Friday, October 28, 2005

How did the Palestinians descend into barbarism?

From Wall Street Journal EDITORIAL BOARD, BY BRET STEPHENS Saturday, October 22, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT ...

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas paid George Bush a friendly visit Thursday ...Mr. Bush stressed Mr. Abbas's responsibility to "end terror attacks, dismantle terrorist infrastructure, maintain law and order and one day provide security for their own state."

Mr. Abbas himself made no mention of the words "terrorism" or "terrorists." But he did demand the release of those he called "prisoners of freedom," now being held in Israeli jails.

...Who are some of these prisoners?
  • ...Ibrahim Ighnamat, a Hamas leader arrested last week by Israel in connection to his role in organizing a March 1997 suicide bombing at the Apropos cafe in Tel Aviv, which killed three and wounded 48.
  • ...Jamal Tirawi of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades: Mr. Tirawi had bullied a 14-year-old boy into becoming a suicide bomber by threatening to denounce him as a "collaborator," which in Palestinian society frequently amounts to a death sentence.
  • ...21-year-old Wafa Samir al-Bis, who was detained in June after the explosives she was carrying failed to detonate at an Israeli checkpoint on the border with Gaza. As Ms. Bis later testified, her target was an Israeli hospital where she had previously been treated--as a humanitarian gesture--for burns suffered in a kitchen accident. "I wanted to kill 20, 50 Jews," she explained at a press conference after her arraignment.

Many explanations have been given to account for the almost matchless barbarism into which Palestinian society has descended in recent years. One is the effect of Israeli occupation ...the checkpoints, the closures, the petty harassments, the targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders. ...Yet the checkpoints and curfews are not gratuitous acts of unkindness by Israel, nor are they artifacts of occupation. On the contrary, in the years when Israel was in full control of the territories there were no checkpoints or curfews, and Palestinians could move freely (and find employment) throughout the country.

It was only with the start of the peace process in 1993 and the creation of autonomous Palestinian areas under the control of the late Yasser Arafat that terrorism became a commonplace fact of Israeli life. And it was only then that the checkpoints went up and the clampdowns began in earnest.

...How, then, are the Ighnamats, Tirawis and Bises of Palestinian society to be explained?
Consider a statistic: In the first nine months of 2005 more Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians than by Israelis--219 to 218, according to the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Interior, although the former figure is probably in truth much higher. In the Gaza Strip, the departure of Israeli troops and settlers has brought anarchy, not freedom. Members of Hamas routinely fight gun battles with members of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas's ruling political party. Just as often, the killing takes place between clans, or hamullas. So-called collaborators are put to the gun by street mobs, their "guilt" sometimes nothing more than being the object of a neighbor's spite. Palestinian social outsiders are also at mortal risk: Honor killings of "loose" women are common, as is the torture and murder of homosexuals.

Atop this culture of violence are the Hamas and Fatah leaders, the hamulla chieftains, the Palestinian Authority's "generals" and "ministers." And standing atop them--theoretically, at least--is the Palestinian president. All were raised in this culture; most have had their uses for violence. For Arafat, those uses were to achieve mastery of his movement, and to harness its energies to his political purpose. Among Palestinians, his popularity owed chiefly to the fact that under his leadership all this violence achieved an astonishing measure of international respectability.

Hence Mr. Abbas's Rose Garden obeisances to the "prisoners of freedom." The Palestinian president leads a society in which dignity and violence have long been entwined...he has sought to entice groups such as Hamas into a democratic process. As with Hezbollah in Lebanon, they have been happy to get what they can out of politics while refusing to lay down their arms....they make a mockery of Mr. Abbas's stated commitment to "one authority, one law and one gun"--that is, to the very idea of a state, and therefore to Mr. Abbas's presidency of it.

Talk to Palestinians, and you will often hear it said, like a mantra, that Palestinian dignity requires Palestinian statehood. This is either a conceit or a lie. Should a Palestinian state ever come into existence in Gaza and the West Bank, it will be a small place, mostly poor, culturally marginal, most of it desert, rock, slums and dust. One can well understand why Arafat, a man of terrible vices but impressive vanities, spurned the offer of it--and why his people cheered wildly when he did. Their dignity has always rested upon their violence, their struggle, their "prisoners of freedom."

For Mr. Abbas, the problem is that statehood and dignity are not a package. They are a choice. And if history is any guide, the choice he must make is not one he is likely to survive.

Mr. Stephens is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.

Israel urges UN to throw out Iran

From The Australian: Correspondents in Jerusalem: October 28, 2005 ...

ISRAEL has urged world leaders to expel Iran from the UN over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for the Jewish state to be 'wiped off the map'.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that since the UN began in 1945, no head of a member state had "publicly called for the elimination of another UN member state....There has never been such a scandal, it is impossible to ignore this and close your ears," said Mr Peres, a Nobel peace laureate.

...At a conference in Tehran titled The World Without Zionism, Mr Ahmadinejad said Israel's establishment was "a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world.... As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," he said, referring to Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The Iranian President's comments provoked swift condemnation. The White House said Mr Ahmadinejad's call "underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear operations".
The governments of Britain, France and Spain summoned Iranian ambassadors for an explanation and the EU issued a statement saying: "Calls for violence and for the destruction of any state are manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community."

In Port Moresby, John Howard said the Iranian leader's speech was dangerous, and represented "grounds for very great concern". "To have the president of any country saying another should be wiped off the face of the earth is a reminder of the psychological pressure, quite apart from the actual pressure, the state of Israel is under, and this is an issue the UN has to address," the Prime Minister said.

...While Israel is in no doubt that Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow's intelligence "does not substantiate the allegations that we have a clear and present danger coming from Iran....We rely on the professional advice" of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mr Lavrov said. "It is too serious an issue to be guided by politics."

But Britain agreed with the US that the Iranian President's call would heighten fears Iran might be trying to build an atomic bomb. A British spokesman said: "Ahmadinejad's comments are deeply disturbing and sickening."

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy condemned the outburst, saying the "issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot serve as a pretext for questioning Israel's fundamental right to exist"...


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Both Bashar Assad & Mahmoud Abbas Are Teetering

From DEBKAfile - Special Analysis - October 23, 2005, 11:10 PM (GMT+02:00) ...

The Syrian leadership has gathered itself in for the next shock after the UN Hariri investigation's findings drawn up by Detlev Mehlis implicated President Bashar Assad's close family circle in the assassination of Lebanese leader Rafiq Hariri last February. ... They are also braced for another disastrous UN report. This one was drawn up by Special Middle East Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen - according to DEBKAfile's sources, as a cooperative effort with Mehlis. It damns Damascus for violating Security Council resolution 1559 which ordered foreign forces to quit Lebanon and the dismantling of militias in the country.

Larsen will expose Syria as continuing to maintain military intelligence agents in Lebanon and derailing efforts to start decommissioning the Hizballah. The presidential palace in Damascus has set up an emergency response team to ward off these hammer blows. It is made up of officials of the presidency, the foreign ministry, the security services and legal experts. But this official framework is only a facade; it does not affect the turmoil raging inside the close Assad family circle or pacify the top military brass.

The Assads are dominated by four figures: the president, his sister Bouchra (regarded as the toughest and most corrupt), her husband Assef Shawqat, head of general intelligence, who is a reputed professional hitman, and Maher Assad, Bashar’s younger brother.

...This foursome is now locked in together in stifling proximity. Given the slightest hint that any formation of three is willing to sacrifice the fourth member to save themselves will tip the group over into a life-and-death struggle. That is the moment the Assad clan’s enemies are watching and waiting for – within the Assad’s own Alawite sect, among his opponents in the intelligence, security, and military communities and, it goes without saying, among Syrian opposition parties in exile. Rifat Assad, the president’s uncle, is waiting in the wings for his chance to seize the presidency. Washington and Paris are also biding their time. They all judge the Assad family as being on the brink of imploding...

...The situation of the Palestinian Authority’s Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is no less shaky. As though synchronized with the mortal UN findings against Damascus, Abbas called on the White House on Oct. 20 only to make the disturbing discovery that he was no longer President George W. Bush’s blue-eyed boy. Washington would back economic measures to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, but Abu Mazen’s refusal to crack down on the terrorists had cost him the White House’s support for his leadership.

In an effort to disguise the fiasco, Abbas went around proclaiming the great success of his talks with the US president. He claimed he had convinced him of the wisdom of allowing the Hamas to take part in the Palestinian general election next January 15. He was also completely confident that a Palestinian state could be achieved before Bush left office – contradicting the US president’s public statement in the Rose Garden after their meeting.

Abu Mazen was clearly aware of his disastrous situation. Lacking a solid domestic power base from the start, he lasted in office for most of a year, only because he was propped up by Washington and Jerusalem. The Palestinian organizations, including Fatah, found him useful as their external diplomatic face for only as long as the Americans and Israelis accepted him. Without the American crutch, his own ruling Fatah may find it has no more use for him, especially as he has proved incapable of holding the leadership primary on time and is moving to postpone the event from October 27 to November 9.

Abu Mazen also lacks the authority to carry through his order, issued Sunday Oct. 23 by prime minister Ahmed Qureia, to place all the Fatah factions, including the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, under a single roof-command, ostensibly the Palestinian security forces. This was intended to satisfy the American demand to disarm terrorists. In reality, the consolidated body would have given Fatah a new unified military wing. But Al Aqsa chiefs refused on the spot to relinquish control of their regional commands, much less to disarm.

Breathing down the back of his neck are the radical Fatah political bureau chief Farouk Kadumi in Damascus and his ambitious civil affairs minister Mohammed Dahlan, who has established an interim headquarters in Montenegro. Both keenly eye Abbas’ job and will topple him at the drop of a hat. The only party who wants him to stay in power is Hamas, which used him to gain control of the Gaza Strip; were it not for Israel’s mass detentions of its senior operatives, Hamas would be well on the way to seizing the West Bank as well.

Abu Mazen is therefore insisting on letting the Hamas participate in the January election as his main life belt. He is counting on the only political and military instrument left to him to force his opponents in the Fatah to keep their heads down.

Mahmoud Abbas in October 2005 is placed in a position analogous to the late Yasser Arafat in August 2000. He faces three options:
1. To bow to Washington’s will;
2. To emulate Arafat and choose the path of terror and war;
3. To do nothing.

Syrian president Assad faces three similar options:
1. To obey Washington, namely, to cooperate with the Hariri inquiry by sacrificing the members of his family implicated in the crime.
2. To raise war tensions on Syria’s borders with Lebanon and Israel, either directly by employing his own army or through proxies, Palestinian terrorist groups or Hizballah.
3. To do nothing.

Iran's President Calls for Destruction of Israel

From Arutz Sheva - Israel National News: 21:48 Oct 26, '05 / 23 Tishrei 5766, By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz ...

Iran's president told attendees of a conference in Teheran on Wednesday that 'Israel must be wiped off the map.' ...

'The creation of the occupying regime in Jerusalem is a strong action by the ruling arrogant world order against the world of Islam. There continues a historic war between the [powers of] World Arrogance and the Islamic world, the roots of which go back hundreds of years,' Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared. 'The Islamic nation will not allow its historic enemy to exist in its heartland.'

Ahmadinejad was addressing a Teheran conference entitled 'A World Without Zionism'.

"I have no doubt that the new wave [of attacks] which has started in dear Palestine and which we witness today all over the Islamic world will soon wipe this scourge of shame from the Islamic world. This is do-able," Ahmadinejad encouraged the audience, which included thousands of Islamic students, as well as representatives of Arab terrorist organizations and their supporters. He noted his belief that the turn towards Islamism in the Palestinian Authority has brought the Arabs success against Israel.

Western Civilization, the Iranian leader said, "turned the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem into a staging-ground to dominate the Islamic world. ...They have created a base, from where they can expand their rule over the entire Islamic world; it has no other purpose other than this."The goal of a world without the United States or Zionism, Ahmadinejad said, is "attainable and could definitely be realized. ...Our dear Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] ordered that the occupying regime in Jerusalem be wiped off the face of the earth. This was a very wise statement." Compromise over the elimination of Israel, the Iranian president said, is tantamount to the defeat of the Islamic world, as "the central and command base of the enemy... is the occupying regime in Jerusalem." ...

Suicide bomber kills five in Israel.

From ABC News Online: Thursday, October 27, 2005. 5:07am (AEST). (Note how Abbas's "condemnation", as usual, refers to how it "harms the interestst of the Palestinian people..." but expresses no sympathy for the Israeli people.) ...

A Palestinian suicide bomber has killed five people in a crowded market in an Israeli coastal city (Hadera). Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was avenging Israel's killing of a top West Bank commander on Monday.

'It was chaos, bodies and blood on the ground, people running everywhere,' said Eduard Khanukai, 49, owner of a money exchange shop. ...The bomber blew up in front of a sandwich stand in the main outdoor market in Hadera, a frequent target of attacks in a five-year-old Palestinian uprising.

Medics say five people have been killed and 30 have been wounded in the blast, which blew out shop windows and shattered nearby parked cars. It is the first bombing inside the Jewish state since August 28, when a suicide attacker wounded 20 people in Beersheba. Israeli officials have noted that the Hadera attack follows remarks in Tehran by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - carried by the official IRNA news agency on Wednesday - that Israel should be 'wiped off the map'. 'What makes these people dangerous is that their violent language is transformed into violent action,' Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the bombing and has pledged to try to salvage the truce he had engineered. "It harms the interest of the Palestinian people and leads to expansion of the cycle of violence," he said in a statement.

The bloodshed threatens to unravel an already shaky ceasefire and has cast a shadow over international hopes of a revival of peacemaking since the Gaza pullout.

"The Palestinians need to prepare some real action to stop terrorism if they want to move the process forward," a top Israeli official said. "They condemn every attack and we bury our dead."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan has called the bombing "a heinous attack on innocent civilians. The Palestinian Authority needs to do more to end the violence and prevent terrorist attacks from being carried out..." ....


Monday, October 24, 2005

The Palestinians Must Start Helping Themselves

A good news story, from DEBKAfile October 21, 2005, 10:00 PM (GMT+02:00) ...

Smiles, yes; state, no

The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did not get much chance to lay down his usual list of demands and gripes in his talks at the White House with US president George W. Bush Thursday, Oct. 20. Instead, in contrast to the jovial mood of their joint news conference, Bush crushed his visitor's hopes of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. "Not during my term," the president declared firmly, according to DEBKAfile's Exclusive sources Washington.
Abu Mazen is described as coming out of the meeting pale and shaken, with nothing to show for his Washington trip. Most of their 45-minute conversation was one-sided. Bush scarcely let Abu Mazen get a word in edgeways, cutting him short several times.

According to our sources, the US president laid down a new set of rules, unfamiliar to the Palestinians. In a word, no one will help the Palestinians if they don't help themselves " and that goes for me, the US President, too. If you think you can disarm Hamas by letting them take part in elections, go ahead, but you are on your own. We think you are making a big mistake, but we don't interfere. But there is a price to pay. A regime dominated by terrorists cannot expected to be treated as a democracy. "
He reminded Abbas that he was the first American president to envision an independent Palestinian state and make it a strategic goal of his foreign policy, but the Palestinians had not risen to the challenge. He informed Abbas that to achieve statehood, they must meet three categorical conditions:

A. A Palestinian state must live in peace with Israel.

B. Peace alone is not enough. The Palestinians must demonstrate they are capable of being good neighbors.

C. The Palestinian state must be clean of terrorism.

As matters stand now, said Bush, I see no prospect of Palestinian statehood coming into existence before I leave the White House. The US president said he continued to support the Palestinian leader. However, his terms were the reverse of what Abbas wanted to hear.

1. Final-status negotiations must not begin yet. (This knocked on the head Abbas’ most cherished goal which is to skip the road map preliminaries and jump to the final stage.)

2. Washington is holding back the timeline for progress towards Palestinian independence. (This was a stunning setback for Abbas’ plans and his standing at home.)

3. The Middle East road map for peace will not for now be activated. It will remain on paper as long as Palestinian “armed gangs” are in charge.

Abu Mazen tried to put in a word on Palestinian demands, such as the unresolved status of the Egyptian-Gaza border crossings, a direct, sovereign Gaza-West Bank link, a halt on the Israeli defense barrier and various complaints, but Bush brushed him off, saying he is familiar with the problems and he leaves them to advisers – “Jim Wolfensohn,” or “General Ward.”
He gave some ground on the Palestinian demand for weapons and ammunition to arm their security forces, but said this would have to wait until a new military coordinator takes over from General Ward. The US president said he was still looking for a suitable candidate, a military man with the right intelligence background who worked well with the CIA. He also agreed to raise the granting of more economic concessions with Ariel Sharon.

All in all, the meeting ended without results or decisions.

Outside, when they both faced reporters, President Bush took advantage of a question put by a Palestinian correspondent to drive home his new message. Asked if a Palestinian state would come about during his term as president, he replied: "My purpose is to lay the foundations for a state. Whether it comes about or not is not my problem; is up to the Palestinians. "

Clearly the US president has taken several steps back from his first concept of Palestinian statehood as a top American policy goal. He is leaving it to the Palestinians to make the running. For the first time, they have been put clearly and firmly on notice that as long as they harbor terrorists, they can forget about attaining their own state.

3 large suicide bomb trucks in Baghdad

From DEBKAfile October 24, 2005, 4:41 PM (GMT+02:00) ...

Many casualties in Palestine and Sheraton hotels in Baghdad after three large suicide bomb trucks crash into buildings. Many foreign journalists stay in the heavily damaged hotels enveloped in black smoke.

Heavy shooting in area followed. Sirens sound in Green Zone

PA announces disarming of al-Aqsa Brigades - Israeli officials skeptical

From Ynetnews 23/10/05 ...

'The most important thing is to see what kind of action we have,' says Dore Gold, adviser to PM Sharon
Ali Waked

The Palestinian Authority on Sunday announced plans to disarm the military wing of the ruling Fatah party, known as the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

...The Palestinian Authority has been under increasing international pressure to disarm terror groups and enforce law and order following Israel’s evacuation of 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

...Following the meeting Yousef told reporters that his security forces have already taken moves to prevent armed groups from displaying their arms during mass demonstrations, in line with a PA ban on carrying arms in public.

Yousef hinted that Israel is partly responsible for the chaos in PA areas, saying “the anarchy on the streets reflects a political anarchy and difficult economic conditions, which originate from Israel’s policies. We need the effort of all the factions and security forces in order to enforce the law in our territory.”

...Israeli officials received the announcement with skepticism. "There have been a lot of declarations before. The most important thing is to see what kind of action we have," said Dore Gold, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

... previous attempts by Abbas to control terrorists have had little success, and it was unclear whether the latest effort would work. Over the last months many members of the al-Aqsa Brigades were integrated in the PA security forces, but the hard core of Fatah’s armed wing have resisted moves towards complete disarmament.

Although al-Aqsa is linked to Fatah, its thousands of members have fragmented loyalties, and it is unclear whether terrorists would agree to give up their autonomy....

The Associated Press contributed to this report