News Round Up (27 April 2008)

Qifa Nabki writes:

A few interesting discussions on the main Aounist blog, FPM Forum.

1. Analysis of the likely electoral outcomes of two different laws, i.e. 1960 vs. a proportional law like that of the Boutros Commission. (The first gives the opposition 59 seats; the latter would net 68). In either case, we’re not talking about a landslide: scenario 1 is not even a majority, and scenario 2 is a very slim one. Compromise will be the order of the day, no matter what.

2. FPM attitudes about Hizbullah’s arms. Interestingly, the recurrent theme is: we want them to disarm and integrate, but not before the Palestinian camps are disarmed.

3. Brief discussion of Saad Hariri’s off-the-cuff statement about his support for the 1960 law and his pledge NOT to nationalize the Palestinians. The originator of the thread says that he believes that if the majority can commit to these two points, the opposition would elect Suleiman as president. The nationalization issue is the big one for the FPMers, it seems.

In the meantime, Jumblatt has openly broken ranks with March 14 about joining Berri’s dialogue, so he must know something… He seems to be single-handedly trying to change the majority’s stance vis-a-vis a compromise with the opposition.

QN on Hizbullah's future as a political party:

I have a lot of hopeful optimism (and some confidence) in Hizbullah's future as a political party, provided that certain leaders in the movement remain alive, and that the relationship with the FPM proves to be an enduring one.

To give you an example of what I mean, after the Hariri assassination, the international media was glowing with coverage on the so-called "Cedar Revolution", and its gorgeous almond-eyed minxes with their red tanktops on the covers of the NYT, WashPost, etc. It was truly a made for TV revolution (which doesn't detract from the sincerity of its million-plus participants, in my opinion… it's not our fault if Lebanese women are good looking).

But to me, what is far more interesting was Hizbullah's response. The pro-Syria rallies were, at first, decidedly lo-fi in the way of marketing. The banners and publicity materials harkened back to the martyrdom poster school of self-branding (referred to in the article you posted). However, since 2005, Hizbullah has ramped up its publicity wing to the point that it seriously rivals that of March 14. Their materials now are much sharper, smarter, and embody a real nationalist flavor. To me, it seems clear that the ship has been pointed towards a new horizon.

But they can't just drop their guns and run. They need political guarantees, security guarantees… it's going to be a long transition period, and of course everything depends on the regional security situation.

Fatfat says Jumblatt won't break ranks  Daily Star

Test Hamas' offer of a 10-year truce
By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff
Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is Hamas' offer of a 10-year truce with Israel sincere? Is it a plausible gesture that should be carefully studied as a possible prelude to a comprehensive peace?

Hamas clearly is sending strong signals that it is prepared to play the diplomatic game – but not at any price, as Fatah and Yasser Arafat did for years. Hamas' offer of a long-term truce with Israel is neither permanent peace nor recognition of Israel. Those might follow from future negotiations, but only if Palestinians enjoy their equal national rights simultaneously, and this requires rules of the diplomatic game that are more even-handed.

Two pertinent issues are involved here. The first is whether Islamist movements like Hamas, Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood can be trusted and taken at their word when they speak of accepting democratic pluralism or negotiating with Israel. Many in Israel, the West and parts of the Arab world view these groups as insincere opportunists and deceitful tricksters who will speak the language of democracy and peace while actually planning to grab power and turn the region into one large Islamic theocracy or Iranian puppet theater….

Israel Open to Meeting With Syrians
By REUTERS, April 27, 2008

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel would be open to participating in a senior-level meeting with the Syrians brokered by Turkey to test the waters for renewed peace negotiations, Israeli officials said on Sunday.

Such a preliminary meeting between Israeli and Syrian representatives would be the next step in mediation efforts by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who held talks over the weekend with Syrian President Bashar al Assad, the officials said.

That meeting could lay the groundwork for more formal talks in the future, Israeli officials said, though Erdogan could face an uphill task bringing the two sides to formal negotiations before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office next January…..

Assad says facility Israel bombed not nuclear-paper 
DUBAI, April 27 (Reuters)

The Syrian site Israel bombed in September was not part of a nuclear weapons programme, but was a military facility under construction, President Bashar al-Assad said in remarks published on Sunday.

Last week, Washington released intelligence alleging Syria had built a nuclear reactor with North Korean help before an Israeli air strike destroyed the facility on Sept. 6.

"Is it logical? A nuclear site did not have protection with surface to air defences? A nuclear site within the footprint of satellites in the middle of Syria in an open area in the desert?" Assad told Qatar's al-Watan newspaper in an interview conducted before the U.S. accusations were made.

At that stage, he was commenting on media reports that said the target was a nuclear site. "The truth is that the raid was at a military site under construction," Assad said in the interview. "We are against mass destruction weapons for Israel, Iran or others."

Assad said it was illogical for Syria to seek a nuclear bomb. "Where would we use it? On Israel it would kill the Palestinians. I do not see this as logical."

Assad accused Washington of ignoring a Syrian proposal to make the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction "because it included Israel".

In 2003, when Syria was a member of the United Nations' Security Council, the Arab state pushed for a ban on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the Middle East in what was seen than as a bid to shine a spotlight on Israel's arsenal.

Israel is believed to have about 200 nuclear warheads but the country's policy is not to discus the issue — which some diplomats say is an open secret.

Speaking after the U.S. accusations, Syria's ambassador to the United States dismissed as "a fantasy" the U.S. allegations.

Assad said he did not know why Israel, officially at war with Syria since the 1973 Middle East conflict, bombed the site.

"Why did they raid it, we do not know what data they had, but they know and they see through satellites; they have raided an incomplete site that did not have any personnel or anything. It was empty," he added.

BILATERAL RELATIONS

Asked about Syria's response, Assad said: "Retaliation does not mean a missile for a missile, a bomb for a bomb or a bullet for a bullet … They (Israelis) understand what we mean. We do not say that we will retaliate, i.e. we will bomb."

"You have to ask a different question; had Syria not been harming Israeli policy would Israel have carried out an operation of this sort? The truth is that we have the means to respond, but in our own way."

"We understand Israel wants to provoke Syria and possibly to drag Syria into war while we do not seek war. We have been clear about this point. We have other means and we do not necessarily have to declare them."

Assad refused to answer a question about reports that Syria was seeking to acquire Russian missiles.

"If there was a door open, even if it was small, for peace you should not seek war but you should seek to defend yourself. Now are you prepared or not, psychologically we are always ready and constantly prepare ourselves, but in terms of results no one knows results until the battle itself."

Watan ran part of the interview on Thursday in which he said Damascus was ready to negotiate with Israel through Turkey to "find common ground" for peace, but any direct talks must wait until a new U.S. president is elected.

Syria says it received word from Turkey that Israel was willing to give back the occupied Golan Heights in full in return for peace with the Arab state — a key issue that led decade-long negotiations to falter in 2000. (Reporting by Summer Said; writing by Inal Ersan)

The Iraqi National Museum is welcoming home 701 artifacts stolen during the looting after Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. Syrian authorities turned over items ranging from golden necklaces to clay pots that were seized by traffickers in the neighboring country. Iraqi officials say Syria is the first country to hand over a large quantity of stolen antiquities. They hope others will follow its lead as Iraq struggles to restore its rich cultural heritage after five years of war.

State moves to ban fake testicles on vehicles

Look no further! There is a color for your dually truck. There are two sizes to choose from! A small set of nutz and the wildly popular big bull balls. Not made in China yet! Truck Nutz are made in the U.S.A.

Netanyahu: PM promised Golan to Syria before talks ever began

Comments (156)


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151. Shai said:

Rowan,

It’s an interesting comment you’re making, because I have noticed a slight difference between the English and Hebrew versions of Ynet and Ha’aretz. Sometimes, certain stories aren’t translated or found in one of the versions (usually the English one), which may be due to lack of quick-enough translation ability for the volume of articles, or something else. It is quite possible that English-versions are more targeted at American-Jews, than at Israelis. I don’t recall the breakdown of American-Jewry, in terms of the percentage of religious Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform), but perhaps there are more religious undertones in English. In Hebrew, however, you can rarely see that. In fact, on the whole, Journalism in Israel is considered very secular, and quite often blatantly anti-religious.

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April 30th, 2008, 5:56 am

 

152. Rowan Berkeley said:

absolutely, Shai, that is precisely what I am getting at, thank you.

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April 30th, 2008, 6:06 am

 

153. zenobia said:

New York Times

April 25, 2008
U.S. Jews Create New Lobby to Temper Israel Policy
By NEIL A. LEWIS

WASHINGTON — Several prominent American Jews have formed a new pro-Israel lobby as an alternative to traditional organizations that, they assert, often impede progress in the Middle East because of their generally reflexive support of Israel.

Officials of the new group, called J Street, say they believe the best way to bring security and peace to Israel is to help political candidates who support that country but will occasionally question some of its policies like maintaining or expanding settlements in disputed territories.

For many who follow the intense and complex world of lobbying on Middle East issues in Washington, there is little doubt as to the role J Street hopes to play in American politics — upsetting or at least diluting the influence of groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, the formidable lobby that has long been the dominant voice of American Jewry with regard to United States policy in the Middle East.

“They’re trying to be the un-Aipac,” said Shmuel Rosner, who follows the issue closely as the chief United States correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The executive director of the new venture, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in an interview that “a large number of American Jews and their friends have dropped out of the discussion about how to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors because they don’t have a home politically.” He argued that there was a need for an alternative to the traditional groups who say, “to oppose any Israeli policy is to be anti-Israel.”

The new group’s name is a multiple play on words. Not only does the letter “J” suggest a Jewish cause, but “K Street” has come to be shorthand for the Washington lobby industry because many lobbyists’ offices are there. Although downtown Washington’s streets are named for letters in the alphabet, it is also a quirk that there is no J Street to be found between I and K.

The group’s founders say they will provide something else that does not exist: financial support from American Jews for political candidates whose views are not in line with Aipac’s. J Street has established its own political action committee to donate to candidates on the basis of their views about Middle East policy.

So far, according to the most recent quarterly statement filed at the Federal Election Commission, the group has brought in only a handful of contributions, ranging from $250 to $5,000.

Aipac does not have a political action committee and does not donate to candidates but exercises significant influence in other ways. Its prominent members donate heavily as individuals to candidates, and it mobilizes influential supporters in lawmakers’ home districts.

Mr. Ben-Ami, a former domestic policy adviser in the Clinton administration, said his group intended to select a handful of Congressional candidates to support this fall with donations of about $50,000 each.

He said they would choose candidates in June who are willing, for example, to express forcefully their support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue and for aid to the Palestinian Authority.

One race that has the potential to provide such a demonstration is the Senate campaign in Minnesota, in which Norm Coleman, the incumbent Republican who is a staunch Israel supporter, is likely to be opposed by Al Franken, a Democrat who might take some positions more in line with those of J Street.

Underlying the formation of the group is a fundamental question that has long vexed the American Jewish community: What is the most effective way to support Israel? Many people involved in Aipac have long argued that American Jews have limited standing to criticize Israel’s policies because they are not themselves facing difficult questions of safety and survival.

Aipac would not comment on the formation of J Street. But some people involved in Aipac noted with satisfaction the vast difference in the size of the two groups: J Street is planning for an operating budget of about $1.5 million, compared with Aipac’s $100 million endowment, membership of more than 100,000 and annual lobbying expenditures of about $1 million.

Victor A. Kovner, a prominent New York lawyer and former corporation counsel for the city who is one of the principal fund-raisers for J Street, said the group’s aim was to undo the notion that “Aipac speaks for American Jews on issues affecting Israel and Middle East.”

He said candidates would also be able to use the group’s endorsements as a shield against accusations that they were anti-Israel. The group’s principal fund-raisers are Mr. Kovner, who supports Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Alan Solomont, who supports Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy.

A principal theorist behind the group, J Street officials said, is Daniel Levy, the son of Lord Levy of Britain, who was the Labor Party’s main fund-raiser under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

So far, J Street has raised about $750,000 for its lobbying arm. It is organized as a nonprofit and is not obliged to detail its donations, although Mr. Ben-Ami said that a few people, whom he would not name, had each given gifts of $100,000.

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April 30th, 2008, 6:42 am

 

154. Shai said:

Zenobia,

Good Morning/Night. While I’m very glad to see some opposition to AIPAC finally (which may cause it to moderate its almost blind pro-Israel stance), like Alex mentioned before, I agree that it’ll take quite some time before “J Street” will pose a real challenge to AIPAC. Still, a very positive development, and I believe it is very much in Israel’s best interest.

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April 30th, 2008, 6:54 am

 

155. Rowan Berkeley said:

I just wrote a comment to Gary Kimiya’s story in Salon.com about JStreet, which you can find on my blog or on Salon. I argue that JStreet is basically a Kadima front, and very necessary given that AIPAC is pretty close to being a Likud front.

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April 30th, 2008, 7:21 am

 

156. wizart said:

Zenobia,

Just wanted to respond to your earlier post addressed to me and T.

I never mean to speak on your behalf in my introductory comment to T a couple days ago when he got into an argument with Shai and you.

My reference to you and Shai was only in the context of my post to T and I never provided anyone with inside tips about anyone else.

While I appreciate friendships among all bloggers I also appreciate everybody’s right to express his/her opinion about what they think without resorting to name calling or irresponsible judging. Trust is something people can earn on their own, it’s not something we can impose on others. Shai is welcome to earn that trust and so is T and everyone else as Alex and Josh may have suggested earlier.

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April 30th, 2008, 8:32 am

 

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