News and Opinion Based on Facts

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Israel moves closer to freeing captive soldier

JERUSALEM – Israel and Hamas militants announced a deal Wednesday that will see Israel release 20 Palestinian women from prison this week in exchange for a videotape proving that a captive Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip is still alive.

The decision was the first tangible sign of movement in more than three years of talks over the release of the soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who has not been seen since he was captured by Hamas-linked militants in a cross-border raid in June, 2006.

Schalit's release, which does not appear imminent, would defuse a central point of contention and could help ease a crippling Israeli blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Wednesday that it expects Schalit's Hamas captors to release a recent videotape of the soldier. The deal is to be carried out on Friday.

The statement said Israel's Security Cabinet accepted the deal, put forward by Egyptian and German mediators, as a "confidence-building measure." It quoted a senior official in Netanyahu's office as saying the negotiations are still "expected to be long and difficult."

The deal was carried out, the statement said, "ahead of the critical stages in the negotiations for the release of Gilad Schalit and based on Israel's commitment to work with determination to bring him home quickly."

Hamas is demanding that Israel release hundreds of prisoners, many of whom are serving lengthy sentences for violent attacks on Israelis, in exchange for the soldier. Israel has balked at many of Hamas' demands.

In Gaza, a Hamas spokesman using the pseudonym Abu Obeidaconfirmed that 20 female prisoners were expected to be released in the coming days. He made no mention of a videotape of Schalit, saying only that Hamas would respond by "clarifying" the soldier's condition.

"This simple deal is a precursor, God willing, to a comprehensive deal," he said.

He said the prisoners would come from various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, the rival Fatah movement and Islamic Jihad, and that one was from Gaza while the rest were from the Fatah-controlled West Bank.

Israel says that while the women were jailed for security-related offenses they were not directly involved in killing Israelis and are all within two years of the end of their prison sentences. Their names were to be published Wednesday, allowing a legally mandated 48-hour period for court appeals against their release before the deal is carried out.

A senior Egyptian official involved in the mediation said the move was designed to create "an atmosphere of trust."

"There is no doubt that this step will support the efforts of all sides to solve the problem," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity under security guidelines.

Egypt has been trying to mediate a prisoner swap since Hamas-linked militants tunneled into Israel in June 2006 and attacked an Israeli tank, killing two crewmen and capturing Schalit.

The Israeli soldier has not been seen since his capture and the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit him. But several letters and an audio recording have been released by his captors.

Netanyahu believes it is important that the world know Schalit is alive and well and that his safety is Hamas' responsibility, according to the statement from his office.

Both Hamas and Israel appear eager to wrap up a deal.

For Israel, the return of Schalit would end a painful chapter. In a country where military service is mandatory, Israelis have rallied behind the soldier and his family, holding protests calling for his release and decorating their cars with bumper stickers bearing his name. One news anchor even ends his broadcast each night by mentioning how long Schalit has been in captivity.

Hamas, meanwhile, wants to end a painful Israeli-led economic blockade of Gaza that has caused widespread shortages of many basic items. These shortages have prevented Hamas from repairing the massive damage caused in Gaza by an Israeli military offensive last winter.

Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas, a violent group backed by Iran and Syria, seized power in Gaza two years ago. Officials have said the embargo will not be lifted until Schalit comes home.

The closure has led to a bustling smuggling business along Gaza's border with Egypt. On Wednesday, two smugglers were killed and four were injured when a tunnel under the border collapsed. A paramedic said the men were working in a tunnel in an area struck by the Israeli military the night before.

The Israeli army confirmed it targeted three tunnels in response to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza in the previous two days. Israel says the tunnels are used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

More than 120 people have died in tunnel collapses since 2007.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Terrorism: Hizballah's Brand is Tarnished

By Jonathan Spyer*

September 24, 2009

A famous Hizbullah marching song, "Hizbullah ya ayuni" (Hizbullah - my eyes), contains the following verse: "And today through the blood of the brave, the merciful creator has given us victory, and the whole world and all people have begun to speak of our glory." Unfortunately for the Lebanese Shi'ite Islamist movement, the main world news story in which it currently features concerns matters of a distinctly inglorious type, with which it would undoubtedly prefer not to be associated.

The revelations concerning the activities of the so-called Lebanese Bernie Madoff - Salah Ezz el-Din of the south Lebanese village of Ma'aroub - are serving to tarnish the image of selflessness and idealism in which Hizbullah likes to present itself. The movement has long sought to differentiate itself from the notoriously corrupt, distinctly nonidealistic political and financial practices with which Lebanon is often associated. Ezz el-Din's activities suggest that on close observation, Hizbullah may be less different from its surroundings than its admirers (especially in the west) like to think.

Ezz el-Din, a Lebanese Shi'ite in his 50s, is accused of embezzlement and defrauding investors of hundreds of millions of dollars. The means by which he chose to part his victims from their money are familiar. He promised quick returns on investments in what he claimed were construction, oil and gas projects outside of Lebanon. He is reported to have guaranteed investors 20 percent-25% profits within 100 days on certain investments.

It now appears that Ezz el-Din was running a Ponzi scheme - paying clients with funds gleaned from newer investors. The sums involved are large - though nowhere near Madoff-like proportions. He is believed to have defrauded investors of around $500 million.

But Ezz el-Din was no ordinary financier. Rather, he enjoyed close links to Hizbullah. He ran a variety of enterprises associated with the group - most importantly the Dar al-Hadi Publishing House - named after Hadi Nasrallah. Hadi Nasrallah was the son of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah who was killed fighting the IDF in southern Lebanon, and is somewhere near the top of the movement's pantheon of "martyrs." The publishing house which bore his name was responsible for the publication of a number of books by senior Hizbullah officials.

THE PERCEPTION of Hizbullah patronage was a major factor in encouraging investors to place their trust in Ezz el-Din. As one disappointed client put it, "people put money with him because he was wearing the Hizbullah cloak." The presence of people like him does not fit with the puritanical image of Hizbullah. But it is not especially out of place with the broader pattern of the movement's activities.
As a major Lebanese political force, Hizbullah offers patronage to powerful families and individuals from the Lebanese Shi'ite community. The organization effectively operates a state within a state. Its areas are off limits to the army and police. This is particularly useful for individuals close to the movement engaged in criminal activities.

The lucrative hashish trade in the movement's heartland in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon offers an example of this patronage. Families engaged in this trade receive the protection of Hizbullah, ensuring that neither the authorities nor their rivals interfere with their activities. In return, Hizbullah takes a generous helping of the considerable profits.

The movement controls 13,000 acres in the Bekaa, which produce at least 300 tons of hashish annually. Hizbullah is reckoned to rake in profits of $180 million annually from this trade.

Most of the hashish is exported to Europe. Not all, though. The problem of drug abuse among residents in the Hizbullah-controlled Dahiyeh area of south Beirut is well known in Lebanon. Not all residents of the Dahiyeh are Shi'ite puritans.

Hizbullah is not reinventing the wheel. Rather, it is behaving in the manner of other Lebanese political forces. These activities are not particularly demonic - though the less powerful members of the various Lebanese communities are most likely to be hurt by them. But they serve to indicate the extent to which Hizbullah's pose of purity and incorruptibility and standing above the base practices of its rivals is largely a product of good public relations, rather than any observable reality.

The gradual tarnishing of the Hizbullah brand is, of course, good news for Israel. With past enemies - Arab nationalist regimes, the Yasser Arafat-led PLO - it was in the end the unbridgeable gap between proclamations and reality which served to initiate their slow decay and decline more than any single military defeat.

In this regard, another explanation for the Ezz al-Din affair is predictably doing the rounds in southern Lebanon. Haj Kamal Shour, who lost $1.03 million investing with the financier told reporters that he was sure that the "Israeli Mossad and Zionist lobby" were in some unaccountable way behind it all.

The reliable Zionist foe is enlisted to explain away failures and corruption scandals. But wasn't that exactly the political style that Hizbullah, with its selfless martyrs and its blood-curdling marching songs, was supposed to be doing away with? As Lebanon's former colonial governors might have put it - the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nancy Snow on William Safire's Passing

I don't feel that William Safire could be pigeon holed.

I guess he was conservative, but he was charming, and I believe he really cared for America.

He will be missed for his writing and his intellectual depth.

I miss him already.

Nancy Snow

Today's Google News has the wedding of reality TV star Khloe Kardashian and Los Angeles Lakers' forward Lamar Odom getting more hits than the passing of New York Times columnist, William Safire. Now granted, Khloe and Lamar have more blogger followers, including Perez Hilton's "wedding deets" to share with those not privy to be in Los Angeles.

This suggests, albeit unscientifically, that the death of an esteemed giant in American journalism is less newsworthy than a second-tier celebrity wedding. The media weren't reporting the wedding of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, but two people who have been dating for a month and decided to get hitched before basketball season begins.

We're so awash in infotainment sludge that we can't distinguish the truly irrelevant from the significant.

Safire, 79, was a conservative columnist for the New York Times. He was a fish out of water, to say the least, and many of the Times reporters were not happy with his swimming around for thirty years at the liberal newspaper of record. The Sulzberger family knew better.

Part of journalistic appeal, especially in opinion writing, is to provoke reader interest through saying something that jolts a reader's perspective out of somnolence. Safire did just that with his political columns that undoubtedly raised the blood pressure of some liberal readers, and with his "On Language" columns, which soothed the souls of etymologists and grammarians.

I recall a most memorable political column he published in the Times shortly before he retired. It was called "You Are a Suspect".

It was against type for this former Nixon speechwriter. The date was November 14, 2002, a year after 9/11, and before the invasion of Iraq. The USA PATRIOT Act had already passed with barely any debate. I immediately shared Safire's column with my journalism students at Cal State Fullerton. I told them, "This matters to you."

Here is what Bill Safire wrote in part:

If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:

Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend -- all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.

Remember Poindexter? Brilliant man, first in his class at the Naval Academy, later earned a doctorate in physics, rose to national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan. He had this brilliant idea of secretly selling missiles to Iran to pay ransom for hostages, and with the illicit proceeds to illegally support contras in Nicaragua.

A jury convicted Poindexter in 1990 on five felony counts of misleading Congress and making false statements, but an appeals court overturned the verdict because Congress had given him immunity for his testimony. He famously asserted, "The buck stops here," arguing that the White House staff, and not the president, was responsible for fateful decisions that might prove embarrassing.

That Safire column sparked Congressional action that stopped Poindexter's push for a big net approach to data collection.

Safire didn't always get his facts right. He was pilloried for his many columns that linked al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein as a rationale for the invasion of Iraq. (See David Corn's "The Propaganda of William Safire")

Safire attended Syracuse University and gave its commencement speeches in 1978 and 1990. I now teach public diplomacy and global communications at the Newhouse School here at SU.

Safire's relationship with Richard Nixon began at a public diplomacy venue. In 1959 Safire was a publicist and his client Herbert Sadkin, president of All-State Properties, built the famous modern American home featured at the American National Exhibition in Sokolniki Park, Moscow. Safire coaxed Vice President Richard Nixon into attending the exhibit opening on July 24, 1959, also attended by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.

The two men got into some back-and-forth conversations about the merits of Soviet communism versus American capitalism that came to be known as the "The Kitchen Debate." Nixon's proud defense of American know-how raised his public profile both at home and abroad. He later asked Safire to join his inner circle, and Safire served the president in the White House, along with Patrick Buchanan, Diane Sawyer and David Gergen. In 1973 Safire began writing for the New York Times, where he remained a columnist until 2003.

If you want some advice for what to pay attention to in the news, read more about the "life deets" of self-proclaimed libertarian conservative Bill Safire and not about the wedding of Khloe and Lamar. Relevant knowledge is good and powerful.

Dr. Nancy Snow is the author of six books, including Information War and Propaganda, Inc. She teaches in the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, New York. Reach her at

Follow Nancy Snow on Twitter:

Caritas targets 50,000 people in Philippines after devastating flooding

This situation is still unfolding, it has already been tragic.
It is amazing how little coverage the story is receiving on U.S. media.
Hundreds may have died, the counts are not in, and hundreds of thousands will be homeless.

Caritas targets 50,000 people in Philippines after devastating flooding

Shared via AddThis

Caritas targets 50,000 people in Philippines after devastating flooding

Source: Caritas
Date: 28 Sep 2009

Caritas Philippines (NASSA) is rushing aid to people in the Philippines after the worst flooding in some areas in nearly half a century.

Tropical Storm Ketsana (also known as "Typhoon Ondoy") hit Saturday. A month of rain fell in just 12 hours, submerging 80 percent of the capital Manila and affecting 27 provinces in total. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and over a hundred people have been killed.

Caritas will initially provide aid for a total of 10,000 families (50,000 people) in the seriously affected areas.

Caritas has bought 650 bags of rice for Antipolo in Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Cavite, and San Pablo in Laguna and will evaluate further needs as the crisis progresses.

There is also an ongoing repacking of sets of relief goods (kitchen wares, shelter aid materials, personal hygiene items and other food stuff) at the St. Paul University in Manila. They are intended for the first 5,000 families in these areas. Students and staff of the University are helping Caritas prepare the packs.

Caritas Philippines Executive Director Sr. Rosanne B. Mallillin SPC said, "The situation is very challenging. Many of our local social actions centres are still unable to reach the worse-hit areas because of the debris and the flooding. People are in need of food and clean water, as many of the water sources have been contaminated. We're also sending cooking utensils, sleeping mats and bed sheets."

The Metro Manila has been the worst-hit in terms of flooding and damage, while Rizal had the highest number of casualties due to landslides and flashfloods. In the Province of Pampanga, over 200 villages have been submerged. A landslide occurred in Arayat, affecting 174 families, which are now temporarily housed in five evacuation centres mostly schools and chapels.

The storm has moved out of the country but will continue to enhance the southwest monsoon.

For more information, please contact Patrick Nicholson on 0039 334 359 0700 or

Twitter, Facebook help Philippines flood survivors flee

Residents are using social networking sites to post escape routes and meeting spots after tropical storm Ketsana dumped a month’s worth of rain in six hours. Hollywood stars like Demi Moore have urged Twitter followers to donate.

By David Montero | Correspondent 09.28.09

The estimated number of people displaced in the Philippines by a devastating storm on Saturday has doubled, to more than 435,000, according to government officials. Officials are calling tropical storm Ketsana, which dumped a month’s worth of rain in six hours, the worst in 40 years.

As of Monday, 86 people were reported killed in floods that left some parts of the capital, Manila, under nearly 20 feet of water. The toll could rise as provincial authorities continue rescue efforts, and as new storms brew to the country’s east.

A massive rescue operation is underway, with the government relocating more than 100,000 people to 200 evacuation centers, and authorities working to distribute food, water, and medical supplies. But their efforts have been severely hampered by blocked roads and downed power and phone lines.

Meanwhile, Internet users from the Philippines to Hollywood are supplementing government efforts by posting everything from emergency phone numbers to appeals for donations online.

One eyewitness, in an opinion piece for the Philippines’ Inquirer newspaper, writes that people could not believe how quickly the floods began.

The government was not up to par in rescuing marooned residents and providing evacuees with relief goods, probably because our officials did not expect the floods to be that high or that widespread. Ondoy, after all, was tagged by the weather bureau PAGASA as a baby storm with only 60 kph winds. … Many people said they had never experienced floods that high before.

The Associated Press posted these images.

The government, assisted by the army, immediately issued a rescue operation and emergency directives. But the flood caught them largely unaware, with some citizens wondering why more preparation we not made.

China has pledged $100,000 for rescue victims, and the United States Embassy in Manila offered $50,000. In the US, celebrities like Demi Moore and Alyssa Milano used the social networking site Twitter to send out appeals for cash, reports the Philippines’ ABS-CBN television website.

Even as cities have come to a standstill, many reports indicate that Internet services are still working, allowing citizen’s groups, using social networking sites on the Internet, to join in the rescue efforts, reports the Inquirer.

Residents posted alternate routes weary commuters could take to avoid the floods, emergency lines to call for rescue and the addresses of families in need of urgent assistance…

[On Facebook] others posted locations of either an acquaintance or a friend’s neighbor waiting for hours to be saved, mobilizing other users in their network who have easier access to government rescue to ask for help.

The Philippines may not yet be out of danger, reports Bloomberg news:

Two tropical depressions have formed over the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines and may threaten the country later this week as typhoons, according to the [U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning] center.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Iran Cannot be allowed Nukes

Achmedinijad reminds me of Saddam Hussein right before we plucked him from his spider hole and hung him.

The same overblown threats, (remember, "This will be the mother of all battles?")
Iran will be halted in it's attempt to procure nuclear weapons.
Some experts maintain that full sanctions, worldwide sanctions, such as the kind that brought down South Africa's Apartheid regime, will work against Iran as well.
If they are not effective, Israel will have no choice but to remove Iran's capability to produce nukes.
Iran's response is unpredictable, but any response is lose/lose for Iran.
For another opinion, read this article by the esteemed Barry Rubin.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Killer Robots!

Our thanks to the Website Mayopie for this...warning.

Killer Robots, Can It Get Any Scarier?

Reprinted from : Mayopie

The puzzle is finally coming together. I’ve warned you people time and time again. Do you listen? No. You come here, think I’m all jokey jokester despite my persistent warnings. Well, I can’t help you if you don’t take me seriously. Vagina.

“So how are we going to die today, Mayo?” I’m glad you asked. We all know that the military has been developing unmanned military vehicles for years. We also know that, ideally, if the military was able to replace soldiers with robots and do so in a cost-effective way, they’d do it in a heartbeat. We know that they’ve developed a robot that eats dead people for fuel. We also know that many AI engineers believe that a terminator style machine rebellion is quite possible. This is all 100% factual. Anything else? Oh yeah, now they’ve made one that can jump over walls up to 25 feet high.

It’s important to note that the people eating robot and the jumping robot’s technology haven’t yet been married, but how long do you think that will be? I’d say one year from now, our streets will be overrun with self aware, jumping, people-eating robots. That’s a conservative estimate based on my robot expertise. Don’t believe me? Ask me a robot question. Go ahead.

Will robots take over the earth?


Need more? Fine, but I hate parlor tricks.

In Rocky IV, Uncle Paulie bought Rocky a robot for his birthday. True or False?

Pfft. True. And he reprogrammed its voice to sound sexy. And it had a car radio and a phone.

Have I danced enough for you? Should I also juggle?

I think we can safely say that I know what I’m talking about. The question is, what are you going to do to prepare for the jumping robot apocalypse? Fortunately, you’re here. That’s the first step. Consider yourself lucky because I can assure you that you are one of very few. Those that read this blog will not only be prepared, but will likely garner the key information needed to thrive in a robot ruled society.

Let’s begin. First, robots are emotionless. This is great because the last thing we need is an angry, people-eating, jumping robot. It also tells us that it won’t feel bad about eating you, so let’s call that a wash. Second, walls will no longer help you. That’s a shame because that was really my whole plan: Get behind a big wall. Shit. Now they’ve upped the game. Jumping robots. Touche’. Like in any war, contingency plans are required and in many cases can be more effective than the original plan. And while the military robot designers believe they have effectively countered my simple but brilliant wall strategy, they had obviously not accounted for my keen sense of warfare.

Actually, I’ve got nothing. Game. Set. Match. They jump now. It’s over. Damn you robot designers! Ok. Let’s not panic. We need to remain calm and think about this. Let’s recap:

The military has designed a robot that consumes dead people for fuel.

The military has designed a robot that can jump over walls as high as 25 feet.

Scientists believe that machines will become self aware.

Robots are strong. Like monkey strong. And they’re metal. And they have computer brains.

Humans are fleshy and not nearly as strong as monkeys.

Not only do humans not have computer brains, but they will smell or taste something even if you tell them it’s nasty.

David Caruso.

Many humans aren’t even self aware.

Again, I find myself on the fence about which side I want to be on. Johnny 5 or Steve Guttenberg? Robot or Will Robinson? Terminator or guy in drive thru line this morning that couldn’t scour for change in his ashtray while sitting in line? When I put it this way, the choice is simple. Go robots.

Friday, September 18, 2009

L’Shannah Tovah

“You should be written and inscribed speedily for a life of peaceful goodness in the book of absolute tzadikim, righteous ones.”

Reprinted From Rubin Reports

Meet the Palestinians’ Next Leader, Muhammad (Abu al-Mahir) Ghaneim: The Man Who Will Make Comprehensive Peace Impossible

Posted: 16 Sep 2009 06:15 AM PDT

By Barry Rubin

There’s nothing written about more often—and inaccurately—than the Palestinians, yet there is curiously little interest about the politics and ideology which governs their behavior. The same situation applies to the man s slated to become that movement's next leader, only the third to hold that post in 50 years, after Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

The fact that an issue that is supposedly the most important, high-priority question in the Middle East, or even the world, is so little studied in depth has a simple answer. The contemporary narrative is that the Palestinian leadership yearns for a state, an end to the conflict, and peace, while the failure to achieve can be blamed on Israel. Yet even the slightest real examination shows the exact opposite is true.

This point is only underlined by looking at the current candidate for next leader, Muhammad Ghaneim, often known as Abu Mahir. Of all those who might credibly have been considered for the leadership of Fatah—and hence of the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA)—he is probably the most hardline one.

Ironically, while media coverage of the 2009 Fatah Congress stressed the accession of young and more flexible leaders, the 72-year-old Ghaneim certainly does not fit that description.

Born in Jerusalem on August 29, 1937. His first political involvement was with the Muslim Brotherhood but he became a founding member of the Fatah movement in 1959 and active ever after, involved mainly in recruitment and organizational matters.

It is difficult to say to what extent Ghaneim’s early involvement with radical Islamism has shaped his thinking and whether it would make it easier for him to reconcile with the even more radical Hamas. Most Fatah and PLO people came out of more secular Arab nationalist or leftist movements. The only prominent leader who blended an Islamist background with nationalism was Arafat himself, and this certainly remained a prominent theme in his worldview during his entire career.

Ghaneim’s big career break came in 1968 when at the age of just 30 Arafat appointed him commander of Fatah’s forces in Jordan. And later that year, at age 31, he was put by Arafat on Fatah’s Central Committee in charge of the organization and recruitment department.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of these two jobs. At that time, Jordan was a Fatah stronghold and the group constituted a dual government alongside that of King Hussein, the country’s nominal ruler. Fatah guerrillas—and shortly after Arafat took over the whole PLO—had military bases from which they launched attacks on Israel across the Jordan River. Arafat must have had an extraordinarily high opinion of Ghaneim to appoint him to such a sensitive post.

Since so much of this task was involved with military matters, Ghaneim took a short officers’ course in China. On his return, in 1969, Arafat gave Ghaneim still a third chore, as is deputy for military issues. While the details aren’t clear this means Ghaneim must have played a central role in planning and implementing scores of guerrilla and terrorist attacks.

The other job was just as important. Ghaneim played a central role in selecting those to be given key jobs and just how much authority each had. Of course, everyone was far below Arafat in power but Ghaneim was about as essential as a second-tier figure could be. That job is also useful in making contacts with those who would continue to be top people in the movement in ensuing decades.

In 1970, Fatah overplayed its hand, was defeated by Jordan’s army, and had to flee to Lebanon. Ghaneim continued his organizational and military duties there. When the PLO and Fatah were forced out of Lebanon in 1982, Ghaneim accompanied Arafat to Tunis. From 1982 to mid-2009 he remained living there, though as early as July 2007 he may have begun visiting the PA-ruled territories in the West Bank.

Ghaneim didn’t return with Arafat in 1994 because, despite serving Arafat closely and loyally for 35 years, Ghaneim rejected the Oslo accords of 1993 as too moderate. Only continued armed struggle, total victory, and Israel’s destruction were worthy goals in his eyes.

While Arafat’s strategy sought these things covertly, the compromises involved in such a pretense were too much for Ghaneim, who openly criticized his old chief. He stayed in Tunisia despite numerous invitations from Arafat, starting in October 1994, to join the PA and instead insisted Arafat cease all negotiations with Israel.

Ghaneim moved closer to the popular Farouq Qaddumi, often referred to as the second most powerful man in Fatah and PLO or as the PLO’s “foreign minister.” Qaddumi rejected the Oslo agreement and kept up a close connection with Syria. Arafat undercut him but Qaddumi was so strong in the movement that he could never be fired altogether.

Finally, Ghaneim decided to return and support Mahmoud Abbas. While the details are not clear, this coincided with Abbas naming him as successor, which was certainly a great incentive for changing sides. Despite some analysts claiming that Ghaneim has moderated his positions, there is absolutely no evidence that he has done so.

On the contrary, it is likely that he joined the PA and Abbas because he felt that they were closer to his long-held views in many respects.

Ghaneim has a definite appeal for Abbas as ally and successor. He is one of the few remaining original founders of Fatah and has wide contacts throughout the movement.

On the one hand, he possesses Arafat’s seal of approval historically but on the other hand he is so hard-line as to appeal to that powerful tendency in Fatah. In addition, as someone who has been outside the PA politics for 15 years he was seen as a neutral figure in many petty and personal disputes.

But this is not the man to choose if your top priorities were making peace with Israel and maintaining good relations with the West. He is the man you would choose if you intended to reject compromise, rebuild links to Syria and Hamas, and perhaps return to armed struggle in future.

On arrival at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan on July 29, 2009, just before the Fatah Congress, Ghaneim was picked up by Abbas’ personal limousine, taken to his office, and welcomed in a ceremony.

At the reception, Ghaneim stated: "The struggle will continue until victory" and that if political means did not win Palestinian demands the movement would return to armed struggle. (Al-Hayat al-Jadida, July 30, 2009). It is clear how Ghaneim defines victory and it is not a West Bank-Gaza state with its capital in east Jerusalem living alongside Israel in perfect harmony.

That Ghaneim would give up demands that all Palestinian refugees and their offspring must be allowed to live in Israel or that he would make any territorial compromise, or that he would end the conflict permanently in any peace agreement is extremely unlikely. These are things—all necessary for peace—that even the less extreme Abbas has rejected.

Thereafter, Abbas promoted Ghaneim among the delegates to the meeting. He finished first in the Central Committee elections with 1338 votes, about two-thirds of those participating and far ahead of every other candidate.

Ghaneim’s success, and the others elected, show that the old Arafat crowd is still in control rather than any transition, youth cohort, moderate, or reformist group. Given the fact that there are virtually no real moderates in the leadership, having the tired, corrupt old guard in charge is better than having younger, more extreme elements running things.

Yet the hardline parts of the old guard have a large portion of power even among this group. If Ghaneim becomes leader of Fatah the PA and PLO, then you can forget about peace. Violent conflict becomes far more likely. Yet Ghaneim will not take over by a coup but because the current elite wants precisely the policy he represents.

No one should say a word about the Palestinian issue, the peace process, or Israeli policy without analyzing these factors. Unfortunately, there isn’t at present a Palestinian partner for peace. Fortunately, there is a Palestinian partner for maintaining a relatively peaceful status quo. But if and when Ghaneim takes over, even this consolation might be gone.

(For more detailed discussions of contemporary Palestinian leadership and politics read two articles by me here and here as well as my books Revolution Until Victory? and Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography which can be ordered here.

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), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What Carter Missed in the Middle East

Insiders have stated that Jimmy Carter hates Jews because he believes the "Jewish Lobby", upset over his gross mismanagement of the "Oslo War", cost him reelection.

We can think of no other motives for his vicious attacks against the State of Israel in the last few years, including a diatribe called, "Peace, Not Apartheid" in which he makes the ridiculous comparison between the free, democratic State of Israel and the defunct South African Regime of the past.

The article below sums up key facts and figures regarding Carter's latest attempts to negatively impact the State of Israel.


By Elliott Abrams

Reprinted from The Washington Post

In an op-ed ["The Elders' View of the Middle East"], former president Jimmy Carter, speaking on behalf of a self-appointed group of "Elders," described a rapacious Israel facing long-suffering, blameless Palestinians, who are contemplating a "nonviolent civil rights struggle" in which "their examples would be Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela."

As with most of Carter's recent statements about Israel and the Palestinians, instead of facts we get vignettes from recent Carter travels. And while he finds "a growing sense of concern and despair" among "increasingly desperate" Palestinians, polls do not sustain this view. The most recent survey by the leading Palestinian pollster, Khalil Shikaki (done in August, the same month Carter visited), shows "considerable improvement in public perception of personal and family security and safety in the West Bank and a noticeable decrease in public perception of the existence of corruption in [Palestinian Authority] institutions."

This does not sound like despair. In fact, positive views of personal and family safety and security in the West Bank stood at 25 percent four years ago, 35 percent two years ago and 43 percent a year ago, and they have risen to 58 percent in the past year, Shikaki reports. There are other ways to measure quality of life in the West Bank: The International Monetary Fund recently stated that "macroeconomic conditions in the West Bank have improved" largely because "Israeli restrictions on internal trade and the passage of people have been relaxed significantly."

The IMF predicts that "continuation of the relaxation of restrictions could result in real GDP growth of 7% for 2009 as a whole," a rate of growth that would be far in excess of ours -- or Israel's.

Carter's efforts to portray life among the Palestinians as unbearable and getting worse are belied by data. His efforts to blame Israel for all the problems that do exist are equally unpersuasive, and the best example is Gaza.

Carter states that Gaza is a "walled-in ghetto" and that "Israel prevents any cement, lumber, seeds, fertilizer and hundreds of other needed materials from entering through Gaza's gates." But Gaza is not an enclave surrounded by Israel; it has a border with Egypt. Every commodity that Carter says is needed can be supplied by Egypt, a point he overlooks in his efforts to blame Palestinian problems exclusively on the Jewish state.

Similarly, he says that "[s]ome additional goods from Egypt reach Gaza through underground tunnels," phrasing that suggests the "additional goods" may help reduce shortages. In fact, they include missiles and rockets, thousands of which have been fired into Israel since its troops left Gaza in 2005. While Carter warns that a Palestinian "civil rights struggle" is in the offing, he says nothing about Palestinian violence in the real world -- in which Palestinian terrorist groups continue to attack Israel and where all of Gaza is, of course, in the hands of one such group, Hamas.

Carter claims that the expansion of Israeli settlements is "rapidly" taking Palestinian land. Yet four years ago Israel gave up the Gaza Strip and all the settlements there (plus four small West Bank settlements); moreover, Carter presents no data suggesting that Israel's West Bank settlements are actually expanding physically. Their population is growing, but new construction is almost all "up and in," meaning that the impact on Palestinians is limited -- and that the picture Carter paints of a rapidly disappearing Palestine is inaccurate.

Most inaccurate of all, and most bizarre, is Carter's claim that "a total freeze of settlement expansion is the key" to a peace agreement. Not a halt to terrorism, not the building of Palestinian institutions, not the rule of law in the West Bank, not the end of Hamas rule in Gaza -- no, the sole "key" is Israeli settlements. Such a conclusion fits with Carter's general approach, in which there are no real Palestinians, just victims of Israel. The century of struggle between moderate and radical Palestinians, and the victories of terrorists from Haj Amin al-Husseini to Yasser Arafat, are forgotten; the Hamas coup in Gaza is unmentioned; indeed the words "Hamas" and "terrorism" do not appear in Carter's column.

Instead of appealing for support for the serious and practical work of institution-building that the Palestinian Authority has begun, Carter fantasizes about a "nonviolent civil rights struggle" that bears no relationship to the terrorist violence that has plagued Palestinian society, and killed Israelis, for decades.

Carter's portrait demonizes Israelis and, not coincidentally, it infantilizes Palestinians, who are accorded no real responsibility for their fate or future. If this is "the Elders' view of the Middle East," we and our friends in that region are fortunate that this group of former officials is no longer in power.

The writer is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who's The Real Rosh Hashanah Girl?

Everything you always wanted to know about Rosh Hashanah, but were too busy kvetching to ask, presented for your viewing entertainment by Esther Kustanowitz, in her own inimitable way!

Shana Tovha, Chaverim!

When you think of Rosh Hashanah Girl, you probably think of the brilliant video co-created by Brooklynites (and ROIers) William "the Jewish Robot" Levin and singer/songwriter Michelle Citrin. And you should. Because who could compete with that, really?

But what many people don't know is that I rocked Rosh Hashanah first. This classic clip is an interview that the very funny Teresa Strasser did several years ago (before she was exploiting her baby) when she lived in New York and worked for Good Day NY - because the network decided that talking to rabbis about Jewish holidays was a little boring, they opted for a fresher voice...


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