Israel’s election and the Gaza conflict have revealed the scale of the challenge facing President Barack Obama in “jump-starting” Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Israeli voters tacked to the right, and the government that results from Tuesday’s poll will be, if anything, even less inclined to conclude a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinian leadership than the current government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been. (And, of course, the year of talks-about-talks between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas failed to yield any progress.) Meanwhile, the Gaza war has cemented the stature of Hamas as the dominant political force among Palestinians.
Needless to say, there is not much optimism in the region over the prospects for peace. But the urgency of resolving the conflict may have become greater than ever, because the security situation is likely to see a perilous decline in the coming months. Much of the membership of Abbas’ Fatah movement, seeing themselves steadily eclipsed by Hamas, is urging a break from their president’s strategy of negotiating with the Israelis, and a return to confronting the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.
Fatah leaders on the ground see the Israeli election as confirming what they already knew: that there’s nothing to be gained by continuing the charade of U.S.-sponsored talks-about-talks with the Israelis. They could not get what they needed from Olmert, and they know his successors will be even more hardline. From the Palestinian perspective, the past eight years of waiting for negotiations with Israel has left Abbas empty-handed, while the latest Gaza conflict has put Hamas in a stronger position than ever in Palestinian public opinion. Despite the violence by Hamas gunmen against Fatah activists in Gaza since the Israeli offensive, many in Fatah view their movement’s only hope of reestablishing its leading role in Palestinian politics as joining a unity government with Hamas — and beginning to directly challenge the Israeli occupation on the ground in the West Bank. [continued…]
Israeli forces are carrying out a policy of shooting at the legs of peaceful demonstrators who protest the Israeli separation wall each Friday in towns across the West Bank, demonstrators are reporting.
The accounts of the Palestinian demonstrators who have been wounded by Israeli fire in recent weeks are raising the legacy of the first Palestinian Intifada, when Israeli then-defense minister Yitzak Rabin ordered his soldiers to “break the bones” of young protesters.
A representative of the Popular Committee against the Wall in the village of Ni’lin, Ahed Al-Khawaja, said that Israeli snipers, shooting from nearby hilltops or from stands of trees, are causing debilitating injuries, especially among young men who come to demonstrate.
In the village of Jayyus, which also holds a weekly demonstration against the wall, protesters said Israeli soldiers put silencers on their guns. When five young men were shot at last Friday’s demonstration, none of the marchers present said they heard the sound of gunshots when they were shot. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — What Obama should be asking himself is this: does he want to grab the flexibility that comes from being in the role of an initiator, or is he willing to accept the constraints imposed on those who can do no more than react. The door for initiatives is closing rapidly. If he waits too long, George Mitchell’s mission is going to turn into a rerun of his task in 2000: an effort to come to grips with another intifada.
As for Mahmoud Abbas, his irrelevance is utterly transparent. One moment he is mounting a campaign for “diplomatic resistance“, while the next he is expressing the sanguine view that pragmatism will prevail, whatever the political complexion of the next Israeli government.
Columbia Journalism Review: Reading about the current conflict in Gaza, it’s been difficult to understand the role of Hamas as an organization. Can you give us some sense of its role in Palestinian society?
Paul McGeough: A hiatus in a crisis like this tends to get locked into broad scripts written by the various players. Now, if you take a helicopter view of the Middle East crisis, you see Hamas in a different light. People keep repeating that Hamas’s charter is opposed to the existence of Israel. Yes it is, but Hamas has not stood by its charter for the best part of the last ten years. Hamas has recognized the Oslo peace process, which it said it would oppose. It has taken part in democratic elections, which it has won. It has de facto recognized the two-state solution by seeking to be elected as the government of the Palestinian Authority. It has not struck outside historic Palestine; it never has. So to dismiss it as a terrorist group that has to be stamped out misses entirely the point of its position in Palestinian society.
Again, take the helicopter view of what’s happened in the Middle East since 1948, with the setting up of the state of Israel. In 1967, the Israelis could have negotiated with King Hussein of Jordan in the aftermath of the Six-Day War; they chose not to. Because they chose not to, Yasser Arafat and the Fatah movement and the PLO all got a huge head of steam [built] up. And because they weren’t negotiated with in a way that gave Palestinians an identifiable outcome, they fell by the way.
And now you have Hamas. Hamas came into being and thrived because there was no breakthrough. There was nothing in the land-for-peace basis—a foundation of the Oslo process—there was nothing in that for the Palestinians. They were negotiating on the basis of land for peace when their land was being consumed by Israeli settlements. So now Hamas is there, and if you take Hamas out of the equation, God knows what you get in its place. [continued…]
The global banking system is… on the brink of bankruptcy. So the worst-case scenario is the most likely scenario: a collapse of the banking system followed by world-wide inflation.
This growth of public debt, on top of private debt, can only lead to catastrophe: the bankruptcy of households, banks, even countries. What has happened to Iceland can happen to larger countries as well, if panic seizes creditors. Anything is now possible, including the collapse of the global banking system, whose losses would have grown beyond reach of rescue.
This panic could be set off by the realization of the insolvency of the system. It could also be set off by political or terrorist movements: A number of determined groups, with even limited means, could organize speculative attacks on banks, leading to their collapse.
Then we could arrive at a global depression. It could even be followed by hyperinflation, provoked by the immensity of the monetary means created since the start of the crisis; the depression would allow the debt to be reduced to nothing, to the benefit of the borrowers. The world would then be experiencing a depression ready for inflation, a global Weimar. [continued…]
About 50 million jobs could be lost worldwide in the next 11 months and more than 200 million people could drift into total poverty, warns the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Guy Ryder, the group’s general secretary, believes that these changes represent a “social time bomb,” and that the resulting instability could become “extremely hazardous to democracy” in some countries.
In the West, the crisis could cost heads of state their jobs, as was recently the case with the prime minister of Iceland. But what does it mean for the giant countries in the East? Could the regime in Beijing falter as the country faces its greatest challenge since the beginning of market reforms? Are the Russian people terminating their political moratorium with the government, because prices are rising while the ruble falls, or could the middle class even be about to rebel?
Cabinets in London, Moscow, Beijing and Paris have been overcome by a sense of helplessness. Self-confessed workaholic Gordon Brown is trying to cope with calamity by taking constant countermeasures, while Putin sends his police officers into the street and Beijing distributes gifts to the poorest of the poor. French President Sarkozy, on the other hand, remained silent for a full seven days after the first major, large-scale demonstration. [continued…]
Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.
In his news conference this week, President Obama went so far as to describe Iran’s “development of a nuclear weapon” before correcting himself to refer to its “pursuit” of weapons capability.
Obama’s nominee to serve as CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, left little doubt about his view last week when he testified on Capitol Hill. “From all the information I’ve seen,” Panetta said, “I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.” [continued…]
The American special envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, wound down his whistle-stop tour of Pakistan on Wednesday with a brief visit to the lawless tribal areas, and then dinner with liberal intellectuals at a rooftop restaurant here in Lahore.
He had come to listen, not to lecture, Mr. Holbrooke said. What he heard was a familiar list of requests for more money and arms from Pakistan’s top leadership, as well as a litany of complaints about American airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas using Predator drones.
Mr. Holbrooke’s trip to Pakistan, and his four-day tour of Afghanistan, which is scheduled to begin Thursday, was part of a top-to-bottom review of American policy in the region ordered by President Obama. [continued…]
Pakistan publicly acknowledged for the first time Thursday that last year’s attack on Mumbai was largely planned on its soil and that it had arrested most of the key plotters.
Detailing a strong Pakistani link to the three-day rampage in Mumbai, Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said his investigators had tracked down safe houses and hideouts used by the conspirators and traced the boats that carried the attackers from a seaside Pakistani town to Mumbai using engines boat in the Arabian sea port of Karachi.
“Some part of the conspiracy has taken place in Pakistan,” Mr. Malik told reporters. As for the plotters, “most of them are in our custody.” [continued…]
The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law.
On Monday, a Justice Department lawyer dispatched by the new attorney general, Eric Holder, appeared before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The case before them involves serious allegations of torture by five victims of President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. The five were seized and transported to American facilities abroad or to countries known for torturing prisoners.
Incredibly, the federal lawyer advanced the same expansive state-secrets argument that was pressed by Mr. Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred. [continued…]
Driving through Fallujah, once the most rebellious Sunni city in this country, I saw little evidence of any kind of reconstruction underway. At least 70% of that city’s structures were destroyed during massive U.S. military assaults in April, and again in November 2004, and more than four years later, in the “new Iraq,” the city continues to languish.
The shells of buildings pulverized by U.S. bombs, artillery, or mortar fire back then still line Fallujah’s main street, or rather, what’s left of it. As one of the few visible signs of reconstruction in the city, that street — largely destroyed during the November 2004 siege — is slowly being torn up in order to be repaved.
Unemployment is rampant here, the infrastructure remains largely in ruins, and tens of thousands of residents who fled in 2004 are still refugees. How could it be otherwise, given the amount of effort that went into its destruction and not, subsequently, into rebuilding it? It’s a place where a resident must still carry around a U.S.-issued personal biometric ID card, which must also be shown any time you enter or exit the city if you are local. Such a card can only be obtained after U.S. military personnel have scanned your retinas and taken your fingerprints. [continued…]