Ire over US Sanctions Causes Policy Review in Damascus

Moallem Discusses with Feltman and Shapiro

Moallem Discusses with Feltman and Shapiro

Ire over US Sanctions Causes Policy Review in Damascus

The Syrians are upset with the way sanctions were reimposed by President Obama. The current administration’s use of language identical to that used by President Bush, without any phrases to soften the hostility and without referring to dialogue, progress, or anticipated improvements angered Syrian policy makers. Many are becoming ever more convinced that the Obama administration cannot bring about real change and is falling back on the use of sticks and the intimidation techniques that President Bush favored. Officials have suggested that Damascus is reviewing its policies and does not know where the US-Syrian dialogue goes from here. No one whats to talk about the promised Mitchell visit as yet. They are still trying to digest the implications of the Feltman-Shapiro visit last week.

The scheduled agenda for Feltman’s and Shapiro’s visit in Damascus last week was to implement a wide ranging agreement on intelligence sharing and security cooperation in Iraq, which included joint patrols and other arrangements that could finally end border disputes and put an additional dent in infiltration across the long Syrian-Iraqi border. Today, no communications exist between officials on the two sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, which often leads to security breaches, misunderstandings, and recriminations from both sides that the other is at fault for placing politics above security, ideology above the lives of common people, and posturing above peace.

On Lebanon, the Americans expressed unsolicited gratification that the election preparations and campaigning was proceeding in an atmosphere of freedom and security.

On the Golan and possible Peace talks with Israel, it is too early to say what will happen. Netanyahu has only reiterated his refusal to give up the Golan.

A Syrian who has good contacts with the government in Damascus wrote me the following about the way Obama renewed sanctions:

Really inexplicable. Obama had the chance to protect his troops in Iraq without further delay, and to really change the dynamic of US-Syria relations by immediately sending an ambassador to Damascus and starting intelligence sharing. I do not know whose idea it was to test Damascus and to throw a spanner in the works. Soon negotiations will lose momentum and relations will fall back into the quagmire of the Bush Syria-policy. I am not sure how US interests are served by this continuing dance of recriminations and insults which do nothing but perpetuate mistrust and ill-will.

Another said:

“How dare they send Feltman and Shapiro to announce that they are renewing sanctions and then explain that we should think nothing of it — that it is routine — and expect that we will just turn the page and get on with implementing the broad security and intelligence sharing plan that was to be the substance of our meetings.

Another Syrian official explained:

“Yes, we expected the sanctions to be renewed, but why use the identical language that Bush used? Why not say something to reflect the progress made in out discussions and our mutual intentions of changing our relationship? Obama could have said something like: “We renew sanctions but hope that by the end of a year we will be able to revise our relations and will have made considerable progress on a number of differences we have with Syria.”

An American-Syrian explained:

“Syria is not changing. They think that they can give zero to the Americans. What has Syria really done for America? Nothing. Syrian officials believe that America needs Syria and has been wrong to treat it so badly these last eight years that they should renounce sanctions and change their ways for free. The world does not work like that. This is a golden opportunity for Syria. It is slipping from Syria’s hands because of pride and obtuseness.

The following article in Syria-News quote Turkey’s Foreign Minister saying that Syria is genuinely interested in peace negotiations with Israel and should be given the benefit of the doubt.



غول:سورية أكثر صدقية من إسرائيل ونيتها حقيقة في الانفتاح على الغرب

الاخبار السياسية

وينقل إلى سورية تطمينات أمريكية حول علاقاتهما

وصف الرئيس التركي عبد الله غول سورية بأنها “كانت أكثر صدقية من إسرائيل خلال المفاوضات غير المباشرة”, مشيرا إلى أن “الرئيس الأسد لديه النية الحقيقية والقوية في الانفتاح على الغرب”.

وأضاف غول في مقابلة مع صحيفة الحياة أن “سورية وإسرائيل كانتا على وشك الانتقال إلى مفاوضات مباشرة بينهما، لكن حرب غزة أدت إلى إحباط المفاوضات غير المباشرة التي كانت ناجحة”.

وكانت سورية وإسرائيل وصلتا إلى المرحلة الرابعة من مباحثات السلام غير المباشرة بوساطة تركيا قبل أن تعلقها سورية إثر العدوان الإسرائيلي على غزة أواخر العام الماضي.

وحول العلاقات السورية الأمريكية قال الرئيس التركي إن “ملف سورية كان من بين أهم الملفات التي ناقشها مع الرئيس الأميركي باراك أوباما خلال زيارته إلى أنقرة، وأنه يحمل إلى دمشق التي سيزورها بعد يومين تطمينات”.

ومن المقرر أن يصل الرئيس التركي إلى سورية الجمعة المقبل للتباحث مع كبار المسؤولين السوريين في العديد من القضايا ذات الاهتمام المشترك.

وتأتي زيارة غول بعد أكثر من شهر على توقيع اتفاقية للتعاون الفني العسكري في مجالات الصناعات الدفاعية وتبادل المعلومات الفنية والعلمية بين سورية وتركيا, و قيام قوات برية سورية وتركية وعلى مدى ثلاثة أيام، بتدريبات عسكرية مشتركة عبر الحدود الدولية بين البلدين.

Maariv via the Pulse via FLC

“US President Barack Obama’s two envoys returned from Damascus last weekend with the impression that Syria is still not ready to withdraw its support for terror,” Maya Bengal wrote in Ma’ariv today:

Syria criticizes renewal of US sanctions

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria rejected the Obama administration’s decision to renew economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus and urged Washington to abandon “foolish policies,” a state-run newspaper reported Sunday….

Syria’s Tishrin newspaper said U.S. policies of isolation, blockades and sanctions adopted by the former U.S. administration “have put the United States in an intractable impasse.” It said Washington can reverse this path if it stepped up its role in promoting peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

The United States should get rid of “foolish policies and replace them with openness, dialogue and discussions through transparent practices, the foremost of which is an open and final reversal of the policy of sanctions against states and peoples,” the newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

Syria Must Take ‘Immediate’ Action on Iraq Fighters, U.S. Says
By Viola Gienger

May 11 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. called on Syria to take “immediate and decisive action” to stop the transit of foreign fighters into neighboring Iraq, where a spate of bombings made April the deadliest month since September.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and White House adviser Dan Shapiro raised the issue with Syrian officials during their meetings in Damascus last week, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said today.

“We continue to have very deep concern about this issue of the flow of foreign fighters going into Iraq via Syria,” Kelly told reporters in Washington. Syria should improve screening at the Damascus airport and increase security on the border with Iraq and cooperation with Iraqi officials, he said….

The death toll was 40 percent higher than in March, AFP said last week. Still, data compiled by Washington’s Brookings Institution from U.S. Defense Department reports show the level of violence remains well below that of two years ago.

Syria denies country is route for al-Qaida


DAMASCUS, Syria, May 13 (UPI) — Syrian officials are denying a news report that al-Qaida has resumed sneaking fighters into Iraq through Syria. Officials said the published report in a U.S. newspaper that the smuggling resumed was false and indicated U.S. confusion about security matters in Iraq, the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA reported Wednesday.

Terrorist Traffic Via Syria Again Inching Up
By Karen DeYoung

Last October, as the Bush administration was touting a dramatic drop in the number of suicide bombings in Iraq, four young Tunisian men left their homes for Libya and then headed to Syria. There, they were met at the Damascus airport and taken to a safe house. Six tedious months passed until their handlers felt that it was safe to move the men again. In April, they were smuggled across the Iraqi border; within days, two were dead, among the suicide bombers who have killed at least 370 Iraqis in a wave of attacks over the past several weeks.

The third Tunisian disappeared. The fourth was captured and, according to a senior U.S. military official, provided interrogators with this account of their travels.

His statement, combined with what other sources had previously indicated to U.S. and Iraqi intelligence, confirmed what American officials had suspected: After a long hiatus, the Syrian pipeline operated by the organization al-Qaeda in Iraq is back in business.

The revival of a transit route that officials had declared all but closed comes as the Obama administration is exploring a new diplomatic dialogue with Syria. At the same time, Washington remains concerned by Syrian activities — including ongoing support for the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as activities involving Iraq.

On Wednesday, acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey D. Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro arrived in Syria for their second visit since Barack Obama’s inauguration as president. Two days later, however, Obama renewed U.S. sanctions against Syria, accusing Damascus of supporting terrorism in the Middle East and undermining Iraqi stability.

“I think it sends the message that we have some very serious concerns,” Robert Wood, a State Department spokesman, said of the sanctions renewal. Feltman, he added, was “in Damascus to talk about . . . how we can get Syria to change its behavior and see if it’s willing to really engage seriously in a dialogue, be a positive role in the Middle East. Up until now, Syria hasn’t played that positive role.”

Saudi Arabia Must Come Off the Sidelines in Iraq
Michael Wahid Hanna |12 May 2009
World Politics Review

At a recent forum on U.S.-Saudi relations in Washington, D.C., current and former Saudi officials decried the previous U.S. administration’s Middle East policies. …On his recent trip to the region, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reiterated his appeal to Riyadh and Cairo to appoint ambassadors to Baghdad….

The Saudi-Iraqi border represents yet another opportunity for mutually beneficial cooperation. The border has been a main entryway for takfiri extremists into Iraq, and Saudis represent (.pdf) a high proportion of those foreign fighters. While infiltration has decreased with the improvements in security, increased coordination and joint planning would improve the effectiveness of border patrols and further stem the flow. That, in turn, would help to blunt the dangers posed to Saudi Arabia and the broader Arab world by the return of seasoned and radicalized fighters…

“The critical juncture will be what comes out of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting,” Abdullah said.

“If there is procrastination by Israel on the two-state solution or there is no clear American vision for how this is going to play out in 2009, then all the tremendous credibility that Obama has worldwide and in this region will evaporate overnight if nothing comes out in May. Reuters

An assured Assad in Financial Times, May 10 2009
By Roula Khalaf and Anna Fifield

“The Syrians now believe they are the centre of the Middle East,” quips Andrew Tabler…
US officials fear that Syria might be overestimating the change of tone of the Obama administration and misreading its intentions. To stress that point, a day after a senior US envoy was in Damascus at the end of last week, the administration renewed its unilateral sanctions against Syria, citing the regime’s support for terrorism and weapons trade.

“We want to see a change in Syria’s outlook, away from being a spoiler and more towards being a constructive problem solver, at least willing to deal with some of the problems in the region,” says one US official. “It is not that we want them to cut off relations with Iran but to recognise that the west can offer things that Iran can’t – like economic prosperity and peace with Israel.”

by Ali Gharib in IPS

Under centrist Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel had been in Turkish-mediated peace talks with Syria until they were broken off during the Israel Defence Force’s brutal three-week incursion into the Gaza Strip.

“They had spent a lot of energy doing the Olmert thing in Turkey,” Landis said. “No one believed anything would happen under Olmert, but the idea was you get momentum and create things. [Now] the Syrians feel like they’re being played and they’re getting asked to do a strip tease, and they’re not going to get anything but knowing glances from Israel.”

Indeed, the young right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave even less than a “knowing glance” over the weekend.

“Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria,” Netanyahu told reporters on Thursday. He reaffirmed that he didn’t intend to withdraw from the strategic plateau during a cabinet meeting Sunday.

With the Golan Heights off the table, resumption of meaningful talks is unlikely.

Thaw with Syria Hits Stumbling Blocks
By Ali Gharib

WASHINGTON, May 11 (IPS) – U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement on May 8 calling for the renewal of sanctions on Syria, which were set to expire on Monday. The declaration came at the end of a busy week in which both high-level U.S. officials and the Iranian president visited the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Though Syria has recently sought engagement with the U.S. and Israel, the executive order extending sanctions is only the latest in a series of significant stumbling blocks to peeling off one of Iran’s closest regional allies.

The renewed sanctions came on the heels of two-high profile visits to Damascus – first by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and then U.S. diplomat Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro of Obama’s National Security Council – which exemplified the West’s sometimes-faltering efforts to pull Syria away from Iran’s influence.

Obama cited Syria’s support for terror, its weapons programmes, and its “undermining” of U.S. goals in Iraq – collectively “the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy” of the U.S. – as reasons to extend the George W. Bush-era sanctions for one year.

Two weeks earlier, Representatives Mark Kirk of Illinois and Eliot Engel of New York wrote a letter to the White House urging Obama to “act quickly” and renew the sanctions.

According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, which compiles statistics, Kirk received the most campaign donations from pro-Israel political action committees of any House member, 62,000 dollars in total, in the 2007/2008 cycle. Engel was the second largest Democratic recipient in the House in that period, with 36,500 dollars.

But the extension of sanctions does not mean that the possibility of U.S. engagement with Syria is disappearing. Indeed, there were indications that Obama’s Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, would be visiting Syria next month.

Rather, the sanctions appear to be a reinforcement of the status quo.

“This is the clearest sign that negotiations between Damascus and Washington are going, if not badly, at least slowly, despite statements by both sides that progress is being made,” wrote Oklahoma University professor Joshua Landis on his blog, Syria Comment.

“It tells us that despite the rhetoric about a ‘new U.S. relationship’ to Middle Eastern countries, Washington still believes that it must keep its foot on Syria’s economic throat in order to win concessions.”

Mending ties will take time
By Sami Moubayed, Special to Gulf News
Published: May 11, 2009, 23:14

The big news is that US President Barack Obama has renewed sanctions on Syria, imposed by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2004. The order, numbered 13,338, was due to expire on May 10.

The renewal came after Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro visited Syria, followed immediately by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Foreign Minister Walid Al Mua’allem met with the official US envoys, who were making their second trip to Syria since Obama came to office last January, and said that the talks had been “constructive.”

During a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, President Bashar Al Assad defended Syria’s alliance with Tehran as “strategic”, saying that the common vision shared since 2005 was “correct.” Syria had no intention of abandoning its allies, or changing its policies vis-à-vis the resistance in Lebanon or Palestine, the Syrian president said.

US-based Syria expert Joshua Landis said at the time, “This is the clearest sign that negotiations between Damascus and Washington are going, if not badly, at least slowly despite statements by both sides that progress is being made.”

Others also analysed Feltman’s visit and the renewal of sanctions and said these developments served the interests of the anti-Syrian March 14 Coalition in Lebanon. Some pointed to a visit by Israeli officials to Washington, where they had extensive talks with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, while sanctions were being renewed on Damascus.

Let’s not get carried away here purely for the sake of creating media excitement. Renewal of sanctions is a routine process that was expected, and does not affect the Syrian-US commitment to continue searching for common ground in the Middle East.

Terrorist Traffic Via Syria Again Inching Up
Pipeline to Iraq Back In Business After Lull

Syria Sentences Kurd Dissident To 3-1/2 Years Jail by Khalid Oweis
Mishaal al-Tammo, 52, was found guilty of `weakening national morale` after a five session trial at the Palace of Justice.
Syria Sentences Kurd Dissident To 3-1/2 Years Jail
May 11, 2009

A Syrian court sentenced a Kurdish dissident to 3-1/2 years in jail on political charges on Monday, the latest in a string of convictions against opponents of the government, which is mending its ties with the West.

Mishaal al-Tammo, 52, was found guilty of “weakening national morale” after a five session trial at the Palace of Justice in the Syrian capital attended by diplomats from Europe and the United States.

“This trial is a persecution of the culture of diversity,” Tammo said in a statement released by his Movement for the Kurdish Future.

“Oppressive state security does not take into account that I am not Arab, that I belong to the Kurdish nation,” he added.

Tammo, a campaigner for the rights of what he had described as a dispossessed Kurdish minority in Syria, was arrested in the north eastern province of Qamishli in August. Political pamphlets were found in his car.

Chief among his causes are the plight of tens of thousands of Kurds who were denied citizenship following a 1960s census and a ban on teaching Kurdish language.

A rights group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the conviction ran counter to a right of free expression enshrined in Syria’s constitution and international conventions the state had signed.

Mohannad al-Hassani, a member of Tammo’s defence team, said the judge refused to allow any witnesses to appear on behalf of his client.

Dr. Shaykh Mahmoud Ahmad Kaftaru, son of the deceased Grand Mufti of Syria, was freed by Political security after holding him in detention for 13 days. Read the following article in Arabic.

الأمن السياسي بدمشق : يطلق سراح الدكتور الشيخ محمود احمد كفتارو !
طباعة أرسل لصديق
خاص ( كلنا شركاء)

MI Chief: Gaza smuggling continues, despite Egypt’s efforts
By Yuval Azoulay

Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin said on Tuesday that despite Egypt’s increased patrol along its border with the Gaza Strip, the smuggling of weapons into the coastal territory has not been stymied.

Yadlin told the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee that Egypt has made impressive efforts along all of its borders, including with Sudan, but has been unable to stop Bedouins living in Sinai from cooperating with militants in the Gaza Strip.

“The situation is better than before, but the Gaza Strip has still not been hermetically sealed to smuggling,” Yadlin told lawmakers.


Syria to Give Foreign Investors Stock Exchange Access (Update1)
2009-05-11, By Nadim Issa

May 11 (Bloomberg) — The Syrian Commission on Financial Markets & Securities may let foreign investors trade in the country’s stocks in a week, Chief Executive Officer of the Damascus Securities Exchange Mohamad Al-Jleilati said.

Brokerages, who until now have been able to trade on behalf of clients, may be allowed to trade shares on their own account as well, Jleilati said in a phone interview from Damascus today. “We are also looking into the possibility of allowing the brokerage companies to buy and sell shares in listed companies but they have to abide by certain rules,” he said.

Trading on the exchange began in March. Seven companies are listed on the market, which opens for two days a week. Syria is looking for alternative sources of revenue to boost the economy as oil reserves dwindle. For brokers to qualify for buying shares on their own account they will have to sell them in less than three months and won’t be entitled to participate in shareholder meetings or have voting rights, he said. The exchange will also allow listed companies to split their shares, thereby decreasing their nominal value from 500 Syrian pounds each to 100 pounds, he said. Syria will lower the amount in initial share offerings to 25 percent from 45 percent to encourage family-owned companies to list on the bourse, Jleilati said.

Government Approval

The commission will propose the rule changes that still require government approval, he said. The exchange will keep its daily price-fluctuation limit on stocks at 2 percent this year, Jleilati said. Trading volume on the stock exchange reached 705,782 Syrian pounds ($15,000) today. International Bank for Trade & Finance dropped 1.9 percent to 1,112 pounds, while the remaining seven listed companies climbed to their 2 percent trading limits, according to the daily bulletin on the exchange’s Web Site.

Ehsani2 did some math to show that the brokerage firms working at the Syrian Stock Exchange will soon go bankrupt unless the 2% change cieling is eliminated and teh market is opened for 5 days a week rather than the 2 it is opened for at present. He was motivate by this article in Syria News decrying the lack or volume and revenues being generated by the exchange.

Ehsani writes:

Let us suppose that the daily turnover on the DSE reaches $5 million a day to reach the levels of Beirut’s exchange. If the DSE trades 5 days a week (it now only trades twice a week), total annual trading volume will be around $1.25 billion. Since brokerage firms normally end taking 0.1% of revenues exchanged, the total revenue among all 6 brokers is $1.25 million =====> or
$200k per firm. Assuming 10 people work per brokerage firm ===> $20k per broker……..
This is the best case scenario.

Remember, of course, that rather than $5 million a day, the DSE is doing only $50k a day. Also remember that it is open only twice a week. At this rate, total volume will be $5.6 million a year. At 0.1% profits, total revenue among all 6 brokers come out to be $ 5.6k =======> or $939 per firm. Assuming each firm employs 10 brokers ===> $93 per broker …..PER YEAR……..

Lancement du Club des entrepreneurs franco-syrien

Une conférence-débat, organisée à la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris le mardi 12 mai avait pour thème « La République Arabe Syrienne, retour sur la scène économique internationale : atouts et opportunités ».

Tax Cut in Syria

مجلس الوزراء يقر رفع الحد الأدنى المعفى من ضريبة الدخل من الراتب

أقر مجلس الوزراء يوم الثلاثاء مشروع قانون حول تعديل أحكام المادتين 68 و 69 من القانون 24 لعام 2003 المتعلقة بتعديل الشرائح والمعدلات على الرواتب والأجور، ورفع الحد الأدنى المعفى من ضريبة الدخل من خمسة ألاف ليرة إلى 6010 ليرات سورية وهو الحد الأدنى للرواتب والأجور.

An assured Assad in Financial Times, May 10 2009
By Roula Khalaf and Anna Fifield

“The Syrians now believe they are the centre of the Middle East,” quips Andrew Tabler…
US officials fear that Syria might be overestimating the change of tone of the Obama administration and misreading its intentions. To stress that point, a day after a senior US envoy was in Damascus at the end of last week, the administration renewed its unilateral sanctions against Syria, citing the regime’s support for terrorism and weapons trade.

“We want to see a change in Syria’s outlook, away from being a spoiler and more towards being a constructive problem solver, at least willing to deal with some of the problems in the region,” says one US official. “It is not that we want them to cut off relations with Iran but to recognise that the west can offer things that Iran can’t – like economic prosperity and peace with Israel.”

Comments (4)

Chris said:

Josh’s quote from the America in Syria included:
“This is a golden opportunity for Syria. It is slipping from Syria’s hands because of pride and obtuseness.”

I definitely got the feeling that pride had something to do with the Syrian officials reaction above. He wrote “How dare they send Feltman and Shapiro to announce that they are renewing sanctions and then explain that we should think nothing of it — that it is routine — and expect that we will just turn the page and get on with implementing the broad security and intelligence sharing plan that was to be the substance of our meetings.” This gentleman sounds very proud of himself. He feels that he and his fellow thugs in Damascus ought to be taken seriously. Well, that attitude won’t get him anywhere. However, responding to the sanctions, perhaps like Libya did, might bear fruit.

May 13th, 2009, 8:48 pm


Off the Wall said:

How to Make the Neocons Crazy About the Middle East: Tell Them the Truth
By Ira Chernus, AlterNet
Posted on May 13, 2009, Printed on May 13, 2009

Old Charlie Krauthammer, the neocon who won’t go away, is at it again.

Now he’s hammering at an old favorite target — the Hamas party and its political leader, Khaled Meshal — and its new accomplice, that scurrilously liberal newspaper, the New York Times.

The Times’ latest moral fault (according to Krauthammer) was to send two of its top Middle East reporters to interview Meshal and then actually report some of what he said (though the five-hour interview was boiled down to a brief article and a handful of quotes). “Hamas Says It Grounded Rockets,” the Times headline announced; Meshal explained that firing rockets from Gaza is not now a useful strategy for pursuing Hamas’ goals.

But for Krauthammer the important news is Meshal’s endorsement of a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state only in the West Bank and Gaza, currently occupied by Israel. “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce,” Meshal said. Asked what “long-term” meant, he said, “10 years.”

Actually, that’s not really news. Hamas leaders have been saying for several years now that they want a two-state solution and a 10-year truce, as everyone who follows the issue closely knows very well.

What’s new is that the oh-so-influential New York Times is willing to bring Meshal’s message to a much larger public and thus give it legitimacy for the masses in the U.S. — which is precisely what has Krauthammer unnerved.

How does this message square with the infamous Hamas Charter that calls for the elimination of the state of Israel? Although Meshal still insisted that “he would not recognize Israel … he urged outsiders to ignore the Hamas charter,” saying that it’s 20 years old and, “we are shaped by our experiences.”

In other words, times change even if charters don’t; watch what we do now, not what we said years ago. Let us negotiate the 10-year truce and live in peace alongside Israel.

Aha, cries Krauthammer; there’s the wily devil’s trick: “After a decade of Hamas arming itself within a Palestinian state that narrows Israel to 8 miles wide — Hamas restarts the war against a country it remains pledged to eradicate.” And how do we know that’s their diabolical plan? “The Palestinians” — apparently a monolithic bloc like the Borg — “have never accepted the idea of living side by side with a Jewish state.”

For his “proof,” Krauthammer points to the famous negotiations that President Bill Clinton convened at Camp David in 2000, between Israeli Prime Minister (now defense minister) Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat.

“No Israeli government would turn down a two-state solution in which the Palestinians accepted territorial compromise and genuine peace with a Jewish state,” Krauthammer claims. “Barak offered precisely such a deal in 2000. … The Palestinian response (for those who have forgotten) was: No.”

Actually, it’s Krauthammer — and all the AIPAC-ites so loudly supporting Israel’s hard-line government — who have conveniently forgotten the essential facts.

Actually, the Palestinians’ response in 2000 was, “Let’s keep talking.” A year later, when agreement was closer at hand, it was Barak who pulled the plug on the talks. He turned down precisely a two-state solution in which the Palestinians accepted territorial compromise and genuine peace with a Jewish state.

And several times since, when Palestinians were close to uniting around a similar peace proposal, the Israeli government has managed to torpedo the process — just as it largely ignored the ground-breaking Arab League peace initiative of 2002.

What about the territorial compromise the Israelis tried to force on the Palestinians at Camp David, which most Israelis and their supporters ritually refer to as “the generous offer?” It was really territorial suicide for the Palestinians — as Krauthammer would know if he read the Times (or at least its Web site) less selectively.

A Times blog — called the Lede — recently offered a bald statement of the truth that careful analysts of “the generous offer” have always known: The Palestinian state as envisioned by Israeli leaders (even so-called liberals like Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni) is a patchwork quilt — an “archipelago” of little blocs of land separated by innumerable Jewish settlements, security roads and checkpoints — where economic prosperity, and indeed ordinary daily life, would be as impossible as it is now.

Imagine if someone suggested that the United States could get along fine with a bunch of disconnected states no longer part of the nation — say, New York, Ohio and Indiana, Missouri and Kansas, plus all of New England and the Old South, and let’s throw in the Northwest and a big chunk of the Rocky Mountain West — plus another country’s soldiers controlling most of the interstate highways.

That’s the kind of “generous offer” Barak made at Camp David, the same kind of offer that always passes in Israel for “genuine peace.” As the Times’ blogger put it with such delicate understatement (after all, this is still the New York Times, just tilting a tiny bit to the left), “since some degree of fragmentation is a feature of many of the maps proposed by Israeli governments in recent years for the shape of a Palestinian state, it seems important to ask what chance a country with this landlocked archipelago shape really has of becoming a viable nation-state.”

Not much chance, Palestinian leaders across the political spectrum have answered. They know that if they accept the Israeli plan for an independent Palestinian archipelago, their own voters will reject them, and with good reason.

It’s an unrealistic plan because it would create a state that’s not viable. Such a fragmented Palestine would have no chance of economic prosperity and every prospect of continued de facto Israeli control, with all the impossible conditions that imposes on ordinary Palestinians — humiliating waits of many hours at checkpoints are commonplace, often ending with some well-armed Israeli teenager arbitrarily refusing permission to continue the journey. Why would anyone vote for more of that?

What Hamas wants now is essentially no different from what Arafat wanted and what Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is still insisting on (at least publicly): A Palestinian state that encompasses virtually the whole West Bank, as well as Gaza, so Palestinians can travel throughout the West Bank with no restrictions and create the commercial life the new state would need to survive.

If Krauthammer and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee crowd want to make a real case against Hamas, they could point to the ambiguity of Meshal’s words to the Times: “The central goal is the liberation of the occupied land and regaining our rights, ending the Israeli occupation, leading our people toward liberation and freedom, achieving the right of self-determination and living in a sovereign state on liberated land.”

What exactly is “the occupied land?” For many years, when Hamas leaders used those words, they clearly meant to include all of Israel. In recent years, though, they’ve made it clear that they are now talking about settling for a two-state solution, with the Palestinians getting only the West Bank and Gaza.

“The world must deal with what Hamas is practicing today,” Meshal told the Times. “Hamas has accepted the national reconciliation document [a joint program agreed to by Hamas and Fatah, often called ‘the prisoners document’ because it was hammered by representative of both sides who were inmates of an Israeli prison]. It has accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders including East Jerusalem, dismantling settlements and the right of return based on a long-term truce.”

Granted, those are hard terms for most Israelis, and thus for any Israeli government, to accept. That’s why Israeli leaders have done their best to block united Palestinian peace moves. But they are terms that most of the world now finds quite reasonable, or at least a constructive starting point for negotiations.

Hamas is a political party. It’s leaders, like all politicians, practice the art of the possible. Naturally, they ask for everything they want when the negotiations begin. But, at the end, they settle for what they can get.

That’s precisely what Krauthammer and the AIPAC-ites refuse to accept. Their whole worldview depends on turning political conflicts into moral dramas. So they make Hamas stand for all Palestinians, and all Palestinians stand for evil incarnate.

To treat Meshal and the Hamas leaders as ordinary human beings with ordinary political ambitions and compromises — and very real grievances — would bring that moralistic worldview crashing down.

They would rather deny the facts and keep the conflict going, even though it perpetuates the horrors of daily life in Palestine, endangers the security of Israel and weakens the global position of the U.S.

Fortunately, they’re fighting a losing battle, and they know it — which is why their emotional outbursts sound increasingly frightened, shrill and irrational.

Ira Chernus is professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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May 13th, 2009, 10:10 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

What do you want from the 2 Victors ( Asad + N’jan ) ?
They already won a divine victory, and are heading to even greater victory.
They don’t need favors from this black person… Hmmm .. Obama or something…

May 14th, 2009, 11:59 am


Nour said:

Let’s see if I have this straight. The US invades and destroys a country neighboring Syria, to which Syria strongly objected, then threatens to expand the war into Syria, and then expects Syria to help it impose its control over Iraq. If the Syrians refuse, they are considered “spoilers,” “destabilizers,” and “sponsors of terror.” In Lebanon, the US wants their puppets and those of “Israel” to control the government and use them to threaten, intimidate, and bully Syria, and it expects Syria to help these same people win the election in Lebanon. If it refuses, it is accused of “interfering in Lebanese affairs,” “acting as a destabilizing force,” and “undermining Lebanon’s democratic government.” Of course if the opposition wins the US will refuse to respect the democratic wishes of the Lebanese people because democracy can only be had if US puppets and slaves are leading their countries. All of the above is used as justification for imposing sanctions on Syria. This is arrogance at its best.

The reality is that Syria has not done one thing to harm US interests, but is merely reacting in defense of its self. The problem with the US is that it arrogantly and stupidly follows an “Israel”-centric policy where only the interests of the racist, usurping entity can be considered. Anyone wishing to advance their own interests against those of “Israel” are destructive trouble makers who ought to be disciplined by the self-appointed policemen of the world.

May 14th, 2009, 5:04 pm


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