The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both - Vaclav Havel
Palestine: Peace not Apartheid was not written in a historical vacuum. It should be viewed in the context of the decades-long complicated relationship between former President Jimmy Carter and the Jewish community. A constant in the relationship has been Carter's criticism of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. As historian Tom Segev pointed out on Dec. 15 in Ha'aretz, Carter has good reason for his continual harping on the settlements. The removal of Israeli political and military forces from the areas occupied in 1967 was a part of the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt which Carter negotiated when he was president. The Accords led to the 1979 peace treaty between the two nations, which is still in effect. Carter still feels, rightly or wrongly, that if the Camp David Accords had been fully implemented, the Middle East would look very different today.
Despite his extraordinary achievement of a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and his warm ties with some important Israeli leaders, Carter has often been viewed with suspicion by Israeli officials and by many Jewish leaders and spokespersons in the United States because of his criticism of the settlements, his sympathy for Palestinians, and his many high-level contacts in the Arab world. These contacts are viewed as negative, though assuredly were it not for Carter's close friendship with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, there would have been no peace treaty with Egypt. His ongoing interaction with Israeli and American peace activists of all stripes has not made him more popular at the top.
I believe that the roller-coaster of events connected with the 2003 Geneva Initiative affected Carter deeply. For well over a year he had been involved in monitoring secret, unofficial negotiations between a team of Israelis and a team of Palestinians. The document they produced burst upon a surprised world in October 2003. The Initiative proposed specific solutions to deeply contested issues such as borders, Jerusalem, and refugees. Though this model peace agreement was completely unofficial, it had the potential to be significant. At the Dec. 1 signing in Geneva , welcomed by a crowd of over 300 hopeful Jews and Palestinians and accompanied by a range of world leaders and dignitaries, Carter gave the keynote address.
Subsequently thousands of Israelis and American Jews actively promoted the Geneva Initiative as a step towards a full-scale two-state negotiated settlement. Yet the Israeli government and many American Jewish spokespersons pooh-poohed not only the document but also the whole Geneva process, and some specifically badmouthed Carter for his role. Columnist Charles Krauthammer called Carter one of a "chorus of delusionals." ADL Executive Director Abraham Foxman wrote that Carter's speech placed too much blame on Israel and was "troubling," "not helpful." He must have felt exasperated with the Israeli and American Jewish leaders who summarily and often angrily dismissed the Geneva efforts which he had helped nurture.
More blows rained down on Carter during the 2004 presidential campaign after John Kerry, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, said that if elected he might select Jimmy Carter, James Baker, or Bill Clinton as a special envoy to the Middle East. A firestorm of criticism from Jewish leaders to the effect that Carter and Baker were unacceptable to Jewish voters forced Kerry to backpedal.
Carter accepted an invitation from Simon and Schuster to write a book about the Middle East. While he was at work on the manuscript, the Carter Center monitored the 2005 and 2006 elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Carter, who was present as an observer, had an intimate look at the Palestinians' problems of daily living under Israeli occupation, while having no parallel or even recent experience of daily life in Israel. Palestine: Peace not Apartheid was completed against the background of the Israel-Lebanon war and its aftermath.
I wish that Carter had not used 'apartheid' in his title because the inflammatory word prevents many Jews who share his concerns about Palestinian human rights from openly identifying with his position, and because many rank-and-file Jews who might otherwise have been curious about his opinion won't open the book. But its deliberate use serves as a measure of his current willingness to shock and offend in order to convey the gravity of the problem.
A bit of dark humor that I remember from years ago is this definition of chutzpah: A man who kills his parents and then says "have pity, I'm an orphan." Sadly, this scenario fits what has happened with Carter: We Jews have taken a gentle man who cared deeply and equally about Israel and about the Palestinians and who sought a reasonable and just political solution, and have gradually driven him away, then complained he wasn't with us. Many Israeli and US Jewish leaders who pride themselves on looking out for Israel's welfare have rebuffed Carter not only by supporting the opposite of what he counseled but by comments ranging from dismissive to insulting.
Hence it is not surprising that his new book evinces a certain coldness toward Israel and a tendency to blame. Yet community leaders who are now up in arms about the book aren't taking any responsibility for that result. Might I suggest that a number of Jewish leaders here and in Israel contemplate engaging in Teshuvah (repentance) for how shabbily they have treated Carter.
Meanwhile, Carter in his post-presidential years has gone from strength to strength and has become a near-reverential figure to millions in the United States and around the world because of his involvement with Habitat for Humanity and because of the Carter Center's impressive international work in human rights, health and education.
Get a grip, folks. Israel has real enemies. Jimmy Carter is not an enemy. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are not enemies. Critics should not be automatically treated as adversaries. Now, twenty-seven years after Camp David , there are no good solutions to the West Bank situation, only some that are not as bad as others. Was Carter so wrong?
I find it poignant that in his recent open letter to the American Jewish community, Carter writes that the "high point" of his highly successful book tour was a meeting with representatives of the Board of Rabbis in Phoenix who had been planning to demonstrate against the book.
To those Phoenix rabbis who later expressed disappointment about their meeting with Carter I say: Consider feeling disappointed with those who helped create the absurd situation in which you, whose people were victims of the worst genocide in history, were ready to demonstrate against one of the world's most respected and revered advocates of human rights. Shouldn't Jews and Carter be on the same side?
To me Jimmy Carter's use of "high point" suggests that Carter still seeks a close relationship with israel and with the American Jewish community, a relationship of caring chastisement. This is the connection I believe he has long wished to have.
Think how different these last few difficult decades would have been for an increasingly isolated, embattled Israel if the nation had had Carter at its side as an active friend. Given his huge presence as a human rights advocate all over the world, he could have used his relationships with Arab leaders and Third World countries to create openings for Israel to interact in positive ways, while firmly nudging Israeli and Palestinian leaders on mutually beneficial strategies.
Carter is eighty-two. He could be pursuing non-controversial good works and basking in acclaim. Instead he has waded once more into the fray at his heart's center. Can Israel and the whole Jewish people ever accept him as the "tough love" friend he has wanted to be?
The writer is an educator who has taught English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Raleb Majadele has finally been approved as the first Israeli-Arab minister in Israel's history.
This is undoubtedly an important breakthrough, although it will be received cynically in some quarters. Those who do not believe that a Jewish state can guarantee equality for all its citizens will portray the appointment as a fig leaf that disguises Israel's innate racism. Those of a more optimistic bent, however, will use it as a time to take stock.
Israel now has Arab ministers, judges and footballers. This does not mean that the Arab minority is integrated into the state. On the contrary, Israeli-Arabs remain de facto second class citizens, torn between their desire to play a full part in Israeli life and their self-identification as part of the Palestinian people. Full essay
Sometimes it's hard to be Israeli. There are those who think the Arab world wants to kill us all, there are those who think that Europe unfairly singles us out for harsh criticism, there are those who think that, apart from America, we don't have a single friend out there at all. Then there're those - like me - who think we deserve all we get.
As I sat on the ruins of yet another demolished house in the tragic village of al-Nu'eman yesterday, I wondered why we think we merit any kind of sympathy at all.
You reap what you sow. And what we've sown in al-Nu'eman can only yield a harvest of more anger, more bitterness, more hate. And that's just from the residents - what the rest of the world will feel for the Zionist machine is another story altogether.
To put it succinctly, Al-Nu'eman has been done like the proverbial kipper. Twenty-two houses, home to a tight-knit community who have lived in the same hills for generations, it sits on land annexed by Israel during the 1967 war.
However, due to the villagers' clan chief living in a town located deeper in the West Bank, al-Nu'eman residents were registered under his address, and consequently denied Israeli status and IDs. This meant they could not enter Jerusalem - fine, until the plans for the security wall were finalised. Al-Nu'eman is to be fenced off, like countless other Palestinian hamlets and villages, but - and this is the Kafkaesque nightmare - they'll be on the Israeli side of the wall when it's completed.
West Bank residents who can't go to the West Bank. People living in Israel proper who can't go into Israel. Prisoners in their own homes? Spot on. And an utter disgrace.
I'm not going to bang a drum for peace, co-existence, make-love-not-war, and so on. I'll leave that to the Israeli girls with flowers in their hair, to the long-haired Israeli boys back from Goa with opium-infused fantasies. I don't reckon I'll see a lasting peace in the region during my lifetime - and, truth be told, that's not the reason I go on trips like these.
Just like I served in the army to try and understand the Israeli psyche better, so I go to Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, etc, to see the other side of the story. And, 90% of the time, I come away ashamed of my country in the same way that a child gets embarrassed by a racist or otherwise socially unacceptable parent.
I'm no mug - the fact that there are PFLP members among the town's residents doesn't exactly make me want to rent a villa there in the summer months; the fact that our host - Yusuf - wore a beaming smile and spoke perfect Ivrit doesn't convince me that he doesn't raise his kids to hate Jews, but then this is mere conjecture. Whereas the hard facts are these: Israel has stitched up this village - which is in many ways a microscopic example of the Occupied Territories as a whole - and, furthermore, the whole octopus of Israeli authority is complicit in the crime.
From the upper echelons of government who delay reviewing the residents' pleas for Israeli citizenship, to the municipality who serve demolition orders on the houses, to the boneheaded Magavniks who hassle the locals on an hourly basis. Magav, or border police, are the dregs of the army - the delinquent kids none of the other units want, those with criminal records and other behavioural issues. Often from poor immigrant families, they have a reputation for dishing out their own style of justice - up alleyways, out of the prying eyes of the media - and I know them only too well, from my 15 months in the IDF.
In late 2005, Magav thugs stopped two al-Nu'eman residents and tried to arrest them both. Only one cooperated and, to cut a long story short, the second was found later tied to his mule and beaten unconscious. The 43-year-old never came round - he died, and so too did the chance of his eight children ever forgetting and forgiving Israel for its deeds.
After meeting on Hebron road, we all climbed into our cars and set off for the village. We turned right, past the imposing, fortress-like settlement of Har Homa, and down into the lowland. Within seconds, the landscape became indistinguishable from the countryside in any of the Middle Eastern states. Dotted on the side of the golden, barren hills were stone houses, and down in the valleys were neatly planted rows of olive trees.
The roads we drove along were in such a state of disrepair that we were reduced to crawling pace. They are meant to be maintained by the Palestinian Authority but, as has been witnessed over the last decade of misrule, the swollen coffers of the PA are rarely put to good use for its people.
As we approached the edge of al-Nueman, up rocked a jeepful of Magav. Their first display of their might was to blare on their horn to attract the attention of two passing youths. They checked their IDs perfunctorily, nothing heavy, and to an outsider their behaviour was perfectly above board. I'm not saying any different but, having spent a month doing exactly the same in Beit Jalla, know that it is this low-level form of assertion of power that keeps the Palestinians constantly resentful of us - just as the black and Irish communities in London felt during the stop-and-search years.
We reached the house of Yusuf - a rotund, well-turned out resident and de facto head of the welcoming committee. He ushered us into a beautifully tended garden - lush grass, neat flowerbeds, and rather at odds with the villagers' assertion that their water was routinely cut off for weeks at a time by the army.
However, splitting hairs was not my aim here - just as listening to the sadly-familiar recounting of IDF abuses by Yusuf was also not my top priority. Anyone can meticulously detail the complaints of the Palestinians, the rebuttals by the Israelis, and go mad trying to see the wood for the trees.
Instead, I prefer to focus on my emotional reaction to the visit. Of the seven of us touring, two of the group were non-Jewish Europeans - one a human rights worker from Paris, the other a film-maker from Bosnia. Their presence sharpened my feeling of guilt and shame at what we were witnessing. Had we been a homogenous group, all Israeli and all Jewish, then perhaps I wouldn't have felt that our dirty laundry was being aired in public. And this is one of my main concerns with Israel's policy toward its Palestinian neighbours.
I don't claim to be a military expert, and I am sure that there are strategists who have an explanation for every little incident carried out by the army in the interests of national security (road blocks, ID checks, house demolitions), but this is not the point. To the outsider, the treatment of the West Bank residents is nothing short of brutal and oppressive, and it is no wonder that organisations such as the BBC treat Israel with such disdain when the likes of the Bosnian film-maker are exposed to situations like that of al-Nueman. We can decry Hamas's policies all we like, we can use suicide bombings as justification for the security wall, but - until our own house is put in order - we'll never win over world opinion. Or be able to hold our heads up high.
Al-Nu'eman is a tragedy, plain and simple. There can be no possible humane explanation for the complete cutting off of this unassuming cluster of houses from the outside world. It is nothing short of pure malice - and it's being done in my name. The government continues with the expansion of settlements, continues to fight terror with draconian measures, continues to rule the roost with an iron fist.
And almost no one cares enough about the plight of al-Nu'eman to do a thing about it. The futility and hopelessness of this particular village is overwhelming - the area has been earmarked for the extension of Har Homa, and the government are doing their level best to bully the residents into upping sticks and leaving.
Do the settlers know, or care, what their cheap housing means in terms of Palestinian distress and disruption? Does anyone in Magav realise the enormity of killing a father of eight and leaving him tied to his donkey yards from his family home? Does anyone in Israeli officialdom give a damn that we are displacing and dispossessing these people in exactly the same way as our enemies have been doing to us since Bible times?
I doubt it. And, much as the shame should be felt more by the main protagonists than the man on the street, we're all complicit in the crime by our ostrich-like refusal to acknowledge what's happening in our own backyard.
In the Book of Samuel, the prophet Nathan tells King David a parable, during his rebuking of the king for his underhand pursuit of Bathsheva. He speaks of two neighbours - one man very rich, with a flock of a thousand sheep, the other dirt poor, with just one lamb in his possession which he loves as though it were his own child. When a guest comes to visit the rich man, the wealthy farmer goes next door and steals the other man's only sheep, which he slaughters and serves to his friend for a meal. A totally unnecessary theft, a totally heartless and selfish act - and, I'm sorry to say, Israel is that rich farmer.
We appear to be pursuing a policy of making the Palestinians' lives a misery just because we can. Leaving aside that overbearing anti-terror measures are actually counterproductive (how many of the dead man's eight children will grow up to be peaceniks?), what has happened to the collective Israeli sense of right and wrong? Where did all the good guys go?
As we left the village, heading back for Jerusalem, Har Homa loomed above us, underneath thick evening clouds, atop its perch on the hill. For an instant, it appeared like a juggernaut thundering towards the West Bank - ready to crush anything in its way. Which is why I see al-Nu'eman as the rabbit, frozen in the headlights - unable to run, unable to avoid its inevitable crushing under the wheels of the 18-wheeled settlement lorry.
Only we, the voters and citizens of Israel, can put the handbrake on. And, until we do, we only have ourselves to blame when the world points its finger at us.
Thursday will mark a year since the democratic elections in Palestine that brought Hamas to power - a year since the shock and frustration were replaced by a policy of sanctions that has pushed the Palestinian Authority to the brink of civil war and warfare in the streets of Gaza. The accomplishments of this policy resemble those of the international sanctions policy imposed on Iraq: It has not deposed the Hamas government, Qassam rockets continued to land in Israel and it did not serve as an alternative for the need for IDF action. Even worse, the Palestinians' effort to extricate themselves from the sanctions has given new power brokers - Syria and Iran - a basis of support in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not only Ismail Haniyeh, the outcast, heeds the directives of Khaled Meshal, Iran and Syria, but Mahmoud Abbas, the friend, is also compelled to accept Damascus' "recommendation" to meet with Meshal.
The Israeli assumption that it would be enough to apply heavy economic pressure and arrest members of the Palestinian parliament and government ministers to overturn the election results, turned out, as expected, to be mistaken. Like in Iraq, which existed for 13 years under a regime of sanctions, or Libya, which endured 11 years of sanctions, the citizenry suffers and barely survives, yet does not take to the streets to protest against the failures of the government that represents it. Standing steadfast against sanctions imposed by an occupier is still considered national heroism. Donations, waiving salaries and a great deal of voluntary activity somehow manage to keep the health and education systems in operation. They are continuing to teach at the universities and even artistic work has not come to a halt.
But unlike other sanction regimes, Israel is setting conditions but not promising anything in return. Thus, even if Haniyeh starts wearing a skullcap and Khaled Meshal begins humming Hatikva, and even if Abbas makes it mandatory to teach the heroic story of Masada in Palestinian schools, Israel does not want and is unable to propose a diplomatic alternative that would lead to the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state. It does not want to - because any such proposal would mean a withdrawal from most of the territories and the dismantling of most of the settlements. It is unable to - because there is no government of Israel. After all, even when it appeared that there was a government in Israel, not a single measly illegal outpost was removed; this is a non-government that has transformed the disengagement from Gaza from a national trauma to a housing trauma; and in Hebron, or in Mount Hebron to be more precise, the sovereign provides free protection to a bunch of hooligans.
Israel is trying at least to forge these empty sanctions, devoid of promise, into a symbol of national determination and pride. As if Israel, not Hamas, was the one who needed to mount a steadfast stand. The sanctions changed from a means to a status.
It suddenly seems that it is impossible to get rid of Hamas. Not only Abbas understands that early elections are liable to further erode his power and the power of his supporters. Arab states, which are pained by the Hamas election victory no less than Israel is, now fear new elections and are pushing for the establishment of a unity government. If such a government is formed, its platform will perhaps be a bit more moderate than the one presented during the elections, but it will still be more hard-line than the one Abbas proposes. Ultimately, Israel will find itself pitted against a government that includes Hamas, with a roundabout recognition of Israel. And what will Israel do then? Will it dance for joy over the fact that it managed to "bend" Hamas and then procrastinate for a year and a half until a new American administration takes office?
Israel is not only "celebrating" a year of sanctions now. It is also marking 40 years of occupation this year. The government of Israel, or at least the part of it that is not spending its time in investigators' offices, cannot allow another year of sanctions to pass and thus establish the foundations for the fifth decade of the occupation. Because if this government is, in any case, unable to offer a diplomatic alternative, perhaps it would be best to at least allow the Palestinians to breathe a little, to work a bit, and thus help to prepare a slightly less devastated Palestinian public for peace negotiations with a future Israeli government.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contacts In Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Davos & New York Below
Video Footage, Transcripts, and Interviews Available
Ordinary Palestinians and Israelis Ask World Leaders at World Economic Forum in Davos, 'What Are You Willing to Do to End the Conflict?'
OneVoice Movement mobilizes citizens from across Israel, West Bank and Gaza to say 'Enough!'
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, And Vice Premier Shimon Peres Respond to 1,389 Activists from OneVoice Movement with Commitment: 'We will Work For A Two-State Solution'
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 25 -- In what Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, termed as the first time ever that ordinary citizens have been able to address their heads of state directly at the Forum, young leaders of the grassroots movement OneVoice were given center stage during a plenary session packed with over 2,000 dignitaries and global business leaders. At the podium, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice-Premier Shimon Peres each responded to both their citizens and their counterparts with candor.
Professor Schwab introduced the session by explaining, "I have the privilege to share this key session, if not the most important, at this year's meeting." He added, "We thought we should give voice to the ordinary people and you should listen."
A video-cast message from Nisreen Shaheen, the Executive Director of OneVoice Palestine -- surrounded by a large crowd of hundreds of Palestinians in Al Qasaba, the largest hall in Ramallah -- appeared on an oversized screen at the front of the forum. Her presentation followed a powerful video showing tens of thousands of OneVoice Israeli and Palestinian activists mobilizing against extremism. She said, "Enough promises, enough excuses, enough suffering ... Help us not to lose hope, help us strengthen this movement, help us strengthen our leaders, that they may sit down at the table and stand up with a fair and lasting peace agreement."
"I've never seen one Palestinian speak with such assertiveness, let alone a group of thousands standing up so clearly for their independence but also for peace," said Bertie Lubner, a Jewish businessman who was in the audience. "It definitely gave me hope that there may be a hidden majority we can talk to on the other side."
Video-cast from Tel Aviv Adi Balderman, the OneVoice Israel Leadership Program Director, stated: "Each and every one of us [needs] to take action and personal responsibility in ensuring a better future. If the millions of moderate Israelis and Palestinians each take a small step, we will unleash the power of the people and reclaim our lives." Addressing elected representatives, she said: "The time has come to listen to the voice of the moderate majority, and to prevent violent extremists from hijacking our lives, the lives of millions of Israelis and Palestinians ... We will not accept any more excuses or delays."
Karim Kawar, Ambassador to the US of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, said, "I was struck by the determination of these young women, flanked by hundreds of like minded young people you don't normally see on TV. Maybe the young leaders we've been waiting for to start standing up and doing something to end this whole mess are finally coming out."
From East Jerusalem, Saed Mashaal and Eran Schafferman, OneVoice Palestinian and Israeli Youth Leaders, respectively surrounded by scores of supportive Israeli and Palestinian activists, spoke in unison to condemn violent extremism & intervention from foreign militants. Saed Mashaal said "Our city, Jerusalem, open for all religions, must help us exemplify a shared destiny for Palestinians and Israelis, a destiny of partnership for a better future. Let One Voice be heard form Jerusalem, a voice of moderate people from all over the world. Eran Schafferman said: "The fate of Israelis and Palestinians is shared and so is our conviction not to let extremist infiltrate and damage our cause for peace and prosperity."
Tzipi Livni, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, said, "After watching together these wonderful youth, after listening to President Abbas, I have a feeling of sadness for lost opportunities, but also a great feeling of hope." She added, "But it is our responsibility as leaders to give them the hope. We must make a promise and fulfill ... the vision of two states living side by side in peace." Minister Livni acknowledged deep skepticism among many that this vision can come about, but explained "We cannot fail" and emphasized the necessity of a realignment of "Moderates committed to a solution vs. extremists opposed to this vision as a matter of ideology. Because we share the same vision, moderates must fight for the same goals ... disempower extremists and empower the moderates."
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority said, "As I heard these messages, hope rose in my heart that peace is possible, and overdue." President Abbas explained he always believed in the primacy of people-to- people relations and expressed hope that "These gatherings are what will lead to peace." He stated emphatically: "I am fully convinced that in spite of all the difficulties, peace is possible." President Abbas concluded, "The time has come to garner all the forces of goodwill ... I am fully prepared to do so ... Nothing is more important than peace, so that this strategic part of the world will become an oasis of peace and stability."
Reflecting on the images of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian activists joining as OneVoice for a two-state solution, Shimon Peres, Vice Premier of Israel, said "I like to come to Davos because to me hope is like snow. It comes down from the mountain." And he emphasized that "This [Israeli] government is a two-state solution government [in terms of its policy]."
"The shift in the psychological mindset of the leaders today is of tectonic significance," said Sean Cleary, CEO of Strategic Concepts and a long-time negotiator and mediator.
In spite of very serious tensions, over the last few months, thousands of Israelis, and Palestinians from all across the West Bank and Gaza met under the auspices of the OneVoice Movement to debate and agree on statements representing mainstream nationalists from each side, people that are tired of lack of progress towards ending the conflict. The Founder of the OneVoice Movement, Daniel Lubetzky, attending the Davos session, explained: "We've been building this human infrastructure for five years, and, in spite of the horrible atmosphere, or perhaps because of it, we are gaining more members and more momentum. People are ready to stand up and say, 'Enough!'"
The World Economic Forum is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Its Davos Summit is the seminal annual meeting where foremost business leaders, heads of state, and civil society leaders gather to discuss how to improve the state of the world.
OneVoice is a mainstream nationalist grassroots movement with a quarter million Israeli and Palestinian members and 2,000 highly trained youth leaders. It aims to amplify the voice of the overwhelming but heretofore silent majority of moderates who wish for peace and prosperity, empowering them to demand accountability from elected representatives and work toward a two state solution. OneVoice counts on its Board over 60 foremost dignitaries and business leaders across a spectrum of politics and beliefs, joining as OneVoice against violent extremism and for a two-state solution.
It's been a tough couple of weeks for the BBC. First, it had to come to terms with having its wings clipped by the below-inflation financial settlement imposed by Gordon Brown. Then it faced a broadside from the editor of the Daily Mail, accusing it of seeking to destroy all that's good about British culture and society. According to Mr Dacre, the corporation is a massive, many-headed hydra threatening all that decent Britons hold dear. It's enough to make you tremble with fear as you reach for the remote control.
The Mail, of course, has a particular gift for instilling fear. Never an issue goes by without warning its readers that modern Britain is a nasty, dangerous place that should be ventured into only with great caution. Stray too far and you are likely to be attacked and brutalised by any one, if not all, of the following: violent criminals, illegal immigrants, paedophiles, mad mullahs, foreigners and officials of the European Union. Far better to stay inside with the Daily Mail and turn your face from the window.
It's no longer even safe to stick on BBC1 or maybe listen to a bit of Radio 2. If you do, you'll be inviting the apologists for all that is wicked out there right into your home. And what's more, the Corporation has the effrontery to charge you a licence fee to fund its insidious conspiracy of 'cultural Marxism'.
Paul Dacre offered some hope to those who shares his views. He concludes that the BBC is so bloated and self-satisfied that it's in for a fall. American-style right-wing radio and TV channels will spring up to counter the corporation's bias and steal its audience in huge numbers.
I believe Mr Dacre is fundamentally wrong. Wrong in his analysis of the BBC. Wrong in thinking that the Daily Mail comes closer to representing the views of the majority of British people. And wrong in predicting a rupture between the Corporation and its audience.
There is another way of looking at the BBC. Far from undermining traditional British values, it upholds them with a tenacity that impedes any radical challenge to the status quo. Let's take just a couple of obvious examples. The royal family is treated with fawning coverage that sickens those of us who believe it's wrong for any position of power and influence to be a gift of birth. The content and tone of royal reporting is almost uniformly unchallenging and reverential. And when it comes to reverential, the special treatment meted out to the good reverends of the Church of England, and, to a lesser extent, to representatives of other religions, is monstrous.
No organisation that gives free air-time to a minority sect like Anglicanism can truly be considered part of a Marxist conspiracy. Watch Songs of Praise and you would think that the people of Britain were filling our churches with undiminished enthusiasm every Sunday. "Thought for the Day" is an extraordinary anomaly in the otherwise rigorous Today programme. No economist, politician or businessperson is given a free slot to expound their take on the world completely unchallenged. And quite right, too. What's so special about people of faith?
More generally, BBC journalism has moved downmarket, closer to the "tabloid" style so beloved by the Daily Mail. Indeed, stories from the Mail itself stand a disproportionately higher chance of being followed up by the BBC than those from any other paper. So much so, that a recent emailer to the Six O'clock News asked if it was the BBC's job to be the Daily Mail of the airwaves.
Where the Corporation differs from the Mail, however, is in its openness to debate. The Daily Mail has its view of the world and that's that. You can take it or leave it, and many of us chose to leave it. The BBC does, indeed, paint a different picture of Britain. More culturally and politically diverse, more open and more broadminded. It can be guilty of an establishment bias but its airwaves are open to the public as never before to express more or less whatever opinions they like within the law. Sometimes those opinions reflect those of Mr Dacre. More often, they do not.
That, I believe, is why Paul Dacre is really so angry with the BBC. It's starting to dawn on him that, having been a master of political and cultural propaganda for so long, he's beginning to lose his touch. Or rather, Britain is moving on and leaving him behind.
How does he know? Because even the Conservative Party has abandoned his agenda, or says it has. David Cameron routinely denounces Daily Mail values because he knows that the broad centre of public opinion in this country, to which he has to appeal, doesn't agree with them. Mr Dacre thinks that because people buy his paper, they agree with its politics. Mr Cameron is calculating that many of them don't, and he's surely right.
And so if the Fox News-style rightwing news channels were to try to break into the BBC's market, they would fail because the BBC upholds something that the Daily Mail never has and never will: fairness. And that's something I and, I suspect, the vast majority of licence fee-payers are more than happy to pay for.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday that "A Palestinian state is not an illusion. It's there, it's achievable."
Addressing a large crowd of political leaders, business leaders and others, Livni said that Israel's negotiations with Palestinians must stick to the vision of two states, side by side, as the only way to achieve peace in the region.
Livni urged the international community to support moderates in the Middle East and told Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that compromising with extremists will not promote anything, a clear reference to Hamas and other militant groups.
Abbas, who addressed the conference before Livni, said that peace between Israel and the Palestinian Territories was a concept whose time had come.
Abbas, speaking in Arabic, said that such an agreement would help strengthen the hands of moderates in the region and fight extremism of all kinds.
You agree with me that the Middle East is now in dire need of peace, he said, a reference to internal strife in Iraq, disagreement in Lebanon and elsewhere.
"The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the most serious conflicts that require a solution. I am fully convinced that despite all the difficulties, an atmosphere conducive to the resumption of the peace process exists," he said. "One that could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state."
"We have the road map. A road map that includes the Arab initiative as well as President Bush's vision regarding the two-state solution," Abbas said. "What is required now, in all honesty, is for us to trace the beginning and the end of this peace process."
The map is there, he said, adding that he told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that they had started moving in the right direction.
Abbas also spoke of poverty levels in Gaza having soared to record lows because of Israeli restrictions and the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure.
"Unemployment and poverty have reached unprecedented levels, with 79 percent of people in the Gaza Strip living below the poverty line, of which 51 percent live in utter poverty," he said.
On top of the Western sanctions, Palestinians say Israeli settlements, military checkpoints and a barrier cutting into the West Bank have also hit their economy because they seal off towns from workplaces, schools and farm fields. Israel says the barrier and checkpoints are needed to prevent militant attacks.
Abbas planned to meet with Livni during the conference to discuss ways to revitalize peace talks, an Abbas aide said Thursday. The planned meeting was confirmed by Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, but he did not specify when the meeting would take place.
On Thursday, Abbas met behind closed doors with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss efforts aimed at reviving the long-stalled peacemaking efforts.
Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met last month to discuss confidence-building measures that would allow the sides to get back to the negotiating table, abandoned more than six years ago.
The two are going to try to push that process forward further next month in a three-way summit with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The date and venue for that session have not yet been set.
At Davos, Iran's Khatami calls for calm heads in nuclear row Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Thursday called for calm heads to reduce building tensions between the United States and his country over its nuclear program.
"I hope that they would be good enough in managing the situation. We deeply need patience and understanding and not to get too emotional," Khatami said at the Davos meeting.
Iran says it needs nuclear power to generate electricity but the West is concerned it is secretly seeking an atom bomb.
Khatami declined to comment on Iran's decision earlier this week to ban a group of 38 Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from working in Iran.
Khatami, a cleric who was president from 1997 to 2005, also threw his support behind the U.S. Iraq Study Group proposal for the Bush administration to involve Iran in regional talks about the future of Iraq.
"Rather than confrontation, it would be better to cooperate and have dialogue with Iran and Syria," Khatami told reporters after attending a panel discussion on the outlook for Iraq.
When the hopelessly prodigal son mounts the podium to deliver his sixth State of the Union address, seated behind him will be the parents he never had: the good mother, caring yet demanding responsibility, and the bad father, granting license for misadventure. As he evades and rebuffs the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, President Bush clings to the vice-president, Dick Cheney, as his permissive authority figure.
On Monday, the day before his speech, Bush descended to "the weakest point of his presidency, facing deep public dissatisfaction over his Iraq war policies and eroding confidence in his leadership", the Washington Post reported, referring to the ABC News/Washington Post poll that disclosed Bush as the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon on the eve of his resignation.
In the face of such dire political prospects, Bush has decided that public opinion is no longer a factor that concerns him. Every other president coping with the hazards of war, from Lincoln to Nixon, strained to manage public support. At a similar stage in the Nixon presidency, Nixon was drunk, speaking to the portraits on the White House walls, and forcing Henry Kissinger to pray with him on his knees. With the public hardening and broadening its opposition to his policy, Bush has simply cut himself off from its opinion. He has abandoned caring what the country thinks, except in his imagined end of the story, where he is the victor. For now, he will escalate as he pleases, blessed by Cheney.
"Have you read about Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam? Do you draw any lessons from that?" a reporter from USA Today asked the president in an interview published on Monday. In response Bush telescoped the entire tragic history of the Vietnam war and Johnson's agonies into slogans, slurring Johnson's patriotism in order to create a contrast with his own. "Yes, win," he replied. "Win, when you're in a battle for the security ... if it has to do with the security of your country, you win."
Johnson, indeed, worried that if he failed to commit militarily in Vietnam or that if that commitment faltered, he and the Democratic party would be smeared as soft on communism. He operated in the shadow of fear of the recrudescence of McCarthyism. Bush's casual distortion of history and defaming of Johnson's motives only prove Johnson's political perspicacity about the incorrigible mentality of the right wing, if not his actions.
In another interview a week earlier, on January 14, on CBS's 60 Minutes, Bush repelled any suggestion of responsibility for error in his Iraq policy. He located the lack of public support in the United States in the insufficient thanks offered by the Iraqis. "Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?" asked correspondent Scott Pelley. "That we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?" replied the president. "Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion." "Not at all," said Bush. "I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq." Two days later, Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of the UN assistance mission for Iraq, declared that 34,452 Iraqi civilians had been killed and 36,685 wounded in 2006.
As Bush's popularity continued to plummet, Cheney appeared on January 14 on Fox News to wave away the polls. Drawing on his experience in three previous trouble-plagued Republican administrations - Nixon's, Gerald Ford's and elder Bush's - he stated categorically, "I've seen embattled administrations, and this isn't one of them." Hence, by virtue of the power vested in him as wise man in residence, there is no reason to pay further attention to an ungrateful public or the Congress it has just elected. More - if you can stomach it...
In the 1980s, with the peace agreement with Egypt and the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, Kach movement activist Michael Ben-Horin founded what he and his friends called "the State of Judea."
Their intention was symbolic: to indicate a possible alternative to Israeli rule in the West Bank, if and when Israel withdraws from the territories.
Ben-Horin took for himself the title of president of the State of Judea. Later he was one of the editors of the book Baruch Hagever, which eulogized Baruch Goldstein, the Tomb of the Patriarchs murderer, and was one of the heroes of the pulsa denura - the death curse - hounding of Yitzhak Rabin.
The hard core of settlers in Judea and Samaria, veterans of Gush Emunim, do not absolutely identify with Ben-Horin and his colleagues. They have also never declared the possibility of establishing a separate state in the West Bank along the lines of the State of Judea. However, in many respects, with the encouragement of the governments of Israel and under their auspices, a state entity with a character of its own has indeed been established in the West Bank.
At one time, there was a lot of talk about how rule over the Palestinian people is corrupting Israel. It was said it's impossible to maintain a democracy in an Israel that's ruling over a foreign people, and that the manifestations of violence and corruption in Israeli society will increase because of the denial of rights to the Palestinians.
It is difficult to measure these phenomena and to discover their source, but it can be stated rather clearly that this hasn't happened. Democracy in Israel is quite stable; the rule of law is intact, and there are ongoing efforts to combat violence and corruption. In other words, the society within the State of Israel is running itself more or less properly, with no connection to what is being done in the territories. That is to say, a separation has developed: The State of Israel is one thing and the West Bank, or the State of Judea, is something else.
Examples abound. In just the newspapers of this just last week there was a long series of articles about the settlers of Hebron and Tel Rumeida, the death of the little girl in Anata from Border Police fire, the 124 furloughs from prison granted to Ami Popper, who was sentenced to life for killing Palestinians, and the investigative report in Haaretz on the routine of orders, prohibitions and roadblocks that have effectively emptied the roads of the West Bank of Arab cars. In the Palestinian newspapers, every day there are dozens of reports of this sort, which show that the way of life in the State of Judea bears no resemblance to what is happening inside Israel.
Three bodies control the state beyond the Green Line: the Shin Bet security service and the Israeli military establishment; a limping Palestinian Authority; and the Jewish settlers' councils.
In the settlers' community, life is exemplary. There is a high level of solidarity and mutual aid. This is perhaps the only place in the land where drivers pick up hitchhikers. The settlers pay great attention to the details of life in their settlements, especially with regard to religious matters. They ask their rabbis whether there is a risk of slander in one act, or of theft in another, at least when it has to do with their colleagues. But if these things have to do with Arabs, it is a different story. Then they are insensitive and cruel. Every day, as they drive on the roads, the settlers see the distress of their neighbors from the villages suffering at the roadblocks and trailing along the tracks in the hills to scrape out a living, or to get to a field, to school or to a clinic. Their claim is that it is all the fault of terror. And when they are told that it is wrong to punish an entire population, they say anyone who feels pity for the cruel will end up being cruel to those who deserve pity.
A woman from Machsom Watch has told me that a few months ago she saw a setters' demonstration near the southern entrance to the Jewish town of Efrata in the Etzion Bloc. In the morning hours, the Jews of the area have difficult problems with transportation to Jerusalem. The Tunnels Road from the Etzion Bloc north is one big traffic jam. Heading the demonstrators was a local rabbi, who complained of "the damage to the sanctity of the freedom of movement." The settlers' freedom of movement, of course; they must suffer because on a part of this road a few Palestinian cars also travel and an IDF roadblock has to inspect them and delay traffic. In the State of Judea, it is permissible to hurt only Arabs. Do not disturb the Jews.
In Paul's profile he claims he "is married to Irish-born Dr. Alexandra Colen, a former lecturer in linguistics at the universities of Ghent and Antwerp, and an MP for the Flemish-secessionist party Vlaams Blok since 1995", but that's merely nostalgia on Paul's behalf: because Vlaams Blok was found in contempt of the 1981 Belgian law on racism and xenophobia, the party was disbanded and reformed under the slightly more respectable banner of Vlaams Belang.
In Belgium, Beliën is an obscure ultra-rightwing fringe nut and laughing stock of most on both the right and left of the political spectrum. Beliën naturally subscribes to the conspiracy theory regarding the 'Islamisation of Europe', as well as the 'Belgianisation of Europe'. Paul has also called in the past for a US-style right to carry arms in Europe, so that the righteous can defend themselves against the 'Muzzies'. He also advocates privatised health care, is opposed to gay civil unions and has his kids home-educated, presumably to protect them from 'contamination'. Paul, in short, is batty, very very batty.
And here's Paul on a meeting of minds [several snips]:
Yesterday I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting a very special person. If you did not know the tiny, unpretentious and vivacious grey-haired lady whom I had the privilege of sitting next to you would never guess that she is one of the most formidable personalities of our time. When I drove to The Hague I did not know I was going to meet her, but I knew her name – or rather the pseudonym which she generally uses: Bat Ye’or. It is Hebrew for “daughter of the Nile.” She was born in Cairo but her family was expelled from Egypt and stripped of their Egyptian nationality in 1957 because they were Jewish.
Bat Ye'or, "one of the most formidable personalities of our time"?Compared to you Paul, anyone is formidable, of course.
Bat Ye-or was in The Hague attending an international gathering of Western Jihad experts. The group included Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, Ibn Warraq, David G. Littman, the Dutch and Flemish Arabists Hans Jansen (University of Utrecht) and Urbain Vermeulen (universities of Leuven and Ghent), and others.
Count on Pipes, the über-Islamophobe, not to miss this appointment. The thing with Pipes is that you get the impression that what he knows about Europe would snugly fit on the back of a small stamp, yet he considers himself an expert on the subject, mainly in regards to phantasmagorical concepts like Eurabia, the kind of BS that sells 'books' to ignorant Americans.
Bat Ye’or convincingly argues that the transformation of Europe into Eurabia is the result of a deliberate strategy that was foolishly set in motion by French Gaullists who wanted to create a European-Arab counterweight to the United States. Today the European Union is continuing this policy, which aims to create a united Mediterranean continent based on a symbiosis between the Northern and the Southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. In her Eurabia book she meticulously describes how this strategy has been implemented during the past 35 years and how the promotion of Muslim immigration to Europe constitutes part of this plan.
Why is it that small minds always rely on some nefarious conspiracy theory? And let's all blame the French, naturellement...
She points out that after the Eastern enlargement of the EU, the Arab countries were worried that less European funds would be available for the Maghreb countries. They made Europe promise that EU funds to the Southern shores of the Mediterranean would not diminish, but also that immigration from Arab countries would not be stopped in favour of immigration from Eastern Europe. This is the real reason why the Polish plumbers are not welcome while people from the Maghreb still continue to flock to Europe.
Polish plumbers aren't welcome in Europe??? Tell that to the rightwingers from The Daily Hate Mail and assorted chip wrappers, because they seem to be expecting a veritable deluge of Romanians and Poles. Some have even jocularly suggested we should hire Poles as border patrols to stop the tide of Balkans...
I had been invited to The Hague by Daniel Pipes. I discovered that the most famous of the conference participants were not registered at the hotel under their real names and a (plain clothes) guard was watching over them. Apparently, a gathering of people for a scholarly exchange of views on the preservation of Western liberties, can no longer take place in the free West without security measures.
There's no pleasing these guys: give them some security and they moan. Don't and they call for guns...
Europeans are fast becoming second class citizens in their own countries. It is tempting to flee a continent that has already to a large extent become Eurabia, and hide in the relative safety of the United States. However, Europeans should stay put and resist the attempts to turn Europe into dhimmi-land. “It is possible that some Muslims are offended by the Danish cartoons,” says Daniel Pipes. “Nevertheless, all the media should have published them. While the Rushdie affair was about freedom of speech, because it was an intra-Muslim affair, the cartoon affair is about the defense of the identity of the West and whether we allow them to impose their values on our society.”
Yes, that mass-exodus of Europeans to the safe and 'Muzzie-free' land of the brave, home of the free...
Pipes, you're a nutcase. But you've found your niche: together with Paul, Bat and other crackpots.
A prominent newspaper editor who was convicted for questioning Turkey’s official denial of genocide against its Armenian community was shot dead in central Istanbul yesterday.
Witnesses saw a young man fire three shots at Hrant Dink, 53, a Turkish Armenian, outside the offices of the bilingual Agos, which he edited. Only a week ago he had written about death threats to his family. more...
Jordan aspires to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes and believes that unless all sides move quickly toward a peace settlement in the region, the recent confrontation in Lebanon is only a hint of disasters to come. In an exclusive interview with Haaretz on Thursday, King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke with Akiva Eldar:
"I can say that on behalf of the U.S. president and the secretary of state, and I've talked to both, that they're very serious and very committed to moving the peace process forward, because they realize the dynamics of the region at the moment.
"And this is the opportunity to reach out to the Palestinians and the Israelis and say, look, this is the golden chance and to an extent, maybe the last possibility. We had a conflict this summer.
"The frequency of conflict in this region is extremely alarming, and the perception, I believe, among Arabs, and partly among Israelis, is that in the summer Israel lost this round... And that creates a very difficult and a very dangerous precedence for radical thinking in the area. The stakes are getting higher and higher.
"So this is an opportunity to reach out to each other and make sure that the crisis of this summer doesn't happen again. If we don't move the peace process forward, it's only a matter of time until there is a conflict between Israel and somebody else in the region. And I think it's coming sooner rather than later.
"We all need to work together, because solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem allows us to tackle the other issues around us. All of us are looking at Iraq with concern, we don't know what's going to happen in Lebanon, although we hope that they're moving in the right direction... Whether people like it or not, the linchpin is always the Israeli-Palestinian problem."
Do you see a clear link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear threat and the threat of terrorism?
"Through Hamas, Iran has been able to buy itself a seat on the table in talking about the Palestinian issue. And, as a result, through Hamas it does play a role in the issue of the Palestinians, as strange as that should sound.
"If we start moving the process forward, then there's less reason for engagement on the Palestinian issue.
"But, the rules have changed on the nuclear subject throughout the whole region. Where I think Jordan was saying, 'we'd like to have a nuclear-free zone in the area,' after this summer, everybody's going for nuclear programs.
"The Egyptians are looking for a nuclear program. The GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] are looking at one, and we are actually looking at nuclear power for peaceful and energy purposes. We've been discussing it with the West.
"I personally believe that any country that has a nuclear program should conform to international regulations and should have international regulatory bodies that check to make sure that any nuclear program moves in the right direction."
In other words, you're saying that you expect Israel to join the NPT.
"What's expected from us should be a standard across the board. We want to make sure this is used for energy. What we don't want is an arms race to come out of this. As we become part of an international body and its international regulations are accepted by all of us, then we become a united front."
Would you first deal with the Palestinian track and then move on to the Syrian-Lebanese track?
"Syria seems to be of tremendous interest in the Israeli public opinion, but I think that the priority, if you want to get the guarantees that Israel wants for a stable future, the core issue takes the priority. We have to launch the Palestinian process and then hope that things will go easier with the other players.
"You have to start with the Palestinian first and look at the other ones as a close second. I would hedge my bets on how successful the other tracks would be if the Palestinian one is not solved. And, we don't know how much of a smokescreen the other tracks would be and if we don't get the right nuances for what we need on the ground for the next year, then the future for us looks extremely dismal, for all of us in the region, if we don't move the process along.
"What happened this summer is just a taste of a lot of worse things to come if we don't change the direction of this discord.
"We're all on the same boat. The security and the future of Jordan is hand-in-hand with the future of the Palestinians and the Israelis. ... So, a failure for us is a failure for you, and vice versa."
How do you think the Americans should further the process?
"You have the road map, you have Taba, you have the Geneva Accords. So, we don't have to go back to the drawing board. Most of us know the facts and the issues extremely well. My only issue about the road map is that circumstances have changed since the road map was launched, and the sort of long drawn out phase approach, I don't think works anymore. So, we're looking at combining phases, I think, to move people as quickly as possible. The silent majority can be easily intimidated or swayed. And, I promise you, if tomorrow, [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and President [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas sit down and shake hands and launch a peace process, there'll be extremists on either side that create violence and loss of life to try and destabilize the conflict. That is a given. We have to be stronger than that to be able to move the process forward."
Would you suggest we go back to Yitzhak Rabin's formula: to pursue the peace process as if there were no terrorism, and to fight terrorism as if there were no peace process?
"I personally believe that my father's last biggest disappointment and sadness to him was that he lost a partner for peace. And, he believed that if PM Rabin hadn't been assassinated, we wouldn't be talking about a peace process today. In the last years of His Majesty's life, I saw him looking at the Middle East and realizing that there wasn't somebody with the courage to be able to take the process forward. It is our responsibility to move it forward.
"His late Majesty, when he started discussions with prime minister Rabin, they both looked at it the same way, I mean these were two statesmen that looked at it from an emotional point of view, in that 'who is my partner on the other side? What are his fears and his insecurities?' If I could put myself in his shoes then I could understand what to negotiate ... it was a unique relationship between His Majesty and Rabin. When it came to the Arab-Israeli Peace Initiative, we tried to do the same thing. An agreed solution on the issue of refugees.
"Why do we want a two-state solution? We want a two-state solution because we envisage the future of Israel not just having borders with Jordan, Syria or Egypt. The future of Israelis, if I was to put myself in your shoes, is to be welcomed from Morocco on the Atlantic to Oman on the Indian Ocean. I think that is the prize for the Israelis. But that comes at a price and that is the future of the Palestinians. So although we're talking politics, I think that we have a physical problem and we're running out of time, maybe the wall, maybe the settlements, the lack of hope for the Palestinians will bring us to a point in time in the near future where a two-state solution is no longer anything concrete to talk about, then what happens? If we don't solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, then we may never be able to solve the Arab-Israeli issue. Is this what we want to give our children? Do they have to be brought up like we were brought up ... in conflict or do we want to give them hope?"
If you were Israel's prime minister, would you settle for a hudna?
"I mean, you talk about the hudna. Tell me what you mean about hudna. If you and I have a problem and we want to go to the endgame, then we say, let's hold off with each other so we can have an atmosphere to sit down and talk. If it's a hudna, you do your thing and I do my thing for x amount of years and then we'll decide what happens. No, that doesn't solve the problem. In my vocabulary, a hudna is a truce that allows people to sit around the table to solve the problem, which I believe is a two-state solution, then I support that type of hudna. But a hudna to say you mind your business and I'll mind mine for an indefinite period of time really doesn't get us anywhere, does it?"
But in our case, Hamas insists on its refusal to recognize even our right to exists. So, what kind of solution can we talk to Hamas about?
"But, if you've noticed, and I'm not agreeing with either side, but even the language recently coming from Hamas, even from the Damascus bureau, is quite interesting. Palestinians are suffering terribly, and I have major concerns. I hear from Israeli politicians that we don't have a partner for peace. But the clock is ticking and we're running out of opportunity.
"Palestinians tend to ask, where is the Arab street? Where are the Arab leaders? We've always been there to support the Palestinians and a two-state solution, but today, where are the Palestinians for themselves? My concern is that as we're trying to move the process forward, it may be the Palestinians that may lose the future of Palestine if they don't get their act together, if they don't put their differences aside. At the end of the day, a cohesive Palestinian leadership that can negotiate the future of Palestine is what's needed today, and if we don't have that in six months or a year, then there may not be a two-state solution and I fear that the Palestinians may be the ones to lose."
There are Israeli politicians who say that publicly Jordan supports a full-fledged Palestinian state, but off-the-record that it is not very excited about having a Palestinian state right there in the Jordan valley and would rather have Israel on the other side of its border. What would you say to them?
"I do not know anybody, any Jordanian, who would say that there is a shred of common sense to that. The true future of our little area is going to be Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian, and it has to be separate entities. There are also Israelis who want to push the problem to Jordan. An independent Palestinian state allows us a different future of how we move economically, socially and even politically."
Jordan never gave up playing a constructive role in the holy cities of Jerusalem. Do you see a Jordanian role in Jerusalem as part of a final status solution?
"I look at Jerusalem as being a beacon for the three monotheistic religions. Now, where Jordan plays a role is obviously from a Muslim point of view, we, as Hashemites, have a historical role in Jerusalem, but also all the Christian churches are credited to us. So, there is obviously a role for Jordan in finding a solution to Jerusalem that is acceptable to all of us. Jordan will be a very positive element in that."
You're in a very special position, because Jordan is caught right in the middle of two conflicts: Iraq and Palestine. Is the solution for Iraq sending more troops?
"Iraq is a challenge that is as important to Jordan as it is to Israel, as it is to Egypt, as it is to any other country - and to the U.S.
"All we can say about Iraq is that the president has listened to the Maliki government. He's come up with a statement saying, I'm going to benchmark you, but you need to make some major changes. "
Next month marks eight years since your coronation. You haven't visited us yet. When are you coming to Israel?
"We're hoping that in the near future, and that could be weeks or maybe in a month or two, there'll be an opportunity to re-launch our final chance for a future for all of us in the region. And, if we're successful in doing that, then this will allow me to come and visit, and to try and bring the parties closer and closer together. I'm quite willing to explain the Arab proposal to the Israeli people and to create an internal dialogue about this issue. The Arabs are coming to say we want peace, and we want formal relations. And, as a human being, I can't understand how anybody would not want that.
"We look at the neighborhood and we're all concerned. But, the people who need to be equally concerned are the Israelis and sometimes, they see the conflict happening in the Middle East and think well, that's not our problem. But unfortunately, everything that happens in the Middle East is interlinked. And so, this is a challenge we all face."
There is a world, increasingly driven by unreason, in which voices in the wilderness denounce each other as ‘traitors’, cry out that ‘all I want is no more Islam near me’, or allege that Prince Charles is ‘waiting in the wings to declare the UK a Muslim country the minute QEII dies’.
It is the world of the American blogosphere of the ‘left’ and ‘right’; the world not of the lunatic fringe, though it may often seem so, but of vox pop. It is a world of which the ‘MSM’, or ‘mainstream media’, knows too little. Yet blog-site contributors’ opinions, threats and predictions — expressed in large volume on such sites as jihadwatch, littlegreenfootballs or Daily Kos — merit increasing attention for what they reveal of the temper of our times.
Roughly speaking, the blogging ‘right’ is anti-Muslim (and not just anti-Islam), pro-gun and apple pie, anti-‘big government’ and ‘liberals’ in DC, and generally pro-British, anti-European and pro-Israel; while the ‘left’ is anti-‘extremist’, anti-‘racist’, pro-‘human rights’, anti-militarist, anti-US support for Israel and anti-corporate — the last a position sometimes to be found on the ‘right’ also.
Above all, for most of this ‘right’, all-out war has been declared on ‘the West’ by Islam and its ‘terrorists’. But for most of the ‘left’ and ‘liberals’, war is being imposed on parts of the Islamic world by the Americans, Israelis, and their rag-tag partners in geopolitical ‘crime’, and against whom Muslim ‘radicals’ must be expected to strike back.
The differences between these mutually hostile camps, judging by the blogosphere, are growing. Moreover, as Islam’s political fortunes have advanced, irrationality in response to this advance has spread also, to ‘right’ and ‘left’. Some of it provides light relief. To bloggers on the ‘right’, the ‘left’ are ‘moonbats’, Democrats are sell-out ‘Dhimmicrats’, Saddam Hussein is ‘Sodom Insane’ and the ACLU is the ‘American Criminal Liberties Union’; the ‘left’ describes President Bush as everything from a ‘traitor’ to a ‘boil on the public butt’, and pro-Israel Christian evangelists as ‘fundie nutjobs’.
Other judgements are more serious in their portents. A blog-poster declares that the ‘left’ and ‘liberals’ have ‘done nothing but grovel at the feet of Islamofascists’; another that the entire American ‘left’ — who are no better than ‘tares in the midst of wheat’ — are ‘killing this country’. For their parts, ‘left’ bloggers see the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq as ‘useless’, and the Bush ‘regime’ as having ‘run amok’.
However, ‘left’ and ‘right’ share the perception that it is the other which is in command of the polity and of the ‘MSM’. To the ‘right’, which considers itself ‘pretty much shut out of our national corporate media’, ‘what could not be accomplished on the battlefield — an American retreat from Iraq — was instead achieved in American newsrooms’. To the ‘left’, a ‘right-wing machine’ which includes ‘experts who have sold out to it’ and ‘hateful right-wing talkshows’ rules the waves.
Paranoia and odium are on the increase. In the blogosphere, the word ‘fascist’ is thus routinely used by the ‘left’ to describe the ‘right’ of all shades — the White House, for example, is said to be ‘gripped by a fascist power lust’. The ‘right’, whose spelling is less good, not only regards Islamists as ‘facists’ but also those on the ‘left’ whom it accuses of sympathising with America’s foes.
But nothing can compare with the ‘right’s’ abuse of ‘Muzzies’ in general. They are variously said to be ‘dumber than dirt’, ‘godless savages’, ‘losers’, even ‘Koranimals’. As for Islam, or ‘Islamania’, it is (for example) a ‘misogynistic genocidal cult’ which allegedly worships a ‘false pagan moon-rock god of death’ and is ‘eating at the insides of every nation until it is dead’.
Of course, there are distinguished precedents even for the bleakest and coarsest of these judgements. To Montesquieu in 1748, Islam’s ‘destructive spirit’ spoke ‘only by the sword’; to Schopenhauer in 1819, the Koran was a ‘wretched book’ in which he had ‘not been able to discover one single idea of value’; to De Tocqueville in 1843, Islam was ‘deadly’, ‘to be feared’ and a ‘form of decadence’.
Today, however, it is the sheer violence of emotion on blog-sites which is most striking. The true patriot would seize American ‘appologists [sic] for Islam’, ‘hold them with their feet to the fire until they are screaming, and watch them squirm’; while a ‘liberal’ voice yells into the ether that those who have supported the war in Iraq ‘should not be given a chance to breathe. Pound them into the ground until they never get back up, evil bastards!’
In this unhinged world, now non-Muslim as well as Muslim, the counsels of action offered by ‘right-wing’ vox pop range from the near-despairing to the catastrophic. ‘Go home and leave us alone’, diaspora Muslims are told — at the mildest — ‘and take your Western lapdogs with you’; or, ‘Islamophobes need to get loud, very loud,’ says another, ‘it’s the only thing we can do now’. Here, the sense of foreboding is strong. Tougher is, ‘We are the West. Let them know who is boss. If they don’t like it, they can leave.’ Higher up the scale comes, ‘Let the military take over. I advocate a military coup.’ At the apogee are nukes. ‘Why should we restrain ourselves from nuking every Mohammedan hellhole that lacks a credible defense?’, asks one; ‘Nuke Mecca Now!’, demands another.
The feeling of world-endingness, of apocalypse, is rife on the sites of the ‘right’. For some, it is ‘the West’ which is done for. ‘We have allowed Islam in. We have sentenced ourselves to death’ is its voice. For others, it is Islam which faces Armageddon. ‘The final day of Islam will arrive very soon’ and it ‘will be vanquished utterly’, a blog prophet promises in biblical tones. Or another American civil war is foreseen. ‘If it breaks out,’ declares a would-be recruit, ‘my only comfort is that the left will be killed first, since most of them don’t carry guns.’
Moreover, just as the Islamist can assert that ‘we will not rest from our jihad until we have blown up the White House’, so non-Muslim terminators look to the day of a nuclear exchange. ‘I just hope the nuke attack comes soon. Let it be on the East Coast where it belongs,’ prays one; ‘I hope I wake up to Washington a glowing hole in the morning,’ prays another, almost in the same terms as the most violent of jihadists. ‘We would be able to fight back even with millions dead in our cities,’ predicts a third, ‘then we’d go get the oil fields.’
In this war of words as well as of worlds, reason is under pressure on all sides. The true complexity of things is being given short shrift by ‘experts’ and by vox pop alike: after all, London is no more ‘Londonistan’ than Israel is a ‘cancer’ and America the ‘Great Satan’. In particular, frustration at America’s reverses is driving many round the bend, if the torrent of opinion in the blogosphere is a guide. Or, as one poster demanded to know, ‘What the hell is our oil doing under their sand?’
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Hamas acknowledges the existence of Israel but formal recognition by the group will only be considered when a Palestinian state has been created, the movement's leader Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday.
Softening a previous refusal to accept the Jewish state's existence, Meshaal said Israel was a "reality."
"There will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of fact," Meshaal said in an interview in the Syrian capital, where he lives in exile.
"The problem is not that there is an entity called Israel," said Meshaal. "The problem is that the Palestinian state is non-existent."
Israel and Western governments have put financial sanctions on the Hamas-led Palestinian government for refusing to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace accords. The embargo has hit the Palestinian economy hard.
Meshaal said Hamas would defy the Western conditions and refuse to consider formal recognition of the Jewish state until a Palestinian state was established.
Changing the Hamas charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, was also a matter for the future, he said.
"The distant future will have its own circumstances and positions could be determined then," he said in a wide-ranging interview.
Meshaal said Hamas backed Arab demands that a Palestinian state should include Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem and that Israel should accept the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes lost in a 1967 war and before.
"As a Palestinian today I speak of a Palestinian and Arab demand for a state on 1967 borders. It is true that in reality there will be an entity or state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land," said Meshaal.
"This is a reality but I won't deal with it in terms of recognizing or admitting it," he added.
The odds are that President George Bush will announce a "surge" of up to 20,000 additional US troops in Iraq. But why? Will this deliver a "win"? The answers: a combination of misunderstanding and desperation; and, probably not.
As for the US troops, yes, several additional brigades in Baghdad would enable more roadblocks, patrols, neighbourhood clearing operations and overnight presence. But how significant will this be? We've never had enough troops in Iraq - in Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of two million. For Iraq that ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops, so adding 20,000 seems too little, too late, even, for Baghdad. Further, in a "clear and hold" strategy, US troops have been shown to lack the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to ensure that areas can be "held", or even that they are fully "cleared". The key would be more Iraqi troops, but they aren't available in the numbers required for a city of more than five million with no reliable police - nor have the Iraqi troops been reliable enough for the gritty work of dealing with militias and sectarian loyalties. Achieving enhanced protection for the population is going to be problematic at best. Even then, militia fighters in Baghdad could redeploy to other areas and continue the fight there.
What the surge would do, however, is put more American troops in harm's way, further undercut US forces' morale, and risk further alienation of elements of the Iraqi populace. American casualties would probably rise, at least temporarily, as more troops are on the streets; we saw this when the brigade from Alaska was extended and sent into Baghdad last summer. And even if the increased troop presence initially intimidates or frustrates the contending militias, it won't be long before they find ways to work around the obstacles to movement and neighbourhood searches, if they are still intent on pursuing the conflict. All of this is not much of an endorsement for a troop surge that will impose real pain on the already overstretched US forces.
It takes real genius to create a martyr out of Saddam Hussein. Here is a man dyed deep with the blood of his own people who refused to fight for him during the United States-led invasion three-and-a-half years ago. His tomb in his home village of Awja is already becoming a place of pilgrimage for the five million Sunni Arabs of Iraq who are at the core of the uprising.
During his trial, Saddam himself was clearly trying to position himself to be a martyr in the cause of Iraqi independence and unity and Arab nationalism. His manifest failure to do anything effective for these causes during the quarter of a century he misruled Iraq should have made his task difficult. But an execution which vied in barbarity with a sectarian lynching in the backstreets of Belfast 30 years ago is elevating him to heroic status in the eyes of the Sunni - the community to which most Arabs belong - across the Middle East.
When Saddam fell Iraqis expected life to get better. They hoped to live like Saudis and Kuwaitis. They knew he had ruined his country by hot and cold wars. When he came to power as president in 1979, Iraq had large oil revenues, vast oil reserves, a well-educated people and a competent administration. By invading Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990, he reduced his nation to poverty. This was made worse by the economic siege imposed by 13 years of UN sanctions.
But life did not get better after 2003. Face-to-face interviews with 2,000 Iraqi adults by the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies in November revealed that 90 per cent of them said the situation in their country had been better before the US-led invasion. Only 5 per cent of people said it was better today. The survey was carried out in Baghdad, in the wholly Sunni Anbar province and the entirely Shia Najaf province. It does not include the Kurds, who remain favourable to the occupation.
It could get worse yet. The so-called "surge" in US troop levels by 20,000 to 30,000 men on top of the 145,000 soldiers already in the country is unlikely to produce many dividends. It seems primarily designed so that President George Bush does not have to admit defeat or take hard choices about talking to Iran and Syria. But these reinforcements might tempt the US to assault the Mehdi Army.
Somehow many senior US officials have convinced themselves that it is Mr Sadr, revered by millions of Shia, who is the obstacle to a moderate Iraqi government. In fact his legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Shia Iraqis, the great majority of the population, is far greater than the "moderate" politicians whom the US has in its pocket and who seldom venture out of the Green Zone. Mr Sadr is a supporter of Mr Maliki, whose relations with Washington are ambivalent.
An attack on the Shia militia men of the Mehdi Army could finally lead to the collapse of Iraq into total anarchy. Saddam must already be laughing in his grave.
At 3.30am last Saturday, I was abruptly woken by the phone ringing. My heart sank. By the time I reached the phone, I was already imagining bodies of relatives and friends, killed and mutilated.
It was 6.30am in Baghdad and I thought of the last time I spoke to my sister. She was on the roof of her house trying to get a better signal on her mobile phone, but had to end the call as an American helicopter started hovering above. Iraqis know it is within the US "rules of engagement" to shoot at them when using mobiles, and that US troops enjoy impunity whatever they do. But the call was from a Turkish TV station asking for comments on Saddam's execution. I drew a deep sigh of relief, not for the execution, but because I did not know personally anyone killed that day.
Death is now so commonplace in Iraq that we end up ranking it in these personal terms. Last month, I attended the a'azas (remembrance events) of three people whose work I highly respected. One was for Dr Essam al-Rawi, head of the university professors' union who documented the assassination of academics. A week before his killing his office at Baghdad University had been ransacked and documents confiscated by US troops. The others were for Dr Ali Hussain Mukhif, an academic and literary critic, and Saad Shlash, professor of journalism in Baghdad University and editor of the weekly journal Rayet Al Arab, who insisted on resisting occupation peacefully - offering writers, including myself, a space to criticise the occupation and its crimes, despite all the risks involved.
About 500 academics and 92 journalists have been murdered since the invasion of Iraq. Hundreds more have been kidnapped, and many others have fled the country after receiving threats against their lives. The human costs are so high that many Iraqis believe that had there been a competition between Saddam's regime and the Bush-Blair occupation over the killing of Iraqi minds and culture, the latter would win by far. Sadly, I am becoming one of them.
I am speaking as one who has been, from the start, a politically active opponent of the Ba'ath regime's ideology and Saddam Hussain's dictatorship. At times that was at the high personal cost of prison and torture. In 1984, during the Iran-Iraq war, my family had to pay for the bullets used to execute my cousin Fouad Al Azzawi before being allowed to collect his body. But I find myself agreeing with many Iraqis, that life now is not just the continuity of misery and death under new guises. It is much, much worse - even without the extra dimensions of pillage, corruption and the total ruin of the infrastructure.
Every day brings with it, due to the presence of occupation troops to protect US citizens' safety and security, less safety and security for Iraqis.
The timing and method of the execution of Saddam Hussein proves that the US administration is still criminally high on the cocktail of power, arrogance, and ignorance. But above all racism: what is good for us is not good for you. We are patriots but you are terrorists.
The US and their Iraqi puppets in the green zone chose to execute Saddam on the first day of Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice. This is the most joyous day in the Muslim calendar when more than 2 million pilgrims in Mecca start their ancient rituals, with hundreds of millions of others around the world focused on the events. They then further humiliated Muslims by releasing the official video of the execution, with the 69-year-old having a noose placed around his neck and being led to the drop. The unofficial recording shows Saddam looking calm and composed, and even managing a sarcastic smile, asking the thugs who taunted him "hiya hiy al marjala?" ("is this your manliness?"), a powerful phrase in Arabic popular culture connecting manliness to acts of courage, pride and chivalry. He also managed to repeatedly say the Muslim creed as he was dying, thus attaching himself in the last few seconds of his life to one billion Muslims. Saddam had literally the final say. From now on, no Eid will pass without people remembering his execution.
This was the climax of a colonial farce with the court proceedings' blatant sectarian overtones welcomed by Bush and the British government as a "fair trial". The occupation also welcomed the grotesque public execution as "justice being done". Contrast this with the end of our hopes, as Iraqis in opposition, of persuading our people of the humanity of democracy and how it would, unlike Saddam's brutality, put an end to all abuses of human rights, to execution in public, and to the death penalty.
It is no good the deputy prime minister John Prescott now condemning the manner of Saddam's execution as "deplorable" when, as a representative of one of the two main occupying powers, his government is both legally and morally responsible for what took place.
It is hell in Iraq by all standards, and there is no end in sight to the plight of Iraqi people. The resistance to occupation is a basic human right as well as a moral responsibility. That was the case during the Algerian war of independence, the Vietnamese war of independence, and it is the case in Iraq now.