Hamas’s negotiating stance

Amira Hass has two interesting stories in today’s HaAretz that describe important elements of the stance Hamas has adopted with regard to the two major challenges it faces: forming a Palestinian government and dealing with the international community. (Though actually, the “international” issue is an intimate part of the intra-Palestinian negotiations, too.)
In this piece is about the internal Palestinian negotiations. Hass tells us that Fateh’s Central Committee decided late Thursday not to take up Hamas’s invitation to join a national unity government.
She said that Hamas officials were still hopeful that some of the smaller parties/lists represented in the parliament might join a Hamas-led government. But she indicated that this effort also looked as though it would be unsuccessful, referring to, “The factions’ apparent refusal to join a Hamas-led government.”
She reported that the first of the three successive draft proposals that Hamas presented to the small parties (and perhaps also to Fateh as well?), “discussed considering negotiations with Israel only if the latter first recognizes the rights of the Palestinian people and guarantees a full withdrawal to 1967 lines.”
This accords exactly with what Ismail Haniyeh, Dr. Mahmoud Zahhar, Dr. Mahmoud Ramahi, and Ghazi Hamad all told me on my recent trip, though some of them indicated that this “exchange of recognitions” could also be more simultaneous and reciprocal than Hass indicates.
If Hamas is indeed prepared to commit to a recognition of Israel, even though conditional, and if the international community is truly committed to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, then this Hamas position would surely give a good-faith international mediator a substantial starting point for brokering some kind of a simultaneous, reciprocal exchange of recognitions.
That second “if” there might seem like a big one. But why on earth should anyone in the international community expect Palestinians or anyone else to provide any kind of recognition of Israel having rights outside of its own national borders?
Hass reported the response of the Palestinian parties to Hamas’s political overture as follows:

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Nir Rosen from Iraq

The latest (March-April) issue of Boston Review has a riveting piece of reporting from Iraq by Nir Rosen. Nir is a fearless young reporter who has already racked up huge amounts of experience (and gathered good contacts) in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and other war zones.
This report includes interviews with several Sunni political leaders as well as some high-ranking Sadrists. It was conducted mainly during last Ramadan (October-Novermber). Though it’s a bit dated, I think it still has real value.

Major new article on the pro-Israel Lobby

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are two of the most important thinkers in the “realist” school of US foreign-policy analysts. Mearsheimer is the Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and Walt is the Academic Dean at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he holds the Robert and Renee Belfer Professorship in International Affairs.
These two men are not, as you can see, fuzzy-headed liberals who are marginal to the mainstream of policy discourse in the United States.
Now, they have a major new article in the upcoming issue of the London Review of Books on the power and detrimental role that the pro-Israel lobby in Washington has played over the years. (The LRB piece has no footnotes. But you can access a fully documented, PDF version of the longer article from which it was excerpted, if you click here. 211 endnotes, many of them very lengthy, to document just 48 pages of text… These guys are empiricists after my own heart!)
Here is some of what they argue in the LRB version:

    Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
    Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

And this:

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CSM column on the Israeli election

The CSM today published my column on the Israeli election (here and here). It underlines the fact that in this election, the main platform plank of the front-running party is that, as I write, it will,

    turns its back on 58 years of Israeli commitment to negotiating peace with its neighbors, promising voters instead that a Kadima-led government is ready and eager to draw Israel’s borders quite unilaterally.

Perhaps I was too generous. Perhaps I should have written, “58 years of Israeli avowals of commitment to negotiating peace”… Since if there had been a real commitment to a negotiated peace over these past 39 years, then successive Israeli governments would surely not have devoted a lot of effort and resources to implanting lavish, Jews-only colonies in the heart of the occupied territories?
But still, until now, those avowals of committment to a negotiated peace have been politically important in many ways. Crucially, they have allowed the US a big “in” to play the key role of “third party mediator” that since late 1973 has dominated all attempts at negotiations.
But if Israel– the major beneficiary of US “foreign aid” funding over all those decades– is now openly saying, “to heck with negotiations”, then where does that leave the US? Merely as Israel’s main backer, I would say, without any longer also enjoying the fig-leaf of being the main peace-broker between it and its neighbors.
As I note in the column, Olmert has said that his unilateralist plans

    had been shared with the Bush administration, which “refrained from public comment.” He implied this gave him at least an yellow light to go ahead.

I believe that those fearless members of the US press corps who attend State Department or White House briefings should follow up aggressively on this issue. If I were one of them, here are the kinds of question I would ask:

    — Is it true that envoys of Mr. Olmert have shared with you his plans for unilaterally delineating Israel’s final borders by 2010?
    — What is your reaction to this proposal?
    — What impact do you think this proposal has on the US’s long-held commitment to the idea that all details of the final status between Israel and the Palestinians, including the border and all other issues, should be the subject of negotiation between the parties?
    — If an Israeli government proceeds with this expansionist plan, what impact will this have on US readiness to continue according Israel massive political and financial support?
    — What do you say to President Mahmoud Abbas and those other Palestinians who have taken great political risks over a number of years to promote and pursue the path of winning a negotiated peace with Israel?

Well, I’m sure you get my drift. But I doubt if many members of the inside-the-beltway press corps will push very hard on questions like these.
By the way, I wrote the piece before Olmert’s latest “unilateralist spectacular”, the raid on the Jericho prison. Laila el-Haddad’s been doing some great blogging about it. (1, 2, 3.)

New Visser paper on Sistani’s role

I’ve just gotten the time to read this paper, which Iraqi-Shiite affairs expert Reidar Visser sent me. It is his assessment of the role that Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has played in Iraqi politics in recent years– and of the role that Sistani might be expected to continue to play in the future.
Visser is a careful, apparently very knowledgeable historian. This paper, which runs 33 pages of PDF file, single-spaced, is thoroughly documented and (for me) well worth the time it took to give it a fairly careful read. Long-time JWN readers will know that I’ve long been intrigued with trying to understand Sistani’s role– and I’ve made a few of my own guesses, some probably fairly wrong-headed, along the way. (That’s why I really appreciate being able to profit from Visser’s careful scholarship.)
He is fairly adamant about his methodology. In an atmosphere where many people claim on occasion to speak for Sistani, Visser tries to restrict himself to a consideration of the bayans that are issued directly by the Ayatollah himself, usually through his own website. (Interestingly, we learn toward the end of Visser’s paper that the site is maintained by Jawad Shahristani, who is the head of Sistani’s office in Qom, Iran. Visser notes that this “entails certain editorial prerogatives, and asks the “heretical but necessary question” as to whether these prerogatives have allowed Shahristani “to pursue a Sistani policy of his own… [O]nce a pronouncement is produced, the decision whether to publish it or not may well have been controlled from Iran as much as from Iraq.” But he concludes that, “As of today there is however no convincing documentary basis for insinuations of this kind.”– pp.26-27.)
So the main thrust of Visser’s careful study of the website material reveals to him three distinct periods in Sistani’s engagement with overt Iraqi politics: first, a period of general quietism toward political affairs, which lasted from the Saddam era and through around June 2003; then a period of much greater engagement, between June 2003 and October 2004; and finally, from November 2004 until today, “there has been evidence of a return to seclusion and a renewed preoccupation with matters concerning the Shiite faith and the protection of its religious infrastructure.” — p.7.
Visser documents these shifts– and in particular, the strong role that Sistani played in 2004 in overthrowing Bremer’s original “caucus” plan for a transitional government and insisting on the holding of one-person, one-vote elections for both the transitional government and the final government. At the same time, he was making many pronouncements and interventions in favor of Iraq remaining a unitary state, and in favor of the shari’ religious law having a strong role in the Constitution.
In that period, too, Sistani came to issue some interesting bayans on the issue of the wilayat al-faqih (the Rule of the Jurisprudent) in which he seemed to stray very far from the opposition that his own earlier religious mentor, Ayatollah Abul-Qasim Khoei, had evinced toward the concept. Visser writes that though Sistani’s apparent embrace of the concept was greeted with jubilation in Teheran, where many regime people assumed that meant he was bowing to the supremacy of their own faqih there, Ayataollah Khamenei, in fact Sistani never gave any explicit recognition to the identification of Khamanei as faqih. When asked, Who is this faqih? Sistani merely answered, “The just jurisprudent acceptable to all the believers.” Which, Visser says, could even be interpreted as possibly referring to Sistani himself…
But, Visser notes, the period of active (and remarkably effective) engagement in Iraqi politics came to an end at the end of November 2004, and since then Sistani has returned to being a sort of delphic figure who concerns himself mostly with arcane matters of ritual and observance, leaving his followers to guess, and make claims and counter-claims, when it comes to questions of concrete political guidance:

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Pictures from Palestine/Israel

I’m still a bit uncertain about posting photos into the blog. Both because I’m uncertain about digital photography in general and because I know they take a lot of space/time for people with slow connections to get access to. So I uploaded them onto my home website and shall provide links here.
Here goes.
Here are photos from my visit to the Jabaliya camp Islamic preschool, in Gaza, as described in my Salon article on the Hamas women: classroom scene, phys ed session, teachers doing puppets, writing teacher.
Here are two views– taken by the talented Laila el-Haddad– of the Salah Foundation Girls’ School in Deir al-Balah (also described in the Salon article): the school’s mosque and library building, and a classroom block.
Here is the truly 1984-ish crossing point from Ramallah to Jerusalem, at Qalandiya: first, the general approach from the Ramallah side, then some of the graffiti— a work by Banksy on the left and a nice image of Gandhi on the right.
You can only see one, 30-foot-high concrete-clad Israeli watchtower in that first picture…. So you’ve arrived at Qalandiya from Ramallah or el-Bireh, most likely in a car or a share-taxi– you can see these vehicles all turning around there at the crossing point. Then you go on foot with all your bags or sick granny or whatever through a break in this wall just to the left of the watch-tower and then traverse the weird lunarscape of gashed-into rock and earth beyond it, walking 100 yards to the under-construction “terminal” there, which has complex gate systems that lead you to a no-man’s land on the other side. The lunarscape and the no-man’s land are also studded with two or three free-standing watchtowers, 30-feet and 40-feet high. And there’s also a lot of other construction there. You walk along a trash-strewn walkway to another short segment of wall, beyond which are the vehicles that take you to locations within the next sections of wall– either al-Ram, walled in right ahead of you to the left, or to Jerusalem itself, for which you dip down to a little place on the right where small buses wait to gather people who have the favored Jeusalem passbooks. The bus then inscribes a huge arc to the southwest– on “Israelis only” roads in this completely apartheided road system– and then arrives to the bus depot on Jerusalem’s Nablus Road.
These are some scenes I noted in Tel Aviv/Jaffa when I took the walk described in this JWN post: the seaside monument to Jewish illegal immigration into Palestine, IDF female soldiers slouching toward Jaffa with their guns, a mosque in the shadow of the David Intercontinental Hotel,a display on Deir Yassin in the Irgun Museum, exterior view of the Irgun Museum, and a small slice of Old Jaffa.
Three pics from Jerusalem: the Damascus Gate to the Old City, with some IOF soldiers visible over to the right; Palestinian herb vendors at the Damascus Gate– notice the beautiful embroidered dresses some wear for their daily work!– and finally just a little view through a postern in the middle of a busy shoopping street– with a T-shirt vendor to the right.
Here are some pics from the showroom of the Atfaluna (“our children”) school and project for the deaf in Gaza City, which is an oasis of calm and focused industry right there on Filasteen Street: embroidered bags, embroidered cushions, and a general view of the shop/showroom there. If anyone wants to buy some of their beautiful products (and help their project and their clients by doing so) then I can assure you their goods are beautifully made, beautifully finished, and their order fulfillment/distribution system is little short of miraculous.

Olmert’s campaign brings down the walls of Jericho

Ehud Olmert continued his election campaign today by (1) traveling to the West Bank settlement of Ariel and telling its residents they would be included inside the news borders he plans to draw for Israel, and (2) sending the IOF’s tanks and bulldozers in aganst the PA prison in Jericho holding PFLP leader Ahmed Saadat.
I suppose that on the scale of aggressive actions taken by Israeli PMs during election campaigns– oh ain’t Israeli “democracy” wonderful!– this was not as bad as Shimon Peres’s infamous 1996 invasion of South Lebanon.
On this occasion, the British seem clearly to have connived in the Israeli action. Since 2002, the British had been keeping three of their own monitors (and intermittently, supervising monitors from other countries, too) in the Jericho Prison… That was part of an international deal whereby Ahmed Saadat, who was wanted by the Israelis for his role in the killing of Tourism Minister Rahavam Ze’evi but had taken refuge with Arafat in the Muqata during the long siege of spring 2002, was allowed to leave the Muqata. A PA security court gave Saadat and some colleagues a quick trial for the killing of Ze’evi, and sentenced him to a lengthy prison sentence, which was served in Jericho with the British monitors specially deployed there to check on the adequacy of his confinement…
As this well-written piece by the Guardian’s Chris McGreal spells out, the local Israeli commander was just waiting this morning for the British monitors to leave before they stormed the prison compound. How amazing! Do the Brits expect anyone to believe the story that they had not colluded with the Israelis at all in this? After all, Col. Ronnie Belkin, interviewed by McGreal there, would most certainly not have had his assault force sitting there around the pirson for many days just “on the off-chance” that the British monitors might all take it into their heads to leave the site together at some point…
Of course, if the British had stayed there, it is very unlikely that the Israelis would have dared storm the prison by force.
I believe that two Palestinians were killed in the assault. BBC t.v. had some very strong images of IOF bulldozers smashing into the prison building while, presumably, there were still people inside. And of course there are also the images of Saadat and his collagues being led away from the prison by the Israeli soldiers, dazed, after holding out there for some ten hours– and also of a big group of prisoners (or prison guards?) who were forced to strip down to their underpants and stand around in public in them, at the orders of the IOF assault force.
Britain is of course represented in the Quartet through its membership in both the EU and the UN. Given Britain’s defiant dereliction of its contracted duty to the PA under the 2002 agreement, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is quite right to have protested very strongly. But actually, the PA is to a large extent the dependent ward of the international community. So why should any powerful member of the international community, like Britain, feel it needs to listen to Abbas, anyway?
In the absence of their quasi-state authority having any power to protect even its own institutions from the assault of the occupying forces and the perfidy of London, angry Palestinians later smashed up various British installations, and kidnaped a number of westerners in the occupied territories. Not at all a constructive way to make their grievances known, I realise. But in the Palestinians’ present state of almost complete powerlessness, I guess it was what they felt they had left to them.

Bushite meddling in Iran– backfiring?

Today’s WaPo had a very interesting article by Karl Vick and David Finkel, that was datelined Teheran and titled U.S. Push for Democracy Could Backfire Inside Iran.
The lead is this:

    Prominent activists inside Iran say President Bush’s plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote democracy here is the kind of help they don’t need, warning that mere announcement of the U.S. program endangers human rights advocates by tainting them as American agents.
    In a case that advocates fear is directly linked to Bush’s announcement, the government has jailed two Iranians who traveled outside the country to attend what was billed as a series of workshops on human rights. Two others who attended were interrogated for three days.
    The workshops, conducted by groups based in the United States, were held last April, but Iranian investigators did not summon the participants until last month, about the time the Bush administration announced plans to spend $85 million “to support the cause of freedom in Iran this year.”
    “We are under pressure here both from hard-liners in the judiciary and that stupid George Bush,” human rights activist Emad Baghi said as he waited anxiously for his wife and daughter to emerge from interrogation last week. “When he says he wants to promote democracy in Iran, he gives money to these outside groups and we’re in here suffering.”

The reporters also quote Abdolfattah Soltani, a human rights lawyer who co-founded a human rights defense group with Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, as saying of the Bushies’ announcement of the new “pro-democracy” funding for Iranian oppositionists, that

    “Unfortunately, I’ve got to say it has a negative effect, not a positive one… This is something we all know, that a way of dealing with human rights activists is to claim they have secret relations with foreign powers… This very much limits our actions. It is very dangerous to our society.”

One other aspect of this story that concerns me is that the workshops that Emad Baghi’s wife and daughter (and two other individuals associated with him) had attended were conducted– in fairly shady-seeming circumstances, in Dubai– by something called the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict.
If indeed this “center” has become entangled in pushing forward the Bush administration’s agenda of regime change in Iran, then it seems to me it is dragging the whole name and concept of nonviolent social action into the mud.
Of course, one tip-off there is the name. Few good Gandhians– that is, people struggling nonviolently for a more egalitarian and just world– would proudly put the word “conflict” into the title of their organization.
The ICNC is a US-based organization. The US– my country– is the country that on a daily and continuing basis perpetrates the most violence of any country in the world. Since the invasion of Iraq that it so arrogantly launched in March 2003, scores of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, some at the hands of US forces and others because of the social chaos that the callous US military occupation of Iraq has engendered. In Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq, in Guantanamo, Bagram, and other locations around the world, US interrogators and jailers are inscribing their violence onto the bodies of thousands of detainees held in contravention of the laws of war.
Surely, therefore, any individual or organization that is based in the US and that espouses the cause of nonviolence has a primary responsibility to struggle first and foremost for the changing of the policies of our government? The ICNC website says nothing about this at all. Instead, the organization seems to be exploiting the name of “nonviolence” and using a distortion of the principles of that great anti-colonial struggler Mahatma Gandhi merely to further Washington’s imperial agenda.
Oh well, the Bushites shamelessly exploit all the principles of religion. Why should they treat the principles of nonviolence any differently?

Salon.com article on Hamas women

Here is my second piece for Salon.com, up on their site today. Once again, if you’re not a subscriber you’ll have to sit through a small ad before you can read it.
Shoot, I forgot to remind them to put something about JWN into the tagline.
My body meanwhile is a little in crazysville. I flew back to Boston Saturday, a seven-hour time difference from Jerusalem. Sunday I did a quick revision of the Salon piece (which I wrote the first draft of, Thursday and Friday). Sunday I also gave a talk for the Cape Ann Forum between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. It was on the theme of “The Perfect Storm” of challenges to the US in the Middle East. I chose the theme long ago– and only when I got there to Gloucester, Massachusetts did I realize that the movie of that name was both set and shot there!
I managed to stay awake, on my feet, and relatively coherent till 9 p.m.
Yesterday I flew back to Virginia and started writing a CSM column to deadline. But my brain stopped working around 7 p.m. so I got up this morning at 5 a.m. to finish it. Since then I’ve taken my first run for three weeks, done laundry, been lying around.
But it’s nice to see the piece up on Salon.