Robert Fisk: Police state is the wrong venue for Obama’s speech

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

For Obama’s Cairo speech to have any resonance among Arabs, writes Robert Fisk, he would have to deliver his lecture from Gaza and not one of the world’s worst human rights violators, Egypt.

Maybe Barack Obama chose Egypt for his “great message” to Muslims tomorrow because it contains a quarter of the world’s Arab population, but he is also coming to one of the region’s most repressed, undemocratic and ruthless police states. Egyptian human rights groups – when they are not themselves being harassed or closed down by the authorities – have recorded a breathtaking list of police torture, extra-judicial killings, political imprisonments and state-sanctioned assaults on opposition figures that continues to this day.

The sad truth is that so far did the US descend in moral power under George W Bush that Obama would probably have to deliver his lecture in the occupied West Bank, even Gaza, to change the deep resentment and fury that has built up among Muslims over the past eight years. This, of course, Obama will not do. So Egypt, sadly, it has to be, though he will see nothing of the squalor and fear in which Egyptians live. Continue reading “Robert Fisk: Police state is the wrong venue for Obama’s speech”

Racists for democracy: the fascist odor of the new Israeli coalition

The chambers of the Israeli Knesset

“The factory of racist laws with a distinct fascist odor is now working at full steam,” writes Uri Avnery, on the swathe of bills currently passing through the Knesset that discriminate against the native Arab population.

How lucky we are to have the extreme Right standing guard over our democracy.

This week, the Knesset voted by a large majority (47 to 34) for a law that threatens imprisonment for anyone who dares to deny that Israel is a Jewish and Democratic State.

The private member’s bill, proposed by MK Zevulun Orlev of the “Jewish Home” party, which sailed through its preliminary hearing, promises one year in prison to anyone who publishes “a call that negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State”, if the contents of the call might cause “actions of hate, contempt or disloyalty against the state or the institutions of government or the courts”. Continue reading “Racists for democracy: the fascist odor of the new Israeli coalition”

Obama’s Cairo speech

In March US President Barack Obama made a direct address to the Iranian people to coincide with the festival of Nowruz, a sensitive and respectful message unheard of in the previous 30 years of non-existent diplomatic relations between the two countries. Now this week sees President Obama begin a tour of the Middle East and Europe in which he will “reach out to the Muslim world” in a speech in Cairo on Thursday. But with the political landscape changing, particularly the frosty relationship between the US President  and new Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, can we expect a similarly progressive message to the wider Muslim world this time around?

In The Nation Robert Dreyfuss argues that for Obama, merely being “a repudiation of George W. Bush’s wrecking-ball approach to the Middle East” will not be enough. In order to make progress, Obama must pick apart the ““Islamofascist” ball of wax” that the ‘war on terror’ falsely suggested. To do so, says Dreyfuss, he must recognize the diverse political spectrum that currently exists across the region and approach future relations accordingly. Continue reading “Obama’s Cairo speech”

After Iraq, it’s not just North Korea that wants a bomb

Steve Bell on the new nuclear arms race
Steve Bell on the new nuclear arms race

The ‘international condemnation’ of North Korea’s nuclear test on Monday was severely lacking in credibility for its fantastical double-standards, writes Seumas Milne, who argues only radical disarmament can halt their spread.

Here in Scotland the SNP made an attempt to seek support from this same ‘international community’ to rid the country of its nuclear weapons, which are stored in a naval base on the River Clyde. In October 2007 First Minister Alex Salmond wrote to representatives of 189 countries signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, seeking ‘observer status’ as defence is not an area devolved to Holyrood. The renewal of the Trident missiles is set to run into the tens of billions over the next 20 years, with the parent Westminster government insisting this is a necessary “deterrent” to protect “national security interests”. Sadly the list of replies were published last summer showing there to be little international support for this brave move from a minority administration.

This example reflects Milne’s Guardian article nicely I think.

The big power denunciation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons test on Monday could not have been more sweeping. Barack Obama called the Hiroshima-scale ­underground explosion a “blatant violation of international law”, and pledged to “stand up” to North ­Korea – as if it were a military giant of the Pacific – while Korea’s former imperial master Japan branded the bomb a “clear crime”, and even its long-suffering ally China declared itself “resolutely opposed” to what had taken place. Continue reading “After Iraq, it’s not just North Korea that wants a bomb”

Why aid to Pakistan won’t make a difference

Stephen Walt

Stephen Walt highlights why the House of Congress’ pledge of $1.5 billion per annum non-military aid for Pakistan isn’t going to do much to change the effect of disasterous American meddling.

At the New Yorker blog, Steve Coll reports that the U.S. Congress is preparing a five-year $1.5 billion per annum non-military aid package for Pakistan, with full support from the Obama administration. (You can read the text of the legislation, entitled the “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act,” here.)

This step sounds impressive, until one remembers that Pakistan’s population is nearly 180 million and its GDP in 2006 was about $144 billion. So the aid package amounts to around a 1 percent increase in Pakistani GDP, which works out to about $8 for each Pakistani. In other words, the U.S. Congress is going to increase their per capita income from $850 per year to about $858. (It’s actually less than that, because some of the money goes to administrative expenses, auditing, and the like.) Continue reading “Why aid to Pakistan won’t make a difference”

The Plot Against Hamas and Khalid Mishal

Khalid Mishal, leader of Hamas' political wing
Khalid Mishal, leader of Hamas' political wing

Paul McGeough’s Kill Khalid on the rise to prominence of the Hamas leader Mishal is examined in The London Review of Books this month. This astute analysis by Adam Shatz helps to dispel some of the myths propagated towards the Palestinian resistance group and its leader as a mindless Islamist entity hellbent on eradicating world Jewry, instead portraying Mishal as a shrewd realist politician. For instance, it is often circulated by Israel and its western backers that Hamas is “committed to the destruction of Israel”, making reference to its renowned 1988 charter. Much like the misquoted and possibly misinterpreted words attributed to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad towards Israel, the charter in fact makes calls to ‘raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine’, which certainly falls short of a complete annihilation of Jews in the region that is often suggested. However even if this early manifesto does imply such extreme measures, Shatz notes that its fails to reflect the contemporary thinking of the group, with Mishal reportedly viewing that particular article as an embarrassment. Other important aspects of the group (often absent in the rhetoric of the mainstream western narrative towards Israel-Palestine) is Mishal’s announcement in Mecca in 2007 that the group would be willing to begin negotiation over a peace settlement based on a pre-1967 borders two-state solution (which would not necessarily be the permanent solution). Another is and the offering of a ‘Hudna’, a truce lasting as long as 30 years. Although the Obama administration’s language has softened, the relative isolation towards Hamas remains. While Hamas retains such popular support amongst Palestinians in occupied lands, the legitimacy of any peace talks will be questionable.

In early September 1997, Danny Yatom, the head of Mossad, arranged a special screening for Binyamin Netanyahu, who was then prime minister. The film, shot on the streets of Tel Aviv, presented the plan for the assassination of Khalid Mishal, the head of Hamas’s political bureau in Amman. Twenty-one Israelis had died in Hamas suicide attacks in the previous two months, and Netanyahu was eager for revenge. The peace process might be undermined, but that would be just as well: Netanyahu shared Hamas’s hostility to Oslo, and had compared trading land for peace to appeasement with Hitler. Mishal, Paul McGeough writes in Kill Khalid, his gripping account of the plot, was selected from a list of targets by Netanyahu not only because he was suspected of orchestrating the suicide bomb campaign, but because he made an articulate case for Hamas’s position, in a suit rather than clerical robes: ‘he was too credible as an emerging leader of Hamas, persuasive even. He had to be taken out.’ Continue reading “The Plot Against Hamas and Khalid Mishal”

Lieberman’s party proposes ban on Arab Nakba

As Palestinians mark Nakba Day to recognise the catastrophe of 1948, yet more evidence emerged of the racist nature of Israeli foreign minister Avignor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party. In a clearly provocative act they now want to ban the some 1.5 million Arabs within Israel from celebrating this day and would threaten anyone doing so with jail terms. This is nothing new for Lieberman and his mob who have openly called for Arab Israelis to swear allegiance oaths to the state and even “voluntarily forfeit” their citizenship in exchange for land. Such policies are clearly aimed at “transfering” the remaining Arabs that reside within Israel’s borders and finishing the job that the Zionist project started. To announce proposals on such a day should be roundly condemned for the grotesque insensitivity that they represent.

In another article in Haaretz , Palestinian participation in this day is trivialised and reduced with a cheap dig at the division between the two main political factions in the Palestinian territories: Hamas and Fatah. “Only 2000 turn out….for March held by Hamas” reads the headline, while the top line refers to the “dispersal” of Palestinians during the so-called “War of Independence”. However, not mentioned (which is noted in the Lieberman article), is that many ceremonies were in fact held a day early because May 15 falls on Friday, the Muslim day of rest. Why let this get in the way of having a dig at Hamas while downplaying the anguish that 61 years of injustice has already caused eh? The description of “dispersal” is also particularly euphemistic, as if the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians merely faded-away or quietly scattered from their villages, rather than the terrorization and intimidation that they were subjected to by Irgun and Haganah thugs.