Hamas and Hizbullah Reach out to Obama

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.

Islamic Jordanians hold posters of Hamas Ismail Haniya (R) and Khaled Meshaal during a sit in to show their solidarity with Palestinians living in Jerusalem, in Amman April 16, 2009.

Islamic Jordanians hold posters of Hamas' Ismail Haniya (R) and Khaled Meshaal during a sit in to show their solidarity with Palestinians living in Jerusalem, in Amman April 16, 2009.

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.
Photo: AP

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
2009-05-04

“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.

CNN: The worst place in the world to be a blogger
2009-05-04

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.”….

Comments (5)


1. norman said:

US rejects Syria’s call for dialogue with Hamas, Hezbollah
Published: Monday May 4, 2009

The United States on Monday balked at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s call to open talks with the anti-Israeli groups Hamas and Hezbollah, saying the militants had to renounce violence first.

“We would like to see Syria change the behavior of these two groups,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

“We have already stated what our position is with regard to sitting down with Hamas,” he said.

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — the so-called diplomatic quartet on the Middle East — insist Hamas recognize the state of Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and respect past accords.

“And Hezbollah, which is also a terrorist organization, needs to renounce violence and be a productive player in the region,” Wood said. “These two groups have not.”

“We call on Syria to use its influence to make these two groups play a much more — play a constructive role in the region,” he added.

In an interview with French television, Assad urged the United States on Sunday to reach out to the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas and Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim Hezbollah in order to boost chances for Middle East peace.

Speaking to France 3, Assad welcomed what he said was a new willingness in Washington to listen to Syria’s views since President Barack Obama took office, and said Damascus was ready to help broker contacts with the groups.

Assad said Washington’s stance on the two groups was counterproductive if it wanted to seek regional peace, but said the “problem was with the previous administration” of president George W. Bush.

Assad called for “direct or indirect” talks between Washington and Hamas, and added: “When they want to have help with these parties, any contact direct or indirect with Syria, and maybe direct, we are ready to help.”

He also welcomed Obama’s decision to send envoys to open a tentative dialogue with Syria.

Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she had sent two diplomats to Syria, but Washington remains cautious in its dealings with a government that has close ties to Iran and to hardline armed groups.

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May 5th, 2009, 2:00 am

 

2. kingcrane jr said:

An article by Gary Gambill???
This most anti-Syrian (government and people) individual should be ignored. His opinion represents nothing. He is irrelevant.

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May 5th, 2009, 6:58 am

 

3. norman said:

Obama Sends 2 Jews to Syria as Damascus Tightens Ties with Iran

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

(IsraelNN.com)
President Obama is sending two Jewish advisers to Damascus this week for the second time in two months as his administration’s diplomatic steamroller continues to plow through Middle East political minefields.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is basking in the attention he is receiving as being a potential partner in peace talks but has made it clear he will not do so at price of breaking with Iran, although that is exactly what the United States wants him to do.

While State Department Middle East official Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council Senior Director Daniel Shapiro were en route to Syria, Assad hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both leaders made it clear that they back Palestinian Authority “resistance,” a code word for terrorism against Israel. “We see that the resistance will continue until all occupied territories are liberated,” they announced.
We see that the resistance will continue until all occupied territories are liberated.

The State Department explained that Feltman and Shapiro, both of whom are Jewish, are traveling to “further advance the U.S. commitment to direct diplomacy with Syria and continue discussions” from a previous trip in March.

The U.S. officially has put Syria on its diplomatic blacklist since the suspected Syrian participation in the assassination in 2005 of former Lebanese Prime Minster Rafiq Hariri, who was against Syrian domination of Lebanon.

President Obama has made a clear break from the Bush administration policy as he takes advantage of an increasingly influential dovish Jewish lobby, spearheaded by the J Street lobby that calls itself Pro-Israel and is trying to replace the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as the most influential Israel lobby.

He has stacked his staff with several Jews who backed the Oslo Accord and talks between Israel and Yasser Arafat before they literally blew up in September, 2000 with the resumption of suicide bombings and thousands of rocket and mortar shelling attacks on Israel.

However, the Arab world, and not the Israeli government, has been most vocal about doubts concerning the American strategy towards Iran, which has spotlighted its ties with Syria.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Monday, “Iran’s behavior in the region is negative in many aspects and does not help in advancing security, stability and peace.” The Associated Press quoted Arab diplomats as expressing concerns that President Obama is being too soft on Iran, whose aim for Islamic dominancy threatens the Arab world.

The Obama administration has assured Arab leaders it is not working on a master plan for Middle East peace that would be produced at this expense, but Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair told PA media Tuesday that the Quartet is working on a new strategy for talks between Israel and the PA.

Officials in the Obama administration have begun directly stating that halting the Iranian nuclear threat is directly linked to progress towards establishing a new PA state on the land of Judea, Gaza and Samaria.

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May 6th, 2009, 2:29 pm

 

4. Alex said:

Norman

That article is wrong. Jeffrey David Feltman is not Jewish. He is a Presbyterian from Ohio.

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May 6th, 2009, 8:05 pm

 

5. Alex said:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f0b46c00-3a56-11de-8a2d-00144feabdc0.html?nclick_check=1

Syria takes cold comfort from crisis

By Anna Fifield in Damascus

May 6 2009 17:13

In one of the swanky luxury goods stores that have sprung up in Damascus, otherwise-idle shop assistants pass their days arranging and re-arranging $500 pairs of shoes and $600 handbags.

Even economic isolation is not shielding “rogue states” such as Syria from fear of the global financial crisis.

“I worry about it [the crisis],” says one of the shop girls, although she adds that it is not unusual for the store to be almost empty even during normal times, given that its goods are out of the price range of almost all Syrians. “Maybe our sales will go down and maybe some of us will lose our jobs,” she shrugs.

Syria’s economy has changed much in recent years, although it still prides itself on being a “social market economy” – its unique flavour of socialism with a few capitalist trappings.

While President Bashar al-Assad’s government continues to keep a lid on political dissent, it has permitted a very public debate about the economy, which remains inefficient and bureaucratic.

Shares are now being traded on the fledgling stock exchange, privatisation is being discussed, and there is a level of conspicuous consumption that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.

“[Before] the upper-class would consume abroad. Now they do it here in the fancy new shops and cafes,” says one westerner living in Damascus. “There is this new visibility and wealth which is quite striking.”

But it remains in question how much this newfound wealth – not to mention the economy as a whole – will be endangered by the global financial crisis.

Syria is beginning to feel the pinch just as it feels the benefit of its tentative steps towards economic liberalisation – and before it feels the benefit of improved economic ties with that bastion of capitalism, the US.

“Our exports are going to be affected by slowing demand, and remittances from expats and tourism are also going to be affected,” says Ratab Shallah, chairman of the new Damascus Stock Exchange and head of the Syrian Chamber of Commerce.

Some economists expect export earnings to fall by a third this year, mainly because of lower oil and agricultural prices. Meanwhile, remittances from Syrians living in the Gulf in particular appear to have been affected, according to anecdotal reports.

Bassel Hamwi, general manager of the Syrian branch of Bank Audi, a Lebanese lender, says local banks are faring well, thanks to conservative management and high levels of liquidity. Yet liquidity in the commercial sector is drying up as “everybody is uneasy about the future, trying to hedge their bets”, he says.

The latest International Monetary Fund report on Syria said the impact would be “relatively mild”. “The medium-term outlook is then expected to improve as the global and regional economies begin to recover,” said the IMF, predicting growth of 3.9 per cent this year.

Whatever the impact, Syria’s nascent economy and relative isolation means it has not suffered contamination in the same way as other regional economies, such as Dubai.

“The fact that Syria needs so much investment is going to be a good cushion and will support us during the crisis,” says Mr Shallah of the Chamber of Commerce. “Syria is an emerging market so there is so much that can be done without being affected by the crisis.”

Indeed, Mr Hamwi thinks the crisis could even have some positive effects.

“We have been trying desperately to attract Syrian expats to return and have been using all sorts of temptations, like massive salaries. We got people from Canada, the US, Saudi Arabia, Dubai – but not in the numbers we hoped for,” he says. “With this crisis, people are saying ‘I can go back to Syria and work at a respectable institution for good money’.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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May 6th, 2009, 8:07 pm

 

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