Saturday, July 7, 2012

Arab World: Sunni Islamism Stirs In Lebanon

by Jonathan Spyer

As the civil war in Syria grinds on and assumes an increasingly sectarian character, echoes of the strife are being heard across the border in Lebanon.

The main beneficiary of the Arab uprisings of the last year has been Sunni Islamism. In Syria, Sunnis are playing an increasingly important role in the rebellion against President Bashar Assad. In Lebanon, too, individuals and movements of this type are emerging to prominence and issuing a challenge to the dominant political force in the country – Hezbollah. Sunni northern Lebanon, in particular the town of Tripoli, is a center both of Sunni Islamism and of support for the Syrian rebellion. The town has become a gathering point for foreign jihadi fighters on their way to fight the Assad regime.

The fate of Lebanon has always been acutely influenced by events in its larger neighbor, to the sorrow of many Lebanese. Currently, too, the Assad regime and Hezbollah are members of the same Iran-led regional bloc.

Lebanese Sunnis are aware of this alliance. Most have not happily acquiesced to the de facto Shi’a domination of Lebanon. They are aware also that Hezbollah is actively aiding Assad. Many are keen to play their own part in the unfolding battle, and to launch a Sunni resistance both to contest Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanon and to support their fellow Sunnis against Assad’s local allies.

The problem for Lebanese Sunnis wishing to express and organize their discontent with Hezbollah has been a de facto vacuum of leadership in the community. The March 14 movement led by Saad Hariri sought to challenge Hezbollah in May,2008, and was quickly swept off the streets by the Shi’a militia. Saad Hariri has not been in Lebanon since last April.

Few Sunnis now see Hariri as a potential leader of the country. The March 14 strategy was to oppose Hezbollah’s guns with an appeal to international legality. Hezbollah contemptuously rolled over this approach.

As a result of this vacuum, and perhaps also in line with the mood of the times, the stirrings of Sunni discontent against the de facto domination of the country by Hezbollah are taking Islamist form. Sunni anger is currently coalescing around the figure of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, a Salafi cleric from the town of Sidon, in the south of the country. Assir, the Imam of the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque in Sidon, has achieved prominence over the last year because of his outspoken statements in opposition to Hezbollah. In particular, the Salafi sheikh has focused on the independent military capacity maintained by the Shi’a movement.

On June 23, in an interview on Al- Jadeed TV in west Beirut, Assir appeared to offer a direct challenge to Hezbollah’s independent weapons capacity and to its domination of the country.

“Either we live as equal partners,” he said, “or else, I swear by God, O Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri, I, Ahmad Assir, will shed every drop of my blood to prevent you from relaxing until balance is restored to Lebanon.”

Two days later, gunmen fired on the offices of Al-Jadeed TV.

Following this interview, Assir launched a permanent demonstration in Sidon (with echoes of the sitin launched by Hezbollah and its allies in Beirut in late 2006 against the then-government of Fuad Siniora.) He has vowed to maintain this protest until the issue of Hezbollah’s independent arms capacity is resolved.

Assir’s rise to prominence is built on a perception that he is stating openly what many Sunnis are saying privately.

Thus, in spite of the apparently quixotic aspect of a provincial Lebanese Sunni cleric making demands of a powerful Iran-backed militia, Hezbollah and its allies are taking the latest developments seriously.

The emergence of Assir as a spokesman for Sunni grievances is going hand-inhand with a broader rise in Sunni militancy elsewhere in Lebanon. There are reports of military training of Sunni Lebanese volunteers in the Bekaa Valley, before they cross the border into Syria to fight Assad’s forces. In the Sunni heartland of rural northern Lebanon, sentiment in favor of the Syrian rebels runs high, increased by close acquaintance with Sunni refugees who have fled Syria for Lebanon over the course of the last year.

It is, of course, impossible to predict whether the current Sunni ferment in Lebanon will take on the form of action against the de facto Shi’a domination of the country. Outside of the Salafi fringe, the Lebanese Sunnis lack a deep tradition of paramilitary activity.

Large numbers of more middle-class and Westernized Lebanese Sunnis distrust the Islamists. Hezbollah, meanwhile, is a daunting, well armed and brutal foe.

Still, it is worth remembering that in the Lebanese sectarian system, nothing is forever.

The various sects reach their uneasy modus vivendi based on the relative power balance between them at any given time. Until 2011, the Shi’a power of Hezbollah, armed, trained and financed by Iran, seemed to brook no possible rivals. The civil war in Syria brings with it the undermining of Iran’s local Arab state ally, which formed a vital partner for Hezbollah and its allies in their domination of Lebanon.

This for Sunnis makes feasible, or at least imaginable, a challenge to the current situation of Hezbollah/Shi’a domination. As a result of the Syrian civil war, the first stirrings of a Sunni attempt to once again “renegotiate” the sectarian balance of power in Lebanon are being felt.

This “re-negotiation,” if it happens, will be led by Sunnis. In Lebanon, however, they will face not a decrepit military-nationalist regime, but rather a powerful, mobilized, rival Shi’a Islamism. The Arab Spring, which should more accurately be called the Revolt of Sunni Islam, may be coming to Lebanon.

This article was also published in the Jerusalem Post.

Jonathan Spyer


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Yasir Arafat Is Still Dead and We Know Who Really Did Him In

by Barry Rubin

Yasir Arafat is still dead. True, he was once alive. I sat across from him in his Gaza office, for example. And he even had a copy of my history of the PLO on his bookshelf so he must have been of sound mind at the time. It’s not my fault. I told him to start jogging and cut down on sweets. But he didn’t listen. On November 4, 2004, he died, a fate he previously delivered to thousands of far more innocent people.

The effort now by various Palestinian factions to imply Israel killed him is the funniest thing in the Middle East since the U.S. director of national intelligence’s congressional briefing when he said the Muslim Brotherhood was a secular democratic organization. What’s dismaying is how much play Western media are giving this charge as if it should be taken seriously. When the West behaves in this way it signals at the least a dangerously naive credulousness and at worst a profound anti-Jewish and anti-Israel complex. The New York Times and Washington Post take this nonsense seriously.

But there’s something else in this story, something very chilling indeed. Revolutionary Islamists especially, but many Muslims otherwise, believe that Jews tried to murder Muhammad, the founder of Islam, and even if they failed that the poison shortened his life. The accusation that Jews are the murderer of prophets — with Muslims throwing in the founder of Christianity also — is a phrase that derives from this story. It is frequently heard from Hamas and others. This is a blood libel, an alleged crime that then leads to the view that Jews are absolutely evil and should be wiped out. In short, it is a rationale for genocide. When Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood say that Israel should be wiped off the map and Jews generally should be murdered that incitement is the inevitable consequence of this line of thinking.

That Western observers are unaware of all of this history — repeated daily in inciteful sermons found in Middle East mosques — is quite evident. Such a lack of knowledge leads them to believe that the conflicts they say are easily resolvable, quickly settled by more Israeli concessions or still continuing because of Israeli actions when the causes are much deeper and the solutions far more remote. Western societies today are obsessed with searching everywhere for racism and hate speech. Well, the idea that the Jews murdered Arafat (rather than that Arafat spent most of his career murdering Jews) falls into that category.

As for the specific claims in the Arafat case, they are easily disposed of:

First of all, anyone who saw Arafat during the last year of his life knew he was seriously ill and steadily worsening. His lips trembled, he looked disoriented, and he wasn’t as articulate as usual. Even on television you couldn’t possibly miss his distress. Parkinson’s disease was a likely diagnosis though Crohn’s disease was said to be another probable medical problem for the dictator.

His doctors obviously knew that he was in bad shape. But, and this is what’s most important, they didn’t do anything about it. The prospect of Arafat’s death was so traumatic for the movement — which had known no other leader during 43 years for Fatah, 36 years for the PLO, and its entire ten year life for the Palestinian Authority. By not taking serious action and giving him better treatment, the key to the mystery is this: His own doctors and movement killed Arafat. So if Israel killed Arafat, then his own doctors and the entire PLO, Fatah, and PA leadership were in on the conspiracy. Indeed, Arafat himself, by not more actively seeking medical help or speaking about his problems, was also in on the conspiracy. This is unlikely.

Second, the doctors were shut up and the report of his death was kept secret by Arafat’s widow Suha Arafat. Since his colleagues had access to a lot of this information they also kept quiet. In other words, we are supposed to believe that those in the world who most hated Israel had evidence that Israel had something to do with his death but they kept it secret?

Third, suddenly, almost eight years later Suha and other Arafat loyalists are making claims. But there is no new evidence whatsoever. Obviously, this is a publicity stunt. Let them release the huge medical report on his death. Let them permit the French doctors to have a press conference. Let them dig up Arafat. Until one of those things happens, why should the Western media fall for this trick? So again, if there was the slightest suspicion that Arafat was being murdered, Arafat’s wife, doctors, and all of the Palestinian leadership were helping the conspiracy. This is also unlikely.

Fourth, the claims that Arafat was poisoned by Israel using some exotic radioactive means have been made from the day Arafat was planted but have always faded away, at least internationally, because no evidence was offered. Old fables are being treated like new revelations. Such claims of Zionist conspiracies are always promoted in order to slander and discredit Israel when just about anyone significant dies in the Arab world.

Fifth, if Arafat had been poisoned by radioactive substances his symptoms would have been extreme and evident. They include nausea, hair loss, throat swelling and paleness. Moreover, Arafat would have died really fast, but he lingered for a long time.

The history of this myth shows that it is the Palestinian leadership, not Israel, that has something to hide, that has kept everything secret. I suspect the secret is the incompetence of his own doctors.

So did Arafat die of AIDS? After my own serious research on this matter I could find no evidence for this assertion. And I know that both Israeli and U.S. intelligence had no evidence that Arafat was homosexual either on the basis of in-depth discussions over many years. Sources like Ahmad Jibril — a life-long enemy of Arafat — and other unreliable sources cited are not impressive. If there is evidence to the contrary I will certainly revise my view. But you should know that the Israeli government and intelligence position–privately as well as publicly–is that they have no evidence of Arafat being a homosexual or suffering from AIDS.

Barry Rubin


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Obama’s Excuses Are Getting Weaker

by Jonathan S. Tobin

President Obama’s response to the latest dismal federal jobs report was as predictable as it was weak. Speaking on his bus tour of Ohio, he repeated the theme we’ve heard so often since January 2009: It’s not his fault. Only this time he not only heaped blame on the administration of his predecessor but also claimed the problems dated to the Clinton administration, which heretofore Democrats have spoken of as a golden age of prosperity:

“We’ve got to deal with what’s been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years.”

It’s not clear what event it was that happened in 1997 — when his secretary of state was serving as First Lady and President Obama had just begun his first term in the Illinois State Senate — whose impact was so far-reaching that even today the administration is helpless to ameliorate its effects. But whatever it was that the president had in mind when he threw out this puzzling alibi, blaming Bill Clinton is about as pointless as pointing the finger at George W. Bush, Obama’s usual punching bag. But the way things are going for the president, one more bad jobs report and he may be blaming the elder President Bush as well his son and Clinton for all of his troubles.

As even a liberal stalwart like Robert Reich pointed out today at the Huffington Post, the excuse that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression is “wearing thin.” In fact, it has already worn out, a fact made all too clear by the president’s obfuscations about the jobs numbers that Reich was honest enough to report.

Though the president preferred to take a “glass half full” approach to the jobs numbers, as the New York Times delicately described his rhetoric, Reich was more frank about Obama’s excuses. Far from the creation of 84,000 new jobs being a hopeful sign, the truth is very different:

Remember, 125,000 new jobs are needed just to keep up with the increase in the population of Americans who need jobs. That means the jobs situation continues to worsen.

After a good week in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision that led to more focus on Mitt Romney’s weaknesses, the jobs report brought the president back to the reality of a sinking economy that, as even Reich pointed out, he owns. The voters don’t care what he inherited. After four years, the Bush alibi, not to mention the swipe at Clinton, isn’t fooling anyone.

Reich also stated the obvious when he noted that Obama hasn’t any real ideas about dealing with the crisis. Even worse for the president — and the country whose fiscal affairs he is steering into the ditch — at this point the European debt crisis and China’s economic slowdown are likely to only make things a lot worse before they get better. Democrats may hope voters aren’t paying attention to the election and economic statistics until Labor Day, but by then the president’s goose as well as the economy may already be cooked.

Jonathan S. Tobin


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Is Toulouse the Future of Europe?

by Jonathan S. Tobin

In March, an Islamist gunman in Toulouse, France, murdered three Jewish children as well as one of their fathers in a shooting spree outside of a school. The crime was widely condemned (especially when at first it was thought to be the work of a neo-Nazi rather than a Muslim), but the link between this outbreak of deadly violence and the rising tide of anti-Semitic incitement throughout Europe was clear. Yet, rather than the murders signaling a turning point in the battle against Jew-hatred in France and Western Europe, it may have been just an indication that anti-Semitic incidents are becoming commonplace, a conclusion that has been reinforced by a shocking increase in attacks on French Jews since March.

Nevertheless, the latest indication of the dark climate in France is all the more painful because it involves the same school that was targeted by the Toulouse shooter. As the European Jewish Press reports, on Wednesday night, a 17-year-old student from the same Ozar HaTorah school that was the site of the March murders was attacked in a Lyon train station. The student, who was wearing “identifiable religious symbols” was set upon and beaten and subjected to insults. The teenager reported the attack and the assailants were caught, but the message from the incident is clear: it is open season in France on Jews who publicly identify themselves in this manner. If even after the shock over what happened in Toulouse violence against Jews is going up, it is no longer possible to put it down to the actions of isolated individuals. The incessant drumbeat of anti-Semitism— often rooted in anti-Zionist prejudice against Israel and all who publicly identify with the Jewish state and Jewish identity — throughout Europe is inciting violence that can no longer be ignored.

The problem here is not just al-Qaeda sympathizers such as the Toulouse shooter or the importation of Jew-hatred from the Middle East that have taken root among French Muslims. It is the way that such views have melded with attacks from intellectuals on Zionism, Israel and its supporters in such a way as to dignify the sordid hatred flung at Jews on the streets of Europe. There is a long and dishonorable history of anti-Semitism in France, but what we are witnessing now is an updated version of traditional bias that is casting a shadow over the future of the Jewish community there.

It was bad enough when such sentiments were linked with the traditional right in France and then Muslim immigrants, but nowadays Jew-hatred is part of the parlance of so-called human rights groups that vent bias against the Jewish state. Thus, while the French government condemns such incidents, anti-Semitism continues to grow, and Jews must now wonder whether it is safe to go about wearing anything that might give away their identity. That is no way for anyone to live in a democracy, but that is the situation in France. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to envision much of a future for Jews in Europe.

Jonathan S. Tobin


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Lebanon in the Crosshairs of Syria

by Rick Moran

There have been several clashes in Lebanon between pro and anti-Syrian factions in which several people have died. The tensions between the two sides is reminiscent of how the bloody civil war of the 70's and 80's tore Lebanon apart.

Now Syrian forces are firing into Lebanon and pursuing rebels who have established bases along Syria's northern border inside Lebanon.


In contrast with Turkey, which openly harbors rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Lebanon was not expected to respond militarily and has played down the effect of regular clashes along the frontier.

But rebels have used north Lebanon as a base and Assad's forces have at times bombed villages and even crossed the border in pursuit of militants, threatening to inflame tensions in Lebanon given a long history of Syrian domination there.

Residents of Lebanon's Wadi Khaled region said several mortar bombs hit farm buildings five to 20 km (3 to 12 miles) from the border at around 2 a.m. At midday villagers reported more explosions and said they heard gunfire close to the border.

In the village of al-Mahatta, a house was destroyed, killing a 16-year-old girl and wounding a two-year old and a four-year old, family members told Reuters. A 25-year-old woman and a man were killed in nearby villages, residents said.

The Lebanese army issued a brief statement about the incident. There was no immediate response from the prime minister or the foreign ministry, both of whom have expressed fears that Lebanon could be dragged into the conflict.

Because of anti-Assad sentiment in Lebanon, the Hezb'allah dominated government has been forced to side with the rebels. But there are reports that some Hezb'allah fighters have joined Assad's forces in trying to crush the rebellion. Assad is Hezb'allah's conduit for arms from Iran and they are not likely to abandon him so lightly.

Rick Moran


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'Lebanon Will Face Greater Destruction in Next Round,' IDF Commander Says

by Lilach Shoval, Yori Yalon and Israel Hayom Staff

On eve of sixth anniversary of Second Lebanon War, Galilee Division commander Brig. Gen. Herzi Halevi says Israel is prepared for war with Hezbollah, and with the Lebanese army if necessary • Border clash narrowly avoided after Lebanese soldiers mark IDF soldiers as targets.
With Israel about to mark six years since the Second Lebanon War next week, senior military officials have warned that if Israel is provoked, the next round of fighting with Lebanon will more destructive than the last.Lilach Shoval, Yori Yalon and Israel Hayom Staff


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Shamir's Diplomatic Legacy

by Dore Gold

Yitzhak Shamir served as prime minister in one of the most difficult periods in Israel's diplomatic history. He came into office in the aftermath of the 1982 Lebanon War and by 1987 the first Intifada broke out--with these two events the television screen became a dominant factor for the first time influencing Israel's standing in world opinion and the political pressures it subsequently faced. He did not place himself alone at the front of this struggle but instead built a team of skilled envoys to represent Israel in these difficult times, including Moshe Arens, Dan Meridor, Ehud Olmert, and especially Benjamin Netanyahu. But he also lead a two-headed national-unity government that many times sent mixed messages to the international community making a clear and coherent Israeli message difficult to communicate on the world stage.

True, Shamir did not sign any historic agreements with Israel's neighbors during these years. But realistically, the opportunities for such breakthroughs were limited. On the one hand King Hussein signaled in 1987 that he was willing to enter negotiations that were accompanied by an international conference, but by 1988 he cut all his administrative ties with the West Bank. Syria was pulled tighter into the grip of the Soviet Union. And Iraq was recovering from its eight year war with Iran which left it with the largest land army in the Middle East. Even before its invasion of Kuwait, it began flexing its muscles along Israel's borders; in 1989 it even dispatched surveillance aircraft to the Jordan River in order to take photographs within Israel.

Shamir nonetheless groped to find a political formula for the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would protect Israel's interests in the challenging world it faced. He sought to build on the autonomy proposals in the Camp David Agreements, by integrating Jordan in the negotiations. A revealing passage in the memoirs of former Secretary of State George Shultz indicates that Shamir was able to convincingly communicate his ideas for a "functional compromise", which he preferred over any solution based on territorial withdrawals alone. This idea which was originally proposed by Moshe Dayan. The functional idea was also adopted for a while by Shimon Peres, was finally backed by Shamir as an alternative to a territorial division of the West Bank.

Thus Shultz wrote when he looked back on this period, that it was necessary to re-think the idea of "land for peace", because, as he wrote, "the meaning of sovereignty, the meaning of territory is changing." In the context of the peace process, he suggested: "Control over various functions in a territory could be shared. Who controls what, I argued would necessarily vary over such diverse functions as external security, maintenance of law and order, access to limited supplies of water..."

These ideas for a functional compromise are not relevant in today's political context, but they are nevertheless valuable to consider because they reveal a great deal about how Shamir handled US-Israel relations: the US had its own definite views but Israel could propose a very different diplomatic approach, if it could make a convincing argument for the position it was taking. In contrast, there were some Israelis who viewed the harshest declarations of policy coming out of Washington as "a given," to which Israel must automatically acquiesce with no discussion. Some even invited US pressure. Shamir didn't just stand firm, but he sought quietly to shape the terms of the debate.

Another area where Shamir's influence was felt was in Shultz's firm rejection of an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines. Many Israeli diplomats were convinced that the U.S. sought to push Israel back to the 1967 lines, maybe allowing for minor modifications of the pre-war armistice lines, in accordance with the proposals of Secretary of State William Rogers from the early 1970's. As a result, Israeli officials often sought to avoid any discussion about Israel's final borders with their American counterparts in order to avoid what they thought would be an inevitable clash. These Israeli experts were wrong about U.S. policy as Shultz would demonstrate at the end of his term in office.

Reflecting what he undoubtedly heard from Shamir over the years, Shultz declared on September 16, 1988: "Israel will never negotiate from or return to the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders." The U.S. understood that if it was asking Israel to enter into sensitive negotiations over territory, it had to provide certain assurances--a safety net-- that would protect vital Israeli interests.

The net result of Shamir's work was to establish optimal conditions for negotiations when the Madrid Peace Conference was convened in 1991 in three ways. First, with his pre-conference diplomacy that went back to his contacts with the Reagan administration in the mid-1980's, Shamir had neutralized other efforts to turn an international conference into a mechanism for an imposed peace settlement that would deny Israel of the territorial assets it needed for its own defense.

Second, in the 1980's, he developed common language with Washington about how to envision a future peace settlement; his insistence that an arrangement in the West Bank must be based on Jordanian involvement was reflected by the inclusion of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation at Madrid, but did not endure once Israel agreed to the Oslo Accords. Third, he insisted before the convening of Madrid on the US providing a letter of assurances. The value of this letter would depend largely on whether his successors would actually use its contents in their negotiations with the U.S. administrations that followed. It would be a mistake to confuse his caution and careful planning for passivity. His actions reflected the extent to which he understood the vulnerability of Israel and his responsibility to protect it.

Dore Gold


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Palestinians' Islamist Spring

by Khaled Abu Toameh

In the absence of a credible and organized Palestinian opposition in the West Bank, Hamas will most likely hijack the "Palestinian Spring," paving the way for Hamas to seize control over the West Bank.

After the recent wave of protests and clashes with Palestinian Authority policemen in the West Bank, the Palestinians are asking if the "Arab Spring" might be finally knocking on their door.

The protests, organized by young Palestinians through Facebook and Twitter, are a reflection of increased discontent with the Palestinian Authority leadership.

Recent public opinion polls have shown that the popularity of Abbas's ruling Fatah faction has declined and that Palestinians are eager for change.

Most Palestinians would like to see new faces among the top brass of their leadership. They are fed up with the fact that the same leaders have been in office for decades.

Many Palestinians feel that under Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority has joined the club of corrupt Arab dictatorships that suppress the opposition and crack down on freedom of speech.

Hundreds of angry men and women continued to demonstrate in the city against police brutality. The protesters accused the Palestinian Authority of ordering the police to use excessive force to stop the demonstrations.

At least five Palestinian journalists were injured when Palestinian security officers and Fatah activists beat them in the center of Ramallah. Many protesters, including women, were also beaten during the demonstrations.

The clashes erupted last weekend in protest against a planned visit to Ramallah by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and former IDF Chief of General Staff, Shaul Mofaz, Mofaz's planned visit to Ramallah was used an excuse to vent out frustration and anger with the Palestinian Authority leadership.

The protests forced Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to call off the visit, but the cancellation of Mofaz's visit did not calm things down, especially in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians.

In March last year, thousands of Palestinians, inspired by the "Arab Spring," launched their own protests in the West Bank to demand reforms, democracy and regime change. But the Palestinian revolt was short-lived.

Abbas's security forces, backed by Fatah thugs, attacked the young men and women who were protesting in the center of Ramallah, torching their tents and beating them with clubs and rifle butts.

But now the Palestinian youth groups appear to have reorganized themselves and are preparing for another wave of protests in the West Bank. In recent days, the protesters have even begun chanting the same slogans that Egyptians used against Hosni Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces.

The Facebook and Twitter protesters say they have no political affiliations and that their only goal is to replace the old-guard leaders in Ramallah with young and charismatic faces.

The Palestinian Authority, however, says that the protests are part of a foreign conspiracy designed to undermine the leadership of Abbas and harm the interests of the Palestinians. Some Palestinian officials in Ramallah have gone as far as claiming that the US, Israel and even Hamas are behind the unrest.

These accusations are similar to those that were made by Arab dictators in the past year, including Mubarak, Muammar Ghaddafi and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh. Arab dictatorships often try to discredit their opponents by accusing them of being Israeli and American spies and agents.

Yet in the absence of a credible and organized Palestinian opposition in the West Bank, it is most likely that Hamas will hijack any "Palestinian Spring." Unfortunately, the young men and women who are leading the anti-Palestinian Authority campaign in the West Bank do not represent the majority. That is why a Palestinian Spring could quickly turn into an Islamist Spring, paving the way for Hamas to seize control over the West Bank.

The only way this outcome might possibly be avoided is if International community immediately demands reforms from Abbas: the end to corruption, and the end to repression of free speech.

Khaled Abu Toameh


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Annexation Wins Hands Down over a Two-State Solution

by Matthew M. Hausman

Reprinted from

It has become an article of political faith in the West that the creation of an independent Palestinian state will resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the two-state paradigm is based on fictional assumptions – that an ancient Palestinian people occupied the land for thousands of years until its displacement by Israel, that the conflict is driven by this displacement, and that Israel usurped ancestral Arab soil.

These false premises are used to obscure the true nature of the conflict, which is not really a dispute between Israelis and Palestinians over real estate, but rather is a war of annihilation being waged by the entire Arab-Muslim world. The establishment of an independent Palestine will not facilitate peace because the goal of this war is Israel’s demise.

A more rational resolution, and one that makes historical, legal and demographic sense, would be for Israel to annex some or all of Judea, Samaria and other areas that were part of the ancient Jewish commonwealth, which was the only sovereign nation ever to exist between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

The western media relegates any discussion of annexation to the lunatic fringe, but there is nothing radical about the concept. Indeed, the San Remo Conference of 1920 and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine of 1922 originally contemplated Jewish settlement throughout the traditional homeland, well before the term “Palestinian” entered common usage after 1967 as a dissimulative weapon in the propaganda war against the Jewish state.

After Transjordan was created on the bulk of Mandate lands under British control, the goal for the remainder was unrestricted Jewish habitation west of the Jordan River. This objective was recognized long before the dialogue was hijacked by the myth of Palestine, a nation that never existed, and by the canard that Judea and Samaria were historically Arab lands. No amount of subterfuge can change the fact that Palestinian nationalism is an artificial construct or that Judea and Samaria were never lawfully part of any sovereign Arab nation.

Ironically, commentators who condemn any discussion of annexation as right-wing extremism conveniently ignore the singular role of Arab-Muslim rejectionism in perpetuating the state of war with Israel. The liberal media portrays the Palestinian Authority as moderate despite a charter that plainly calls for Israel’s destruction and regardless of its reconciliation with Hamas, whose own charter screams for jihad and genocide.

The Obama administration and European Union remain deaf, dumb and blind to Palestinian prevarications and incitement, even as they chastise Israel for not offering ever more unilateral concessions. Arab provocations are ignored or rewarded, while Israel is labeled obstructionist, despite the unrequited compromises she has made in the naive search for peace with those who seek her destruction.

Examples of this inequitable treatment abound. Israel facilitated Palestinian autonomy in much of Judea and Samaria, permitted the PA to arm itself, and fueled a local economy that provides the highest standard of living in the Arab world, and yet she is accused of discrimination and economic suppression.

She has afforded her Arab citizens the same political rights, economic opportunities and freedom of movement as Israeli Jews (indeed, many live in West Jerusalem and serve in the Knesset), but stands accused of apartheid.

She compromised her own security by unilaterally disengaging from Gaza, and yet remains the target of rancorous attacks from a delusional left-wing that persists in portraying Gaza as occupied.

She takes great pains to prevent or minimize civilian casualties when engaging in defensive military actions, only to be wrongfully accused of targeting noncombatants.

In contrast, the Palestinians are barely reprimanded as they reject Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and continue to engage in systematic incitement and terrorism against Jewish men, women and children. Moreover, Palestinian national claims are validated uncritically in the West – even though there was no Palestinian nation at the time of Israel’s independence and although there was no demand for Palestinian statehood when Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria from 1948 to 1967.

If the Palestinians were truly a displaced, indigenous people, they presumably would have demanded statehood when the Arab powers who today claim only to support their cause actually controlled the territories to which they now claim historical title.

If these inequities show anything at all, it is that those who push the two-state agenda have no regard for Israeli sovereignty or Jewish historical rights. Rather, they are preoccupied with creating yet another Arab-Muslim state and in promoting the false narrative underlying Palestinian national claims.

Absent any historical justification for a state of Palestine, such blind advocacy can only be explained by hatred for Israel and the growing tolerance of western progressive culture for political antisemitism and the devaluation of Jewish claims. Indeed, delegitimization of Israel has become de rigueur in liberal intellectual society, which provides safe harbor for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (“BDS”) and anti-Israel “lawfare” movements.

Given the disregard for Jewish sovereignty that lies at the heart of American and European efforts to impose a two-state solution, it is clear that Israel is at a crossroads: Either she can continue participating in a farcical “peace process” that is heavily weighted against her national interests, or she can proactively seize the day and craft a solution that makes sense historically, geographically and legally.

If the inclination of the Obama administration and EU to denigrate Israel, favor the Palestinians, and appease Arab-Muslim sensibilities is any indication, Israel must act on the latter impulse. That is, she needs to reclaim Judea and Samaria as ancestral Jewish lands and shake off all vestiges of the societal ambivalence that was engendered by the Israeli left when it cajoled the nation into the ill-fated Oslo process, which led only to increased terrorism and diplomatic isolation, two costly wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and the disenfranchisement of Israel’s political center.

The Annexation of Judea and Samaria Makes Historical Sense

Israel has valid historical claims to Judea and Samaria because they were part of the Second Jewish Commonwealth. Jews lived there from ancient times through successive conquests, the Ottoman occupation, and the British Mandatory period until 1948, when they were attacked and expelled by combined Arab-Muslim forces that invaded from east of the Jordan.

These lands were conquered by Transjordan (thereafter called Jordan) and dubbed the “West Bank,” in much the same way that ancient Judea was renamed “Palestine” by the Romans in order to obscure the Jews’ connection to their ancestral land by invoking the name of the ancient Philistines – a people who had long since been swallowed by the sands of time. Jordan’s conquest of these territories violated international law and was recognized only by Great Britain and Pakistan, and its subsequent occupation could never be legitimized under established legal principles.

Despite Jordanian attempts to erase all memory of the Jews’ presence from Judea and Samaria, the ancient provenance of these lands is evidenced by the treasure-trove of Jewish holy sites they contain, including, Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron, and Ramat Rachel near Bethlehem.

The pedigree of the land is also reflected by the numerous Arabic place names that are merely etymological renderings of the original Hebrew, which names evidence Jewish habitation dating from Biblical times. These towns include: Batir, which corresponds to Beitar, the seat of Bar Kochba’s rebellion against Rome from 132 to 135 CE; Beit-Hur, an Arabic corruption of the name Beit Horon, where the Maccabees defeated the Assyrian Greeks; Beitin, corresponding to the town of Beit El, where the Prophet Shmuel held court and the Ark of the Covenant was kept before the Temple was built; and Tequa, the site of ancient Tekoa, where the Prophet Amos was born and received his prophesy.

Clearly, the Judenrein status of Judea and Samaria after 1948 did not reflect historical reality, but rather the slanted surreality created when the combined Arab-Muslim armies attempted to annihilate Israel and exterminate her people following the ill-fated U.N. partition vote. Considering that only the Jews had a continuous presence dating back to antiquity, it was clearly the Arab population that usurped traditional Jewish lands, not the other way around.

The Arab-Muslim world, aided and abetted by the political left, rationalizes this usurpation of Jewish lands with propaganda grounded in taqiyya – religiously-mandated dissimulation – to promote the lie that there was no Jewish presence in these lands before 1967 and that all subsequent Jewish “settlements” are colonial enterprises.

Israel has Superior Legal Claims to Judea and Samaria

In addition to the Jews’ historical connection to Judea and Samaria, Israel’s claim to these lands is consistent with established legal precedent as recognized by the San Remo Convention of 1920. Regarding the lands liberated from Ottoman rule during the First World War, the San Remo Resolution resolved as follows:

The High Contracting Parties agree to entrust, by application of the provisions of Article 22, the administration of Palestine, within such boundaries as may be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, to a Mandatory, to be selected by the said Powers.

The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 8, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

(San Remo Convention Resolution, Paragraph (b).)

Underlying the San Remo Resolution’s affirmation of the Balfour Declaration was the recognition that the Jews are defined by descent as well as religion, are indigenous to the Land of Israel, and are possessed of the inalienable right to political and national ascendancy in their homeland.

The San Remo program was ratified by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922, the preamble of which included the following passages:

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country; and

Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country…

Consistent with this language, Article 2 of the Mandate clearly set forth the British obligation to effectuate these goals in accordance with the San Remo Resolution thus:

The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.

(League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, Article 2.)

Regarding the intended geographical scope of Jewish habitation and settlement, the Mandate specifically provided that:

The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.

(League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, Article 6.)

The Mandate did not call for a Jewish state with indefensible borders (as did President Obama when he attempted in his recent State Department Speech to pressure Israel to accept the 1949 armistice lines as permanent boundaries). Rather, by recognizing the Jewish right of “close settlement,” the Mandate contemplated a Jewish state that would incorporate some or all of Judea and Samaria – and for that matter Gaza. Indeed, the Mandate specifically recognized the Jews’ connection to their entire homeland, which historically included these territories.

Certainly, there was international consensus that the Jews were entitled by right to a national home in Israel. Jewish rights under the Palestine Mandate were not recognized in a vacuum, and Arab self-determination was addressed by the establishment of the French Mandate in Lebanon and Syria and the British Mandate in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Transjordan.

There was no separate mandate for the “Palestinians” because they had no independent national existence, as evidenced by the lack of any historical record of an ancient Palestinian presence in the land and by the absence of any cultural or societal institutions that are the hallmarks of nationhood.

Palestinian nationality is a knowing contrivance, as even Yasser Arafat acknowledged in his authorized biography, wherein he stated:
“The Palestinian people have no national identity. I, Yasser Arafat, man of destiny, will give them that identity through conflict with Israel.”
Or, in the words of the late Zahir Muhse’in, who said:

The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel. For our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of Palestinian people, since Arab national interest demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism.

In contrast, both San Remo and the Mandate for Palestine evidenced universal recognition of the Jews’ historical rights in their homeland.

This recognition of Jewish national rights was ratified by the United States on June 30, 1922, when both Houses of Congress issued a joint resolution unanimously endorsing the Mandate and the goal of reestablishing the Jewish national home. The Congressional resolution stated in relevant part:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. That the United States of America favors the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which should prejudice the civil and religious rights of Christian and all other non-Jewish communities in Palestine, and that the holy places and religious buildings and sites in Palestine shall be adequately protected.

(Joint Congressional Resolution No. 360, the Lodge-Fish Resolution.)

Despite the Jews’ willingness to accept an area comprising less than their traditional homeland, the Arab world refused to accept any expression of Jewish sovereignty and scorned all proposals providing for a modern Jewish state. The U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 was rejected by every Arab-Muslim nation simply because it provided for Jewish autonomy. There was no consideration of Palestinian claims because Palestinian nationality had not yet been invented. In fact, the Arabs altogether rejected the term “Palestine” to describe lands under mandatory control because, as stated by Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi to the Peel Commission in 1937:

“There is no such country [as Palestine]. ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented. There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria.” This was the prevailing Arab view at the time.

In light of the resounding Arab-Muslim rejection of the 1947 partition plan, it cannot be relied on as legal precedent to validate Palestinian claims to Judea and Samaria, or for that matter to Jerusalem or Gaza. Moreover, Israel’s right of ownership cannot be impugned simply because she came into modern possession of these lands during wartime. Under internationally recognized legal principles, the seizure of land from belligerent nations during wartime gives rise to legitimate and lawful ownership.

In weighing the lawfulness of land acquisitions during wartime, it is important to distinguish belligerent nations from their victims. The laws of war have long recognized that a country that seizes territory while defending itself from unprovoked aggression has legitimate claims of ownership to lands captured from the aggressor nation. There is no dispute that the Arab nations started the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 with the expressed goal of destroying Israel and committing genocide.

There is likewise no dispute that in attacking Israel these nations violated Article 2, Section 4 of the U.N. Charter, which provides: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” Consequently, Israel was acting within her legal rights when she captured Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, Golan, Sinai, and Gaza during the Six-Day War.

Just as relevant is the fact that Judea and Samaria were never part of a sovereign nation at any time after the Roman conquest, but rather constituted unincorporated territories that ultimately were occupied by Jordan in derogation of international law. Furthermore, substantial portions of both had been designated under the Mandate for inclusion in the Jewish state. Thus, when Israel took control of these lands in 1967, she was not only liberating them from the illegal occupation of a belligerent nation that had attacked her without provocation, but was in fact enforcing Jewish national rights recognized under the Mandate. Israel’s stewardship of Judea and Samaria is therefore legally defensible. Despite disingenuous attempts by the U.N. to render Israel’s actions unlawful by the passage of ridiculously unbalanced resolutions ex post facto, Israel has legitimate grounds under recognized legal principles to support the annexation of Judea and Samaria and the expansion of so-called settlements.

Security Council Resolution 242 does not Require Israel to Surrender Judea and Samaria

Although U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 is often invoked to demand that Israel withdraw and accept borders based on the 1949 armistice lines, it actually says nothing of the kind. Resolution 242 specifically recognizes that Israel was attacked by Jordan, Egypt and Syria in 1967, and Resolution 242 specifically recognizes that Israel was attacked by Jordan, Egypt and Syria in 1967, and calls on the parties to that conflict to negotiate a “just and lasting peace” based on “secure and recognized borders.” Implicit in this language is the recognition that Israel’s capture of Judea and Samaria, and also Golan, Gaza and Sinai, was legal under international law. If it were not, the resolution simply would have demanded that Israel return all lands captured from her attackers. That is, there would be nothing to negotiate and no imperative for deviating from the 1949 armistice demarcations known as the “Green Line.” It is significant that Resolution 242 does not characterize the Green Line as permanent.

Perhaps even more significantly, nowhere does Resolution 242 require Israel to withdraw from “all” of “the” territories captured from Jordan, Egypt and Syria. As was explained by the late Eugene Rostow, a former U.S. Undersecretary of State who participated in the drafting of Resolution 242, the exclusion of the adjective “all” and the definite article “the” was intentional and indicative of the essential meaning.

Resolution 242, which as undersecretary of state for political affairs between 1966 and 1969 I helped produce, calls on the parties to make peace and allows Israel to administer the territories it occupied in 1967 until ‘a just and lasting peace in the Middle East’ is achieved. When such a peace is made, Israel is required to withdraw its armed forces ‘from territories’ it occupied during the Six-Day War – not from ‘the’ territories nor from ‘all’ the territories, but from some of the territories, which included the Sinai Desert, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
. . .
Five-and-a-half months of vehement public diplomacy in 1967 made it perfectly clear what the missing definite article in Resolution 242 means. Ingeniously drafted resolutions calling for withdrawals from ‘all’ the territories were defeated in the Security Council and the General Assembly. Speaker after speaker made it explicit that Israel was not to be forced back to the ‘fragile’ and ‘vulnerable’ Armistice Demarcation Lines [‘Green Line’], but should retire once peace was made to what Resolution 242 called ‘secure and recognized’ boundaries …

(“The Future of Palestine,” Rostow, Eugene V., Institute for National Strategic Studies, November 1993.)

Furthermore, the black letter of Resolution 242 applies only to incorporated “states,” not to amorphous groups of people known as “Palestinians,” who did not constitute a state involved in the conflict and who, thus, were not mentioned in the resolution. Although Resolution 242 does mention the issue of refugees, the term as used therein refers to individual Jews and Arabs who lost their homes during the war in 1948, not to a displaced Palestinian nationality that never existed. The Palestinians as a group had no national interest in the land; and to the extent that Jordan conveyed to the Palestinians its interest in Judea and Samaria as part of the Oslo process, it must be remembered that Jordan never possessed lawful title in the first place.

Demographic Reality Favors Annexation

Nearly 60% of Judea and Samaria rests within “Area C,” which has a Jewish population exceeding 300,000 and is currently under Israeli control. (The Oslo Accords established three administrative divisions, known as Areas A, B and C.) In contrast, the Arab population there is calculated only in the tens of thousands.

There are also more than 200,000 Jews living in greater Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line. Consequently, despite Arab-Muslim and left-wing propaganda warning of an Arab demographic time bomb, Jews actually comprise the majority in the territories under Israeli control and are not likely to be dispossessed. There is no doubt that these territories were historically Jewish, and that the Arab-Muslim population accrued largely through immigration during the late Nineteenth Century and the British Mandatory period.

There is a two-thirds Jewish majority when Israel and the territories she controls are combined; and based on increasing Jewish and declining Arab population trends, the Jewish majority is likely only to increase in the future. Moreover, the Jewish population in Israel proper is growing as well. As noted by demographer Bennett Zimmerman in a Jerusalem Post interview back in 2007: “for the first time since 1967, Israel has a stable 2-1 Jewish majority . . . [and] a two-thirds Jewish majority in Jerusalem.” The demographic threat appears therefore to be nothing more than politically motivated propaganda, particularly as it relies on conjecture, surmise and doubtful census statistics that overstate the Palestinian population by as much as half.

In addition, analysis of the Arab population shows that it is not composed of a uniform cultural group with common roots in the land. The population in Gaza, for example, is largely Bedouin in origin with no long-standing, sedentary history in the land. In contrast, the population in Judea and Samaria was always more village- or town-centered and is descended from immigrants from other parts of Arab world and the former Ottoman Empire. Thus, the Palestinians do not comprise a singular cultural stock, but rather reflect the heterogeneous make-up of the wider Arab-Muslim world, which is home to disparate and often clashing, religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and minorities.

Indeed, the Arab world is a diverse hodgepodge containing various ethnic groups, such as Arabs, Copts, Kurds, Berbers, Turks, Maronites, Armenians, and Circassians, as well as assorted religious groups, including Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians and Zoroastrians. Though these groups are often at odds, they have been forced together into modern states that were arbitrarily created by the European mandatory powers. The boundaries of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, for example, were drawn to include ethnic and religious groups that have been enemies for generations and who continue to persecute and slaughter one another.

The European powers never understood the ethnic and religious complexities of Mideast society during the mandatory era, and today attempt to enforce a dysfunctional dynamic on Israel without regard for the ethnic, cultural and religious differences among those who now call themselves Palestinians.
Considering the irreconcilable intricacies of Mideast culture, and the suspect motivations of the progressive west in attempting to force the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel would be better served by annexing those territories that are integral to her security and continuity as a Jewish state. That is the only reality that will insure her survival.

Formal or Passive Annexation

Although the subject of annexation was made taboo by the political left in Israel and abroad, it has recently become an acceptable topic for discussion. This should not be surprising because Israel has already annexed some of the territory – i.e., Jerusalem and the Golan – that she liberated while defending herself in a war started by Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Jerusalem was formally annexed shortly after the 1967 War, while the Golan was informally incorporated through the extension of Israeli civil law there in 1981.

The concept of incorporating land by either method, or a combination of the two, has been the subject of growing interest – and not only from the settler movement. Those favoring formal annexation believe it would manifest the reality that Israel already controls those territories that are necessary for her survival. Others advocate the formal integration of Judea and Samaria and the extension of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley. Still others advocate de facto annexation by the extension of Israeli civil law throughout Judea and Samaria and the institution of economic incentive programs to integrate the Israeli and territorial economies.

Issues to be determined would include whether to provide Arab inhabitants of the territories with the opportunity for citizenship, grant them permanent resident status, or compensate them for moving elsewhere. However, given that the original intent of San Remo and the Mandate was to restore to the Jews their ancestral homeland, and that an Arab state in Jordan was created on three-quarters of the territory under the Mandate, Israel arguably has no legal or ethical obligation to extend any citizenship benefits, particularly to those who reject her right to exist as a Jewish state.

Regardless of the methods to be employed, Israel certainly has valid historical and legal claims to Judea and Samaria. How she chooses to express those claims are matters to be determined by her and her alone. The international community has shown that it has no intention of supporting Israel’s historical rights or legal interests, but seeks instead to force the creation of a Palestinian state at the expense of those very rights and interests.

Therefore, Israel can rely only on herself to craft a solution that makes legal, historical and moral sense, and which assures her security and continuity as a democratic, Jewish state.

Matthew M. Hausman


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Transparency Ends at the White House Door

by Jacob Laksin

On his first day in office, President Obama vowed to create “a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens.” But the president has not lived up to his transparency rhetoric – and now even the left is taking note.

Liberal magazine Mother Jones laments this week that the Obama administration spent a record-high $12 billion in 2011 to keep government information classified. Since the process of classifying documents is itself classified, it’s impossible to determine the individual merits of those decisions. But it’s instructive to consider the government’s sweeping classification mandate with Obama’s initial pledge that transparency would be one of the “touchstones” of his administration. As he said back in January 2009:

“The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, that it should not be disclosed. That era is now over.”

Except, plainly, it’s not. And it’s not just the “American people” who are being denied access to government-related information. The president’s cheerleaders in the establishment media have been similarly rebuffed. In June, that frustration led Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the New York Times – hardly a right-wing tribune — to blast the administration for its hostility to media coverage and its tightfisted control over information, especially on national security. Abramson revealed that Times reporters who had covered national security issues for several decades had confided in her that “the environment has never been tougher or information harder to dislodge. One Times reporter told me, ‘The environment in Washington has never been more hostile to reporting.’” So much for a new era of accountability.

Obama’s broken promises on transparency are also evident in the administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers, on whom journalists rely for scoops and inside information. That may seem unlikely, particularly in light of the recent spate of national security leaks from the administration. But those leaks, highlighting the administration’s national security successes — such as the drone program and the foiling of a terror plot through an audacious undercover operation — have largely served to bolster the administration’s public image. By contrast, the administration has come down hard on leakers it sees as damaging to its cause. In its first term, the administration has launched six prosecutions involving such whistleblowers – double the number under all previous administrations combined. Although most of these whistleblowers have leaked information to the media rather than to a foreign government, it speaks to the severity of the administration’s position on leaks that it has gone after them under the 1917 Espionage Act. The message is clear: Transparency ends at the White House door.

Even the administration’s signature legislative initiatives have fallen short of its promised openness. ObamaCare is a prime example. When the administration first announced its plans to pursue a health-care overhaul, Obama boldly announced that the process of crafting the legislation would be the most open in history. As proof, he promised to invite C-SPAN cameras to televise the negotiation proceedings. The promise was broken almost as soon as it was made. In the event, the legislation was drafted behind closed doors and the final version was packed with sops to special interests like labor unions and the pharmaceutical industry. Sped through Congress, the bill was not subject to a thorough accounting by the Congressional Budget Office, with the result that several of the administration’s selling points – from the claim that the legislation included no new taxes to the projection that it would actually lower the federal deficit – were soon revealed as falsehoods.

The administration’s record has not improved since. Most recently, the administration’s claims to transparency were found wanting when Obama asserted executive privilege over documents related to the “Fast and Furious” operation, the Justice Department’s botched gun-trafficking sting. Executive privilege is traditionally limited to the president, but Obama went out of his way to expand it to cover Attorney General Eric Holder. Yet that notable departure from his campaign promise didn’t keep White House chief of staff Jack Lew from insisting, against all evidence, that the administration was “the most transparent ever.”

Implausible as that is, there are some who still believe that. Last March, Obama even received an award from transparency advocates. The president accepted the accolade with little public disclosure, behind the Oval Office’s closed doors.

Jacob Laksin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Censorship at the U.N.

by Bruce Bawer

The United Nations never ceases to impress. As noted here recently, Thor Halvorssen of the Human Rights Foundation appeared before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 28. Halvorssen offered a few frank, bracing words about the state of human rights in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, and expressly argued that Chavez’s government, which is seeking a seat on the council, has no right to such a seat. For good measure, Halvorssen pointed out how disgraceful it is that another tyrannical Latin American government, that of Cuba, currently sits on the council.

The result, as also noted here, was an explosion of righteous indignation on the part of some of the council’s least worthy members – China, Russia, and, especially, Cuba, whose representative was so quick to rise to his feet in outrage that he knocked his chair over. The message sent out by him, and by his Chinese and Russian friends, in response to Halvorssen’s dose of truth-telling was clear: it’s one thing to engage in vague, pretty talk about human rights, but it’s another thing to point fingers and name names.

Two days later, interestingly enough, the very same message was communicated to a group of teenage girls from Norway at the U.N. Headquarters in New York – or, at least, so it would appear from the available evidence. Here’s the story. The Norwegian Girls’ Choir was in New York as part of a music festival produced by something called the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, which, according to an article that appeared in the New York Times on June 30,has promoted cultural exchanges between American and international arts groups since its founding in 1973. This year the group, which often focuses on youth initiatives, has produced the inaugural Rhythms of One World festival, a series of choral performances featuring adult and children’s choirs from Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, Norway and the United States.”

As the Times reported, “The choirs performed individually at various halls in the city this week, and joined forces for an event on Thursday evening at Avery Fisher Hall, which celebrated the signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945.” The Times described each act in some detail, and singled out the girls’ choir as a “highlight of the evening,” saying that they “sang with nuance and elegant dynamic contrast.” The Times article closed by noting that the festival would conclude that evening, Saturday, June 30, “with a performance at the United Nations General Assembly Hall.”

So it was that on Saturday afternoon, the girls’ choir was rehearsing lighting cues in the General Assembly hall. That’s when the trouble started. The girls were doing a piece by composer Maya Ratkje entitled “Ro-Uro,” which can be translated as “Peace-Unrest.” It’s an archetypal Norwegian statement about the beauty of peace and the evil of war. (You can see a video of a 2007 performance of it here.) The work, which lasts just under ten minutes, alternates throughout between harmony and discord; the girls are almost constantly on the move, one moment dancing happily arm-in-arm and making pretty music, the next moment dashing madly across the stage – and around the auditorium – as if in sheer terror, all the while shrieking out harsh dissonances.

It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d think was tailor-made for the U.N. But there’s one problem. Toward the end of the piece, the girls shout out the names of famous people who have abused their power, such as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Quisling, Castro, and Mugabe.

When those notorious names began to echo in the hall during the rehearsal of the lighting cues, “they reacted strongly,” the piece’s director, Anne Karin Sundal-Ask, told NRK, the Norwegian national broadcasting company. The “they” in question were apparently the event’s arrangers, who at once requested a list of all the names mentioned in the piece. The Norwegians were totally cooperative, making it clear that they were prepared to hand over a list and to remove any names that might cause discomfort. “But even before the list was handed over,” said Sundal-Ask, “we were informed that we would not be permitted to perform this piece.” She was puzzled and disappointed, because the festival is, after all, about peace, and “that’s why it was so important to perform this particular work.” They came up with a replacement piece, and the show went fine, “but it wasn’t as important as the piece we wanted to perform.”

According to NRK, the choir members were told that the U.N. simply couldn’t allow them to perform “Ro-Uro” under its auspices. Some people, they were informed, might consider it offensive.

To her credit, Ratkje, the composer, was angry. “This is a totally innocent work. It is about war and peace, but it is anything but scandalous. What’s scandalous here is that it’s being censored.” She added: “I don’t understand it. I think it’s a very strange decision.”

Of course, no one with the slightest understanding of how things work at the U.N. could possibly be puzzled by the decision to pull the plug on “Ro-Uro.” I am not privy to the full list of names included in the current version of the piece, and watching the 2007 video linked above I can’t make out all the names that the girls reeled off at that performance. (Maybe you can make them out better than I can: the girls start shouting them out exactly eight minutes into the video.) But the inclusion of the names Castro and Mugabe alone is enough to explain everything. Yes, both of these men fully deserve to be included in a litany of the great despots of modern history. But Mugabe is also the current head of state of a member country of the U.N., and Castro is the still-living former head of state of another member country, and for this reason it simply cannot be permitted for a group of Norwegian girls to insult them from the stage of the General Assembly.

Then there’s Stalin. Russia may no longer be Communist, but he continues to be officially honored in that country as the hero – indeed, the savior – of the Great Patriotic War. It would be a mark of disrespect to that sovereign nation for the U.N. to allow a girls’ choir take his sacred name in vain.

Personally, I’m delighted by this story. No country worships at the altar of the U.N. more ardently than Norway does. Most Norwegians are nominally Lutheran, but it’s no exaggeration to say that the closest thing the country has to a real religion may be the United Nations. Seen through many Norwegian eyes, the U.N. is the ultimate Teflon organization: no matter how many scandals may have damaged its reputation elsewhere in the world, in Norway it continues, thanks to a constant flow of almost exclusively positive media coverage, to be looked upon as the holiest of holies, the Ground Zero of goodness, the organization that can do no wrong. Rest assured that every last one of the girls in that choir has, since infancy, been fed an image of the U.N. as the very embodiment of peace, love, virtue, and the milk of human kindness; they’ve been brought up to regard anybody with any position at the U.N. with the same kind of unquestioning admiration and trust – even reverence – with which the most naïve of Irish grandmothers, in more credulous times, used to regard the parish priest.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Norwegian composer and director of “Ro-Uro” should find it incomprehensible that the U.N. put the kibosh on their performance. I can only pray that this cancellation, which (yippee!) has actually made headlines in Norway, will open at least some Norwegians’ eyes to the reality of the U.N. The foolish, puerile fantasy has gone on long enough.

Bruce Bawer


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

With Toxic Arafat Revelations, the PA is Looking to Embarrass Israel

by Elhanan Miller

The Palestinian political agenda is well-served by Al-Jazeera’s ‘was Arafat poisoned?’ investigation, but it won’t be enough to mobilize the street, experts say
The Al-Jazeera documentary claiming this week that Yasser Arafat was poisoned by a radioactive substance was helpfully timed for the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Gradually losing legitimacy on the street and with limited political prospects, the PA is already moving to use the allegations to embarrass Israel and isolate it internationally. But Palestinian and Israeli experts doubt that the revived controversy will have any long-lasting impact.

A writer in the PA mouthpiece Al-Ayyam led the way in blaming Israel on Thursday: “Only time, and a serious investigation of the crime, will reveal the complete circumstances of this crime, which can be added to the list of heinous crimes perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people,” Talal Okal wrote in an editorial, also blaming Western and Arab leaders for colluding in the crime.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem called on the Arab League Wednesday to create an international investigation commission into Arafat’s death, modeled after the UN commission tasked with investigating the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Palestinian news outlets echoed that demand.

“The Palestinian Authority’s founding father was assassinated,” asserted PA spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudeineh, adding that President Mahmoud Abbas had allowed his body to be exhumed for further testing.

Quickly losing legitimacy on the street and with no political prospects in sight, the Palestinian Authority will use Al-Jazeera’s revelations to embarrass Israel and isolate it internationally

But for most Palestinians, no testing is needed to prove Israel’s involvement in Arafat’s demise.

“Israeli officials clearly stated that Arafat was an obstacle to peace that must be rid of,” Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf told The Times of Israel Thursday. “How does one get rid of a person except by killing him?”

Assaf said his movement would wait until the investigation is complete before issuing an official statement, but added that the fact that Israel besieged Araft’s compound in Ramallah for three years, “directing tank cannons at his window,” left little room for doubt about its intentions.

“Who would we blame (anyone) other than Israel?” asked Sameeh Hamoudeh, a political scientist at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University. “It is clear that Arafat was killed. Medical science has no explanation for his cause of death.”

Hamoudeh told The Times of Israel that although Al-Jazeera did not time its report to serve the PA, Israel’s image will certainly be tarnished as a result.

In the climate of the Arab Spring, the Palestinian Authority has been under increasing pressure to deliver a political breakthrough. Previous attempts to achieve state status at the UN have gone nowhere, and that seems unlikely to change despite talk of another attempt to push for international endorsement of statehood at the General Assembly this fall.

A rare series of anti-PA demonstrations took place in Ramallah this week, condemning Abbas’ leadership for its security coordination with Israel and its helplessness on releasing prisoners held by Israel. The prisoner issue was, and remains, the top concern of many ordinary Palestinians.

Hamas is also vocal, organizing regular demonstrations in the West Bank against the PA’s political detention and harassment of its members.

“Who would we blame other than Israel?” asked Sameeh Hamoudeh, a political scientist at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University. “It is clear that Arafat was killed. Medical science has no explanation for his cause of death.”

The most obvious solution to this predicament would be venting the pent-up anger towards Israel.

“The PA has been trying to create a popular mobilization against Israel,” Hillel Frisch, an expert on Palestinian politics at the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, told The Times of Israel. “But Palestinians aren’t mobilized, they’re divided.”

Frisch said that Fatah’s youth organization (Shabiba) is a shadow of what it was in the 1980s. Fatah’s battalion commanders, men in their thirties, have mostly been arrested and imprisoned by Israel. With Abbas still committed to non-violent opposition to Israel, the Palestinian leadership has very few cards up its sleeve. But experts say “the Arafat file” is too old to stir a new intifada.

“This will not have any significant effect because the story is already eight years old and the United States will prevent any serious investigation into the matter,” said Hamoudeh of Bir Zeit University.

“This is the only weapon at their disposal,” said Frisch. “But they’re not going to get anywhere with it. The dead don’t mobilize the living.”

Elhanan Miller


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One of Assad's Inner Circle Defects to Rebels

by Rick Moran

A good friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad who is considered part of his inner circle has defected to the opposition and fled to Turkey, according to Reuters:

In what would be the most high-profile defection from the inner circle of the Syrian leadership, Manaf Tlas, a friend of President Bashar al-Assad and a brigadier in his Republican Guard, was reported on Wednesday to have fled to Turkey.

Tlas, whose father Mustapha was defense minister under Assad's father for 30 years, could not be reached for comment but several sources among the Syrian rebels told Reuters he had quit Damascus and a news website close to Assad's security services quoted a Syrian official saying Tlas was now in Turkey.

Tlas is a rare representative of the Sunni Muslim majority in a political elite and officer corps dominated by Assad's fellow Alawites, and his break with his friend may reflect an erosion of support for the president among wealthy Sunnis, slow to join an uprising driven by their poorer co-religionists.

The Syriasteps website which quoted a "high-level security source" confirming his flight also quoted a security official playing it down: "His desertion means nothing," he said. "If Syrian intelligence had wanted to arrest him it would have."

But a source in the exiled opposition to Assad, who said a relative of Tlas had confirmed his defection to him, said: "It's a very important defection. His brigade is very attached to their general, so we can say the true defection has started."

That source said Tlas had fled Damascus on Tuesday and was in Turkey en route for Paris, where Western and Middle Eastern sponsors of the rebel cause are meeting as the "Friends of Syria" on Friday. The French capital is also the home of Tlas's sister, widow of a billionaire Saudi arms dealer.

I've mentioned before that high ranking officials of the regime would start jumping ship because as the prospect of Assad's ouster grows, so does the prospect of war crimes trials. Tlas's defection might shake things loose and begin an exodus, which is what happened when Gaddafi began to look like a loser.

Rick Moran


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Obama Administration Stabs Israel in the Back

by Shoshana Bryen

And so a deal was done: give up Israel for Syria. As a veto-wielding member of the United Nations, the U.S. could have nixed the program, but instead only insisted that Syrian meeting be held in the morning and the Israel-bashing in the afternoon; Ms. Pillai will have time in between for lunch.

The Founders in their wisdom divided the powers of government; some to the Executive, some to the Legislative. The power of the purse went to Congress; diplomacy to the Executive.

How that shakes out matters to the U.S. and our democratic allies.

The democracy of Israel, for example, had a good week with Congress. The Senate adopted, by unanimous consent (and 69 sponsors), a bill increasing coordination in the fields of missile defense, homeland security, energy, intelligence and cyber-security. It also called for enhancing Israel's qualitative military edge (QME), a difficult-to-measure state of affairs, but a concept that friends of Israel appreciate. The House already passed its version of the same legislation.

The practicality of the bill is striking: do things, share things, develop things, produce things, and protect things. These are security enhancements that can only be done with an ally. Congress wants to do them with Israel.

President Obama, on the other hand, has been doing diplomacy, which by its nature skirts the concrete. Many administrations, including this one, believe speech is action. Diplomats fear they won't get credit for damage avoided, so they often choose to produce no outcome all – just another meeting set for later – and never end the "process." Playing for compromise – or even a respectable loss – can be satisfactory. Talking can replace doing. That may work for the United States, a big country with room to maneuver when it makes mistakes, but Israel lives much closer to the edge. Diplomatic trouble can quickly become economic, political or military trouble.

The UN Security Council has not managed to have a discussion about Syria since April, but the President has finally figured out how to have the Council "briefed" on the subject by Navi Pillai – a renowned Israel-basher. The French wanted to discuss Syria. The Russians were willing only if the US-French-British adventure in Libya was on the docket. Rotating member Pakistan wanted to hang Israel. And so a deal was done – give up Israel for Syria – protecting the French, skirting the Russians, and accommodating our friends the Pakistanis. As a veto-wielding member, the U.S. could have nixed the program, but instead insisted only that the Syrian meeting be held in the morning and the Israel-bashing in the afternoon; Ms. Pillai will have time in between for lunch.

Read the unparalleled Anne Bayevsky for the details.

France, by the way, was the only European country to agree that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem should be listed as a Palestinian UNESCO Heritage Site. The US is not a member of the World Heritage Committee. Our delegate campaigned against the vote, but lost. We are accustomed to losing in the UN, and it seems not to bother us much as it should for a country that covers nearly a quarter of the U.N.'s payroll with a blank check, no questions asked (or, more accurately, no answers given).

In the UN Human Rights Council, our representative Eileen Donahoe again remonstrated the Council for its "biased and disproportionate focus on Israel, as exemplified by this standing agenda item."

The "standing agenda item" is Item 7, "Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab territories." It mandates that every discussion in the Council have a component devoted to (castigating) Israel. Ms. Donahoe objects – but she knows (her boss, the President, knows) she will lose every time because she is sitting with the likes of Congo, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Qatar, Cuba, the PRC and Malaysia. Players rotate (terms on the Council are three years), but the number of countries with unspeakable human rights records far exceeds the number of democratic countries, and the number of countries that vote en bloc (Arab/Muslim/African) far exceeds the number voting independently. The Council will always contain a preponderance of authoritarian countries whose governments engage in human rights abuses and have nothing to lose by castigating Israel.

President Obama stated that the U.S. would engage the Syrian uprising in the context of UN-sponsored discussion and UN-sponsored plans. Over last weekend, the UN-sponsored Syria Action Group convened in Geneva. Neither the Syrian government nor the opposition attended. The final communiqué told both how to behave; both rejected the tutorial. The U.S. and Russia also have also publicly disagreed about the implications of the document.

We talk; they run out the clock.

Ditto Iran. The third P5+1 meeting with Iran was held last month in Moscow. The talks ended with the Iranians intractably proclaiming their "non-negotiable demands" and the West offering another round of "technical expert talks." As the talks failed, a new and heavier round of sanctions was slated to begin on 1 July. But as the date rolled around, the Obama administration gave waivers to 20 of Iran's biggest trading partners to allow them to continue to purchase Iranian oil.

More talk not followed by action – not even action required by U.S. legislation.

Granting that Congress gave the Executive Branch the waiver option, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen nonetheless criticized the administration for letting China off the hook. "The administration likes to pat itself on the back for supposedly being strong on Iran sanctions. But… (it) granted a free pass to Iran's biggest enabler, China." She pledged that "Congress will once again fill the leadership vacuum created by the administration, and work to strengthen sanctions against the regime in Tehran."

There are ways Congress can "fill the leadership vacuum" produced by the administration's determination to talk its way through the world's problems – even when large parts of the world prove immune to its charms. The most useful would be for Congress to continue to establish practical measures of cooperation with Israel, working with Israel as a partner in addressing the security threats faced by democratic countries large and small -- and, with the power of the purse the Constitution grants it, take the suggestion of Ambassador John Bolton: only "to pay for what we get, and get what we pay for" in funding the UN.

Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center. She was previously Senior Director for Security Policy at JINSA and author of JINSA Reports from 1995-2011.


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