News and Opinion Based on Facts

Monday, July 27, 2009

In the Trenches: Taking stock of US policy toward Israel

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris assesses challenges to Jewish security worldwide.

The following is adapted from my remarks to a meeting of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, attended by about 20 Democratic Senators, on Capitol Hill on July 22.

Thank you for the privilege of speaking once again before this distinguished group.

I represent AJC - the American Jewish Committee. We have been active for decades in supporting Israel and advancing peace. I would describe our outlook in the words of President John F. Kennedy, who said,"I'm an idealist without illusions."

We welcome President Obama's groundbreaking speech in Cairo on June 4th.

We applaud his statement that the bonds between America and Israel are "unbreakable."

We praise his principled condemnation of the Holocaust denial that is all too common in Arab and Muslim societies.

We fully embrace his commitment to peace - peace among Israel, its Palestinian neighbors, and the larger Arab world.

And we share his vision of a region where "children grow up without fear."

At the same time, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell this audience that we have some specific areas of concern. This is a caring critique from a friend, and we hope that these issues can quickly be put behind us.

Let me cite three.

First, in his Cairo speech, the President implied that the Holocaust was the primary reason for Israel's creation. That is unfortunate - and factually incorrect.

Israel was born out of an ancient vision unique in the annals of history. In the words of its Declaration of Independence, Israel "was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books."

This was understood by President Harry Truman, who defied the advice of his State Department to recognize the re-establishment of Israel in 1948.

His favorite Psalm, according to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, was Number 137: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion."

Why is this important now? Because the Arab world has long challenged Israel's legitimacy by arguing that it is a Western implant in the Middle East, created to appease the conscience of a Europe with Jewish blood on its hands.

President Clinton encountered this view when his valiant efforts to make peace were rebuffed, as Yasser Arafat outrageously denied the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Indeed, more than any other issue, this gets to the root of the conflict. The United States must take every opportunity to reinforce Israel's rightful place in the region.

Second, the President juxtaposed the Palestinian condition with that of black Americans and other suffering people "from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia."

Whatever its intent, this seemed to create a regrettable equivalence.

I would not for a minute deny that Palestinians have suffered. I have visited the West Bank and Gaza and know that the lives of many Palestinians have not been easy.

Yet I also know that the Palestinian condition is, above all, self-inflicted. That is to say that the Palestinian people have been ill-served by their own leaders.

Where are the Martin Luther King and John Lewis, the Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, and the Mahatma Gandhi of the Palestinian people - individuals of visionary greatness and deep commitment to non-violence?

According to a senior British official, Palestinians are the world's largest per capita recipients of foreign aid. Yet corruption and mismanagement have siphoned off too much from the intended recipients.

To suggest that Palestinians are the modern-day version of those who endured inescapable oppression is to give them, and especially their leaders, a free pass. Those leaders should be held accountable for failing to move Palestinian society from victimization to responsibility.

On this front, there are glimmers of hope today in the West Bank, but there remains a long road yet to be traveled. Meanwhile, of course, Gaza is in the iron grip of Hamas, which continues its implacable hostility toward Israel, and, indeed, toward the Palestinian Authority.

And third, the President, in his speech in Cairo, made a specific demand for action by only one country. He said, "It is time for these settlements to stop." Like the Secretary of State, the President made clear that he was referring to all settlements, everywhere.

The President has said that friendship entails honesty, and that he is being honest with a friend.

Yes, but among all the countries of the region, it was unusual to see our President single out only Israel - our "stalwart democratic ally," in the words of Senator Menendez - with such sharp focus.

To be sure, the settlements are an issue. We at AJC have said so more than once.

But they are not the underlying cause of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. They should be addressed in the context of negotiations, not treated as a sine qua non for talks, as Palestinian leaders are doing now.

In fact, Palestinians seem to have interpreted - or misinterpreted - President Obama's stance as a license to sit back while Israel is forced into concessions. As President Abbas said in a revealing interview, "I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements. ... Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality. ... The people are living a normal life."

In the end, Israel cannot and will not return to the fragile armistice lines of 1967. This was acknowledged by Presidents Clinton and Bush, and we hope that it will be reaffirmed.

As the late Abba Eban, an Israeli diplomat and peacemaker par excellence, said, "We have openly said that the map will never again be the same as on June 4, 1967. ... The June map is for us equivalent to insecurity and danger."

Distinguished Senators, no nation other than Israel has experienced the daily trauma of more than six decades without peace. Today, Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah openly call for its destruction.

No other nation in the Middle East has been a more steadfast friend and democratic partner of the United States.

No other nation, victorious in wars thrust upon it, has demonstrated more willingness to make painful concessions to advance peace.

The UN embraced the idea of two states - one Arab, the other Jewish - as early as 1947. Prime Minister Netanyahu's call for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is not new. It was embraced by a majority of UN member states six decades ago.

An agreement, however difficult, remains possible today. Indeed, four consecutive Israeli prime ministers have called for a two-state accord.

Yet their Palestinian counterparts have not reciprocated, even when Prime Minister Olmert made what the Palestinians themselves acknowledged was an unusually far-reaching offer.

As Majority Leader Reid recently said, "I believe negotiations will be successful only with a renewed commitment from the Palestinians to be a true partner in peace."

In that spirit, why has Saeb Erekat, the PA's principal negotiator, refused to negotiate with the current Israeli government, while holding talks with the Iranian foreign minister instead? Shouldn't it be the other way around - spurning the Iranians and meeting the Israelis?

It's no wonder that many Israelis are skeptical about the chances of achieving a solution. They seek reassurance that the United States, their indispensible friend and partner, stands with them in their quest for lasting peace and security.

President Obama has laudably reiterated his deep and abiding friendship for Israel on numerous occasions. Quite frankly, though, the polls show that many Israelis are not convinced.

Perhaps he could soon find an opportunity to pay a visit and speak with Israelis directly. It might do a lot to advance understanding among the Israeli public - and to reaffirm America's belief, expressed by President Truman, that Israel is "not just another sovereign nation, but ... an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization."

Thank you.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Murder, He Said: Palestinian Politics Fragments Further

By Barry Rubin*

July 15, 2009

Reality keeps impinging on the four main illusions regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the ideas that: peace is possible in the not-distant future; that there’s a Palestinian negotiating partner which wants a two-state solution; that there’s a serious Palestinian negotiating partner capable of reaching and implementing an agreement; and that the failure to end the conflict is due to Israel.

Now we may be at the start of another Palestinian implosion, this time in Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the PLO, the less-important but still existing Palestinian political umbrella group.

The latest development is a very public feud between Fatah leader and long-time PLO “foreign minister” Farouq Qaddumi, and PLO and PA head Mahmoud Abbas. With the word “moderate” endlessly—and exaggeratedly—applied to Fatah, it is easy to forget that the group’s perennial most popular leader is Qaddumi, a man who opposed and still openly opposes the Oslo agreement and a two-state solution.

Given this opposition, Qaddumi, unlike many other Fatah leaders, long refused to move to Gaza or the West Bank. It should be stressed, however, that Qaddumi could probably—if a conflict broke out—muster more support in the organization than the bureaucratic and uncharismatic Abbas. Indeed, the only real asset Abbas has is the Western aid which subsidizes the PA and, indirectly, Fatah and the PLO.

Qaddumi has now accused Abbas of murdering former PLO, PA, and Fatah leader Yasir Arafat, in partnership with Israel no less! Of course, Israel is often blamed for this even by supposedly “moderate” Palestinian leaders or intellectuals aligned with Abbas. The truth is that Arafat, who was always in poor health and never exactly a physical fitness fanatic, received poor medical care, further delayed by the movement’s refusal to deal with the reality of his illness.

Let’s pause here for a moment. If Palestinian leaders lie about each other so shamelessly, shouldn’t Western journalists, politicians, and human rights’ groups consider how much more of an incentive they have to lie about Israel? Israel is accused of all sorts of misdeeds based on statements by Palestinians who view such lies as part of their propaganda effort. Shouldn’t that be taken into account and such claims discounted without hard proof?

Let’s return, however, to the Palestinian political action. Why this feud between the two top non-Islamist Palestinian leaders?

1. Western observers think peace processes are one-way streets but fail to understand that the closer successful negotiations might appear, the more determined are extremists to wreck it. In other words—it isn’t really paradoxical—even the potential prospect of diplomatic progress raised the level of violence and conflict. In this case, the new feud is in part a response to U.S. efforts to heat up the process by those who want to ensure the conflict doesn't end.

2. Abbas is perceived as becoming too close to America and there's fear of the PA and Fatah becoming U.S. satellites. A key factor here is U.S. training of Palestinian security forces. Fatah isn’t a movement so much as it is a militia; the PA is not so much a government as it is an assembly of gunmen. If the United States seems to gain influence over the security forces, militants believe it could get control of the movement. Many in the movement want to sabotage this efort. Remember these are people who have spent decades hating and mistrusting America. (Arafat used to lead meetings in a rousing version of a little ditty entitled, "America is the head of the snake.")

3. Qaddumi has always been Syria’s man. Syria keeps insisting that it is the key to stabilizing Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinians, Arab-Israeli peace, contacts with Iran, and just about everything else. The Syrians want to assert its own influence over the movement and ensure the United States doesn’t get too much. (And since Syria also sponsors Hamas one can see what that would lead.)

4. Finally but most significantly, the battle to be the next PLO leader has just begun. Abbas is not in good health. Will he really last more than a year? Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a Western-backed bureaucrat with no base of his own. Qaddumi is too old. There is no leading candidate, or even candidates, for the top job. But within the next year they will emerge. Each one will have a faction behind him. And don’t forget that each of these candidates will also be thinking about whether he wants to fight Hamas or get its backing in the battle for leadership.

In August, Fatah is supposed to hold a general congress, but these meetings are often postponed. Internal elections have been repeatedly postponed. Indeed, the reelection of the PA’s leader has also been postponed, in part due to the fact that the PA can’t control elections in the Gaza Strip and cannot be entirely sure it would defeat Hamas on the West Bank.

Palestinian politics, in short, are in a gigantic mess. They aren’t going to get better for a long time and might get worse. The PA and Fatah could descend into anarchy, or an even more radical leadership could emerge, putting its priority on an alliance with Hamas.

Western aid and hope of Western diplomatic support (not for a compromise peace but to make Israel give the Palestinians whatever they want with no reciprocity or compromise on their part), keeps people talking about a "two-state" solution in English. But they are chomping at the bit to demand openly that all of Israel become part of Palestine. They already do it in Arabic every day.

And these are the leaders and the group and the regime that U.S. and European policy depend on to make the tough compromises needed for peace with Israel? These are the shaky leaders and unstable organizations which much of the world is rushing to give control over a state?

To paraphrase what they say in the movies' legal declaimers: Any coincidence between the dominant Western analyses and actual Palestinian politics is purely coincidental.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to
The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, P.O. Box 167, Herzliya, 46150, Israel

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A father-daughter team cycles for Gilad Shalit

Rena Weis, center, gets ready to say good-bye to her daughter Adina and husband, Mark, as they start their marathon ride to Florida.

Rena Weis, center, gets ready to say good-bye to her daughter Adina and husband, Mark, as they start their marathon ride to Florida.

While bicycling

aficionados focus their attention on the famed Tour de France, a father and daughter team from Hillside are on a personal tour to focus attention on the plight of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Mark Weis and his daughter, Adina, 15, set out from their home in New Jersey on July 2 for what they intend to be a four-week bicycle ride to Florida.

The trip is a father-daughter adventure, a chance for Mark, a vascular technician and volunteer kids’ baseball coach, to lose weight, and an opportunity for Adina, a junior at Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth, to increase her fitness.

But it is above all a way to raise consciousness about Shalit, who was kidnapped three years ago by Hamas. Sporting Israeli flags on their bikes, the Weises plan to talk to people all along the way, educating them about the soldier, and encouraging communication with legislators to further efforts to secure his release.

Mark Weis and his daughter Adina set out from their home in Hillside on a four-week ride to publicize the plight of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Mark Weis and his daughter Adina set out from their home in Hillside on a four-week ride to publicize the plight of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Shalit’s captivity is a deeply emotional issue for Mark, and he will speak out about it at every opportunity along the route.

“When I’m in Israel and an Israeli soldier approaches me, I feel quite shaky — almost in tears,” he said last week, speaking by cell phone four days into their bicycle marathon. “Here are these young people who are risking their lives so that we can have an Israel. And then something like this happens.”

Shalit was 19 when the Palestinian militants captured him, the age now of Mark’s oldest son. He and his wife, Rena, have four boys and two girls, including Adina.

“When I think of what he is going through every day, it’s almost too painful to contemplate,” Mark said. Why a country that could rescue a planeload of people from Entebbe, Uganda, can’t rescue this one soldier baffles him, he said.

When Mark spoke with NJJN, he and Adina had stopped along a roadside in Pennsylvania after having cycled a total of about 115 miles in their first few days; they hoped to do another 25 before stopping for the night.

The family belongs to Congregation Adath Israel in Elizabeth. Along the route, they were encountering communities quite unlike the Orthodox community they live in. “We live in such a Jewish area,” he said. “We forget how different it is in other places.”

The first weekend, however, they were in familiar territory. They stopped in Roslyn, Pa., at Mark’s mother’s house. He borrowed her car to drive home and get Rena and their two youngest kids, and brought them back there for a family Shabbat and Fourth of July weekend. On Monday morning, he and Adina hit the road, this time heading out beyond reach of such easy reunions.

If they can get up early enough each day — around 5:30, to make the most of the cool hours — they hope to average 40 miles a day. Adina was finding it hard to get up so early, according to her dad. “The secret is getting to bed early enough,” he said. But the riding was going well so far.

Come last Friday, they planned to stop for Shabbat in Washington and to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A few weeks later, Mark said, they hope to reach Georgia in time for a family wedding. That is the one fixed date; most of their schedule is flexible.

Mark Weis lays tefillin before heading out on a four-week ride to Florida with his daughter.

Mark Weis lays tefillin before heading out on a four-week ride to Florida with his daughter.

Taking off like this, even for such a worthy cause, wasn’t easy. His five other “jealous kids” could not come along for the ride, he said. In fact, it wasn’t possible for any of the other Weis kids to take part; the oldest two — aged 19 and 18 — are working and studying; the youngest three — 10-, five-, and three-year-olds — are attending summer camps.

“Adina is my adventure mate,” their father said. Together in Israel last year, they were the only two members of the family to climb Masada, no big deal for the tall, thin young athlete, who plays basketball and softball, but much more of a struggle for her father.

Like all teens, Adina has her cell phone with her and has done plenty of texting during breaks. She also brought her MP3 player along, but she wasn’t using it much. Her father was pleased by that. Though he works with computers and ultrasound machines, he describes himself as “a little old-fashioned” when it comes to high-tech gadgets.

Meanwhile, back in Hillside, Rena was worrying that Adina might lose too much weight on the ride. “She’s already very slim,” she said. She stressed to her daughter that if the going gets too tough, if for any reason she wants to stop, she must do so. But, she acknowledged, that’s not likely: Adina, she said, “is very stubborn” — a quality that might, in fact, be just what is needed to complete the physical challenge and fulfill the mission to raise awareness of the plight of Gilad Shalit.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why Israel's Left Doesn't Support Obama or a Settlement Construction Freeze

By Barry Rubin*

July 8, 2009

Aluf Benn, possibly Israel's smartest journalist, makes a fascinating point about the construction on settlement freeze issue: why is Israel's left so indifferent to it? In the past, the left (which can mean, say, Labor party through Peace Now) has eagerly rallied to U.S. efforts to press Israel for concessions, especially on the territories. Not this time, even though the concession being sought is smaller than many in the past.

Benn attributes a lot of this to Obama's failure to sell his program. It is true that he has made no effort to appeal to Israelis on it but I think there's another explanation. The truth is that in the past a lot of Israelis on the left were persuaded that there was a real chance for peace and that by proving its willingness to leave the territories, Israel could persuade the Palestinians to make a deal.

Hardly anyone believes that today in Israel. People are fed up with the Palestinian leadership's bad faith and failure to deliver on commitments. They know that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and has a big support base on the West Bank. They have no illusions about the Palestinian Authority leadership, which makes clear that its entire program is to have others pressure Israel into giving it everything it wants.

So the left's response would go something like this: We would be willing to dismantle all Jewish settlements in favor of a real and lasting peace. But do you really think freezing building on settlements will contribute to this goal? That's nonsense.

There's a secondary factor as well. Many Israelis on the moderate left--which are the overwhelming majority of those in the "left" category--support a two-state solution with some border shifts. In this concept, which is what Labor party leader and then prime minister Ehud Barak took to Camp David in 2000, Israel would retain some small areas with high Jewish (settlement) populations like Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion.

This concept was called the idea of the "settlement blocs." Israel believed that the last two U.S. presidents accepted this idea and thus agreed that Israel could continue building in these specific places. The Obama administration says that never happened.

So many Israelis on the left not only doubt the prospect of peace and blame the Palestinians for the situation and also favor the settlement blocs approach and are also made very nervous about a U.S. government that forgets past pledges to Israel and doubt Obama's willingness to be tough in opposing Iranian nuclear weapons.

That's why there's no pro-Obama bloc in Israel today, not even on the left.

Michael Jackson, Father's Child Abuse Killed Him, Ruined His Life

I have hesitated to tackle this subject, it's painful, and all the facts are not yet in about Michael. One thing is certain though, his father, Joe Jackson was a man of violence, at least towards Michael Jackson. He beat him with belts, held him uside down and beat him, threw him into walls, and these are the things Michael discussed publicly. G-d knows what horrors he was subjected to that he couldn't discuss. Joe Jackson was snubbed at the funeral. There is probably a statute of limitations on child abuse, which in this case is a shame, since the facts indicate that Joe Jackson directly caused Michael's death. The article below lays out the summation of the case against this evil man, Joe Jackson, who even now is attempting to gain control of Michael's innocent children, G-d forbid. Michael Blackburn, Sr.

It Dawned on Me

No doubt the music was superb, the dancing mesmerizing, the videos innovativeMichael_Jackson_1984, the costumes eye-popping, the energy unbelievable. After his death this week, Michael Jackson, the proclaimed King of Pop, leaves a legacy of 13 Grammy awards, 13 number one singles, the best selling record of all time (Thriller), 750 million records sold, and many other accolades and awards. He also leaves behind three children, $500 million in debt, a tangled legal mess, and the sad legacy of child abuse.

Michael Jackson was an abused child and he was (allegedly) an abuser. It’s easy to forget all this because we are so stunned at the death so young of someone who has made such an impact on music. We must remember, though, that his life story is a cautionary tale.

When Michael was a child, his father Joseph did things like:

  • Held Michael upside down with one leg and “pummeled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks,” per brother Marlon.
  • Sat in a chair with a belt in his hand while the Jackson brothers rehearsed and that “if you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you,” per Michael.
  • Tripped and pushed the boys into walls and called them names.

[NOTE 6/30: The Wall Street Journal reports that it appears that Michael's father Joseph was cut out of what is purported to be his latest will, written in 2002.]

The abuse took a toll. Michael often cried from loneliness and even vomited upon seeing the father he so feared. He went from an adorable and impossibly talented little boy to a bizarre-looking and irrevocably scarred middle-aged man. And still lonely. Very lonely.

Perhaps to ease his loneliness and to try and create the childhood he never had, he often invited children over to his fairytale and theme park-like Neverland Ranch. He admitted to the stunned British journalist Martin Bashir, in a 2003 documentary entitledLiving with Michael Jackson, that he often had children sleep in his bed.

Just this sort of thing is what got Michael in trouble in 1993 and 2005 when both times he was accused of sexual abuse of a child. In 1993 he suffered deteriorated health from being addicted to three painkillers as a result of the stress he felt from dealing with the accusations and settled out of court. In 2005 the boy who was seen holding hands with Michael and discussing sleeping arrangements with him in the documentary accused him of sexual abuse. The People v. Jackson trial ended with Michael being found not guilty, but left a shroud of suspicion around him that never ended. Mental health professional Dr. Stan Katz, who evaluated Michael and the accuser for the trial, declared Michael a “regressed 10-year-old” and not a pedophile.

Perhaps that’s so. Perhaps Michael was 10 in his thoughts and actions and doing the normal exploratory stuff that 10-year-olds do. Maybe he was innocent and taken advantage of by greedy fortune-seekers. At the very least, Michael was naively inappropriate to allow children in his bed. He was an adult and a public figure. He should have known better.

But this is what severe child abuse does. It can delay or thwart emotional development and contribute to a 50-year-old man regressing to being 10 years old. It can lead to life-long problems.

Michael Jackson is both a talented and tragic figure. It leaves us wondering if he would’ve been less troubled and if he would have left a less sullied legacy if he had been treated with kindness and love as a child and not ridicule, threats, and harm.

This brings to my mind the 1954 poem by Dorothy Law Nolte that has hung in my home since my now-grown children were small. I looked at that poem several times a day and tried to live by its tenets as I raised my daughters. Here is the poem, entitled “Children Learn What They Live”:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

Thanks for the music, Michael. Like so many creative giants, your flame extinguished way too soon. The torture you felt in life is now silenced, but the music lives on.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Middle East: Wishful Thinking Kills

By Barry Rubin*

July 5, 2009

The more things change, the more they remain the same, sayeth the French. The Bible states that there’s nothing new under the sun. Doing a television interview today made me reflect on the relationship of those concepts on the contemporary Middle East.

It is untrue of course that nothing changes in the region. Quite the contrary: consider the recent upheaval in Iran and a whole list of other events. In fact, there might be truth in the idea that big explosions in the region are more common than small, fundamental changes.

And yet people—today more than ever—yearn for change, especially in the West where “change” has become the most important cultural principle and the concept of tradition is the new curse word, heard far less often than the four-letter ones seeming to pepper every type of conversation, real –life or fictional.

It is an easy step from the wishful thinking for change to the assertion that change can happen if we only do such-and-such. This is certainly the trap that the U.S. administration is caught up in. While it is natural for a new government to believe it can accomplish everything—didn’t it say that its predecessors were numbskulls?—it is especially true for the Obama administration which used “change” as one of its keywords. And what does the other one, hope, mean? Why, to hope that things can change!

These reflections are prompted by a television interview I did today. There were three questions which follow a common pattern.

Question 1: Is there anything to the story in the London Sunday Times about the United States and Saudi Arabia talking of the possibility of Israel using Saudi airspace to hit Iranian nuclear installations?

Answer 1: Of course not! First of all, nothing in the Sunday Times about the Middle East ever comes true and it should never be used as a source. But if anyone involved in any way with Middle Eastern issues doesn’t understand why this particular story is such a ridiculous notion they should look for other employment.

Question 2: Is there anything to the story that the United States and Saudi Arabia are pressing Syria to demarcate its border with Lebanon so it is clear who the Shabaa Farms belong to?

Answer 2: Of course not! What should instead be highlighted is a scenario which tells you a huge amount about Middle East politics. Here is an accurate picture of the ridiculous situation:

Syrian clients in Lebanon—like Hizballah—are demanding that Israel turn over the Shabaa Farms as occupied Lebanese territory. Yet these groups’ own Syrian sponsor still claims that the territory is Syrian! Here we have an example of obvious propaganda-making falsification. Not too obvious for lots of people in the West to be taken in, though.

And to put the icing on the baklava—to coin a phrase—even though the UN already determined that Israel had withdrawn from all of Lebanon—i.e., that the Shabaa Farms are not Syrian territory--the Obama administration, in its opposite-to-infinite wisdom called for reopening the issue.

Question 3: Is there anything to the story that Obama might visit Syria soon?

Answer 3: Of course not! In fact, a high-ranking State Department official already denied it. Even Obama wouldn’t visit Syria without getting something small from Damascus beforehand. For a while the Syrians believed, and the administration gave them reason to do so, that the Americans would give them everything they wanted in exchange for nothing. The Syrian regime still has illusions on this point though they’re becoming aware that they’re wrong and are starting to get angry about it.

Of course the administration is returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus at a time when it probably nows that the Syrian regime was directly involved in murdering former Lebanese prime minister and a dozen other politicians, judges, or journalists there. Isn't this pretty shameful?

All these questions have in common a belief that things are going to break open. They betray the unspoken assumption that peace, or cooperation, or moderation is inevitably on its way.

I stressed, and do so again, that I’m not saying this kind of thing because I’m a knee-jerk naysayer. Rather, this conclusion is based on a detailed analysis of the region’s realities, on what makes regimes tick, their worldview, and on the outside and internal constraints they face.

There is no good antidote for this kind of wishful thinking discussed here, but there is a good anecdote. On a radio interview I heard a year ago, former Secretary of State James Baker was bragging that when he was a current secretary of state he persuaded the Syrians to close down the terrorist group offices in Damascus. He was using this as an example of how one could deal with the Syrian regime.

Good example; bad conclusion. In fact, twenty years later the offices are still open. Proper conclusion: You can’t deal successfully diplomatically with the Syrians.

That doesn’t mean they don’t keep agreements in their interest. They haven’t attacked Israel directly since 1973….Because they know they would get smashed. (So instead they attack through Lebanon.) And they were perfectly happy when the United States supported their control over Lebanon, especially since they didn’t have to do much in exchange.

I’ve just read a brilliant book by a writer who is possibly the best political philosopher in the Arab world. It’s a good bookm but an hour after finishing it I was hit by how depressing that experience was. The author has many good and accurate proposals for fixing these societies’ problems. His logic is irrefutable; he gives examples of how others have made these strategies work. He even shows how some of them have been applied in the past in these countries.

And then it hits you: how unlikely any of these things would be done in the next few decades.

This author well understands that the solutions are all long-term. Yet the yearning for quick fixes all too often leads to the belief that quick fixes are possible, which produces policies based on this assumption, which leads to people getting killed and countries being devastated.

Come to think of it, the same point applies to the utopia-through-violence approach of the Islamists and many Arab nationalists, too.

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here” was Dante’s text for the sign that stood over the gates of Hell.

Whether or not the Middle East is the region of this world that most closely resembles that region of the underworld, it is still good advice for journalists, would-be peacemakers, and diplomats who deal with the region.

Only the substitution of mature, accurate analysis for bumbling hope can ensure the Middle East doesn’t change for the worse and give some expectation of it changing for the better.

For those of a literary turn, here's the Cary translation, Canto 3, of Dante explaining the inscription :

"All hope abandon ye who enter here."

"Such characters in colour dim I mark'd
Over a portal's lofty arch inscrib'd:
Whereat I thus [said]: ``Master [his guide, Virgil], these words import
Hard meaning." He as one prepar'd replied:
"Here thou must all distrust behind thee leave;
Here be vile fear extinguish'd. We are come
Where I have told thee we shall see the souls
To misery doom'd, who intellectual good
Have lost."

But why, why, my friends, were these particular people, referred to at the end of the passage (the first section of Hell Dante saw) doomed and have left behind all that is good in the human soul and spirit, according to Dante's work?

Because in the struggle between the two sides (in Heaven) they didn't choose between good and evil but only looked after what they--mistakenly--defined as their own interests!

How appropriate can you get considering how many leaders and nations say? Terrorism, the Iranian regime's suppression of democracy, the Syrian regime's murders in Lebanon, Hamas, Hizballah, antisemitism and intended genocide against Israel, radical Islamism, dictatorship, mistreatment of women. Not our problem!

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to
The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, P.O. Box 167, Herzliya, 46150, Israel Phone: +972-9-960-2736 - Fax: +972-9-960-2736
© 2009 All rights reser

Ahmadinejad Recalls Hitler, The Big Lie

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday declared that his disputed reelection gave him a mandate to continue his domestic and international policies and spoke out defiantly against the West in a televised speech meant to shore up his legitimacy amid continued political turmoil.

But he softened his rhetoric toward his opponents at home, whom he had dismissed as sore losers after the June 12 vote.

"We have entered a new era in both the domestic sphere and at the international level," he said. "Inside the country the path people are taking is clearer than before. And we will tread on that path more powerfully than before."

During and after his speech, Iranians in various neighborhoods took to their rooftops to chant "God is great!" and "Death to the dictator!" in what has become a nightly demonstration against Ahmadinejad and in support of former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, his chief election rival. Mousavi posted a statement Tuesday on his website calling on the government to free prisoners swept up in a crackdown on those disputing the official vote results.

The dispute has opened the greatest rift within Iran's political and religious establishment since the first years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A prominent member of the powerful Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, the most important clerical body in the Shiite holy city, Tuesday came out strongly in support of Ahmadinejad's reelection, calling the vote a "benediction" for the Islamic establishment.

"The intelligence minister presented a report to Qom seminary teachers, assuring us that no irregularities could have taken place," Ayatollah Morteza Moqtadai said in a statement carried by the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency. He said supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's dismissal of vote-rigging charges was "the conclusive argument."

However, another prominent conservative lashed out at Ahmadinejad for failing to listen to his critics.

"The recent happenings show that a sizable portion of the population, particularly the youths, were more interested in the opposition candidate," said Askar Owladi, head of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Party, which is close to Khamenei. "Their voices should be heard."

Ahmadinejad described the election as a "momentous" event that "was the freest and the healthiest election the world has ever seen," setting a new start for Iran.

"People put their seal of approval to [my] four years in office," he said.

He said those who said that the vote was rigged "failed to offer even a single piece of evidence," though Mousavi recently released a 24-page document detailing accusations of fraud, and official photos of a partial recount effort showed hundreds of unfolded ballots, despite the requirement that voters fold their ballots.

Ahmadinejad blamed "arrogant" foreign enemies for doing "everything at their disposal to insinuate into the minds that the vote was tainted," alleging that some Iranians collaborated with them.

The speech comes as Iranians brace for possible confrontations between demonstrators and security forces Thursday during unauthorized protest rallies scheduled around Iran to mark the 10th anniversary of an attack by pro-government militias on students at Tehran University. Arguing that pollution in the capital was at dangerous levels, authorities have declared the next few days a holiday, closed government offices and urged Iranians to get out of the capital for the sake of their health.

But Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a reformist political analyst, said he thought Ahmadinejad's speech would draw more protesters to the street.

"He claimed it was the freest and healthiest election and a role model for the world," Shamsolvaezin said in a telephone interview. "On the contrary, it was the most agonizing election in Iran" for both sides of the political spectrum.

"It seems that Mr. Ahmadinejad is trying to utilize the method of telling a bigger lie to make it more believable," he said.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Achinoam Nini Speaks Out on Hamas

It is easy to be a fan of Noa, (and now you can Twitter her! Twitter Noa!)

The flawless voice, the visual appeal, the warmth of her heart.
During the recent Israeli response to Hamas bombing of Israeli cities, Noa weighed in on Hamas:

I have often spoken out against fanaticism in my country, for I find it repulsive and unbearable. In government, in settlements, in synagogues, I am passionately against it. I have risked my career and my well-being for this belief.
Now I see the ugly head of fanaticism, I see it large and horrid, I see its black eyes and spine-chilling smile, I see blood on its hands and I know one of its many names: Hamas.
You know this too, my brothers. You know this ugly monster. You know it is raping your women and raping the minds of your children. You know it is educating to hatred and death. You know it is chauvinistic and violent, greedy and selfish, it feeds on your blood and screams out Allah’s name on vain, it hides like a thief, uses the innocent as human shields, uses your mosques as arsenals, lies and cheats, uses YOU, tortures you, holds you hostage!!
I know this is true my brothers!! I know YOU know the truth!! And I know you cannot say it for fear of life so I will say it for you!! I fear nothing!! I am privileged to live in a democracy where women are not objects but presidents, where a singer can say and do as she pleases! I know you do not have this privilege (yet…but you will, inshallah, you will…)
I know you are SICK of being held hostage by this demon, this ugly beast, not in Gaza, not in Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan, not anywhere!!! You are a people destined to flourish in peace! Your majestic history is overflowing with creativity, literature science and music, endless contributions to humanity, not crippling, torturing fanaticism, yelling Jihad and Shahid!
I see you sometimes, out in the streets, demonstrating with the monsters, yelling ‘death to the Jews, death to Israel!! But I don’t believe you! I know where your heart is! It is just where mine is, with my children, with the earth, with the heavens, with music, with HOPE!! You want nothing of this but you have no choice! I see through your veil of fear my brothers, through your burka! I embrace your hopes for they are mine!
My country has made many many mistakes over the years, I have watched it miss so many opportunities, and as a citizen of this country I am the first to admit it and criticize its foolery. I demonstrate, I vote, I speak out, I sing loud and clear.
But, now, today, I know that deep in your hearts YOU WISH for the demise of this beast called Hamas who has terrorized and murdered you, who has turned Gaza into a trash heap of poverty, disease and misery. Who in the name of “allah” has sacrificed you on the bloody alter of pride and greed.
My brothers, I cry for you. I cry for us too, yes, I cry for my fellow countrymen suffering the bombs in the south and north and everywhere, I cry for the kidnapped soldiers and the murdered ones, for their bereft families, for the innocence lost forever, but I cry especially painfully for you for I know your suffering, I feel you, I feel you!!
I can only wish for you that Israel will do the job we all know needs to be done, and finally RID YOU of this cancer, this virus, this monster called fanaticism, today, called Hamas. And that these killers will find what little compassion may still exist in their hearts and STOP using you and your children as human shields for their cowardice and crimes.
And then… then, maybe, Inshallah, we will again have an opportunity… we will again pick up our broken bodies and souls and walk slowly towards each other, reach out a tired hand, look into eyes filled with tears and with a choked voice say: “Shalom. Salam. Enough. Enough my brother ….