The Quiet Corner of the Mideast (Surprise)

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Helene Cooper

Washington — In the Arab democracy movement, there is a dog that has not yet barked. And whether or not it does — and how loudly — is causing a lot of heartburn among American policy makers.

Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans and Syrians gathered in their respective city squares and neighborhood streets to demand democratic rights, and the Western world cheered, if with varying degrees of diplomatic or military support. But by and large, so far, the Palestinians in the West Bank, who see Israel as the source of their grievances, have not.

Yet.

In part, this is because the Palestinians’ own leaders — elected, but weak — have another timetable in place, for a diplomatic campaign against Israel in the fall that turmoil on the ground could complicate. But some other prominent Palestinians are beginning to say that the moment of the Arab Spring offers a more urgent opportunity to join fellow Arabs in the streets. And that worries policy makers and experts here, as well as the political leaders in Hamas and Fatah, whose own authority could be undermined.

“If you’re looking for a game-changer, that would be it,” says Robert Malley, the program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group. “At a time when the entire world, including President Obama, is applauding nonviolent popular protests from Cairo to Tehran, it would put Israel in an acute dilemma about how to react if tens of thousands of Palestinians started organizing protests in the West Bank, or marching on Israeli settlements or on Jerusalem demanding an end to the Israeli military occupation.”

Even more significantly, Mr. Malley said, “it would put the United States in an equally acute dilemma about how to react to Israel’s reaction.”

And it would box President Obama into a corner, penned in by his own words: on one side, that the democratic aspirations of people in the region must be heeded and that Palestinians deserve their own state, and on the other side, 44 years of American national policy that strongly sides with Israel on issues involving its security.

The biggest worry for Mr. Obama is that Israel would react with violence toward nonviolent Palestinian protesters in the West Bank. Last Sunday, Israeli forces fired at pro-Palestinian protesters on the Syrian frontier as they tried to breach the border for the second time in three weeks. The Syrian news agency SANA reported that 22 protesters were killed and more than 350 wounded; Israeli officials said that they had no information on casualties, but suggested that the Syrian figures were exaggerated.

Israeli and American officials both said those protests were instigated by Syria, in a move to draw attention away from the violent crackdown on its own democracy movement. By and large, there was not a huge outcry over Israel’s decision to fire on the protests, in part because of the role that Syria is believed to have played, and partly because the march on the border was viewed as a hostile and provocative action on a sovereign country with which Syria is still legally at war.But the West Bank is a whole different ballgame. This is the disputed territory captured in 1967, the land occupied by Israel after its three southern and eastern Arab neighbors united to fight it 44 years ago. It is the land that Israeli settlement blocks have since sprouted throughout, in an ever-growing reminder that the longer a peace deal remains elusive, the more the facts change on the ground. And now, Palestinians there have started to draw a direct line between the Arab Spring movement and their own push for an end to the Israeli occupation.

“You will see waves,” Mustafa Barghouti, a former Palestinian Authority presidential candidate and independent member of Parliament who has been critical in the past of the Fatah leadership, said in a telephone interview. “It’s already happening. We, the Palestinians, have inspired Arabs many times in the past, and now we’re getting inspired by them.”

On Sunday, a few hundred Palestinians in the West Bank tried to organize marches around the territory, but were stymied by the forces of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, neither of which are eager to see widespread Palestinian democracy protests. That is in part because leaders of both Hamas, the militant Islamist organization that controls Gaza, and Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority, fear that a popular Palestinian uprising could upend their own authority in the West Bank and Gaza.

“We have been talking to the youth movement in Tunisia,” said a Palestinian activist in Ramallah who asked to be identified only by his initials, F. A., because he said he has been threatened by both the Palestinian Authority and by Israeli officials. “They are telling us how they did it, and when we tell them our situation, they say, ‘Wow, your situation is much more complicated.” ’ He said his house, in Ramallah, had had no running water this month, but he could see Israeli settlers in a nearby settlement enjoying the summer in their swimming pool. Because of such daily indignities, he said: “We will do this. Our time will come.”

In Israel, the political discourse in the past two weeks has centered on the increased fear that the Palestinians in the West Bank will join the Arab Spring movement. On Sunday, Aluf Benn, the influential Israeli editor at large for Haaretz wrote: “The nightmare scenario Israel has feared since its inception became real — that Palestinian refugees would simply start walking from their camps toward the border and would try to exercise their ‘right of return.’ ” Mr. Benn was referring to the Syrian border episodes, but many Middle East experts say that a West Bank uprising would actually be more seismic, for both Israel and the United States.

In Washington, Obama administration officials have been fretting about how the United States would respond. In many ways, Mr. Obama’s decision to come out in favor of Palestinian statehood based on Israel’s pre-1967 lines, with land swaps, stemmed from a desire at the White House to give both Palestinians and the world at large a place to park their grievances. That, they felt, might help forestall both a United Nations resolution in September recognizing a state of Palestine within the 1967 boundaries, and a popular uprising among Palestinians in the West Bank.

That such an uprising hasn’t happened yet, Mr. Barghouti and other Palestinians say, goes beyond the simple Hamas-and-Fatah-won’t-allow-it reasons. Palestinians in different West Bank cities are disconnected from each other, separated by Israeli checkpoints that don’t allow freedom of movement even within the territory. Israel’s security fence also inhibits movement among Palestinians.
Beyond that, Palestinians may be exhausted from the two intifadas — the second one, in the last decade, extremely violent — that ended with the Israeli construction of the security fence and the imposition of increasingly strict restrictions on movement throughout the West Bank.

But exhaustion from the violence may feed more nonviolent uprisings. “There is now a growing belief,” Mr. Barghouti said, “that nonviolence is the only form of struggle we should use. Or, at least, that it is the most effective form of struggle we should use.”

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The Fatah- Hamas Reconciliation

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Richmond, Va.–May 3rd–I was just informed of the commencement of this project (Saturday, the last day of the previous month) that one of Colonel’s Khadafy’s seven sons was slain– and the Colonel nearly so–at the Libyan government’s Armed Forces Command and Control Center in Tripoli by an Anglo-Franco-American air strike.   Cyrenaica’s civil war is emerging as an extended one.

While from the Maghreb to Far Western Asia, Syria appears to be degenerating into a Civil War of its own.

On the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula agrees to step down immediately as soon as he receives (legally-binding) assurances that neither he nor any of his family is not prosecuted for their decisions in attempting to put down the initial unrest.  As a negotiator himself, your observer does not deem this to be an unacceptable compromise.  Yet, the great hoi-polloi have rejected this compromise, and continuing their rioting for the instant removal of the administration as it is currently constructed without any pre-conditions.

Over the world — and even the larger Islamic world — political unrest has sprouted, but I would like to focus upon the most central point of the Arab “Spring,” and this is Palestine, for their non-Arab, non-Islamic neighbor, Israel, is, as your scribe has repeated in past pieces is the key or failure of the success or failure of a unique Arab democracy (ies).  

Your author shall switch from the third to the first person because what I am to compose is opinion, and based on plan guessing.  It is, also, e  aqua — from the “tope of my head.”

Probably, the most newsworthy incident to come out of the Middle East was the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the two main political parties within Palestine.  Fatah controls the West Bank while Hamas the Gaza Strip. 

After the 2006 Gaza election, which (Former U.S.) President Jimmy Carter declared the polls in that mini-(Palestinian) nation as the most free and fair that his teams had ever observed, Hamas, an Islamist Party won fairly without question.  This lead to a bloody, short civil war between the two Palestinian political parties.  With Hamas driving their “brother” faction from Gaza city.

As so often in the Arab world, the eternal world demands democracy within the Arabic-speaking peoples.  When that very things comes about the bloc that comes to power is declared a “terrorist” organization  — both the United States and Israel refused to recognize the Strip.  (In fact, Israel brought a most vicious to the innocent civilians within that State.)  Because Hamas had been mentored by the second largest party in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak, who lately headed, the Nile State, blockaded, their border into the Gazan “nation” at Rafah because the last oppressive government where afraid of Hamas (Gaza is not that far from the oldest continuous nation’s) reforms would have on their mock “Parliament” on the River.  (After disturbances brought down Mubarak’s regime Gaza is finally being supplied from their Western borders!)

Here, at Richmond, I have had several intense talks with (U.S.) Defense Department officials who were quite perturb of the Muslim Brotherhood growth of influence within the largely North African nation.  I assured them that they were politically right-of Center party who wished to put their religious morality within their policies.  The universal reply I received was “I hope you’re right!”

Back to last weeks rejoining of Hamas with Fatah to form a united political over all the Palestinian nation as it now exists.

As I have said before I am in dialogue with many progressive Jewish-Americans and even a  few Israelis.  For the most part, these groups are for settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian, and I fully support most but not all of their proposals.  What concerns me, though, is that even the liberal organization stand in opposition to the unification of the Palestinian political parties because Hamas does not recognize Tel Aviv’ right to exist.

In the next ballot, provided it is free and fair, Hamas would not only prevail in the Mediterranean, but the West Bank as well.

Although Hamas refuses as yet to recognize a Zionist State, it is better that all parties are discussion amongst themselves than not.  The object of negotiation is not that they agree with each other, but that they can find a middle ground from which a compromise; otherwise, the end object will be War, and with Israel being a nuclear State (from the Negev) mega-tragedy can develop.  I would call upon Jews in the United States to call upon your State to react diplomatically rather than militarily.  I would urge American Muslims to pressure Washington to be even-handed!

Finally, Israel has made a veiled threat to Egypt (and, thus, to other nations in the region) that, if the Brotherhood should dominate, the forthcoming vote, Israeli Jerusalem would take it as a hostile act.  Both Hamas and the Brotherhood are fully democratic organizations.

The Arab “Spring” must succeed!  An Islamic democracy must be based upon the religion’s principles and culture must be allowed to developed.  Israel must not allowed to be the spoiler.  Besides, strong regional sponsors may allow for a resolution for the dilemma of the Occupied Territories to be solved, and, incidentally, for the survival of the State of Israel’s within the Middle East in accepted secure borders alongside a viable Palestinian State.  For the present actions of that nation can only guarantee its worst fear — that will be driven into the Sea within a hundred years or less!

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