Posted by Joshua on Monday, May 4th, 2009
The New York Times interviews Khalid Mishaal, who reiterates Hamas’ desire to fit into a two state solution without formally recognizing Israel. On Hizbullah, Gary Gambill explains that there is no compelling reason for the Obama administration to try any “disarm Hizbullah quick” schemes. The present arrangement is working well enough, he argues.
Leader Says Hamas Will be ‘Part of the Solution’
By TAGHREED EL-KHODARY and ETHAN BRONNER
Published: May 4, 2009, New York Times
DAMASCUS, Syria — The leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas said on Monday that its fighters would stop firing rockets at Israel for now and reached out in a limited way to the Obama administration and others in the West, saying the movement was seeking a state only in the areas Israel won in 1967.
“I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period,”
the leader, Khaled Meshal, said in the course of a five hour interview with The New York Times spread over two days in his home office here in the Syrian capital. Speaking in Arabic in a house heavily guarded by Syrian and Palestinian security agents, Mr. Meshal, 53, gave off an air of serene self-confidence, having been reelected a fourth time to four-year term as the head of the Hamas political bureau, the top slot in the movement. His conciliation went only so far, however. He repeated that he would not recognize Israel, saying to fellow Arab leaders, “There is only one enemy in the region and that is Israel.”….
…. On the two-state solution sought by the Americans, he said, “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.” Asked what “long-term” meant, he said 10 years.
Apart from the time restriction and the refusal to accept Israel’s existence, Mr. Meshal’s terms approximate the Arab League peace initiative and what the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas says it is seeking. Israel rejects a full return to the 1967 borders as well as a Palestinian right of return to Israel itself.
Regarding recognition of Israel, Mr. Meshal said that the former Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, and Mr. Abbas had granted such recognition but to no avail. “Did that recognition lead to an end of the occupation? It’s just a pretext by the United States and Israel to escape dealing with the real issue and to throw the ball into the Arab and Palestinian court.”…
The Hizbullah paradox
By GARY C. GAMBILL
The Jerusalem Post
4 May 2008
Since the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in 2005, the American foreign policy establishment has been preoccupied with securing the disarmament of the militant Lebanese Shi’ite Hizbullah movement. Unfortunately, experts who cater to the above have yet to advance a plausible strategy for achieving this goal.
A sheik, right, congratulates Maj. Gen. Ali Hajj, center, after his release from prison, as his wife Samar, left, reacts, in front of his house in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, April 29, 2009.
While no one advocates forcible disarmament of Hizbullah, many have long maintained that intensified foreign and domestic coercive pressure on the group will encourage its demilitarization. In fact, Israel’s 2006 military campaign against Hizbullah and an abortive attempt by Lebanon’s governing coalition to shut down its telecommunications network last spring (both encouraged by Washington) only strengthened Shi’ite support for the movement. So long as it enjoys the firm solidarity of the country’s largest sectarian group, aid to Lebanese security forces (while advisable on other grounds) cannot produce a counterforce politically capable of challenging Hizbullah.
Others have argued that removing Hizbullah’s declared pretexts for “resistance” will facilitate public pressure for its disarmament. However, while past concessions by Israel (e.g. withdrawing from south Lebanon in 2000, releasing all remaining Lebanese prisoners last summer) chipped away at Hizbullah’s pool of grievances, they also served to sanctify and legitimize its militia. There is little reason to believe that a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the disputed Shebaa Farms enclave will persuade Lebanese Shi’ites to accept (let alone press for) Hizbullah’s disarmament.
The conventional wisdom that Syria or Iran can be induced to solve the Hizbullah problem by fiat is also problematic. Coercing or persuading Damascus to cut off Hizbullah’s arms supplies may gradually weaken the strategic threat posed by its arsenal, but it won’t appreciably degrade the group’s capacity to fend off the state and rival militias. Iran has a much more intimate relationship with Hizbullah, but its deeply unpopular clerical regime may not be politically capable of getting tough with the Shi’ite world’s most admired public figure even if it were strategically disposed to do so (which it clearly isn’t).
A fourth hypothetical path to disarmament centers on domestic reform to alleviate the Lebanese Shi’ite community’s longstanding political and economic subordination, thereby reducing its perceived need for the protection and leverage of a militia. Then-Senator Barack Obama alluded to this catalyst at the height of the Lebanon’s political crisis last spring, calling for “electoral reform, an end to the current corrupt patronage system, and … a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment.” However, this kind of change will be difficult to effect and take years to complete. In the meantime, a credible reform process will bolster Hizbullah’s stature as guardian of Shi’ite communal interests.
THIS IS NOT to say there isn’t a viable path to Hizbullah’s disarmament. While Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah may be as zealously anti-Zionist as the Palestinian leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, his Lebanese constituents have no significant territorial dispute against Israel and lack the kind of existential antipathy felt by many Palestinians. Shi’ite Islam is more accepting of sectarian heterogeneity than Sunni Islam and less oriented around the ideal of Arab-Islamic unity – traits that bode well for eventual acceptance of a Jewish state in Palestine. The overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shi’ites support Hizbullah’s refusal to disarm because they consider its militia vital to their security and political clout – instrumental considerations that can, in principle, be changed without a major diplomatic breakthrough in the Mideast peace process. However, the first step in finding a way forward is recognizing that “disarm Hizbullah quick” schemes aren’t likely to work (and could make things considerably worse). Those who passionately insist otherwise are selling something (usually a broader policy agenda).
Fortunately, there is no compelling reason for the Obama administration to roll the dice. The deployment of UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon after the 2006 war effectively sealed off Hizbullah’s access to the battlefield, while the enormous destruction Israel rained upon Lebanon has rendered unprovoked cross-border attacks politically unthinkable. So long as Hizbullah is actively engaged in the political sphere (and periodically reminded of the apocalypse to follow any armed provocations against Israel), this nearly three-year state of non-belligerency could prove to be remarkably durable.
The writer is the editor of Mideast Monitor and publishes widely on Lebanese and Syrian politics, terrorism, and democratization in the Middle East.
NYT: Op-Ed Columinst: The Mellow Doctrine
“On a recent visit to Damascus, Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel , was intrigued to find Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, asking him w ith concern whether there was “some sort of understanding” between the United St ates and Iran.”
The Four Generals and Mideast Impunity
BY: RAMI G. KHOURI | THE DAILY STAR
It is too early to say whether the release Wednesday of the four Lebanese security services generals who had been held in jail for four years on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will have a positive or negative impact on the political scene in the country…..
The big picture and the key question for me remain very clear: Will people, political movements or governments forever be able to kill and coerce with impunity in the Arab world?
Syrian Shares Rise as Arab Bank-Syria Gains; Volume Remains Low
By Nadim Issa, 2009-05-04
May 4 (Bloomberg) — Investors in Syria traded shares in all eight companies listed on the Damascus Securities Exchange for the first time since the bourse opened in March.
Arab Bank-Syria as well as the other seven listed companies climbed by their maximum daily limit of 2 percent. Twenty-five transactions took place as shares valued at 1.54 million Syrian pounds ($32,700) were traded.
“Even though all the companies listed on the bourse moved to their upward 2 percent fluctuation limit, the volume is still low,” Hakam Tarabein, senior financial analyst at Damascus- based Pioneers for Financial Services-Syria, said today by phone from Damascus. “We don’t expect volume to rise in the coming few weeks unless there are more listed companies.”
The exchange, which started trading shares March 10 and is open twice a week, has struggled to attract liquidity.
Brokerages say the share fluctuation limit has curtailed volume and are hoping the regulation will be revised.
Report: bloggers in Burma, Iran and Syria work under most oppressive conditions – The Committee to Protect Journalists lists the 10 worst places to blog from – Group: Burmese blogger serves 59-years in prison for posting cyclone video – In Saudi
Leading political prisoner goes on trial in Syria
Reuters North American News Service
Khaled Yacoub Oweis
May 04, 2009
DAMASCUS, May 4 (Reuters) – One of Syria’s leading dissidents, already serving a jail term for political crimes, faced a military trial on Monday on fresh charges of making statements that “weaken national morale”
Walid al-Bunni, a 46-year physician, was jailed for 2-1/2 years in October along with 11 other dissidents after holding a large meeting to revive opposition to 46 years of Baath Party rule in Syria.
According the indictment, al-Bunni is charged with making “false statements that weaken national morale”.
It said he told a fellow inmate, in jail for car theft, Iran was exerting influence on Syria and Syria had contributed to a political crisis in Lebanon. “I did not say any of this, and even if did, would I say it to such a swindler?” al-Bunni, wearing a striped blue prison uniform, told the court.
The trial was attended by diplomats from the European Commission and France, which have stepped up contact with Syria after several years of tense ties, and backed efforts to reach a peace deal between Syria and Israel. The judge, a brigadier general, said a second session of the court would sit next week.
Al-Bunni kissed his wife from behind bars before he was taken away from the courtroom, where pictures of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, hung from behind the bench.
Mohannad al-Hussani, al-Bunni’s lawyer, said although the judge had given his client an opportunity to tell his side of the story, which was not common in political cases, there was no guarantee he would be found innocent.
Hussani compared his client to Kamal al-Labwani, another leading dissident who was also sentenced last year to 2-1/2 years in prison on top of a 12-year term he was already serving for weakening national morale.
“Labwani’s charges were also trumped up,” said Hassani.
“The authorities must stop treating political prisoners this medieval way and realise that they are principled people who strived to preserve national unity.”….