Focal Points Blog

Taking Drones to Their Logical Conclusion: Nuclearize Them!

While the military has no plans to decommission the Stealth bomber or even the B-52 (already 59 years old), both of which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, it is planning the Stealth’s successor. At the Los Angeles Times, W.J. Hennigan reports.

The military’s top weapons buyer [Ashton Carter] quietly visited . . . leading aerospace executives about plans to build a fleet of radar-evading bombers that the military hopes to have ready for action by the mid-2020s. . . . Now on the Pentagon wish list is a proposed fleet of 80 to 100 nuclear-capable bombers that could operate with or without a pilot in the cockpit.

Although the article focused on the cost and possible use of the “black budget,” the hook for commentators was the pilotless angle. In other words, nuclear bombs could be delivered by drones. Hey, at least we don’t have to worry about any more flight crews with cases of post-traumatic stress disorder that can only be measured in megatons!

Israel’s Demand to be Recognized the Nation-State of One People a Non-Starter

New at Right Web, it begins:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newest tactic in advancing the Likud Party’s hawkish approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is his demand, first enunciated in his response to Barack Obama’s June 2009 Cairo Speech and now an ubiquitous talking point, that Israel be recognized by the Palestinians and other adversaries as either “the nation-state of the Jewish people” or “the national home of the Jewish people.” This demand is unprecedented in the history of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and the United States has, to its credit, rejected the framing. Indeed, how could such a concept—that a nation-state belongs not necessarily to its own citizens or even an exclusive subset of its citizens, but to an abstract if not fictitious transnational entity—serve as a principle of international law?

In the wake of Obama’s May 2011 speech on Middle East policy and Netanyahu’s exaggerated response to it, this precondition requires additional scrutiny because of its growing prevalence in hawkish discourse on the so-called peace process. The demand to grant official recognition to the Jewish nationalist narrative is now a regular neoconservative talking point, particularly at Commentary magazine’s “Contentions” blog. It has also been adopted by Obama administration allies like J Street, which seems to invoke the slogans of Jewish “nationhood” in order to remain kosher in the eyes of the American Jewish establishment.[1]

Origins and Opposition

Israel has always held that it is a state not merely of its own people but a transnational entity called “the Jewish people.” In his June 2010 book, The Invention of the Jewish People, the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand chronicled how this concept was created in the nationalist ferment of nineteenth century Europe and owes more to the historic doctrines of modern nationalism than to historical Judaism. Sand provocatively begins his book by illustrating that as far as the Israeli government is concerned, there is no such nationality as “Israeli”—only the universal “Jewish.”

To read the rest of the article, visit Right Web.

Israel’s Madrassas

Schools in which religious fundamentalism are central to the curriculum have always existed. In the United States today, the education of Christian fundamentalists’ children is devalued by the teaching of “subjects” such as creationism. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the religious schools known as madrassas focus on teaching the Koran to the exclusion of preparing children for the modern world. But that’s the least of it. In a recent post at Focal Points, Michael Busch explains.

It’s hardly a secret that rich Saudi Arabians, including those running the government, have used their considerable oil wealth to spread political and ideological influence throughout the world. . . . In an astonishing [WikiLeaks] cable published by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, however, it would seem that significant sums of Saudi money are fostering religious radicalism in previously moderate regions of Pakistan. . . . Bryan Hunt, then-principal officer at the US consulate in Lahore, reported a string of troubling findings on his forays into southern Punjab, where he “was repeatedly told that a sophisticated jihadi recruitment network had been developed.”

The network reportedly exploited worsening poverty in these areas of the province to recruit children into the divisions’ growing . . . madrassa network from which they were indoctrinated into jihadi philosophy, deployed to regional training/indoctrination centers, and ultimately sent to terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). . . .

These madrassas are generally in isolated areas and are kept small enough (under 100 students) so as not to draw significant attention. At these madrassas, children are denied contact with the outside world and taught sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy. . . . From there, “graduates” of the madrassas are supposedly either retained as teachers for the next generation of recruits, or are sent to a sort-of postgraduate school for jihadi training.

That includes “martyrdom,” a.k.a., becoming a suicide bomber.

Meanwhile, it may surprise you to know that Israel has its own form of madrassa. At Foreign Affairs, Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation writes that:

. . . the Haredi [ultra-orthodox] population has grown . . . from 3 percent of the population in 1990 to over 10 percent today. . . . One notable phenomenon in the past decade and a half has been the rapid expansion of the state-funded but independent education system established by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. . . . In many provincial Israeli towns and neighborhoods, Shas schools have come to trump the state-school system in the provision of certain services, such as transportation and hot meals. . . . Over the past 20 years, the number of Jewish primary school students enrolled at ultra-Orthodox schools has grown from just over seven percent to more than 28 percent.

This trend has great implications for Israeli society and its economy: the Shas system and other ultra-Orthodox schools teach a narrowly religious curriculum that is less geared to providing pupils the skills necessary to compete in a modern economy.

At least they can claim that they’re not producing suicide bombers. In the end, though when the state fails to provide a good education or other services, theocrats rush in where the state no longer treads.

Turning His Back on Chavez, Peru Presidential Candidate Humala Invokes Lula Instead

Ollanta HumalaThe Peru Presidential Election Finalists, Part 2: Ollanta Humala

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

After having come close to winning the Peruvian presidential elections in 2006, Ollanta Humala will once again compete in the final round of voting this Sunday, June 5 to determine who will be Peru’s next president; this time however, the outcome is far less certain than was the case the last time around when he faced Alan Garcia. While Keiko Fujimori maintains a slight lead over Humala, the most recent polls have the candidates in a statistical dead heat, with less than one percentage point difference between them. If this trend remains unaltered on election day, then quick counts may not be able to discern a clear winner, and official results could be delayed for two weeks or more. This could escalate the existing climate of polarization that is a notable feature of this drawn-out electoral process.

Both candidates have evoked strong negative reactions from sectors of the electorate. With less than a week to go, the percentage of voters who say that they would never vote for either candidate is very high, at 40 percent for Humala and 39 percent for Keiko (though this is down significantly from the first round, when 50 percent or more said they would not vote for either candidate). While many believe that Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy represents a return to fujimorismo of the 1990s—characterized by the dismantling of democratic institutions, human rights violations, massive corruption, and impunity—for others Humala’s candidacy has evoked fears of the emergence of another Hugo Chávez-style government that could subvert democracy and transform Peru’s economic “success story” into an economic ruin.

Yet the Ollanta Humala of 2011 is presenting a quite different image from the Humala who nearly defeated Alan García in 2006. Humala has sought to distance himself from Chávez, presenting himself instead as a more moderate candidate in the mold of the highly popular former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. Indeed, when Chávez spoke out about the first round of voting, Humala asked him not to intervene in Peruvian politics. And while the press has spread rumors of Venezuelan campaign contributions, no evidence of such support has been found.

More importantly, since the first round of voting Humala has broadened his team of advisers to include a range of progressive and moderate Peruvians, such as economists Danny Schydlowsky and Javier Iguiniz, jurist Fransico Eguiguren and others. The new technical team has produced a consensus document that reflects the broadened political coalition, which lays out a government program oriented towards improving Peru’s vastly unequal income distribution while respecting the free market economic model, promises to make the Peruvian state more transparent and to root out corruption, and that guarantees respect for democracy and human rights. Most importantly, the new plan offers a government of concertacion nacional, or a government of national unity.

Critics claim that this is a ploy to appeal to moderate voters, but that once in office, Humala will revert to his radical, leftist ways of the past. However, others believe that Humala’s conversion is genuine —and that there will be significant popular pressure on him to abide by his campaign promises. This includes Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who had famously said, prior to Peru’s first-round vote, that if the election were to come down to a decision between Humala and Fujimori, it would be like having to choose between AIDS and terminal cancer. Days after the first-round vote, however, Vargas Llosa came out in favor of Humala. He has since published articles and made several statements reiterating his reasons for this decision, among them the need to prevent the return of the Fujimori-Montesinos mafia, which he argues would occur should Keiko Fujimori be elected president.

When pressed in a recent interview about his support for Humala, Vargas Llosa said: “Humala today is surrounded by many more democratic individuals than those seeking a socialist revolution…If he wins the elections it will be because he has the support of an important sector of democratic, liberal Peruvians, like myself.”

Other prominent Peruvian intellectuals have made similar pronouncements, from writers to artists to academics, like Vargas Llosa, in support of Humala and insisting on the need to prevent a return of fujimorismo. Perhaps the most important endorsement this past week came from former President Alejandro Toledo. As Toledo led the battle against the Fujimori dictatorship in the 2000 elections, many political observers assumed he would, like others, back Humala in the final stage of the campaign. Toledo held out, however, until May 26 when he announced that his party “has decided to support, without any ambiguities, the candidate of Ollanta Humala.” That same day, Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki, not surprisingly, announced his support for Keiko Fujimori.

Even human rights groups that have criticized Humala in the past due to credible allegations of his involvement in human rights violations when he was a captain in the army during Peru’s internal armed conflict, have opted to support Humala, albeit reluctantly. The initial case against Humala brought by human rights groups was dismissed after the witnesses reversed their testimony, an occurrence that is disturbingly common in Peru, as witnesses are bribed or threatened into retracting their initial statements. A case is now moving forward in the courts in which a close associate of Humala is accused of doing just that. But recent revelations in La República suggest that some of these accusations may be a fabrication of the Peruvian intelligence services designed to discredit Humala, a disturbing indicator of how the methods of the past are being resurrected in an effort to assure Fujimori’s victory on June 5.

While some have criticized human rights organizations for taking a partisan position, the argument of many human rights activists is that in the face of the current electoral choices, they have no option but to vote for Humala to prevent a return of fujimorismo. For example, Ernesto de la Jara, the Director of the Instituto de Defensa Legaal (IDL), argues that he will vote for Humala because he is “absolutely certain that a return to Fujimorismo… is the worst thing that could happen to Peru… Humala is distrusted for a number of things that he could do, but Fujimori has already done them all: remain in power for longer than the Constitution permits; threaten freedom of expression and institutional independence; govern with the support of the military; approve a new, hand-tailored Constitution; have ties to Chávez; and be a populist, having the state’s resources at his disposal.” (See full statement here.)

After the first round of voting, many who absolutely rejected a return of Fuimorismo but had concerns about Humala called on the candidate to officially and publicly commit to respecting the democratic rules of the game. He did so on May 19 in a public ceremony, in which he swore on a bible and read a statement “in defense of democracy and against the dictatorship.” The ceremony was preceded by a brief statement by Vargas Llosa by videoconference from Spain. Though it was a landmark moment in his campaign, it got virtually no press coverage in Peru due to the absolute bias in the Peruvian media in favor of Fujimori’s candidacy that we reported on in a previous post. (Such is the scenario that yesterday, Vargas Llosa made public a letter to the director of El Comercio, Peru’s largest-circulation daily, saying he would no longer publish his weekly columns there since it has joined the Fujimori “political machine.”)

In his speech, Humala pledged that if elected he would respect the five-year presidential term limit and not seek any constitutional change that would permit his reelection; respect the independence and authority of the other branches of government; respect the human rights of all Peruvians and to avoid any type of political interference in investigations into human rights cases that are on-going or opened in the future (no such promise has been forthcoming from Keiko Fujimori); and respect and guarantee freedom of expression and of the press. He also pledged to implement policies to achieve a more just distribution of Peru’s economic resources and greater economic, social, political and cultural inclusion of all Peruvians, especially those living in poverty or extreme poverty, while ensuring that these changes will be carried out respecting the rule of law and taking into account the need not to risk and to stimulate economic growth. In so doing, he addressed the demand of many of his reluctant supporters that he formally pledge to respect the democratic rules of the game.

As we have clearly stated in previous posts, there are very real reasons to be concerned about an Humala presidency, particularly in the area of human rights. However, in 2011 he has presented a more moderate image, while remaining firm in his commitment to address Peru’s continuing and deep inequalities, and has taken steps necessary to broaden his political base of support. Whether or not his actions are sufficient to propel him to victory in the final round of voting remains to be seen.

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

The Death of Shahzad: Leave It to the ISI to Make al Qaeda Look Tame in Comparison

Shahzad with Taliban(Pictured: Syed Saleem Shahzad with Taliban fighters.)

Some initial impressions on the murder by beating — torture — and gunshot of Asia Times Online reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad. Something of a legend in his own time, his access to al Qaeda and Taliban was light years beyond that of any other journalist.

The central irony of his death is that he was even once detained by the Taliban for a week, but in the end it looks like it was Pakistan’s largest intelligence apparatus, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Service) that did him in. Or as Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema, who, as Ron Moreau of the Daily Beast reports, was abducted last September and beaten by individuals he believe were the ISI, said:

But if it’s not the ISI then they [the ISI] need to locate the people who did this, because they certainly can.

Moreau adds:

But the ISI has been in a defensive crouch ever since the discovery of Osama bin Laden living comfortably just down the street from the country’s military academy. Pakistani journalists on Shahzad’s difficult and dangerous beat fear that the ISI may have made an example of him in order to scare them off of criticizing the directorate.

I’m sure I speak for many who follow events in Pakistan and Afghanistan when I say this one hurts, as if he were a member of our family. At Pakistan’s Dawn, Adnan Rehmat writes:

From the tribal areas in the mountainous northwest to the coastal areas in the sandy southeast, Pakistani journalists have been hounded and killed for reporting the brutalities of a war that has claimed the lives of over 30,000 in Pakistan over the last 10 years. While over 70 have been killed, a staggering 2,000-plus have been injured, arrested or kidnapped. . . . The fact that the killers of not even one Pakistani journalist killed has been found, prosecuted and punished has meant the media has been an easy target.

But . . .

Saleem’s death is not ordinary even among the long list of journalists killed in Pakistan in recent years.

In fact, writes Abbas Nasir, also at Dawn

This wasn’t a journalist who’d merely irritated the spooks or someone like that. This was a person who’d be seen as someone who knew too much. His investigative reports on the PNS Mehran attack are not the only example.

What follows may have been among the key words that got Shahzad killed. From one of the reports that Nasir mentions:

Several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaida cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi. “Islamic sentiments are common in the armed forces,” a senior navy official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Though I followed Shahzad at Asia Times Online, you can find his work archived on his own website (his family and friends are no doubt in such a state of shock that they have yet to update his site with news of his death). Also, Shahzad’s new book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 was just released on May 20 by Pluto Press.

Such was his stature that his death has elicited reactions like these: Though Shahzad didn’t work for Dawn, his death prompted its editor to question the wisdom of continuing to put his reporters in harm’s way. Second:

Pakistani journalists have been given permission to carry weapons after the killing of [Shahzad. Interior Minister] Rehman Malik told reporters that orders had been approved to permit journalists to carry small arms with them for self-protection.

First, needless to say, Shahzad, should he have consented to carry a handgun, would have been forced to surrender it to talk to militants. Second, a handgun would have been just as much needed as defense against representatives of the ISI — one handgun against the full force of Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus? Besides, as Afzal Butt, the head of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, said in the same article, “It’s the responsibility of the government to protect us. . . . We are reporters, not soldiers.”

Finally, Abbas Nasir again:

I am filled with despair, deep, helpless despair.

It’s Not Just Pakistan Whose Nuclear Program Is in Danger of Infiltration

It’s bad enough that Pakistan couldn’t have developed a nuclear-weapons program without the help of the nuclear black market and that its program exists outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it never signed. It may now possess even more nuclear weapons than the supposed raison d’être for its nuclear-weapons program — India. But, in an article for Zurich’s ISN (International Relations and Security Network), Yogesh Joshi explains that deterring India from attacking it with nuclear weapons isn’t the only reason for Pakistan’s build-up.

[It’s] clear that nuclear weapons have become Pakistan’s chief currency of recognition in a world where international prestige is increasingly being measured in terms of . . . development. After national security via deterrence, prestige is generally accepted as one of the secondary rationales states use to justify developing nuclear weapons.

More to the point, though, Joshi writes

Increasing Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities would allow it to make economic . . . gains. In the future, if the agenda for disarmament gains momentum, the larger a state’s nuclear inventory, the better its bargaining position.

North Korea is an example of a state that uses the components of its nuclear-weapons program as chips to be bargained for economic aid. As for Pakistan, at the Diplomat, Manpreet Sethi wrote in March that its

. . . ability to use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip — for conventional weaponry, for financial support from other Muslim nations, for evading sanctions over nuclear proliferation . . . has been proven time and again. No wonder nuclear weapons are seen as the most important strategic asset of the Pakistani military establishment.

But another reason exists to provide economic aid to a state with an illegal nuclear-weapons program and Pakistan is an all-too-perfect example. Joshi again.

The threat of economic collapse in a state that holds substantial nuclear weapons capabilities could make the international community more likely to come to the [financial] rescue. One of the reasons behind the US’ continued financial aid to Pakistan is the necessity of keeping a nuclear armed state functioning as a viable political entity.

In other words, the United States apparently needs to continue providing Pakistan with economic aid, not, at this point, to bargain away its nuclear programs, but just to keep Pakistan politically solvent. When the Soviet Union dissolved and much of its enriched uranium went unprotected, Russia and the other former Soviet states lucked out. Not only were terrorists such as Chechnyan or Islamist extremists, for the most part, asleep at the switch, but the United States, via the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Program, jumped into the void to help secure the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons and material. Should another country with a nuclear-weapons program become a failed state, don’t count on fortune to smile on us again.

You would think that for a state technologically sophisticated enough to develop nuclear weapons, the wherewithal to secure them would be a fait accompli. In fact, the threat to Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program is less about physical security than it’s about infiltration of its nuclear security forces by Islamist extremists, despite efforts by the Pakistan military to exclude them from nuclear security.

Faith in the Pakistan military took a serious hit with its lack of awareness and resistance to the U.S. attack on bin Laden’s compound. A sample headline read: “Pakistan humiliated by Bin Laden revenge attack.” It was further undermined by the May 22 attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi by Pakistan’s Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban — the TTP) that lasted for 17 hours and killed 10 security personnel. According to Pakistan’s Dawn, the TTP

. . . knew the location of their targets, both men and material, and displayed utter contempt for the naval personnel through their astonishing speed and firepower. No disrespect is meant for the navy, some of whose men paid the ultimate price in the line of duty, but the incident raises quite a few questions about the state of preparedness of our defence forces in general and the navy in particular.

Humiliation would be the least of Pakistan’s worries if the TTP or al Qaeda got ahold of any of its nuclear weapons. Ostensibly because “Pakistan is the only Muslim nuclear-power state,” a spokesman for the TTP spokesman claimed that the organization has no plans to attack Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons arsenal. Inspiring even less confidence was another spokesman, this one for the U.S. State Department, who said to journalists of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, “I would just say that our understanding is that they’re — they are safeguarded.” Our “understanding”? Whatever happened to knowledge gained via intelligence?

While North Korea — ever the tease — dangles its nuclear-weapons program before the West, it’s arguably less savvy than Pakistan, which leverages funds from the United States without, at the moment anyway, drawing down its nuclear-weapons program as a condition. But when even the most sober of observers, such as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, entertains doubts about the security of its nuclear program, it’s obvious that Pakistan is enjoying fewer of the perks of possessing nuclear weapons than North Korea.

Of course, the United States must also guard against domestic threats to its nuclear-weapons program. What — from white-power militias? Of course not: obviously, the physical security of the U.S. nuclear-weapons program isn’t at risk. Like Pakistan’s, however, turns out it might be vulnerable to infiltration by extremists. As George Will remarked to Christiane Amanpour on ABC News’s This Week

The threshold question, not usually asked, but it’s in everyone’s mind in a presidential election. ‘Should we give this person nuclear weapons?’ And the answer [in Palin’s case], answers itself.

Enabled by Obama, Netanyahu Attempts to Hold Back the Tide of History

The same day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s received his “wildly receptive” welcome from the U.S. Congress Financial Times Associate Editor Philip Stephens wrote that “Elsewhere, Britain has been frustrated by Washington’s refusal to back publication by the international community of the essential parameters of an Israeli-Palestine peace agreement.” Translation: It is the U.S. that is preventing the major world powers from expressing the international consensus on the way forward in “peace process.” Stephens continued, “The president’s willingness to offend Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s obdurate prime minister, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress in the region.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has already said it might support the Palestinians when they go before the United Nations, as expected in September, and ask for a resolution affirming Palestinian statehood in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. If you rely on the major U.S. media you would never sense it but what Obama likely heard in Europe last week is that the rest of the world is even more certain than the British to back the UN move. Evidently in his meeting with European leaders, Obama tried to talk the others out of supporting Palestinian statehood when the matter comes up for a vote in the UN.

“The march to isolate Israel internationally — and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations — will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative,” Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a group that has become little more than a lobbying mechanism supporting the policies of Netanyahu’s governing rightwing coalition. “So in advance of a five-day trip to Europe, in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require.”

President Obama didn’t exactly launch any “initiative” and his endorsement of a Middle East settlement based on the 1967 Armistice borders wasn’t nearly as bold as it is being portrayed. It is the consensus position of the vast overwhelming majority of the people and governments of the world. It has been for a long time, and everybody knows it.

The effect of the media reporting on Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S., his talk with Obama, his rapturous reception at the annual AIPAC powwow and his over the top reception by the U.S. Congress has created a delusion here in the U.S. The verbal sparring between the two leaders, the haughty lecturing tone of Netanyahu’s response to the President, and the 28 or so standing ovations the Congress gave to him are only part of the story and have to be viewed in the context of the opinion of the rest of the world. It doesn’t even adequately reflect the views of the members of Congress. Their repeated standing ovations are more a testimony to the political power of the Israeli lobby than to their private convictions. Even some of Israel’s most adamant supporters amongst them are gravely concerned over Israel’s growing international isolation.

The cable news commentators that referred to the Israeli leader’s seeming political conquest of official Washington as “political theater” got it right: members of Congress, some of whom are otherwise knowledgeable and reasonable people, falling all over themselves to applaud what most of the rest of the world – including our most trusted allies—reject.

The dynamic on display this week in Washington between the two leaders has actually left the Palestinian leadership little choice but to appeal to the international community.

“The world will blame Israel as the main culprit if violence escalates again should the Palestinians unilaterally declare their independence this autumn,” said The Financial Times Deutschland in Germany. “Whether this blame would be correct or not, a government leader must act in such a situation. The Arab revolutions have made the situation even more urgent and increased the Palestinians’ impatience.

“But even before his speech yesterday, Netanyahu willfully squandered this chance … despite his promises and declarations; he apparently wanted to play the blocker and the hardliner. And it served him well — at least domestically.”

“But it’s a catastrophe for Israel’s foreign policy,” said the paper. “Sure, Netanyahu was applauded in Congress, and he thanked Obama repeatedly for his support of Israel. But the audience for his speech and visit weren’t just US politicians, who would stand by him anyhow. Instead of an Israeli vision of a peaceful Middle East, once again only the memory of Netanyahu’s many refusals will remain in the mind of the global audience.”

All hands appear to be on deck to try and head off a UN resolution. “Having the U.N. General Assembly pass a resolution recognizing an independent Palestinian state will only rally Israelis around Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, giving him another excuse not to talk,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman May 25. That’s just silly talk. Bibi doesn’t need another rationale for intransigence. He opposes any settlement based on any borderlines that doesn’t ratify the colonial conquest of Palestinian land.

That a new UN resolution will not produce a Palestinian state is so obvious that it’s curious that Obama bothered to say so, but as Retired Brigadier General Michael Herzog, a veteran Israeli negotiator has noted, “it is likely to isolate Israel and escalate Israeli-Palestinian tensions.”

While in Europe Obama was no doubt told again what he already knew: that the European Union fully backs the position that will be laid out in a General Assembly resolution. The Congressional applause had hardly died down when the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, backed Obama’s stance.

“Netanyahu’s rejection of peace based on the 1967 borders is self-important and arrogant…especially given that Obama explicitly stated that a variation from the 1967 borders would be possible under a mutual land swap,” Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Spiegel last week. “Netanyahu is suppressing the political reality and betting on a stalemate instead. For the peace process, that is deadly.

“We need to make an attempt to draw Hamas into a democratic process and bring it on to the path of freedom — just as we succeeded in doing with Fatah during the 1990s. That would also include informal talks with Hamas.

“And that’s a position we Europeans are going to maintain,” continued Asselborn. “Still, you can’t just put conditions on the Palestinian side, as they’re not the only source of the violence. Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into a prison. There, 1.7 million people live in an area one-seventh the size of Luxembourg. To shut its borders and to only allow certain goods into the country and hardly any out — this is also a form of violence. In the West Bank, Israelis continue to build settlements on expropriated land. It is a constant provocation.”

One might think that it would shore up political support for the rightwing politician at home but that would be a mistake. “American Jews have been dragged over the past few days into the controversy between their government and Israel’s government, and that is neither to their benefit nor to the benefit of the State of Israel,” was the editorial comment of Haaretz, considered by some to be Israel’s most influential daily newspaper.

“Unlike the many American politicians who turn Jewish organizational conferences into election rallies, Obama did not make do with rousing declarations about America’s commitment to Israel’s security and to the unity of Jerusalem, said the newspaper. “Though he is already thinking about his upcoming presidential election campaign, Obama looked the Jewish community in the eye and told the truth.

“The refusal by Netanyahu and his political allies to recognize the 1967 borders as a starting point leads permanent-status negotiations into a dead end. From there, the road is short to violent confrontation with the Palestinians, diplomatic isolation and perhaps even economic sanctions,’ said Haaretz.

“The large Jewish peace camp in the United States must support the president and reject political activists who have turned Israel’s fate into a ball on America’s domestic political court. The time has come for the Jews of New York and Illinois to stand beside their worried brethren in Jerusalem and Sderot, who have welcomed Obama’s message and are hoping for it to become reality. Between loyalty to Obama’s way and loyalty to Netanyahu’s way, they must choose loyalty to the future of the State of Israel.”

Obama “knows that, given Netanyahu’s political constraints and his worldview, chances for productive negotiations with the Palestinians are practically zero,” says Carlo Strenger, Tel Aviv University philosopher and psychoanalyst and member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists. “He also knows that the Palestinians’ bid for recognition by the UN general assembly, where the US does not have veto power, is likely to receive more than two-thirds of the vote, probably including Britain and France.

“So Netanyahu is losing,” says Strenger. “But the real victims of his rightwing government’s disastrous policies are the people of Israel. The specter of Israel’s ever-growing isolation and increasing international pressure on it looms large. As Israeli prize-winning historian and political scientist Zeev Sternhell writes in Haaretz, ‘Israel is on the way to becoming a pariah state’.”

“The clear losers in Netanyahu’s shortsightedness, wrapped into grandiose verbal pyrotechnics, are the citizens of Israel. Once the dust of the media storm settles down, we will be faced with the stark truth: the specter of Israel’s ever-growing isolation and of increasing international pressure looms large. Once the Palestinians succeed in their bid for statehood, the Netanyahu government will be facing international criticism of its settlement policies unprecedented in force and intensity.

“The tragedy is that Israel’s growing isolation and the Palestinians’ unilateral move could be avoided. Instead of fighting Palestinians’ bid for recognition, Israel should support it.”

Fareed Zakaria wrote May 25 in the Washington Post: “The problem is that Netanyahu has never believed in land for peace. His strategy has been to put up obstacles, create confusion and wait it out. But one day there will be peace, along the lines that people have talked about for 20 years. And Netanyahu will be remembered only as a person before the person who made peace, a comma in history.

“It was a tactical triumph for the Israeli premier,’ said the Financial Times. “But it is Israeli citizens, not the US Congress, who will have to live with the consequences of a leader who will not make the compromises needed for peace with the Palestinians – and with an Arab world reinvigorated by the wave of revolution against tyrants Israel has come to rely on.”

“History has been in the making all over the southern bank of the Mediterranean, and it won’t skip the Palestinian territory,” commented the French newspaper Le Monde. Everywhere, the ‘Arab spring’ is bringing together people with the same demands for dignity, democracy and freedom, and there is no reason why it should not reach the Palestinians, too.’

On May 28, at Group of Eight summit in the French seaside resort of Deauville, leaders of world’s richest countries gave “strong support” to President Barack Obama’s stance on pre-1967 borders. In a draft statement at the G8 summit in they urged Israelis and Palestinians “to return to substantive talks with a view to concluding a framework agreement on all final status issues.

“To that effect, we express our strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by President Obama on May 19, 2011.”

On the same day, over a dozen Israeli intellectuals and public figures sent a letter to European governments urging them to ”officially recognize a Palestinian State,” noting that “the peace process has reached its end,”

The letter, initiated by Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, said in part, “Peace has fallen hostage to the peace process. As Israeli citizens, we announce that if and when the Palestinian people declare independence of a sovereign state that will exist next to Israel in peace and security, we will support such the announcement of the Palestinian State with borders based on the 1967 lines, with needed land swaps on a 1:1 basis.”

The letter was signed by former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, former Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Liel, and former Ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch, Nobel laureate Professor Daniel Kahneman, and Israel Prize Winner Professor Avishai Margalit.

“We urge the countries of the world to declare their willingness to recognize a sovereign Palestinian State according to these principles,” the letter read, adding “the Palestinian appeal to the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian State does not harm the Israeli interest and is not at odds with the peace process.”

Carl Bloice, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, is a columnist for the Black Commentator. He also serves on its editorial board.

A Haggadah for AIPAC

From my family’s Haggadah*:

The sages speak of four kinds of children who view the Seder in four different ways and so ask different questions:

The wise child asks: What does this all mean? This child should be taught about the details of the Seder. Talk with this child about the nature of freedom and justice and about the need to act to transform the world.

The isolated child asks: What does this mean to all of you? and in so doing isolates him or herself from the community of the Seder. This child should be answered by saying: Join us tonight. Be fully here. Listen closely. Sing and read and dance and drink. Be with us, become a part of us. Then you will know what the Seder means to us.

The simple child asks: What is this? This child should be told: We are remembering a long time ago in another land when we were forced to work for other people as slaves. We became a free people and we are celebrating our freedom.

Then there is the child who is too young to ask. We will say: Sweetheart, this wondrous evening happens in the spring of every year, so that we may remember how out of death and sorrow and slavery came life and joy and freedom. To remember the sorrow we eat bitter herbs; to remember the joy we drink sweet wine. And we sing of life because we love ourselves and each other and you.

Passover 2011 has come and gone, but President Obama’s recent speech on the Middle East and subsequent attempts to coddle Benjamin Netanyahu (met with recalcitrance on the latter’s part), not to mention Bibi’s speeches to congress and AIPAC, have raised some questions about Jewish attitudes on redemption and liberation. The always-excellent Max Blumenthal interviewed delegates to the AIPAC convention and produced a cringe-making video highlighting their ignorance. I think we have some children to add to the list.

The Child Who Thinks Palestinians Have Chosen Occupation

“They’ve had an opportunity to have their own state, should they want that.” “They’re not living under occupation because of Israelis, they’re living under occupation because of themselves and their brethren.”

This child should be made aware of Palestinian objections to the sundry “states” on offer over the course of the last century. For starters, when the British crown imposed a mandate on Palestinians in 1922, the terms did not include the words “Palestinian” or “Arab” nor the political rights of people so described, though it did mention the national rights of the Jewish people and the establishment of a national home for the same in Palestine. This child will likely bring up the proposals put forth in 1948, 1967, and by Ehuds Barak and Olmert. For the reasons why these proposals were justifiably unpalatable to the Palestinians, this child should be referred to the writings primarily of Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi.

The Child Who Thinks Might Makes Right

“We already won. We have the state and they don’t.”

This child should be asked to consider the applicability of this argument to the worldwide historical expulsions of Jews that he is so fond of raising as a shield any time Israeli depravity is noted. This child should also be made aware that “It’s your land? We fought a war, and we won! IT’S OUR LAND!” is a strong candidate for Worst Sentiment Ever, objectively. However much allowance the Jewish Bible makes for the conquest and enslavement of another tribe, the world’s moral atmosphere has moved beyond the period when this idea was tolerable to anything like a majority of people, and this child would do well to awaken himself to that state of affairs.

The Child Who Is Unclear About His Views on Democracy

“The only democracy in the Middle East.”

This child should be prompted to consider the ease with which he switches from democratic glorification (in the case of Israel) to democratic denigration (in the case of Egypt, a democratic government which could conceivably halt the peace treaty between the two nations). If democracy is the ideal, Israel will have to cope with the democratic aspirations and wills of regional neighbors hostile to its occupation of Palestine and risk a diminution of national security. If, on the other hand, democracy is anxious-making, Israel loses its claim to moral authority, and is stuck relying strictly on religious appeals, which are ineffective on those of us who believe that religion is a central problem in the region, rather than something to which to aspire. (Additionally, it will have to respect the democratic will of the Palestinians, even when it produces leadership as unsavory as Hamas’).

The Child Who Cannot Distinguish Palestine from Pakistan

“They’re gonna do a trade with the Pakistanis back and forth until they reach an agreement.”

This child should be instructed that Palestine is not the same thing as Pakistan and should be informed of an exciting website called Wikipedia, where can be found details on many of the factors that differentiate them. Furthermore, this child should only be taken as seriously on matters of importance to Palestinians as should a believer in goblins and unicorns on the topic of biology. Lastly, this child should be given a copy of Robert Dreyfuss’s Devil’s Game, which outlines how the US-Israeli-Saudi-Pakistani alliance fostered the growth of Hamas, Hizbollah, the Taliban, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula and other such unseemly Islamist organizations as, it was thought at the time, an antidote to secular leftist pan-Arab thought. (Whoops.)

The Child Who Denies the Existence of the Occupation

“I don’t believe they’re living under occupation. It’s a loaded question, and I won’t answer that.”

This child should be shown photographs of soldiers with machine guns and grenades, patrolling the marketplaces of Palestine and asked which country’s soldiers he would prefer to monitor his activities and frisk and detain him and his friends that would similarly not count as an occupation. He should also be referred to relevant doctrines of international law and to words uttered by George W. Bush (“There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967.”) and Ariel Sharon (“You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation — to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation”).

The Child Who Brings Up American Indians as a Metaphor

“Seconds ago, you said – and correct me if I’m wrong – that the land of Israel or that Palestinian area belongs to you, right? Okay, now, I suppose you would also say that California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona belong to Mexico.”

This child should be told that he has the metaphor backwards. In it, the Indians are the Jews, i.e. a population with thousands of years of claim to the land, overcome by a different people who, having exerted dominance over the land for only a few hundred years, haven’t got meaningful claim to the land. This child should be notified that it is incumbent upon him willingly to sacrifice his family’s home so that an Indian can live there. In point of fact, almost all the suppositions he is making are wrong, Arabs having lived in that land for thousands of years and have committed against the Jews nothing like the genocide visited upon American Indians. If anything, the point his metaphor makes is about the complexity of history and the consequent worthlessness of reviewing this history toward solving the problems on the ground.

The Child Who Insists that Life Is Great for Arabs Living In Israel Proper

“Arabs in Israel have a higher standard of living than anywhere else in the Middle East.”

This child should be told of the pressure Israeli Arabs face to leave, especially in Jerusalem.

The Child Who Professes that Jewish Endurance of the Holocaust Grants Jews a State

“We’re not gonna go and walk out of the gas chambers and not have a place to live. You have to understand that. If you can’t accept that, there will never be peace. Unfortunately.”

This child should be asked, “Why isn’t the Jewish homeland annexed from Germany?” If he moves to religious arguments, the Islamic and Christian significance of Jerusalem should be explained to him. Presumably, he knows about the Wailing Wall, but he should be asked to identify the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and then asked to reconsider religion as a basis for the establishment of a state.

The Child Who Thinks That Israeli Violence against Palestinians is Self Defense

“So once the Palestinians value their own lives over killing Jews, there will be peace.” “You cannot equate moral equivalence between a guy shooting you and someone shooting back.”

This child should be provoked to issue a sound argument for why Palestinians haven’t any right to defend themselves. That or he should have to make the case that they haven’t they got anything to defend themselves against. He should be asked about just war theory: have an occupied people no recourse against occupation? He is right in asserting that attacking civilians is vile and despicable (as Hamas is for disagreeing), but he should be notified that all Palestinians are civilians, because Palestine is not a state and can therefore not raise a military. He should be asked whether striking out against an occupying army isn’t a form of self-defense.

* * * *

If only we could have this conversation between people who didn’t work themselves into a frenzy immediately, dayenu.

*The text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of the Jewish Passover.

J.A. Myerson, Executive Editor of the Busy Signal, is the Artistic Director of Full of Noises and a teaching artist with Urban Arts Partnership. He writes primarily on American Politics and Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter.

Disarm to Prevent Proliferation? Or Halt Proliferation to Enable Disarmament?

Regular readers may be familiar with my concern that nonproliferation and disarmament, once two sides of the same coin, are being inexorably peeled apart. (See this, for instance: Are Nonproliferation and Disarmament, Once Joined at the Hip, Headed for Divorce?) In other words, the former is, as economists say of currency, no longer “pegged” to the latter.

Nuclear weapons advocates, as well as many who fall in the realist camp, seem to be gaining ground in the process of de-linking the two. To them, preventing a state from proliferating shouldn’t require the United States or other large nuclear states to show leadership or set an example with disarmament initiatives. To the contrary, nuclear-aspirational states must agree not to proliferate before the United States takes substantive steps to disarmament.

But to disarmament advocates, expecting states that possess nuclear weapons illegally, or that aspire to develop them, to surrender their weapons or dreams when the large nuclear powers, or at least the United States, retain them in large numbers is counterintuitive. Needless to say, the states in question would also like the United States to put its money where its mouth is before proceeding.

Often, understanding where conservatives are coming from requires pushing the envelope of progressives’ famous (or, to conservatives, infamous) “empathy” to extremes. In this case, though, the reasoning, once pointed out, is not difficult to understand. As usual, Hudson Institute fellow Christopher Ford is the most articulate representative of the point of view that nonproliferation should be the horse pulling the disarmament cart, instead of vice-versa, as it has traditionally been viewed, especially by disarmament advocates.

In recent speech titled A Survey of the Nuclear Weapons Landscape, Ford shows how those conservatives who accept disarmament as an ultimate goal simply view leadership differently.

The international community’s record in enforcing compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and other nonproliferation obligations remains pretty dismal, and this factor alone could prove a disarmament “showstopper.” After all, if we cannot prevent the emergence of new nuclear “players,” how can we expect existing possessors to give their weapons up — or how could we ensure that abolition, even if it occurs, doesn’t turn out to be just a pause along the road to new arms races?

In other words, leadership is not disarming first; leadership is convincing nuclear states, whether they’ve developed their programs legally or illegally (within or outside the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), that they’re safe in rolling back the number of their nuclear weapons because the United States will ensure that no new states develop nuclear weapons.

While it’s not what jumps to the minds of disarmament advocates, it makes a certain amount of sense. The unknown, of course, is how much force is needed to prevent states from acquiring nuclear weapons and its potential to spiral out of control.

Keiko Fujimori’s Candidacy Just Adds Insult to the Injury That Her Father Inflicted on the Body Politic of Peru

Fujimori protestCross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

On Thursday May 26 an estimated 15-20,000 Peruvians participated in a peaceful march to protest the candidacy of Keiko Fujimori. Participants included human rights organizations, victims’ groups, trade unions, student associations, women’s groups, and artist collectives, among others.

“The people are speaking. They are saying that they do not want the return of the dictatorship,” said Rayda Cóndor, who led the march. Her son Armando Amaro Cóndor was one of the disappeared students from La Cantuta, one of the key cases that contributed to the 2009 conviction of Alberto Fujimori for human rights violations.

The offical press, among them Channel N, which played a crucial role in the downfall of the Fujimori dictatorship in 2000, reported that only 300 people were present at the march.

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