Thursday, December 14, 2006
Local activists take on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
By R.V. Scheid
Since at least the first Gulf War, it’s been the elephant in the living room. In the debate over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, the cozy relationship Israel enjoys with the United States has not been open for discussion. The unquestioned assumption, by politicians and policy-makers of both stripes, has been that what’s good for Israel is good for the United States, and vice versa. To suggest otherwise, some critics of U.S. Middle East policy claim, is to risk being branded an anti-Semite or anti-American, or both, by what they call “the Lobby,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.However, if events at the Radisson Hotel on December 3 are any indication, the Lobby’s alleged ability to influence U.S. foreign policy and shape public opinion may be slipping somewhat. Inside the hotel, local members of AIPAC gathered for the nationwide organization’s annual luncheon. Outside on the street, a throng of 100 demonstrators protested the Lobby’s influence with placards and banners that called for peace in the Middle East, the “end of Zionazi apartheid” in Palestine and the dismantling of AIPAC itself.
A Matter of Pride
Why we can't buy off the next Osama bin Laden.
by Peter Bergen and Michael Lind
W hile there are deep and divisive fissures across the political spectrum over how to combat terrorism, there is a surprising level of agreement as to its cause. "We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror," George W. Bush told an audience in Mexico in 2002. "Today, billions of people live on the knife’s edge of survival, trapped in a struggle against ignorance, poverty, and disease. Their misery is a breeding ground for the hatred peddled by bin Laden and other merchants of death," Howard Dean declared during his 2004 presidential run. Kim Dae Jung, the former dissident who became the president of South Korea and won the Nobel Peace Prize, agrees: "At the bottom of terrorism is poverty." And the editors of the New York Times, arguing that reducing duties on exports from Pakistan can play a significant role in the war on terrorism, wrote in 2004, "Economics cannot be separated from national security. Young Pakistanis who can’t get jobs in factories that export to America sometimes go to training camps to learn how to kill Americans."
This analysis, at its root, is an optimistic one. It holds out the prospect that widespread prosperity can be a universal solvent for political violence employed by stateless actors and states alike. Conflict, in this view, is not endemic to the human condition; it is simply a relic of primitive stages in social development, which can be corrected by enlightened policy. Liberals tend to prefer the idea of a global or regional "Marshall Plan," while conservatives and libertarians claim that cutting subsidies and promoting free trade will produce development in poor countries. Despite their different prescriptions, many on the left and right agree that fighting world poverty is important in the fight against transnational terrorism since it removes the attractiveness of these revolutionary and utopian worldviews.
By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent
The High Court of Justice on Thursday ruled to open a criminal probe into the 2004 death of a Palestinian girl in the Gaza Strip shot by Israel Defense Forces soldiers, to determine whether illegal orders were given to open fire.
The parents of the girl, 13-year-old Iman Darweesh al-Hams of Rafah, filed a petition to the court claiming that her killing constitutes a war crime.
A Givati Brigade officer charged in the affair was acquittted last year and awarded NIS 80,000 in compensation in addition to a reimbursement for NIS 2,000 of legal expenses.
The officer, Captain "R.," was suspected of "confirming the kill" and shooting the girl multiple times once she had already been hit by IDF gunfire and was lying on the ground.
He was cleared of all charges when Givati Brigade soldiers from R.'s company said they lied during the military probe of the incident and in statements they provided the court in an effort the cause the ousting of R. from the company.
The girl's father Samir reacted with anger and shock to Captain R.'s acquittal when the verdict was issued last year. "I am a teacher and I object to the killing of Jewish or Arab children under any circumstances, but the court has proven there is one law for Jews and another for Arabs," he said.
IDF court acquits officer accused of 'confirming kill' of Gaza girl (November 2005)
IDF officer cleared in death of Gaza girl to receive compensation from state
Commodities Bull Run to Last Until 2014 - 2022
Dec. 12, 2006, 12:43PM
Barclays: Investors Shift to Commodities
© 2006 The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Investors are
increasingly turning to commodities to diversify their portfolios as the methods available to gain exposure to the market get more creative, according to an investor survey by Barclays Capital released Tuesday.
Barclays' second-annual commodities investor survey showed marked changes, over the course of one year, in the way investors view the commodities market and its role in their portfolios.
The survey of the investment bank's clients took place at two conferences each year in 2005 and 2006, one in Barcelona, Spain, and another in New York. Survey participants included large pension funds, retail distributors and _ carrying particular weight in New York _ hedge funds.
Investors are making "a very clear shift into having at least some commodities," said Kamal Naqvi, Barclays Capital director of commodities sales.
About 50 percent of survey respondents in Europe said their portfolios contained no commodities exposure in 2004 and 2005. When asked what percentage of their portfolio would be made up of commodities over the next three years, the number saying "zero" dropped to just 7 percent.
New York respondents indicated a significant shift into commodities, with more than 50 percent saying they'd seek to make commodities more than a tenth of their total portfolio.
The term "commodities" covers most raw materials, including precious metals such as gold, crude oil, industrial metals like copper, agricultural products and others. Aside from actual trading of physical commodities, investors often get exposure to the sector through index funds, which track the movement of a given basket of commodities without purchasing the physical asset.
However, investors are increasingly shifting their funds from passive, long-only indexes into a mixture of passive and active management and into structured commodity products, according to the survey. Those products could include one that follows Chinese demand for industrial metals or others structured more like equity investments, with a fixed-income payout.
There has been a "broadening out in the way investors can get exposure to commodities," said Barclays research analyst Kevin Norrish.
|More homes are going, going, gone|
"You-know-you-will-it's-like-Nike-just-do-it," Richards said in the jammed hotel ballroom here recently as he hawked a two-bedroom, one-bath fixer-upper. Less than a minute later, the house was sold. In two hours, 61 were auctioned, all of them foreclosures — homes whose owners had defaulted on their mortgages.
The scene is being repeated coast to coast as foreclosures tick up nationally. About 4.7% of homeowners were late on their mortgage payments in July through September this year, up slightly from 4.4% in the third quarter last year, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday.
The delinquency rate has fluctuated between about 4% and 5% for the past five years. This latest rate, though, is the highest since the end of 2005, and it's expected to rise gradually through most of next year. "We do expect to see continued modest increases in delinquencies and foreclosures over the next few quarters, mid- to late-2007, as the housing market bottoms out and then begins recovering," said Doug Duncan, MBA's chief economist.
One of main factors pushing up foreclosures: the number of borrowers who've fallen behind on their adjustable-rate subprime loans — high-interest mortgages for those with impaired credit. Those borrowers account for about 4% of all mortgages. Their loans typically start with low "teaser rates" that begin rising after a year or two, pushing up the monthly payments sometimes beyond what the borrower can afford.
"In California, I saw a billboard that said, 'Own the home you want, not the one you can afford,' " says Thomas DiMercurio, a Denver real estate broker who specializes in bank-held foreclosures. "That was so silly."
ARMs cause problems
Nearly 14% of subprime borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were behind on their payments last quarter, the highest rate since the start of 2003. That figure is all but sure to rise next year, when at least $1.2 trillion in ARMs will reset to higher rates. About half that amount is expected to be refinanced into lower-rate fixed or adjustable loans, Duncan says.
Already, refinance applications have reached their highest point since September 2005, the MBA said Wednesday, as rates for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages have unexpectedly fallen to their lowest since January.
About 1 in 10 homeowners in California with a subprime ARM was behind on mortgage payments in the third quarter. The rate is twice that in states such as West Virginia, Michigan and Alabama, where job losses have battered the housing markets.
The loss of a job is the No. 1 reason people go into foreclosure, followed by health problems and a death in the family. Typically, a lender will start foreclosure proceedings after a borrower misses payments for three months in a row. The homeowner can try to sell the property first. But that can be hard in areas where home sales are falling.
That's what happened to Bill and Dana Pittman in Denver. Dana lost her teaching job last year, then needed surgery for a brain tumor. The couple managed their mortgage payments with Bill's wages as an auto mechanic and an inheritance from Dana's parents.
When the inheritance ran out, they fell behind. "I should have tattooed across my forehead, 'Real estate stupid,' " says Dana, 51.
She says she wrote "a letter of hardship" to the mortgage company last summer, but "It was, like, 'Oh, well, too bad. We want our money.' "
To stave off foreclosure on their suburban home, the Pittmans have been trying to sell a small vacation home they own in a remote valley three hours south of Denver. But with no takers despite a cut in the asking price, they don't expect to sell it before they put their main home up for auction on Jan. 3.
If so, they say they'll have to make their vacation house their new home, even though it's more than an hour's commute from the closest towns where they could find jobs.
"It was supposed to be our retirement home," Dana says.
While Colorado's delinquency rate of 3.6% is below the U.S. average, there are areas such as Denver where a spike in foreclosures has caused considerable concern among residents and regulators.
Not that all foreclosures reach the auction block. Some owners are able to sell or refinance to pay off their debt. Some lenders permit borrowers who are in trouble to tack missed payments onto the end of the loan while they try to resolve their financial difficulties.
The hardest-hit states are Mississippi and Louisiana, where homeowners are still struggling to recover financially from Hurricane Katrina. But other states that have lost auto, airline and other jobs have also seen jumps in foreclosures and delinquencies. Among them: Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
Noelle Knox reported from McLean, Va.
By Quentin Webb
LONDON (Reuters) - Financial markets are set for a rougher ride in 2007 and risk a re-run of this May's turmoil, as more dollar weakness helps spur a rise in volatility, Standard & Poor's chief European economist warned on Wednesday.
"We see 2007 as a year of temporary re-adjustment as far as real growth is concerned, but we also see financial markets experiencing much higher volatility in general, with more bumps along the way," Jean-Michel Six told a news conference.
"Those bumps could be specifically created by developments on two areas: foreign exchange markets and real estate."
After spiking earlier this year, measures of equity volatility have since fallen to their lowest levels in years. The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, or VIX <.VIX>, dubbed Wall Street's fear gauge, hit a 12-year low in November.
S&P forecasts U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth will slow to 2.3 percent next year and the dollar will drop to an average of $1.37 against the euro
A combination of a high number of housing starts and slowing demand could cause housing market problems in European countries such as Spain, mirroring the housing slowdown in the United States, Six said.
"I would see increased volatility on the long end of the curve, as far as interest rates are concerned," Six said. "That is partly to do with how far the dollar is going to go down, and what will be the reactions in the U.S. to this situation.
Six said global financial markets were "still exposed" to a situation like the "emerging markets crisis" of early 2006. "That is something that could very easily repeat itself," he said.
Worries that U.S. policy-makers would have to raise borrowing costs sharply to quash rising inflation spurred a steep correction in stock and bond markets in May and June.
Emerging markets were among the hardest hit, as investors unwound "carry trades" that are based on borrowing in low-yielding currencies such as Japanese yen and investing in higher-yielding arenas like Iceland.
The MSCI index <.MSCIEF> of emerging market stocks shed 25 percent between May 10 and a low on June 14, although it has since regained almost all that ground.
In a report released simultaneously, S&P warned European credit quality would suffer in 2007 as companies continued to reward shareholders with buybacks, dividends and acquisitions.
Debt and leverage levels would rise, credit rating downgrades would again outstrip upgrades and defaults would tick up from very low levels, the rating agency warned.
"Abundant liquidities have led markets not to price credit risk in the same way they did in previous cycles," Six said.
For three hours, the Supreme Court justices sat in the "oval room" - a conference room with a large oval table in the center - at one of the stormiest meetings ever held there. For a long time afterward, the secretaries in the president's office recalled the shouting they had heard through the walls. That was in March 2003, on the day that, in the opinion of journalist Naomi Levitsky, "the Supreme Court justices rose up against their president."
That day, the justices had convened for a crucial meeting, their third, on the question of the appointment of Prof. Nili Cohen as a Supreme Court justice. The president of the Court, Aharon Barak, supported her appointment and tried to promote it in every possible way. On the other hand, Justice Dorit Beinisch, his protege for years and the person slated to inherit his job when the time came, did everything in her power to torpedo the appointment.
At the meeting itself, Beinisch did not talk very much. She had done the work earlier behind the scenes, in discussions with her fellow justices. At the time, she barely wrote any legal decisions; she was too busy working to block Cohen from morning till night. She even managed to bring Mishael Cheshin, one of Cohen's avid supporters, over to her side. Now Cheshin was opposing her appointment with the same enthusiasm with which he had praised her not long before. "From what I've heard about her," he said at the meeting of the justices, "she absolutely must not be brought in."
On the table was a letter that had arrived at Barak's office, written by Prof. Zvia Agur, a biologist who had been working in the faculty of life sciences at Tel Aviv University, did not receive tenure and was dismissed. In the letter, Agur accused Nili Cohen of persecuting her and personally harassing her. It was never clarified, by the way, how this letter got into Barak's hands. The envelope did not bear the stamp "received," as is usual for mail that comes to the Supreme Court.
"They told me that there were serious problems of human relations," said Justice Eliezer Rivlin, a quiet, pleasant man, adding fuel to the fire. "She will cause quarrels here." Theodor Or, perhaps the justice closest to Barak, came to the aid of the president and said that Cohen should be appointed. "Now you're saying that we should appoint her," said Rivlin, "but only a few days ago you told me that you had also heard unpleasant things about her."
"That's not true, I didn't say that," replied Or, and Rivlin jumped up from his seat, exclaiming, "What, am I a liar?"
Many newspaper articles followed the Cohen affair, but none of the justices was ever openly interviewed about it. Beinisch herself, on the eve of her appointment as president of the Supreme Court, gave a background interview to the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, but never spoke about it in public. Now she has agreed to do so, but for a book rather than to the press. "Ha'elyonim" (The Supreme Court Justices), Levitsky's second book (the first, a biography of Aharon Barak, came out five years ago), will be published this week, in the Hasifriya Hahadasha (New Library) series of Kibbutz Hameuhad publishers, and includes on-the-record conversations Levitsky held with many past and present Supreme Court justices, primarily Barak, Beinisch and Cheshin. Some of the justices who spoke with her demanded that they be cited only in indirect speech, without quotation marks.
Not Beinisch. "I'm not the only one who believed that Nili Cohen was not the person who would save this court," she told Levitsky. "That was the general opinion, and that was the main reason for our opposition to her appointment. The discussion during the meeting of the justices was much more practical than people think. They wanted to bring Nili Cohen here as a reinforcement candidate, and that's very complicated. In order to bring someone from the academic world here, it has to be a very specific type of academic world. A person who has never seen a courtroom, who has never even crossed the threshold, is not a person that this court needs. I am trying to strengthen the constitutional aspect of the court, the public aspect of the work here."
A few days after that stormy discussion, Justice Dalia Dorner suggested appointing Eliahu Mazza, who was considered neutral in the matter, as a type of "investigating judge" in order to see whether there was any truth in the accusations against Cohen, or whether it was merely slander and gossip. Beinisch agreed, but the next day Barak demanded that former justice Yitzhak Zamir be included in the investigation. Mazza was so insulted that his face turned red, and he announced that if Barak wanted Zamir to investigate, that was fine, "but not together with me."
At the end of that meeting, as Levitsky describes it, "it was clear that most of the justices were siding with Beinisch, the president-designate, and turning their backs on the incumbent president. This was a situation the likes of which had never been seen before in the Supreme Court. Over three years before the end of the president's candidacy, it was clear to everyone that the center of power had been transferred from the president himself to the person designated to be the next president."
How did Levitsky manage to get behind the scenes of the "Holy of Holies," as she herself describes the Supreme Court, and convince the justices to cooperate with her and expose their secrets? "I simply went from one to the other and spoke with everyone from whom I thought there was a chance of getting information, until I got the whole picture," she said in an interview a few days before the publication of her book. "I knew there had been a major drama in the Nili Cohen affair, and I wanted to investigate it thoroughly. The matter of Nili Cohen was less interesting to me that the transfer of power. Three and a half years before the changing of the presidents there was an exchange of power, and that is something that fascinates me."
Did Beinisch plan the move to reinforce her power?
"These are simply things that happen. When someone loses power, when his locks have been shorn, the power is naturally transferred. That's the nature of man and the nature of every organization. In my opinion, the Nili Cohen affair forced Beinisch to float to the top much earlier than she had planned. She had been a quiet and invisible justice, largely unheard except in limited forums."
Did she regret the uproar that centered around her?
"I assume she did. She herself understood that it didn't help her publicly. But she was very determined on this matter; she did not regret that the appointment did not go through. Beinisch is a strong and determined woman. When she takes on a challenge, she takes on a challenge. We've seen that in her personal history, she's willing to take risks, and it's impossible not to respect her for that. She has a strong character. I'm not even talking about her beauty. When I saw her for the first time, about 20 years ago, she took my breath away."
Levitsky met Beinisch for the first time in 1985, when she had just become a reporter for the weekly news magazine Koteret Rashit and Beinisch was the deputy state prosecutor. A short time later, their paths crossed in the Bus 300 affair (in which Palestinian hijackers were beaten to death by Shin Bet agents). To her surprise, perhaps because of her longstanding ties with Beinisch, it was not too difficult to persuade her to be interviewed for this book. In one of the conversations Beinisch also referred to the fraught meeting in her office between her and Judge Boaz Okon, at the time the director of the Courts Administration, and the man who would become one of her bitter enemies. Okon, a close friend of Nili Cohen and her former research assistant, was sent by Barak to find out whether Beinisch would agree to a double appointment to the Supreme Court: Nili Cohen together with Edna Arbel, Beinisch's close friend.
"He spoke to me aggressively and with chutzpah," said Beinisch. "He told me that I was not yet the president, and it was not certain that I would be president, and what was I thinking when I opposed the viewpoint of the president like that." Okon served as legal editor for Levitsky's first book, and in effect as a private law tutor on behalf of Barak. Now, an interviewee like all the others, he has a different version of what took place at that meeting: "I came in and told her that I understood that she had serious complaints against Nili, personal complaints. Beinisch stopped me immediately and said that her opposition was not personal, and that she was opposed to the appointment because she didn't think that someone from the academic world should be appointed now, and that was the end of the conversation." Barak, who heard from Okon about the outcome of the conversation, understood that the story was over.
Did Barak understand at that point that his status had declined, that his exclusive hold on the center of power in the Supreme Court had ended?
Levitsky: "I can't answer that in his place, but I would guess that he understood. At the time he was very hurt. Anyone who met him then could see that he had changed completely. He wasn't the same person, he had lost some of his vitality."
Consolidating a majority
The book shatters two common assumptions about the way Supreme Court justices write their decisions. One is that every justice is entirely independent in this activity - alone with the paper, with the facts in the file and their legal analysis. There is no authority above him except that of the law. The second assumption is that the reason why so much time passes between discussion of the fundamental petitions and the decision on them is the tremendous workload borne by the justices.
Levitsky snickers when she hears these things. Her book is full of examples from behind the scenes that prove that neither assumption is true. Instead, the justices consult with one another, persuade one another, make efforts to convince and even negotiate with one another about the wording of the decision so that they will be able to say, "I agree."
On the other hand, important decisions are sometimes delayed for years on end so that one justice or another will succeed in obtaining a majority among the justices on the panel. And if efforts to convince don't help, changes in the composition of the panel do.
"The justices pass along a large number of drafts to one another," says Levitsky. "One tells the other, I can agree with you on condition that you omit this and that sentence. There are entire negotiations between them. In order to consolidate a majority on a certain issue, sometimes justices have to relinquish one sentence or another. They sit at meetings, speak among themselves and deliberate. Sometimes they also consider how the ruling will affect the court."
The case of the Citizenship Law amendment that prevents reunification of families of Israeli Arab citizens married to Palestinians proves almost everything that Levitsky wants to prove in this connection. The petition was discussed by a panel of 13 justices, including Justice Salim Joubran, who at the time still had a temporary appointment in the Supreme Court. During the meeting of the justices, Barak, who supported overturning the amendment, was under the impression that he had succeeded in garnering a majority of seven justices, as opposed to six justices headed by Cheshin who wanted to leave the amendment in place. He wrote his decision, but when his attempts to bring Eliahu Mazza, Asher Grunis or Miriam Naor over to his side failed, he decided to shelve his ruling. Levitsky says that he was simply afraid to overturn the amendment to the Citizenship Law on the basis of a majority of seven to six, with an Arab judge as the deciding factor.
The shelving of the decision written by Barak, when it had a majority in the Supreme Court, is a sensational revelation that is being published for the first time in the book. A year and a half after the petitions were submitted to the High Court of Justice against the Citizenship Law, when Justices Theodor Or and Dalia Dorner had already retired, Barak appointed Esther Hayut and Yehonatan Adiel to the panel. But since he had not yet succeeded in changing the balance of power within the panel, he decided, with Mazza's encouragement, to publish an interim decision expressing dissatisfaction with the amendment; but it has no real binding validity. All the justices on the panel agreed to sign this decision. "Our hope was that the government would understand and do something," said Mazza. But his hope was dashed.
Prior to Cheshin's resignation from the court in May 2006, Barak decided to end the affair and publish the decision. Now only 11 justices remained on the panel, and Barak discovered to his chagrin that even his fragile majority had disappeared. Adiel decided to adopt Cheshin's position. Barak, in an attempt to preserve the majority, agreed to give the government eight more months to change the law. But three days before the publication of the decision, Eliezer Rivlin, who considers himself the successor to Barak's liberalism in the defense of human rights, informed him that he had changed his mind and sided with Cheshin.
Barak had a plan: He wrote a moderate decision, in order to convince the justices to adopt his position. In case he discovered that he had been unsuccessful in obtaining a majority, he planned to write a much more sharply worded minority opinion against the amendment. But since the balance of powers was discovered at the very last moment, he didn't have any time left to do so.
Even Cheshin once shelved a decision he had written, under the influence of the internal politics of the Supreme Court. Up until now he has refused to reveal the subject of that shelved decision. Levitsky reveals the secret: It dealt with the well-known "Ka'adan-Katzir affair." (An Israeli Arab family tried to buy a house in a new community, Katzir, established by the state and the Jewish Agency on state-owned land. The Katzir housing committee refused to allow the family to move in on the grounds that they were not Jewish. The family petitioned the Supreme Court, claiming that this constituted racial discrimination, and challenging the fact that citizens could be excluded from public land through the Jewish Agency.) Barak tried, as usual, to consolidate a solid majority for his ruling, when it was already clear that its influence would be broad and precedent-setting. However, Cheshin surprised him when he declared that he planned so write his own decision.
"When Barak received a draft copy of Cheshin's decision," writes Levitsky, "he was upset. Barak could not accept the words. In a very exceptional step, he entered Cheshin's room and closed the door behind him. 'You cannot publish such a thing,' said Barak, 'it will shame you, and not only you, it will shame this entire court. These words will be published all over the world and will be condemned.'"
Barak said it was not easy to convince Cheshin to shelve the decision he had written. As a last resort, he invoked the memory of Cheshin's late father, Supreme Court justice Zalman Cheshin: "Misha, if you yourself don't care, think about your father. What would your father say about the things you've written here?" Cheshin finally agreed to shelve the decision, and joined Barak's opinion.
Levitsky worked on her book for two and a half years. Since the publication of her first book, "Kevodo" (His Honor), the biography of Barak, Levitsky has been teaching a course in the law school of the Tel Aviv College of Management, though she lacks formal legal training. The course deals with the connection between the personal and professional background of judges and their legal world view and decisions. At a certain stage she decided to collect all the material that had accumulated in the course she taught and to turn it into a book. For a year she worked only on research, spoke with almost 120 open sources and another 10 clandestine ones, and read legal decisions, books, articles and biographies of Israeli and American judges, before beginning to write.
Her father, Asher Levitsky, was a renowned Tel Aviv lawyer in the 1950s and '60s, who dealt mainly in criminal law. He died when Levitsky was 8 years old. She is the only daughter of her mother Mary, who died while she was working on "His Honor." That is the reason for her instinctive identification with Dorner, who also lost her father at an early age.
Levitsky was born in Jerusalem, and while still in elementary school, moved to Tel Aviv. She married early and divorced early, and a short time after her divorce her former husband was killed in a traffic accident. Before working in journalism she served as an emissary for the United Jewish Appeal in the United States. She began to write for Koteret Rashit in 1985, after a conversation with the editor, Nahum Barnea. At the same time she moonlighted as a bartender in a pub on Ibn Gvirol Street.
Three years later she moved over to the now-defunct daily Hadashot as a senior political correspondent, and in 1991 she moved to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth. She says she was never defined as a reporter, but she brought in many scoops. In 1998 she left Yedioth after a prolonged period of mutual cooling of relations. Something went wrong with the chemistry, she says.
Levitsky is extremely protective of her own privacy, which is somewhat surprising in light of her project of exposing the private lives of the justices, and her positions on the connection between one's biography and professional life. During the years when she was working on "His Honor" she supported herself on the monthly stipend she received from the publisher. In recent years she has received support from the Tel Aviv Foundation, in addition to her salary from the College of Management. The financial security enabled her to devote herself to researching what goes on inside the Supreme Court. Anyone who works as an active journalist, she says, who has to deliver the goods on a daily basis, has neither the time nor the ability to do that. Moreover, she says, the media have not completely internalized the full importance of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, she says, is the last of the clandestine organizations in the country. It is easier to penetrate the Mossad and the Shin Bet security services. "The justices would certainly prefer to continue conducting the entire business under a mantle of secrecy," says Levitsky, "but as [U.S. Supreme Court] Justice Louis Brandeis once said: 'Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.' Barak adopted this saying, but he of course is referring to everything but the court.
"I think that one should expose as much as possible. The court is today perhaps the strongest organization in the country. It's an aggressive, institutionalized organization, and there are power struggles and power hierarchies there. The justices determine every step in our lives, without our even noticing in everyday life how much of it they have determined."
In the final analysis, the Supreme Court justices are human beings - they like the same food, laugh at the same jokes and have the same loves, hates and needs as everyone else. The expectation that they be perfect, she says, is simply unfair. "In the long run, I think that if we treat the justices more like human beings and less like the sons of gods, and understand them better, we will be able to accept their decisions more easily, even if we don't agree with them."
In the book Levitsky tries to decipher the way in which the justices arrive at decisions. They can talk as much as they like about legal reasons, she says, but things also have a political aspect, not in the sense of party politics but in the public, social, ethical sense. She believes that the Supreme Court should not be another appeals court.
"I am among the members of the public who believe that the role of the Supreme Court is to set norms, to move processes of social evolution, to deal with human rights. That is what I expect from it. From my point of view, that is its job. Barak always told me, you are dealing with 2 percent of the things we do, and I replied that those are the 2 percent that give you the title 'supreme.' Otherwise, you're just another appeals court, and that doesn't interest me."
What will your next project be in the political arena?
"I don't want to commit myself, but the work was so hard, exhausting and pressured, that the way I feel now, this is the last project in that area."
She has some advice for the person who writes the next book on the Supreme Court: To devote a great deal of attention to Justices Ayala Procaccia and Edmond Levy: "Because they have been in the Supreme Court for only six years, it's impossible to go all the way with them in this book, but these are justices with very complex personalities, they are unpredictable and they look at things differently. It's interesting that they were appointed together, as though representing two sides of the divide, one liberal and the other conservative, and sometimes they can be found on the same side of the divide."
By Jonathan Cook
The problem facing the Palestinian leadership, as they strive to bring the millions living in the occupied territories some small relief from their collective suffering, reduces to a matter of a few words. Like a naughty child who has only to say "sorry" to be released from his room, the Hamas government need only say "We recognise Israel" and supposedly aid and international goodwill will wash over the West Bank and Gaza.
That, at least, was the gist of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's recent speech during a visit to the Negev, when he suggested that his country's hand was stretched out across the sands towards the starving masses of Gaza -- if only Hamas would repent. "Recognise us and we are ready to talk about peace" was the implication.
Certainly the Palestinian people have been viciously punished for making their democratic choice early this year to elect a Hamas government that Israel and the Western powers disapprove of:
* an economic blockade has been imposed, starving the Palestinian Authority of income to pay for services and remunerate its large workforce;
* millions of dollars in tax monies owed to the Palestinians have been illegally withheld by Israel, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis;
* a physical blockade of Gaza enforced by Israel has prevented the Palestinians from exporting their produce, mostly perishable crops, and from importing essentials like food and medicine;
* Israeli military strikes have damaged Gaza's vital infrastructure, including the supply of electricity and water, as well as randomly killing its inhabitants;
* and thousands of families are being torn apart as Israel uses the pretext of its row with Hamas to stop renewing the visas of Palestinian foreign passport holders.
The magic words "We recognise you" could end all this suffering. So why did their prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, vow last week never to utter them. Is Hamas so filled with hatred and loathing for Israel as a Jewish state that it cannot make such a simple statement of good intent?
It is easy to forget that, though conditions have dramatically deteriorated of late, the Palestinians' problems did not start with the election of Hamas. Israel's occupation is four decades old, and no Palestinian leader has ever been able to extract from Israel a promise of real statehood in all of the occupied territories: not the mukhtars, the largely compliant local leaders, who for decades were the only representatives allowed to speak on behalf of the Palestinians after the national leadership was expelled; not the Palestinian Authority under the secular leadership of Yasser Arafat, who returned to the occupied territories in the mid-1990s after the PLO had recognised Israel; not the leadership of his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the "moderate" who first called for an end to the armed intifada; and now not the leaders of Hamas, even though they have repeatedly called for a long-term truce (hudna) as the first step in building confidence.
Similarly, few Palestinians doubt that Israel will continue to entrench the occupation -- just as it did during the supposed peace- making years of Oslo, when the number of Jewish settlers doubled in the occupied territories -- even if Hamas is ousted and a government of national unity, of technocrats or even of Fatah takes its place.
There is far more at stake for Israel in winning this little concession from Hamas than most observers appreciate. A statement saying that Hamas recognised Israel would do much more than meet Israel's precondition for talks; it would mean that Hamas had walked into the same trap that was set earlier for Arafat and Fatah. That trap is designed to ensure that any peaceful solution to the conflict is impossible.
It achieves this end in two ways.
First, as has already been understood, at least by those paying attention, Hamas' recognition of Israel's "right to exist" would effectively signify that the Palestinian government was publicly abandoning its own goal of struggling to create a viable Palestinian state.
That is because Israel refuses to demarcate its own future borders, leaving it an open question what it considers to be the extent of "its existence" it is demanding Hamas recognise. We do know that no one in the Israeli leadership is talking about a return to Israel's borders that existed before the 1967 war, or probably anything close to it.
Without a return to those pre-1967 borders (plus a substantial injection of goodwill from Israel in ensuring unhindered passage between Gaza and the West Bank) no possibility exists of a viable Palestinian state ever emerging.
And no goodwill, of course, will be forthcoming. Every Israeli leader has refused to recognise the Palestinians, first as a people and now as a nation. And in the West's typically hypocritical fashion when dealing with the Palestinians, no one has ever suggested that Israel commit to such recognition.
In fact, Israeli governments have glorified in their refusal to extend the same recognition to the Palestinians that they demand from them. Famously Golda Meir, a Labor prime minister, said that the Palestinians did not exist, adding in 1971 that Israel's "borders are determined by where Jews live, not where there is a line on a map." At the same time she ordered that the Green Line, Israel's border until the 1967 war, be erased from all official maps.
That legacy hit the headlines last week when the dovish education minister, Yuli Tamir, caused a storm by issuing a directive that the Green Line should be reintroduced in Israeli schoolbooks. There were widespread protests against her "extreme leftist ideology" from politicians and rabbis.
According to Israeli educators, the chances of textbooks showing the Green Line again -- or dropping references to "Judea and Samaria", the Biblical names for the West Bank, or including Arab towns on maps of Israel -- are close to nil. The private publishers who print the textbooks would refuse to incur the extra costs of reprinting the maps, said Prof Yoram Bar-Gal, head of geography at Haifa University.
Sensitive to the damage that the row might do to Israel's international image, and aware that Tamir's directive is never likely to be implemented, Olmert agreed in principle to the change. "There is nothing wrong with marking the Green Line," he said. But, in a statement that made his agreement entirely hollow, he added: "But there is an obligation to emphasize that the government's position and public consensus rule out returning to the 1967 lines."
The second element to the trap is far less well understood. It explains the strange formulation of words Israel uses in making its demand of Hamas. Israel does not ask it simply to "recognise Israel", but to "recognise Israel's right to exist". The difference is not a just matter of semantics.
The concept of a state having any rights is not only strange but alien to international law. People have rights, not states. And that is precisely the point: when Israel demands that its "right to exist" be recognised, the subtext is that we are not speaking of recognition of Israel as a normal nation state but as the state of a specific people, the Jews.
In demanding recognition of its right to exist, Israel is ensuring that the Palestinians agree to Israel's character being set in stone as an exclusivist Jewish state, one that privileges the rights of Jews over all other ethnic, religious and national groups inside the same territory. The question of what such a state entails is largely glossed over both by Israel and the West.
For most observers, it means simply that Israel must refuse to allow the return of the millions of Palestinians languishing in refugee camps throughout the region, whose former homes in Israel have now been appropriated for the benefit of Jews. Were they allowed to come back, Israel's Jewish majority would be eroded overnight and it could no longer claim to be a Jewish state, except in the same sense that apartheid South Africa was a white state.
This conclusion is apparently accepted by Romano Prodi, Italy's prime minister, after a round of lobbying in European captials from Israel's telegenic foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. According to the Jerusalem Post, Prodi is saying in private that Israel should receive guarantees from the Palestinians that its Jewish character will never be in doubt.
Israeli officials are cheering what they believe is the first crack in Europe's support for international law and the rights of the refugees. "It's important to get everyone on the same page on this one," an official told the Post.
But in truth the consequences of the Palestinian leadership recognising Israel as a Jewish state run far deeper than the question of the future of the Palestinian refugees. In my book Blood and Religion, I set out these harsh consequences both for the Palestinians in the occupied territories and for the million or so Palestinians who live inside Israel as citizens, supposedly with the same rights as Jewish citizens.
My argument is that this need to maintain Israel's Jewish character at all costs is actually the engine of its conflict with the Palestinians. No solution is possible as long as Israel insists on privileging citizenship for Jews above other groups, and on distorting the region's territorial and demographic realities to ensure that the numbers continue to weigh in the Jews' favour.
Although ultimately the return of the refugees poses the biggest threat to Israel's "existence", Israel has a far more pressing demographic concern: the refusal by the Palestinians living in the West Bank to leave the parts of that territory Israel covets (and which it knows by the Biblical names of Judea and Samaria).
Within a decade, the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the million Palestinian citizens living inside Israel will outnumber Jews, both those living in Israel and the settlers in the West Bank.
That was one of the chief reasons for the "disengagement" from Gaza: Israel could claim that, even though it is still occupying the small piece of land militarily, it was no longer responsible for the population there. By withdrawing a few thousand settlers from the Strip, 1.4 million Gazans were instantly wiped from the demographic score sheet.
But though the loss of Gaza has posponed for a few years the threat of a Palestinian majority in the expanded state Israel desires, it has not magicly guaranteed Israel's continuing existence as a Jewish state. That is because Israel's Palestinian citizens, though a minority comprising no more than fifth of Israel's population, can potentially bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.
For the past decade they have been demanding that Israel be reformed from a Jewish state, which systematically discriminates against them and denies their Palestinian identity, into a "state of all its citizens", a liberal democracy that would give all citizens, Jews and Palestinians, equal rights.
Israel has characterised the demand for a state of all its citizens as subversion and treason, realising that, were the Jewish state to become a liberal democracy, Palestinian citizens could justifiably demand: * the right to marry Palestinians from the occupied territories and from the Diaspora, winning them Israeli citizenship -- "a right of return through the backdoor" as officials call it. * the right to bring Palestinian relatives in exile back to Israel under a Right of Return programme that would be a pale shadow of the existing Law of Return that guarantees any Jew anywhere in the world the automatic right to Israeli citizenship.
To prevent the first threat, Israel passed a flagrantly racist law in 2003 that makes it all but impossible for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to bring a Palestinian spouse to Israel. For the time being, such couples have little choice but to seek asylum abroad, if other countries will give them refuge.
But like the Gaza disengagement, this piece of legislation is a delaying tactic rather than a solution to the problem of Israel's "existence". So behind the scenes Israel has been formulating ideas that taken together would remove large segments of Israel's Palestinian population from its borders and strip any remaining "citizens" of their political rights -- unless they swear loyalty to a "Jewish and democratic state" and thereby renounce their demand that Israel reform itself into a liberal democracy.
This is the bottom line for a Jewish state, just as it was for a white apartheid South Africa: if we are to survive, then we must be able to do whatever it takes to keep ourselves in power, even if it means systematically violating the human rights of all those we rule over and who do not belong to our group.
Ultimately, the consequences of Israel being allowed to remain a Jewish state will be felt by all of us, wherever we live -- and not only because of the fallout from the continuing and growing anger in the Arab and Muslim worlds at the double standards applied by the West to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Given Israel's view that its most pressing interest is not peace or regional accommodation with its neighbours but the need to ensure a Jewish majority at all costs to protect its "existence", Israel is likely to act in ways that endanger regional and global stability.
A small taste of that was suggested in the role played by Israel's supporters in Washington in making the case for the invasion of Iraq, and this summer in Israel's assault on Lebanon. But it is most evident in its drumbeat of war against Iran.
Israel has been leading the attempts to characterise the Iranian regime as profoundly anti-Semitic, and its presumed ambitions for nuclear weapons as directed by the sole goal of wanting to "wipe Israel off the map" -- a calculatedly mischievious mistranslation of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech.
Most observers have assumed that Israel is genuinely concerned for its safety from nuclear attack, however implausible the idea that even the most fanatical Muslim regime would, unprovoked, launch nuclear missiles against a small area of land that contains some of Islam's holiest sites, in Jerusalem.
But in truth there is another reason why Israel is concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran that has nothing to do with conventional ideas about safety.
Last month, Ephraim Sneh, one of Israel's most distinguished generals and now Olmert's deputy defence minister, revealed that the government's primary concern was not the threat posed by Ahmadinejad firing nuclear missiles at Israel but the effect of Iran's possession of such weapons on Jews who expect Israel to have a monopoly on the nuclear threat.
If Iran got such weapons, "Most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who can live abroad will ... I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."
In other words, the Israeli government is considering either its own pre-emptive strike on Iran or encouraging the United States to undertake such an attack -- despite the terrible consequences for global security -- simply because a nuclear-armed Iran might make Israel a less attractive place for Jews to live, lead to increased emigration and tip the demographic balance in the Palestinians' favour.
Regional and possibly global war may be triggered simply to ensure that Israel's "existence" as a state that offers exclusive privileges to Jews continues.
For all our sakes, we must hope that the Palestinians and their Hamas government continue refusing to "recognise Israel's right to exist".
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His website is www.jkcook.net
By Sherwood Ross
WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The Army and Marine Corps tomorrow (Dec. 15th) will release a new counterinsurgency field manual that notes how insurgents use the media “to magnify the effects of their actions” and which suggests ways to defeat those efforts.
The manual is already in use in Afghanistan where U.S. units are employing the new tactics against Taliban forces that have started to mount large operations in the Pashto-speaking south, according to a reliable article in an American magazine.
Australian-born Lt.-Col. David Kilcullen, currently working at a high-level counterterrorism post in the U.S. State Department, is quoted as describing the Taliban as essentially an “armed propaganda organization.”
“They switch between guerrilla activity and terrorist activity as they need to, in order to maintain the political momentum, and it’s all about an information operation that generates the perception of an unstoppable, growing insurgency,” Kilcullen told
reporter George Packer of “The New Yorker.”(December 18)
Kilkullen said when insurgents ambush a U.S. convoy in Iraq it’s because “they want spectacular media footage of a burning Humvee.” He adds, “It’s now fundamentally an information fight. The enemy gets that, and we don’t yet get that, and I think that’s why we’re losing.” He said, “If bin Laden didn’t have access to global media, satellite communications, and the Internet, he’d just be a cranky guy in a cave.”
One of the questions raised by Packer’s article, “Knowing The Enemy,” is whether the U.S. can shift its heavy reliance on military operations to community support efforts and inform civilian populations about them. That time may have already come and gone.
The new field manual asserts, “…by focusing on efforts to secure the safety and support of the local populace, and through a concerted effort to truly function as learning organizations, the Army and Marine Corps can defeat their insurgent enemies.”
The struggle in the Middle East increasingly appears to be an information battle to win public opinion. An Afghan villager, for example, has access to the Internet, e-mail, satellite phone, and text messaging and these tools are thought to be more easily exploited by insurgents than the Afghan government.
“In the information war, America and its allies are barely competing,” Packer writes, because they are not the primary strategy but used to publicize military victories and no one in the battlefield areas hears the message. At times, the U.S. has relied on radio to get across a message that would spread quicker by floating rumors in Iraqi coffee shops.
The emphasis on military response does little to win friends in Islam, Packer writes. He quotes Frederick Barton, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank: “Hard power is not the way we’re going to make an impression.”
In Pakistan, Barton says, the U.S. since 2002 has spent $6-billion shoring up the Pakistani military and billions more on intelligence-gathering yet it has spent less than a billion dollars on aid for education and economic development in a country where Islamist madrassas and joblessness contribute to the radicalization of young people.”
James Kuner, acting deputy of the U.S. Agency for International Development and a former Marine told The New Yorker that in Iraq and Afghanistan “the civilian agencies have received 1.4% of the total money,” whereas classical counterinsurgency doctrine says that 80% of the effort should be nonmilitary.”
Packer asserts, “There is little organized American effort to rebut the jihadist conspiracy theories that circulate daily among the Muslims living in populous countries such as Indonesia , Pakistan , and Nigeria .”
Bruce Hoffman, of Georgetown University , believes the U.S. must help foreign governments flood the Internet with persuasively youthful Web sites presenting anti-jihadist messages yet without leaving American fingerprints. He said jihadists have posted 5,000 Web sites that react swiftly and imaginatively to events. Adds Kilcullen, “We’ve got to co-opt or assist people who have a counter-message. And we might need to consider creating or supporting the creation of rival organizations.”
“You’ve got to be quiet about it,” Kilcullen said. “You don’t go in there like a missionary.” The idea is to offer an alternative to individuals to walk a road other than jihad.
The Pentagon currently is recruiting social scientists to serve in a new project called “Cultural Operations Research Human Terrain”. The plan calls for sending five-person “human terrain” teams into Iraq and Afghanistan with combat brigades to serve as cultural advisers. The first teams are planning to leave next spring.
Such teams might prevent repeat of U.S. strategic miscalculations made to date. One was described by Montgomery McFate writing in “Joint Force Quarterly”: “Once the Sunni Ba’thists lost their prestigious jobs, were humiliated in the conflict, and got frozen out through Ba’thification, the tribal network became the backbone of the insurgency. The tribal insurgency is a direct result of our misunderstanding the Iraqi culture.”
All of which makes you wonder, can the Bush White House get anything right? Anything?
Sherwood Ross is an American reporter who covers military and political affairs. Reach him at email@example.com
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Mordechai Vanunu is claiming that the ongoing restrictions on his freedom – including prohibition from even talking to reporters – are as a result of his having revealed that Israel has the bomb, something which the Prime Minister of Israel has now confirmed. The confirmation was not a mistake, but is a veiled threat to the rest of the world, particularly Europe (see also here or here, and here). The intentional ambiguity over the issue had been destroyed – no doubt in Zionist minds as part of a Baker-directed American Establishment ‘anti-Semitic’ plot – by Robert Gates, and the Israeli strategists had to fall back on Plan B, which is to try to make the most of the threat.
Vanunu makes an excellent point: if Israel doesn’t grant him his full freedom, shouldn’t it put Olmert in jail for at least the length of Vanunu’s sentence?
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Financial markets are vulnerable to a significant correction in the next 12 months that might be triggered by an event in the derivatives markets, a well-known municipal bond manager said on Tuesday.
"I will be very surprised if we don't get an accident in the next months," Thomas Metzold, who invests roughly $4.5 billion in the Eaton Vance National Municipals Fund, told the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit in New York.
"Whether it is in the credit default swap market or a leveraged buyout scenario, there is going to be a major default and all this liquidity that is out there can dry up pretty quickly," Metzold said.
Looking back to 1998 when hedge fund Long Term Capital Management collapsed, Metzold said the biggest problem was that LTCM had so much exposure to counterparties that none of them knew how much the others had. "And it all came tumbling," he said.
Even though lenders have become stricter since the LTCM debacle, Metzold said trillions of dollars of counterparty risk still exist "that no one really has their hands around."
In the swaps market, positions are often traded so frequently that the party that is ultimately responsible for the underlying risk is not always immediately known.
Although the fixed-income market may look "perfect on the surface," Metzold worried that "underneath it is boiling." Metzold, who has been investing in fixed-income securities for more than two decades, said he has a more bearish outlook than many of his competitors as he worries in particular that the dollar will continue to fall, foreign buyers will lose their taste for U.S. fixed-income securities, and eventually the situation will become a "snowball rolling down hill."
One of the biggest problems may be that investors no longer worry about risk, Metzold said. "I can't believe I haven't seen an editorial cartoon that shows a tombstone with the name 'risk,' rest in peace, because risk is dead," Metzold said.
"People don't believe they can lose money anymore," he added.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
JERUSALEM: Israel's Supreme Court Wednesday rejected an appeal by Palestinians over the route of the separation barrier in the suburbs of occupied East Jerusalem, court sources said.
Residents of Al-Ram had appealed the proposed route of the barrier, which will leave their West Bank town cut off from East Jerusalem. The justices rejected the appeal, saying the route did not violate "the balance between security concerns" and rights of Palestinian residents with Israeli ID cards.
"Defending Jerusalem from terrorist infiltrations constitutes a vital security interest," said the ruling.
It marked the latest in a series of rulings by the highest court on appeals against the planned route of the massive barrier of electric fencing, barbed wire and concrete wall that snakes across the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinians condemn the wall as an attempt to grab land and undermine the viability of their promised future state.
In October the high court rejected another petition lodged by Palestinian villagers saying a section of the barrier incorporating the Israeli West Bank settlements of Immanuel, Karnei Shomron and Maale Shomrom encroached on Palestinian land in northern West Bank.
The court ruled that Israeli security concerns were primary to losses endured by the plaintiffs and determined no alternative route other than the one outlined by the Israeli Army.
In June, the court ordered the state to dismantle a 5-kilometer section of the barrier in the northern West Bank following an appeal from two Palestinian villages.
The International Court of Justice issued a nonbinding ruling in 2004 that parts of the barrier in the West Bank are illegal and should be removed.
The UN humanitarian affairs coordinator's office says three-quarters of the barrier lies in the West Bank, while only 145 kilometers follows the "Green Line" separating Israel and the Palestinian territory. - AFP
IAEA only worries about weapons that don't exist, see?
13/12/2006 16:24 VIENNA, December 13 (RIA Novosti) - The UN nuclear watchdog said Wednesday it will not respond to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's remark implying that Israel has nuclear weapons, something the Jewish state has never officially admitted.
In an interview with the SAT-2 television channel ahead of his visit to Germany Monday, Olmert said: "Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is on the same level, when you aspire to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?"
The remark, made against the backdrop of an Iran-hosted conference on the Holocaust, was widely interpreted as confirming Israel's nuclear power status, but Olmert's aides later dismissed that reading as unfounded.
Independent analysts have said Israel holds between 80 and 200 nuclear warheads, and may be the world's sixth-largest nuclear power, but Israeli authorities have never confirmed nor denied possessing a nuclear arsenal.
Israel and the West suspect Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and Olmert's hint was probably intended to deter the Islamic Republic from using its potential nuclear capability against Israel, some have argued.
Many analysts believe, however, that public confirmation of Israel's assumed nuclear status could trigger an arms race across the Middle East, undermining the global non-proliferation regime.
Sergei Markov of Russia's Public Chamber, for one, believes that Israel's going public about its nuclear arsenal would come as no revelation, and is unlikely to entail any sanctions on the part of the UN nuclear watchdog, but that it could represent a serious setback for non-proliferation.
"This may lead to a further softening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, which, unfortunately, would be a very dangerous development indeed," Markov told RIA Novosti.
Iran and other regional foes of Israel have repeatedly accused the West of double standards in trying to prevent them from acquiring nuclear capabilities while turning a blind eye to Israel's alleged arsenal.
By Zbignew Zingh
The Iraq Study Group Study Group (ISGSG), a shadowy organization of indeterminate number (to wit, this author and those who frequent this web site) was created to reflect and comment on the better known Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG). The ISGSG has now released its own report. President Bush, upon reviewing an advance copy of the ISGSG's white paper mumbled something to the effect that it was “very interesting” before filing it in the same cylindrical file with the Baker-Hamilton report.
Once stripped of its tepid criticisms, the Baker-Hamilton ISG report looks like an attempt to stuff the evil genie of Mr. Bush's policies back into the bottle of a more subtle Bismarck-Metternich style of empire. Mr. Baker and his groupies clearly are nostalgic for the day when his class of people could achieve dominance while keeping up the pretenses of goodness and democracy for public consumption. They recoil from the blunt, naked aggression of the Bush Administration which Mr. Baker et. al. equate with the boorish behavior of crass amateurs and thugs. Baker et. al. prefer the more nuanced, more subtle exercise of power, like the true aristocrats they are, who keep their white gloves clean while the blood is spilled off-stage and out-of-sight by covert military operations.
Notwithstanding its atavistic longing for a less messy empire, the Baker ISG should be congratulated for concluding (as so many of us hoi polloi concluded several years ago) that the Bush Administration foreign policy has been an unmitigated disaster. In fact, Mr. Bush has done such a swell job enervating the American military, undermining the dollar as the world's reserve currency, eviscerating the economy and totally demythologizing the mythology of America that one might conclude that W is the last century Kremlin's ultimate deep mole. And since we have mentioned the Kremlin, the Baker “old guard” undoubtedly sees the specter of déjà vu haunting an arrogant BushAmerica that is emulating the old Soviet empire's meltdown while permitting South America to escape from neoliberalism's orbit.
Although we of the The Iraq Study Group Study Group ultimately found little that was novel or insightful in the ISG report, we congratulate Mr. Baker and his colleagues for exposing definite fault lines within the international ruling cabal. For days after the release of the Baker-Hamilton report it was very pleasing to read conservative political pundits dissing Mr. Baker's ISG as “muddled”, irresponsible and unbalanced. Indeed, one such conservative columnist castigated the public disclosure of the Baker-Hamilton report that, in the esteemed pundit's opinion, should have been kept absolutely secret and accessible only to the inner circle of policymakers -- quite consistent, of course, with aristocratic notions of “democracy” and government transparency.
Dissension within the ownership class?
We take it as a given that the so-called “left” is not monolithic. Although most of its constituents generally want “change”, the quality, degree, nature and means of attaining that change leads to disorientation (such as backing the Democratic Party of the Status Quo as the perpetual lesser of two evils). The left's inherent disunity, caused as much by a lack of historical perspective, the absence of a unifying theoretical vision, as well as by government infiltration, co-option and misdirection, is often mischaracterized by eternal optimists as a political “strength”. Although non-hierarchical, leaderless, multi-strategy movements can be profound and resilient, political discordance is a weakness. The peace movement's inefficacy proves itself in a century-long succession of failed efforts to stop the beginning of one new war after another. It is the hubris of well-meaning American peace activists (most of whose hearts are in the right place even though their vision might be myopic) that they do not appreciate how an endless succession of invisible, economically insignificant, officially-sanctioned “weekend” demonstrations along with endless letters to tone deaf editors, interminable law suits creeping ineffectively toward a conservative Supreme Court, and email petitions to privately owned legislators are not the primary engines of fundamental social or political change.
Alas, America's disgust with the Iraq War (as manifest in the November electoral unsaddling of the Republican House and Senate) was based less on the immorality of the enterprise and more on the ineptitude of its execution. Americans, like the rest of the world, hate losers, and, as experience shows, people quickly sour on athletes, sports teams, coaches, presidents, congressmen and political parties when they fail to deliver the goods.
The terrible truth is that but for the Iraqi people's determination and willingness to bleed to free their land of occupation (much like the determination showed by the Vietnamese people during their bloody war of independence), the peace movement would have gained no traction in the United States; for it is the dead and horribly maimed American soldiers, wreaked upon us by the Iraqis themselves, who gave our sickened nation and the peace movement the impetus to tell Congress to change, not stay the course. It was not the surfeit of lies or torture that undid the Republican Congress; rather, America's citizens would have readily feted their petroleum conquering troops, dishonesty, torture and unconstitutionality notwithstanding, had only they been able to grab the prize as easily and as cheaply as we have ripped off everyone else in Africa, Asia, North and South America in the past. The salutary result of the November 2006 election, regardless of motivation, was that the electorate registered a strong disgust for the status quo, which disgust is also shared by the Baker-Hamiltons of the right-wing world, ergo their “report” to the President.
However, fortunately for what is “left” of us, the Baker-Hamilton ISG demonstrated that the “right” is also no more monolithic than the “left.” Like the “left,” the “right” also suffers from a lack of historical perspective and the absence of a unifying theoretical vision (other than the capitalist mantra of screw everyone else before they screw you).
The ownership class worldwide rarely concerns itself with such trivial notions as “nationality”, and those who have power and wealth -- regardless of race, religion, citizenship or ethnicity -- easily identify, support and associate with one another no matter what passports they bear. Nevertheless, the center of gravity of that ownership class lies indubitably in the United States, if for no other reason than here lies control over that final arbiter of power: overwhelming military might and nuclear weapons.
Thus, political and economic control of the United States is essential to the maintenance of a certain world order, and therein lie the fissure lines highlighted by Mr. Baker's ISG. To maintain that control in a world increasingly destabilized by dramatic and impending climate change and diminishing resources of all kinds (including, and especially, hydrocarbon fuel stocks), the ownership class in America joined a marriage of convenience, a ménage a trois, between the Old Power represented by Mr. Baker, the so-called Neoconservatives and the Christian Right. Luckily for us all, this is a loveless marriage and they are likely to eat their own children.
Who is the Iraq Study Group? Its chair is James Baker, former Secretary of State under Bush I, Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan, partner at the Baker Botts law firm (attorneys for the government of Saudi Arabia), past campaign chair for Presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, and senior counsel to the Carlyle Group. Mr. Baker is the finest representative of that class of skilled “enablers” who facilitate the aims of those who own nearly everything.
The co-chair of the ISG, Lee Hamilton, is a retired senior congressman who has presided over many interesting organizations including the 911 Commission, the CIA and Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. While serving on the committee investigating the unlawful Iran-Contra Weapons scandal, Mr. Hamilton chose not to seek impeachment for either Ronald Reagan or George H. Bush. Mr. Hamilton is a true conciliator who has no qualms sacrificing truth on the alter of consensus building.
Other members of the ISG include:
Lawrence Eagleburger, assistant to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger during the Nixon presidency, a careerist in the “State Department”, and someone who is noted for rather controversial stints as ambassador to the former Yugoslavia and the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims;
Edwin Meese, Yale University graduate, past Attorney General under Ronald Reagan, murky involvement with the Iran-Contra affair, Fellow of the Heritage and the Discovery Institute (the folks who advocate for “intelligent design” as an alternative theory of evolution);
Vernon Jordan, friend of both John Kerry and Bill Clinton, a past president of the National Urban League, noteworthy as a director of the investment bank Lazard Freres, who either sits, or has sat on, the board of directors of American Express, Dow Jones, Revlon, Corning, RJR Nabisco, and Xerox.
William Perry, a high tech specialist with a PhD. D. in mathematics; Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense; currently serves on the Board of Directors of Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-directs the “Preventive Defense Project at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation”;
Alan Simpson, former U.S. Senator from Wyoming and Senate Republican Whip for ten years; friend of Bush I and fellow Wyoming political prodigy, Dick Cheney.
Charles Robb, former conservative Democratic Governor and Senator of Virginia, past chair of the Iraq Intelligence Commission, co-founder of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), married Lynda Bird Johnson, successfully dodged at least one sex and one drug related scandal, voted (as a Democrat) for the Supreme Court appointment of Clarence Thomas and for Newt Gingrich's Contract for America, past member of the Trilateral Commission and current member of George Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Leon Panetta, initially a moderate Republican who served in the Nixon Administration, Panetta later became counsel for the NAACP; then, as a Democrat, was elected for nine terms as U.S. Congressman; Bill Clinton's Director of OMB and, later, Chief of Staff; Director and Founder of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.
Sandra Day O'Connor, first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court (appointed by Ronald Reagan), wanted to retire during a Republican administration that could appoint her successor and was reportedly upset in 2000 when she heard, prior to the Supreme Court's intercession halting the Florida recount, that Al Gore had been elected instead of George Bush.
Two other people had been appointed to the ISG, but they resigned before it issued its report: the cantankerous presidential aspirant and former NYC Mayor Rudi Giuliani, of 911 era fame/notoriety and self-idolizing Super Hero Crime Fighter; and Robert Gates, former Director of the CIA under Bush I and just appointed as Bush II's Secretary of Defense.
Mr. Baker's Study Group is, indeed, “blue ribbon” and “blue blood.” This is a very elite little circle that tends to associate with or serve the interests of power and money. The core of the ISG (that is, its Republican majority) have rubbed shoulders with or served clients like Saudi princes, Carlyle Group types, the European old guard, investment moguls, oil men, men of high finance, the cream of Club Society. The other members of the ISG are compromisers concerned more with preserving institutions than ideals. The core ISG are pragmatists; they do not care what nation beats up on which other nation, who lives or dies, so long as, at the end of the day, they, the institutions they represent, or their clients have benefited and come out ahead. They currently work, or have worked in the past, with the new royals, the 21st Century Bourbons and Hapsburgs, the robber barons of our time.
That is why the Baker ISG plan does not contemplate completely withdrawing American soldiers, but drawing them down slightly and consolidating the remainder in supposedly impregnable fortresses from which military power over the entire region can be exercised. Consistent with the ISG members' own government experiences from the last decades of the 20th Century, the Baker plan does not rule out an El Salvador “solution” -- a bloody, U.S. induced civil war that will cause Muslim to kill Muslim for decades, and thus forestall the evolution of a strong Shi'a regime in Iraq -- the nightmare of the House of Saud, the House of Mubarak, the House of Jordan's King Abdullah, and of Bahrain, Kuwait, Pakistan, Algeria and all other western supported autocracies.
The pragmatic, economic perspective of the Baker ISG is also manifest in its emphasis on, once and for all, privatizing Iraq's petroleum reserves and serving them up to the western oil cartel to sell and distribute as it sees fit. In other words, the Baker ISG plan calls for seizing the ultimate prize that has eluded the Bush Administration. Mr. Baker's clients, the Saudis, also approve this plan because they, like the other despotic clans propped up by the U.S. in that part of the world, will not tolerate the creation of a new Shi'a competitor that could dwarf Saudi Arabia's own oil production and world economic significance.
The Neoconservatives, by contrast, are clearly concerned with rearranging the Middle East map, primarily as it benefits Israel. These people are not as well heeled as is Mr. Baker's society. These are the folks whose primary interest is the complete dismantling of “dangerous” states like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iran, the nations of the Saudi peninsula and of North Africa having been already neutered. They do not want to talk to Iran or Syria about anything, except total capitulation. They wish the United States to remain engaged in literal confrontation with Arabs and Muslims everywhere because they want Americans to share with Israel a “comradeship of enmity” against a “hostile” Middle East, i.e., the enemy of my enemies is my friend. Although the Neoconservatives, too, lay claim to Iraqi oil, their primary objective is security for Greater Israel, no matter what the cost to anyone else. The Neoconservatives consider a strong Israel as essential to the projection of American power in the Middle East, and a perpetual confrontation of America with the Muslim world as essential to preserving a strong Israel.
If anything, the message of the November election to the Neoconservatives is that their agenda is in jeopardy because the Baker brand of geopolitics shares interests with the Saudis and with other regional Arab autocrats. Mr. Baker and his clients care less for Greater Israel than they do for the maintenance of their own clans' dominance and power. Several Neoconservatives have been shown the exit door during the preceding year, which probably adds a sense of urgency to their mission, as expressed by the stridency of their reactions to the ISG report.
The third member of the political marriage of convenience is the so-called Christian Right. Disdained as loonies by its two other political bedfellows, the Christian Right is, indeed, crazy. The Christian Right has no blue blood at all and it does not play well with either the Baker crowd or the Neoconservatives. It literally seeks to establish a Christian theocracy, not only in the United States but everywhere on earth. Its peculiarly twisted version of muscular Christianity most closely resembles the Christianity of the Crusades or of the Spanish Conquistadors... or, for that matter, radical Islam. The ownership class and the Neoconservatives thinly camouflage their disgust for the Christian Right, a group they believe is both ignorant and insane, but which they must tolerate solely because (until such time as electronic vote fraud can be perfected) they have (at least until November 2006) provided the margin of votes necessary to solidify the political power of the other two. The two camps of Israeli zealots -- ultraconservative Christians and Neoconservatives -- can barely conceal their mutual loathing while each imagines ascending to its respective gated paradise (national or divine) while treading on the body of the other.
A fourth group, not formally sleeping with the oddly-married trio but hovering all around them like a jealous lover, is the American security establishment. This group encompasses both the Pentagon and the CIA, who fancy themselves the ultimate protectors of American culture and sovereignty (as defined by themselves, of course). Since its creation at the beginning of the Cold War, the CIA has operated fast and loose with government controls, as the peculiar circumstances of the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy assassinations and the Iran-Contra affair attest. The CIA underwent a palace coup of sorts upon the inauguration of George W. Bush as its senior analysts were booted out to be replaced with Administration toadies. The “professionals” who remain in Langley, and those who were tossed into the street, hold no fondness for the current Administration and itch for the opportunity to take it down a notch.
The American military brass, like professional military men in every country, absolutely loathe civilians and their “weaknesses.” They despise even more the arm chair generals like Mr. Rumsfeld who have squandered military assets in pursuit of a rearranged “Muddle East.” The generals are every bit as crazy as the Christian Right, but these folks are also armed. Their hubris is symbolized in the U.S. by the Oliver North types, of Iran Contra notoriety, and abroad by the unlamented dictator created by Henry Kissinger, Augusto Pinochet of Chile. As a class, the Pentagon crowd has been aching to avenge the loss of the Vietnam War and now they have another military fiasco to redeem, as well. As people know who have spent any time around career military officers, these folks are bitterly convinced that “they” and “their soldiers” suffer, fight and die while the “civilians” reap the profits. This combination of disgruntlement and ultimate power is toxic, and even though the United States has not yet experienced a military coup d'etat, it is the fear of an unbridled military which caused many founders of the original United States to inveigh against creating a standing, professional army.
All these factions -- the Baker old guard, the Neoconservatives, the Christian Right and the Security Establishment -- are now vying for control as the Bush Administration sinks deeper into failure. Although some of their goals are similar, nothing sharpens fratricidal tendencies like a lifeboat too small to hold everyone aboard the sinking ship.
The ISG report, tepid though it is, is a sign of the widening differences among these groups. Already, the Christian conservatives chafe at the too few bones they believe were thrown to them during the Bush years, and the Bushmen mutter derisory comments about their religious bedmates' mental equilibrium. The military is sullen and prone to leak embarrassing news. The Neocons try to salvage their new map of the Muddle East in Israel's image, while Baker & Co., perhaps pining for the simpler, despotic days of Their Man, Saddam Hussein, try to rebuild Humpty Dumpty status quo ante bellum.
We in the Iraq Study Group Study Group profoundly regret that these squabbling lovers have inflicted such horror and misery on the world. But if the ISG report augers correctly, this squabbling could soon end up with a political separation. We look forward to an ugly divorce.
Zbignew Zingh can be reached at Zbig@ersarts.com. This article is CopyLeft, and free to distribute, reprint, repost, sing at a recital, spray paint, scribble in a toilet stall, etc. to your heart’s content, with proper author citation. Find out more about Copyleft and read other great articles at: www.ersarts.com.