US offers $0 for Gaza reconstruction

Twenty months after becoming Middle East envoy for the Quartet, Tony Blair visited Gaza for the first time on Sunday. His visit came a day before international donors gathered in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for a conference on the Gaza reconstruction effort.

Although the Obama administration is pledging $900 million (Dh3.3 billion) of aid, none of the money will go to rebuilding Gaza, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In an interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, Mr Blair was asked: “How can Gaza be reconstructed if Israel doesn’t allow things like steel, glass, concrete – all the other things you need to rebuild a place?”

Mr Blair responded: “Well it can’t be, so we’re going to have to make sure that we get the blockade lifted and the crossings opened so that the material can come in. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — So, in the name of preventing money getting into “the wrong hands”, the Obama administration is happily following in the footsteps of the Bush administration by pouring hundreds of millions into a failed enterprise: the Palestinian Authority. Perhaps they’ve mistaken it for a bank?

Mustafa Barghouti, who truly is the face of Palestinian moderation, says the PA is transforming into “a security subagent for Israel. It’s becoming a Bantustan government, a Vichy.”

“The PA is a house with nothing inside,” says Qaddura Fares, a veteran Fatah member and former MP.

“The PA is wasting away,” says Diane Bhuttu, a Palestinian political analyst and former legal adviser to the PLO. “It’s not going to collapse because that would entail active measures on behalf of the international community and Israel, and because there’s still so much money coming in from donor states.”

And while a conference with the stated aim of helping reconstruct Gaza is subverted by efforts to prop up the PA, the Israeli government, in the style of a banana republic, is shaking down aid convoys going into Gaza. Each truck of humanitarian aid is forced to pay a $1000 “handling fee” — unless of course it’s determined to be carrying “luxury goods” such as macaroni, in which case it isn’t allowed to enter.

Despair and rage among Gaza’s youths

“I used to keep away from military activity,” says student Ahmad al-Khateeb, 21. “I wanted to graduate and leave the country. I was sometimes afraid of death”.

But now, unable to sit his exams because his ID papers are buried under the rubble of his home, he says his views have “completely changed”.

Sports science student Mohammad al-Mukayed, 22, says he saw three children killed by an airstrike as they played in the street just meters away from him.

“They were just pieces of flesh. I wanted to help but I couldn’t. I do think of joining a group. I would rather be killed defending my land than die like these kids, doing nothing.” [continued…]

Challenging the Israel lobby: What to do about orchestrated email campaigns

Karl Sabbagh’s article in our Analysis section (doi:10.1136/bmj.a2066) examines emails sent to the BMJ’s acting editor, Kamran Abbasi, in response to a BMJ article criticising Israel. In the article published in 2004, Derek Summerfield asked whether the death of an Arab weighed the same as that of a US or Israeli citizen. Behind this question was his claim that the Israeli army had killed more unarmed Palestinian civilians since September 2000 than the number of people who died on 11 September 2001. In addition, he alleged that the pattern of injuries suggested that Israeli soldiers had been routinely authorised to shoot Palestinian children in situations of minimal or no threat—a charge that was later corroborated by Israeli soldiers. [continued…]

Perils of criticising Israel

In the 60 years since the establishment of the state of Israel, attempts to present in print an account of Palestinian history and Palestinian rights have usually been met by swift and highly organised protests. Protesters have written in their hundreds to journals and newspapers, often using arguments supplied by a central publicity machine and phrased in suspiciously similar terms. These campaigns, and similar campaigns launched against publications that print material critical of Israel, seem fundamentally different from the normal discourse between readers and the publications they read. The constant use of denial rather than argument; the demands for an apology or even the editor’s resignation; the enlisting of people who have never read, or even heard, of the publication in question; and the recourse to obscenity and accusations of antisemitism all go far beyond the average heated but civilised debate one expects to find in a scientific or medical journal.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with organising an effective lobby group, but lobbying for Israel seems to be in a different category from, say, lobbies against fluoridation and MMR vaccine. The ultimate goal of some of the groups that lobby for Israel or against Palestine is apparently the suppression of views they disagree with. [continued…]

Rattling the cage: provoking anti-Semitism

First we left the Gaza Strip in bloodied ruins. Then we raised up a politician who, with his appeal to racism, militarism, fear of alien “subversives” and the yearning for a strong leader, fits the classic, textbook definition of a fascist.

And now, what is the talking point for our hasbara (spin) campaign? The surge in global anti-Semitism.

It’s hard to avoid the impression that for the champions of Israel Right or Wrong, the surge in global anti-Semitism – which is real enough – came as a godsend. Finally, Israel and its lobbyists could get off the defensive about civilian casualties, white phosphorous and Avigdor Lieberman, and go on the offensive against synagogue firebombings, chanting mobs and boycotts.

I’m not saying Israel and its cheerleaders are happy that Jews are coming under increasing attack in Europe and elsewhere. Environmentalists aren’t happy about oil spills – but oil spills are a godsend for their cause. I’m saying that the chorus of condemnations of anti-Semitism from Israelis and pro-Israel nationalists has a dual purpose – to fight anti-Semitism, which is good, and to neutralize criticism of Operation Cast Lead and the spread of Israeli fascism, which is cynical and morally deadening. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — While many Jews must be deeply troubled by the degree to which Israel’s actions have the effect of fomenting anti-Semiticism, many a Zionist knows in his heart of hearts that the very thing that he fulminates against provides the lifeblood to his cause.

What far too few Americans realize is that before Israel came into existence there were Zionists who actually saw the objectives of Nazism as quite complimentary with their own goal of creating a Jewish state.

“The establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, and bound by a treaty with the German Reich, would be in the interest of a maintained and strengthened future German position of power in the Near East.”

So declared Avraham Stern in 1941 when he proposed a formal military pact between the National Military Organization (NMO) — in which Yitzhak Shamir, a future prime minister of Israel, was a prominent leader — and the Nazi Third Reich. The NMO later became known as the Lehi group and also the Stern Gang.

The proposal, which became known as the Ankara document, concluded:

“Proceeding from these considerations, the NMO in Palestine, under the condition that the above-mentioned national aspirations of the Israeli freedom movement are recognized on the side of the German Reich, offers to actively take part in the war on Germany’s side.”

Iran, the Jews and Germany

Totalitarian regimes require the complete subservience of the individual to the state and tolerate only one party to which all institutions are subordinated. Iran is an un-free society with a keen, intermittently brutal apparatus of repression, but it’s far from meeting these criteria. Significant margins of liberty, even democracy, exist. Anything but mad, the mullahs have proved malleable.

Most of Iran’s population is under 30; it’s an Internet-connected generation. Access to satellite television is widespread. The BBC’s new Farsi service is all the rage.

Abdullah Momeni, a student opponent of the regime, told me, “The Internet is very important to us; in fact, it is of infinite importance.” Iranians are not cut off, like Cubans or North Koreans.

The June presidential election pitting the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, against Mohammad Khatami (a former president who once spoke in a synagogue) will be a genuine contest as compared with the charades that pass for elections in many Arab states. No fire has burned the Majlis, or parliament, down.

If you’re thinking trains-on-time Fascist efficiency, think again. Tehran’s new telecommunications tower took 20 years to build. I was told its restaurant would open “soon.” So, it is said, will the Bushehr nuclear power plant, a project in the works for a mere 30 years. A Persian Chernobyl is more likely than some Middle Eastern nuclear Armageddon, if that’s any comfort. [continued…]

We’re really leaving Iraq

Obama’s plan to leave 35,000 to 50,000 support troops in Iraq between August 31, 2010 and December 31, 2011, has made the left of his party as nervous as a vegan in a butcher shop. Congressional leaders liked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have urged that the number be reduced to 15,000. One can only imagine that the Democratic Party leadership wants to campaign for congress in fall 2010 on having ended the Iraq War, and retaining 50,000 troops there would make that difficult. So has Obama been reduced to “Bush Lite” on the Tigris? In his first detailed policy speech on Iraq, did he renege on his commitment to get out — or did he skillfully calibrate his plan to avoid any of the booby traps Mesopotamia might still hold for an American president?

Obama cannot afford to make his calculations about Iraq solely with an eye to domestic American politics. He extended his original proposal of a 16-month withdrawal of active combat brigades to 18 months so as to leave more troops in place to help with the next Iraqi parliamentary elections, scheduled for December 2009. It is stil the case that Iraqi elections can still only go forward if the country is locked down and vehicular traffic forbidden, preventing car-bombings and coordinated guerrilla strikes. It might be possible for the Iraqi military to provide security for national elections in 2013 should the country’s future ruler or rulers deign to hold them, but the Iraqi military cannot hope to do so this year. [continued…]

Many in Afghanistan oppose Obama’s troop buildup plans

Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai says she has an innovative amendment to Washington’s planned injection of up to 30,000 new troops here.

“Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don’t send more troops – it will just bring more violence.”

Ms. Barakzai is among the growing number of Afghans – especially in the Pashtun south – who oppose a troop increase here, posing what could be the biggest challenge to the Obama administration’s stabilization strategy. [continued…]

The imperial unconscious

Sometimes, it’s the everyday things, the ones that fly below the radar, that matter.

Here, according to Bloomberg News, is part of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s recent testimony on the Afghan War before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

    “U.S. goals in Afghanistan must be ‘modest, realistic,’ and ‘above all, there must be an Afghan face on this war,’ Gates said. ‘The Afghan people must believe this is their war and we are there to help them. If they think we are there for our own purposes, then we will go the way of every other foreign army that has been in Afghanistan.'”

Now, in our world, a statement like this seems so obvious, so reasonable as to be beyond comment. And yet, stop a moment and think about this part of it: “there must be an Afghan face on this war.” U.S. military and civilian officials used an equivalent phrase in 2005-2006 when things were going really, really wrong in Iraq. It was then commonplace — and no less unremarked upon — for them to urgently suggest that an “Iraqi face” be put on events there. [continued…]

The economic cost of war

Strike up the John Philip Sousa and throw confetti from the windows. The troops will be coming home from Iraq, President Obama announced on Friday, and if the mood was not quite as giddy as it was during a few of those triumphant marches down Broadway, there was at least the hint of a similar hope that an end of the war could help set the stage for a new era of prosperity and opportunity.

President Obama’s soaring speech on Friday announcing the drawdown and eventual pullout of troops from Iraq, framed by martial music and the cheering of an audience of Marines when he gave the timetable, could not help but be seen partly in an economic frame of reference: The war has cost an estimated $860 billion; Mr. Obama, as a candidate last year, repeatedly criticized such spending overseas during a downturn; and he had just unveiled his 10-year budget plan the day before.

The Iraq war has been criticized on many fronts, including whether it has really made the world safer for the United States. But with the economy in crisis, some of the sharpest doubts being expressed about it concern whether the money it siphoned from the Treasury helped set the terms for that crisis. [continued…]

Obama’s backing raises hopes for climate pact

Until recently, the idea that the world’s most powerful nations might come together to tackle global warming seemed an environmentalist’s pipe dream.

The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, was widely viewed as badly flawed. Many countries that signed the accord lagged far behind their targets in curbing carbon dioxide emissions. The United States refused even to ratify it. And the treaty gave a pass to major emitters in the developing world like China and India.

But within weeks of taking office, President Obama has radically shifted the global equation, placing the United States at the forefront of the international climate effort and raising hopes that an effective international accord might be possible. Mr. Obama’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, said last week that the United States would be involved in the negotiation of a new treaty — to be signed in Copenhagen in December — “in a robust way.” [continued…]

It’s about to get nasty: time for Obama’s movement to get moving

Last week was a busy one for Barack Obama. On Monday he held a bipartisan fiscal summit where he pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. On Tuesday he addressed both houses of Congress for the first time, promising the nation: “We will recover, we will rebuild.” On Thursday he produced a budget that set out to redistribute wealth, heal the sick and save the planet. On Friday he stopped the war. On Saturday he threw down the gauntlet to special interests and lobbyists. And on the seventh day he rested.

In the course of a regular presidency, any one of these might be seen as a bold project. To tackle them all in one term seems ambitious to the point of foolhardiness. To announce them all in one week lies somewhere between the audacity of hope and the pugnacity of hubris.

But then this is no regular presidency – a function not just of the man but the times. “You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, told reporters after the election. And this crisis is serious. Comparisons with the 1930s are premature, but each release of data has the economy straining for historical comparison. [continued…]

Taking the job

For some thirty years, the American political conversation has been dominated by a strain of ideological conservatism that wields market fundamentalism as a sword and cultural populism as a shield. In this speech, the President began to take up the task of reintroducing the public to what once was called, and one day may again be called, liberalism. He would have been perfectly within his rights to focus blame for the nation’s condition on his predecessor and his predecessor’s party, but he made a different choice. (The closest he came was when he said, “A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future.”) Instead, he spoke of “we”—of a common responsibility for the past and the future alike. He was able to anticipate and soothe the reflexive emotions of his opponents while explaining, in undogmatic yet value-laden terms, why the times demand a decisive departure from an essentially amoral exaltation of individual success. “Dropping out of high school is no longer an option,” he said. “It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.” That admonition, which won applause from both sides of the aisle, was not directed solely, or even primarily, at the young and underprivileged. It was a metaphorical call to duty and a redefinition of patriotism. [continued…]

Guilty: Britain admits collusion, new torture claims emerge

Britain faces fresh accusations that it colluded in the rendering and alleged torture of a second UK resident now being held at Guantanamo Bay. The new claims bring further pressure on ministers to come clean about the scale of the Government’s complicity in the rendition and torture of dozens of terror suspects captured by the Americans after 9/11.

His case comes after that of Binyam Mohamed, 30, released from the US naval base in Cuba last week, and whose claims of UK involvement in his torture are being investigated by the Attorney General. Now allegations made by Shaker Aamer, the final British resident held at Guantanamo Bay, raise concerns that both MI5 and MI6 were widely involved in the US rendition and torture programme operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11.

Mr Aamer, 42, says he was rendered from the Pakistan border to Afghanistan where he claims he was tortured. He was passed by Pakistani groups to the Northern Alliance who sold him to the Americans. The CIA arranged for his detention in Afghanistan and final transfer to Guantanamo Bay. [continued…]

Ukraine teeters as citizens blame banks and government

Steel and chemical factories, once the muscle of Ukraine’s economy, are dismissing thousands of workers. Cities have had days without heat or water because they cannot pay their bills, and Kiev’s subway service is being threatened. Lines are sprouting at banks, the currency is wilting and even a government default seems possible.

Ukraine, once considered a worldwide symbol of an emerging, free-market democracy that had cast off authoritarianism, is teetering. And its predicament poses a real threat for other European economies and former Soviet republics.

The sudden, violent protests that have erupted elsewhere in Eastern Europe seem imminent here now, too. Across Kiev last week, people spoke of rising anger about the crisis and resentment toward a government that they said was more preoccupied with squabbling than with rallying the country.

The sign held by Vasily Kirilyuk, an unemployed plumber camped out with other antigovernment demonstrators here in the past week, summed up the pervasive frustration: “Get rid of them all,” it said. [continued…]

The east freezes when the west catches cold

There are two types of global economic crisis: the ones that start on the periphery and worm their way inwards and those that erupt at the core and spread outwards. The first is more common, the second more dangerous.

Throughout the 1990s and early years of this decade, there were plenty of scares in emerging markets. Mexico was the first country to see a run on its currency and provided the template for the Asian crisis of 1997, the Russian debt default of 1998 and the collapse of Argentina in late 2000.

As some of us said at the time, these emerging crises were warnings of trouble ahead. The global economy was akin to a middle-aged man getting pains in the chest. Despite being told by the doctor that he is eating, drinking and smoking too much, the man enjoys his life of excess and carries on regardless. In the end he suffers a massive heart attack. [continued…]

India maintains sense of optimism and growth

While most of the world grapples with a crippling financial crisis and a recession, optimism reigns in much of India as its economy continues to grow.

India’s trillion-dollar economy remains a relative bright spot, some say, in part because the country’s bureaucracy and its protectionist polices have kept it insulated from the fallout of the global downturn.

“India is not as vulnerable” as other countries, said Rajeev Malik, head of Indian and Southeast Asian economics at Macquarie Capital, who recently wrote a report titled “India: Better Off Than Most Others.”

On Friday, India reported that its economy grew 5.3 percent in the quarter ended in December when compared with the previous year. While that was down from the 7.6 percent growth in the earlier quarter, it was in sharp contrast to the retrenchment in other countries. [continued…]

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