Archive for April, 2011


The announcement today of a deal for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas certainly caused a great stir. It’s worth examining what it means.

Is This For Real?

That’s the first question to be asked and only the coming days will provide an answer, but the early indications are that it seems like this will finally happen. The announcement of the deal was met with no small amount of cynicism, as these agreements have been said to be coming about in the past, but have always evaporated over some dispute or other.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (left) and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

This has a different feel. Probably the biggest reason for that is the proposed vote in the UN in September on recognition of Palestinian statehood. The proposition is problematic, even for supportive countries, as long as the Palestinians themselves are split. Also, while Egypt has been the broker of these agreements in the past, this time the Mubarak regime, and particularly his aide Omar Suleiman, are not involved. The new faces may have had ideas that the former mediators would not have broached. Finally, the Arab Spring has unleashed a wave of democracy. Neither of the Palestinian factions want to wait until such a thing happens in their own territory. But more importantly, the increasing weight of Arab public opinion will be a boon to the Palestinian cause, both in new Arab regimes and in the current ones that survive. A unified Palestinian government will be in a much better position to take advantage of that.

The deal apparently will mean a sharing of power between Hamas and Fatah in the broader PA government, while getting around the question of control of security forces (which has been the main sticking point in previous attempts at an agreement) by keeping the status quo, where Hamas will control security in Gaza, Fatah in the West Bank. Ultimately the PA will be reconstituted by elections within a year.

If this does happen, it’s a game-changer. The changes are not entirely predictable; nothing ever is, especially in this conflict. But there is no doubt that it will mean changes for the Palestinian Authority and will present new dilemmas for Israel and the United States, as well as the larger Middle East and the international community in general. (more…)

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In my latest piece at Souciant, where we continue to preview the upcoming Babylon Times site, I interview Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation on the possible September UN vote on Palestinian statehood, America’s role in the region, Israel’s drift to the right and more. Please share.

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Over at Souciant Magazine, they are previewing our new web site, Babylon Times, which will be unveiled in the next few months. Today, Souciant publishes my interview with Aaron David Miller.

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During a Passover Seder, we Jews tip our cups of wine and let drops spill. This symbolizes, and more importantly acknowledges and mourns, the suffering of the Egyptians under the yoke of the ten plagues God inflicted on them.

I always found this remarkably touching and meaningful. The ancient Egyptians were said to have enslaved the Hebrews, whose liberation we are celebrating. While the

We spill drops of wine to empathize with others' suffering. How about empathizing with the Palestinians?

Torah isn’t specific about the social dynamics in the era of Ramses II, one gets a very strong impression that the Pharaoh was not the only enslaver, but that much of Egyptian society held us in bondage. Nonetheless, we express sorrow for their suffering.

Sadly, as with so many religious traditions, this ritual has now lost its meaning for too many of us. For some it is mere rote, a ritual performed because it is part of the Seder, but stripped of its meaning.

Look, for instance at the contemptible words of Noah Pollak, the Executive Director of the ultra-right wing, fanatically anti-peace organization, the Emergency Committee for Israel. He could not contain his glee at the murder of Italian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist Vittorio Arrigoni. Among other comments, he sneers “My condolences to the anti-Israel crazies mourning their ISM friend. We who do not work with terrorists will never understand your pain.”

This is not about the ISM, whose politics I also disagree with (though far less so than I do with Pollak’s hate). This is about simple human decency. A man was murdered – in fact murdered, at least based on the information we have now, by terrorists not like Hamas, but much more like al-Qaeda (those differences are very important) – and that is a tragedy. Most people would agree with that, most Jews would agree, even those who might vehemently object to Arrigoni’s politics. Pollak is virtually dancing in the streets.

Pollak is neither typical of Israelis nor Jews, but the lack of empathy is not confined to radical anti-peace extremists like him.

We might think about the Israeli attitude toward the Gaza Strip. Let’s forget for a moment about international law, the Goldstone Report and all of that. Let’s dispense with dueling narratives and just look at it from an Israeli viewpoint. (more…)

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This space is normally devoted exclusively to the Middle East. But the absolute insanity that has gripped Washington all of my life has reached a new height these days, and so I break here with “something completely different.”

At this writing, Congress has authorized spending cuts of $38 billion, and sent a bill to the President so that the government can continue operation until September.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the leading advocate for "The People's Budget"

“There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.”

As is so often the case with this president, the words sound good, but the actions don’t match the rhetoric. Obama and the Democrats in Congress are faced with Republicans in overdrive; the GOP is rushing to squeeze the few pennies poor and middle class Americans have left for no better reason than to make the rich even richer. (more…)

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently cozied up even further to the Republican Party, if that is possible. He has been invited by the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives to speak at a joint session of Congress next month. It is widely expected that Netanyahu will use the speechto lay out some further steps toward an agreement with the Palestinians and to counter an expected speech from President Barack Obama that is expected to lay out an American plan to restart stalled peace negotiations.

Netanyahu may be worrying that Obama might hang up on him

As usual, the dance here is between the Americans and Israelis, with the Palestinians doing their own waltz solo on the sidelines. But there is a difference this time. The Palestinian two-step is heading in the direction of the United Nations and a proposed vote in September in the General Assembly on recognizing an independent state of Palestine.

There’s a lot to be said about this issue. It is a big gamble on the part of the Palestinians. It is not doubted that such a resolution will have a clear majority of support in the GA. But the real question is whether it will have the support of Europe and even the United States. It is the prospect of the latter that have many on Capitol Hill, both in the government and in the role of lobbyists, shifting into high gear to act on the will of the Israeli right.

How panicked? Well, as I recently reported here, there will be legislation in both houses of Congress to try to push an anti-UN agenda, based on the recent op-ed by Richard Goldstone. Well, consider the words of one Congress member, Joe Walsh (R-IL), who introduced the legislation in the House. This is from a “Dear Colleague” letter he circulated to other members in advance of his introduction of the resolution:

What is worse, the United Nations may use the Goldstone Report as justification to officially recognize a Palestinian state, which could place Israel in the position of occupying lands belonging to a sovereign state and member of the United Nations.  Yet, Goldstone’s confession confirms that the United Nations lacks the moral authority for such a declaration.

So let’s start with the first part, where Walsh seems to be virtually screaming in terror at the very prospect of recognition of a Palestinian state. This bears some examination. (more…)

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I’ve pasted below the text of a letter circulating in the Senate right now, one that is very likely to garner the signatures of many, even most of the Senate for the resolution it discusses. (Note: see here an article regarding similar legislation in the House)

This is just more fallout from Richard Goldstone’s irresponsible Washington Post op-ed. But we should also understand that this question goes well beyond Israel. The Goldstone Report, despite whatever flaws it might have, had the potential to be a major step forward in accountability.

The United States, as the world’s leading military power (and all the more so because it is rapidly losing ground economically to its competitors) has little interest in an international system of accountability. In that sense, Israel is sort of the vanguard in that battle against accountability. Israel will fight the fight on the front line, with US backing.

Thus, the attack on the Goldstone Report, reinvigorated by Goldstone’s own op-ed, is not only about Israel’s ability to attack Gaza with impunity and maintain its occupation without fear of repercussion, but also about the USA ensuring that the world continues on a “might makes right” basis. It is that system which international law threatens.

Here is the text of the Senate letter. I had hoped to be able to move on to other issues by now, but, as Al Pacino once put it, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” (more…)

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