula on “How to Win in Afghanistan .”

“Flipping the Taliban” is the new recipe for success in Afghanistan . In the July/August 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs, Fotini Christia, a member of the Security Studies Program at MIT, and Michael Semple, an Irish official with the EU delegation who was expelled from Afghanistan last December for his involvement in a Taliban reconciliation effort, put forward their “flipping” the enemy thesis that makes the exercise a tad harder than flipping hamburgers.

Western logic is not a good guide when assessing the psychological profile of men who curse the birth of a girl and exalt a baby boy, born with a Kalashnikov in his cradle. The current generation of Afghan men and their sons has fought almost non-stop for the past 30 years. While in power (1996-2001), Taliban clerics ordered women stoned to death for being seen out of their ambulatory burqa tents with non-family men and banned education for all females. Result: Only 3 percent of them can read and write.

The Christia-Semple duo remind us that Taliban leader and al-Qaeda ally Mullah Omar, still eluding capture after eight years on the lam, recently offered, ironically, to give safe passage to NATO forces that choose to leave the country, just as the mujahedin offered safe passage to Soviet troops when they decamped and went home two decades ago. But the authors fail to point out this is precisely the reason why Taliban “reconcilables,” as perceived by European interlocutors, will remain irreconcilable. All Afghans, uneducated as most of them are, have one incontrovertible historical fact engraved in their DNA: They have defeated every empire that occupied Afghan land, from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes to the Persian Empire, India ’s Mughal Empire, to the British, Russian and American empires. On Jan. 13, 1842, a British army doctor reached a British sentry post at Jalalabad, the sole survivor of a 16,000-strong Anglo-Indian expeditionary force, allowed to escape to tell the world the story of a massacre strewn along the 95-mile road from Kabul . During the decadelong Soviet occupation of the 1980s, 14,500 Soviet troops were killed and 54,000 seriously wounded.

So cajoling a few Taliban “reconcilable” foot soldiers to abandon the fight and rally to NATO’s side will not flip anything. The Vietnam War is long since forgotten and its lessons ignored by virtue of not being remembered. And before that France ’s eight-year war in Algeria . And before that France ’s eight-year war in Vietnam , Laos and Cambodia . In each one of these conflicts, the illusion was nurtured about splitting hard-as-nails insurgent fronts in the vain hope of getting the “reconcilables,” or turncoats, to carry the white man’s burden. Guerrilla movements frequently fostered the illusion of fissures to split the ranks of their enemies.

Over the years, the authors argue, Afghan Taliban commanders often switched sides mid-conflict. That was true as the Taliban (student movement), sponsored by Pakistan ’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, set out to end a post-Soviet-exit civil war and establish its rule over the whole country. Loyalties caromed from tribe to ethnic group as ISI’s nationwide campaign gathered steam and lined up behind the Taliban. The defections were to the Taliban with 80 percent of the territory — or to the rival, non-Pashtu Northern Alliance that held its ground and sided with U.S.-led invaders in October 2001.

Flipping Taliban is a “fantasy,” said Anthony Cordesman, one of America ’s leading strategic thinkers, after spending a month in Afghanistan as a member of an official Strategic Advisory Group. A senior scholar and strategy director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Cordesman said this week that Afghanistan is “a disorganized mess. The impact of years of inadequate resources, stovepipes rather than unity of effort, a lack of realistic goals and measures of effectiveness, a focus on post-conflict reconstruction in mid-war, and a failure to come to grips with the limits and corruption of the Afghan government, have taken their toll.

“What should be an integrated civil-military effort on winning the war in the field,” said Cordesman in his report,” is a dysfunctional, wasteful mess focused in Kabul and crippled by bureaucratic divisions, Afghan power brokering, national caveats (against offensive operations) and tensions, and a critical lack of resources at every level.”

The Christia-Semple thesis says that “for many Taliban fighters, insurgency has nothing to do with Islamic zealotry; it is a way of life.” Reconciliation efforts, as the authors see it, will have to zero in on the particular characteristics of each group: its tribal links, its traditions, the special conditions under which it functions. Good luck. In light of what Tony Cordesman saw and heard, that would mean at least three more stovepipes parceled out among 40 different nationalities.

Afghanistan , like Vietnam during the eight-year war fought by the French, followed by the 10-year war fought by the United States , is friend by day and enemy by night with no end in sight. U.S. soldiers, going up and down mountains lugging 60 to 80 pounds, are easy pickings for concealed guerrillas. So the Christia-Semple formula may well serve as a fig leaf for withdrawal short of “Mission Accomplished.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

LINKS OF INTEREST * Russia and the United States


* Russia and the United States
The Henry L. Stimson Center, July 2009

Myanmar Activities Fuel NKorea Nuclear Suspicions: Expert Agence France-Presse

Myanmar Activities Fuel NKorea Nuclear Suspicions: Expert
Agence France-Presse
There is no hard evidence that two of the world's pariah states are sharing nuclear technology, but one US expert says some of Myanmar's activities raise suspicions of such links with North Korea.

China, U.S. Press North Korea to Rejoin Disarmament Talks Global Security Newswire

China, U.S. Press North Korea to Rejoin Disarmament Talks
Global Security Newswire
The United States yesterday indicated that China, North Korea's most powerful ally, agreed with U.S. officials that Pyongyang should return to six-party denuclearization talks, the Yonhap News Agency reported (see GSN, July 28).

China Seizes Smuggled Metal Bound for North Korea Reuters

China Seizes Smuggled Metal Bound for North Korea
Chinese border police have seized 70 kg (154 lb) of the strategic metal vanadium bound for North Korea, a local newspaper said on Tuesday, foiling an attempt to smuggle a material used to make missile parts.

Russia: Bushehr Power Plant Likely to Go Online in Months Fars News Agency

Russia: Bushehr Power Plant Likely to Go Online in Months
Fars News Agency
The Bushehr nuclear reactor could go online by the end of the year, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said.

Jordan Seeks to Join Nuclear Energy Club Randa Habib, Middle East Online

Jordan Seeks to Join Nuclear Energy Club
Randa Habib, Middle East Online
Jordan is forging ahead with a peaceful nuclear programme that would turn the energy-poor kingdom into an exporter of electricity, nuclear chief Khaled Tukan said.

Yep, Waste Dump Still on Track for Deep-Sixing Lisa Mascaro, Las Vegas Sun

Yep, Waste Dump Still on Track for Deep-Sixing
Lisa Mascaro, Las Vegas Sun
MinutemanAnother sign of the possible demise of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository could be seen Wednesday on the floor of the Senate as the chamber worked its way through the annual energy spending bill for 2010.

The bill, which passed late in the day, reduces funding to develop the radioactive waste dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas as part of the Obama administration’s vow to terminate the project. Middle East Roundtable: The Sixth Fateh Copngress and Arab politics, July 30, 2009.
Middle East Roundtable

Edition 29 Volume 7 - July 30, 2009

The Sixth Fateh Congress and Arab politics

• Fateh needs more than superficial unity - Lamis Andoni
The fundamental struggle for Fateh at this historic juncture is to restore its identity.

• A diaspora left out in the cold - Ghada Karmi
What we need urgently today is unity.

• The end of illusions - Oraib Al Rantawi
Fateh's leadership of the Palestinian national movement is in regression.

• Breathing new life into Fateh - an interview with Sufyan Abu Zaida
Mahmoud Abbas will be stronger after the conference than before.

Fateh needs more than superficial unity
Lamis Andoni

Fateh, the movement that has led the Palestinian struggle for decades, is at a dangerous crossroads. At stake is not only its unity but more significantly its mere survival.

It faces tough choices. In order to keep itself relevant on a regional and international level it would need to project itself as a "moderate" force committed to a non-existing peace process, thus risking the further demise of popular legitimacy. To salvage its legitimacy and unity it would need to disengage from the Palestinian Authority's compliance to American and Israeli terms that aim at turning the movement into a malleable political tool and an enforcer of Israeli security.

But more so than ever in its history, Fateh is facing a real rival that has popular legitimacy and backing by key regional powers. Iran and Syria are seeking to further boost their negotiating credentials by supporting the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and are ready to accelerate the demise of both Fateh and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Qatar openly aids and promotes Hamas as the alternative movement, again to enhance its role as a regional power broker to be reckoned with.

Egypt, Jordan and other so called "moderate" countries, the supposed backers of Fateh, are junior partners of Washington in its plans to turn the movement into a huge security apparatus and ensure the Palestinian people's submission. More significantly, they could easily switch sides if the US and Israel decide that Hamas is ready to accept the terms of engagement in the "peace process" or that it could be a more effective enforcer of Israeli security.

But the fundamental struggle for Fateh at this historic juncture is to restore its identity, unity and the core of its soul. Its merger into the Palestinian Authority after the signing of the Oslo accords distorted its identity and function. The one-time backbone of the Palestine Liberation Organization and embodiment of Palestinian national rights, Fateh has been reduced to a ruling party largely, but not solely, dependent on proving itself as a "peace partner" in a process that has so far consolidated Israeli occupation and expansionism.

Under the leadership of the late Yasser Arafat Fateh did not lose its soul: it walked a tightrope, balancing between its contradictory roles as the main pillar of a Palestinian Authority bound by agreements to contain resistance to the occupation and the role of a defiant movement that had not abandoned its main goal of leading Palestinians into freedom. Arafat himself personified that soul of Fateh and in broader terms the spirit of the Palestinian struggle. He became the master of compromise, earning the wrath of many disillusioned Palestinians. But when it came to the ultimate test he refused to sign away Palestinian rights, defying American and Israeli pressures at Camp David in the summer of 2000.

Arafat ultimately paid the price for his defiance, but his act revived Fateh and the Palestinian spirit of resistance, leading to the eruption of the second intifada less than two months after the failed Camp David talks.

But on the eve of the Fateh Congress, to be convened for the first time since 1989 next Tuesday in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem , the movement is struggling not only for its soul but for its mere survival. Years of exile, especially after the PLO lost its sanctuary in Lebanon in 1982, a failed "peace process", the loss of Arafat, the ruthless Israeli clampdown on Fateh after the second intifada, combined with unprecedented divisions and a brewing power struggle, have eaten up the fabric of the movement's unity.

The absence of Arafat as a unifying leader could prove fatal. It is not clear if Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the first and second intifadas, could inspire and lead the movement into recovery from his Israeli jail cell. Arafat himself had contributed to the slow but steady weakening of Fateh. His authoritarian style, failure to encourage new generations to assume leadership and even his decision to endorse the militarization of the second intifada dealt constant blows to the body of the movement.

But it was mainly the path pursed by the Palestinian leadership after his death that led the movement to lose its compass. President Mahmoud Abbas, the architect of the Oslo agreement, is a staunch believer that accommodation of the "peace process" and especially of the American terms will lead to the end of the occupation.

Abbas the president may be restricted by obligations to the agreements and conditions to secure the flow of international and Arab funding to the Palestinian territories. But Abbas as leader of Fateh failed to nurture the movement and instead marginalized and curbed dissent within Fateh, further weakening its spirit.

His keen public interest in appeasing American administrations in the name of widening the gap between Washington and Israel helped portray Fateh as collaborationist and an arm of Israeli occupation. Rampant corruption, which actually predated Abbas, further eroded Fateh's popularity, leading to the surprise Hamas victory in the 2006 elections.

The elections ended Fateh's exclusive leadership of the Palestinian struggle. Fateh, however, did not seize the opportunity to restructure itself and revise its position. Instead Fateh leaders inside the Palestinian Authority further maligned the movement by posing as guarantors of the Hamas-led government's compliance with Israeli and international conditions.

The elections, and later on the Gaza war prompted by the Israeli rejection of Hamas, encouraged regional and international powers to look for the Islamic resistance movement as a substitute for both Fateh and the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Ironically, it is the threat of what the mainstream Palestinian group correctly views as a regional agenda to end the movement or help it kill itself that has restored some sense of urgency and unity among the fighting Fateh tribes on the eve of its crucial congress. The explosive accusations by Farouk Qaddumi, an original co-founder of Fateh and consistent opponent of the Oslo process, that Abbas and former security chief Mohammad Dahlan were implicated with Israel in the death of Arafat, were seen by many in Fateh to unwittingly serve a regional agenda to finish off the movement.

Fear of extinction may unite Fateh's congress, but a superficial unity will not save the movement from its contradictions unless it succeeds in charting a clear path and direction--and shedding its growing collaborationist image.- Published 30/7/2009 ©

Lamis Andoni is a journalist and commentator on Middle East affairs.

A diaspora left out in the cold
Ghada Karmi

At a rally in Gaza on July 25, a DFLP leader, Salah Zeidan, demanded an end to the Fateh-Hamas unity talks that have been taking place in Cairo over the last few months because, as he said, they leave out the smaller Palestinian parties like the PFLP and the DFLP. What, on that basis, should the largest Palestinian party, the diaspora, say of its own exclusion from these and all other deliberations in the Palestinian arena?

Take, for example, Fateh's upcoming conference on August 4. This long awaited convention is due to take place in Bethlehem under the auspices of Mahmoud Abbas' leadership. It will be Fateh's sixth conference and comes after several postponements and a delay of over a decade. From the start the conference preparations have been riven with internal disputes, conflicts and threatened splits. There were differences over where it should be held, many members arguing for Amman as a place not subject to Israeli restrictions. Farouk Qaddumi, the head of the PLO's political department and an old rival to Abbas, refused to meet in any territory under Israeli occupation. He followed this up two weeks ago with the shocking accusation that Abbas had been behind a plot in collusion with Israel to poison Yasser Arafat in 2004.

Whether true or not, this can only deepen the already existing rupture in Fateh between the old and the young, and between Qaddumi's followers and those of Abbas. It may even lead to two Fateh conferences, one in Bethlehem and another elsewhere, perhaps in Damascus or Beirut. Even without that, those Fateh delegates opposed to Abbas are likely to be excluded from the Bethlehem meeting, as are the delegates from Gaza whom Hamas' foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahar, has vowed to prevent from attending as long as Hamas prisoners languish in Palestinian Authority jails . What credibility or legitimacy the resulting conference will be left with under these circumstances is unclear.

Those of us in the diaspora, watching these developments, can only feel a mixture of concern and impotence, angry at this pointless internecine fighting and unable to stop it. Worse still to imagine how triumphant Israel must feel for having created a situation where over half the Palestinian people are excluded from their own political process, while a minority of them tears itself apart under its occupation. Destroying the Palestinian national cause by fragmenting the Palestinians was always Israel's aim. The PLO, established in 1964, was able to halt this process for decades by creating a unifying structure, a substitute homeland, for the dispossessed majority. Whatever its imperfections, the PLO succeeded in foiling Israel's strategy and kept the national cause alive.

It all came to an end when the PLO leadership decided to return to the Palestinian territories in 1994 under the Oslo agreement. Unknowingly, that fateful move was to signal the start of a process of disintegration of the Palestinian national cause. No real provision was made for the diaspora community after the main PLO departure, leaving it leaderless and increasingly demoralized. All eyes were focused instead on the occupied territories with the hope that an independent Palestinian state would soon emerge. Many diaspora Palestinians, seeking a relevant role in these new circumstances, began to invest in the putative state, and the center of Palestinian life shifted firmly to the inside. International funding poured in to foster this arrangement, but also to support the illusion of a 'state-around-the-corner'. Soon the debate was no longer about reclaiming the whole of Palestine, as had been the national objective, but only a small part of it. The wrangling with Israel ove! r percentages of land in the denuded parts of Palestine left over is the logical consequence.

Throughout this process and the tortuous peace negotiations between the PA and Israel that followed the Oslo accords, the assumption has grown that the PA represents not just the people under occupation but all Palestinians. This dangerous misapprehension, made possible by the ambiguity of having the same man as leader of the PA and of the PLO, has dragged the diaspora into the infighting between Fateh and Hamas, and soon probably within Fateh itself. It could also portend a situation whereby a PA leadership, which excludes diaspora participation by definition, may be in a position to sign away diaspora rights.

The only possible reason for shedding such fundamental rights has been the argument that a Palestinian state, once established, would be the first step to the liberation of the entire homeland and the return of diaspora Palestinians. But no such state is in sight, and without it, these Palestinian sacrifices of national unity and national cause have been in vain. What we need urgently today is unity, not just at the Fateh conference or between Fateh and Hamas, but between the outside and the inside.- Published 30/7/2009 ©

Ghada Karmi is the author of "Married to another man: Israel's dilemma in Palestine".

The end of illusions
Oraib Al Rantawi

Nearly two years ago, Jordan opened its doors to the attempt by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to restore and awaken the Fateh movement. Fateh is the backbone of the Palestinian national movement and the main Palestinian partner in the peace process to which Jordan attaches special attention. The rise of the Hamas movement and its landslide victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections played a major role in encouraging Jordan to move away from its usual caution and provide all possible facilities for holding the Fateh congress and rebuilding the movement.

The prevailing belief among the Palestinian leadership since 2006 holds that only Fateh can confront the rise of radical Islamic movements in Palestine and provide the "moderate Palestinian alternative" that believes in the peace process and the two-state solution. Jordan perceives a vital interest in this matter, for two reasons. First, Jordan itself faces a powerful Islamist movement that is strongly supportive of Hamas and is to a large extent strengthened by the rise of Hamas. Second, Jordan believes that the establishment of a viable Palestinian state is an expression of its principal national interest in the face of what it believes to be plans for resolving the issue of Palestine at its expense and against its interests.

Instructions have been issued by the highest political authorities in Jordan to provide all possible facilities to the Preparatory Committee for the Sixth Fateh Congress. The Palestinian president, who also heads Fateh, was offered the opportunity to meet tens of leading Fateh personalities who had been banned from entering Jordan for decades. Amman became the permanent headquarters for meetings of the Fateh Central Committee and the Preparatory Committee for the congress.

As an expression of support for President Abbas and for what and whom he represents, the Jordanian monarch took the initiative to attend some of the Fateh Central Committee meetings held in Amman. This signified that Jordan stands firmly on the side of the Palestinian line of moderation and Palestinian legitimacy as represented by Abbas in his quest to build an independent Palestinian state and in the face of what was regarded in Amman as winds of extremism and fundamentalism that could threaten the peace process in its various components, outputs and opportunities.

This significant support to the Fateh movement coincides with Fateh's efforts to restore its unity and its leading historic role. It has also reflected an extreme deterioration in Jordan's relations with Hamas, culminating in the official government declaration in Amman of the discovery of a Hamas cell that was seeking to implement terrorist operations in Jordan and strike at the heart of Jordanian security. This deepened the estrangement between Amman and the Palestinian Islamist group, though eventually relations were restored through the "secure" communication channel set up by the former chief of intelligence and the strong man in the regime at the time, General Mohammad Al Dahabi.

Jordan's position regarding the internal Palestinian conflict and its two main factions has been influenced by many factors, of which several are particularly important. For one, Jordan looks at the conflict between Fateh and Hamas as part of the larger clash between the camps of "moderation" and "resistance" in the region. Then too, Jordanian fears have been based on the rise of the Islamic movement in Jordan, which felt strong and refreshed due to Hamas' sweeping victory in the Palestinian elections to the extent that some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan began talking about a similar readiness for the movement to form a government in Jordan in the event of its victory in democratic elections. Finally, Jordan is keen to speed up the peace process and to close the pressing Palestinian file, reflecting Jordanian decision-making priorities.

More than three years have passed since Hamas' victory in elections and the formation of its government in Gaza. For a time, Jordan feared that its reliance on the awakening, development and strengthening of the Fateh movement was exaggerated insofar as neither isolation nor sanctions--and consequently war--succeeded in toppling the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Jordan had doubts about the status of Fateh and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank amid reports that what was preventing a repetition of the Gaza experience in the West Bank was the Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas and not PA security forces.

This caused Jordanian diplomacy to back away a little from relations with Fateh and cautiously advance in its relations with Hamas. Jordan kept its distance from the Fateh-Hamas conflict as well as Fateh's own endless internal conflicts and opened a secure communications line with Hamas.

When PLO Political Department head and secretary general of Fateh Farouk Qaddumi dropped the bombshell accusation that Abbas and his advisor Mohammad Dahlan had plotted with PM Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to assassinate PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Jordan tried to steer clear of internal Fateh controversy. Jordan was keen that these statements issued in Amman not be interpreted as a change in the Jordanian stance or an indication that it supported Qaddumi against Abbas.

The Jordanian government also stressed that while it did not ask Qaddumi to leave Jordan it requested that he not issue statements that would embarrass the government or tarnish its image of support for the Palestinian people in general. Jordan has never maintained good relations with Qaddumi; on the contrary, the veteran Palestinian diplomat has often clashed politically and diplomatically with Jordanian foreign ministers in Arab inter-governmental and regional meetings.

Today, Amman awaits the convening of the Fateh Congress in Bethlehem after it was decided to hold it inside the Palestinian territories (the Fateh faction led by Abbas was never serious about holding the Congress in an Arab capital). Jordan hopes the congress will boost Fateh's unity and enhance its role in the moderate Palestinian camp. Officially, it views the holding of the congress "internally" as a victory for the moderate movement in Fateh.

Nevertheless, Jordan does not pin much hope on Fateh regaining the reigns of leadership and on the movement's role in general. The experience of the past few years has without any doubt demonstrated that Fateh's leadership of the Palestinian national movement is in regression. Day by day it is turning into a functional body of the Palestinian Authority; it suffers from the same ailments as the PA itself.- Published 30/7/2009 ©

Oraib Al Rantawi is director of Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman.

Breathing new life into Fateh
an interview with Sufyan Abu Zaida

BI: Why is the Fateh conference in Bethlehem on August 4 so important?

Abu Zaida: Any political movement needs, from time to time, to evaluate, to discuss policy, to elect new leaders. There's been a delay of 20 years. It's a very long time. It's important for Fateh to go through this process.

BI: Do you expect significant changes in the leadership structure?

Abu Zaida: For sure. More than half of the current leadership will be changed or replaced.

BI: This is a significant change?

Abu Zaida: In my opinion, yes.

BI: How will this affect the movement?

Abu Zaida: For a long time, Fateh has functioned without leadership and without proper institutions. Once there is functioning leadership and functioning institutions it will be a very different movement.

BI: Today there is a lot of talk of the many factions in Fateh. Will this change after the conference?

Abu Zaida: In any political party, anywhere in the world, there are different camps and opinions. This is the same in Fateh. There are no ideological divisions in Fateh. Everyone in Fateh has accepted the Oslo project without any problem. Yes, there are camps, but these are personal, not ideological.

BI: You say more than half the current leadership will change. In favor of whom?

Abu Zaida: In favor of a younger generation of leaders.

BI: Will the conference strengthen Mahmoud Abbas?

Abu Zaida: Mahmoud Abbas will be stronger after the conference than before.

BI: And in terms of the division between Fateh and Hamas, what will the conference mean?

Abu Zaida: It means there will be a leadership in Fateh that can decide about strategy, about what to do, how to do it and when to do it.

BI: Will this aide unity efforts?

Abu Zaida: Let's wait and see the results of the conference, and if Hamas allows Fateh members from Gaza to come or not.

BI: Are you optimistic about the conference?

Abu Zaida: Yes. I believe the conference and new blood in the leadership will inject new life into Fateh.

BI: There was controversy over holding the conference in Bethlehem...

Abu Zaida: There were two opinions. Some wanted to hold the conference outside Palestine to be away from any Israeli pressure. Others called for holding the conference in Palestine in spite of the fact that we don't have full sovereignty. What's better? Here, in spite of Israel's control, or outside, in spite of the problems in getting Fateh members from the West Bank and Gaza there. I think the approach of Abu Mazen [Abbas] that we have our land and it is better to have it in Bethlehem was the right one.

BI: What about those who were excluded from coming?

Abu Zaida: They decided not to come. Abu Mazen promised everyone that they could come without restriction. There was a problem with Farouk Qaddumi, but after his shameful interview and press conference Qaddumi lost all his credibility and any chance of ever being a Fateh leader again.

BI: So he is one of the leaders you expect will be replaced.

Abu Zaida: For sure.- Published 30/7/2009 ©

Sufyan Abu Zaida is a member of Fateh and a former Palestinian Authority minister.

The Road Ahead For The Global Economy Nouriel Roubini, 07.30.09, 12:01 AM EDT Will a weak recovery lapse into chronic stagnation?

The Road Ahead For The Global Economy
Nouriel Roubini, 07.30.09, 12:01 AM EDT
Will a weak recovery lapse into chronic stagnation?

The global recession may end toward the end of 2009--instead of sooner--but the global recovery in 2010 will be anemic and well below trend as households, firms and financial institutions are constrained in their ability to borrow, lend and spend.

Meanwhile, a perfect storm of the following has inched a little closer on the radar of this cloudy global economic outlook: persistently large fiscal deficits and public debt accumulation; monetization of such deficits that will eventually increase expected inflation; rising government bond yields; soaring oil prices; weak profits; still-falling job figures; and stagnant growth. It's a storm that could blow the recovering world economy back into a double-dip recession by late 2010 or 2011.

After rising sharply for three months, asset markets in the mature economies have paused and started a tentative correction in the last few weeks. Risk investors that had driven up prices have partially taken profits, and suddenly they are wary. They are right to be wary.

Before the recent correction started, there was a very sharp rise in asset prices, beginning around March 9. Equities rose, oil and energy prices rose, commodities rose. Credit spreads sharply contracted, indicating a surge of new confidence in the corporate sector. Long-term government interest rates shot up as ten-year Treasurys rose from 2% to 4% before retracing, suggesting that markets saw growth returning in the near future. The volatility of asset prices also fell, and that is always a sign of increasing confidence and lower risk-aversion.

Emerging market asset prices--equities, bonds and currencies--have, if anything, been more bullish. The broad indexes of the BRICs showed that, in early 2009, some investors again began to believe that these economies, starting with China, will recover and experience further rises in commodity prices.

In other words, markets, which only four months ago were pricing-in an L-shaped global near-depression and a near financial meltdown, were three weeks ago pricing-in a rapid V-shaped recovery toward potential growth. And there are some good reasons for part of this rally. At the beginning of the year gross domestic product (GDP) was falling at a rate that suggested that something close to economic depression really was looming, and there was a widespread sense that many of the world's biggest financial institutions were effectively insolvent.

Today, both of those fears have been, for now, checked; the tail risk of an L-shaped near-depression is significantly lower. We have seen policy action by the U.S., Europe, Japan, China and many other economies that has been unprecedented, with interest rates reduced to near zero, with much bad debt ring-fenced (although not written off or worked out), with liquidity created by orthodox and unorthodox means and with final demand in many economies primed by central governments. The rate of output decline has shallowed dramatically, the "tail risk" of a chronic slump has been suppressed, and financial institutions are recording profitable quarters, at least on paper, as forbearance and public subsidies are, for now, hiding their mounting losses.

All this creates a moment when risk to a rally is to be expected. As tail risk is reduced, investors move back into equities, credit and commodities.

But better fundamentals are not the only drivers at work. Some proportion of the market upturn is the result of liquidity itself--and governments have raised a massive wall of liquidity, a wave that is now surging into asset markets. Take China: Most of the new credit that has been officially created has gone to state-owned enterprises that stockpiled raw materials and drove commodity prices higher.

Fear of the expected inflation that is likely to be caused by all this easy money is also a driver. When investors and companies see inflation coming, they seek an inflation hedge, and they reason that commodities today will be better than cash tomorrow.

Some argue that none of this matters. Who cares if credit spreads narrow, and asset prices--including equities--go up? After all, that is good for wealth and good for growth. But if it all happens too fast, too soon, the effect may be the opposite: Oil and energy prices rising too fast, too soon are a negative shock to oil-importing economies, and the rally in risky assets may deflate if weaker than expected economic and financial news reemerges. A new tipping point for the economy may be created.

The effect of that tipping point depends on how optimistic markets have become about the medium-term prospects and on how realistic that optimism is. Until recently, the level of optimism was not realistic. Markets were not just pricing-in a realistic calculation of the reduction in risk and a reduced risk of an L-shaped near-depression. They were pricing-in the expectation that the economies of the U.S. and Europe were close to returning to their potential growth levels, a V-shaped recovery. That is not realistic at all, as a weak, anemic U-shaped recovery is the most likely scenario for advanced economies.

For one thing, the recession is not about to end, with unemployment still rising and house prices still falling: The contraction has at least five months to run until year-end, and maybe a little longer. Second, the growth that will be achieved when the recession does end will be U-shaped, with weak growth, and it will stay weak for an extended period. Trend growth in the U.S. is around 3%, but with final demand so weak--as highly leveraged financial institutions restrain credit growth and as highly leveraged households and companies reduce their consumption and capital expenditure--growth of around 1% is more likely for 2010-11.

Most important, weak growth prepares the ground for a second leg down, back into recession--the "W-shaped" recession that may emerge in late 2010 or 2011 that markets seem to have forgotten about. If oil prices rise too fast because of the wall of liquidity and long-term government bond yields keep rising (because large fiscal deficits keep on being monetized, leading to a rise in expected inflation after a long bout of deflation)--all against a background of weak demand and continued consumer distress--markets and the broader economy will slide hand-in-hand down the next steep slope of recession.

Two factors are especially important in the shorter run. One is the employment-housing nexus. The other is financial industry distress.

Employment and housing are inextricably linked. Unemployment is growing--in the U.S. almost half a million people lost their jobs in June, and on top of that a larger number are having their disposable income cut by shorter hours, lower hourly wages or enforced furloughs and cuts in hours. The unemployment rate in the euro zone is equally weak--the figures are almost identical to the U.S.' So income throughout the OECD is weak, which means consumption is weak, and no practical amount of temporary government tax rebates will change that--for example, most of last year's $100 billion rebate in the U.S. was saved, not spent, and the same will be true this year.

This background of job losses and declining income guarantees that house prices will continue to fall to a cumulative decline of 40% to 45% from their peak; thus, another 13% to 18% fall in home prices is still ahead. Historically, house prices do not bottom out while unemployment is rising. Already this crisis will see over 8 million mortgage holders in the U.S. lose their jobs by year-end and be unable to service their mortgages.

Further declines in housing prices will in turn help generate a new round of financial industry distress. Investor sentiment toward large lenders has improved greatly in the last four months on the assumption that most of their housing- and consumption-related lending (two things that are impossible to disaggregate because they are often the same thing) has been accurately repriced. But it hasn't. These loans have just been relabeled as "stress-tested," but that is the equivalent of putting a bill in the filing cabinet instead of paying it. The toxic content has not been purged, not least because the stress tests were so feeble. The worst-case assumption of the U.S. stress tests were that unemployment could average 10.3% next year. The reality is clearly going to be worse as the unemployment rate is likely to peak around 11%.

Banks are going to go on filing bills instead of paying them for a couple of quarters more. Reality will sink in eventually, and the reality is that a higher level of bad-debt provision needs to be made for mortgages (whether subprime or prime), commercial real estate, personal loans, auto loans, credit cards and much more--but that may not happen until later this year or next year, when provisions for loan losses cannot be further postponed. And when that does happen it is very likely that the financial institutions of Europe will suffer most. European banks have built up higher leverage, with risky lending and massive exposure, especially to official and private borrowers in eastern Europe (lending that also has foreign-currency exposure, which, as the Asian financial crisis showed, is highly dangerous).

By that time it will also be clear that expectations of corporate earnings will have to be downgraded again. Today the market consensus is that next year's profits will be around a third higher than this year's. That view is based on another expectation--that growth will recover rapidly to trend levels and deflationary pressures will disappear. But these expectations are very likely to be disappointing: For the next year and a half, deflationary pressures will dominate in the mature economies as goods and labor markets remain very slack. Demand will be weak, most prices will be falling, and companies will therefore have little pricing power and their profit margins will remain squeezed. The expectation that in these conditions profits will rebound strongly is quite far-fetched.

A correction of the prices of risky assets--equities, credit and commodity prices--therefore seems inevitable and has already partially started in July. In the second half of 2009 the correction will be driven by worse macroeconomic performance than is currently expected. It will be driven by worse than expected shocks to financial institutions, with further writedowns of banking sector assets and greater than expected capital needs. And it will be driven by downside surprises on corporate profits when weak consumption will reemerge as the temporary effects of the tax rebates fizzle out over the summer.

The world economy can withstand such a correction without falling into an L-shaped near-depression. Near-depression would mean unemployment even higher than 11% and GDP growth negligible or negative for years. But while a near-depression will be avoided, the road ahead will be tough. Today, markets think that a strong recovery is just around the corner. There will be a recovery, but it will take another six months for all the indicators to start pointing in the right direction.

In the larger picture, it does not matter exactly when the turning point is reached: What matters is what kind of recovery we will see. An analysis of macro and financial fundamentals suggests that it will be weak for an extended period of time (what the wise folks at PIMCO call "the new normal"). And the risk that a weak recovery will relapse into a chronic stagnation, where inflation gradually takes over from deflation, is actually increasing, as the most likely scenario is that large fiscal deficits will keep on being monetized for quite a while and eventually lead to higher than expected inflation.

Emerging-market economies may fare better than advanced economies as--paradoxically--many of them have sounder macro and financial fundamentals. But the growth recovery of emerging markets will be constrained by the growth weakness in the G3 economies. Indeed, many emerging-market economies--starting with China--still significantly rely on net external demand as a major source of economic growth; the structural policy changes that will lead to lower savings, and greater private domestic demand (especially private consumption) will take many years to be implemented. Thus China and emerging-market economies cannot fully decouple from the fortunes--or misfortunes--of the advanced economies.

In conclusion, we are now closer than we were six months ago to the end of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and worst global recession in decades. But the road ahead will be very rough and bumpy: The recession in advanced economies will continue through year-end, the recovery will be very anemic and well below trend, the risks of a double-dip W-shaped recession are rising, and the growth recovery of emerging-market economies will be constrained by the weakness of advanced economies.

Nouriel Roubini, a professor at the Stern Business School at New York University and chairman of Roubini Global Economics, is a weekly columnist for Forbes. at New York University and chairman of , is a weekly columnist for Forbes.

A View from the Ground Taghreed El-Khodary, New York Times correspondent in Gaza; International Crisis Group analyst. Interview with Middle East Bull

A View from the Ground
Taghreed El-Khodary, New York Times correspondent in Gaza; International Crisis Group analyst. Interview with Middle East Bulletin.
July 28, 2009

Taghreed El-Khodary
"[T]he international community must realize that by leaving Gaza they are creating something that is unknown. They are creating a population that is completely isolated from the world—completely isolated from everything."

Tell us what the situation on the ground is like.

The siege is continuous and very depressing. You can feel it on a daily basis. It’s touching every element of society. It is interesting to observe the people on the ground and how they are coping. They keep asking me, as a journalist, ‘when is it going to be over?’ But, they understand that it could go on for a long time, especially with the continuous failure of the dialogue in Cairo and also with the absence of international intervention to do something regarding Palestinian unity, regarding Israel and the siege, but they are coping despite their painful experiences. Each has a story on how the siege has affected them.

The question is who benefits from the siege? The people are suffering, but you have those who are in control, Hamas, who are benefiting big time. For example, there are the tunnels. Hamas is not digging tunnels, but there are those in Rafah, including Fatah, who are digging. There are some businessmen in Gaza City and the rest of Gaza Strip who are investing in these tunnels and are making a lot of money. There is only a specific segment of society that benefits from the tunnels, aside from Hamas, of course, which gets money from outside and generates money inside. And a new uneducated class is emerging that benefits from the situation.

This new informal economy doesn’t benefit everyone. There is no construction, so you are talking about unemployment that keeps getting higher and higher. You have money laundering, which is also an issue. But, the private sector is dead. Many businessmen left Gaza for good or are planning to leave for good. So in the long term this will lead to the weakening of independent voices in society.

Those who are suffering are the sick, those who suffer from serious diseases who need treatment outside. Students who dream of studying abroad are also in pain because they cannot leave. But, also on a daily basis, there are things that are missing. Israel has eased up a little bit, there is more stuff coming in, but it’s not everything. There is an absence of a formal economy.

So, if nothing happens and the international community does not intervene, in the long term you will have an ignorant society that is not exposed to the world trying to cope with these needs. I don’t know what the long-term results will be; how their minds will be shaped by this reality. Right now you have critical voices here and there, but I don’t know, if the closure will continue, what will come out. Who will dare to speak out? People will become very passive.

What’s going on with the banks?

Take me, for example. I work for the New York Times and for a long time the Times office in Jerusalem could not transfer my salary. Why? Israel refuses to transfer any money to Gaza, even to someone like me, meaning also others like me. So we came to the conclusion that they should transfer my salary directly from New York to Gaza. But I go to the bank, and I cannot withdraw my money. Why? Because there is no liquidity in the bank. Israel is not letting the money in. So when I go to the bank, I beg the manager to withdraw part of my salary. He will tell me, for example, if I want to withdraw $1,000, ‘no, no, no, it’s too much, there are not enough dollars. I can only give you $200.’ And it takes so much time to convince him to give me the $1,000. But for other people, he won’t give them the $1,000. He will give them $200 or tell them, ‘okay, we can give you the $1,000, but in shekels.’ But you lose a lot of money changing dollars at the bank, due to the informal economy, due to the absence of liquidity. So that’s why people want to withdraw all their money in dollars and change them outside the bank. And then the banks complain because Israel isn’t letting more dollars through. For a while, there have been no dollars in the banks. Last time I was in Bank of Palestine I saw women who work for international NGOs, who are paid in dollars, begging to get their salaries. And the bank said, ‘no, we can give you part of your salary’—despite the fact that the employer has been transferring the whole amount of the salary. So, you experience the closure in your daily life.

But Hamas has set up its own bank, right?

Yes, to pay their employees. Because, as you know, the Palestinian Authority [PA], in what I think was not a wise decision, asked teachers to stay at home, asked civil servants to stay at home—in the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. So, what did Hamas do? They filled the gaps with people who support Hamas or people who were simply unemployed and seeking a job. Hamas then had to pay all these employees, those also who are working as police, and established a bank. They would say it’s not Hamas, but it is, of course. You cannot just move around with money. Now they have a bank and employees are paid by the bank. They are even opening accounts for guys who cannot open accounts with other banks because they belong to a military wing, for example and that category of young people within the society is excited to open an account for the first time in their life. So, in a way, they are finding ways to cope with the reality..

What is very sad, as I mentioned, is that when the PA offered the teachers to stay at home, older, sometimes secular, teachers with lots of experience were replaced by Hamas with younger, inexperienced teachers who are only confident with religion. And that, I think, is scary. When it comes to creating a new, educated generation exposed to the different elements of life and how things work, it’s very important to have a teacher who has been exposed to the world and received training, not a teacher without life experience who has never been out of Gaza and is only competent with one subject, religion.

So, it sounds as if Hamas has created its own infrastructure that is completely parallel to what was there before, not just in education.

Yes, it’s a new structure they are creating, and it makes a segment of society happy. Who is happy? Hamas supporters. Who else? Poor people, because they benefit from the international aid organizations and at the same time from Hamas, which has supported the poor all along, but now the international community is focusing on humanitarian aid to them also. So, it’s the best arrangement for them because never before have they gotten so much assistance. So, there is a segment of society that is happy, the ones who are praising the new awareness campaign that Hamas is using instead of imposing the veil and Sharia, by force. Before they used to be in the mosques, but now they are ministers, they’re in the schools—they have so much access to society.

There was a tendency within an element of Hamas to impose Sharia law, but the stronger tendency was against it. That was smart on the part of the current senior political leaders, because if they do so, it will undo their progress among the international community and so far Hamas are not keen to undermine themselves with the international community because they seek contact with it. From my observations, I would say that they would be interested in getting direct contact with the American administration. So, indirectly, they are working on it. They are not imposing anything. So you have a segment of society that is happy, about Gaza being a conservative place. In Palestinian society, if you go to the West Bank—the West Bank is not only Ramallah—if you go to Nablus, if you go to Hebron, if you go to different villages in the West Bank, they are very conservative. So, that speaks to the public.

There are a lot of reports about economic progress in the West Bank, and things like this, does that filter into Gaza? How is it perceived?

There is indirect contact between Gaza and the West Bank, by phone. People really communicate—they have relatives, they have friends, they have families over there. So, if you ask many people what they think, so far the people in the West Bank—and I talk to many West Bankers—would say they can feel that internal security has improved a little bit. When it comes to economy, it’s becoming a little bit better, but so far, there is no freedom of movement. The main checkpoints are still there. Israel said they did dismantle a few, but they didn’t dismantle the main ones that obstruct movement. I think it’s going to take time. So far, the West Bank is not paradise. The international community has an option to create a paradise in the West Bank, for the Gazans to learn a lesson when it comes to the upcoming elections. But the international community must realize that by leaving Gaza they are creating something that is unknown. They are creating a population that is completely isolated from the world—completely isolated from everything. People view it as collective punishment. Think about those seeking medical treatment; there are many women and children and that breaks people’s hearts. They can’t understand how the world can justify punishing such a segment of society. And Gaza has become only a humanitarian case. Which is, for many people, very depressing—for educated people, mainly, it’s very depressing, very insulting and very humiliating. From my observations I would say it’s a very risky policy. Because, after all, if you talk to many people on the ground, if you ask them are you interested in the peace process, in the two-state solution, the answer would be, ‘no, first national unity, then talk to us about two-state solution.’ It doesn’t make sense for many people to talk about the option of two-state solution when the Palestinians are divided.

Is that the way the Obama Administration’s efforts at creating a two-state solution are being understood there?

For example, when I’ve spoken to Hamas recently about the idea of the West Bank turning into paradise, they said that they don’t care about that. They believe that the Israelis will ultimately give Abu Mazen nothing. And even the people cannot see a two-state solution if Gaza and the West Bank remain as they are. How can you endorse a peace process given that division? It’s so hard to foresee. After all, some people will benefit by the improvement in the West Bank but others will not. The economy is not everything. It’s a political issue, not an economic issue. And if you diagnose it as a political issue, you have to resolve it and then you move ahead. The focus is very limited now and I think the international community is avoiding the real work. Many people would say the international community must impose unity between the Palestinians. They see the international community, mainly the American administration, as contributing to this division, which is very negative, I would say.

So far, everybody is optimistic about Obama, but nothing on the ground is tangible when it comes to Gaza. Israel is letting a little bit more stuff cross , but none of it can lead to the revival of the the private sector. So far the current situation is as it was under President Bush; there is no difference whatsoever. There is not tangible change. The speech in Cairo was marvelous. The people were so happy when they heard Obama’s speech in Cairo. But so far, they are waiting for the change on the ground. The issue of the Jewish settlements is crucial, but people are stuck dealing with survival in their daily lives.

But you seem to be tying progress to national unity, and it doesn’t seem like either the PA or Hamas want national unity.

I don’t think either party is interested. Hamas’ focus is on governance, ending the siege, direct talks with the international community—mainly the U.S. administration. Hamas would say no to elections unless they have a chance to govern. Their supporters argue that they haven’t been given a chance to govern. ‘End the siege, let us govern, let us perform and then we would be willing to go for another election.’ That’s Hamas position now.

When it comes to Fatah priorities, they are not interested either—just like Hamas—in national reconciliation. Fatah’s priority is the conference they are going to hold in Bethlehem. That is the main priority. They want to be stronger when they go to talks with Hamas, and they think that after that conference they will be stronger. Another priority for Fatah is the creation of a model in the West Bank so that Gazans revolt against Hamas. I think that is wishful thinking. Hamas is in complete control of the Gaza Strip. As time passes, they are increasingly in control. There are those who are angry at them, but so far no revolt. Many people in Gaza are married and have kids. Who is going to risk their life? There is an absence of an alternative, too. Will they give their life for Fatah? That’s the question, and you cannot feel that on the ground.

The Palestinians in Gaza are divided. There is this voice that says ‘OK, Fatah used to be thieves, corrupt, but we had a life.’ Then there is another voice that says ‘Hamas hasn’t been given a chance, but if they cannot govern, if the world doesn’t want them to govern, let them step aside. Let whatever happen, we need to live.’ They believe that Hamas is a victim here for not being given a chance. But at the same time, they are asking them to remain just as a resistance movement and to step aside from government. Then you have another voice that is in complete support of Hamas because they are not corrupt, for achieving internal security on the ground, for helping the poor. You have all of that.

You’ve spoken a lot in the past about working from the ground up, and thinking about the people separately from Hamas. Do you think that that is still possible, and what can be done?

Yes, I think one option is to strengthen the private sector. You have Hamas, and it’s a fact on the ground. The international community says that if we end the siege, Hamas will benefit. But with the siege they also benefit, because they are in complete control of all aspects of society, and the more time, the more support they will attract—especially from among the poor. So why not strengthen the private sector? End the siege, focus on strengthening the private sector, focus on education, because that’s where you create the alternative. That way, you are strengthening an independent voice. In the current situation, I don’t think the international community is contributing to the strengthening of that voice, or the creation of more voices, or of an independent party that is not Fatah nor Hamas. So I think it is very healthy to think of options that would lead to such a thing. It’s healthy.

Military groups also benefit from the situation. The world has isolated them so they are focusing on different things, like how to develop long-range rockets. That’s the focus of the military people. For the political people, they are focusing on how to reach the public, and of course it is hard but so far they are coping and coming up with creative ideas.

I was in one of the settlements that Israel evacuated where Hamas built a park, planted apple trees and filled a pool with fish for the kids. I talked to people and asked them why they liked going there. They said ‘there is a zoo, a pool full of fish.’ So I went there and it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. The zoo was one cage of monkeys. And imagine, these people were so impressed that they called it an amusement park. You go there and it’s so bad, but they’ve never seen anything else. For them, one cage of monkeys was a zoo. You go to the fish farm that they created, and it’s smelly, but for the children it was meaningful and exciting. It’s a place to sit, a place to barbeque. They have a new project in the evacuated Israeli settlements for farmers to rent land and grow produce to sell at market. So they are becoming creative. For workers who used to work in Israel, they are also giving money. From my observations, it’s depressing, but this segment of society is happy with it. That’s the thing.

They are producing films, too. The latest one was about Emad Akel, who was 23 when he was killed by Israel in 1993. He was a fighter that Hamas portrays as establishing a whole military philosophy. Why? Because he managed to target Israeli soldiers only. So they made a story about him. And who wrote the script? Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader. And that will be shown to the public starting August 1. And everybody, whether they like Hamas or not, wants to go because it’s entertainment, and because there are no other movie theaters. Then you have a play by an independent writer. In the play they mock the firing of the rockets as useless—the fighters fire them just for the sake of firing.

These are examples of how Hamas is promoting their agenda but they are also letting other voices come out. And it’s fine—anyone can criticize—but there are limits, of course. They know that there is criticism of the rockets from the people on the ground, so they listen. They are coping. The topic for them now is PR and how to promote their ideas. Because after the war, they realized that they didn’t win. In Gaza, a huge segment of the population blamed Hamas for the war, and Hamas is realizing that neither they nor Israel won the war. Israel is complaining about international public opinion, which was really bad for Israel after the war. So, in a way they think they lost the war and they didn’t stop the rockets. Hamas, of course, didn’t stop the rockets, but the people in Gaza were very frustrated and think that Hamas invited Israel to go for it and people believe they are the ones who paid the price But Hamas won the war in the Arab Muslim world. Arabs think Hamas won the war. And Hamas are employing this to their advantage within the Islamic-Arab world. So they are in the process of focusing on finding ways out.

Last year there was a problem with the Fulbright program. What is your sense of educational exchanges this year? Do you think there will be a Fulbright program?

The Americans are working on it and it’s a priority for them. I heard that the Fulbright students will leave soon, likely the beginning of next month. I think they are getting the Israeli permits and everything they need. The story we did last year created pressure on Israel to let the Fulbrighters leave and for the Americans to work more on it. I think they were aware of the benefit of education. The Americans can do it, though not many people get Fulbrights. But you have to think also of European countries that provide scholarships for young people. These scholarships are not available because these European countries do not have the same power as the U.S to get the students the Israeli permits. So these students do not get to leave the Gaza Strip. Also, Rafah doesn’t open. It only opens from time to time for three days. I know a case of a woman who wanted her son who has been living in the U.S. for 10 years to visit. He came down to Dubai for her to go to see him. For a variety of reasons, she could not cross. In the end, her son had to go back to the U.S. and she didn’t see him. She hadn’t seen him for ten years. You have many other cases of people seeking medical treatment. Education is something, but you have all these painful stories around you. It’s very depressing. And people don’t just blame Hamas. Of course, Hamas is one element to such pain. But they also blame Egypt, Israel, the U.S., the international community. Everyone gets blame from the people on the ground.

You had a chance to go to Damascus. It seems like it’s very hard to understand what’s going on in terms of what Hamas is thinking about. For example, Khaled Meshaal said Thursday that Hamas would not stand in the way of an agreement between the PA and Israel if it came to a referendum. It seems that there is an element of a public relations effort to make Hamas seem more willing to engage. Is there anything you can say about that?

I was the one who did the interview for The New York Times. I sat with Meshaal for many hours, for two days, and the sense is that Hamas is very keen to engage in international politics. Meshaal told me that they are willing to be part of a solution when it comes to a peace process, and that they are not going to be the one obstructing an agreement. The international community must really read between the lines. There has to be an understanding, because after all, on the ground, Hamas is in Gaza, Fatah is in the West Bank, completely isolated from each other. I think you also need to learn from Oslo. Hamas was out of the game, therefore they obstructed. At that time they obstructed through a series of suicide bombings. This disequilibrium will always be there if the international community strives to marginalize a party that is too influential. I think the challenge is to come out with a solution given the current situation.

Is there anything positive that you’ve seen recently? Any hope you can give us?

So far, no. But I am an optimist, as you know, and I am an observer. I always observe the people—how they feel—and the dynamics around me. And I think to myself, this is frustrating because there is no change whatsoever. There are people suffering on a daily basis due to the policy of the siege. It’s very sad, all these stories around you. I don’t know, I cannot see anything positive. I managed to cross through the Erez crossing after a long time. It was the first time for me to leave since the war, through Erez, to Israel. It was humiliating. I was locked in a room. If you treat some one like me, who works for an international paper, who is an independent, that way, how do others get treated? I don’t understand, it’s very frustrating on the ground. So if you’re asking me if I see something positive, I can’t. There are no positive stories.

But I’ll tell you something—how people are coping with this reality gives you hope. They can joke, they can laugh, you go here and there and there is a humor—it’s dark but it’s funny. So they go on, but, if you talk about the silent majority, they are frustrated by both parties.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Family Feud Six ways that Obama can regain Israeli trust. by Yossi Klein Halevi



Family Feud

Six ways that Obama can regain Israeli trust.

Yossi Klein Halevi

Jerusalem, Israel -- Are we in the early stages of an American-Israeli crisis? Or are the growing and public disagreements between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government over settlements and Jerusalem merely arguments "within the family," as President Obama insisted in his recent meeting with American Jewish leaders?

According to one poll, only six percent of Israelis consider Obama a friend. That perception of hostility is new. Israelis welcomed Barack Obama when he visited here in July 2008 and many responded enthusiastically to his election. But Israelis sense that Obama has placed the onus for restarting negotiations on Israel. Worse, he is perceived as showing weakness toward the world's bullies while acting resolutely only toward Israel. Many Israelis--and not only on the right--suspect that Obama actually wants a showdown with Jerusalem to bolster his standing in the Muslim world. If those perceptions aren't countered, the Israeli public will reject Obama's peace initiatives.

On the assumption that the pessimists among us are wrong and the Obama administration isn't seeking a pretext to create a crisis in American-Israeli relations, here are some suggestions for Washington about how to reassure increasingly anxious Israelis.

1. Make clear that renewing the peace process requires simultaneous Israeli and Arab concessions.

The impression conveyed by the administration's relentless public focus on the settlements is that a settlement freeze is the sole prerequisite toward jump-starting peace talks. After the disastrous consequences of the Oslo process (which led to more than five years of suicide bombings in Israeli cities) and of the withdrawal from Gaza (which led to three years of rocket attacks on Israeli towns near the Gaza border), the Israeli public is in no mood for unilateral concessions.

The administration insists that its intentions have been misunderstood, that it expects the Arab world to offer gestures of normalization to Israel. But unlike its hectoring tone toward Israel, there has been little public rebuke directed toward Arab leaders. True, Secretary of State Clinton recently did note that America expects a more forthcoming Arab attitude toward Israel. But that statement has hardly resonated, and the media focus remains on the settlements as the main obstacle to renewing the peace process.

2. Reaffirm the Israeli status of the settlement blocs in a future agreement.

In weighing the future of the settlements, Israelis will be looking not only for tangible signs of Arab goodwill but also of American goodwill--specifically, a reiteration of the Bush administration's endorsement of Israeli sovereignty over the major settlement blocs as part of a peace agreement. In return, a future Palestinian state would receive compensatory territory from within Israel proper.

The administration is right to insist that the current Israeli government must be bound by the commitments of previous Israeli governments (a position that Prime Minister Netanyahu has in fact upheld). But that same principle should also apply to Washington. Obama should not dismiss previous administration promises to Israel--even those made by George W. Bush.

3. Actively confront Palestinian demonization of Israel.

In his Cairo speech, Obama called for an end to Palestinian incitement against Israel. A systematic culture of denial--denying any historical legitimacy to the Jewish presence in the land of Israel--is being nurtured not only by Hamas but by the Palestinian Authority. In recent months, for example, the Fatah media has promoted a campaign denying the historical attachments of Jews to Jerusalem.

Challenging that campaign of lies would be a good way for the administation to begin proving its seriousness on incitement. Negating any Jewish rights to Jerusalem reinforces the very rejectionism among Palestinians that led to the collapse of the Oslo proces--surely no less a threat to peace than building 20 apartments in East Jerusalem.

4. Affirm Israel's historical legitimacy to the Muslim world.

In his Cairo speech, Obama rightly noted that the key obstacle on the Arab side toward making peace is the ongoing refusal to accept Israel's right to exist. Crucially, he has made clear that he intends to carry the issue of Israel's legitimacy into his dialogue with the Muslim world. This presents an unprecedented opportunity for Muslims to hear Israel's case. So far, though, the president has failed to make it. By referring only to the Holocaust, and ignoring the historical Jewish attachment to the land of Israel, the president has inadvertently reinforced Muslim misconceptions regarding Jewish indigenousness. The Holocaust helps explain why Israel fights, not why Israel exists. It doesn't explain why thousands of Ethiopian Jews walked across jungle and desert to reach Zion; nor for that matter why some Jews leave New York and Paris to raise families in a Middle Eastern war zone.

5. Make clear that the impending nuclearization of Iran, and not the Palestinian problem, is the region's most urgent crisis.

Continuing to publicly reprimand Israel over settlement building while only reluctantly and belatedly criticizing the Iranian regime for suppressing dissent has further alienated Israelis from the Obama adminstration. In one recent cartoon in the daily Maariv, Obama is depicted as a waiter serving Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Obama offers him two plates: On one is a carrot, and on the other--a carrot.

Israelis need to know that there is no substantive difference between Obama and Netanyahu on the need to prevent an Iranian bomb at all costs--or to put it more bluntly, that there is as much urgency over a nuclear Iran in Washington as there is in Riyadh and Paris.

6. Don't treat the Netanyahu government as a pariah.

For weeks Israelis have been reading in their newspapers about a near-total breakdown in trust between Washington and Jerusalem. For his part, Netanyahu has repeatedly praised Obama's friendship for Israel, and refused to attack his Iran policy. During his meeting with Jewish leaders, Obama reaffirmed his friendship for Israel but seems to have mentioned no words of friendship for Israel's prime minister. Israelis need to hear some words of warmth from the White House toward their elected leader. That's what one expects from friends, to say nothing of family.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor of The New Republic and a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

Waiting for Obama By Leon Hadar

Waiting for Obama

By Leon Hadar | Posted: July 29, 2009

IT IS A FAMILIAR STORY: Israel and its global patron had a strong and unshakable relationship. Few could remember a time when the bond between the two countries was not close. And key to the partnership was the two countries’ close cooperation in containing the threat of radical Middle Eastern regimes and movements.

Following years of political turbulence and economic troubles, however, an historic election produced a major electoral realignment in the patron state. A freshly elected and very popular president took dramatic steps to transform his nation’s foreign policy, especially towards the Middle East. He withdrew military forces from an occupied Arab country and went to great lengths to improve ties with other countries in the region.

In the face of this historic change, Israel grew increasingly worried about whether the new president would continue maintaining the close, unshakeable relationship pursued by his predecessors. Its growing concerns notwithstanding, the Jewish state decided to dismiss its patron’s advice and launched a military strike against a Middle Eastern country. The patron’s new president condemned the attack and began the process of ending the diplomatic and military alliance with its Middle Eastern client. Israel thus set out in search of a new powerful patron.

WHEN FRENCH PRESIDENT CHARLES DE GAULLE took steps to terminate the 20-year French alliance with Israel in the aftermath of its military victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, his decision sent shockwaves around the world. Israel and France had been close since the late 1940s, and their relationship turned into a full-blown strategic alliance after the popular and charismatic Egyptian army officer Gamal Abdel Nasser began providing assistance to rebels fighting French colonial rule.

In 1956, Israel joined France and Britain in an elaborate and ill-fated plan to attack Egypt and retake the Suez Canal after Nasser had nationalized it. In addition to providing Israel with sophisticated military technology, including French-made Mirage and Mystère jets, the French helped the Israelis build a nuclear reactor and a reprocessing plant. The Israel-French alliance aimed at containing the growing power of Pan Arabism was a central component in Israeli national security doctrine at the time.

But de Gaulle’s election in 1958 changed all that. Confounding many of his supporters, de Gaulle embraced a transformative foreign policy agenda that led eventually to granting independence to Algeria in 1962 and to a process of repairing relations with Egypt and the rest of the Arab World. With tension rising in the Middle East in 1967, de Gaulle pressed the Israelis not to attack Egypt and declared on June 2 an arms embargo against the country, just three days before the outbreak of the war. De Gaulle's position in 1967 at the time of the Six Day War played a part in France's newfound popularity in the Arab world, while Israel turned towards the United States for arms and diplomatic support.

COULD U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA play the role of an American de Gaulle? Would a decision by Israel to reject Obama’s advice against launching a military strike against Iran’s alleged nuclear sites lead to a historic reassessment in the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem?

Historian Margaret Macmillan cautions in her new book Uses and Abuses of History that while history provides useful analogies for understanding the present, they can also lead to serious errors in judgment.

So, what distinguishes the French and U.S. cases? Well, for one thing, U.S. foreign policy has traditionally been more heavily influenced by the power of public opinion, the media, and Congress than French policy, which tends to be determined by a powerful executive and elite groups. The pro-Israel orientation of the U.S. Congress has clearly played an important role in constraining any U.S. president from trying to re-orient the direction of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Hence, the expectations are that Congress will play that long-established role if Obama decides to “do a de Gaulle.”

Nevertheless, recalling the dramatic changes in French-Israeli relations in the 1960s provides us with an instructive case in point. Relationships between nation-states, and in particular between patrons and clients, are subject to change. And many Israelis, as I discovered during a recent trip to the region, are all too well aware of this.

In fact, the de Gaulle/Obama analogy was raised several times in interviews I had with Israeli officials and political analysts, reflecting the growing concern in Israel, and especially in the Likud-led government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, that President Obama is intent on reshaping U.S. strategy in the Middle East. Indeed, during my visit, I was struck by the sense of inevitability shared by both Israelis and Palestinians that Washington would eventually adopt an activist role in resolving the conflict over the Holy Land.

But notwithstanding such fears on the Israeli side—and glimmers of hope among Palestinians—Obama and his aides have yet to issue any comprehensive Middle East peace plan or to take any other steps that hint of historic change, a la de Gaulle.

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly asserted established U.S. positions, including the need for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines—with minor territorial adjustments—as part of an Arab-Israeli accord; opposition to the establishment of Jewish settlements in the occupied Arab territories; and support for the idea that the control over Jerusalem, including its religious sites, should be shared by Israelis and Palestinians.

Nevertheless, the perception in Washington and in Middle East capitals is that “something” has changed in the U.S. approach. But that “something” reflects more a change in tone and style than one of substance. There is also the sharp contrast between Obama and the George W. Bush government, which put dramatic emphasis on U.S.-Israeli ties and common interests in fighting extremism in the region. Compared to the rhetoric of Bush’s neoconservative advisors, the Obama team and its restatement of long-standing U.S. policy goals could easily appear to be ground-shaking.

THE ELECTION OF BENYAMIN NETANYAHU as prime minister of Israel also provided Obama with an opportunity to create the perception that “something” was indeed changing in the U.S. approach to the Middle East. Netanyahu has long been a favorite of U.S. neoconservatives. After their humiliating fall from power in the United States, the neocons seemed to have won a major political victory in one of the outposts of the U.S. empire with Netanyahu’s election. By endeavoring to distance himself from both Netanyahu and his neocon cheerleaders, the Obama administration has been able to market its message of change in the Arab World.

The political and ideological affair between Netanyahu and neoconservatives goes back to the Reagan presidency and the final years of the Cold War, when Bibi served as Israel’s representative to the United Nations and later as ambassador to Washington. The first generation of neoconservative intellectuals—including Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, and Max Kampleman—occupied top foreign-policy positions in the Reagan administration at the time. To the then-ruling Likud Party, the policies of the Republican Party seemed to offer Israel time to consolidate its hold on the West Bank and Gaza as Washington viewed the Arab-Israeli conflict through a Cold War lens, identifying Palestinian nationalism as an extension of Soviet-induced international terrorism.

As the Cold War came to end, Netanyahu returned to Israel to serve first as foreign minister and then as prime minister. He proved masterful in replacing the moribund Soviet threat with a new Middle Eastern bogeyman, persuading many beltway allies that with the Soviet Union gone, Israel could help protect U.S. interests in the Middle East against Arab nationalists (Saddam Hussein), Muslim fundamentalists (the mullahs in Iran), and the PLO, which was transformed in the Likud-neocon spin from a radical left-wing to a radical Islamic terrorist group. But George H.W. Bush and his realist foreign-policy advisers didn’t buy into this narrative and decided to confront the Likud government over the issue of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

After his reelection in 1996, Netanyahu paid a visit to neoconservative icon Richard Perle in Washington. According to journalist Craig Unger, the topic of their conversation was a policy paper that Perle and other analysts had written for an Israeli-American think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic Political Studies. Titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” the paper proposed a radical new vision of Israeli policy. The paper proposed that by waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, Israel—with U.S. support—could reshape the political landscape and thus ensure its security.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama in Washington early this year took place eight years after such ideas helped inspire one of the worst strategic fiascos in U.S. history—the 2003 invasion of Iraq. To say that Obama, unlike his predecessor, had very little interest in listening to the Israeli prime minister’s Middle East tutorials would be an understatement. Instead, Obama demanded that Netanyahu cease settlement expansion in the West Bank.

This somewhat more even-handed U.S. position has irritated Netanyahu. During his visit to Washington, Netanyahu stressed the need to deal with the potential threat of a nuclear Iran before taking steps to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, a position that has been rejected by Obama, who has stressed that the two issues be handled congruently.

While Netanyahu has grudgingly announced that he would support the creation of a limited Palestinian state—albeit, one not acceptable to Palestinians—the Israeli government has continued to resist U.S. pressure for a complete cessation of Jewish settlement construction. Some political analysts remain skeptical about whether the Israeli leader is truly willing to embrace a two-state solution or is just trying to buy time. In any case, the conventional wisdom in Israel is that a confrontation between Obama and Netanyahu would lead to the collapse of the current Israeli government and to a new election in Israel, which could force Washington to put on hold its diplomatic push for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The simple truth is, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians—whose leadership is sharply divided—have leaders with sufficient charisma and authority to make the hard choices that would put the two communities on a path toward even superficial reconciliation.

CAN PRESIDENT OBAMA FILL the political vacuum in Israel and Palestine and start pressing the two sides to consider making painful compromises? Will Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab states be able to assist the Americans if and when they decide to jump into the cold water of the Middle East peace process? Will Iran and its regional allies attempt to sabotage U.S. efforts or decide to jump on the U.S.-led bandwagon? Will Obama have the political backbone to confront the powerful groups in Washington backing Netanyahu?

These are a few of the questions being asked by observers in the Middle East and elsewhere as they wait for Obama to launch his long-awaited Middle East initiative in the coming months. But another key concern is whether—Obama’s good intentions notwithstanding—the erosion in U.S. strategic and economic power might set enormous constraints on the president’s ability to transform U.S. policy in the Middle East and bring peace to the Holy Land. In the end, it may require a reckless attack by an intransigent client state on a Middle East regime to get the global patron to make the difficult steps necessary for lasting change.

Leon Hadar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributor to PRA’s Right Web (, is author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (2006). He blogs at

How Iran's Nuclear Power Play Can Change Global Politics Pepe Escobar, Asia Times

How Iran's Nuclear Power Play Can Change Global Politics
Pepe Escobar, Asia Times
World: A nuclear Iran would inevitably turbo-charge a new, emerging multipolar world; one where the U.S. won't be relied on to control Mideast oil.