Friday, May 8, 2009

Pope’s visit to Israel fraught with potential minefields

Pope Benedict XVI, shown here meeting with New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier at the Vatican in February 2009, is likely to be compared to his predecessor, John Paul II, during his visit to Israel. (The Appeal of Conscience Foundation)

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Pope Benedict XVI, shown here meeting with New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier at the Vatican in February 2009, is likely to be compared to his predecessor, John Paul II, during his visit to Israel. (The Appeal of Conscience Foundation)

ROME (JTA) -- The official Israeli government Web site for Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming trip to Israel and the West Bank promotes the May 11-15 visit as a "Bridge for Peace."

Others, however, describe it as a potential minefield where various factions may try to exploit the pope's presence for political gain.

"Both Jewish and Muslim ideologues are determined to stop the pope crossing that bridge," wrote Catholic religion journalist Damian Thompson in his blog for the U.K. Telegraph, "either by smearing him as an anti-Semite or by making his visit to a Palestinian refugee camp look like a politically motivated reproach to Israel."

The German-born pontiff leaves for the Middle East on May 8; he will spend three days in Jordan before flying to Israel.

The trip is the first by a pope to Israel since the 2000 pilgrimage by Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II. John Paul was a historic trailblazer who made promoting Vatican-Jewish relations a central policy goal.

Inevitably, Benedict's words and actions are sure to be compared -- and contrasted -- with John Paul's.

"It's unfair, but John Paul's warmth will be compared to the theological coldness of Benedict," Israeli political scientist Shlomo Avineri told JTA. "The fact that he was in the Hitler Youth, though involuntarily, will make everyone look at every move and turn of phrase."

Several issues have strained Vatican-Jewish ties in recent months. There is ongoing controversy over wartime Pope Pius XII's role in the Holocaust, and Jewish groups erupted in January when Benedict lifted a 20-year-old excommunication order against a traditional bishop who turned out to be a Holocaust denier.

In Rome, Lisa Palmieri-Billig, the American Jewish Committee's liaison with the Vatican, told JTA that both sides were striving to minimize lingering problems ahead of the papal trip.

"All the problems that might have loomed on the horizon before the pontiff announced his trip are being muted within the perspective of the importance of the visit for bilateral relations," she said. "Both the Israelis and world Jewry are aware of this and want to nourish good relations."

On April 12, Benedict, 82, said he would "emphatically" bring a message of "justice and truth, mercy, forgiveness and love" on his trip.

"Reconciliation -- difficult but indispensable -- is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence, and it can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said.

The pope's itinerary mixes prayer, politics and pastoral teaching to local Christians with an attempt to improve interfaith relations with both Muslims and Jews.

It includes stops in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. There will be open-air Masses and meetings with Muslim and Jewish religious leaders.

The pope will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the al-Aida Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem. He will hold meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Official Vatican policy is to maintain an equilibrium of sorts in its relations with Israel and the Arab world.

"Its diplomacy is different from that of other states because it is always aware of the Christian populations," Palmieri-Billig said.

In Jerusalem, Oded Ben-Hur, a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, said the pope would be welcomed as a friend of Israel.

The visit, he told reporters, is proof that "relations between Israel and the Holy See are strong and solid." Ben-Hur said Benedict "has never missed an opportunity to reiterate his commitment to dialogue and to relations with Israel."

The two states formalized full diplomatic relations in 1994. But years of fitful negotiations have failed to resolve several lingering issues, including fiscal status and tax issues regarding Church property in Israel and visa restrictions on Arab Christian priests.

Meanwhile, Arab and Muslim sentiment ahead of the visit appears to be mixed. One possible problem could be the pope's last day in the region, May 15, which coincides with the day Palestinians commemorate as the Nakba -- the "catastrophe" of Israel's birth in May 1948.

"The pope's Palestinian hosts will certainly 'instrumentalize' this," Avineri said.

Already the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, said Benedict's visit to the al-Aida refugee camp would symbolize the Palestinians' "right of return" to the holy land, according to a report on Israel's Ynet news.

Israeli media reports also said that officials were concerned that security and other infrastructure for the visit were not yet in place in the West Bank.

Pamphlets in some Arab towns have called for protests against the pope because of remarks he made in 2006 that were construed as insulting Islam. At the time, the remarks sparked protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as elsewhere in the Arab world.

In Nazareth near the Church of the Annunciation, which the pope is to visit, radical Muslims have hung a banner apparently aimed at Benedict that quotes a passage from the Koran: "Those who harm God and His Messenger -- God has cursed them in this world and in the hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating punishment."

"Everyone is crossing their fingers" that things go well, Avineri said.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


By Boris Shusteff

One of the most misused, misapplied, and misunderstood definitions in the dictionary of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the term "occupied territories." The vast majority of people simply do not know the facts or misinterpret them, thus completely distorting the real picture of the land distribution between the Arabs and the Jews. The truth of the matter is that, according to international law, the Jews have the complete and unquestionable right to settle the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (collectively known as Yesha). Not a single enforceable international document exists that forbids them from settling the lands of Yesha.

On the contrary, the only existing enforceable document actually encourages Jewish settlement. This document was created on April 24, 1920 at the San Remo Conference when the Principal Allied Powers agreed o assign the Mandate for the territory of Palestine to Great Britain. By doing so the League of Nations "recognized the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" and established "grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country." Article 6 of the Mandate "encouraged close settlement by Jews on the land," including the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha).

There is nothing whatsoever in the Mandate that separates Yesha from the rest of the mandated territory. That means that the right of the Jews to settle the land spreads to the whole of Palestine. As a side note it is worth mentioning that the 76% of the territory of Mandated Palestine known today as Jordan, were not permanently exempt from settlement by the Jews either. Article 25 only allowed to "postpone or withhold application of [this] provision."

With the disbanding of the League of Nations, the rights of the Jews to settle the territories of Palestine, including Yesha, were not hurt. When in 1946 the United Nations was created in place of the League of Nations, its Charter included Article 80 specifically to allow the continuation of existing Mandates (including the British Mandate). Article 80 stated that "nothing ... shall be construed in or of itself to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which Members of the United Nations may respectively be parties."

Then in November 1947 came time for Resolution 181, which recommended the Partition of Palestine. Like all UN Resolutions pertaining to the Jewish-Arab conflict it was not enforceable. It was simply a recommendation, and the Arab countries rejected it. As the Syrian representative in the General Assembly stated:

"In the first place the recommendations of the General Assembly are not imperative on those to whom they are addressed. The General Assembly only gives advice and the parties to whom advice is addressed accept it when it is rightful and just and when it does not impair their fundamental rights" (1).

If the resolution had been implemented maybe it would be possible to argue that it replaced the San Remo Conference resolution, which had legitimized the rights of the Jews to settle in any place in Palestine. However, it was not only rejected by the Arabs, but in violation of the UN Charter they launched a military aggression against the newly reborn Jewish state thus invalidating the resolution. By the time of the cease-fire at the end of the War of Independence there was still no other enforceable document pertaining to the rights of the Jews to settle Eretz Yisrael - they remained intact.

Now we approach the most misunderstood aspect of the scope and application of international documents. In order to resolve the puzzle of the "occupied" territories, one must clearly distinguish between the different types of resolutions passed by the United Nations. Misconceptions about the issue led to the question of a double standard that was constantly raised by the Arabs after the Persian Gulf War. The Arabs were unable to understand why from Iraq the UN demanded compliance with the decisions of the international body, while Israel was not forced to comply with UN resolutions.

On April 3, 1998 Swedish Foreign Minister Lena Hjelm-Wallen, well known for championing the Arabs' position, in an interview with the London al-Quds al-'Arabi, gave an explanation of this "paradox." She was asked, "What about the double standards that the United States and Europe adopt when it comes to Arab issues?" She answered:

"I understand this view, which is common in many Arab countries. Nevertheless, the UN resolutions passed on Iraq are different, because they are binding for all nations according to Article 7 of the UN Charter. Meanwhile, the resolutions passed against Israel are not subject to Article 7 of the Charter."

To better understand the way UN resolutions work, it is worth reading an open letter by Uri Lubrani, coordinator of Israeli activities in Lebanon, addressed to Lebanon's Foreign Minister Faris Buwayz and published on February 27, 1998 in the Paris newspaper al Watan al-'Arabi. Although the letter was written regarding Resolution 425, it talks about all resolutions pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Uri Lubrani wrote the following:

"There are two types of resolutions in the Security Council. The first type are resolutions passed on the basis of Chapter Six of the UN charter that relates to the settlement of disputes through peaceful means. Such resolutions are considered recommendations. They are not binding, and they do not require immediate implementation. The second type of resolutions are based on Chapter Seven of the UN charter... This chapter grants the UN Security Council resolutions an implementative authority and commits the international community to use force if necessary to implement these resolutions... None of the UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to the Arab Israeli conflict, including Resolution 425, were passed on the basis of Chapter Seven. They were passed on the basis of Chapter Six of the UN charter, which is the basis also of UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338."

Since no mandatory UN Resolution exists pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict, we are left with the San Remo Conference decision that governs land ownership in Palestine. That means that not a single enforceable internationally valid document exists that prevents or prohibits the Jews from settling anywhere in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and all the rest of Eretz Yisrael. Or, to put it differently, from the standpoint of international law FOR THE JEWS IT IS NOT AN OCCUPIED LAND.

This conclusion was confirmed not long ago by an unexpected (for Israel) source. It is hard to argue with the fact that James Baker, former US Secretary of State, was not the best friend of the Jewish state. However, he categorically rejected the mislabeling of the lands of Yesha. This happened at the Middle East Insight Symposium in Washington on May 4, 1998. Hoda Tawfik, from the newspaper Al Ahram asked him, "What do you think is right? That these are occupied Arab territories and not disputed territories?" Baker replied, "They're clearly disputed territories. That's what Resolutions 242 and 338 are all about. They are clearly disputed territories."

All of this means that when the Jews build settlements in Yesha, they are not building them on "occupied" territories. If one wants, one may call them "disputed" territories, as Baker did. However, this will still not change the fact that from the standpoint of international law it is the very land where the Jews were encouraged to settle.

And as a final note, it should not be surprising that the San Remo Conference plays such an important role in this particular case. The majority of the other players in the conflict: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, etc. gained sovereignty over their territories based on the decisions of exactly the same conference. The Jews finally deserve to settle freely on their territories as well. It is time to stop labeling them "occupied".05/07/01


1. Abba Eban. Voice of Israel. Horizon Press, New York, 1957.


Boris Shusteff is an engineer. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For Arab-Jewish singing duo, coexistence conquers criticism

Achinoam Nini, left, and Mira Awad thank supporters at a Tel Aviv bar at a send-off party on April 30, 2009 ahead of their performance in the Eurovision Song Contest. (Dina Kraft)

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Achinoam Nini, left, and Mira Awad thank supporters at a Tel Aviv bar at a send-off party on April 30, 2009 ahead of their performance in the Eurovision Song Contest. (Dina Kraft)

TEL AVIV (JTA) -- Singers Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad look out at the crowd cheering them on at a packed Tel Aviv bar and beam delighted, almost surprised smiles as they sing their duet: a call for peace in Hebrew, Arabic and English called "There Must be Another Way."

The Jewish-Arab duo hasn't heard much applause since being named Israel's representatives for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest, which is something of a cross between the Grammys and "American Idol."

Their selection during the recent Gaza war instantly made them -- Awad, especially -- targets of the country's hard-line left and hard-line right. Both said it was wrong for them to represent the country and called on the duo to quit the competition.

Surrounded by supporters April 30 at a party shortly before their departure for Moscow, where the contest will be held later this month, the two sound a triumphant note. They defend their message of coexistence and their own friendship, which they say helped them get through this conflict within a conflict.

"There needs to be a moderate voice to advance things," Nini, a major Israeli star, says after their brief performance. "Unfortunately, we see moderation get less of a stage because it seems boring and gray against the violent elements who photograph well in the media."

"True, maybe we also look good in the newspapers -- even though we don't call for violence and don't even French kiss like Britney Spears and Madonna," she adds, laughing and jangling a large necklace of plastic geometric pieces that resembled a chandelier. "We just sing our message with our hearts and our heads."

Neither is a stranger to politics.

Nini, 39, long has been an outspoken advocate of a two-state solution. Awad, 34, says she sees herself as part of the Palestinian nation while also feeling very much Israeli, as one of Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens.

Awad found herself under attack as soon as the announcement was made in January by the Israel Broadcasting Authority that she and Nini would represent Israel at Eurovision. This year marks the first time an Israeli Arab will represent Israel, and the timing of the announcement -- during the war in Gaza -- prompted fellow Arab citizens and Jewish activists and artists to write her an open letter urging her to change her mind.

"The Israeli government is sending the two of you to Moscow as part of its propaganda machine that is trying to create the appearance of Jewish-Arab 'coexistence' under which it carries out the daily massacre of Palestinian civilians," the letter said.

Some right-wing lawmakers, meanwhile, questioned Awad's loyalty to the state and suitability to represent Israel.

Awad, a singer and actress who grew up in Haifa, speaks of how difficult it was at the time to reconcile the Gaza war and the news that she would be performing at Eurovision.

She says she viewed the criticism from some fellow Arab moderates as of a piece with the Israeli Arab community's complex feelings about their lives in Israel.

"I think sometimes my people here tend toward a militant way of expressing the pain; that's just my personal thoughts on this," she says. "At some point I tried to rise above that kind of guilt and say I need to look above and look at life here. I have a lot of friends who are Jewish Israelis, people who love me and would give their life for me. And therefore it opens your eyes when you realize the human connection is first and foremost, and then come the issues of nationality and religion."

The two make a striking pair as they weave their way through their send-off party, their music blasting through the bar's loudspeakers, laughing and embracing. Of the two, Nini, of Yemenite descent, has the more typically "Arab look" -- dark olive skin and tight black curls. Awad, whose mother is Bulgarian, is lighter, with honey-colored hair and pale skin.

They seem to revel on mixing up stereotypes and grow angry when asked if their performance, and the song they wrote for the competition, is something of a gimmick

Gil Dor, Nini's longtime musical partner, who accompanies her on guitar, also will be performing in the contest. Dor introduced the singers to each other eight years ago, suggesting they find a way to make music together.

Their cover of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" was one of their first collaborations. They have an album of 12 songs, the Eurovision entry among them, coming out soon.

Dor says he ordinarily would be offended at the idea of musicians facing off in competition, but that in this case there is a noble mission involved.

"We are representing the country in an ideal in how it wants to look and how all would like to see its future," he says. "So we are very proud to be representatives in this."

Irit Pearlman, chairwoman of OneVoice, the grass-roots peace group that hosted the farewell party, says the song Nini and Awad will be singing sums up the feelings of the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians, who seek "another way" out of the violence of a conflict that seems to know no end.

"We are optimistic people and we want change," she says. "I have two soldiers at home, two boys. I cannot get up in the morning without feeling I'm doing something to change things here. I want a better life for the next generation and we have to work on it."

Report: Syria and Hamas are changing!

This report has too many anonymous aspects, including the author, to be fully believable, but it should not be ignored.  
Middle East
     May 7, 2009
Hamas feels the heat from Syria
By a Special Correspondent
As relations between Syria and leading Western countries continue to coalesce, Damascus is set to take a major step in casting off its tag as a sponsor of terrorism.
News has emerged that Hamas' political leadership, based in Damascus, is to be asked to cease public statements and, over time, leave Syria. A source in the Syrian capital said this week that Damascus is keen to be seen as complying with demands from Washington and European capitals, while reiterating that Hamas and Fatah must work to unite to strengthen the position of the common Palestinian cause.
"Damascus is beginning to view itself as a genuine power-broker in the region," said the source, who also mentioned the possibility of Khartoum, Sudan, being proposed as a new base for the Hamas leader. "It sees moving out Hamas as a legitimate move in that it can push the Arab-Israeli peace process forward by putting pressure on Hamas to mend ties with Fatah by presenting a united front against Israel ahead of any possible negotiations."
The source, who cannot be named for security reasons, said a serious precedent was to be expected. "Hamas has been asked to tone down its public statements from Damascus [something Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal and others had been doing, particularly during and after Israel's recent military offensive on Gaza] and eventually move out."
"But this is not going to happen within the coming weeks; it could take a year or more."
Hamas' issues
A report in the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper last September stated that Meshaal, chairman of the Hamas political bureau, was to leave Damascus for Khartoum for security reasons. In addition, the Syrian ambassador to the United States reportedly said that once a peace accord was reached between Syria and Israel, the Palestinian factions would have to go. Meshaal sought refuge in Syria after being poisoned in Amman, Jordan, apparently by Israeli Mossad agents in September 1997. Hamas has been under intense pressure to tone down its rhetoric, and now Syria has added its voice.
Furthermore, reports say divisions between Hamas factions based in Damascus and Gaza have taken place and that the "Gaza Hamas faction" failed to persuade its Damascus counterparts to accept the terms of an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire with Israel in January. The Damascus bureau was said to have ordered the continuation of rocket attacks and resistance at the end of the three-week war.
But like Damascus, Hamas seems to softening. In an interview with the New York Times published on May 4, Meshaal said, "I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period."
The article also mentioned how only six rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel from Gaza in the month of April, and Meshaal noted that rockets had stopped firing "for now".
Syria's ambitions
Damascus has come into America's sphere of interest for several reasons. Firstly, the administration of President Barack Obama wants to push forward toward a solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict and, whether its likes it or not, it must engage Syria. Secondly, Washington wants Syria to police its border with Iraq more extensively (the Wall Street Journal recently reported that US officials believed a Tunisian who carried out a suicide attack in Baghdad passed through the Syrian border), and lastly, to relinquish its close ties to Tehran, as Washington attempts to isolate Iran.
In return, Syria wants to develop its stagnant economy by attracting foreign investment and taking advantage of a glut of world-class historical sites in its backyard. With a six-year drought taking its toll, peace with Israel based on the return of the Golan Heights would provide it with an important source of water: peace (and the Golan, naturally) is something the Damascus government wants.
It hopes such attention based on trade relations and improved political ties with Europe and America will help achieve its ongoing domestic goals. With a half dozen international banks having sprung up on the streets of major cities here, in addition to a tempered easing of sanctions since Obama's inauguration in January, early signs show Syria's plan seems to be working.
Trying to serve two masters?
In March, a Rome newspaper quoted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as saying that Syria and the US were 80% in agreement over several issues and that he was "ready to mediate with Iran", but added, "For now, I have only received an invitation to play a role ... We need a plan, rules and specific mechanisms to bring to Tehran."
Progress is steadily moving forward with the announcement that Jeffrey Feltman and Dan Shapiro, two of Obama's top Middle East hands, are expected to visit Damascus for a second time since March in the coming weeks. The Wall Street Journal quoted US State Department officials as saying "the first round of negotiations ... developed common ideas between Damascus and Washington, and now they are hoping to put these strategies into operation."
While Washington's fear of Tehran has been well crafted over the years and will not dissipate anytime soon, since January its tone has changed out of recognition. As a result, Syria's readiness to act as an intermediary between the US and Iran and to draw down on Hamas, a position its unique arrangement lends itself to, could lead to an important step in getting past two issues of major international concern.
Until now, standing with Iran and Hamas has made Syria much sought after. For now it can argue to be working to support the wider Palestinian cause and its own political and economic goals by "repositioning" its relationship with Hamas and ceding to Washington's demands.
Even if the Syrian government is not quite sure where it is going - how much it wants better relations with the West and at what cost to its existing relationships with Hamas and Iran - it seems Assad is finally beginning to show his cards. With the right diplomacy, he can attempt to play both sides, but at some stage it seems likely Syria will have to choose between Hamas and the Western capitals bearing markets, investors and tourists.
For personal security reasons, the writer of this article cannot be named.
(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

War crimes: Will racist war criminal Obama be tried in Spain?

US Afghan strikes 'killed dozens' 
The Red Cross says air strikes by the US forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday are now thought to have killed dozens of civilians including women and children.
The organisation says the civilians were sheltering from fighting in the province of Farah when their houses were struck.
President Hamid Karzai says he has ordered an investigation.
Civilian casualties are sure to be high on Mr Karzai's agenda in his talks with President Barack Obama in Washington.

Ahmadinejad postpones trip to Brazil

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition
Ahmadinejad postpones trip to Brazil
May. 5, 2009
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday canceled his visit to Brazil, without giving an explanation, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA. The visit, which was to include a delegation of over a hundred officials, was meant to focus on expanding trade between the two countries.
Senior Brazilian official Roberto Jaguaribe told reporters that the visit would be rescheduled for after the June 12 presidential elections in Iran, though there was speculation that the trip was canceled due to recent protests in Latin America.
An AFP report quoted officials as saying that Iranian Ambassador to Brazil Mohsen Shaterzadeh had given Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva a letter from Ahmadinejad which requested that he "accept the postponement of the official visit until ... after the presidential election."
On Sunday, thousands of Brazilians Jews and non-Jews demonstrated in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on Sunday against the Iranian president's visit to their country, which was scheduled for Wednesday.
In Sao Paulo, some 1,000 people including secular and Orthodox Jews, as well as Evangelical Christians, homosexuals and Gypsies, gathered in a major square to protest. In Rio, another 1,000 demonstrators walked along Ipanema beach carrying signs and shouting messages against terrorism, homophobia and racism.
Ahmadinejad had planned to visit Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador, according to the Iranian Embassy in Brasilia. The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had declared that da Silva would express his discontent with Ahmadinejad's description of Israel as a "cruel and racist" entity.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Are Pakistani Nukes safe?

Why worry? Taleban forces only got within 60 miles of Islamabad, right?  And the Pakistani armed forces are well balanced - inept and corrupt according to a recent report. Nothing can go wrong. No worries mate.

May 4, 2009
Strife in Pakistan Raises U.S. Doubts Over Nuclear Arms

WASHINGTON — As the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials say they are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.
The officials emphasized that there was no reason to believe that the arsenal, most of which is south of the capital, Islamabad, faced an imminent threat. President Obama said last week that he remained confident that keeping the country's nuclear infrastructure secure was the top priority of Pakistan's armed forces.
But the United States does not know where all of Pakistan's nuclear sites are located, and its concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district 60 miles from the capital. The spread of the insurgency has left American officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that the weapons are safe.
Pakistani officials have continued to deflect American requests for more details about the location and security of the country's nuclear sites, the officials said.
Some of the Pakistani reluctance, they said, stemmed from longstanding concern that the United States might be tempted to seize or destroy Pakistan's arsenal if the insurgency appeared about to engulf areas near Pakistan's nuclear sites. But they said the most senior American and Pakistani officials had not yet engaged on the issue, a process that may begin this week, with President Asif Ali Zardari scheduled to visit Mr. Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
"We are largely relying on assurances, the same assurances we have been hearing for years," said one senior official who was involved in the dialogue with Pakistan during the Bush years, and remains involved today. "The worse things get, the more strongly they hew to the line, 'Don't worry, we've got it under control.' "
In public, the administration has only hinted at those concerns, repeating the formulation that the Bush administration used: that it has faith in the Pakistani Army.
"I'm confident that we can make sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure," Mr. Obama said Wednesday, "primarily, initially, because the Pakistani Army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands." He added: "We've got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation."
But that cooperation, according to officials who would not speak for attribution because of the sensitivity surrounding the exchanges between Washington and Islamabad, has been sharply limited when the subject has turned to the vulnerabilities in the Pakistani nuclear infrastructure. The Obama administration inherited from President Bush a multiyear, $100 million secret American program to help Pakistan build stronger physical protections around some of those facilities, and to train Pakistanis in nuclear security.
But much of that effort has now petered out, and American officials have never been permitted to see how much of the money was spent, the facilities where the weapons are kept or even a tally of how many Pakistan has produced. The facility Pakistan was supposed to build to conduct its own training exercises is running years behind schedule.
Administration officials would not say if the subject would be raised during Mr. Zardari's first meeting with Mr. Obama. But even if Mr. Obama raises the subject, it is not clear how fruitful the conversation might be.
Mr. Zardari heads the country's National Command Authority, the mix of political, military and intelligence leaders responsible for its arsenal of 60 to 100 nuclear weapons. But in reality, his command and control over the weapons are considered tenuous at best; that power lies primarily in the hands of the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former director of Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's intelligence agency.
For years the Pakistanis have waved away the recurring American concerns, with the head of nuclear security for the country, Gen. Khalid Kidwai, dismissing them as "overblown rhetoric."
Americans who are experts on the Pakistani system worry about what they do not know. "For years I was concerned about the weapons materials in Pakistan, the materials in the laboratories," said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who ran the Energy Department's intelligence unit until January, and before that was a senior C.I.A. officer sent to Pakistan to determine whether nuclear technology had been passed to Osama bin Laden.
"I'm still worried about that, but with what we're seeing, I'm growing more concerned about something going missing in transport," said Mr. Mowatt-Larssen, who is now at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Several current officials said that they were worried that insurgents could try to provoke an incident that would prompt Pakistan to move the weapons, and perhaps use an insider with knowledge of the transportation schedule for weapons or materials to tip them off. That concern appeared to be what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was hinting at in testimony 10 days ago before the House Appropriations Committee. Pakistan's weapons, she noted, "are widely dispersed in the country."
"There's not a central location, as you know," she added. "They've adopted a policy of dispersing their nuclear weapons and facilities." She went on to describe a potential situation in which a confrontation with India could prompt a Pakistani response, though she did not go as far as saying that such a response could include moving weapons toward India — which American officials believed happened in 2002. Other experts note that even as Pakistan faces instability, it is producing more plutonium for new weapons, and building more production reactors.
David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security wrote in a recent report documenting the progress of those facilities, "In the current climate, with Pakistan's leadership under duress from daily acts of violence by insurgent Taliban forces and organized political opposition, the security of any nuclear material produced in these reactors is in question." The Pakistanis, not surprisingly, dismiss those fears as American and Indian paranoia, intended to dissuade them from nuclear modernization. But the government's credibility is still colored by the fact that it used equal vehemence to denounce as fabrications the reports that Abdul Qadeer Khan, one of the architects of Pakistan's race for the nuclear bomb, had sold nuclear technology on the black market.
In the end, those reports turned out to be true.

Insurgency Gains in South Yemen

Not good news, is it?
Insurgency Gains in South Yemen
Published: May 4, 2009

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A separatist movement in southern Yemen has gained political momentum and grown more violent recently, with a series of demonstrations and armed confrontations that have left at least eight people dead and dozens injured in the past week.
The unrest prompted an unusual statement of concern from the United States embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sana, affirming American support for a unified Yemen and urging all parties to "engage in dialogue to identify and address legitimate grievances."
The separatist violence is noteworthy because Yemen, a desperately poor country at the southern corner of the Arabian peninsula, is already facing an intermittent insurgency in the north and an increase in attacks by Al Qaeda's regional branch. All this has led some American officials to renew warnings that Yemen — which has long served as a haven for jihadists — could devolve into another Afghanistan.
The global financial crisis has also worsened Yemen's situation, increasing unemployment and limiting the power of the state — which has announced it will cut expenditures in half in 2009 — to retain loyalty through pension payments and development projects.
The most recent round of violence began on April 28, when government troops established an additional checkpoint in the town of Radfan, in Lahj province. Angry local men attacked the checkpoint, killing two soldiers and injuring others. In the days since, demonstrations and violence have broken out in other towns, with three people killed in gun battles on Sunday.
In recent weeks, a number of political figures have begun openly demanding independence for the formerly socialist south, which was autonomous until the two Yemens unified in 1990. A brief civil war in 1994 left many southerners resentful of the north, and in the past three years grievances have steadily grown. These have been fueled mostly by economic disparities and the demands of retired southern soldiers who said they had not been paid their pensions.
Last month the separatists were joined by Tareq al Fadhli, a prominent tribal figure and former ally of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mr. Fadhli's public repudiation was especially noteworthy because he had helped organize jihadists to fight with the government against the socialist southerners during the 1994 civil war.
Mr. Saleh delivered a stark warning during an April 26 meeting in the capital with military and civilian leaders from the south, saying any division of Yemen would result in many states, not just two.
"The people will fight from house to house," Mr. Saleh said. "They should take a lesson from Iraq and Somalia."
Two days later, Mr. Fadhli called for a separate southern state during a large outdoor rally in the southern province of Abyan.
On Sunday, Yemen's foreign minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, met in Sana with a group of ambassadors from Arab states in an apparent effort to secure their help in blocking support to the southern secessionist movement from abroad. A number of southern opposition leaders left Yemen in 1994, and some are said to receive support for their movement in Arab capitals.
Reporting contributed by Khaled Hammadi in Sana, Yemen
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Having cake and eating same: Gates to reassure ME allies on Iran outreach

How could a U.S.- Iran rapprochement NOT come at the expense of other US allies?

Gates to reassure ME allies on Iran outreach

May. 4, 2009
Associated Press , THE JERUSALEM POST

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, seeking to soothe Mideast allies worried about Teheran's reach, said Sunday that efforts to bolster US relations with Iran may still ultimately face what he called "a closed fist."

Gates was flying to Egypt, the first stop on a Mideast tour that continues in Saudi Arabia. He said part of his mission will be to assure Saudis that any US outreach to Iran aims to increase security throughout the region.

Building diplomacy with Iran "will not be at the expense of our long-term relationships with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states that have been our partners and friends for decades," Gates told reporters aboard a military jet headed to Cairo.

"There's probably some concerns in the region that may draw on an exaggerated sense of what's possible," Gates said. "And I just think it's important to reassure our friends and allies in the region that while we're willing to reach out to the Iranians, as the president said, with an open hand, I think everybody in the administration, from the president on down, is pretty realistic and will be pretty tough-minded if we still encounter a closed fist."

Gates will arrive in Cairo on Monday and will be in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Tuesday.

He also noted concerns throughout the Mideast about Iran's influence in Baghdad, and said they could be staved off if more Arab nations opened embassies or otherwise became more involved in Iraq. Gates praised Egypt, for example, for having "taken some serious steps forward to re-engage."

Critics of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accuse him of forging ties with fellow Shi'ites who are allied with Iran. The issue has been a flashpoint for Iraq's Sunnis, who, under Saddam Hussein, fought Iran decades ago.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will be a major topic for Gates and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when the two men meet in Cairo early Tuesday. Gates credited Egypt as working as a go-between between the two sides.

Gates said discussions in Riyadh would include US efforts to have Yemeni detainees now being held at the Navy prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rehabilitated in Saudi facilities. An estimated 100 of the 241 Guantanamo detainees are Yemeni. The US is reluctant to release them to Yemen, where convicted terrorists have escaped from prisons. But the Yemeni government has so far balked at agreeing to send the Yemeni detainees to Saudi Arabia.

"Clearly there will be an interest in pursuing that with them," Gates said.

Gates also welcomed any help Saudi officials could give to Pakistan's fragile government.

"The Saudis in particular have considerable influence in Pakistan," he said. "And so I think that whatever they can do to bring Pakistanis together in a broader sense to deal with the challenge to the government in Islamabad obviously would be welcome."

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Hezbollah is doing regime change in Lebanon

Hezbollah's Struggle to Change the Lebanese Regime

Shimon Shapira and Yair Minzili

The publication of Hizbullah's subversive plan against Egypt and the exposure of a Shiite group headed by a Hizbullah activist that planned to act against Egyptian targets diverted attention from the challenge that Hizbullah has made against the very foundations of Lebanese authority.

  • On April 3, 2009, Hizbullah published its political platform in advance of elections to the Lebanese parliament scheduled for June 7, 2009. The document calls for the abolition of sectarian politics and for the enactment of a new election law that would alter the equation of sectarian forces in Lebanon.
  • In this manner, Hizbullah seeks to destroy the foundations of the sectarian regime in Lebanon agreed upon in the National Pact of 1943 that has been preserved by the Lebanese state ever since. The abolition of the existing political system will advance Hizbullah toward its fundamental goal: the establishment of an Islamic state and a complete Iranian takeover of Lebanon.
  • The scholarly analyses that define Hizbullah as a Lebanese national movement are baseless. What Lebanese national interests are served by subversive activity in Egypt? What Lebanese interests seek the transfer of Iranian arms from Sudan and Sinai to Gaza? What national Lebanese ideology seeks to subvert the delicate sectarian structure upon which the modern Lebanese state is predicated?

A Pattern of Hizbullah Subversion

The publication of Hizbullah's subversive plan against Egypt and the exposure of a Shiite group headed by a Hizbullah activist, that planned to act against Egyptian targets under the cover of "logistical assistance" to the Palestinians, diverted attention from the challenge that Hizbullah has made against the very foundations of Lebanese authority.

One can safely assume that Hizbullah activity in Egypt was performed with the full knowledge of Iran. The weapons shipment that departed Iran for Gaza was dispatched with Tehran's blessing. Iran was undoubtedly aware that the Egyptian security authorities could uncover Hizbullah's subversive activity, but believed that the Egyptians would prefer to turn a blind eye and allow the passage of the weapons inventory to Gaza. Even if this was not the case, the Iranians posited military assistance to Hamas as a supreme interest of the Islamic Revolution and were prepared to pay the price of a deterioration in relations between the countries. The attacks by Hassan Nasrallah against Egypt, including a summons to the Egyptian army to overthrow the Mubarak regime during Israel's Gaza operation, would not have been made had Nasrallah not understood that in this fashion he was serving the wishes of his masters in Tehran.

Ever since the disclosures, the mass media in the Arab world and in the West has been preoccupied with the dispute that has erupted between Hizbullah and Egypt, and have almost totally ignored the struggle that Hizbullah has initiated to change the face of the Lebanese regime.

While Britain adopted the questionable decision to open a dialogue with the "political wing" of Hizbullah and in practice recognized Hizbullah as a legitimate movement, it would appear that the artificial distinction drawn by the UK between the political and the military wings of Hizbullah has totally collapsed with the discovery of Hizbullah's subversion in Egypt, which merely compounds what was previously discovered in Morocco. In that Sunni Arab kingdom, the king severed ties with Iran in March 2009, accusing it of supporting Shiite Islamic missionary activity.

Hizbullah's Election Platform: Setting the Stage for an Iranian Takeover of Lebanon

On April 3, 2009, Hizbullah published its political platform in advance of elections to the Lebanese parliament scheduled for June 7, 2009. The document calls for the abolition of sectarian politics and for the enactment of a new election law that would alter the equation of sectarian forces in Lebanon. (The English text of the 2009 Hizbullah platform appears at the end of this essay.)

The 2009 election platform joins a series of basic documents of the Hizbullah movement: These include the Open Letter (Risala Maftuha) from 1985, the first Hizbullah election platform for parliament from 1992, the Hizbullah political document ratified at the movement's Third Congress in 1993, Hizbullah's election platform for the 2000 parliamentary elections, and its platform for the municipal elections of 2004.

These two components - the unequivocal call to abolish sectarian politics and the enactment of a new election law - were placed at the very beginning of the platform in order to emphasize Hizbullah's priorities. In the electoral platform of 2000, Hizbullah had called for establishing a national body for the abolishment of political sectarianism, but only in the fourth section of the platform. It is assumed that in this manner Hizbullah seeks to advance its aspiration to destroy the foundations of the sectarian regime in Lebanon agreed upon in the National Pact of 1943 that has been preserved by the Lebanese state ever since, amidst repeated crises. The abolition of the existing political system will advance Hizbullah toward its fundamental goal: the establishment of an Islamic state that provides political expression to the Shiite majority and a complete Iranian takeover of Lebanon.

What is missing in the new Hizbullah platform? There is no reference to its militia and weapons, as well as to the call from inside Lebanon to dismantle Hizbullah's military capability and to integrate it into the Lebanese Armed Forces. Hizbullah ignores this aspect and insists on keeping its independent military wing as a "resistance" force against Israel.

However, it is clear that the preservation of Hizbullah's military strength is intended primarily to allow the movement to translate its military power and demographic weight into a fundamental change of the Lebanese political system. In addition to this purpose, and no less important, Hizbullah's military power serves as the cutting edge of Iran on Israel's northern border, enabling the Islamic Republic to employ the military power that it erected in Lebanon to serve its strategic interests.

In recent years, and in the course of the severe political crises that have struck Lebanon since the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in March 2005, Hizbullah has not concealed its intentions to realize the mission entrusted to it by the Iranian Revolutionary regime. The movement is to seize power in Lebanon and thus create another stable and trustworthy link in the Shiite axis of evil under Iranian leadership. In the Lebanese political realm, Hizbullah has labored to reinforce "the (Shiite) Opposition Camp" by aligning with powerful factions beyond the Shiite community against the Sunni-Shiite coalition headed by Saad al-Hariri. In practice, Hizbullah scored a major success by attracting to its side the Christian Free Patriotic Movement headed by Gen. Michel Aoun, and has strengthened its alliance with extremist Salafist Sunni groups. In a show of force, Hizbullah undertook an unprecedented brutal action when it effectively took over Beirut on May 7, 2008, in response to a government attempt to bring about the dismantling of Hizbullah's independent communications infrastructure within Lebanon.

Hizbullah's call for ending political sectarianism, coupled with the enactment of a new election law, came after this demonstration of power and self-confidence, and constitutes the apogee of its indefatigable efforts to attain power in Lebanon. The formulation of an electoral program in a manner that awards Hizbullah the deceptive image of an authentic Lebanese party operating on the basis of Lebanese interests was calculated to attract maximal representation and perhaps even a majority in parliament. However, its political rivals at home will seek to exploit Hizbullah's recent entanglements in subversion against Egypt in order to expose Hizbullah as a disruptive force operating in the service of Iran and Syria.

Once again, it has been demonstrated that all the scholarly analyses that define Hizbullah as a Lebanese national movement are baseless. What Lebanese national interests are served by subversive activity in Egypt? What Lebanese interests seek the transfer of Iranian arms from Sudan and Sinai to Gaza? What national Lebanese ideology seeks to subvert the delicate sectarian structure upon which the modern Lebanese state is predicated? The responses to these questions may be found in the framework of relations between Revolutionary Iran and its protégé in Lebanon, and between Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his loyal and obedient representative Hassan Nasrallah. The essence of the tie between them is not simply religious, but has far-reaching political implications influencing the range of Hizbullah behavior in the Lebanese arena and beyond, and symbolizes the growing influence of Iran in the Arab world.

The Hizbullah Platform for the June 2009 Parliamentary Elections


Mohammed Ra'ad, the head of Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc, presented Hizbullah's election platform on April 3, 2009:

With the approach of the parliamentary elections on June 7, we are seeking to reformulate the political process and deal with the collapse of authority that has resulted in crises that have adversely influenced national life and have plunged this country into a cycle of instability.

UN Resolution 1559 of 2004 [which calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all militias in Lebanon] constituted in some respects a portal for an internal civil war and opened the gates to regional and international intervention that occasioned bitter divisions. These divisions were exploited by international forces headed by the United States in order to transfer the Lebanese arena to their tutelage.

When Hizbullah joined the national dialogue, we expected that this would serve as an opportunity to reformulate a national consensus, and step away from the division into camps, for we believe that we cannot safeguard the homeland and its unity unless a spirit of mutual understanding and dialogue triumphs. We were always those who sought Islamic unity and national unity. Subsequently, mutual understanding was achieved between Hizbullah and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement [led by Gen. Michel Aoun] as a pioneering step on this track.

The Zionist war of aggression in July 2006 touched off an unprecedented international attack upon Lebanon. It strove to liquidate the Lebanese desire to maintain the resistance and subordinate Lebanon. However, the major achievements and acts of bravery of the holy warriors (mujaheddin) of the Islamic resistance turned the criminal aggression supported by international and regional forces into a disgraceful debacle which found expression in the downfall of the political and military team of the Zionist entity, and the evaporation of illusions of an American takeover of the region. Lebanon's victory in this war was recognized throughout the entire world.

The resistance is determined to complete the liberation of the remaining occupied lands, and particularly the Shebaa Farms and the hills of Kfar Shuba. We believe that any strategy of defense must integrate the current capabilities of the resistance and the capabilities of the Lebanese army, enabling it to stand up to Israeli aspirations regarding our lands and our water sources.

We affirm our enmity to Israel, our support and assistance to our Palestinian brothers to liberate their land and the holy places, and our assiduous efforts to establish excellent ties of fraternity with the Syrian Arab Republic.

In the Field of Political Reform1

A. Cancelling Political Sectarianism

Forming the National Committee for Cancelling Political Sectarianism in accordance with the Lebanese national consensus document, so that it will start its work and take the practical measures to implement the recommendations that it will reach.

B. Electoral Law

The sound way to effect reform lies in enacting a modern electoral law based on proportionality. At the same time, the constitutional amendment concerning lowering the voting age to 18 years must be finalized, in addition to finalizing another amendment related to the separation of the parliamentary membership from the cabinet membership.

C. Equitable Development

The principle of equitable development constitutes one of the pillars of political reform. For this purpose it was enunciated in the contractual preamble of the constitution. In order to realize this, we demand the restoration of the Planning Ministry, drawing up five-or 10-year plans that monitor the needs of all areas in various sectors.

D. Administrative Decentralization

In its preamble, the constitution stipulates a revision of the administrative divisions, taking into consideration national unity and the preservation of coexistence. The administrative decentralization means granting expanded administrative powers to smaller units - municipalities, districts, and governorates. The aim is to strengthen development opportunities and facilitate the quick handling of paperwork and administrative duties.

E. The Judiciary

Since the Lebanese constitution has stipulated that the judiciary is an independent authority, side by side with the legislative and executive branches of power, and since the fair and impartial judiciary is a guarantee for the establishment of the state of law and preserving the rights of both the individual and the society - and hence there can be no political reform without it - we are of the opinion that work is necessary to enact and implement laws that help organize the judiciary under a higher independent judicial committee.

Administrative Reform

Administrative reform constitutes a major challenge in all societies. Trim and efficient administration is the characteristic of modern states where administrative reform aims to reduce the burdens on the citizens, mobilize resources and capabilities, and carry out duties with speed and efficiency. In this regard, work should proceed in accordance with the following principles:

A. Drawing up a comprehensive blueprint for the administration and its needs, making an inventory of the shortages and vacant positions and filling them.

B. Stressing scientific qualifications and practical skills.

C. Introducing modernization, automation, and information networking, and fighting bureaucracy.

D. Activating monitoring and accountability and strengthening and bolstering monitoring establishments - Civil Service Commission, Central Inspection, and the Public Disciplinary Council, in addition to the Auditing Commission.

E. Developing laws and regulations in the field of administration and the budget, ensuring speed in the performance of work, stopping waste, and ending bribery.

F. Adopting a scientific and methodological plan in the appointment of employees, especially the senior officials (grades one and two) within efforts to enhance efficiency and good performance in the official administration.

G. Enhancing efforts to implement the creation of the two governorates of Baalbek-Hermel and Akkar, and completing the issuance of the applicable decisions in this regard.

Economic and Financial Reform

Since independence, Lebanon has been suffering from the absence of carefully studied economic and developmental visions that are based on the available resources, national requirements, and regional harmony. For these reasons the process of improving and developing economic performance has been proceeding in a haphazard manner. This led to the deterioration of some productive sectors, the termination of others, and the growth of others in an illogical manner. The Lebanese economy has been steered to promote services and realize profit. This resulted in harming economies that were considered productive and providing employment for skilled people, such as agriculture and industry.

In order to begin a genuine economic reform, we must first draw up a natural role of the state and move from an indifferent state with limited social and economic contributions to a state that is responsible for realizing growth and justice. Therefore, it is necessary to work along the following tracks:

  1. The development track, through an equitable development of the various sectors and areas, a partnership in development between the public and private sectors, and fair distribution of profits.
  2. The economic track, by realizing a sustainable and firm growth in domestic production, raising production competitiveness in the economic sectors, and merging with the regional surroundings (the Arab and Islamic markets).
  3. The social track, by lowering the unemployment level, fighting poverty, and developing the means of redistribution of income and providing basic services.
  4. The financial track, by ending the vicious circle of public debt, reducing the servicing of debts, reducing the budget deficit, fighting dissipation, and carrying out fair taxation reforms.
  5. In this connection, emphasis must be laid on the need to develop and sustain the policy of activating the productive sectors such as agriculture, industry, and tourism by ensuring loans on easy terms, providing taxation incentives, encouraging small businesses to merge, strengthening cooperative work, providing guidance, extending support through needed equipment, increasing irrigated areas, studying the needs of the domestic and external markets by aiming at agricultural industrialization, developing the animal production sector, and backing various types of exports.

The ultimate aim is to fight poverty and social marginalization, and this requires joint efforts by the public and private sectors in concentrating on economic activities that provide job opportunities and which are directed at the countryside and remote areas.

Education and Learning Sector

The Lebanese University is the most important higher education institution in Lebanon in terms of its size, its specialties, and the number of its students, especially those who come from limited income families. It is supposed to contribute to building the future of the homeland's generations. This requires backing and developing by implementing the law that pertains to it, which protects its financial and administrative independence, ensures its development, and strengthens its scientific research resources. Unresolved issues must be resolved such as the problem of full time teachers and their protection, supporting the Contracting Fund, and reviving the Lebanese University's Students National Union.

As for the public education sector, duty calls for drawing up a comprehensive educational plan, stressing a higher level of educational qualifications, providing the necessary needs for schools, ensuring heating fuel during winter, backing the School Fund Program, revising the map of the distribution of schools in conformity with the requirements of equitable development, in addition to developing educational institutions, stressing the powers of educational inspection, implementing the system of compulsory and free education, enhancing academic, vocational, and technical education, and treating the chronic needs of the teachers and instructors in various stages in a responsible and positive way.

Civil Society Organizations

Within the framework of enhancing the national sense of responsibility, efforts must be exerted to develop party and trade union activities and open the way for civic society organizations to be active and to become a vital supporter and an effective monitor of the performance of the ruling authority's departments. This will lead to enhancing the awareness of society to the need to shoulder its duties in managing public life. In this regard, we emphasize the following:

1. The media

Freedom of expression must be preserved and protected, as stipulated in the preamble of the constitution, considering it an unchanging right that cannot be infringed upon within the framework of the law. Thus, emphasis will be laid on freedom of the media and the revision of certain laws, especially the Publications Law, thus lifting the threats against the media.

2. Women

Efforts should be exerted to strengthen the role of women and develop their participation in the political, cultural, educational, media and social fields, and to exploit this role in establishing a balance in society in terms of psychology and values.

3. Youth

Taking care of the rising generations and the young, developing their resources and talents, guiding them towards sublime national and humanitarian objectives, and protecting them from corrupt thought and the tools and means of deviation and immorality.

4. Fighting the deviations and the harmful ailments in our society, whether through the media or by other means, emphasizing educational and media guidance, warning against the spread of corruption and dissolute values, and augment the monitoring of scenes and pictures that infringe on public morality and harm the humanitarian image of women.

5. Protecting the privacy of citizens by preventing indiscriminate wiretapping of their telephone conversations, and respecting the laws that pertain to these issues and bringing the violators of these laws, whoever they may be, to account for what they do.

Improving and Developing Social Services

In light of our conviction that the state cannot shirk its caring role nor behave in an indifferent manner or be apathetic towards the needs of the citizens, it is the duty of the state to improve services in the fields of health, education, housing, and social care. Of these duties, we mention the following:

A. Activating the public health sector, generalizing the principle of healthcare and preventive medicine, putting an end to monopolization in the drug market, and unifying the hospitalization funds.

B. Backing efforts to develop and reform the National Fund for Social Security and expanding the circle of its beneficiaries.

C. Drawing up a housing strategy that takes into consideration the comprehensive development of all areas, in addition to enhancing the state's support for housing loans.

D. Continuing the process of land planning and specification, enhancing the work pertaining to the annexation and demarcation of land, and treating property problems and issues pertaining to joint possession of property, and dealing with violations of the law by owners of buildings.

Energy and the Protection of Resources

Squandering water and natural resources is one of the chronic problems in Lebanon. Despite huge precipitation and multiple sources of water, the hardship continues to be great, especially during the dry season. Therefore, work should be done on the following:

A. Protecting water resources, especially the ones that are being threatened by the Israeli enemy.

B. Completing Canal 800 of the Litani River project.

C. Exerting serious efforts to complete the dams and lakes projects in accordance with a specific timeframe.

D. Expanding and rehabilitating the irrigation networks, especially in agricultural areas.

E. Completing the establishment and the rehabilitation of the domestic water networks.

As for the electricity sector, what is required is work to complete the electric power lines, modernize the production plants, treat the technical waste, fight transgressions on energy sources, and expand to create new and environment-friendly means of production.

As for the communications sector, we are required to preserve this national resource by developing this sector and improving its services, offering the consumers further services and observing the rule of providing the best service at the least cost.

Environmental Protection

The environment in Lebanon has been exposed to a large-scale process of destruction and violations, such as forest fires, indiscriminate felling of trees, lawlessness in opening quarries and gravel facilities, polluting the rivers with sewage water, and indiscriminate burial of sold waste. All of this makes us sound the alarm and declare a state of national emergency to do the following:

A. Adopting a guiding scientific environmental plan on sites for quarries and gravel production.

B. Enhancing the completion of building sewage systems in all areas.

C. Drawing up a modern study for the best means of getting rid of solid waste and transforming it into energy instead of burying it under the ground.

D. Providing effective means of firefighting, imposing strict measures to prevent tampering with the environment, and combating transgressions on the seacoast and rivers.

E. Launching a national campaign to enhance the green picture of Lebanon by cooperation with all organizations, both local and foreign, that care for the environment

*     *     *


1. This translation of the Hizbullah platform appeared on the "Now Lebanon" website, based on the speech by Mohammad Raad broadcast on Hizbullah-affiliated Al-Manar TV on April 6, 2009,

*     *     *

Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is the author of Hizballah: Between Iran and Lebanon, 4th ed. (Tel Aviv: Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, 2006). He is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Yair Minzili is a senior researcher in the fields of economics, political policy, and Islam in the Middle East.

Functional balance: Pakistan's army: as inept as it is corrupt

Pakistan's army: as inept as it is corrupt

The answer to why Pakistan's mighty army seems impotent against Taliban insurgents is that it is more mafia than military
       Mustafa Qadri, Sunday 3 May 2009 17.00 BST
No institution dominates Pakistan like its army. The armed forces account for 20% of Pakistan's national budget, totalling $5bn last year according to official statistics. But the actual figure, already staggering for a country with high levels of illiteracy and malnutrition, is likely to be much higher. The army has been practically unaccountable since the very foundation of the country – last year's figures were the first it has publicly released since 1965.
Those aren't the only imposing figures. It has some 650,000 active soldiers and another half million in reserve, and internal discipline – strict loyalty to the high command among the rank and file – is very high.
Every one of Pakistan's democratically-elected civilian leaders has been forced to abdicate by the army. A general has directly ruled the country for 34 of its 62 years of existence.
With this vice-like grip on power, many are wondering how a rural insurgency armed with basic weapons has managed to overrun so much of the country. The answers have much to do with the Pakistan army itself.
Part of the problem is that the army is equipped for a conventional war against its historical adversary to the east, India, and not the type of insurgency being waged by the Taliban on the frontier to the west. Its operations in the tribal areas have been imprecise, leading to the destruction of many thousands of civilian lives and livelihood. Up to a million are believed to have been displaced by the conflict.
"Collateral damage always strengthens the Taliban, it helps them get more public support," says Abdul Hakim (not his real name), a journalist from Dir, a tribal agency, next to the Swat valley, in which the Taliban are slowly moving.
But there have been only limited, poorly-coordinated attempts to re-engage with communities devastated by armed operations against the Taliban. As a result the Army and government authorities have sheepishly ended up signing peace deals with the Taliban over the past four years. They have all consistently broken down, the Taliban using the lull in hostilities to regroup and rearm.
The most recent peace deal, over the Swat valley, is on the verge of collapse owing to continued Taliban operations in neighbouring areas.
There are lingering doubts about the Army's resolve to combat the Taliban too, as has been suggested when it initially sent up a lightly armed squad of paramilitaries to fight the Taliban in the Buner valley, just below Swat, even though the region is close to the nation's capital.
Another factor is the fact that many of the army's soldiers involved in operations are Pashtun like the Taliban. This has left the high command nervous about tackling the insurgents head-on for fear of causing rifts within the ranks. Although far from a mutiny, many soldiers have refused to fight their fellow tribesman or have surrendered and deserted.
But that has not prevented the army from engaging in operations that have been highly destabilising for tribal Pashtun communities in the affected areas. People fleeing the conflict in Swat and Bajaur, a tribal agency to the west on the border with Afghanistna, told me they felt that the army was, in fact, targeting them and not the Taliban. Some argued this was because the army feared Taliban reprisals. Others insisted they were being targeted because of their support for the Pashtun nationalist Awami National party, which runs the North West Frontier province government.
The truth of rumours such as these, common in Pakistan, are difficult to quantify. But one need not look to rumours to understand why the Pakistan army has failed to defeat the Taliban.
The army has a long history of strategic incompetence stretching back to the very first war the country fought with India in 1948. On that occasion, tribal militants from the regions now in open insurrection against Pakistan flooded into Indian-controlled Kashmir. After overwhelming Indian soldiers there, they promptly went on a binge of rape and looting while the army looked on.
Again at war with India, in 1965, the better-equipped Pakistan army lost more ground, and tanks, than its adversary. But perhaps the army's darkest moment was the 1971 war that lead to the creation of Bangladesh. That conflict saw Pakistan troops involved in widespread acts of extermination against the indigenous Bengali population of what was, at the time, known as East Pakistan.
The Hamoodur Rahman Commission held in Pakistan following that war found large swathes of the high command to be deeply negligent – the commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan, the report revealed, was involved in sexual misconduct even as his troops were killing, and being killed, on the battlefield.
In 1999, an ambitious Pakistani general by the name of Pervez Musharraf devised the tactically brilliant, but strategically near-suicidal, plan to invade Kargil, an Indian mountain post in Kashmir. That gamble nearly led to nuclear war, and almost certainly led to a military coup later that year.
How does one explain these failures? There can be no one explanation. But if there is an overriding message from these debacles, it is that the army is ill-equipped to defend the state because it has captured much of the bedrock of the state to which it is totally unaccountable.
According to Ayesha Siddiqua, in her seminal study, "Military Inc", the army's private business assets are worth around £10bn and it owns a handsome share of the country's business and land. The generals, as a result, appear to be more interested in leveraging control over businesses, properties and politics.
Yet, the army's power is such that although Pakistan's private media have a commendable record of criticising the country's civilian politicians, criticism of the men in uniform is rare – save during periods of crisis under direct military rule, like the dismissal of the chief justice in 2007.
It would be unfair, however, to criticise the army without acknowledging the pivotal role played by its greatest patrons – the United States, and, to a lesser extent, China. Since the 1950s, both countries have lavished military and political support on the Pakistan army.
"Nobody has occupied the White House who is friendlier to Pakistan than me," is what US President Richard Nixon told Pakistan's then military dictator, Yahya Khan, at a 1970 dinner in Washington, on the eve of the murderous war in East Pakistan. More recently, former President George Bush's praise for Pervez Musharraf has become the stuff of folklore.
The army has been rewarded by its foreign patrons despite its incompetence and unaccountability. In the process, civilian political life has been grotesquely stunted, leading the democratic process to be replaced by a crude kleptocracy where non-military leaders represent personal dynasties and not the people.
Is it any wonder, then, that the army struggles to find a concerted strategy for defeating the Taliban?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Freedom of the press in Syria

This speaks for itself. And yet, nobody seems to worry about human rights in Syria - only in Israel!  

'I'm leaving, and I'm not coming back'

May. 3, 2009

The lack of press freedom in Syria has defined the life of Mohamad Ali al-Abdallah. He has been detained, his brother is serving a five-year sentence in a secret location and his father is finishing a one-year prison term. He recently fled Syria and received refugee status in the United States. Abdallah is an outspoken advocate for human rights through his widely followed blog, "I'm leaving, and I'm not coming back." Abdallah is now exploiting the blogosphere to fight for change from across the world. He talks to the World Association of Newspapers.

How does your work contribute to the establishment or defense of press freedom in Syria?

Freedom of expression is perhaps the most fundamental right, because without freedom of expression we can't demand any other right. However, it goes hand in hand with press freedom, since the press is the most organized and institutionalized voice of the people. Defending journalists and the press is then tantamount to defending our own voice, our own ideas and, most importantly, their expression in the public forum. From attending court hearings to supporting the family of imprisoned journalists, everyone can contribute in their own way, on their own scale.

Of course, my activities as a press freedom supporter were putting me at risk of government retaliation. It eventually hit home when my father was sent to jail after being tried three times in three years, but that has only increased my involvement because I can truly relate to the pain and the fear.

Have blogs and new media in your country been able to bypass government censorship to expose human rights abuses, corruption or taboos? If so, how?

In Syria, blogs, and basically anything on the Internet, are under strict scrutiny by the government, and they will not hesitate to use censorship whenever they can. My brother is in jail for expressing his views on-line and, two months ago, my blog was censored by the government. I guess we are able to bypass the government thanks to our numbers: Anyone can blog and a lot of people have access to the Internet, so censoring everything is impossible. In the face of censorship, quantity is more important than quality.

Are bloggers the new actors in the public sphere, and how are they challenging traditional media practices?

I think bloggers are not here to challenge traditional media but rather to complement viewpoints, offer different sides to a story and, to an extent, act as a check on traditional media's historic monopoly over information and fact. For me, the biggest difference between bloggers and journalists is that there are no rules or censorship in blogging. You don't have to worry about the word count of your article and editors hanging over your shoulder telling you what's good and bad. Most importantly, you publish exactly what you want. No one picks your words except yourself. Anyone on the street can now break the story; it's no longer solely in the hands of a media elite.

You also have the ease, on-line, to create different identities to protect yourself and your work. Journalists still use pen names, but it is hard to have 20 different ones; the sky is the limit on-line. Another important point that has definitely contributed to the legitimacy of bloggers is the fact that we are getting arrested, like traditional journalists, and although it is shameful, it means that we are doing something right. Finally, I think an obvious difference or rather evolution is technology and more specifically access. It takes very little, even in developing nations, to get information out to the world, we can post pictures instantly from the streets with our cellphones, and we can text our article while we are being shot at.

Presented by the World Association of Newspapers in honor of World Press Freedom Day, May 3.


Israel Accepts Two-State Route to Peace Agreement, Ayalon Says



By Gwen Ackerman and Jonathan Ferziger

May 3 (Bloomberg) -- Israel agrees that a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians will entail a two-state solution, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said.

"The government of Israel, because of our democratic tradition and because of the continuity principle, is going to abide by all previous commitments the former government took, including the acceptance of the road map to peace which will lead to a two-state solution," Ayalon said, referring to the internationally backed 2002 peace plan.

Ayalon spoke in his office in Jerusalem ahead of a series of meetings Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government will hold abroad with foreign leaders. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman heads to Europe tomorrow and President Shimon Peres is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama on May 5. Netanyahu will visit Washington later this month.

The prime minister has so far stopped short of endorsing Palestinian statehood. Netanyahu, who was skeptical of peace talks held with the Palestinians by his predecessor Ehud Olmert, has said he will focus on improving the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.

Lieberman's four-day trip to Europe will take him to Italy, France, the Czech Republic and Germany.

In March, European Union foreign ministers said that the bloc's ties with Israel might suffer if Netanyahu's government ditches the two-state principle for ending the conflict.

"If Israel is interested in Italy's support in Europe, it must prove its friendship and demonstrate appropriate policies," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview with the daily Yedioth Ahronoth today.

Stronger Sanctions

"We do want to see peace and do understand that long-term peace and stability will entail a two-state solution," the 54- year-old Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said.

Iran is "trying to derail" any progress toward peace, Ayalon said, by supporting the Gaza Strip-based Islamic militant Hamas movement and the Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.

He called for stronger international sanctions against Iran to pressure it to halt its nuclear program, which Israel believes is aimed at building a nuclear weapon. Tehran says its nuclear program is meant to produce electricity.

Iran has defied three sets of United Nations sanctions against its nuclear-enrichment activities, denying Western suspicions that it is seeking a weapons capability. European Union governments are set to back President Barack Obama's bid to engage Iran in dialogue, a draft EU statement said on April 27.

The talks "shouldn't be open-ended," Ayalon said. "The time should be measured by months and not years."

Ayalon, who is a member of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, believes the Moldovan-born foreign minister could play an important role in getting Russia to impose restrictions on Iran as well.

"Without Russia we can't have a full and hermetic structure to stop the Iranians," he said. "I believe that if Russia is on board, China will not stay behind."

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at; Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at

Last Updated: May 3, 2009 09:59 EDT