Archive for June, 2011

Lemons: the secret ingredient?

Thomas Friedman reckons he has a recipe for peace all figured out – just re-word the Palestinian’s UN stehood bid to sound more like Obama’s policy and all will be well.

What to Do With Lemons –

How about a different approach?

If the Palestinians want to take this whole problem back to where it started — the U.N. — I say let’s do it. But let’s think much bigger and with more imagination.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the U.N. passed General Assembly Resolution 181, partitioning Palestine into two homes for two peoples — described as “Independent Arab and Jewish States.” This is important. That is exactly how Resolution 181 described the desired outcome of partition: an “Arab” state next to a “Jewish” state.

So why don’t we just update Resolution 181 and take it through the more prestigious Security Council? It could be a simple new U.N. resolution: “This body reaffirms that the area of historic Palestine should be divided into two homes for two peoples — a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state. The dividing line should be based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed border adjustments and security arrangements for both sides. This body recognizes the Palestinian state as a member of the General Assembly and urges both sides to enter into negotiations to resolve all the other outstanding issues.” Very simple.

Each side would get something vital provided it gives the other what it wants. The Palestinians would gain recognition of statehood and U.N. membership, within provisional boundaries, with Israel and America voting in favor. And the Israelis would get formal U.N. recognition as a Jewish state — with the Palestinians and Arabs voting in favor.

Moreover, the Palestinians would get negotiations based on the 1967 borders and Israel would get a U.N.-U.S. assurance that the final border would be shaped in negotiations between the parties, with land swaps, so theoretically the 5 percent of the West Bank where 80 percent of the settlers live could be traded for parts of pre-1967 Israel.

Both sides would have the framework for resuming negotiations they can live with. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel told the U.S. Congress that he was prepared for a two-state solution and painful compromises, but wants Israel accepted as a Jewish state with defensible borders. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has insisted that the 1967 border be the basis for any negotiations, and he wants to negotiate with Israel as a sovereign equal.

Meanwhile, the U.S., rather than being isolated in a corner with Israel, can get credit for restarting talks — without remaining stuck on the settlements issue.

And then we could all hold hands and sip lemonade under a rainbow, right? I feel like this could be less a magic ingredient and more a columnist losing his grasp on reality…

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Driving the men crazy

Saudi women are slowly starting to fight back. This is great to see!

Women who have driving licences obtained abroad are urged to get behind the wheel and use their cars themselves, without relying on male drivers as required by Saudi fatwa.

The campaign’s Facebook page, Women2Drive, said the action was due to start yesterday and would keep going “until a royal decree allowing women to drive is issued”.

There is no secular law banning women from driving in the oil-rich kingdom, but the Interior Ministry imposes regulations based on fatwa, or religious edict, that women should not be permitted to drive.

Note the last sentence there. That is why there needs to be a separation of mosque and state…

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Saudi beheadings, Pakistani journalists and trouble in (Paradise) Palestine

So there hasn’t been a post here since last Friday. I could point out that this has actually been an extremely quiet week so far as the Middle East is concerned, however it’s not like nothing has happened and to be honest, I’ve just been quite lax in posting anything (unless you follow my Twitter feed, which is available to the right of the screen –>).

So, I have decided to do a round-up of some of the interesting articles/developments that I’ve seen over the past few days.

Firstly, there was this news item on beheadings in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia – Group Condemns Increase in Beheadings –

Amnesty International on Friday condemned what it said was a sharp rise in beheadings in Saudi Arabia and urged the authorities there to halt executions.

I believe that Saudi officials later announced that the sharp rise would be followed by a sudden drop…and then possibly a loud “thud”.*

Meanwhile, there was this very disturbing account, by Umar Cheema in the New York Times on Pakistan’s suppression of journalists. He describes the murder of a friend of his, then recounts his own experience of being abducted and tortured by the authorities for merely writing truths that they did not want to hear. He, however, was fortunate enough to survive the ordeal.

Pakistani Journalists, Dying to Tell the Story –

WE have buried another journalist. Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter for Asia Times Online, has paid the ultimate price for telling truths that the authorities didn’t want people to hear. He disappeared a few days after writing an article alleging that Al Qaeda elements had penetrated Pakistan’s navy and that a military crackdown on them had precipitated the May 22 terrorist attack on a Karachi naval base. His death has left Pakistani journalists shaken and filled with despair.

…When my attackers came, impersonating policemen arresting me on a fabricated charge of murder, I felt helpless. My mouth muzzled and hands cuffed, I couldn’t inform anybody of my whereabouts, not even the friends I’d dropped off just 15 minutes before. My cellphone was taken away and switched off. Despite the many threats I’d received, I never expected this to happen to me.

We all know that these kinds of things go on in too many countries, but reading the stories still shocks me every time. Although, as someone pointed out to me recently, when you really have to be worried is when you are no longer shocked.

There was also this little story by Bangladeshi journalist Mohshin Habib on the absurd fact that his country does not permit its citizens to travel to Israel.

What if I want to visit Israel? :: Weekly Blitz

It is my dream, since long time to visit the State of Israel. But is there any way to fulfill my dream? It has different reasons for me to get high concentration to visit this extra ordinary country. One of the reasons is, mankind always look to break the barrier as said ‘Adam’ was provoked by ‘Eve’ to have that very fruit which was forbidden by the Lord or the God or the Allah, whoever it is. Sadly enough, being a Bangladeshi, I am banned to visit this beautiful, historic land of ancient history. According to Bangladesh passport, no citizen is allowed to visit Israel. It is written prominently in each of the Bangladeshi passports, ‘ALL COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD EXCEPT ISRAEL’!

Finally, I thought that I would cover the Palestinian unity agreement a little. I had previously written about how Fatah’s capitulation to Hamas in preventing Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad from staying in the new unity government would pretty much destroy all of the recent progress that has been made in the West Bank. That’s why I was very happy to see that this may not, in fact, be the case:

Fayyad nominated by Fatah to head Palestinian unity government – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

The Fatah movement nominated Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to head a transitional Palestinian government Saturday as part of a unity deal with their rivals in the Islamic militant group Hamas.

The nomination of the economist could ease Western concerns over the reconciliation deal, which offers Hamas an equal say in the administration that will govern until elections next year.

However, Hamas then came out strongly against the idea.

Bardawil: Hamas will not accept Fayyad as premier or minister

We do not comment on such media leaks, but it is a sure thing that we will not accept Fayyad as premier or minister. Four years of siege, arrest and torture of Hamas cadres, were linked to Fayyad, who is also responsible for the debts that accumulated on the Palestinian people.

Would the fragile unity deal split over Fayyad? To be honest, I’m quite hopeful that this will happen. Not because I think a united Palestine is a bad thing (I don’t), but because I do not want to see anything containing Hamas be given any power ever.

*I’m sorry if I offended any victims of beheading, this is a serious issue really. 

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Newspapers circumventing Apple. Well who didn’t see this coming?

Last year, when the iPad launched, everyone was praising Apple as the saviour of the publishing industry. Well, that was until, being Apple, they announced that they would be charging 30% of every purchase of a newspaper, ebook, magazine or subscription on an iPad and they would not share subscriber data with publishers. Not surprisingly, this sparked a significant backlash – the 30% was higher than the profit margin that many publishers made from their products and it drove a few ebook stores out of business, or at least off the iPad. It has also created huge difficulties for publishers in transferring subscribers to their iPads apps, meaning that, for instance, my New Yorker subscription is currently worthless as far as my iPad is concerned, meaning that I am required to pay $6 per issue if I want it on my iPad, even though the print version will arrive in my mailbox a few days later.

Luckily, it looks like the publishing industry Is fighting back. Hopefully, this will force Apple to re-think their ridiculous policy, otherwise the iPad will simply not be able to live-up to it’s full potential, since publishers won’t allow their products on it.

British paper cuts Apple out of app.

The app is downloaded from a web browser – side-stepping Apple’s rigid controls on crucial subscriber information as well as its hefty 30 per cent commission.

…The FT’s chief executive, John Ridding, said: ”This is not about Apple. It’s about our readers and making sure they have a consistent experience.”

The pricing in News Ltd’s recently announced pay wall will favour its website over apps sold through Apple’s iTunes, which takes $2.70 a month from every subscription to The Australian app, leaving just $6.29 for the company that makes it.

News said app subscriptions ”will not give full access” to the new web and mobile sites, while those who paid News directly would. Given the price for each will be similar, readers will get more if they pay News instead of Apple.

UPDATE: It seems Apple have already caved. Serves me right for trusting Fairfax for up-to-date news, no wonder they’re going under…

Apple loosens app rules after pressure from the media industry | The Australian.

An Apple spokesman confirmed today that the company revised its policies, loosening the rule requiring media app developers to only offer content for purchase through iTunes. Also, Apple dropped language that required media companies to offer paid content on the same or better terms than what they offer elsewhere.

The changes come as media owners resist the restrictions posed by Apple’s guidelines and some, like Pearson’s Financial Times, have experimented with ways to get around the guidelines but still make their content available on Apple’s popular devices.

Thanks News Ltd for giving today’s news, I will now buy your product and not Fairfax’s. Isn’t capitalism a beautiful thing?

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Palestinians used as political playthings by Arab dictators

Continuing a long-standing tradition of escalating the hardship of Palestinians and exacerbating tensions with Israel in order to distract from problems at home, it looks like Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has been behind the recent riots on the Syrian border in which Palestinians haves been killed whilst trying to break into Israel. There were reports quite soon after that the Syrian regime had been paying the protesters, however it seems that the Palestinian terror groups that Syria harbours have now been clamping down on any opposition.

Fighters Shoot Protesters at a Palestinian Camp in Syria –

According to WAFA and other reports, the fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which is backed by Syria, clashed with mourners in the Yarmouk refugee camp after funerals for Palestinian protesters who were killed on Sunday at the border between Syria and the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

The shootings on Monday took place after mourners accused the organization of sacrificing Palestinian lives by encouraging protesters to demonstrate at the Golan Heights, Reuters reported. Reports also referred to divisions in the camp between those who support the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and those who sympathize with the Syrian opposition, which is seeking expanded democratic rights.

I remain hopeful that 60 years later, the Arab world will finally see through these charades and realise that Israel is not the sole cause of the Palestinians’ plight (or, for that matter, of every other problem that the Arabs face). I’m still amazed that no one focuses on the horrible treatment that Palestinians receive in Arab states, why isn’t the so-called “Palestine solidarity” movement going to Lebanon to demand that Palestinians are allowed to work, own property and live outside of designated areas? That is Apartheid if I ever saw it…

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Lesson from Mladic: food for thought

Christopher Hitchens in The Australian this weekend, speaking about the recent arrest of Serbian commander Ratko Mladic for genocide:

No sympathy for a man like Mladic | The Australian.

But the monstrous nature of his power and reach was paradoxically and enormously exaggerated not by those who wanted to confront it, but by those who did not. This meant that the whole nightmare was needlessly prolonged. On whatever basis the post-Tito Yugoslavia was to be reconstituted, there was one that was utterly impossible as well as unthinkable: a “Greater Serbia”, whereby smaller republics and their populations were forcibly cut to fit the requirements of a dictatorial tailoring.

It will one day seem incredible that NATO powers did not see this right away and continued to treat Milosevic as a “partner in peace”, opening the road that led straight to Srebrenica and the murder of people ostensibly under our protection.

Srebrenica is one of the best-documented atrocities in modern history. We have everything, from real-time satellite surveillance (shamefully available to the US even as the butchery was going on) to film and video taken by the perpetrators, including of Mladic. The production of this material in court will, one hopes, wipe any potential grin from his face and destroy the propaganda image of the simple patriotic man-at-arms. Whatever our policy on monsters abroad may be, we should be able to recognise one when we see one.

This is an extremely pertinent point today. It shows how Western naiveté and a desire To find people who want to work for peace can cause us to overlook glaringly obvious flaws in people and appease people like Mladic, in the hope that they will “see the light”, or so to speak. It also shows the consequences of this – Srebrenica happened because a genocidal maniac talking about peace was able to exploit Western sentiment to be given free reign to extinguish all of the ethnic minorities in Serbia.

The lesson here is that we cannot let a desire for peace cloud our judgment. Peace partners must be judged on the basis of their actions, not our hopes. And so (bet you saw this one coming) no unity government that includes Hamas will ever be able to truly make peace. Not when just one year ago, their leaders were saying things like this:

They want to present themselves to the world as if they have rights, but, in fact, they are foreign bacteria – a microbe unparalleled in the world. It’s not me who says this. The Koran itself says that they have no parallel: “You shall find the strongest men in enmity to the believers to be the Jews.”

May He annihilate this filthy people who have neither religion nor conscience. I condemn whoever believes in normalizing relations with them, whoever supports sitting down with them, and whoever believes that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people. They have no religion, no conscience, and no moral values.

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A little thought to mark the day

Today is the 4th of June, 2011. 44 years ago, on this day, Palestinians in the West Bank stood cheering as Egyptian fighter jets flew overhead, on their way to destroy the Zionist enemy and allow the Palestinians to return after Gamal Abdul Nasser fulfilled his promise to “drive the Jews into the sea”.

What they didn’t know is that the planes they were cheering were actually Israeli – they had just returned from destroying Egypt’s airforce, allowing Israel to defeat the combined armies of Jordan Egypt and Syria, all of which had been amassing for a final drive to wipe-out Israel, and capture the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan river – which included the holy city of Jerusalem. This is definitely one of my all-time favourite stories.

That said, the Israeli soldiers entering Jerusalem, the first Jews permitted to do so for 20 years, found that in the course of their 20-year occupation of the city, the Jordanians had attempted to destroy any evidence of the 3,000-year Jewish history in the city – all Jewish holy sites had been destroyed or vandilised. This is why Israel is now so tentative about dividing Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the Sinai was returned to Egypt in the peace treaty of 1979, which created a lasting, if somewhat cold, cessation of hostilities between the two nations. Gaza was returned to the Palestinians in 2005 unilaterally. The Golan is still under Israeli control and will remain so in all likelihood – they will only ever be returned if there is an assured peace deal with Syria and that does not look likely in the next century at least. However, since 1973 there has been a sustained cessation of overt hostilities and so long as there is peace with Egypt and peace with Jordan, this is likely to continue.

Unfortunately, the Israelis have since built a number of cities, towns and villages throughout the West Bank – making any kind of withdrawal very difficult. Even more unfortunate, however, has been the absolute refusal of its residents to take any action necessary to facilitate an Israeli withdrawal and the pece deal that this would require.

So that’s the thought for the day – the momentous war of 1967 and its current fallout, summarised in a few short paragraphs.

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Israel will never make peace from the corner


There are still too many people talking about Israeli intransigence. In the best rebuke that I have seen of Netanyahu’s various statements in the US last week (as in, the only one that didn’t read as if the author had presupposed that Bibi was wrong and then gone about finding reasons why), former mayor of Jerusalem Jeff Barak writes on why Bibi’s statements made negotiations and a peace deal look further off than ever. And to an extent, he’s not wrong.

The limits of rhetoric – JPost – Opinion – Columnists

This is inevitable, and it’s also the right move for those who wish to maintain Israel’s capital as a Jewish city. There is no escaping it.

As Jerusalem’s former mayor, I know this well, and it’s possible. Those who refuse to discuss it terminate the chances for a peace process. One can speak nicely, stir up rightist radicals and draw applause from the settlers, yet this will not bring peace, genuine negotiations or global understanding [of Israel’s position].”

INDEED, NETANYAHU’S remarks on Jerusalem slammed the door shut on any hope that his government had the slightest intention of entering into negotiations with the Palestinians. His stirring phrases might have boosted his standing in the opinion polls, but opinion polls do not change reality.

That said, there have been a lot of events spurring this supposed intransigence – there are some very good reasons why Israelis are giving up on peace. Elliot Abrahams, a prolific Middle East analyst from the Council on Foreign relations, has outlined all these, shedding light on exactly how far weak Palestinian leadership and confused policy from the Obama administration have allowed the situation to deteriorate.


The Third Man | The Weekly Standard

The incoherence of U.S. policy is summed up in this passage from Obama’s AIPAC speech: “We know that peace demands a partner​—​which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist. .  .  . But the march to isolate Israel internationally​—​and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations​—​will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative.” So Israel cannot be expected to negotiate and it must start negotiating.

That is where the president stands after two years of involvement in Middle East peacemaking, and his problems are largely of his own making…We would not be where we are had all three men​—​Abbas, Netanyahu, Obama​—​not given up on each other, a striking failure in American diplomacy.

As Abraham points out, this is causing the Israeli public to feel increasingly isolated and jaded, rallying them around those who seem to be taking a principled stand against the pressure that they are receiving from all sides.

British novelist Howard Jacobson summed this up well on Australian TV recently, observing that everyone points fingers at Israelis without trying to understand exactly how they feel and why they do what they do.

Sydney Writers’ Festival | Q&A | ABC TV.

The Israeli Government has to deal with the problem that the people with whom it must negotiate – some of the people with whom it must negotiate say you’ve got no right to exist. You do not have any. So they’re frightened. Well, blow me the Israelis are frightened. It’s not often understood how frightened Israelis are. They are there surrounded on all sides by people who would like them not to be there.

As Larry Derfner wrote in the the Jerusalem Post, this sense of fear and isolation leads to exactly the policies that then spark further condemnation, which continues the spiral toward further fear.


Ours is not to reason why – JPost – Opinion – Columnists

Remember the hysteria over the coriander menace? Until a year ago, we were stopping coriander and God knows how many other edibles from entering Gaza – in the name of national security! Then the Mavi Marmara sails for Gaza, we shoot it up, the pressure’s on again, and suddenly a long list of previously banned foods – yes, even coriander – is moving into Gaza, and suddenly no one wants to remember how mindless and sheep-like they were to take the army’s and government’s word that this insane policy was necessary to keep Israel safe.

This is the problem with all of the pressure on Israel and the relentless condemnation of everything Netanyahu does – ironically, rather than forcing Israel to make concessions and advancing whatever vestige of hope there may be for a resumption of negotiations, it only increases the Israeli public’s sense of helplessness and drives public opinion to the right. As Abrahams points out, Israelis have made concessions in the past not under fierce condemnation, but rather when they feel that whoever is asking for concessions is on their side and that they are not the only side being forced to do so.

All of this makes life harder for Israel and in a way easier for Prime Minister Netanyahu. When a deeply sympathetic American president asks for concessions and compromises and appears able to cajole some from the Palestinians, which was the Clinton/Rabin and Bush/Sharon combination, Israel must respond. When a president most Israelis regard as hostile pushes them while the PLO leadership turns to Hamas, most Israelis will back Netanyahu’s tough response.

It is absurd to suggest that peace is ebbing away because of Netanyahu. He may have been a factor, but there has been a dramatic failure from the Palestinian Authority and the US to do anything conducive to a dialogue or compromise. At the moment, it looks like the best idea would be to top trying to make peace…and rather, start trying to prevent a war from breaking-out.

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