Peace will be achieved only by talking to Hamas

If every crisis is also an opportunity, it is now time to rethink the strategy for achieving peace in the Middle East. The latest and bloodiest conflict between Israel and Hamas has demonstrated that the policy of isolating Hamas cannot bring about stability. As former peace negotiators, we believe it is of vital importance to abandon the failed policy of isolation and to involve Hamas in the political process.

An Israeli–Palestinian peace settlement without Hamas will not be possible. As the Israeli general and statesman Moshe Dayan said: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” There can be no meaningful peace process that involves negotiating with the representative of one part of the Palestinians while simultaneously trying to destroy the other.

Whether we like it or not, Hamas will not go away. Since its victory in democratic elections in 2006, Hamas has sustained its support in Palestinian society despite attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts and military incursions. This approach is not working; a new strategy must be found. Yes, Hamas must recognise Israel as part of a permanent solution, but it is a diplomatic process and not ostracisation that will lead them there. The Quartet conditions imposed on Hamas set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations. The most important first step is for Hamas to halt all violence as a precondition for their inclusion in the process. Ending their isolation will in turn help in reconciling the Palestinian national movement, a vital condition for meaningful negotiations with Israel. [continued…]

Miliband on Middle East peace: ‘There needs to be a plan, not a process’

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Wednesday that talking to Hamas was “the right thing to do” but Egypt and other parties were best placed to do it.

“In an interview with Reuters in Cairo, where Hamas and the rival Fatah group prepared on Wednesday for a national dialogue on a new Palestinian government, Miliband said Egypt was acting on behalf of the whole world in its dealings with Hamas.”

He said: “Egypt has been nominated … to speak to Hamas on behalf of the Arab League but actually on behalf of the whole world. Others speak to Hamas. That’s the right thing to do and I think we should let the Egyptians take this forward.” [continued…]

Clinton to press Israel on Gaza as children suffer

Assistance to the Gaza Strip, where tens of thousands of displaced people are living in flimsy U.N. tents despite freezing winter temperatures and rain, will be “at the top of [the] agenda” when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visits the region next week, a U.S. official in Jerusalem said Wednesday.

A month after a cease-fire ended Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, many sleep on thin mats on the muddy ground and traumatized children burst into tears at any loud noise. Lots where they once played are littered with crushed concrete and other debris.

Mrs. Clinton, who flies to the Middle East Saturday, has privately expressed anger at Israel for steps that have interfered with the delivery of humanitarian aid to help the Gaza residents, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported Wednesday. [continued…]

Palestinians to seek $2.8 billion in aid to rebuild Gaza

The Palestinians hope to raise $2.8 billion at an international conference next month on repairing damage to the Gaza Strip from Israel’s offensive, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Wednesday.

Previous rough estimates put the cost of recovery for Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas Islamists, at some $2 billion, but Fayyad said tabulations for the higher figure would be presented at a March 2 meeting at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. [continued…]

U.S. Mideast envoy urges Turkey to fix strained relations with Israel

The new U.S. administration broke its silence over the Davos crisis urging Turkey to fix its strained relations with Israel, while Turkey reiterated its position that a solution to the Middle East issue is impossible without including Hamas.

The exchange of messages came during the talks that George Mitchell, the Middle East envoy of the U.S. President Barack Obama, held during his two-day visit to Ankara. Mitchell met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan on Thursday.

Mitchell said Turkey can have a significant influence on the U.S. efforts to reach a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. [continued…]

Depression in the east points the way for the rest of the world

Anybody who doubts that the global economy is facing its most serious downturn since the 1930s should take a squint at the latest trade figures from Japan. Exports in January were 46% lower in January than they were a year ago – a phenomenal drop for a country that is so heavily dependent on sales of its industrial products overseas.

Japan has got used to economic setbacks over the past two decades: it has been in and out of recession on a regular basis. But make no mistake, this drop in exports does not mean recession: it means depression.

In the circumstances, comments by analysts that the data was “not good” and “seriously bad” were somewhat otiose. The Office for National Statistics confirmed today that the UK economy shrank by 1.5% in the final three months of 2008 and is on course for an annual decline in GDP this year of between 2.5% and 3%. But in Japan, things are much, much worse. Maya Bhandar at Lombard Street Research, says that the economy is contracting at an annualised rate of 14-15% in the current quarter. Strong exports have tended to disguise the weakness of Japanese domestic consumption in recent years: now that prop has been kicked away, growth is plummeting.

Why is this happening? Quite simply, the great engine of globalisation has gone into reverse. [continued…]

Obama, at last, has got it right

President Obama has rediscovered his true voice and not a moment too soon. After spending the first month of his presidency telling the American people that their country was in a catastrophic and possibly irreversible economic crisis, Mr Obama suddenly reverted on Tuesday to the audacity of hope that got him into the White House.

Was this rhetorical U-turn a reaction to last week’s very public advice from Bill Clinton not to over-egg the misery, or did it reflect a carefully considered political strategy of showing the American people that the President shared their pain before leading them out of the wilderness? These are questions that can be left to historians in the future. What is certain is that this rhetorical transformation has come just in the nick of time. [continued…]

Goodbye Gucci. It’s the age of co-op capitalism

I have named the past era of capitalism Gucci capitalism. It was born in the mid 1980s – the love child of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, with Milton Friedman its fairy godfather and Bernard Madoff its poster boy.

It was an era in which the fundamental assumptions were that markets could self-regulate, governments should be laissez faire and human beings are nothing more than rational utility maximisers; a time when it was less shameful to be in debt than not to have the latest Nike sneakers or Gucci handbag.

No wonder regulators were too weak, bankers too powerful, checks and balances not in place. No wonder that it wasn’t if – but when – the whole pack of cards would come tumbling down. Gucci capitalism was as lacking in real values as its name suggests. Unsurprisingly it is now under attack from Left and Right. Even one of its most prominent cheerleaders, Alan Greenspan, claims to have been blinded by it.

But attacks of self-awareness can be short-lived. Five years hence, will capitalism look as it did six months ago? Or is a new economic model emerging? [continued…]

A planet at the brink

The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings, and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow.

As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants, and ethnic minorities. (The list could, in the future, prove long and unnerving.) If the present economic disaster turns into what President Obama has referred to as a “lost decade,” the result could be a global landscape filled with economically-fueled upheavals.

Indeed, if you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania), and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome, and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations — none as yet in the United States — your map would already look aflame with activity. And if you’re a gambling man or woman, it’s a safe bet that this map will soon be far better populated with red and orange pins. [continued…]

Worst drought in half century shrivels the wheat belt of China

Northern China is dry in the best of times. But a long rainless stretch has underscored the urgency of water problems in a region that grows three-fifths of China’s crops and houses more than two-fifths of its people — but gets only one-fifth as much rain as the rest of the country.

The current drought, considered the worst in Northern China in at least half a century, is crippling not only the country’s best wheat farmland, but also the wells that provide clean water to industry and to millions of people.

In the hamlet of Qiaobei in China’s wheat belt, a local farmer, Zheng Songxian, scrapes out a living growing winter wheat on a vest-pocket plot, a third of an acre carved out of a rocky hillside. He might have been expected to celebrate being offered the chance to till new land this winter. He did not. [continued…]

Political crisis erupts in Pakistan

Pakistan was plunged into fresh crisis yesterday, after Opposition Leader Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from parliament, threatening to eclipse the country’s struggle against Islamic extremism with political infighting.

The court ruling against Mr. Sharif, a former prime minister, means an all-out confrontation, analysts said, between his Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the government in Islamabad, which he blamed for the verdict. A clash between Mr. Sharif and the federal administration, led by President Asif Zardari, could paralyze government just as the West is asking Islamabad for more action against militants who menace it and its neighbours, Afghanistan and India.

An urgent review of policy toward Pakistan is under way in Washington, which would be greatly complicated by instability in Islamabad. [continued…]

Thousands rally in Pakistan against Zardari

Thousands of protesters rallied in Pakistan on Thursday, setting cars ablaze and torching images of President Asif Ali Zardari after a court barred the main opposition leader from office.

Mobs clashed with police and closed the main highway outside the capital, in the biggest protests against Zardari since he took office in the nuclear-armed Muslim nation, propelling the country deeper into political turmoil. [continued…]

Nawaz Sharif pleads people to save Pakistan

Addressing a huge public rally here on Thursday, he said: ‘Today’s public rally is a verdict against governor rule.’

‘President Asif Ali Zardari has deceived the nation and did not honour his commitments.’

‘I swear to God that I have not come here to talk about the Supreme Court verdict but I instead want to talk to you about Pakistan’s future. Pakistan is heading towards disaster, unless you take steps to save it,’ he said. [continued…]

Strikes worsen Qaeda threat, Pakistan says

American missile strikes have reduced Al Qaeda’s global reach but heightened the threat to Pakistan as the group disperses its cells here and fights to maintain its sanctuaries, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The officials acknowledge that the strikes and raids by the Pakistani military are proving effective, having killed as many as 80 Qaeda fighters in the past year. But they express growing alarm that the drone strikes in particular are having an increasingly destabilizing effect on their country.

They also voiced fears that the expected arrival of 17,000 American troops in Afghanistan this spring and summer would add to the stresses by pushing more Taliban fighters into Pakistan. [continued…]

Drone attacks inside Pakistan will continue, CIA chief says

CIA Director Leon Panetta said yesterday that U.S. aerial attacks against al-Qaeda and other extremist strongholds inside Pakistan would continue, despite concerns about a popular Pakistani backlash.

“Nothing has changed our efforts to go after terrorists, and nothing will change those efforts,” Panetta said in response to questions about CIA missile attacks, launched from unmanned Predator aircraft. Although he refused to discuss details of the attacks — and the CIA will not confirm publicly that it is behind the strikes — Panetta said that the efforts begun under President George W. Bush to destabilize al-Qaeda and destroy its leadership “have been successful.”

“I don’t think we can stop just at the effort to try to disrupt them. I think it has to be a continuing effort, because they aren’t going to stop,” Panetta said in his first news briefing since taking the job. The CIA has launched about three dozen Predator strikes in Pakistan since late last summer, two of them during the Obama administration. [continued…]

India names Pakistani colonel in connection with Mumbai terror attacks

Indian police have named a Pakistani colonel who they say was connected to November’s Mumbai terror attacks which left 164 people dead.

An 11,509-page charge sheet filed by the Mumbai police yesterday named the officer as Colonel Sadatullah, the highest-ranked Pakistani to be implicated in the three-day siege of two luxury hotels and other sites that strained tensions between the two neighbours.

Sadatullah is a colonel in the special communications organisation (SCO), a telecommunications agency of the Pakistani government run by officers from the army’s signal corps. The SCO operates only in the Pakistani side of the divided province of Kashmir and Pakistan’s restive northern region. [continued…]

Afghanistan surge is not worth the cost in blood and treasure

More than seven years after 9/11, the global war on terrorism—in Pentagon parlance, the Long War—is entering a new phase. Attention is now shifting back to Afghanistan, with President Obama seemingly intent on redeeming an ill-advised campaign pledge to increase the U.S. troop commitment to that theater of operations. Yet as the conflict continues, the correlation between American actions and America’s interests is becoming increasingly difficult to discern. The fundamental incoherence of U.S. strategy becomes ever more apparent. Worst of all, there is no end in sight.

Almost forgotten now, the theme of the Long War’s first phase was shock and awe. Starting with its invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the Bush administration set out to demonstrate America’s military supremacy. With a series of crushing defeats of its enemies, the United States would eliminate conditions that fostered and sustained jihadist activity, thereby “draining the swamp.” From military victories would come political reformation. [continued…]

Majority of Americans back president on Afghanistan

About two-thirds of Americans support President Obama’s decision to send approximately 17,000 additional U.S. military forces to Afghanistan, and, in stark contrast to the sour public reception of former president George W. Bush’s “surge” of troops in Iraq, support for Obama’s move crosses party lines, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Support for the proposed influx of troops to Afghanistan, however, comes as Americans are about evenly divided about whether the war there has proved to be worth its costs. They also split 50 to 41 percent on whether it is essential to win in Afghanistan to succeed in broader efforts against terrorism. [continued…]

Lawyer says Guantanamo abuse worse since Obama

Abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has worsened sharply since President Barack Obama took office as prison guards “get their kicks in” before the camp is closed, according to a lawyer who represents detainees.

Abuses began to pick up in December after Obama was elected, human rights lawyer Ahmed Ghappour told Reuters. He cited beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike.

The Pentagon said on Monday that it had received renewed reports of prisoner abuse during a recent review of conditions at Guantanamo, but had concluded that all prisoners were being kept in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. [continued…]

On Iran, an apostle of patience

If you ask White House officials whom President Obama listens to about Iran, they mention an interesting name — Lee Hamilton, the former congressman from Indiana who co-chaired the 2006 Iraq Study Group that urged engagement with the Iranian regime.

So I called Hamilton this week at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, where he serves as president, to ask for his thoughts about strategic dialogue with Tehran. He gave some interesting answers that match (not coincidentally, I suspect) what you hear from senior Obama administration officials. Though Hamilton wouldn’t discuss his two meetings with the president since the inauguration, his private advice probably tracks what he told me on the record. [continued…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email