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Hamas and the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring is an opportunity to mend fortunes by rebranding Palestinian politics for statehood and good governance.

Last Modified: 29 Dec 2011

Exeter, United Kingdom - On a "win-loss" scale, Hamas features more as amongst the "winners" not "losers" of the Arab Spring. Ismail Haniyeh's current diplomacy "shuttle" around several Arab capitals is designed, amongst other things, as a declaratory policy embracing the Arab Spring.

However, the embrace remains a little ill-defined around the edge, and faces many challenges.

The Arab Spring, like that "sudden" light, creating a desperately needed opening in a tunnelled Palestinian cause, illuminating the path for Haniyeh, amongst other chiefs of the Palestinian polity, including Fatah.

Haniyeh lands in Cairo around the same time in December three years ago when a buoyant Tzipi Livni more or less declared the war on Gaza with total indifference from Mubarak's ousted Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait in December 2008. Maybe not by design, but the timing of Haniyeh's visit is not without political symbolism.

No one can predict when Livni will get back to Cairo. But what is certain: Haniyeh's visit will not be his last to Egypt's capital.

in full: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/12/2011122964659993802.html

Envoys worldwide feel brunt of Israel's worsening image

In annual meeting 100 Israeli diplomats discuss influence of contentious domestic legislation on Israel's diplomatic standing; Foreign Ministry indicates an erosion in 'special relationship' with U.S.

By Barak Ravid

On Tuesday morning, 100 Israeli ambassadors gathered on Mount Scopus, and together with their host, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, looked out onto Silwan and the Temple Mount. Later they continued toward Abu-Dis, there they peered at the border area and the separation fence. Last year, Barkat and the city he manages caused many of these Israeli diplomats to work overtime, preparing explanations to foreign ministries or media outlets in the countries where they serve. It can be assumed that in 2012, their work will only get harder.

The annual ambassadors' meeting is met with ambivalence by many Israeli diplomats. On the one hand, it provides an opportunity to visit the country for a week, and to be briefed on political matters, as well as internal ministry gossip. On the other hand, instead of a Christmas vacation, these sequestered ambassadors spend long days, from morning to night, inside the Foreign Ministry's auditorium.

The atmosphere in the ambassadors' gathering moved from depression to catharsis. On the one hand, they gripe about escalating international isolation, whereas on the other hand they congratulate one another upon the stopping of the Gaza flotilla sequel via diplomatic means, and upon the temporary derailing of the Palestinian statehood move in the United Nations, launched in September.

Ambassadors who arrived from European states and North America talked about how they are becoming increasingly hated and unwanted, while ambassadors from Asia and Africa spoke optimistically about new markets and opportunities for cooperation in areas such as agriculture and medicine. "Exports to China are at $2.5 billion a year; why isn't this figure $10 billion?" asked one ambassador.

remainder: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/envoys-worldwide-feel-brunt-of-israel-s-worsening-image-1.404380

The Book of Jobs by Joseph Stiglitz

Forget monetary policy. Re-examining the cause of the Great Depression—the revolution in agriculture that threw millions out of work—the author argues that the U.S. is now facing and must manage a similar shift in the “real” economy, from industry to service, or risk a tragic replay of 80 years ago.

It has now been almost five years since the bursting of the housing bubble, and four years since the onset of the recession. There are 6.6 million fewer jobs in the United States than there were four years ago. Some 23 million Americans who would like to work full-time cannot get a job. Almost half of those who are unemployed have been unemployed long-term. Wages are falling—the real income of a typical American household is now below the level it was in 1997.

We knew the crisis was serious back in 2008. And we thought we knew who the “bad guys” were—the nation’s big banks, which through cynical lending and reckless gambling had brought the U.S. to the brink of ruin. The Bush and Obama administrations justified a bailout on the grounds that only if the banks were handed money without limit—and without conditions—could the economy recover. We did this not because we loved the banks but because (we were told) we couldn’t do without the lending that they made possible. Many, especially in the financial sector, argued that strong, resolute, and generous action to save not just the banks but the bankers, their shareholders, and their creditors would return the economy to where it had been before the crisis. In the meantime, a short-term stimulus, moderate in size, would suffice to tide the economy over until the banks could be restored to health.

The banks got their bailout. Some of the money went to bonuses. Little of it went to lending. And the economy didn’t really recover—output is barely greater than it was before the crisis, and the job situation is bleak. The diagnosis of our condition and the prescription that followed from it were incorrect. First, it was wrong to think that the bankers would mend their ways—that they would start to lend, if only they were treated nicely enough. We were told, in effect: “Don’t put conditions on the banks to require them to restructure the mortgages or to behave more honestly in their foreclosures. Don’t force them to use the money to lend. Such conditions will upset our delicate markets.” In the end, bank managers looked out for themselves and did what they are accustomed to doing.

Even when we fully repair the banking system, we’ll still be in deep trouble—because we were already in deep trouble. That seeming golden age of 2007 was far from a paradise. Yes, America had many things about which it could be proud. Companies in the information-technology field were at the leading edge of a revolution. But incomes for most working Americans still hadn’t returned to their levels prior to the previous recession. The American standard of living was sustained only by rising debt—debt so large that the U.S. savings rate had dropped to near zero. And “zero” doesn’t really tell the story. Because the rich have always been able to save a significant percentage of their income, putting them in the positive column, an average rate of close to zero means that everyone else must be in negative numbers. (Here’s the reality: in the years leading up to the recession, according to research done by my Columbia University colleague Bruce Greenwald, the bottom 80 percent of the American population had been spending around 110 percent of its income.) What made this level of indebtedness possible was the housing bubble, which Alan Greenspan and then Ben Bernanke, chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board, helped to engineer through low interest rates and nonregulation—not even using the regulatory tools they had. As we now know, this enabled banks to lend and households to borrow on the basis of assets whose value was determined in part by mass delusion.

in full: http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/01/stiglitz-depression-201201

Palestinians offer to renew Israel peace talks without settlement freeze, official says

PA reportedly submits new Quartet offer to restart negotiations, demand Israel releases 100 Palestinian prisoners; Israel rejects offer fearing renewal of only low-grade talks.

By Barak Ravid

The Palestinian leadership submitted a proposal to renew peace talks with with Israel that drops their long-standing demand that Israel ceases all West Bank settlement construction, a top Israeli official said on Wednesday.

According to officials with knowledge of the proposal, the Palestinian Authority informed the Quartet two weeks ago that it would renege on its demand for a settlement freeze if Israel releases 100 prisoners as a show of good will.

The prisoners in question are reportedly all veteran inmates, incarcerated in Israeli prisons since before the Oslo accords.

The Palestinian proposal was reputedly the result of heavy pressure applied by Quartet members – the United States, the European Union, Russian, and the United Nations – on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to renew talks before January 26.

in full: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/palestinians-offer-to-renew-israel-peace-talks-without-settlement-freeze-official-says-1.404201

The Pentagon and its Sock Puppets by Scott Horton

December 27, 2011

An internal Department of Defense review has concluded that a Rumsfeld-era program under which retired military officers who appeared on American broadcast media were given special briefings and access was consistent with Pentagon rules. The New York Times reports:

The inquiry found that from 2002 to 2008, Mr. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon organized 147 events for 74 military analysts. These included 22 meetings at the Pentagon, 114 conference calls with generals and senior Pentagon officials and 11 Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Twenty of the events, according to a 35-page report of the inquiry’s findings, involved Mr. Rumsfeld or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or both. One retired officer, the report said, recalled Mr. Rumsfeld telling him: “You guys influence a wide range of people. We’d like to be sure you have the facts.”

The inspector general’s investigation grappled with the question of whether the outreach constituted an earnest effort to inform the public or an improper campaign of news media manipulation. The inquiry confirmed that Mr. Rumsfeld’s staff frequently provided military analysts with talking points before their network appearances. In some cases, the report said, military analysts “requested talking points on specific topics or issues.” One military analyst described the talking points as “bullet points given for a political purpose.” Another military analyst, the report said, told investigators that the outreach program’s intent “was to move everyone’s mouth on TV as a sock puppet.”

The internal review also apparently found no fault with the exclusion of four individuals precisely because they refused to be sock puppets, speaking critically of some Pentagon decisions. One of them, General Wesley Clark, apparently lost his position as an analyst for CNN because of Pentagon and White House displeasure with what he had to say.

in full: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2011/12/hbc-90008374

Playing chess in Eurasia

December 22, 2011

By Pepe Escobar

Bets are off on which is the great story of 2011. Is it the Arab Spring(s)? Is it the Arab counter-revolution, unleashed by the House of Saud? Is it the "birth pangs" of the Greater Middle East remixed as serial regime changes? Is it R2P ("responsibility to protect" legitimizing "humanitarian" bombing? Is it the freeze out of the "reset" between the US and Russia? Is it the death of al-Qaeda? Is it the euro disaster? Is it the US announcing a Pacific century cum New Cold War against China? Is it the build up towards an attack on Iran? (well, this one started with Dubya, Dick and Rummy ages ago ...)

Underneath all these interlinked plots - and the accompanying hysteria of Cold War-style headlines - there's a never-ending thriller floating downstream: Pipelineistan.

That's the chessboard where the half-hidden twin of the Pentagon's "long war" is played out. Virtually all current geopolitical developments are energy-related. So fasten your seat belts, it's time to revisit Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski's "grand chessboard" in Eurasia to find out who's winning the Pipelineistan wars.

Got tickets to the opera?
Let's start with Nabucco (the gas opera). Nabucco is above all a key, strategic Western powerplay; how to deliver Caspian Sea gas to Europe. Energy execs call it "opening the Southern Corridor" (of gas). The problem is this Open Sesame will only deliver if supplied by a tsunami of gas from two key "stans" - Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

remainder: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/ML22Ag02.html

A tradition of violence

Op-ed: B'Tselem field researchers say settler violence against Arabs a routine occurrence

B'Tselem field researchers
Published: 12.26.11

Two mosques were torched here recently, in the villages of Yasuf and Brukin. Torching a mosque affects not only the villagers, and not only the situation in the West Bank, but the whole Muslim world. It's an affront to our religion.

The residents here feel that the settlers are trying to turn the dispute into a religious issue. They are very angry and frustrated, especially because the Israeli authorities, who are supposed to protect us, have not found the perpetrators. Moreover, the authorities themselves have issued orders to demolish mosques.

In the land near the Havat Gilad settlement, they damage olive trees, torch fields and steal Palestinian farmers’ crops all the time. B'Tselem volunteers have filmed settlers setting fields on fire on several occasions.

The damage to the farmers is huge. For many of them, the land is the only source of income for their families. When the settlers steal crops or burn or destroy a grove, there is nobody to turn to for compensation, and the families have to make do with the little that's left.

in full: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4166395,00.html

The eagle, the bear and the dragon by Pepe Escobar

Here's a new Cold War fable for an emerging multipolar world.

Last Modified: 23 Dec 2011 05:59

Let's celebrate the end of an eventful 2011 with a fable.

Once upon a time in the young 21st century, the eagle, the bear and the dragon took their (furry) gloves off and engaged in a New Cold War.

When the original Cold War ended - in theory - in late 1991, in a dacha in Belarus, with the bear almost in coma, the eagle assumed the bear's right to an independent foreign policy which was also cancelled.

That was more than clear between 1999 and 2004 - when NATO, against all promises made to former top bear Gorbachev, expanded all the way to Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.

So the bear started wondering; what if in the end they take away all my security space and I'm geopolitically starved?

In the young 21st century, the key tug of war between the eagle and the bear concerns missile defence. Not even the eagle itself knows whether this immensely expensive gimmick will work. And even if it does, it will probably be financed by a reluctant dragon, which holds over US $1.5tn in eagle debt.

in full: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/12/2011121811848534778.html

History has not been kind to Syria's desire for change by Charles Glass

A dog in Lebanon, an old joke goes, was so hungry, mangy and tired of civil war that he escaped to Syria. To the surprise of the other dogs, he returned a few months later. Seeing him better groomed and fatter than before, they asked whether the Syrians had been good to him. "Very good." "Did they feed and wash you?" "Yes." "Then why did you come back?" "I want to bark."

It is impossible not to sympathise with Syrians' desire to be treated like adults. The Syrian regime is not alone, of course, among Middle East dictatorships in regarding their people as subjects rather than citizens. Under the portrait of the great dictator, little dictators grant some supplicants permits, demand bribes from others and abuse the rest. Syrians can identify with what Italians under Mussolini used to say: "The problem is not the big dictator. It is all the little dictators." Little dictators, though, thrive under the big dictator.

But all dictators are at risk from changed international circumstances, a spark (like a self-immolation in Tunisia) or the sudden realisation that the regime is vulnerable. People in Syria have reasons to demand change, as they have in the past.

I hope, for their sake, that things turn out better this time.

During the First World War, Arab nationalists in Damascus wanted to rid themselves of Ottoman rule. Ottoman officials could be corrupt and arbitrary, but they kept the peace, allowed the Syrians representation in the Istanbul parliament and put no restrictions on travel within the empire. The nationalists collaborated with Britain and France. They ended up with British and French colonialism, contrived borders, the expulsion of three quarters of Palestine's population, insurrections and wars.

in full: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/history-has-not-been-kind-to-syrias-desire-for-change

The Authority Already Exists – What’s Needed Is a Willingness to Act

Soldiers in the Occupied Territories already have the legal authority to arrest Israeli citizens

Reports have appeared in the Israeli media in recent days claiming that the security forces will soon be given new powers to combat settler violence. According to the reports, soldiers will be authorized to detain and arrest Israelis in the Occupied Territories.

The reports are misleading. Israeli soldiers stationed in the West Bank are already authorized to detain Israeli citizens, if it is suspected that they have committed or are about to commit a criminal offense. The fact that soldiers do not usually take real-time action to arrest settlers who attacking Palestinians is not due to a lack of authority, but to a lack of willingness on the part of the system to take action to protect Palestinians and their property.

B'Tselem emphasizes once again that there is no need to provide the law enforcement agencies in the Territories with new powers. What is needed is to exercise the existing powers. The reluctance of the Israeli army to detain violent settlers in the field is one part of the problem. The police must also ensure effective investigations to uncover attacks committed clandestinely by settlers.

In order to clarify this point, we attach two official documents distributed to soldiers by the Military Advocate General’s Corps and the Civil Administration at the end of 2006 following the ruling issued by the High Court of Justice in the “olive harvest petition” filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Rabbis for Human Rights. The documents are not dated, and were received by B'Tselem in 2007. These documents detail the law enforcement obligations incumbent on Israeli soldiers:

remainder in full: http://www.btselem.org/press-release/20121221_soldiers_authority_to_detain_violent_settlers
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