Aid as a weapon

Ever since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, there has been a familiar pattern in the Occupied Territories: Israel destroys Palestinian civilian infrastructure, and the international community foots the bill.

This has been reproduced once more, on a grand scale, as billions of dollars were promised this week at the Egypt-hosted donor conference for devastated Gaza, far exceeding the Palestinian Authority’s initial target.

It remains to be seen how much of this aid will actually get through to the Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza, who continue to live in the rubble of thousands of homes, and hundreds of businesses, factories and schools. Two-thirds of the US contribution of $900 million, for example, is not even earmarked for Gaza.

There is also the question of how the aid will make a practical difference on the ground, given that Israel refuses to let in even tomato paste and paper – not to mention construction materials, generators (or “an entire water purification system”). Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth observed: “Israel’s blockade policy can be summed up in one word and it is punishment, not security.” [continued…]

Clinton: Israeli demolition of East Jerusalem homes violates road map

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday blasted Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as a violation of its international obligations and “unhelpful” to Middle East peace efforts.

“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’,” Clinton said, referring to the long-stalled peace plan.

“It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem,” she added at a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — If Clinton’s goal is to assure the Israelis of continuity between administrations, she’s doing a fine job.

“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’.” Yep. Hillary’s learned how to channel Condi to a T.

Middle East peacemaking has failed

A ddressing the international conference gathered in Egypt this week to discuss aid to Gaza, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear that her inclination is to continue precisely where the Bush administration left off — using assistance to shore up the Palestinian government based in Ramallah, ignoring the Palestinian government based in Gaza, and hoping that the Ramallah government can realize enough success to help lead the path back to a two-state solution.

But if the past two years have shown nothing else, it is that showering Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with help, hoping Hamas will disappear, and going through the motions of two-state diplomacy only opens the door to a darker future.

It is time to choose a different path.

Far from the limelight, a less ambitious diplomatic process, overshadowed by the 2007 Annapolis conference hoopla, was born in the Bush administration’s last year. Gritty, difficult, and serious negotiations took place between Israel and Hamas — talks that, eventually, were tolerated by the United States. They were indirect and barely acknowledged, and they specifically excluded mutual recognition and permanence. But they may provide a more realistic place for Obama to start. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — This article is an abbreviated version of a longer article published by the Carnegie Endowment that can be read here [PDF].

Foreign Policy magazine’s efforts to get new subscribers mean you first have to view their sign-up page. After this appears, hit the “back” button on your browser to read the article.

The economic crisis is a classic “shock” in a Mature, Late-Stage Globalization Epoch

The United States is now the great creator of failed states. The American energies that shape the world are no longer rooted in our idea but rather in our needy interventions. American demand for drugs is the dynamic tearing down Mesoamerican-to-Andean societies — and US military intervention is in its way accelerating their cultural creative destruction. Our direct interventions in Mesopotamia and Central Asia are likewise having the paradoxical effect of encouraging state decomposition and the emergence of new identities. Our application of force does not suppress the alternative and the resistant — instead it opens up new spaces to inhabit and new opportunities to grow.

This identity migration — in which new movements and communities challenge a defensive Western system — is not being arrested by the full exercise of American power. Rather the opposite attains: we are becoming midwife to the new.

This symbiotic relationship between system leader and emerging identity is at the heart of the dynamic that closed the West’s two earlier globalization epochs. [continued…]

Wall Street on the tundra

Just after October 6, 2008, when Iceland effectively went bust, I spoke to a man at the International Monetary Fund who had been flown in to Reykjavík to determine if money might responsibly be lent to such a spectacularly bankrupt nation. He’d never been to Iceland, knew nothing about the place, and said he needed a map to find it. He has spent his life dealing with famously distressed countries, usually in Africa, perpetually in one kind of financial trouble or another. Iceland was entirely new to his experience: a nation of extremely well-to-do (No. 1 in the United Nations’ 2008 Human Development Index), well-educated, historically rational human beings who had organized themselves to commit one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history. “You have to understand,” he told me, “Iceland is no longer a country. It is a hedge fund.” [continued…]

How Washington can prevent ‘zombie banks’

Beginning in 1990, Japan suffered a collapse in real estate and stock market prices that pushed major banks into insolvency. Rather than follow America’s tough recommendation – and close or recapitalise these banks – Japan took an easier approach. It kept banks marginally functional through explicit or implicit guarantees and piecemeal government bail-outs. The resulting “zombie banks” – neither alive nor dead – could not support economic growth.

A period of feeble economic performance called Japan’s “lost decade” resulted.

Unfortunately, the US may be repeating Japan’s mistake by viewing our current banking crisis as one of liquidity and not solvency. Most proposals advanced thus far assume that, once confidence in financial markets is restored, banks will recover. [continued…]

To nationalise or not – that is the question

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, and James Baker, Ronald Reagan’s second Treasury secretary, are in favour. Ben Bernanke, current Fed chairman, and an administration of liberal Democrats are against. What is dividing them? “Nationalisation” is the answer.

In 1978, Alfred Kahn, an adviser on inflation to President Jimmy Carter, used the word “depression”. So angry was the president that Mr Kahn started to call it “banana” instead. But the recession Mr Kahn foretold happened all the same. The same may well happen with nationalisation. Indeed, it already has: how else is one to describe the actions of the federal government in relation to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG and increasingly Citigroup? Is nationalisation not already the big financial banana? [continued…]

Obama’s chance to lead the green recovery

We face two crises: a deep global financial crisis, caused by inadequate management of risk in the financial sector; and an even deeper climate crisis, the effects of which may seem more distant but will be determined by the actions we take now.

The scale of risk from climate change is altogether of a different and greater magnitude, as are the consequences of mismanaging or ignoring it. The US, in particular, has a window of opportunity to act on the financial crisis and, at the same time, lay the foundations for a new wave of growth based on the technologies for a low-carbon economy. [continued…]

Failed siege

Pledging aid for Gaza is the easy bit. Getting it delivered to Gazans living in tents after Israel’s three-week bombardment is another matter. The $3bn that donors promised in Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday will have to penetrate a labyrinth of barriers and conditions, the complexity of which King Minos of Crete would have been proud. The money will be given to the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, even though the PA’s writ does not run in Gaza. The aid will pass through crossings currently closed by Israel. It will be distributed in such a manner as to avoid ending up in the hands of its governors. But how? This is like trying to spoon a thin gruel into a dying man, without letting it touch any part of his throat. [continued…]

A moral failure

For decades, successive Israeli governments have implemented discriminatory legislation and policies regarding the Arab citizens, excluding them from the centers of power in government institutions and in the general public sphere alike. Systemic discrimination in allocation of public resource has ranked the Arab community in the lowest socioeconomic echelons of Israeli society.

However, in the last few years a new consciousness has emerged from within the Arab population, based on the universal notion that no one will accept second-class citizenship. A near-consensus among our community calls for creating a new legal and political framework in Israel based upon true equality, partnership and mutuality on an individual and collective level.

Any new government in Israel will face a stark choice. Will it continue down a path of ethnic discrimination and ultra-nationalism, or will it move toward substantive equality and full democracy? For the latter to be achieved, not only must the Arab minority citizens believe in equality and democracy, but Israel’s Jewish citizens must do so as well.

In democracies, it’s the state that must be loyal to its minority citizens. [continued…]

Lahore murder mystery

Yesterday afternoon, Ali Raza went to the hospital. A 25-year-old constable in the Punjab police department, Ali Raza was accompanying an old man who needed an M.R.I. scan. In the reception area, he noticed that the waiting patients had abandoned their chairs and were standing around the television. They had been watching the same images all day: a dozen unidentified gunmen, two wearing backpacks, firing at a van near the Liberty Market roundabout. The intended victims, the TV stations had reported, were members of the Sri Lankan national cricket team, in town here to play Pakistan. The dead: eight Pakistanis, including six of Ali Raza’s fellow police officers.

“Everyone at the hospital was saying the same thing,” Ali Raza told me later that night, as we stood in line at a brightly lighted stall selling paan — a mild stimulant made with betel nuts — near the Main Market roundabout, just a short walk away from the site of the attack. “They were saying that this was done to show the Indians that we in Pakistan are also the victims of terrorism.”

“You think our own government did it?” I asked.

“No one else could get away with this kind of thing,” he insisted.

He described the attackers’ feat: they appeared out of nowhere at one of the city’s busiest intersections and fired for more than 20 minutes at the van carrying the players to Qaddafi Stadium, and then fled in rickshaws. [continued…]

A country staring disaster in the face

Just over a year ago, in February 2008, I travelled by car across the length and breadth of Pakistan to cover the country’s first serious election since General Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999. The rightwing press had been predicting violence and bloodshed, but at the time I travelled in safety throughout the country and was struck by the country’s fortitude in the face of adversity. The story I wrote at the time for the New York Review of Books was optimistic.

“Like most other people given the option, Pakistanis clearly want the ability to choose their own rulers, and to determine their own future,” I wrote. “The country I saw over the last few days on a long road trip was not a failed state, nor anything even approaching ‘the most dangerous country in the world … almost beyond repair’ as the Spectator (among many others) recently suggested … By and large, the countryside I passed through was calm and beautiful, and not obviously less prosperous-looking than its subcontinental neighbour. It was certainly a far cry from the terminal lawlessness and instability of post-occupation Iraq or Afghanistan.”

A year on, however, the situation could hardly be more different, or more grim. In just over a year, Asif Ali Zardari’s inept government has effectively lost control of much of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to the Taliban’s Pakistani counterparts, a loose confederation of nationalists, Islamists and angry Pashtun tribesmen under the nominal command of Baitullah Mehsud. Yesterday’s ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, which killed six policemen and injured seven players and officials, combined with the defeat of the Pakistani army in Swat and the subsequent capitulation to the Taliban there, and the recent kidnapping of John Solecki, head of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Quetta, during an attack that killed his driver, underscores the seriousness of the situation. [continued…]

Taliban rivals unite to fight US troop surge

Three rival Pakistani Taliban groups have agreed to form a united front against international forces in Afghanistan in a move likely to intensify the insurgency just as thousands of extra US soldiers begin pouring into the country as part of Barack Obama’s surge plan.

The Guardian has learned that three of the most powerful warlords in the region have settled their differences and come together under a grouping calling itself Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen, or Council of United Holy Warriors.

Nato officers fear that the new extremist partnership in Waziristan, Pakistan’s tribal area, will significantly increase the cross-border influx of fighters and suicide bombers – a move that could undermine the US president’s Afghanistan strategy before it is formulated. [continued…]

To talk with Iran, stop not talking

President Obama has been clear that the United States should talk to Iran. The Iranian regime has indicated on a number of occasions that it was ready to talk to Washington, though it has often accompanied its offers with disobliging statements or limiting conditions. The Obama team is reportedly debating whether it should wait until after the Iranian presidential election in June to launch such a dialogue, both to avoid boosting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s candidacy and in the hope that by waiting it might end up dealing with Mohammad Khatami, the more moderate former president who recently announced that he would seek office again. But a strong argument against such a delay is the Iranian nuclear program, which continues to move forward. If the dominant imperative is to stop Iran from getting the bomb, every month counts.

Perhaps the simplest — and certainly the quickest — way to launch a dialogue with Iran, and the one least likely to play unhelpfully into the upcoming Iranian election, would be to simply stop not talking to Tehran. For nearly 30 years, American diplomats have been limited as to when and where they could speak to their Iranian counterparts. The president could authorize Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lift this ban. It’s that simple: Whether the diplomat is Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice; special envoy Richard Holbrooke, on a visit to Kabul or Islamabad; former assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill when he gets to Baghdad to replace Ambassador Ryan Crocker; or other U.S. diplomats, all would henceforth be free to engage Iranians as they do representatives of other countries with which the United States has troubled relations. [continued…]

The Pentagon’s message on Iran: don’t panic

Americans on Sunday received what appeared to be mixed messages about Iran’s nuclear status from two top U.S. defense officials. Asked on CNN’s State of the Nation whether Tehran has enough fissile material to make a bomb, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen answered, “Yes, I believe they do.” Headlines around the world screamed that a top U.S. official was warning that Iran now had the nuclear material to assemble a weapon. But Mullen, through a spokesman, quickly corrected that impression by emphasizing that he was referring to low-enriched uranium — which, in its current state, can fuel a nuclear reactor but cannot create a weapon. Defense Secretary Robert Gates further clarified matters on NBC’s Meet the Press, saying that Iran was “not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time.” [continued…]

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