Friday, July 18, 2008

WRAP: bulldozer attack; New World Disorder; Fatah-Hamas reconciliation: Prisoner Exchange; The New Lebanon

The new Lebanon

Jul. 18, 2008

Putting decades of vicious sectarian, political and personality differences aside, Lebanon's body politic came together Wednesday night in a heartfelt display of national unity: Samir Kuntar had been brought home.

After a nearly 30-year absence, there he stood before the frantic multitude, this progeny of Lebanon - whose road to manhood took him from out-of-control juvenile delinquent to adolescent child-killer to unremorseful mature terrorist - in army fatigues, waving the Lebanese and Hizbullah flags, arm outstretched in the Hizbullah salute, a manic glint in his eyes. A true son of his country.

In a flash, the face of the new Lebanon was unmasked. As celebratory music helped work the crowd into a frenzy, and with Kuntar and several other released terrorists on stage as props, the real "hero" and personification of that new Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, emerged for a few moments - his first appearance since January. The Druse-born Kuntar impulsively kissed his beaming hero. Nasrallah did not reciprocate.

"The age of defeats is gone, and the age of victories has come. This people, this nation gave a great and clear image today to its friends and enemies that it cannot be defeated," Nasrallah told the jubilant crowd.

He was then whisked away by bodyguards to a hiding place from which he delivered the rest of his address, broadcast over a gigantic screen set up in the south Beirut square where the welcoming ceremonies were held.

"One of the greatest fortunes is that the unity government welcomed the freed prisoners," Nasrallah declared.

A while earlier the red carpet had been rolled out at Beirut International Airport, as warlords and politicians from rival factions welcomed Kuntar and the other released gunmen as national heroes.

Druse leader Walid Jumblatt proudly recalled that his father, Kamal (assassinated by Syria), had been in the vanguard of Lebanon's Palestinian cause. Christian Maronite president Michael Aoun cited Lebanese unity in the struggle against the Jewish state and commitment to "the return of the Palestinians to their land." Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament and boss of the Shi'ite Amal movement, was there, as was "pro-American" Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, a Sunni Muslim.

Rounding out the delegation were the Sunni majority leader of parliament, Saad Hariri (whose father was also assassinated by Syria) and Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun. They put aside their own differences and their disputes with Nasrallah to give each of the returning "militants" a hug and a kiss.

A VITAL lesson Israeli strategists must draw from this nauseating display of perverted unity: Lebanon and Hizbullah are one. If, heaven forbid, there is another war, the IDF must wage it with ferocity - not on Hizbullah's terms, but across the Lebanese battlefield.

Ever since the June 1982 Lebanon War, the Israeli military has allowed itself to be hamstrung in targeting Lebanon. International media coverage of that war, often manipulative and tendentious, along with Western - particularly US - opposition to striking at the country's infrastructure, made vanquishing our enemies impossible.

Even among Israelis there was the lingering sense that Lebanon was essentially a peace-loving society taken hostage by violent, unrepresentative factions.

Ultimately, that assessment reigned supreme, inhibiting the IDF from finishing Yasser Arafat off. Instead the PLO was merely ousted from its Beirut and southern Lebanon strongholds and exiled to Tunisia.

But that war's unintended consequences led to an even worse outcome: Iranian-backed Shi'ite Islamism and the rise of Hizbullah.

NOW THAT Lebanon and Hizbullah have apparently melded, the self-defeating legacy of IDF inhibition must end. At the start of the Second Lebanon War, former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz warned bombastically that Israel would "turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years" if Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were not returned.

No one took him seriously - Israel would never punish "good Lebanon" for the crimes of "bad Hizbullah." The IAF limited itself to mostly targeting Islamist strongholds. But if Lebanon and Hizbullah are now one, Israel needs a radically revised strategy for winning a war on Lebanese soil.

Artificial distinctions between "Lebanese" and "Hizbullah" targets were swept away by Wednesday's display of barbaric unity. Lebanon was revealed in its hostile unanimity. If new conflict comes, Israel must internalize that unanimity of hate-filled purpose, and defeat it decisively.

Israelis are steeling themselves today for the painful images that will doubtless accompany the anticipated exchange of unrepentant terrorist Samir Kuntar for IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

It's already been a week of images that, mostly, encapsulate Israeli frustrations: newly-released but old photographs of Ron Arad; pictures of Syrian president Bashar Assad with his back turned to Ehud Olmert at the Bastille Day ceremony in Paris; and of Olmert at the same ceremony, his hand good-naturedly draped around Hosni Mubarak's shoulders.

Even the encouraging image of banter between Mubarak and Olmert left us wishing Egypt didn't hold our bilateral relations hostage to what happens with the Palestinians; while Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas looking so affable in Paris made us wonder what there is to smile about.

AN IMAGE that weighs heavily on our minds today is that of a smiling, 32-year-old Ehud Goldwasser in a photo recognizable worldwide. Yet his real life - as a son and brother, his deep love for his wife, Karnit, along with his work at the Technion, and his hobby as a photographer - has been largely obscured despite his unwanted celebrity.

The same holds true of 27-year-old Eldad Regev. He is often pictured in a photo that shows him carefree, sunglasses balanced on his head, smiling into the camera. His real life, too, is largely unknown. Friends describe him as "a fanatical football fan" whose dream was to become a lawyer.

there are the inscrutable images of Gilad Schalit, kidnapped on June 25, 2006, and held by Hamas in Gaza. That he is quiet and introverted comes through in the photos we have of him. Sometimes pictured in uniform, wearing eye-glasses, sometimes in civilian clothing looking like the boy next door, he seems even younger than his 21 years.

IMAGES REFLECTING Zionist sacrifices - and desire for peace - are nothing new.
On January 3, 1919, Emir Faisal, the Arabian-born Hashemite ruler, was famously photographed with Chaim Weizmann (both men wearing desert headdress). Faisal had just, conditionally, accepted the Balfour Declaration. Eight-nine years later, that image of Jewish-Arab partnership still beckons.

Of course, as the numerous Oslo-era meetings between a smiling Yasser Arafat and various Israeli leaders demonstrated, positive images - even written commitments - do not guarantee sincerity of intentions. Unlike the emir, the Palestinian leader could never reconcile himself to genuine accommodation with the Jewish state.

Yet when Arab leaders display warmth and try to meet Israel half-way, their goodwill is reciprocated. We think of the images of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin at the Knesset in November 1977, and how, within five years, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty.

Good personal relations do not dictate positive policy outcomes, but they certainly do no harm. King Hussein of Jordan first met publicly with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on July 25, 1994. The two men developed a relationship of mutual respect and collegiality best captured in the famous photo of the king lighting a cigarette for the premier. The Jordanian-Israeli treaty was signed on October 26, 1994 - less than 100 days after Rabin and Hussein's first meeting.

THERE IS no surefire way to calibrate the right combination of image and substance that might pave the way to Arab-Israel peace. We know, however, what doesn't work. At the November 2007 Annapolis summit, for instance, the Saudi foreign minister wouldn't join in shaking hands with Olmert and Abbas - and thus chose to avoid giving much-needed legitimacy to Israeli-Arab reconciliation. A rare opportunity was squandered.

Sometimes, pictures only raise questions. How can the debonair Assad, so cosmopolitan in Paris with his fashionably dressed wife, also feel at ease in the embrace of the medieval-thinking mullahs of Teheran? Are image and policy really that divergent? Plainly, though, Assad avoiding Olmert, Assad opting not to replicate Sadat by coming to the podium of the Knesset, tells us much about his true intentions.

Today will bring difficult images of a Hizbullah-dominated Lebanon celebrating a slaughterer of innocents, and of an Israel mourning its fallen. That disparity of images reflects the yawning gulf of values between Israel and too many of its neighbors.

Palestinian reconciliation

Jul. 6, 2008

It may yet take months, but there is every likelihood that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will ultimately reconcile his Fatah movement with Hamas, an interim government of "technocrats" will be formed, and new Palestinian elections will be held.

Abbas was in Damascus on Sunday and Monday to discuss those prospects of reconciliation with President Bashar Assad, who is pushing for Palestinian unity. Arab leaders, though jostling for relative influence, want to see Palestinian factions form a united front.

Abbas is still refusing to meet with Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader, until the Islamists reverse what Abbas calls the June 2007 "coup," which ousted Fatah from Gaza. For its part, Hamas wants reconciliation efforts to result in Abbas internalizing the results of the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, in which it won 74 out of 132 seats.

Fatah is still smarting from this defeat, which led to months of failed efforts at power-sharing. Abbas had sought to retain Fatah's influence, pursue talks with Israel and maintain ties with, and the flow of cash from, the West. Meanwhile, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas "pragmatist" who became PA prime minister, rejected Quartet requirements that the Islamists renounce violence, recognize Israel and adhere to previous PLO commitments.

THE TWO sides are divided over Fatah's long, often corrupt and autocratic stewardship of the Palestinian cause and over its control of the Palestine Liberation Organization - the internationally recognized arm of the Palestinians. Hamas and Fatah also differ over how best to achieve and articulate Palestinian aims and the role of Islam in the anti-Israel struggle. Then, too, there are the visceral personal hatreds between key figures in both camps.

Fatah never denied the Islamic aspect of anti-Zionism, though it has emphasized Palestinian nationalism since 1964, when it embarked on "the armed struggle." Yet whatever his ultimate motives, Fatah leader Yasser Arafat moderated the group's public position and signed the 1993 Oslo Agreement with Israel, which paved the way for the establishment, in 1994, of the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas, founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 1987 during the first intifada, is an offshoot of the notorious Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists believe that every dunam of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is consecrated in trust for future Muslim generations; that compromise is a sin, and nationalism a heresy. Its 1988 Charter foretells that Muslims will one day obliterate Israel.

WHILE ISRAEL'S presence in Judea and Samaria keeps Hamas's military wing in check, Hamas's leaders prepare for the day when they will take control of the PA. Despite intensive well-funded Western efforts channeled through Abbas supporters to strengthen Palestinian civil society, a vast network of Hamas-affiliated social welfare organizations, supported by donations from throughout the Muslim world, boosts the popularity of an already admired organization. The IDF is expanding its efforts to close Hamas's West Bank institutions and confiscate their property - really a job the PA should have done.

It is hard to believe that anyone - not US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and certainly not Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - has any illusions about what would happen to Abbas and Fatah were the IDF to withdraw from the West Bank.
As Abbas's prospects dim - a Ramallah judicial body unilaterally "extended" his term beyond January 2009 - Fatah needs the legitimacy unity would bring. And for Hamas, unity is the road to controlling the West Bank.

COULD ABBAS enhance his popularity by reaching a "shelf agreement" with Israel by the December 2008 deadline? It's hard to see how, given that his "moderate" negotiating stance demands Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines as well as the Palestinian "right of return" - signaling the demographic destruction of Israel and unacceptable even to the most pliant of Israeli governments.

If Palestinian negotiators are quietly making far-reaching concessions on borders and refugees to pave the way toward a shelf agreement - without preparing their people for the idea of compromise - Abbas's popularity will plummet further. Conversely, if no deal is achieved, Abbas's leadership will be undermined and Hamas emerge ascendant.
So while Fatah-Hamas reconciliation appears inevitable, the chances of it contributing to Jewish and Palestinian states living side by side in peace and security seem ever more remote.

Does Livni have a Plan B?

New world disorder

Jul. 5, 2008

At the start of the modern era, summits of world leaders were as rare as they were consequential: The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 after the Thirty Years War; the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars; the 1919 Paris Conference in the wake of WWI; and the 1945 San Francisco meeting, which created the UN.

Nowadays, summits of world leaders are a routine affair and their outcomes mostly inconsequential. That is the way many observers are viewing the G-8 meeting which takes place today and Tuesday on Hokkaido Island in northern Japan. Israelis may, however, want to take a closer look.

Political scientists used to debate whether a "multipolar" world - where more than two states were powerful - made war less likely than a "bipolar" world in which just two superpowers competed and client states fell into line behind them. For a brief moment in history, with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Empire, scholars pondered the implications of a "unipolar" world in which Washington alone called all the shots.

That debate is mostly over. International affairs today, it is becoming evident, are conducted in neither multipolar nor bipolar nor unipolar worlds, but, as Richard N. Haass argued in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, under conditions of "nonpolarity."

In this new, more disordered environment, power is "diffuse rather than concentrated, and the influence of nation-states [can be expected to] decline as that of nonstate actors increases. Today's nonpolar world is not simply a result of the rise of other states and organizations, or of the failures and follies of US policy. It is also an inevitable consequence of globalization," wrote Haass.

ISRAELIS LOSE sleep over terrorism, Palestinian intransigence, the Iranian menace and our underperforming political system. Thus what amounts to a major transformation in the international political arena may have escaped our notice. Yet the Jewish state must operate in this radically different world, so we had better try to understand and adapt to it.

We need to remind ourselves that we are not at the center of the universe. Just look at the main issues at the G-8 confronting the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, and the US, plus the president of the European Commission: global economic malaise, galloping energy prices, a food disaster threatening very poor countries, and climate change.
Yet the days when eight or nine or even 14 powers - observers were also invited - could harness their collective will and shape a new world agenda are behind us. Globalization has transformed how the game is played.

So it may be unrealistic to expect the "international community" to act in concert to solve the Iran problem, Israel's principal dilemma. Iran just doesn't figure high enough on the agenda of a disordered world.

Nevertheless, the task of Israel's decision makers is to raise the profile of the Iranian nuclear threat - and those reported IAF exercises off the coast of Greece were a good start. Competition for world attention is fierce; so too must be our efforts to focus the global spotlight on Teheran.

BEYOND what we want of the world, let's clarify what we should expect from ourselves. We had better be absolutely certain that we are accurately assessing the threat from Iran, that we read Iranian intentions correctly and are not allowing anything save cold objectivity to guide us.
In a nonpolar world we still need the understanding of patrons and friends, though they have luxuries we don't. They can theoretically acquiesce in an attack against Iran aimed at stopping an imminent threat, yet abandon us should they arbitrarily judge our actions merely "preventive."

On the Palestinian front, we need to think hard both about the content of a prospective shelf agreement and about the state of the international political arena in which it might be implemented. Israel cannot afford a bad deal to be adjudicated in an unfriendly nonpolar environment.

Israel sorely needs wise leaders capable of navigating in this new international arena in which Jewish rights are still not universally recognized, and where existential threats loom large. A small country needs allies, especially in a world where power is diffuse.

Out of context

Jul. 2 , 2008

When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, "The medium is the message," he probably meant that the media determine not only what "news" is, but what it is supposed to mean.

Newspapers, television and the Internet do not merely disseminate information; they explain its significance, provide frames of reference, create and reinforce attitudes.

That's exactly what happened Wednesday when an Arab from the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher killed three and injured dozens in a bulldozer rampage - one that, coincidentally, culminated under the windows of major news outlets headquartered on Jaffa Road.

Journalists sprang into action providing the "who, what, where, when and how" of the tragedy. Within minutes, consumers of news around the globe were in the loop. Even before all the dead had been buried, the injured hospitalized and the wreckage cleared from the streets, the media proceeded to provide "context."

WHY DID Husam Taysir Dwayat do it? The hasty and erroneous answer offered by an overwhelming number of news outlets amounted to: "It's the occupation, stupid."
That is the type of "context" one would expect from Al-Jazeera, which described the rampage as an "operation."

Yet even the otherwise fine coverage provided by The New York Times was marred, apparently by editors, who inserted a tendentious paragraph about... bulldozers: "Caterpillar equipment has a special resonance among Palestinians. Human rights activists have lobbied the company to stop selling its heavy vehicles to the Israeli military out of concern that they have been used to demolish Palestinian homes, uproot orchards and construct Jewish settlements in occupied land."

Reuters unhelpfully contrasted Israel's supposed oppression of Palestinians generally with its maltreatment of Jerusalem Arabs: "Unlike Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank, those living in occupied east Jerusalem have free access to the Jewish west of the city and to Israel." The wire service added that it found no evidence that Dwayat was a "guerrilla."

As for the Associated Press, it was almost as if the world's leading content provider sought, under the guise of uncovering a motive for the rampage, to provide justification for it: Dwayat had been fined for building his house without a permit, and a demolition order was on file.
"In contrast to West Bank Palestinians," AP noted, "Arab residents of Jerusalem have full freedom to work and travel throughout Israel," begging the question of why Israelis restrict the movement of West Bankers.

Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, headlined its report: "Hamas refuses to laud Jerusalem rampage." That certainly helps frame, in the minds of millions of Chinese, Hamas's Gandhi-like ethos against killing innocent civilians.

London's The Daily Telegraph focused on the romantic angle. "'His heart [was] broken by a young Russian Jewish woman,' Dwayat's friend told the paper. 'She came here, she lived here in his parents' house with him, she stayed for a month… But then a radical Jewish group seized her one night and returned her to her family.'"

The Guardian Web site prominently connected its straightforward coverage with a Homepage link to a column by Jerusalem-based Seth Freedman entitled "The inevitable overreaction." "There can be no excuses. Nothing; not the occupation, nor the siege of Gaza… But just because there can be no excuses, does not for a minute mean there can be no explanation…40 years of cruel and unusual punishment of the Palestinians was likely to bear such murderous fruits. It's not because we're Jews; it's because of the relentless oppressive tactics employed by successive Israeli governments…"

Over at the London Times, Foreign Secretary David Miliband is quoted as urging Britons to keep the bigger picture in view: "Our first thought is for the victims and the relatives of the victims… Our second thought is obviously for the process of building a Middle East peace that's enduring."

IN FACT, the prospects for peace-building are immeasurably undermined by the moral relavatism encapsulated above. The media's smug, even disingenuous, contextualization of Palestinian violence in general, and Wednesday's carnage in particular, as attributable to the "occupation" completely demoralizes those Israelis who genuinely want to see a resolution of the conflict.

Any "root causes" appraisal of Arab brutality that ignores more than 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, intransigence, self-defeating violence and denial of Jewish rights offers neither context nor candor.

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