Archive for May, 2011

Well…so much for that unilateral statehood idea

In his original Middle East speech, Obama spoke-out against this idea that the Palestinian Authority would unilaterally declare a state in September and be accepted into the UN, affirming that a negotiated settlement is the only way to find a peace deal. I completely support this position – declaring a state without solving the key issues (borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem) would probably just result in another war.

Well, it seems as if the President of the UN General Assembly has put that little doozy to bed. Unlucky Abu Mazen.

‘Palestinian state bid at UN can’… JPost – Diplomacy & Politics

The Palestinians cannot circumvent the UN Security Council to avoid a likely US veto if they try to join the United Nations as a sovereign state later this year, a top UN official said on Friday.

But the official made clear a US veto would not put the issue of Palestinian statehood and UN membership to rest.

And almost symultaneously, the G8 released a statement to a similar effect. Pay particular attention to the lines in bold.

Renewed commitment for freedom and democracy – French Presidency of the G-8.

67. We are convinced that the historic changes throughout the region make the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations more important, not less. Aspirations of the peoples in the region need to be heeded including that of the Palestinians for a viable and sovereign State and that of Israelis for security and regional integration. The time to resume the Peace Process is now.

a. Negotiations are the only way toward a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict. The framework for these negotiations is well known. We urge both parties to return to substantive talks with a view to concluding a framework agreement on all final status issues. To that effect, we express our strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by President Obama on May 19, 2011.

b. We appreciate the efforts and the progress made by the Palestinian Authority and the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad as they are building a viable State as recently commended by the IMF, the World Bank and the ad hoc liaison Committee.

c. We look forward to the prospect of the second donors’ conference for Palestine in Paris, also in view of the resumption of negotiations.

d. We call on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to abide by existing co-operation agreements and to abstain from unilateral measures that could hamper progress and further reforms. We call for the easing of the situation in Gaza.

e. We demand the unconditional release of the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit without delay.

Why is this particularly significant? The G8 includes the US, UK, France and Russia – four out of the five permanent Security Council powers (excluding China), who all have veto power. This puts the Palestinian chances of unilateral statehood at slim to nil. Ah well, back to the negotiating table?

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Here lies President Barak Obama/Whose word no man relies on…

Who never said a foolish thing,
Or ever did a wise one.

Following a theme that I’ve been seeing of comparing Obama to poetic figures, Walter Russell Meade referenced a poem by the Earl of Rochester, written about King Charles II of England, but ascribed here to Obama and his Middle East policy. This is in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s astounding speech to a joint session of US Congress, which was met with an almost unbelievable number of standing ovations and a great deal of support. As Meade says:

The Dreamer Goes Down For The Count | Via Meadia

Netanyahu beat Obama like a red-headed stepchild; he played him like a fiddle; he pounded him like a big brass drum.  The Prime Minister of Israel danced rings around his arrogant, professorial opponent.  It was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters go up against the junior squad from Miss Porter’s School; like watching Harvard play Texas A&M, like watching Bambi meet Godzilla — or Bill Clinton run against Bob Dole.

The speech once again showed that whatever you make of his views, methods and stances, Bibi is a very smooth political operator and an outstanding orator. Obama’s speeches have made his career, so the fact that an (albeit US-educated) Israeli can wipe the floor with him in his home turf says a hell of a lot.

Here are the full video and transcript:

Firstly, I would like to draw your attention to his response to the heckler – brilliant and quick, with some of the loudest applause of the whole speech.

You know, I take it as a badge of honor, and so should you, that in our free societies you can have protests. You can’t have these protests in the farcical parliaments in Tehran or in Tripoli. This is real democracy. So as we share the hopes of these young people throughout the Middle East and Iran that they’ll be able to do what that young woman just did — I think she’s young; I couldn’t see quite that far…we must also remember that those hopes could be snuffed out, as they were in Tehran in 1979

It is very difficult to argue with most of Bibi’s stances after watching that in full. He also did make some unprecedented concessions. He not only unequivocally reaffirmed his belief in the two-state solution, but he actually recognised the Palestinian narrative.

No distortion of history could deny the 4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land. But there is another truth: The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they’ll be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people living in their own state. They should enjoy a prosperous economy where their creativity and initiative can flourish. Now, we’ve already seen the beginnings of what is possible. In the last two years, the Palestinians have begun to build a better life for themselves.

And then he argued for his demand that the Palestinian Authority recognise Israel as a Jewish state, with a very strong argument.

And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And, worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy the Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.

My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people — and I told you it wasn’t easy for me. I stood before my people, and I said, ‘I will accept a Palestinian state.’ It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, ‘I will accept a Jewish state.’ Those six words will change history. They’ll make it clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end, that they’re not building a Palestinian state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. And those six words will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace

I actually think that he was right on the mark here. If the Israelis are willing to accept the Palestinian narrative, accept their claim to the land, treat them as the nation that they define themselves as and affirm their right to their national homeland, why is it so unreasonable that they reciprocate?

Of course it is difficult for them to accept the Zionist narrative, but if they reject everything that 5 million Israelis – and probably another 10 million Zionist Jews in the Diaspora – define themselves by, how can there ever be a peace agreement? How could they ever compromise on anything pragmatically if they can’t make that ideological concession?

He even addressed the refugee issue very well – and he is absolutely right. In the same way that everyone must recognise that the borders will not be identical to pre-1967, not every descendant of Palestinian refugees will be able to move back to the precise town or village where their ancestors lived; but a just solution can be found through other means.

We recognize that a Palestinian state must be big enough to be viable, to be independent, to be prosperous. All of you, and the president, too, have referred to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, just as you’ve been talking about a future Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people.

Well, Jews from around the world have a right to immigrate to the one and only Jewish state. And Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they so choose, to a Palestinian state.

And here’s what this means: It means that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.

The issues that are controversial are the lines he drew on the map – specifically, refusing to leave the Jordan valley or to divide Jerusalem.

But Israel on the 1967 lines would be only nine miles wide. So much for strategic depth. So it’s therefore vital, absolutely vital, that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it’s vital, absolutely vital, that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.

Solid security arrangements on the ground are necessary not only to protect the peace, they’re necessary to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. Because in our unstable region, no one can guarantee that our peace partners today will be there tomorrow. And, my friends, when I say “Tomorrow,” I don’t mean some distant time in the future. I mean tomorrow.
…Throughout the millennial history of the Jewish capital, the only time that Jews, Christians and Muslims could worship freely, could have unfettered access to their holy sites, has been during Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know this is a difficult issue for Palestinians, but I believe that with creativity and with goodwill, a solution can be found. So this is the peace I plan to forge with a Palestinian partner committed to peace. But you know very well that in the Middle East the only peace that will hold is a peace you can defend. So peace must be anchored in security.

That said, I would like to believe that if negotiations were happening, these issues could be addressed. Bibi is unique at the moment in terms of all parties involved in the negotiations in that he alone has laid-out exactly where his lines are and what he wants. Neither Obama nor Abbas and (definitely not Hamas) have stated what it is exactly that they hope to achieve and what their vision of a solution is. So long as Abbas refuses to sit down at the table, it is hard to see how that will ever happen.

It’s true that Bibi too is now refusing to sit down, as a result of the unity agreement with Hamas, but again, how could he negotiate with Hamas? What hope could there possibly be? Hamas see it their God-given duty to kill Jews, they think that if they kill a Jew they go to heaven and if they are killed by a Jew they go to heaven. They believe that Jews controlling a state on what should be Muslim land is a crime against God and that violence is the only way to address this. And yet Israel is supposed to negotiate with them?

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Obama saves face with AIPAC clarification

In the wake of his recent Middle-East Policy speech on Friday, which received excessive heavy criticism, Obama met with Netanyahu. The ensuing press conference was embarrassingly tense, with Bibi openly disagreeing on several points – such as the withdrawal of Israeli military from the Jordan valley (at 9:00) and the President’s failure to mention the issue of Palestinian refugees (at 11:00). Despite both leaders reaffirming their “friendship, the body language shows the icy relationship between the hawkish PM and the bleeding-heart President. Obama did not look at all happy while Bibi was talking.

Last night, Obama spoke at the annual policy conference of powerful lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to clarify his position. The full video is embedded below and I have summarised the take-home points.

The most important point is that he constantly reaffirmed his support for the US-Israel relationship, including US support for the Israeli military, and that he constantly recognised Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

AIPAC Policy Conference 2011 | U.S. President Obama’s Speech

On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years—that, even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.

And he also made it clear that he would veto a UN vote on Palestinian statehood without a peace agreement.

…These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.

The first vaguely controversial point was where he spoke about the “harsh realities” that Israel has to face:

…There are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder — without a peace deal — to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.

Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.

And third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.

I agree with points one and two – they are extremely important. Really, the clock is ticking for Israel. If a solution is not found soon, we will be looking at a very different Middle East and Israel’s existence as a democratic, Jewish state will become harder and harder to maintain. On the other hand, the validity of the third point has yet to be seen.

He later went on to confirm that Israel has to make “hard choices”, although acknowledged that Israel is not alone in this:

…Ultimately, however, it is the right and responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed. And as a friend of Israel, I am committed to doing our part to see that this goal is realized, while calling not just on Israel, but on the Palestinians, the Arab States, and the international community to join us in that effort. Because the burden of making hard choices must not be Israel’s alone.

To his credit, Obama did not shy-away from his critics and addressed the issue over the 1967 borders that has been plaguing him since Friday. The response has been completely overblown, as observed by the Jerusalem Post‘s David Halperin and Peter Joseph:

When peace met partisanship – JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

To be sure, semantics are critical in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. President Obama’s articulation of the date “1967” in his speech was significant. But the dishonest – and dangerous – politicization and demagoguery on display over the last 24 hours in response to this speech, and the dishonest suggestions that Obama has placed Israel’s security in jeopardy by imposing on Israel a full return to the ‘67 border, has been shameful.

Obama’s response was completely fair – as I observed on Saturday, this is not a new policy at all and really should have come as no surprise to most. It definitely did not deserve the hyperbole that it created.

…Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.

By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

That last point in bold is extremely important. As noted by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, the crux of Obama’s speech was self-determination for both sides. He also reaffirmed that he had no regard for Hamas and understood that as long as they defy the Quartet’s three conditions – that they recognise Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and agree to abide by past agreements – Israel cannot negotiate with them.

Obama, the first U.S. president to tell AIPAC the truth – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

The time has come to pay for American opposition to the Goldstone commission report on the Israeli incursion in Gaza and the veto of the UN Security Council’s condemnation of construction in West Bank settlements. Obama denied Netanyahu the opportunity to exercise a veto on the terms for negotiations with the Palestinians. The U.S. president said that negotiations could not be conducted with Hamas as long as the organization does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, refuses to accept existing international obligations and engages in terrorism. The Palestinian party to the negotiations was and remains the Palestine Liberation Organization and not Hamas.

Obama also rejected Netanyahu’s demand that negotiations begin based on the principle of Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The president was careful to speak about both parties’ right to self-determination. Period.

That said, there was a fundamental issue with the speech: Obama at no point recognised the Palestinian refugee issue. As Bibi mentioned in the press conference above, it is not possible for these refugees to have the “right of return” that they demand. A just solution must be found, but this will rely on a comprehensive peace agreement. By taking no stance on the issue and not even mentioning it, yet pressuring Israel to make severe concessions, Obama is effectively undermining himself and damaging his relationship with the Israelis. As the Jerusalem Post editorial said:

What about the refugees? – JPost – Opinion – Editorials

Obama’s repeated omission of the refugee issue raises serious questions. The US president did state several times his support for Israel as the “homeland for the Jewish people.” Obviously, maintaining such a homeland precludes recognition of a “right of return” for Palestinians that endangers Jewish sovereignty. Still, if Obama was already taking the opportunity to clarify and reformulate some of the more problematic aspects of his speech from last week, why didn’t he clarify this vital point? The Palestinians’ stubborn insistence on demanding the “right of return” for millions of “refugees” within Israel’s borders marks a refusal to accept Israel as the Jewish state. This outrageous demand, coupled with the fact that Hamas, an anti-Semitic terrorist organization bent on the destruction of Israel, is an equal partner in the Palestinian people’s official political leadership, are the real obstacles to peace. If Obama is truly sincere in his desire to facilitate peace, he must acknowledge this and do everything he can to remedy the situation.

Obama implicitly acknowledged it by affirming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, but he cannot ignore the issue and expect any resolution to be reached.

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OMG! OMG! I totally can’t believe he said that!!!1!!!!1! #Obama


Well, Obama gave his long-awaited speech last night and I finally have a minute to write about it. He very movingly said that America supports democracy, without saying how; denounced Assad and Syria, without announcing how to take the regime down (aside from the sanctions the US just passed); similarly handled Iran and Bahrain and then spoke about Libya without changing the policy. Then he waxed lyrical about democracy for a while, then a little bit about Palestine, opposing unilateral statehood, all good…

But then, he dropped this bombshell:

Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa | The White House

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear:  a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.  The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.  We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

OH-MY-GOD!!! NO HE DID NOT JUST SAY THAT!!!

What’s that you say? Not a big deal? This has been the US policy for at least a decade? Well I’ll have you know that he did not re-affirm Bush’s commitment that the swaps he mentioned would cover the areas that they would most logically cover (i.e. the ones just over the border, where all the settlers are).

Nope, that crazy old dude in America who reckons the world will end tomorrow is pretty much right. We may as well abandon hope right now. I mean, just look at Bibi’s response:
Statement by PM Netanyahu on address by US President Obama 19-May-2011

Among other things, those commitments [that Obama should re-affirm] relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and whichwould leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.

…Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace

But that’s nothing, check what his fellow Likkudniks are saying (well, at least one Likkud media-whore).
Danon: Obama adopted Arafat’s plan for Israe… JPost – Headlines

Likud MK Danny Danon on Thursday said that “Barack Hussein Obama adopted the staged plan for Israel’s destruction of Yasser Arafat, and he is trying to force it on our prime minister,”

Meanwhile, the PA have called an emergency meeting, because apparently the weeks that Obama has been hyping this speech up as a radical re-definition of his Middle East policy wasn’t enough to make them think “hey, this might be important, maybe we should arrange a meeting around that time.”

Hamas slams Obama’s speech, Abbas convenes ’emergency’ meeting – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas…will convene “emergency” talks with Palestinian and Arab officials to consider further steps.

Even Allan Dershowitz figured that it was a “serious mistake”:

President Obama’s mistake – JPost – Magazine – Features

President Barack Obama should be commended for his emphasis on Israel’s security and his concern about Hamas joining the Palestinian Authority without renouncing its violent charter. But he made one serious mistake that tilts the balance against Israel in any future negotiations. Without insisting that the Palestinians give up their absurd claim to have millions of supposed refugees “return” to Israel as a matter of right, he insisted that Israel must surrender all of the areas captured in its defensive war of 1967, subject only to land swaps.

In fact, according to some Republican Presidential hopefuls, it was just plain dangerous (link below):

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said… “This, at a time when the Palestinian Authority and Hamas just forged a new alliance. The current Administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy soon, as clarity and security are the necessary conditions of any serious and coherent American set of policies.”

And Tim Pawlenty, another GOP presidential candidate, called the proposal to return to 1967 lines a “mistaken and very dangerous demand.

But the cake was most definitely taken by potential presidential candidate Mitt Romney:

Mitt Romney accuses Obama of throwing Israel “under the bus” – Political Hotsheet – CBS News

“President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” Romney said. “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.”

Hear that? Under a bus! Kind of like that bus that Hamas fired a rocket at recently.

But that’s still not the most bizarre thing that has happened around this whole speech. Want to know what’s really pointing us toward that apocalypse? Well, I figured that the world would end before these people agreed with each other:

Hamas slams Obama’s speech, Abbas convenes ’emergency’ meeting – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Thursday that U.S. President Barack Obama’s major Mideast policy speech was disappointing, telling Al Jazeera television that the U.S. president did not propose anything new.

Nothing New in the Idea That ’67 Borders Should Guide Peace Talks (UPDATED) – Jeffrey Goldberg – International – The Atlantic

I’m amazed at the amount of insta-commentary out there suggesting that the President has proposed something radical and new by declaring that Israel’s 1967 borders should define — with land-swaps — the borders of a Palestinian state. I’m feeling a certain Groundhog Day effect here. This has been the basic idea for at least 12 years.

Yup, you heard it here first. Jeffrey Goldberg is siding with Hamas over Netanyahu. I expect hellfire to start raining any second now.

So where do I sit? Somewhere around Dershowitz probably. Israel needs to face-up to the fact that it will have to give away the West Bank at some point in the near future. That said, Palestinians REALLY need to face-up to the fact that they are not all going to go back to wherever their grandparents lived in the early 1940’s. They should start pursuing Israel in court for compensation before their claims become impossible to prove and they need to start thinking about the state that they will build once Israel is out of the West Bank and they no longer have any excuses.

Otherwise, Goldberg (but not Hamas) did raise a very good point:

Here is what Hillary Clinton said in 2009: “We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

So really, Obama was saying nothing new. The problem with that is that he needed to say something new, that was the whole point of “re-defining his Middle East policy”. He hasn’t re-defined anything, he’s only re-iterated it. He could have written this speech 2 years ago and you wouldn’t know any difference.

This is a shame, because his policy has been flawed from the beginning. As Dershowitz hinted at, he has been putting too much pressure on Israel, forcing Bibi into a corner, while being hesitant to confront the Palestinians on any of their numerous sticking points. The sad thing is that all the pieces seem to be there in front of him, but he just can’t put the picture together:

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else. But endless delay won’t make the problem go away. What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

Overall, some was good, some was bad, but little was in any way surprising. This outrage everyone seems to be feeling is ridiculous, I am just sitting here a little underwhelmed.

Which, I guess, means that I agree with Hamas too. Damn…

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The absurdity of the anti-Israel movement


The Israeli embassy has contributed to a garden in Canberra that displays miniature houses with a sculpture of Masada, an ancient Jewish fortress in Israel that was the last stronghold in the revolt against the Romans, the fall of which marked the beginning of 2,000 years of exile from the Land of Israel.

But apparently, this is offensive. The rationalisation below is astoundingly bad – this is a historical display, Masada genuinely exists. What the “Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine” are essentially doing is denying the Jewish people their history. This is disgraceful and racist, it really exposes the underlying motives of these people.

Palestinians prickle at mini Masada – Local News – News – General – The Canberra Times

But chairman of Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine Kevin Bray said Masada represented the resistance to the death of freedom fighters against an all-powerful occupier.

”It seems that because the Masada freedom fighters were Jewish they may indeed, in the words of the embassy ‘represent Israel’s proud history’ to some,” he said. ”Others of us, however, appreciate how the tables have been turned. Today, Israel is the occupier and the Palestinians are the modern equivalent of the Masadan resistance.”

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Obama: 21st century Ozymandius?

Quite a harrowing piece by Foreign Policy writer David Rothkopf on the US decline in the Middle East.

Obamamandias: the great shrinking superpower in the Middle East | David Rothkopf.

While President Obama’s Middle East address is likely to cover many of the core issues confronting the United States in the region, there is one absolutely central theme that will remain unspoken but that will influence future policy more than any other. America’s influence in the region is fading fast and will soon be at its lowest ebb since the second World War.

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Aaaah, everything is back to normal!

So much for the “Arab Spring”. Blake Hounshell in Foreign Policy’s Passport on yesterday’s Palestinian riots:

Is the old Middle East back? | FP Passport

All of this sounds a bit like the old Middle East, doesn’t it? Arabs raging impotently at the Jews instead of their own brutal rulers? And yet the narrative that the Arab revolutions were never about Israel has always been wrong, or at least incomplete. For Arabs living under authoritarian regimes, Israel (and America’s support for Israel) has long been seen as an important reason for their subjugation. Nowhere is this more true than in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak bucked popular opinion by selling gas to Israel below market rates and enforced a widely reviled blockade of Gaza. In Tahrir Square, there were plenty of chants denouncing Mubarak as an Israeli and American agent, no matter what Thomas Friedman says.

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Palestinian “Nakba Day” protest footage

There has been a lot of controversy around yesterday’s protests to commemorate “Nakba Day” (“nabkba” means “catastrophe” in Arabic and is the word that Palestinians give to 15th May 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence). CNN have kindly released raw footage, so judge for yourself by clicking on the image below.

To my mind, throwing stones and fireworks at soldiers like that does kind of belie the “peaceful protests” moniker – this was far from peaceful. Were the soldiers reacting excessively? Debatable, but certainly some kind of reaction was warranted.

UPDATE: Readers may also be interested in the below footage, think about what could have happened and how it would be reported…

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On regulation, racism and taxation, newspapers can’t do the math

A couple of articles popped-up yesterday that really showed the difference between journalists and…people who know what they’re doing when it comes to reading data. Take, for example, Tim Colebatch, writing to defend recent welfare cuts in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Tax benefit anger wasted on those earning $150,000

In 2008-09, only 3 per cent of Australians reported taxable incomes of $150,000 or more. Since then, household incomes per head have grown by 5 per cent. If evenly distributed, that would put 3.5 per cent of Australians above $150,000.

As a maths graduate, I find that calculation offensive.

But the Herald was not the only criminal here. Stephen Lunn wrote into yesterday’s Australian to try and convince us all that we want more alcohol regulation.

Nights of drunken rages | The Australian.

Yet there is a growing view that alcohol is a societal problem. The report finds “the vast majority (80 per cent) of the population [state] that Australians have a problem with excess drinking and alcohol abuse.” This is up noticeably from the 73 per cent in the AER Foundation’s initial survey a year ago. And while more people consider illicit substances than alcohol to be the most harmful drug in Australia, the gap is narrowing.

Here’s the issue: it relies on whoever was taking the survey to define “problem” – if I say that Australians have a “problem” with “excessive drinking”, that could be totally different from what anyone else means when they say the same thing. After all, how much drinking is “excessive”? Furthermore,

IT’S a paradox and a grand self-delusion. It is this: Eight in 10 Australians say there is a major alcohol problem in this country. …But despite our unambiguous acknowledgement of the problem, seven in 10 of us are comfortable with how much alcohol we personally consume. Just 7 per cent admit to being concerned about their own consumption levels, a recent survey by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation finds.

EXCUSE me? 7/10 of us are comfortable with how much we personally consume, but 7/100 of us are concerned about our consumption levels. Congratulations Steven Lunn, you just skipped a factor of 10. So in reality, 93% of us are satisfied with our drinking levels – which would support that, as I said before, we are not use the same definition of a “problem with excessive drinking” as the people Lunn is interviewing. That doesn’t stop suggestions like this:

Things have clearly gone backwards over the past 10 to 15 years. Governments have been spending millions on treatment, on community services, on advertising campaigns, but the policy approach has been centred too much on personal responsibility and it has failed,” Thorn says. “What we need is a more sophisticated regulatory approach to preventing alcohol having such a detrimental impact on society.”

Ahh, things have gone backwards over the past 10 to 15 years. And the esteemed Michael Thorn of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation knows this from a clearly flawed survey that his foundation has been doing over the last two years.

This is actually a serious problem. Misrepresenting data like this can completely change societal attitudes on certain things, once something becomes “viral” in the press (read: one journalist misreads something that sounds sensational and dozens of others re-report the mistake without bothering to really check if it’s true or not). This happened earlier in the year with some research about Australia’s racial attitude.

Nearly half of Australians are anti-Muslim: study – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

A decade-long national study has found that nearly 50 per cent of Australians identify themselves as having anti-Muslim attitudes.

Luckily, there were some others in the press to pick up on the mistake a little down the track. Funnily, we did not see a huge amount of coverage of this little gold nugget.

Simple errors can exaggerate level of bigotry | The Australian.

What the journalists did not explore was how these results were obtained. Yet the answer was not hard to find. The Challenging Racism tables headed “Racist attitude indicators” provide data for specific regions and then calculate variations from state and national levels.

These tables provide the statistics on the anti sentiment and explain the methodology. Surprisingly, the calculation rests on just one question. Respondents were asked: “In your opinion, how concerned would you feel if one of your close relatives were to marry a person of Muslim faith?” The question was then repeated for the Jewish faith, Asian background, Aboriginal background and so on.

It is quite a jump from concern over marriage of a close relative to a person, for example, of Muslim faith, to labelling the result, without qualification, as anti-Muslim in a table headed “Racist attitude indicators”. A wide range of factors could explain concern over the marriage of a close relative, not least the strength of the respondent’s identity and desire for transmission of values to children, without drawing a straight line to “racist attitude”

So essentially, various media journalists mis-read a survey to create a racism problem that is not really there. Even now, someone trying to research racism in Australia would probably still use that survey because of the articles that pop-up on Google when they do a search. 

I would just like to finish by begging people to really look at the data on various issues before we start putting more tax on drinks that already cost us almost twice as much as they do in most other countries…

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And then Bin Laden was caught jacking it

So not only was he Using Zionist methods of communication, he was watching some porn action. Talk about “do as I say, not as I do”!

Pornography Is Found on Bin Laden’s Computers – NYTimes.com.

WASHINGTON — The enormous cache of computer files taken from Osama bin Laden’s compound contained a considerable quantity of pornographic videos, American officials said on Friday, adding a discordant note to the public image of the Islamist militant who long denounced the West for its lax sexual mores.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity about classified material, would not say whether there was evidence that Bin Laden or the other men living in the house had acquired or viewed the material.

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