Friday, December 1, 2006

Palestinians Register: Laying Foundations and Setting Directions

Report of the Civitas Project

UN: Israel breaks border agreement

17:26 MECCA TIME, 14:26 GMT

By Laila El-Haddad at the Rafah crossing
Palestinian access through the Rafah border has
been severely impeded by Israel
A UN report has accused Israel of breaking all provisions in a year-old US-brokered agreement on Gaza's border crossings, as Condoleezza Rice visits the region.
The Agreement on Movement and Access, signed last November after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, was meant to facilitate the movement of Palestinians and goods in and out of Gaza.

It also promised Palestinian control over the Rafah crossing into Egypt by November 2006, after a transitional year of EU monitoring and Israeli video surveillance.
At the time, the border agreement was hailed by Rice, the US secretary of state, as a breakthrough.

She said the agreement would "give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives".
But according to the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Palestinians are worse off than they were a year ago, in terms of their freedom of movement and their overall economic situation.
Restrictions on access
The report said that access restrictions remained at the Gaza crossings.
"The ability of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip to access either the West Bank or the outside world remains extremely limited and the flow of commercial trade is negligible.

"The only way anyone will actually pay any attention to our plight is if one of us dies here, and even then I'm not sure the world will care"

FFeature: Caught at the crossing

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"Movement within the West Bank is also more restricted. There has been no peaceful economic development as envisaged by the AMA but rather a deterioration in the humanitarian situation and an increase in violence overall," the report says.
According to the report, unemployment in Gaza has risen from 33.1 per cent to 41.8 per cent over the course of the year. Rice is expected to bring up implementation of the agreement in discussions with Abbas and Olmert.
The UN report accuses Israel of violating every provision of the borders agreement to which it signed up, including the operation of the Rafah crossing.
Under the terms of the Agreement on Movement and Access, Israel had agreed to operate the Rafah crossing and other Gaza commercial crossings continuously, and to not close passages because of security incidents unrelated to the crossing itself.
Rafah, which is the only passageway for Gaza's 1.4 million residents, was shut down indefinitely by Israel on June 24 after Palestinian fighters attacked an Israeli military base, killing two soldiers and capturing another.
According to the UN report, it has been open for only 21 days since - 14 per cent of the scheduled operating days. A military document leaked to the Israeli daily Haaretz in August suggested that the continued closure was intended to apply pressure on Gaza residents until progress was made in returning the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Israeli officials provided no comment on the matter to Al Jazeera despite numerous attempts.
The crossing is Gaza's gateway to the world. Without it, patients cannot get medical treatment unavailable in Gaza; students cannot reach universities abroad; family members are separated from each other, and Gaza residents, 85 per cent of whom live in poverty, cannot reach places of work.
As a result of the continuing closure, 1.4 million Palestinians have become hermetically sealed into Gaza, and about 3,200 others remain trapped outside, Palestinian border officials say.

"From a humanitarian point of view, it's a major crisis for these people who are effectively trapped within and outside of Gaza"

David Shearer, head of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

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Use of the passage has been restricted to residents of the Gaza Strip carrying Israeli-issued Palestinian identity documents, despite agreement to allow numerous other categories access.
Non-ID card-holders, such as foreign-passport holders, Palestinian refugees living outside Gaza, or even residents of the West Bank, cannot use the crossing.
The movement of people between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank also remains virtually impossible, the report says, and the two areas have become more isolated from one another than ever before.
Israel had promised to allow convoys to transport Palestinian people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank by the end of 2005, but reneged on the agreement, the OCHA says.
Commercial losses
In addition, Gaza's main commercial crossing - al-Mintar, or Karni - has been closed for more than half the year, it says. An average of 12 lorries a day carring Palestinian goods has been allowed out of Gaza. Israel had promised to raise the number to 400 by the end of this year.
Less than four per cent of the Palestinian harvest was exported as a consequence, and hundreds of tonnes of produce spoiled or was dumped on the local market, crippling the local economy. Palestinian agriculture, one of Gaza's primary sectors, suffered $30m in losses as a result of the closure.
David Shearer, head of the OCHA, said: "Thousands and thousands of people have been stopped from moving - students, medical cases, people who have come to visit families, people returning from holidays ….
"From a humanitarian point of view, it's a major crisis for these people who are effectively trapped within and outside of Gaza."
The OCHA report is available in PDF format - The Agreement on Movement and Access One Year On

Bob Gates & Locking You Up Forever

By Robert Parry
December 1, 2006

As the next Defense Secretary, Robert M. Gates will be in charge of a new star-chamber legal system that can lock up indefinitely “unlawful enemy combatants” and “any person” accused of aiding them. Yet, despite these extraordinary new powers, his confirmation is being treated more like a coronation than a time for tough questions.

Not since 2003 when Secretary of State Colin Powell wowed Official Washington with his United Nations speech on Iraq’s WMD has there been such an awed consensus about any public figure as there has been for former CIA Director Gates, who is almost universally praised for his intelligence, experience and down-to-earth style.

But there are serious unresolved questions about Gates’s past that the American people might want resolved before he is entrusted with the awesome new powers that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 puts in the hands of the Defense Secretary.

In 1991, for reasons mostly of political expediency and personal friendship, Gates’s last confirmation process for CIA director never got to the bottom of allegations linking Gates to some of the most serious national security scandals of the 1980s, including illegal involvement in arms deals with Iran and Iraq.

In his memoir, From the Shadows, Gates revealed why the inquiries were cut short when he thanked his friend, Sen. David Boren, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, for shepherding him through the confirmation process.

“David took it as a personal challenge to get me confirmed,” Gates wrote.

Boren’s chief of staff who helped limit the investigation of Gates in 1991 was George Tenet, whose actions earned him the gratitude of then-President George H.W. Bush, who a decade later urged his son, President George W. Bush, to keep Tenet on as CIA director.

Amid all this cozy back-scratching, Gates’s alleged involvement in illicit contacts between senior Republicans and Iranian representatives during the 1980 hostage crisis was never seriously vetted. Neither was Gates’s alleged participation in arranging secret arms shipments to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s.

Though Boren promised to pursue the so-called Iraq-gate allegations against Gates, the Oklahoma senator never did.

Then, regarding a purported Gates meeting with a key Israeli intelligence officer who had linked Gates to both the 1980 Iran-hostage scandal and the later Iraq-gate operations, Gates denied that the meeting ever took place. To prove it, Gates supplied Boren and Tenet with an airtight alibi – for the wrong day.

In 1991, when I pointed out this date discrepancy to the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, they agreed that they had the wrong day but then told me that they had simply decided to take Gates at his word that he had not met the Israeli intelligence officer, Ari Ben-Menashe.

New Evidence

Since 1991, however, new evidence has emerged supporting the plausibility of Ben-Menashe’s claims.

In January 1993, the Russian government sent then-Rep. Lee Hamilton a report describing what the KGB’s intelligence files revealed about the history of secret U.S. arms sales to Iran.

According to this Russian report, CIA officer Gates joined then-vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey in a clandestine meeting with Iranian representatives in Paris in October 1980.

At the time, President Jimmy Carter was trying to gain the freedom of 52 American hostages in Iran whose continued captivity sank Carter’s hopes for reelection. The hostages weren't freed until immediately after Reagan and Bush were sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981.

Though the Russian report contradicted long-standing denials by Gates and Bush about the Paris trip, Hamilton never subjected the report to a thorough examination, nor did he release it to the public. He simply filed it away in unpublished records of a House task force he had headed. [I discovered the Russian report a couple of years later.]

In another blow to Gates’s credibility in January 1995, Howard Teicher, who had served on President Reagan’s National Security Council staff in the 1980s, submitted a sworn affidavit detailing the work of Gates and his boss, then-CIA Director Casey, in arranging arms supplies through Chilean arms dealer Carlos Cardoen for the Iraqis.

Again, the Teicher affidavit was never seriously investigated, in part because it complicated a federal prosecution of a private company, Teledyne Industries, which had supplied explosives to Cardoen.

When Justice Department lawyers couldn’t readily find documents that Teicher said should be in the Reagan archives, the lawyers questioned Teicher’s credibility, ignoring the fact that in 1986, NSC aide Oliver North conducted a massive “shredding party” of NSC records about secret policies in the Middle East and Central America.

In the years since Gates’s last confirmation hearing in 1991, other evidence has come along to buttress Ben-Menashe’s claims that Gates was an active player in covert Middle East policies and took part in clandestine operations.

Critics of Ben-Menashe have challenged his claims on the grounds that Gates was known as a Soviet – not a Middle East – expert and was an intelligence analyst who would not cross over into covert operations.

But what these critics misunderstood is that while Gates did work in the Soviet division of the CIA’s analytical section, his work there concentrated on Soviet policy toward the Middle East, according to Gates’s former boss, CIA analyst Ray McGovern. Indeed, McGovern said Gates prided himself in being a top Middle East expert within CIA.

Gates also didn’t confine himself to the cloistered world of CIA analysis, even when he was in charge of the CIA’s analytical division, the Directorate of Intelligence, in the early- to mid-1980s.

Though CIA analysts are supposed to focus on providing objective intelligence and leave setting policy to the policymakers, Gates secretly sent policy recommendations to CIA Director Casey.

For instance, in a December 1984 memo to Casey, Gates called for the bombing of military targets in Nicaragua and the overthrow of the leftist Sandinista government as the only way to prevent a permanent “Marxist-Leninist” state on the mainland of the Americas. [For details, see’s “Why Trust Robert Gates on Iraq.”]

Besides crossing the bright line between analysis and policy, Gates turned out to be wrong in his assessments. After the Reagan administration rejected his plan as too extreme, the Sandinistas eventually left power peacefully when they lost an election. [For more on Gates’s history, see’s “The Secret World of Robert Gates.”]

Tribunal Powers

The questions about Gates’s integrity and independence stand out in even sharper relief now because of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The new law empowers the Defense Secretary to create a parallel American legal system, existing outside the protections of the U.S. Constitution.

As Defense Secretary, Gates would handpick the military judges and set the rules for administering the system, which was established under a law passed by Congress in September and signed by President Bush on Oct. 17. The law allows the jailing of both “unlawful enemy combatants” and “any person” who allegedly helps them.

While the new law explicitly strips non-U.S. citizens of the habeas corpus right to a fair and speedy trial, the law implicitly does the same to U.S. citizens in a section that covers “any person” who “aids, abets, counsels, commands or procures” actions by “unlawful enemy combatants."

Anyone who is thrust into this parallel legal system is barred from filing any motions “whatsoever” with a civilian court, presumably preventing assertion by citizens and non-citizens alike of habeas corpus or other constitutional rights. [See’s “Who Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law.”]

Given the sweeping powers that Gates would inherent as Defense Secretary, the Senate Armed Services Committee might want to take a little more time before it rushes through his confirmation.

Currently, Gates is expected to undergo gentle questioning mostly focused on the Iraq War during pro forma confirmation hearings on Dec. 5. According to this thinking, his confirmation by the full Senate would follow quickly during the lame-duck session with the Republicans still in the majority.

But before Gates’s confirmation by acclamation, senators might want to consider posing the following questions:

1. In a 1995 affidavit, former NSC official Howard Teicher put you in the middle of arranging third-country arms shipments to Iraq in the 1980s. Exactly what was your role in dealing with the issue of third-country military shipments to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War? Were you ever approached by Israeli representatives who voiced concerns about some of these shipments, particularly those involving dangerous chemicals? If so, what did you do about these Israeli concerns? What do you know about Chilean arms dealer Carlos Cardoen?

2. In December 1984, you wrote a memo to CIA Director William Casey recommending, among other things, the bombing of military targets in Nicaragua. You warned that if your tough recommendations weren’t followed, you envisioned a permanent “Marxist-Leninist” state in Central America. As it turned out, the Reagan administration rejected your advice as too extreme and the Sandinistas surrendered power via an election in 1990. In hindsight, do you acknowledge that your recommendations were misguided? Since you made them when you were in charge of the analytical division, do you believe you overstepped your bounds by getting involved in policy recommendations? Given the damage to U.S. national interests that has followed the faulty intelligence on Iraq’s WMD, do you believe it’s wise for the deputy director for intelligence to offer detailed policy prescriptions?

3. In a 1993 report to Rep. Lee Hamilton, the Russian government said its intelligence files put you in a meeting in Paris in October 1980 with Iranian representatives about American hostages then held in Iran. At that time, you were the executive assistant to CIA Director Stansfield Turner. Though you denied participating in such a meeting during your 1991 confirmation hearings, this Russian report followed that denial. First, do you stand by your earlier denial? And second, can you turn over to Congress records that would verify your whereabouts during the relevant period of mid-October 1980, particularly the weekend of Oct. 18-19?

4. On another date for a disputed meeting between you and an Israeli representative in New Jersey, you apparently gave the Senate Intelligence Committee an alibi for the wrong day, April 19, 1989, when the date of the supposed meeting was April 20, 1989. Would you be willing to provide documentary evidence about your whereabouts on the afternoon of April 20, 1989, such as personal calendars or your official schedule for that day when you were deputy national security adviser?

5. During your career in the CIA and your assignments to the NSC, how many times did you travel to the Middle East? Could you provide a list of destinations, the purposes of the trips, and approximate dates? Do you consider yourself a Middle East expert?

6. Since the Military Commissions Act of 2006 contains wording that seems to apply to “any person” who aids and abets acts by “unlawful enemy combatants,” some American citizens fear they might be pulled into the military tribunal system. Can you offer categorical assurances that no American citizen would ever be detained under this new law? Do you believe that Congress should revise the statute to restore the principle of habeas corpus for all detainees and to include other traditional legal safeguards, or are you happy with the law as is?

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

Bulldozing the rule of law

Army levels several houses south of Bethlehem
Army levels a number of shops in Salfit
The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

At the West Bank settlement of Ofra, as seen from the ground, two-story suburban houses stand along quiet streets. Near the community's entry gate are a few prefab concrete structures - remains of the abandoned Jordanian army base where the first settlers lived in the mid-1970s, until they built their comfortable homes.

Here's another picture of Ofra, with color-coded data on land ownership superimposed on an aerial photo: Near the entrance are small brown splotches of state-owned land, the original Jordanian base. Almost all the rest of Ofra's area is marked in red, indicating that it is private Palestinian property. The data on which the map is based, apparently updated in 2004, comes from the Israeli government's civil administration in the West Bank. Leaked to researchers from the Peace Now movement, the information forms the basis for their stark report, published last week, on exploitation of private Palestinian land for Israeli settlement.

The report is deeply disturbing and curiously unsurprising. The public, in Israel and outside it, did not know previously that 38.8 percent of all settlement land is privately owned by Palestinians. Nor did we know that the proportion is actually slightly higher than this in the "settlement blocs'' that the Israeli government hopes to keep permanently as part of Israel. Settlements, the Israeli public presumed, stood on land owned by the state or by Jews.

Yet, the newly revealed figures fit into a known context: Israel rules the West Bank, but what happens there does not follow Israel's own rules. Since Israel's conquest of the territory in 1967, settlement has been a tool in the battle for permanent political control, and both officials and activists have been complicit in putting the cause above the law.

The result is injustice to the Palestinian residents and an undermining of Israel's legal institutions.

In the eyes of Israel's legal system, the West Bank - except for annexed east Jerusalem - is under military occupation. Israel's courts have avoided ruling on the broad issue of whether all settlement in occupied territory is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. But they have acknowledged that the international laws of war codified in the 1907 Hague Convention apply. That includes Article 46, which forbids confiscating private property for use by the occupying power.

SO HOW did settlements, built with government support and often at government initiative, end up on private Palestinian land?

In the first years of the occupation, Israel regularly "requisitioned'' land, ostensibly to meet provisional military needs. Palestinian residents retained ownership, but not control, of their real estate. On some of that land, the government established settlements.

Facing court challenges in the 1970s, the state argued that the new communities served Israel's security and were not permanent. The officials who planned the settlements might have believed that they had military value. But they did not regard them as temporary. The settlements' underlying purpose, as shown by an extensive paper trail in Israeli archives, was to anchor a political claim to territory before any negotiations began.

In a landmark 1979 ruling, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the requisition of land for one settlement, Elon Moreh, when the state abjectly failed to show military need. Elon Moreh was moved, and the government stopped requisitioning land. But it did not return property it had seized elsewhere to its owners or take down other settlements built on requisitioned land.

Officially, the policy since 1979 has been only to use state-owned real estate or land bought privately by Jews for new settlements. Last year, though, a government-commissioned report on small settlement "outposts" set up in the past decade showed that many stood on Palestinian property. That report apparently relied on the same data used by Peace Now.

The Peace Now research suggests that the practice of simply building Israeli homes on the land of others with no legal basis is much more widespread. The vast majority of settlements have been built since 1979. Because the government has refused to reveal what land is covered by old requisition orders, it is impossible to know how much land has simply been overrun.

At the new Elon Moreh, for instance, 65 percent of the land is Palestinian-owned, according to the Peace Now report. Was any of that land formally requisitioned before 1979? Actually, though, the distinction is not as significant as it seems. The requisitions before 1979 deliberately bent the law of occupation. In the case of private land overrun since then, the law has simply been broken. The government has not only shirked its responsibility as an occupying power to enforce the law, it also has planned and subsidized the settlement effort.

So the irony is this: The bulldozers used to build settlements have extended Israel's de facto control of territory. Yet, at the same time, they have weakened Israel as a state built on the rule of law - the kind of state that its truest patriots have sought to create.

The Peace Now report is certain to sharpen, not end, the arguments about who owns which specific pieces of real estate. But the overall lesson of history remains clear: Difficult as dismantling the settlement enterprise will be, it is essential not only for a diplomatic solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is needed to restore Israel to itself.

The writer is the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. This essay first appeared in The Los Angeles Times.


Dec 1, 2006

By Mike Whitney

"You’ll find a day when there are no Sunnis left in Baghdad. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are panicking about this, and they are hoping that the US will in some way arm or support Sunnis militias. It’s hard for me to imagine that Sunni nations in the region will stand by and watch Sunnis pushed out of Baghdad, because there is this terror of the Shia threat. So you’ll see greater support from Saudi Arabia, from Jordan, perhaps from Yemen, from Egypt for Sunni militias. And the civil war will spread and become a regional one." Nir Rosen; interview with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now

President Bush’s latest round of “Disaster Diplomacy” has turned into a tragedy worthy of Eugene O’ Neill. In Riga, Latvia he was coolly greeted by foreign leaders in NATO who flatly rejected his request for more troops in Afghanistan or for redeploying troops to the south where the fighting is fiercest.

The next leg of Bush’s trip, a stopover in Amman, Jordan, turned out to be an even bigger flop. Bush was supposed to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, but Al-Maliki decided to follow the orders of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and pulled a “no show”. This left the “most powerful man in the world”, the President of the United States, looking like a schoolgirl who had been dumped on Prom Night. Bush's humiliation appeared as headline news around the world.

All in all, it’s been a tough week for Bush. The trip has exposed the fault-lines in US foreign policy and the steady erosion American power. Bush seems completely oblivious to the damage he’s doing to the country by refusing to change the present strategy and by blundering-ahead blindly pushing us deeper and deeper into the quagmire:

“I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete,” Bush growled to the NATO assembly.

Translation: “Stay the course, stay the course, stay the course”; repeat into infinity.

NATO; America’s Cats-paw

NATO has been a useful tool for the United States. It’s helped to conceal America’s imperial ambitions behind the mask of US-European solidarity. Now Bush is putting the alliance at risk by using it to enlist European support for a global resource war.

It’s a foolish plan which could jeopardize the future of the organization, but Bush doesn’t care. These alliances are only measured in terms of how successfully they advance the agenda of western elites; everything else is incidental.

But there’s no support in Europe for “messianic missions” like the war on terror. Already there’s grumbling about “cleaning up America’s mess” in Afghanistan. How long will it be before the member states realize that it’s really not in their interests to keep tweaking Putin’s nose by pushing into former Soviet Republics like Ukraine and Georgia? The EU economies are already strong and self sufficient. They don’t need to follow the neocon’s madcap “master plan” of making trouble for Russia. They can simply buy their resources on the open market and avoid the unnecessary aggravation.

It’s different for the Bush troupe. They see themselves as ruling the world. For them, expansion is an integral part of a larger militaristic strategy which they embrace with gusto. But no one in Europe is keen on following Generalissimo Bush into another century of war. The administration is miscalculating how far Europe will go before they reach the breaking point. Eventually, America will have to go it alone.

If Bush was wise, he’d pay more attention to the growing discontent among the allies and stop trying to rally the troops for a hopeless cause. NATO won’t prevail in Afghanistan. That’s just the dream of fanatics who base their decisions on ideology rather than history. In fact, the Pakistan Foreign Minister announced to the NATO members just days ago that they should “accept defeat” and leave.

That’s good advice. The mission is over. None of America’s promises, like Bush’s Marshall Plan, has ever materialized, nor will they. It was all baloney. 5 years later, Afghanistan is still a basket-case; the vast majority of people toil-away in grinding poverty with no access to clean water, medicine or employment. The central government is weak and is unable to provide security beyond the capital. The plan to create a thriving western-style democracy has failed utterly. It’s time to pack up and head home.

The dominant ethnic-group (the Pashtuns) is rising up en-masse and is determined to end the occupation. The Western media dismisses this loose-confederation of tribal-units as “the Taliban”, but it’s more complex than that. These are the indigenous people who are tired of the corruption, the lack of security, and the US puppet regime in Kabul. They have rejected a system which is governed exclusively by warlords, drug-smugglers, bandits and the American military. They want the same assurances of security that everyone seeks, and they are willing to put up with the Taliban to get them.

Nothing can be gained by prolonging our stay in Afghanistan. If there was a chance that military force could produce a “prosperous democracy” (as was promised) then that opportunity is gone. History can’t be undone. NATO members should ignore Bush’s cheerleading and prepare to hand over control of the country to the Afghans. There’s nothing we can do to forestall the violence that will erupt when we withdrawal. That’s the unfortunate cost of aggression; innocent people die.

NATO should be more concerned about its own future. Europe needs a defensive capability that is independent of America. That has never been more apparent than today when we can see how the Bush administration has co-opted NATO for their imperial objectives. Europe does not need a foothold in Central Asia or in the Middle East. Nor do they need a behemoth military that functions as a security apparatus for global corporations. They merely need a credible deterrent for potential enemies.

That’s all they need.

Afghanistan will probably be the wedge-issue that finally splits the continents apart and sets America adrift. Within a year, (and no more than two) we’ll see a chasm open up between Europe and America. This can’t be avoided. The EU and America have already chosen their respective paths; it’s just a matter of acknowledging their irreconcilable differences and moving forward. As Afghanistan continues to drag on, Europeans will get increasingly restless and force their leaders to respond. This is bound to trigger a crisis within NATO that will rupture the Transatlantic Alliance. These problems will further intensify as the greenback plummets in value and the American economy goes on life-support. By then, the Euro-leaders will no longer feel required to pay attention to Bush’s ravings and they’ll gradually realign with allies in the more promising markets of Asia and Latin America.

The continental drift between America and Europe is already widening. It just needs one more calamity to snap. Asia and Latin America have already realigned; forming security and economic pacts which will only strengthen as the century unfolds. The US has ignored these developments believing that its brief moment as the world’s only superpower will be long-lived. Regrettably, America’s present trajectory suggests otherwise. A giant, lumbering military is of little value in a world where power and prosperity depend mainly on commerce.

Iraq; a Zero-sum Game

While the future of NATO seems uncertain, the situation in Iraq is even more dismal. The midterm elections sent a clear message that the American people wanted a substantial change in the policy. Bush has not only ignored that message, but has “preemptively” disregarded the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group which is calling for a “gradual pullback of 15 American combat brigades” and negotiations with Iran and Syria.

Bush responded in Jordan saying, “I know there’s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there’s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. (But) We’re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there.”

Refrain: “Stay the course, stay the course, stay the course”; repeat into infinity.

Bush is still under Dick Cheney’s influence and Cheney is not budging. He won’t talk to Iran or Syria and he won’t set a timetable for withdrawal. But neither Bush nor Cheney control events on the ground in Iraq. The real boss is Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Maliki’s “snub” was highlighted in the media because it was seen as an insult to Bush, but that is irrelevant. The real meaning of al-Maliki’s “no show” was to indicate that al-Sadr is running the country. He calls the shots and he pulls al-Maliki’s strings. Obviously this wasn’t lost on the White House warlords who now understand the source of Iraqi power.

Al-Sadr is the most powerful man in Iraq and the Medhi Army the strongest militia. This puts Bush in the unenviable position of either fighting al-Sadr now (even though the US trained and provided weapons for many of the Shiite militias in the Interior Ministry) or trying to negotiate with the leaders in the Ba’athist-led resistance to cobble together a coalition government. Either way; America loses and the region descends into chaos.

The Shiite militias have been working furiously to kill as many military-aged Sunnis as possible to ensure that the Ba’athist Party never regains power. It is widely believed that the US is secretly working out a “reconciliation plan” to bring the Sunnis back into the government so they can begin to purge the militias and establish order. The Shia will never allow this to happen. In fact, Iran is bound to join the fighting if there’s any chance that their arch-rivals, the Ba’athist’s, are being restored to power.

On the other hand, if Bush takes on the Shiite militias, which are a vital part of the state security apparatus, he will be fighting the Sunnis and Shiites simultaneously; ensuring that his supply routes will be cut and his army surrounded. This is the fast-track to disaster.

There are no good options. If Bush ignores al-Sadr, then the ethnic-cleansing of Sunnis in Baghdad will continue and the number of civilian casualties will steeply rise. As author Nir Rosen stated in our opening quote, “You’ll find a day when there are no Sunnis left in Baghdad”. Rosen’s prediction is becoming more likely by the day.

The Ba’athist leaders, who left the country with enormous wealth (and now live in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) will not sit idly-by while their fellow Sunnis are butchered in Baghdad. They will continue to fund the armed resistance and do whatever they can to destabilize the new Iraqi government. Additionally, they will support guerilla activities which target American facilities in the region to repay the people who created this holocaust. Already, Sunni cleric, Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, the head of the Muslim Scholars Association, is traveling throughthe Middle East enlisting support from other Sunni leaders. He will probably establish a funding-stream for providing material support for the resistance. This illustrates how the war is gradually expanding beyond the confines of Iraq.

In an article which appeared on Monday in the Washington Post, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Turki al-Faisal said, “Since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave uninvited’. If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”

It is likely that Sunnis in the other Middle East capitals share al-Faisal’s sentiments and will be equally willing to contribute generously to their “brothers-in-arms” in Iraq.

The invasion has opened Pandora’s Box and disrupted the regional balance of power. Now there’s no telling how far the war will spread. The ferocity of the sectarian fighting suggests that a much larger conflagration is on the way. Foreign leaders are already preparing for the worst. Bush’s misguided fantasies of “Victory” in Iraq have lit a powderkeg and it's probably just a matter of time before the entire Middle East is consumed by war.

Md. Rabbi Gets 6 Years in Prison

Friday December 1, 2006 8:46 PM


Associated Press Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - A Maryland rabbi ensnared in a nationally televised sex sting was sentenced to 6 years in prison Friday for attempting to have sex with someone posing as a 13-year-old boy.

David A. Kaye, 56, of Rockville, Md., was convicted in September on federal charges of enticement and traveling across state lines to engage in illegal sexual conduct.

Most of the evidence came from a sting on ``Dateline NBC'' that was conducted in conjunction with an Internet watchdog group called Perverted Justice.

A Perverted Justice member posing as a 13-year-old boy met Kaye in an online chat room in 2005, and Kaye solicited sex acts. When Kaye drove to what he thought was the boy's home in Virginia, he was instead confronted by a TV reporter and camera crew and admitted he was there for ``not something good.''

At his sentencing, prosecutors said Kaye's crime was not an isolated incident, and submitted affidavits from others who claimed Kaye engaged in improper conduct, including one incident at a youth camp as far back as 1974.Kaye denied any improper conduct in those instances.

He said that he now believes his actions last August were ``a cry out for help.''

Kaye was a rabbi at a congregation in Potomac, Md., for 16 years and at the time of the sting was vice president of a Jewish youth organization called PANIM: the Institute for Jewish Leaders and Values.

Perverted Justice says its stings have resulted in more than 100 convictions nationwide since 2004. The group has a partnership with NBC to produce additional shows, titled ``To Catch a Predator.''

Critics claim Perverted Justice's methods border on vigilantism. Last month in Texas, a man about to be arrested after being caught in a Perverted Justice sting shot and killed himself when police came to arrest him.

The reality of the West's war on Iraq

Dr. Dahlia Wasfi speaks at Iraq forum

Dr. Dahlia Wasfi was born to a Jewish mother and an Iraqi father. She recently put her medical career on hold to visit with family members in Iraq, and recently returned from a three-month stay in Basrah and Baghdad. Dr. Wasfi described her experience in Iraq and discussed the life of Iraqis under occupation on April 27, 2006 in Washington, DC.


The reality of the West's war on Afghanistan

The real Afghan war

Published 27 November 2006

Kate Clark

The Taliban and the insurgency are not Afghanistan's worst problems. The country is now ruled by a new mafia of corrupt police and officials, who are crippling any hopes for a democratic future. Kate Clark reports

"If we had a resistance movement to join," one Afghan aid- worker from the north said, "there'd be an insurgency here as well." Afghanistan is touted as a success story. In reality, many of the problems fuelling the insurgency are nationwide. Corruption, abusive provincial officials and a growing hostility towards the west and the government of President Hamid Karzai are found north and south. Even those who benefited most from the United States intervention in 2001, America's allies from the Northern Alliance, show little loyalty to their old backers. The ability of foreign powers to influence events in Afghanistan has also waned. "Whatever happens now, however bad it gets," said one senior diplomat, "it will be up to Afghans. We've had our chance - and I think we've failed."

The insurgency and the fate of British and other Nato forces ranged against the Taliban has rightly grabbed headlines this year; the scale and ferocity of the fighting and the growing menace of the Taliban has shocked everyone. This autumn, I travelled to areas of the north that are under no threat from the Taliban. After five years of international support, they should be havens of democracy, human rights and prosperity. Yet, the situation there is just as troubling.

"We don't know who to turn to, who to complain to," said the father of a six-year-old girl who had been killed in the provincial capital of Badakhshan, the mountainous province in the far north-east of Afghanistan that the Taliban never occupied. The target of the bomb had been the commander of Nato forces deployed as part of the International Security and Assistance Force, or Isaf. The only casualties were three of Ahmad Fawzi's children: the one who had been killed and two, silent and clinging, who had been injured. "The local authorities are corrupt," he said, "and Isaf works hand in hand with them. Isaf is too soft. It just keeps compromising." Grief had made him franker than most people in his city, nicknamed during the civil war as the place of a hundred commanders. It was the end of Ramadan and like families across Afghanistan, cakes, biscuits, fruit and flasks of sweet tea had been set out ready for visitors coming to wish the household a Happy Eid. But the guests coming to this home were giving their condolences. It was like seeing the newly bereaved struggling to celebrate Christmas.

This was not a Taliban attack. Locals blamed relatives of a commander from one of the mujahedin factions of the old Northern Alliance who had been killed by Nato fire after a patrol came under attack. Elsewhere, in another apparent revenge attack, armed men had come in the night and set fire to a school. The principal, Bakr Shah, an inspirational man who had lost an eye and an arm during the war, was absolute in his insistence that the school would not close. "These men will not put out the light of knowledge," he said. "We will carry on, even if the children have to study in a metre of snow." Indeed, lessons had only been cancelled for a single day.

The complaint of many locals in Badakhshan and elsewhere is that their lives are still controlled by the old factional networks. In the north-east, every state official I met was a former mujahid, almost all from the same Jamiat-i Islami faction. This is not to say there are no decent former mujahedin commanders in positions of high office, or that some former communists and returning civilian exiles do not also exploit the machinery of state for personal gain. However, the networks, which combine state positions, civil-war era loyalties, and criminal activities are extremely strong - and look like a mafia.

Civilians complain that Isaf never challenges local commanders because "force protection" - protection of its own soldiers - comes before protection of Afghan civilians. In Faizabad, for example, the most powerful commander has the contract to guard the Nato base. It is a strategy favoured by many of the foreign forces and UN agencies nationwide, but for local people, seeing former militiamen guarding a foreign base is hardly encouraging.

Reclaimed fiefdoms

The Nato commander, a German, Colonel Martin Robrecht, was frank about his dilemma. He condemned the commander killed by his forces as a criminal, saying he had been running three heroin laboratories. He would like to be more proactive, he said, but was held back from acting against commanders accused of abuses. "The problem is that our mandate doesn't allow us to take away any former commanders. This is a purely Afghan problem . . . It's up to Kabul and up to the government and if they need the support it will be provided." No request for action, he added, had ever been made.

The pervasiveness of the old militia networks was not inevitable when the Taliban collapsed. In 2001, the decision to arm and support the Northern Alliance and other tribal and mujahedin groups, despite their history of war crimes, brought a speedy victory over the Taliban. However, commanders who had been defeated or weakened by earlier Taliban military victories filled the political vacuum left by the fleeing regime. They appointed themselves as police and army commanders, provincial governors and cabinet ministers. Some literally drove back across the border to reclaim their old fiefdoms. Many I spoke to at the time assumed they would not be allowed to keep their new offices, but Hamid Karzai, the United Nations, and Washington preferred to work with them. When I questioned Jack Straw, the then foreign secretary, about this strategy in early 2002, he was unapologetic: "The more we can get people in who have occupied positions of force and strength in the past but who now say they're committed to a political process and the more we can close off the options for people who resort to violence, the better the future of Afghanistan will be."

When the militias were last in charge of the country in the 1990s, murder, rape and kidnapping were extensive. The current situation is not as grave. Making money from drugs in a country where a third of the economy is drug-based is easier than making money directly out of the people. People also say the presence of foreign troops leads to better behaviour from the former militiamen, although, as one peasant farmer said, the foreign deployment gives no guarantee for the future. "Who knows what they'll be like again when Isaf goes." Mawlawi Ibrahim, a defence lawyer with the Afghan Human Rights Organisation, says abuses have certainly not disappeared. "We get cases of torture in police detention, for example," he said. "They come mainly from the south and north, but they still occasionally pop up in the capital." He said the same old methods were used - beating, electric shock using the old-fashioned, wind-up telephones, "usually to extort money from prisoners, although sometimes to get information for criminal investigations".

Across the country, intelligence reports that it is often the police themselves who smuggle drugs and commit crimes have driven the international powers to demand reform. A US government report recently described endemic corruption and incompetence in a force which it largely funds. About 70 per cent of policemen are former mujahedin, recruited wholesale from their old militia units and maintaining loyalties to their factional commanders. One senior diplomat described Afghan police simply as, "the providers of violence".

Despite a little progress, about a third of Afghanistan is still being policed by men accused of serious crimes. All but two of the senior police chiefs are from the old mujahedin factions of the Northern Alliance, the vast majority from the Jamiat/Shura-i Nazar faction, the faction that captured Kabul in 2001 after receiving the bulk of America's arms and funding. The deputy minister of the interior, General Daoud - himself a former Shura-i Nazar commander - admitted the existence of corrupt officials, but denied that the apparatus of state and the mafia had become one and the same thing. "The mistake the international community made was not focusing on police reform earlier," he said.

Afghans have never had much faith in the state, which traditionally concentrates on taxes and conscription. However, expectations did rise after 2001, with talk of democracy, human rights, and aid. What has emerged is a state that cannot or will not protect its citizens, and in some places actively abuses them. In the past year, I have not met a single civilian with anything good to say about President Karzai. This used to be a country where, before 2001, I rarely heard anti-western or anti- American sentiment. That goodwill has ebbed away - as has the deterrence of foreign armies. Where, in 2002, just the mention of a B52 bomber was enough to frighten armed men, now commanders north and south, pro- and anti-Taliban, just shrug their shoulders.

Even those who benefited most from the anti-Taliban invasion are often now disgruntled. In the Panjshir Valley, the political heartland of Shura-i Nazar, people were discontented about aid, services and jobs. "The foreigners should help us more," said one man in the bazaar, with his companions agreeing with him, "because the devil makes work for idle hands and we don't want to take up arms again."

One of the local leaders, Kaka Tajuddin, was furious about the substandard US-funded road, now being built in the valley. "This road is like a symbol," he said, saying that it showed the lack of sympathy the foreigners and the government had for the people of the area. "We got rid of you lot [ie, the British]," he said. "We got rid of the Russians and the Chinese, and we can get rid of these others, too."

Kate Clark's programme "Unreported World: Never mind the Taliban" will be shown on Channel 4 on 1 December at 7.35pm

‘Borat’ Comes Clean

Friday, 1, December, 2006 (11, Dhul Qa`dah, 1427)

Neil Berry,

In the face of Iraq’s remorselessly mounting carnage, those who query the claim that the death toll among Iraqi people now runs into hundreds of thousands are losing all credibility. Not that many of the war’s proponents seem ready to admit that they made a profound error of judgment; rather they are shifting their ground, no longer questioning the scale of the killing so much as denying that the occupation may be held to blame for it. The British armchair warrior Geoffrey Alderman, for instance, has doubted if more than 1,000 Iraqis have died at the hands of the coalition forces; his implication seems to be that Iraqi people have squandered the opportunity bestowed on them by the US and Britain to become a civilized democracy and shown themselves to be addicted to bloody sectarian warfare.

Alderman is a Jewish historian, with a regular column in the weekly paper the Jewish Chronicle. Jewish voices have been prominent among those who have expressed skepticism about the death toll in Iraq or who have otherwise made light of it, in the process absolving Britain and America of guilt for what is happening there. The London political pundit Nick Cohen has consistently argued that it is the left in Britain that has much to answer for the Iraq debacle on account of its failure to support the fledgling Iraqi democratic movement. Impenitent about his own pro-war stance, Cohen has persuaded himself that the war’s opponents are crypto-fascists so contemptuous of democracy as to be pleased that the effort to “liberate” Iraq has failed.

It could be said that US foreign policy in the Middle East has led to a form of genocide, that Iraq has become a slaughterhouse, the scene of an incipient Muslim holocaust. Yet nothing is more certain than that the likes of Alderman and Cohen would regard any such claim as an obscene misapplication of a term that has become exclusively reserved to describe the mass extermination of Jews at the hands of the Nazis. As it happens, the issue of alleged rising anti-Semitism and of a possible new holocaust have become an increasing Jewish preoccupation, even as the killing of Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere has assumed macabre proportions.

It’s worth pondering the huge popularity of the film “Borat” against the background of the Iraq war and characteristic Jewish responses to the conflict. The brainchild of the British Jewish comic, Sacha Baron Cohen, the film purports to be a documentary by an ignorant reporter named Borat from a fictionalized version of the largely Muslim state of Kazakhstan dealing with his experience of traveling through the United States. Got up to look like a “typical| Kazakhstani, Borat begins the film with an introduction to life in his own country which dwells, among other things, on the bovine qualities of Kazakhstani women, especially his wife, and generally portrays Kazakhstan as a ludicrously primitive Slavic backwater. That the film has caused much offense in Kazakhstan itself comes as no surprise, though the Kazakhstan government has by this stage plumped for the view that all publicity is good publicity, and it is true that “Borat” may yet prove of inestimable advantage to the Kazakhstan tourist industry.

“Borat” portrays one of the favorite Kazakhstan customs as a sport called “running the Jew” which involves the ritual humiliation of Jewish people. Having arrived in America, the endlessly crude Borat has no trouble unmasking the US as a country no more civilized than “Kazakhstan”, a society where troglodyte attitudes are the rule and where racism, not least anti-Semitism, is endemic. What lends piquancy to the indictment is that the film is filled with spontaneous encounters between Borat and real Americans who believed that they were being interviewed by a genuine Kazakhstani journalist.

“Borat” is to be sure hilarious stuff, much of it working on the level of Chaplinesque slapstick, the kind of daft visual humor which enjoys universal appeal, as when Borat unpacks his suitcase in a hotel lift which he has mistaken for his room. Convulsed with mirth, the viewer can thus easily fail to notice that gags exposing anti-Semitism feature rather more in the movie than do gags exposing racism against blacks or ones exposing Islamophobia (always assuming that we are dealing with genuine jibes against racism in the first place: Some Jews think the film brands Cohen himself an anti-Semite). Judging from “Borat”, you would have to conclude that anti-Semitism is a far more conspicuous scourge of the early 21st Century than hostility to Muslims, a curious message for a satirist to be conveying during a period when incalculable numbers of Muslims are dying in the Middle East thanks to the machinations of the United States, Britain and Israel.

What has made it hard to pin down just where Baron Cohen himself stands on such issues is that he has hitherto fought shy of giving media interviews in which he was not playing the part of “Borat” or one of his other comic creations, notably the pseudo-black rapper “Ali G” or the spoof Austrian gay “Bruno”.

Last week, however, possibly emboldened by the success of “Borat”, Cohen at last came clean about his politics, giving an interview to Rolling Stone magazine, from which it is plain that his Jewish background has been central to the formation of his worldview. An alumnus of a Zionist youth group who later lived on a kibbutz, Cohen is in fact a pious Jew and Zionist much concerned about the fate of the Jewish people and fearful that another Jewish holocaust could indeed be in prospect, if only because of public apathy about rising anti-Semitism. Granted this, it can no longer be in doubt that the seeming anti-anti-Semitic thrust of his new film is precisely that, a calculated attempt to make viewers receptive to the belief that hatred of Jews pervades Western society; and the fact is that, in contrast to many others, key scenes in the film involving Jews were carefully scripted. You would never guess that this is the age of Guantanamo Bay or that we are living at a time when the US and Britain are pursuing catastrophic policies in the Muslim world — policies which Jewish Zionist ideologues have played no small part in formulating.

Whether it is also fair to accuse Cohen of scoffing at Islamic culture by getting himself up with a shock of springy black hair and a luxuriant moustache and looking like a joke East European Muslim may be a moot point. However, in inviting viewers to giggle at Borat’s excesses, Baron Cohen could be said to be inducing them to equate Muslims with gross behavior without quite realizing what they are doing; at the very least, there is, perhaps, an element of unconscious Islamophobia behind the creation of Borat.

This is not to say that jokes about Muslims (or for that matter any other ethno-religious group) ought to be taboo. But imagine the uproar there would be if a Muslim (or Christian) had assumed the role of a parody Jew, or of a figure who could be construed as Jewish, and had mocked Jewish women by making them out to be disgustingly obese, hirsute and entirely devoid of femininity.

“Borat” is fresh evidence of the flagrant double standards that operate in Hollywood — not to mention in the Western media at large, where the movie’s barely hidden agenda has gone wholly unremarked.

The objection to “Borat” is that it distracts attention from the genocidal violence currently being visited on Muslims, leaving the impression that it is Jews, notwithstanding their politico-cultural ascendancy in the US and elsewhere, who remain the world’s pre-eminent victims.

We Need To Cut Off Iraq War Funds

Kucinich Calls for Cutting Off Iraq War Funds

"That’s the only way we’re going to end this war."

Nov 15, 2006

Congressman Kucinich called Wednesday for cutting off funding of the Iraq war, as the surest way out of Iraq. His statements were made in an interview by Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman.

"I want to say that there's one solution here, and it's not to engage in a debate with the President, who has taken us down a path of disaster in Iraq, but it's for Congress to assume the full power that it has under the Constitution to cut off funds. We don't need to keep indulging in this debate about what to do, because as long as we keep temporizing, the situation gets worse in Iraq.

"We have to determine that the time has come to cut off funds. There’s enough money in the pipeline to achieve the orderly withdrawal that Senator McGovern is talking about. But cut off funds, we must. That's the ultimate power of the Congress, the power of the purse. That's how we'll end this war, and that’s the only way we’re going to end this war.

"We need to shift our direction."

"We have to take a whole new approach. We’re spending over $400 billion a year, money that's also needed for healthcare, for education, for job creation, for seniors. We have to take a new look at this. We need to be a strong country, but strength isn't only military. Strength is also the economic strength of the people, their chance to have good neighborhoods. We spend more money than all the countries of the world put together for the military.

"It's time for us to start to shift our vision about who we are as a nation, because if we don't do that -- we’re borrowing money right now to wage the war in Iraq. We’re borrowing money from China. We’re not looking at our trade deficit. We’re not looking at conditions, where people are going bankrupt trying to pay their hospital bills. We need to shift our direction, and the direction has to be away from the continued militarization of the United States society."

Hear the full interview or read a transcript at

Permalink to this article


There is Only One Way to End The War in Iraq, Part I

History and the law give a clear guide on how to end the war in Iraq: Congress must vote to cut off funds.

Israel plans to attack Lebanon in 2007

North and south

By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

1.The third Lebanon war

There will be a war next summer. Only the sector has not been chosen yet. The atmosphere in the Israel Defense Forces in the past month has been very pessimistic. The latest rounds in the campaigns on both fronts, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, have left too many issues undecided, too many potential detonators that could cause a new conflagration. The army's conclusion from this is that a war in the new future is a reasonable possibility. As Amir Oren reported in Haaretz several weeks ago, the IDF's operative assumption is that during the coming summer months, a war will break out against Hezbollah and perhaps against Syria as well.

At the same time, the IDF does not anticipate a long life for the cease-fire achieved last Saturday night with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. When the present tahdiya (lull) joins its predecessors that fell apart - the hudna (cease-fire) of summer 2003 (which lasted for a month and a half) and the tahdiya of winter 2005 (which was in its death throes for months until its final burial at the end of the disengagement) - there is a danger that the big bang will take place in Gaza. At its conclusion, like a self- fulfilling prophecy, IDF soldiers will return to the heart of Rafah for the first time in 13 years.

Of the two worrisome scenarios, the IDF speaks more in public about a conflagration in Gaza, but is also genuinely worried about a war in the North, mainly in light of the army's dubious achievements in the previous round there. Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky has recently spoken about a war in the North in the summer, in several closed military forums. The army is already undergoing an intensive process of preparation, which is based in part on lessons already learned from the second Lebanon war. The announcement this week of a renewal of reservist training at the Tze'elim training base is a signal to neighboring countries that the IDF is reinforcing and rehabilitating itself, but it was also meant for internal consumption: It broadcasts to the public and to the army that the process of post-war rehabilitation is being conducted with the requisite seriousness.

Do all signs lead to war? One senior defense official says the answer to this question is no. He says that what we are dealing with is more a question of image than of substance. The extremist assessment of the good chances of a conflict in the North is designed to present the army with a target (and more important, with a target date). By summer preparations will be completed, and the IDF will brush itself off and restore the professional capability that it mistakenly thought it had when Israel so hastily went to war last summer.

The process of rehabilitating the army's preparedness is combined with efforts by Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to present the investigation of the recent war (which is supposed to end in about two weeks) as his crowning achievement. In spite of his denials, Halutz is seriously considering resigning, but is looking for the proper context. The conclusion of the inquest, which Halutz describes as the most thorough and honest that the IDF has ever conducted, is likely to provide such a context. The chief of staff can say that he is leaving his successor with a clean desk and that after comprehensive rehabilitation, the army is once again on the right path.

In view of the risk of war against Syria, chief of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin is talking about Israel's obligation to examine the possibility of renewing peace negotiations with Damascus. In this, Yadlin is joining his predecessor, Major General Aharon Ze'evi Farkash. And like his own predecessor, Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is also reacting with displeasure to this talk, and wondering aloud whether the head of MI is not exceeding the bounds of his authority. Nevertheless, at least in the Lebanese arena, Olmert recently reexamined the possibility of compromising with the Siniora government on the question of the Shaba Farms (Har Dov). With or without any connection, a UN team has begun a project to map the area in order to decide on the size of the controversial region. The mapping work is being done at UN headquarters in New York, on the basis of maps and satellite photos.

Olmert has been told that there is little chance that Syria would agree to an arrangement in which Israel would transfer this area to Lebanon. According to this assessment, Syrian President Bashar Assad is not enthusiastic about the possibility. When proposals for a remapping of the Syrian-Lebanese border were made to Assad, he replied that he would agree to that only if it began in the area of Tripoli in the north. In other words: as far as possible from the Shaba farms.

2. Palestinian freeze

In the Palestinian arena, the sides are returning to square one at the end of this week. Although the firing of Qassams has lessened in recent days, the Hamas government of Ismail Haniyeh refuses to give up its place. Haniyeh has embarked on a visit to Arab countries that will last for about two weeks. Until his return, no practical negotiations are taking place between Fatah and Hamas over the establishment of the national unity government.

At the beginning of the week, in the wake of the cease-fire, the Israeli side drew up complex, multi-stage scenarios regarding an overall deal that also involves the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and the establishment of a new Palestinian government. However, as usual, the internal Palestinians arena is even more chaotic than Israel realizes. Apparently nothing has been decided yet in the Shalit affair. And the fate of the government of technocrats, which Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) have been discussing for months, is still unclear.

In the office of the chairman they were angry this week, but not only at Hamas. Abbas vented his frustration at a meeting that he held with Haniyeh on Monday. The chairman told the prime minister that he would no longer discuss a national unity government with him. If you think you'll succeed in removing the siege on your government without my help, he told him - tfadal (be my guest). The frustration in Abbas' circle is directed to a great extent against the Egyptians, who went out of their way this week to flatter Khaled Meshal, head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus. It began with a press conference convened by Meshal in the Cairo press club, continued with an interview he gave to Egyptian television, and ended with a visit by Haniyeh and his entourage in Cairo, the first stop on the prime minister's journey. One of Abbas' men mentioned in disappointment that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman himself had promised the chairman that Egypt would not allow Haniyeh to travel abroad via the Rafah crossing for the purpose of raising money for the Hamas government.

The price of Haniyeh's trip is clear to Abbas. Only last week two Hamas senior officials brought $25 million into the Gaza Strip in suitcases via the Rafah crossing. That is a huge sum in terms of the present Gazan economy, and not a single dollar of it will reach the coffers of the PA. The entire sum is earmarked for the Hamas charity apparatus and for the organization's military arm. At present, the return of Haniyeh's entourage from abroad means additional millions of dollars for Hamas, whereas Fatah is suffering from mounting budgetary distress.

Abbas' people are afraid that if the Shalit deal is finally completed, only Hamas will benefit from it. The release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons will be attributed to the force of Hamas' arms, rather than to the conciliatory approach of Abbas - in spite of Olmert's promises to release the prisoners into his arms. Abbas' men made a last, almost desperate attempt this week to get things to work for their benefit. They secretly turned to the two splinter groups that helped Hamas to kidnap Shalit - the Popular Resistance Committees and Jish al-Islam (the Army of Islam) - and suggested that they hand the soldier over to the chairman. The chances of success for such a move are slight.

As things look at the moment, Hamas is emerging strengthened from the cease-fire, and its position will continue to improve after the Shalit deal. The surprising support from Egypt will further solidify the position of Haniyeh and Meshal in the unity government contacts.

Fatah is nevertheless likely to register one achievement from the completion of a prisoner-release deal - if senior Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti is among those freed. The release of Barghouti, who was sentenced in Israel to five cumulative life sentences, will ease the sting of the Hamas achievement and will restore Fatah's men in the field to public awareness. Israel has been discussing the possibility of his release for several years, in the hope of igniting a political move together with the Fatah leadership. A number of IDF generals have even expressed their support of this. On the other hand, the idea was sharply opposed by former Shin Bet security services chief Avi Dichter and his successor Yuval Diskin. This week someone in Jerusalem made sure to brief the political correspondents about Barghouti's substantial contribution, from his prison cell, to bringing about the cease-fire agreement.

Dichter and Diskin have a convincing argument: Barghouti was involved in the murder of Israelis. The leading gang of the Fatah military wing in the West Bank gathered around him and were inspired by him in their operations at the start of the intifada. The courts were convinced by the materials collected by the Shin Bet and MI, and convicted Barghouti of acts of murder. On the other hand, Barghouti has been actively involved for years in steps to achieve a cessation of the fighting. Yet this time it was urgent for political bodies in Israel to give credit to the senior prisoner. Perhaps this can be seen as preparing the ground for his release in a future deal.

While Olmert, in taking the dual steps of agreeing to the cease-fire and making the hopeful speech at the grave of David Ben-Gurion, created the appearance of a diplomatic process with the Palestinians, security elements are skeptical about the chances of survival of the agreement with the PA. Halutz hinted at that in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, when he said that the political leadership had "consulted partially" with the IDF about the agreement.

The army and the Shin Bet see eye to eye concerning the processes taking place in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is building in Gaza a southern version of Hezbollah-land, and the cease-fire will enable it to increase its strength without interference, by carrying on with the arms-smuggling industry. The calm will collapse at the time most convenient for the enemy, not for Israel. For the present, in order to defend itself from claims that it caused the cease-fire to fail, the IDF is awaiting precise instructions from the political leadership. These have not been forthcoming, and the army has to guess the intentions of the politicians and, based on them, to determine its instructions for opening fire.

3. Ofra is expanding

A Peace Now report about the settlements, which merited only limited coverage in the Israeli media, made considerable waves abroad. The New York Times thought that the revelations by Dror Etkes - the head of the organization's Settlements Watch program, who said that 40 percent of the settlement areas in the West Bank are located on private Palestinian land - was a front-page story. The detailed data gathered by Peace Now, which are backed by aerial photos and information about the legal status of each plot of land, indicate that no fewer than 130 settlements were built on private Palestinian property.

Senior officials in the Israeli Civil Administration confirm the reliability of the data and the conclusion to be drawn from them: The most significant violation of the law in the territories is not related so much to the outposts, but rather to the large and well-established settlements, which in Israeli discourse are considered legitimate. (The Judea and Samaria Regional Council denies this, and claims that all the construction in the settlements is done on state land.)

The settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah, is a good example. Seen as the flagship of Gush Emunim (the original settlers' movement), this community sits on Palestinian land, according to the report. Not all of it, it's true. Only 93 percent. In light of this, the debate about last February's demolition of nine houses in its satellite outpost, Amona, seems somewhat marginal.

Etkes' team obtained aerial photos that document the development of Ofra in four stages, from its establishment in 1969 until today. Almost all the construction has been carried out on land belonging to Palestinians from the neighboring villages. Peace Now relies on a databank similar to the one coordinated by deputy defense minister Brigadier General (res.) Baruch Spiegel, whose main principles were published in Haaretz about two months ago. The U.S. administration, which keeps close track of any information about the settlements, has since asked for clarifications from the defense establishment. But Big Brother's surveillance does not really affect what happens on the ground. On the contrary: The present days of the shaky Olmert government are good for the settlers. The tractors are once again working energetically on the hills of Samaria, while Defense Minister Amir Peretz continues to issue weekly notices about his intention of dealing soon and with utmost seriousness with the construction in the outposts.

Rosa Brooks: Abandon Iraq to save it


The presence of troops will only make things worse; the U.S. should find other ways to help.
Rosa Brooks

December 1, 2006

CONDITIONS IN IRAQ grow more appalling each day, and a substantial majority of Iraqis now believe that the continued presence of U.S. troops is a major cause of the ongoing carnage. Despite this, supporters of the Bush administration continue to insist that if we withdraw U.S. troops, we'll be "abandoning" Iraq.

"Abandoning" Iraq to what, exactly? To civil war? Iraq already has that, thanks in large part to us. Maybe things will get worse if we leave — but maybe our departure is the only thing that can save Iraq. The Iraqis think they'll be better off without us.

The U.S. does have a deep responsibility to aid the Iraqis. But let's talk about what is, and isn't, "abandonment." Invading Iraq without a plan for protecting crucial infrastructure and civilian lives was a form of abandonment.

Failing to complete — or even begin — most of the reconstruction projects we promised was a form of abandonment.

Taking such a heavy-handed approach to combating insurgents that thousands of civilian deaths were written off as "collateral damage" was a form of abandonment.

Refusing to engage with Iran and Syria, the two regional powers whose cooperation is most crucial to slowing the violence, is a form of abandonment.

Most of all, keeping 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when their presence is only making things worse is a form of abandonment.

If we're serious about helping the Iraqi people, there are still some things we can do. For a start, we should withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq — something the bipartisan Iraq Study Group appears likely to recommend.

That doesn't mean there's no longer any role for the U.S. military. In the shorter term (the next six months to a year), redeploying some U.S. troops to secure Iraq's borders might diminish the likelihood that Iraq's civil war will morph into a full-scale proxy war among regional powers. Similarly, U.S. military advisors should continue to provide training to the Iraqi army and police in the shorter term, but such programs need to be constantly reassessed to make sure that the Iraqis we're working with don't simply become U.S.-trained members of ethnic death squads.

At this point, though, most of what we can do for Iraq won't directly involve the U.S. military. In a May 2006 report written for the Center for American Progress, Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis call for the U.S. to help organize an international peace conference on Iraq, bringing together Iraqi government and militia leaders, along with representatives of key neighboring states, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria and Iran. The goal: get leaders of the various rival factions to hammer out a cease-fire agreement, an agreement on federalism and division of resources, a timetable for disbanding the militias and, perhaps, agreement on a regional or international force to help keep the peace.

Such a conference — modeled on the 1995 Dayton conference that ended the war in Bosnia — wouldn't produce pretty results. But in Iraq, as in Bosnia, even an imperfect peace would be better than ongoing carnage.

We should also redouble the U.S. commitment to Iraqi reconstruction. Though our credibility in the region is shot, our money could still help make things better, and we should push other donor states to pony up as well. A genuine international commitment to Iraqi reconstruction — job creation, the restoration of basic services such as electricity and healthcare and support for civil society and honest, effective local government could help give Iraqis the motivation to pull together. If we don't want our financial help to be seen as poisonous, though, we need to let the United Nations or a regional entity administer the funds (sorry, Halliburton).

But the next year is likely to be bad for Iraqis, no matter what. So what about those Iraqis who would rather not hang around, ducking suicide bombers and hoping things will get better?

The least we can do is make it easier for them to get out of Iraq — starting now. We should encourage neighbors such as Jordan to welcome refugees — and, as George Packer insists in this week's New Republic, we should make Iraqi refugees welcome in the U.S.

Last year, Packer reports, the U.S. quota for Iraqi refugees was fewer than 200, and our Baghdad embassy doesn't even issue visas. The administration should grant temporary protected status in the U.S. to Iraqis fleeing the civil war. And, as Packer warns, we should get ready now with "contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts" for the most vulnerable Iraqis, in case the worst happens.

"We had to destroy the village in order to save it," an Army officer reportedly said during the Vietnam War. With so many dead, and so many Iraqis calling on us to leave, insisting that the withdrawal of U.S. troops is "abandoning" Iraq comes to much the same thing.

We Must Crush Political Correctness So That We Too Can Have Politicians Like This

December 01, 2006

At Doug Henwood's LBO-talk, Israeli peace activist Bryan Atinsky points to a recent controversy in the mixed Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli town of Ramle. Here's how Ynet reported it in English:

Arab Knesset members were furious Thursday over the remarks of Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavi, who referred to a request made by Arab residents to change the names of the streets they live in to Arab names.

According to a report published in Yedioth Ahronoth Thursday morning, Lavi said, "If they don’t like it, they should go and live in Jaljulia (an Arab village), which is an Arab name. What happened, what? Why should I change the name, because Jamal wants to change the name? He should change his Allah"...

Lavi's remarks were made after a reporter asked for his response for the fact that Ramle's Arab residents had asked to change the street names from Zechariah, Nehemia and Bialik to Tawfiq Zayyad and Emile Habibi.

Sadly, however, English-speaking readers have been denied the full range of the open and frank discussion of this issue. As Atinsky translates a Hebrew version of the story, the entire quote from Lavi was:

"Why should I change the name, because Jamal wants to change the name? Because Ahmad wants to change the name? He should change his god. They all should go get fucked."

Lavi also asked this piquant question of Jewish Israelis who questioned his statements:

“So, have you too become the bitches of every ass-fucking Arab? What happened? Don’t you have respect for the legacy of your own people?”

I think we can all agree this would be a better country if we could follow Lavi's example and smash the Iron Stalinism of Political Correctness, which has been imposed on America by the terrible might of Wellesley's English department. Then we could see exchanges like this on Meet the Press:

FRIST: Why should we change the name, because Pablo wants to change the name? Because Fernando wants to change the name? He should change his god. They all should go get fucked.

LEVIN: You know, that's really not constructive.

REID: I agree. Furthermore—

FRIST: So, have you too become the bitches of every ass-fucking Mexican? What happened?

Just a few years of this and I think we could get ourselves some of that massive sectarian bloodshed the rest of the world has been hogging for itself.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at December 1, 2006 11:54 AM | TrackBack

US manufacturing shrinks for 1st time in 3-1/2 yrs

Fri Dec 1, 2006 11:36 AM ET

(Adds ISM survey chairman's comments paragraphs 10-12)

By Lucia Mutikani

NEW YORK, Dec 1 (Reuters) - U.S. factory activity shrank in November for the first time in 3-1/2 years as new orders, production and employment fell and prices paid rose, according to a survey published on Friday.

The data were seen as further evidence that growth in the U.S. economy is slowing, which could force the Federal Reserve to cut official interest rates in the first quarter of 2007.

The Institute for Supply Management said its index of national factory activity dropped to 49.5 from 51.2 in October, below economists' median forecast for a slight rise to 51.5.

This was the first time that the index had fallen below 50 since April 2003, when a reading of 46.5 was recorded. A reading below 50 indicates shrinkage in the factory sector.

"I think this number will definitely continue to fan fears of a hard landing for the U.S. economy. Overall, this is consistent with the view that the U.S. economy is moderating and could prompt a Fed rate cut in 2007," said Omer Esiner, a senior analyst at Ruesch International in Washington, D.C.

Government bonds rallied on the data, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year note falling to a fresh 10-month low of 4.41 percent. Yields move inversely to prices.

Federal funds interest rate futures indicated that markets are pricing in a 64 percent chance of a Fed rate cut in the first quarter, up from 52 percent factored in before the data.

The dollar extended losses on the data, slumping to a 20-month low against the euro and diving to a 14-year low against the British pound .

The U.S. central bank has kept the benchmark overnight fed funds rate steady at 5.25 percent since August, having raised it by a quarter percentage point 17 times in the two years to June.

ISM's manufacturing survey committee chairman Norbert Ore said that despite the index's drop below 50, the manufacturing sector in the world's largest economy was far from recession.

"According to our data, I would define a manufacturing recession as being six consecutive months or two consecutive quarters below 50," said Ore.

"I don't see situations that would drive us way below 50 into a deep decline in the economy. It seems more like the soft landing effect that many have talked about."

The ISM's prices paid index, which measures inflationary pressures in the factory sector, climbed to 53.5 in November, from 47.0 in October.

New orders, a gauge of future growth, declined to 48.7 -- falling below 50 also for the first time since April 2003 -- from 52.1 and the employment index slipped to 49.2 in November from 50.8.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Freilich)