NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: May 20

Gaza cease-fire could take effect later this week

The cease-fire (tahdiyeh) being negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip is expected to go into effect in a number of days, following developments at the end of meetings held by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday with the Egyptian leadership.

The Egyptian Chief of Intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, who has been mediating between the parties, is scheduled to meet Tueday with the heads of the Palestinian factions in the Strip.

Israel is waiting to learn from Suleiman whether the Palestinian groups, headed by Hamas, will agree to an unofficial deal on a cessation of terrorist activities in the strip, in return for an end to IDF attacks. Israel does not intend to officially announce that it has accepted the tahdiyeh deal, but will let the situation unfold gradually – and evaluate the indirect accord with Hamas on the basis of results on the ground.

Tuesday’s meeting between Suleiman and a Hamas-led delegation from the Gaza Strip headed by the deputy head of the group’s politburo, Mussa Abu Marzouk, is critical to whether the cease-fire deal will be closed.

France admits contacts with Hamas

France confirmed Monday that it had been engaged in contacts with the leaders of Hamas, the radical Islamic group that is running Gaza, for several months to try to better understand its positions.

The Bush administration, which recently likened talks with Hamas and other groups to appeasement of the Nazis, criticized the French for the contacts, calling them unhelpful. There was no immediate comment from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who has said he will not talk to Hamas, which he accuses of carrying out a bloody coup in Gaza last June.

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said there had been no negotiations with Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and the European Union.

“These are not relations; they are contacts,” Mr. Kouchner said on Europe 1 radio. “We are not the only ones to have them. We must be able to talk if we want to play a role.”

Ramon: Negotiations with Hamas defy government policy

Israel officially admitted to holding talks with Hamas for the first time on Monday, with Vice Premier Haim Ramon saying that “the negations we are conducting with Hamas are in direct defiance of the government’s resolution, according to which Israel would agree to talk to the Islamist group only after it accepts the conditions set by the Quartet.”

The Quartet – US, Russia, EU and the UN – demands that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and ratify past agreements and the road Map.

Up until now the cabinet claimed that the talks on a possible ceasefire and on the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit have all been conducted with Egyptian mediation so as not to breach the ‘political siege’ imposed on Ismail Haniyeh’s government, since Hamas’ violent takeover of the Strip in July 2007.

If I were Sheldon

When Sheldon Adelson gave his speech on the podium of the International Convention Center two days ago, I looked at Shimon Peres.

I was happy for him. The impressive, sparkling conference that he convened will warm his heart on the cold evenings when he is stuck alone, he and his security guards, in the desolate cage on Jabotinsky Street in Jerusalem. Many important, highly-respected people. An excellent organization. Well done.

As a citizen of the country, I was less happy. I saw a gambling tycoon from Las Vegas who bought my country’s birthday with three million dollars. I thought with sorrow: Is the country worth so very little? Were the champagne and the wine and the sushi that were given out for free in the lobby, unlike what is conventional for such events, worth the humiliation?

Adelson is a Jew who loves Israel. Like some other Jews who live at a safe distance from here, his love is great, passionate, smothering. It is important to him that he influence the policies, decisions and compositions of Israeli governments. He is not alone in this, either: even back in the days of Baron Rothschild, wealthy Jews from the Diaspora felt that this country lay in their pocket, alongside their wallet. Regrettably, in the latest generation, we are being led by politicians who look at these millionaires with calf’s eyes.

Blacklisted by the Bush government

One day in March 2004, Soliman Hamd Al-Buthe, a former member of Saudi Arabia’s national basketball team and a government official in the city of Riyadh, picked up his phone for an urgent call with two American lawyers in Washington, D.C. Most of the call concerned a growing confrontation between the U.S. government and the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Ashland, Ore., the U.S. branch of a global Saudi Arabian charity organization under investigation for possible links to terrorism. Al-Buthe had been an advisor to Al-Haramain from 1995 to 2002 and was a member of the Oregon foundation’s board of directors. Just weeks prior to the call, the foundation — a respected fixture in the Ashland community run for years by an Iranian-American Muslim named Pete Seda — had been raided by U.S. law enforcement agents.

Because of their involvement with Al-Haramain, Al-Buthe and Seda were also entangled in a lawsuit filed against dozens of prominent Saudis by families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During the call, Al-Buthe and his attorneys talked about the funds needed for his legal defense. “We had a problem of transferring money,” he says, “so we were thinking of new ways” of getting funds to Washington.

The phone call proved fateful. Unknown to its three participants, the conversation, and at least one other between them in April 2004, was monitored by officials from the National Security Agency at the behest of senior Bush administration officials. The surveillance that day — apparently conducted without a warrant and later exposed when the government accidentally released a highly classified document to Al-Haramain’s attorneys — would become a key piece in the sprawling debate over extrajudicial spying inside the United States after 9/11. The surveillance would also have profound consequences for Al-Buthe — who is considered a terrorist supporter by the Bush administration — and others connected with the Al-Haramain Foundation in Oregon.

Keeping secrets: In presidential memo, a new designation for classifying information

Sometime in the next few years, if a memorandum signed by President Bush this month ever goes into effect, one government official talking to another about information on terrorists will have to begin by saying: “What I am about to tell you is controlled unclassified information enhanced with specified dissemination.”

That would mean, according to the memo, that the information requires safeguarding because “the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure would create risk of substantial harm.”

Bush’s memorandum, signed on the eve of his daughter Jenna’s wedding, introduced “Controlled Unclassified Information” as a new government category that will replace “Sensitive but Unclassified.”

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