Baker calls Bush ‘ridiculous’ on Syria

Baker calls Bush ‘ridiculous’ on Syria JTA News, 09/16/2008

The Bush administration’s refusal to deal with Syria is “ridiculous,” James Baker, a former U.S. secretary of state, said.

Five former secretaries of state met Monday under the auspices of CNN to discuss what advice they would give the next president.

“I would advise the president to fully engage with Syria,” said Baker, who as secretary of state under Bush’s father helped convene the 1991 Madrid talks, which for the first time brought Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and other Arab nations into the same process. “I think it is ridiculous for us to say we’re not going to talk to Syria and yet Israel has been talking to them for six to eight months.”

The Bush administration has discouraged Israel’s talks with Syria, currently held under Turkish auspices. Israel wants to draw Syria away from the Iranian sphere; the Bush administration says it will not engage Syria until it fully disengages from Lebanon and stops its support for terrorist groups.

Also appearing at the session were Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, who served under President Bill Clinton; Colin Powell, who served under the current President Bush; and Henry Kissinger, who served under presidents Nixon and Ford.

Olmert warns of binational state if no peace deal reached
By Shahar Ilan and Barak Ravid
Haaretz, 16/09/2008

With regard to talks with Syria, Olmert said “when there is a price and in return the disengagement of Syria from the axis of evil, the question is whether it is worth paying the price.” Banging on the table to emphasize his point, Olmert said “the answer is yes.” He added that a “responsible government will arrive at my answer, and an irresponsible government will reach opposite answers.”

Olmert told the committee that if Israel could reach an agreement with Syria, it could also reach an agreement with Lebanon, despite risks, which a strong government could take upon itself.

Former U.S. secretaries of state say they support talks with Iran Haaretz

Comments (38)


1. Alex said:

Syria’s first car factory:

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September 16th, 2008, 8:40 pm

 

2. Karim said:

This factory is useless and waste of time ,the motors are those of Peugeot 405 factory which was sold to Iran ,in Syria they are only assembling the parts like a Lego.It would be better to buy high quality and modern cars ,directly from Europe and Japan.Syria was full of wonderful american and european cars in the 60’s and 70’s.
The mitsibushi taxis ,were of higher quality than the iranian KIA pride.

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September 16th, 2008, 9:42 pm

 

3. cww said:

Syria would be better off buying Toyotas or some Tata Nanos. It doesn’t make sense for Costa Rica to attempt to develop a car industry and neither does it make sense for Syria. The Import Substitution model died in the 80s.

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September 17th, 2008, 12:11 am

 

4. EHSANI2 said:

CWW,

Couldn’t agree more. The theory of “comparative advantage” is an important tenet of international trade. Countries are thought to increase their economic prosperity by exporting the goods that they are relatively more efficient at producing and importing the goods that other countries are relatively more efficient at producing.

Clearly, auto production is not an industry that Syria is relatively more efficient at producing.

I suspect the decision was not made on economic but political grounds.

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September 17th, 2008, 12:50 am

 

5. norman said:

Ehsani,

What you say is a sound economic theory , That is accurate in a real free market , not in a state where Syria can not buy civilian airliners or advanced computers because of the sanctions , Syria has to start to diversify , making cars might not compete with US or EU cars in rich countries but if they are priced right , they might compete in third world countries , building cars in Syria can be a good training opportunity for mechanics and future use of Syrian made parts , I would not underestimate the ingenuity of the Syrian people.

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September 17th, 2008, 1:18 am

 

6. Ras Beirut said:

What happened to “AIG” today? This stock have gone down from a 52 weeks high of $70 to less than $3, and now is looking for a hand out from uncle Sam.

I would say that it wasn’t a good day for AIG.

Now is Livni gonna win?

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September 17th, 2008, 1:58 am

 

7. Zenobia said:

U.S. Jews outraged over phone campaign alleging ‘Obama gave money to PLO’
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: U.S., Barack Obama

Jewish voters have been receiving telephone calls from figures claiming to be pollsters yet trying to dissuade them from supporting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the upcoming election.

The callers introduce themselves as poll-takers who are gathering data for a public opinion survey and subsequently ask their interlocutors loaded questions whose tone infers that Obama holds anti-Israel views and is thus unworthy of Jewish votes.

The calls, which have been reported of late in Florida and Pennsylvania, were brought to public attention by the Jewish Council for Education, a pro-Obama organization that has worked to drum up support for the Illinois senator among prospective Jewish voters.
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Callers posed questions asking if voters would reconsider their preferred candidate had they learned that “Obama had given money to the Palestine Liberation Organization”, or that “the leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yousef, expressed support for Obama and hoped for Obama’s victory,” or that Obama’s political advisors are “pro-Palestinian,” or that Obama once said “the Palestinians have suffered the most.”

The “pollsters” also asked what would-be Jewish voters thought if they were told that the president of Iran also “endorsed Obama,” or if they learned that Obama “supported a united Jerusalem and then switched his opinion and believed in a divided Jerusalem,” or Jimmy Carter’s “anti-Israel national security advisor is one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisors.”

Officials from the Jewish Council for Education are scheduled to convene a news conference in New York on Tuesday during which they are expected to reveal new information that sheds light on the mysterious campaign intended to smear Obama under the guise of a public survey.

One of those expected to address the media in New York on Tuesday is Joelina Marcus, a retired professor currently residing in Miami Beach.

Marcus says she received a phone call from a man who claimed to be a pollster. She was asked if she was Jewish, and if so, to what stream of Judaism does she belong, and whether she attended synagogue.

She was then asked if her vote would be influenced by the fact that Obama once contributed money to the PLO or that one of Obama’s closest aides maintained close contacts with Palestinians, she recounted.

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September 17th, 2008, 3:44 am

 

8. SimoHurtta said:

Well creating a car factory is a very clever industrial political move. Sure one can buy better cars from abroad, but that is the question with most countries which have car assembly factories. The Chinese and Indian cars have NOW hardly the quality of best Japanese and German cars. But in 10 to 20 years the situation can be completely different. Lets remember that in the beginning of 70’s Japanese cars were not the best in the world. 🙂

All the car factories around the world are such “lego” assembly factories. Ones a car factory has worked for a while it can relative easily switch car mark and begin to assembly a “better” mark. A car factory also creates around it a local part supplier chain and increases the local industries industrial know how and quality standards. During years also developing a car based own design is also possible (but not likely). So the industrial and economical effects in longer term of a new car factory should not be undermined. Syria has a relative big potential market for domestic cars.

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September 17th, 2008, 5:25 am

 

9. Alex said:

I agree with Simohurtta

Besides … I don’t think there is any imported car available in Syria that can sell for $12,000 today.

Syria can be competitive in this market… quality will follow

look at Hyundai in 1985,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyundai_Pony

and now.

http://www.autofans.us/images/Hyundai/Hyundai%20Genesis%20Revealed%20in%20Korea%201.jpg

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September 17th, 2008, 5:41 am

 

10. Zenobia said:

I think Syria has a huge market for inexpensive (relatively speaking) domestically put together cars. And I would agree that this creates smaller markets around it for parts, service, and repair of such vehicles.
In the US, one’s Volkswagon is assembled in Mexico, and I am sure there are plenty of american laborers out of work who might wish that such an assembly plant was still in the upper 48 where there would still at least be a job even if a low paying job.

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September 17th, 2008, 6:16 am

 

11. Karim said:

First Made in Lebanon F1 Style Car

The first Formula One-style car to be made in Lebanon was unveiled in Beirut on Tuesday ahead of it going on display next year at the International Auto Show in Detroit.
Designer David Frem, 25, presented the vehicle at his alma mater, the American University of Science and Technology in Beirut.

Resembling the “Batmobile” and named after its creator, the Frem F1 boasts a 16 valve 2.0 liter Volkswagen engine and has a maximum speed of 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour), he said.

The car’s body is made up of 10 layers of fiberglass and has independent suspension and 56 centimeters (22 inch) wide tires. It consumes fuel at 25 liters per 200 kilometers (6.6 gallons per 124 miles).

“The interior is made of wood and fabric and the car is equipped with an aluminum steering wheel,” Frem said.

“Building this car was my life’s dream,” Frem told Agence France Presse. “It is 100 percent Lebanese with the exception of its Volkswagen engine.”

The car took four years to construct and cost 90,000 dollars. A Lebanese company called INDEVCO footed the bill.

Lebanon’s political instability was “the only obstacle encountered during the vehicle’s construction,” said Frem.(AFP)

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September 17th, 2008, 7:07 am

 

12. Naji said:

A very good article… a bit long, but worth a read… although the Zionist IG’s around here may not like it…

Obama’s Jews
By Bernard Avishai
http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/10/0082187

Last May, as he claimed the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama was ahead among Jewish voters 2 to 1. Yet, according to cable-and-blog wisdom, that was a serious problem for him. Jews—you know, “the demographic”—had voted 3 or more to 1 for Clinton, Gore, and Kerry. Jews are only about 2 percent of the population, but they make up almost 4 percent of actual voters. There are, famously, almost half a million Jewish voters in southern Florida alone. If, say, 100,000 defected to McCain, Obama would likely lose the state, even if the chads don’t hang this time. Jews are also nearly 5 percent of the Pennsylvania electorate, which Kerry carried by only 2.5 percent.

After the 1968 election, when Jews voted almost 5 to 1 for Humphrey over Nixon, the late Milton Himmelfarb groused in Commentary that Jews earned like Episcopalians and voted like Puerto Ricans. Are Jews finally growing aloof from the Democratic nominee—come to think of it, like Puerto Ricans—because he is African American? Will his fate hinge, as CNN’s Jack Cafferty suggested, on “a few old Jews in Century Village”? As Obama himself joked at a February meeting with Jews in Cleveland (Ohio is another shaky “battleground”), doesn’t every Jewish family have an uncle skeptical of the schwartzer?

Not so funny, really, and not just residual tribalism. Early in the primaries, emails suspected of originating in ultra-rightist circles in Jerusalem spread virally among North American Jews (mine came via my sister in Toronto) alleging Obama’s two degrees of separation from Louis Farrakhan and attaching a picture of Obama schmoozing at a 1998 dinner with the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said. Were not these “associations,” as one email put it, “worrying”? And was not worry itself the important reality? If the “perception out there” is that Obama has failed to bring Jews and African Americans together—he promised, after all, to unite loyal Dem ocrats in a new and poignant way—is not his candidacy a false dawn?

What Obama had to do, so the argument went, was allay Jewish anxieties, as “electable” Democrats had done before him. William Kristol, Himmelfarb’s nephew, all but instructed Obama in the New York Times on how to prove himself as “Zionist” as McCain: emphasize not only “current assaults on Jews” but also “sacrifices for the sake of freedom, the triumph of good over evil.” And what was Obama’s speech at AIPAC, delivered the day after he won the nomination, if not his effort to better the instruction? He laughed off the emails. He spoke mistily of a Zionist camp counselor. In July, he traveled to Israel and pledged himself to a “special relationship.” Shouldn’t this be enough to satisfy Kristol and other skeptics?

This line of argument mischaracterizes American Jews. They do not amount to some organic whole, nor is their vote the expression of a “Zionist” DNA that Obama has somehow undernourished. If anything, Obama’s campaign is exposing the fault lines among Jews, which are serious, while implicitly challenging the great silent majority to repudiate Jewish organizational leaders (and neoconservative celebrities like Kristol), whose militant simplicities purport to represent them—and don’t.

Since the term “American Jews” encompasses everyone from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Beastie Boys, moguls like Sam Zell to the (arguably deceased) Lubavitcher Rebbe, almost anything you might say about them will be wrong. But this, in a way, is my point. Most Jews see themselves as idiosyncratic citizens in need of a strong social compact. Polls show that 50 percent of Jews call themselves liberal or “progressive”; and only 21 percent, “conservative.”

These liberal impulses have a history. Immigrant and first-generation Jews, as Philip Roth puts it, assumed Democrats were for the underdog, the unions, the anti-Nazi war; liberal activism meant vigilance against anti-Semitism and more: “Our heroes were Roosevelt, La Guardia, and Brandeis,” Roth says; “we were against the Republican oppressor.” Which is why their children, the baby boomers, were drawn to the civil rights movement, the signal experience of their political lives.

“Our sense of wholeness,” Obama writes in Dreams From My Father, “would have to arise from something more fine than the bloodlines we’d inherited.” Most older Jews read such words about identity, or just observe Obama’s body language, and sense a kindred spirit; that Obama admires Roth’s novels hardly seems surprising. As important, Obama is running at least 20 percent higher among voters under thirty than among those over sixty-five. Half of young Jews are marrying non-Jews; they see a competition among cultural forms as natural, an opportunity for vibrancy.

These attitudes extend to world affairs. Almost 80 percent of Jews still say that “remembrance” of the Holocaust is very important to one’s Jewish identity, but most do not draw strident conclusions from this. Pat Buchanan railed against an Iraq “war party,” top-heavy with Jews harboring “a ‘passionate attachment’ to a nation not our own.” Actually, 70 percent of Jews rejected the war in Iraq as early as 2005, a rate higher than that of any other American religious group. Some 70 percent today support America’s working to resolve the Arab–Israeli conflict and exerting pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians. About 60 percent under thirty-five feel an attachment to Israel, but an even greater proportion have never visited.

So it is a fair guess that the approximately two thirds of Jews who support Obama, like the Democratic electorate generally, do so more passionately than they supported various Democrats in the past five presidential elections. The majority certainly do not expect candidates to pander to them regarding Israel. Ask American Jews to list issues that determine their vote and almost three times as many choose “health care” as choose “Israel” (about 8 percent), though very few of them lack health care. Nor—if you look closely, which ardent Zionists do—has Obama argued for giving Israel a free hand; rather, he has insisted on reviving “existing American initiatives” for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking early in his administration. He promised an “undivided” Jerusalem—a capital without barbed wire—not the Likud’s “united” Jerusalem under exclusive Israeli sovereignty. Obama visited Ramallah; McCain did not. And yet the vast majority of Jews have stuck with Obama.

What has been so deceptive about American Jewish attitudes is how out of synch majority opinion is with the very public views of many Jewish organizational leaders—people who’ve seemed at odds not only with Obama’s approaches to the Middle East but with his liberal and globalist demeanor. Some of these leaders—Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee—made a show of condemning the most scurrilous emails about Obama. But for years, Foxman’s ADL could be counted on to attack as anti-Semitic any critics of Likud’s occupation policies. The American Jewish Committee until 2006 underwrote Commentary, which “spouts a Likudnik bellicosity” (says Time’s Joe Klein) in addition to having led the 1970s charge against affirmative action and feminism. Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has orchestrated an endorsement by his umbrella group of a “united Jerusalem” under Israeli sovereignty. Hoenlein complained that “there is a legitimate concern over the zeitgeist around [Obama’s] campaign.” It was an open secret that AIPAC strongly supported the Iraq war and, more recently, advocated for the use of force to embargo Iran.

All of which raises a question. Why should the Jewish community continue to tolerate this leadership? Isn’t Obama’s campaign the occasion for repudiating it? Discontent has been building anyway. The head of America’s 1.5 million liberal “Reform” Jews, Eric Yoffie, publicly rejected Hoenlein’s Jerusalem statement. The new J Street lobby, founded by a peace coalition of Jews and non-Jews to counter AIPAC, is growing fast. But the Obama campaign itself offers a coalition for liberal Americans to organize on a broad scale for the first time in a generation. It has brushed back such African-American leaders as Al Sharpton, who have drawn lines around, and made careers from, tired ethnic grievances. It has invited the majority of Jews to dissociate themselves from Manichaean demagogy parading as “Jewish interests.”

Make no mistake, the Jewish right—though a minority—is rooted in a political culture of its own that will deny Obama historic levels of Jewish support no matter what he does. Surveys have made it clear that the 25 percent of Jews who shade into varieties of orthodoxy, who stick to homogeneous Jewish neighborhoods and schools, tend to embrace a vicarious neo-Zionist identity. The American Jewish right—for example, philanthropist Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress—opposes the Israeli government only if it negotiates over Jerusalem.

Rightist attitudes, like liberal ones, also have a history. The Six-Day War in 1967 was a watershed for Jews celebrating what they took to be Israel’s purpose. Jews everywhere were swept up by the victory, and faith in the justice of Jewish armed power helped, subtly, to shape Jewish attitudes toward American politics and foreign policy. Community leaders began insisting on the “centrality” of Israel for Jewish identity. They pointed to a valiant Israeli democracy and shrugged off the occupation, which they assumed would be temporary. The preeminent organizations in American Jewish life, local philanthropic federations, began to devote as much as half of their funds to Israel (which is still more or less true). After 1967, more and more Jewish leaders assumed the responsibility of protecting Israel’s good name— during exchanges of fire on the Suez Canal, terrorist attacks, and, most horribly, the 1973 war. In the back of their minds was the need to reverse the U.S. State Department’s continuing tilt toward the Arab oil regimes during the 1950s and ’60s. Many Jews were drawn to political allies of Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who argued, flatly, that Israel was to be promoted as America’s key regional ally against the Soviets.

Israeli self-defense also seemed an inspiration to ethnic realpolitik in America: on many minds, too, was the violence in U.S. cities, like the confrontation in 1968 between Jewish teachers and black parents demanding community control of schools in Brooklyn’s Ocean Hill-Brownsville. Indeed, the seeds for an agonistic view of American Jewish power were evident as early as 1964—the year Jews voted 9 to 1 for Johnson over Goldwater. The previous year, Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz had written his notorious article “My Negro Problem—and Ours.” Podhoretz acknowledged how the civil rights movement was cardinal for Jews, but that was precisely his “problem.” He implied that Jews were soft but had made it; that their support for the economic empowerment of black toughs (“who act as though they have nothing to lose”) was if not self-destructive then at least disingenuous. That certain black militants came to rationalize anti-Semitism as a form of rage against ghetto storekeepers and landlords seemed to make his point.

For the Jewish right, then, there was a universal Jewish vulnerability that required a universal Jewish toughness. It was as if there were an ongoing referendum on the virtue of Jewish power, whose implicit foils were Great Society initiatives at home and United Nations’ resolutions abroad. When Ronald Reagan was elected, neoconservatives joined the revolution and pro-Israel leaders cozied up to the administration. Liberalism, which purports to mitigate conflict, was viewed as a kind of schlemiel faith in the conscience of the world. And after 9/11, if you were managing the brand of the West’s key strategic asset, the “clash of civilizations” became useful.

This rhetoric has become entrenched among Jewish leaders. Local Jewish federations have more or less succeeded in sustaining a big tent, but after thirty years of Israeli governments that increased by tenfold Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the most activist leaders drifted to the right. Too often, Jerusalem has seemed for many Jewish leaders not a mythic object of desire but a kind of world-historical Epcot Center, while Israel has seemed something between a bastion against gentile hatred and a great Jewish convention to which they imagine themselves superdelegates. Supporting this leadership, aside from the Orthodox, are recent Russian-Jewish immigrants, free-market radicals, Joe Lieberman admirers, and some considerable part of the half a million Israelis living in America.

The point is, most Jews identify not with Lieberman but with Jon Stewart’s send-ups of Lieberman. One recent poll showed Obama almost twice as popular as Lieberman among Jews. Yet this majority has never confronted their rightist leadership—not, at least, within the precincts of institutional politics—because to do so would have meant engaging in the very parochialism most wished to distance themselves from. Besides, why embarrass Israelis, who were making sacrifices American Jews were not? What did American Jews really know of Israel’s politics and perils anyway? What did they know of Hebrew culture? The majority poured their energies into their universities, their professions, their families—that is, into their America.

This indifference is just what the current election must begin to change. Rightist notions like “the global war on terror” have shown how Israel’s conflicts are consonant with America’s. The Israeli government’s ambivalence about ending its occupation, its default to military force, its tensions with Iran, etc., have seemed a kind of U.S. policy agenda in microcosm. And if America approaches its Middle East problems, as Obama insists it must, not with military preemption but with an emphasis on collective security, patient alliances, containment, the power of the global economy, and so forth, how can this not imply a verdict on Israeli occupation?

Obama’s campaign is an implicit opportunity for a new leadership to emerge, a contemporary equivalent of Rabbi Heschel locking arms with Dr. King. The campaign has given the Jewish majority a new way to focus their political energies, which looks much like their former way—organized work toward a tolerant commonwealth. Today, over 35 percent of Jews earn more than $100,000; at least 40 percent contribute to political campaigns, amounting to a staggering one fifth of Democratic donors. Not coincidentally, the Obama campaign has sponsored a dozen Jewish outreach committees in major cities. Obama’s agenda, interracial symbolism, grass-roots organization, and vast fund-raising network have all the trappings of a movement. The new movement, like the old one, stands for integration—not just in American society but on a global scale. Who if not American Jews have had that dream?

Bernard Avishai’s most recent book is The Hebrew Republic (Harcourt). His last Notebook for Harper’s Magazine, “Driverless,” appeared in the April 2007 issue.

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September 17th, 2008, 8:12 am

 

13. idaf said:

More of the advance transcript from the CNN panel of five former secretaries of state:
http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/09/16/secretaries.state.forum/index.html

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September 17th, 2008, 9:23 am

 

14. norman said:

here we go again,

only force will get the Golan back,

Israel postpones new round of Syria peace talks

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Reuters
Wednesday, September 17, 2008; 6:59 AM

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – A fifth round of indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel has been postponed at the request of the Jewish state, Syria’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Turkey, which has mediated four sessions of indirect contacts between the two countries, confirmed the delay in the talks which centre on the fate of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War.

“When Israel is ready to resume the talks, we will be ready as well,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told reporters in Damascus after a meeting with his Spanish counterpart. The fifth round had been scheduled for Thursday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on September 4 the fifth round of indirect talks, originally scheduled for earlier this month, had been postponed at Israel’s request because of the resignation of Israel’s chief negotiator.

Assad had described the round as “crucial.”

In Jerusalem, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev declined to go into detail on the delay but said Israel hoped the indirect negotiations would go on.

“Israel remains committed to the Turkish initiative and to the indirect talks with the Syrians. We are hopeful that the next round of talks will be able to begin shortly,” he said.

A Turkish government official confirmed Israel had requested the postponement. “We wish and think this is only temporary and not permanent. We assume this (postponement) is due to the dynamics in Israeli politics,” the official said.

Members of Israel’s ruling party voted on Wednesday for a new leader to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has promised to resign following a corruption investigation in which he faces indictment.

Israeli negotiator Yoram Turbowicz announced his resignation as Olmert’s chief of staff in July, shortly after the prime minister said he would leave office because of the charges against him.

An Israeli government official said that Israel’s attorney general has yet to authorize Turbowicz to continue his role as chief negotiator now that he is no longer in government, and said a ruling is expected next week.

The talks are focused on the fate of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau which Israel captured in 1967. Damascus wants the whole territory returned.

Israel wants Syria to scale back ties with its main foes — Iran and the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah militant groups. Syria has so far refused to do so.

the last direct talks between Israel and Syria stalled in 2000 in a dispute over how much of the Golan should go back to Syria.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Dominic Evans)

© 2008 Reuters

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September 17th, 2008, 12:29 pm

 

15. Akbar Palace said:

A very good article… a bit long, but worth a read… although the Zionist IG’s around here may not like it…

Naji,

What makes the article you linked to “very good”? What did you learn from it?

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September 17th, 2008, 1:51 pm

 

16. norman said:

Tolerance in Syria,

Financial Times FT.comCOLUMNISTS
Global VillageCloseSyria’s religious tolerance belies critics
By Andrew England in Ma’aloula

Published: September 15 2008 15:45 | Last updated: September 15 2008 15:45

In the streets of Ma’aloula, a Syrian village carved into the mountainside, young men and women hold hands and dance into the night as they celebrate a Christian festival that traces its roots back to the fourth century.

A church bell tolls, battling to be heard above a barrage of fireworks. Amid the gunpowder, the occasional whiff of Arak, the aniseed flavoured spirit popular in the Levant, rises through the air as thousands gather for the festival of the Holy Cross.

A string of fires light up the mountain tops and send plumes of smoke into the sky, re-enacting a signal said to have been sent out in about 325AD when the cross on which Jesus was crucified was found.

Dozens of crosses that glow in the dark decorate the flat-roofed houses as Ma’aloula drips with religious imagery. At one point, the Muslim call to prayer can just be heard from the village’s two mosques.

To its western critics Syria is an autocratic regime that promotes extremism. It is listed by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism because of its backing for militant Islamist groups like Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

But despite restrictions on political activity, the country of 20m people can claim to be one of the most secular in the Middle East – where members of the Christian minority say they can party and worship without discrimination.

“I can tell you we have total freedom to express ourselves and our rituals in a free way,” says Mutaz Zarour, who says the festival is about expressing “our existence”, loyalty and faith.

When asked why relations appear so good between Christians and Muslims, Christian leaders talk of the tolerance of Syrians and a long history that has included rule by numerous civilisations from the Canaanites to the Byzantines, and more recently a brief period of French rule.

Syria has a strong Christian heritage. In addition to St Paul’s famous conversion on the road to Damascus, the city’s Umayyad Mosque – which was visited by Pope John Paul II in an historic trip to Syria in 2001 – hosts a shrine said to contain the head of John the Baptist.

Christians, who account for about 10 per cent of Syria’s population, have so far avoided many of the problems encountered by Christian minorities in other Arab countries.

In neighbouring Lebanon, Christian gunmen who fought Muslim militias during the bloody civil war are today part of a complex, political system prone to sectarian violence and instability. Tensions between Egypt’s Muslims and Coptic Christian minority periodically turn violent and complaints of discrimination are common.

“Here we have tolerance…in Egypt the Muslims and Christians are fanatics,” says Catholic Bishop Joseph Absi, who will host a Ramadan dinner for the country’s top Muslim leaders next week. “Secularism is good for us as a minority and we do not have to speak as a minority or majority. We are all Syrian people.”

There are, however, other reasons that help explain the tolerance. Syria’s leadership has been dominated by the minority Alawite sect since 1970, and some say it suits that community to play the secular card.

In 1982, thousands were killed when the government put down an Islamist insurgence. Islamists are often rounded up today, as are dissidents and members of the Kurdish opposition.

Whereas the regime considers militant Islamists a threat to its survival – membership of the Muslim Brotherhood is punishable by death – Christians occupy several senior government posts.

Politically oriented Christians have tended to throw in their lot with the ruling Ba’ath party, which took power in 1963 and whose founders included Michel Aflaq – a Christian.

Syria has been a focal point of tensions between the west and the Muslim Arab world in the wake of the US-led invasion of Iraq, with Damascus accused of aiding Iraqi insurgents and playing a destabilising role in Lebanon.

But some Syrian Christians put the blame on western policy makers. “In the west they need to know the Muslim more, not in books but in life,” says Bishop Ghattas Hazim, of the Greek Orthodox Church.

And in a country where the signs of a more conservative Islam are on the rise – the sight of women wearing headscarves is more common than a few years ago – the concern is that western pressure on Damascus could strengthen the hands of more radical Muslims.

“We want the west to pay attention to this problem,” Bishop Absi says. “It is why I ask the west not to put pressure on Syria, because if Syria is invaded by fundamentalism all the Near East is finished.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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September 17th, 2008, 1:55 pm

 

17. Karim said:

Norman,i dont know this cleric but some of The Christian church leaders in Syria are even more corrupt and more hypocrites than their Muslim counterparts.

Asad or the chaos this the slogan the regime tries to promote and of course this is the kind of attitude that can really lead to the chaos.

I consider these words an insult against me as Muslim Syrian.

And he said the french and the byzantines ,it’s known that french and british have fuelled most of the sectarian wars in the region since especially the druze christian war in moutn Lebanon which reached Aleppo in 1840 and Damascus in 1860.
As for the Byzantines ,of whom i’m admirer of their arts and culture which i find very close the Islamic one,they were not very well accepted by the syrian Christians who opened the doors of the Syrian cities to Omar Ben Khattab and Khalid Ben Walid.

There is a positive point ,in what the cleric say about the tension between christians and muslims in Egypt …he attacked the extremism of both.

And i invite ,the Christians to avoid this dhimmi attitude ,they are not strangers in Syria but the original people of this country.

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September 17th, 2008, 3:31 pm

 

18. Alex said:

Clinton cancels spot at Jewish groups’ anti-Iran rally over Palin invite
By The Associated Press

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has canceled an appearance at a New York rally next week after organizers blindsided her by inviting Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, aides to the senator said Tuesday.

Several American Jewish groups plan a major rally outside the United Nations on Sept. 22 to protest against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Organizers said Tuesday that both Clinton, who nearly won the Democratic nomination for president, and Palin, Republican candidate John McCain’s running mate, are expected to attend.

Clinton aides were furious. They first learned of the plan to have both Clinton and Palin appear when informed by reporters.

“Her attendance was news to us, and this was never billed to us as a partisan political event,” said Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines. “Sen. Clinton will therefore not be attending.”

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September 17th, 2008, 4:04 pm

 

19. Alex said:

The Palin bounce: Ready, Fire, Aim!

September 12, 2008 at 6:04 PM EDT

Watching Sarah Palin on TV the other night reminded me of the time I tried to fake my way through a job interview. I didn’t know a thing about the field, but I’d crammed enough (I hoped) to fake the basics. I also had good legs and confidence. Could I squeak through? Maybe – so long as no one asked a follow-up question.

So really, by that standard, I thought she did okay. So what if she’s a bit too eager to declare war on Russia? She sure can pronounce Saakashvili. She’s kind of fuzzy on the Bush Doctrine, but not to worry. She is absolutely ready to be president because she knows that, when you’re president, “you can’t blink.” In fact, as The Atlantic’s James Fallows says, she has a combination of ignorance and decisiveness that reminds you of George W. Bush.

You’ve got to admire this woman. She has the energy of 10 and ovaries of brass. She’s sharp and smart. Because of her, tens of thousands now turn out to rallies for her running mate, what’s his name. She’s hit the Democratic Party like a roadside bomb, and she’s left Barack Obama looking like yesterday’s celebrity.

Her only flaw is, she may have overestimated her ability to study up. I know that foreign policy isn’t brain surgery. Still, I wish she’d had the time to cram in just a teeny bit of practice before they let her loose in the operating room.

Then again, who am I to judge? I eat brie with my Chablis. This alone disqualifies me from commenting, according to the 7,658 flame-mails I’ve received from newly minted Palinites. (I can’t be sure, but I think most of them live in the United States.) They insist the radical feminists are just jealous, because Sarah takes the paradigm of what a feminist ought to be and busts it wide open.

They’ve got a point. Gloria Steinem has been twitching in despair, and other persons of the liberal persuasion have shown they can be as judgmental and intolerant as any redneck. The CBC’s never-subtle blogger, Heather Mallick, has branded Sarah Palin as an Alaska hillbilly with porn-star looks who’s on the ticket to sew up the white trash vote. Mothers of America, take that!

“Sarah Palin has been the object of the most vicious and concerted smear campaign in modern American history,” writes one conservative blogger, and he has a point. All he needs to do is add, “since Hillary Clinton.” Meantime, everyone’s switched sides in the mommy wars. Liberals are wondering how Sarah can juggle five kids and a country, while social conservatives have discovered a new-found admiration for ambitious career moms. The “flight from home is a flight from yourself, from responsibility, from the nature of woman,” Phyllis Schlafly used to say. Now she says, “I think a hard-working, well-organized CEO type can handle it very well.”

What’s going on here? Why has Sarah given John McCain such a monumental bounce in the polls? Have Karl Rove’s dark arts bewitched the voters yet again? Or is it that Sarah reminds people of Annie Oakley – a genuine folk hero who shot straight and tamed the wild frontier? That’s what Camille Paglia thinks. The notorious feminist dissenter goes on to say, “Frontier women were far bolder and hardier than today’s pampered, petulant bourgeois feminists, always looking to blame their complaints about life on someone else.”

You know one thing about Sarah: She’s no complainer. She never said she couldn’t lick the oil companies until she had subsidized daycare. Instead, she said: “To any critics who say a woman can’t think and work and carry a baby at the same time, I’d just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave.”

For many women – especially the ones who have no choice but to think and work and carry a baby at the same time – Sarah is the anti-Hillary. She’s down to earth. She never went to Yale, and she doesn’t (until now) have big-shot friends. She has an ordinary husband, and she made it on her own. They can relate to her in a way that’s impossible to do with Hillary Clinton. On top of that, she deliberately taps into the hardy myth of U.S. Small-town life, where decent people look out for one another and love their country and see their children off to war. She has cast herself as the female version of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

“She’s just like me!” women say, as if any woman could run a state while also bagging moose and producing babies. But, in other ways, she’s all too much like them. Sarah Palin has never met a foreign head of state. She hasn’t travelled much, and didn’t have a passport until last year. I don’t think these things will matter to them, because they know she understands them and is on their side.

We Canadians, of course, will sneer and roll our eyes at how stupid and provincial the Americans are. How ignorant they are of the wider world. How tragic that they’ve reduced the most important election on Earth to a contest between storylines. But I wonder: Are Canadians all that different? Maybe not so much.

Fortunately for the company that interviewed me, I didn’t get the job. Despite my legs and confidence, they saw through me right away. Whether enough Americans will see through Sarah Palin, I have no idea. And it wouldn’t matter if they did if her running mate were only 56. But he’s 72. And according to the actuarial tables, that means she’d have a 15-per-cent chance of being president by 2012.

Excuse me while I go hide under my bed.

– Margaret Wente

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September 17th, 2008, 4:40 pm

 

20. Shai said:

Alex,

Good to see SC up again. I think this version will help people (myself included) stick to the topic more. But I must say I miss the “Recent Comments” section on the right hand side.

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September 17th, 2008, 5:39 pm

 

21. Alex said:

She won.

Exit polls: Livni wins Kadima leadership race
By Haaretz Staff and News Agencies

Exit polls by Israel’s three major TV stations put Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on 47-49 percent of the vote in the election for the new Kadima leader, negating a second round of voting to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and making her the next likely premier.

Livni’s main rival for the leadership of the ruling party, Shaul Mofaz, the hardline transportation minister and former army chief, was predicted to have won 37 percent of the vote.

The exit polls awarded the two other candidates, Meir Sheetrit and Avi Dichter, 7 percent each.
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The winner, should he or she achieve a minimum of 40 percent in the final results, will replace Olmert, who is stepping down in light of multiple corruption allegations.

The biggest issue at stake was the future of Israel’s peace talks with the Palestinians, with Livni seen as far more amenable to a final deal than Mofaz. Livni, 50, is currently Israel’s lead negotiator in those talks.

Either candidate would make history by becoming prime minister. Livni would be the first female premier since Golda Meir. Mofaz, who was born in Iran, would be the first Israeli of Middle Eastern, or Sephardic, descent to lead the country.

Mofaz was seen as having a better chance at cobbling together a ruling coalition if he had won Wednesday’s primary. But pre-vote polls showed Livni to be a far stronger candidate in a general election against Israel’s other political star, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the rightist Likud Party.

Kadima extended the voting hours by 30 minutes Wednesday night, apparently to give voters returning from work more time to cast their ballots at crowded polling stations. Analysts predicted a high turnout would favor Livni, who has a wide advantage in opinion polls but who is seen not to have rallied party activists as efficiently as Mofaz.

The fact that only 74,000 party members, in a country of 7 million people, were eligible to vote added to the uncertainty of the outcome. Israeli media reported that an hour before the new closing time of 10:30 P.M. some 45 percent of the eligible Kadima voters had cast their ballots. However, voting often picks up in the evening after working hours in Israeli elections.

Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defense minister, has insisted that opinion polls showing him trailing Livni are inaccurate.

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September 17th, 2008, 9:08 pm

 

22. Alex said:

No Google Chrome for Syrians:

http://roneceve.blogspot.com/2008/09/no-chrome-for-us.html

no Chrome for us
so upon hearing of the new web browser launched by Google , I decided to give it a try ,I went to the website : http://www.google.com/chrome
and I had this error message :
The requested URL /service/prod_unavailable.html was not found on this server.
at first I thought there was actually something wrong with some server thingie , but then I read this post ,and all became clear again .
it seems that our friends in Google corp. have decided or agreed to withhold their services from syrian users as part of the embargo by the U.S government against Syria.

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September 17th, 2008, 11:53 pm

 
 

24. Shai said:

Alex,

At the moment, Livni is ahead by only 431 votes. A much closer match than the polls ever predicted. Mofaz is demanding a recount… The game continues.

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September 18th, 2008, 3:39 am

 

25. Rumyal said:

Alex,

If it makes you feel better, I’ve downloaded Chrome and it seems like SC is rendering just fine under this browser. It’s pretty snazzy so I hope you’ll be able to get it soon. In fact I’m posting this comment from Chrome… I have some friends in Google so I’ll try to ask around to see if there is any truth to Syria being excluded from the beta.

But hey if you can build cars maybe you should also build the first native Arab browser 🙂 Could be a nice collaborative project once we have peace.

Alex, if it’s OK with you, I have some feedback on the new look-and-feel:
1. Is the mobile version coming back? I loved it while it worked…
2. The recent comments section was good too… can we have it back?
3. I liked it more when the entire comments section was not paginated accross multiple pages, it’s kind of tedious to go between these pages.
4. What’s with the 2 minute countdown to edit… (trying to beat it right now…)

Shukran!

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September 18th, 2008, 6:28 am

 

26. Jad said:

Karim Pasha, Are you for real?
You start with your odd comment about the useless Syrian car factory and calling it lego-like as sarcasm forgetting that all car factories in the world are a lego-like assembly lines..
Then you show your support of the lebanese “great” achievment of one car by adding that article!!
And the big Finale,about the “huge” Druz population of Aleppo and Damascus that killed the Christians in 1860!!!!!!! How many druz are in Aleppo (if there is any) or in Damascus that are able to kill more than 30000 christians in only couple days??
To top it off you didn’t forget to state that you’ve been INSULTED as muslim Syrian reading the article Norman posts,and showing as usual at the end of your comments how much you love (this time) the Byzantin’s art and culture!!!
How should the Syrian Druz feel after reading your history fantasia??? BTW, Are you writing your own Syrian history now?
Next time before you post any comment please try to think and write something usefull.

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September 18th, 2008, 6:33 am

 

27. Alex said:

Rumyal

I can explain : )

The current interface is designed to be LESS useful than the old one.

We are trying to reduce CPU utilization on the server to a minimum. then we will add the other functions one by one to see which one (if any) caused last week’s spike in CPU utilization.

There is more to it, but the point is that we are indeed running on a more basic version of the blog for now.

As for Google, I think all their software can not be downloaded in Syria.

and I am using Chrome too … I live in Canada : )

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September 18th, 2008, 6:43 am

 

28. Rumyal said:

Alex,

Must be a Zionist Virus 🙂

Right, you’re in Canada, sorry for the confusion. I still sent an e-mail to a friend of mine in Google. Would be interesting to see if this is official company policy.

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September 18th, 2008, 6:47 am

 

29. Karim said:

Comrade Jad

I never spoke on Druze population in Aleppo or Damascus.

I invite you to read the link posted by Alex ,some weeks ago on this subject ,it say what i said above(or read the book of Charles Georges Corm on the European interventionism in the late Ottoman era).Who is a Lebanese Maronite.

If you want to know more accurate informations i’m ready to provide you with them.

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September 18th, 2008, 8:05 am

 

30. Karim said:

As for the car link ,it shows that we have enough brains and we are not in need of the cheap and bad quality but we deserve the better.

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September 18th, 2008, 10:03 am

 

31. Akbar Palace said:

Professor Josh,

Here’s an article which quotes your nemesis, Dave Wurmser:

Ex-Cheney aide: Bush won’t hit Iran

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1221489051828&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

(I prefer linking articles rather than forcing people to read them)

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September 18th, 2008, 11:02 am

 

32. jad said:

Brother Karim,
Your comments today remind me of the deaf tiger’s jock.
When you read an article posted by a Syrian Christian and talking about how tolerant Syrians are toward each other regardless of their religion you should be proud, and you should understand that he posts this article to be proud of being Syrian.
It’s very real when you hear that ‘Chaos’ is an alternative at these days, it’s more real than a moderate Muslim state in Syria, so do not open fire on it just because you don’t like the authorities.

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September 18th, 2008, 2:57 pm

 

33. Shai said:

Alex,

I second Rumyal’s request – the Recent Comments section must come back! I don’t know how, or when. But it must… Sorry, you’ve gotten us used to a certain level of “service”, and now you’re taking away the argilleh?!? :”-)

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September 18th, 2008, 3:53 pm

 

34. Alex said:

Shai,

Maybe after Ramadan. No Argeeleh for now.

Joe Klein (TIME magazine columnist)called McCain a liar

The good news is that the vile times may be ending. The coming debates will decide this race, and it isn’t easy to tell lies when your opponent is standing right next to you. The Wall Street collapse demands a more sober campaign as well. But these dreadful weeks should not be forgotten. John McCain has raised serious questions about whether he has the character to lead the nation. He has defaced his beloved military code of honor. He has run a dirty campaign.

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September 18th, 2008, 4:39 pm

 

35. Off the Wall said:

Zenobia

A few years back i was the target of a similar phone polling practice by a group pretending to poll for a local post, but was actually trying to woo the few non-republican residents in my town(we are endangered species where I live). It started to go bad when they started asking questions like, “would you support so and so knowing that she will encourage building low cost housing …” (i.e. bring not so rich poeple into our town). I was furious and I gave the poller a peice of my mind.

The wonderful word I heard was from a democratic Jewish member of congress representing a floridian district. She told her interviewer that American Jews need the Palin-McCain campaign to understand that they vote based on the enirety of their values not on a single issue. That congress woman is perhaps among the most Israel Friendly legislator in congress, and I found her comments refreshing and to a large extent true.

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September 20th, 2008, 4:24 pm

 

36. Off the Wall said:

On the google story

Long time ago, in the early days of the internet (late 1980’s). I tried to download a public domain code and there was a notice on that site the explicitly listed that citizen of certain countries (syria icluded) should not download that code (that was before the days of automated domain recognition). Since I was in the US then, but did not have US citizenship, I had to tell my boss that I needed that code for our “federaly” funded work and he managed to acquire it for me with permission to us. The optimization code was written by brilliant mathematician in one of our National Labs.

The US has policy regarding the exports of advanced technologies to a certain list of countries and companies try to abide by that law. In the past, the companies would tell you the story as it is. But nowaday with secerecy being the norm of our own government here in the US, I doubt that they will give you the actual story.

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September 20th, 2008, 4:38 pm

 

37. Off the Wall said:

NORMAN
I would not underestimate the ingenuity of the Syrian people

Amen to that

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September 20th, 2008, 4:42 pm

 

38. mounir said:

Ey We can’t Begin With a ferrari it’s only the begin and it was so in all countries

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November 8th, 2008, 2:33 pm

 

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