Monday, November 29, 2004

Democracy and feudalism

Pres. Bush has highlighted the problem of the absence of democracy in the
Arab countries by stating that while many believe that democracy and Arab
culture are incompatible, he believes that they are in fact compatible.
Thus, he is supporting elections in Iraq and the Palestine Authority as soon
as January, 2005.
There is a rational explanation for why there is no democratic Arab state so
far, and that is feudalism. In Arab society, the primary affiliation is to
the family, clan or tribe, not to the State. Although many things have
changed since medieval times, the Arab countries are still basically feudal.
For example, many Palestinian cities are run by a few clans, and it is
surprising to find that both the leading extremists and moderates (or
notables) come from the same clan. For example, in Hebron the Kawasmeh clan
is one of the major families that run the city. But, the leadership of the
Hamas terrorist group there was also run by the Kawasmehs (until they were
recently killed). The explanation for this phenomenon is that if either the
moderates or the extremists control power, in either case the same clan
maintains its hold over the city. When a leading terrorist is killed his
next oldest brother usually inherits the position, thus maintaining family
This allegiance to "family" reminds us of the Sicilian Mafia. Their main
allegiance is to the family above that of the State or their compatriots in
general. These same issues have prevented the development of democracy in
Iraq, where the power has been in the hands of the Tikritis, since Saddam
Hussein came from Tikrit. Beyond the local family affiliation the allegiance
is to tribal groups, such as Sunni, Shia or Kurd that dominate in Iraq, just
as allegiance to Ukrainian Catholicism dominates Western Ukraine, while
Russian Orthodox dominates Eastern Ukraine. Similar issues led to the
break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and it is not inconceivable that Ukraine
could split into two. In other words, in Ukraine as in Iraq, tribal
affiliations are in conflict with democratic norms within a multi-ethnic
In Syria power is in the hands of the minority group the Awalekites, the
clan of Pres. Assad, and in Jordan it is the Hashemite clan that was
established there by the British that runs the country. In Saudi Arabia, the
very name means that the Saudi clan are in control. In her book "The trouble
with Islam," Irshad Manji points out that insofar as the Saudis control the
allegiance of Muslims the world over because of their control of Mecca and
Medina, and their financial support for Wahhabi Islam, they tend to foster a
tribal Arab form of Islam. Rather than being the "peaceful" and "universal"
religion some see in Islam, Wahhabism tends to be extreme and tribalistic.
In that sense it excludes modern influences and is incompatible with
democracy. If the Imams control society the concept of abstract individual
rights is meaningless, since rights depend on their interpretations of the
A similar situation existed in Christendom until the Middle Ages. But, in
the Magna Carta, the rights of hereditary Lords were established relative to
the Monarch, and this eventually led to the rights of merchants and others
being recognized. In Britain, tribalism was wiped out by invasions and the
development of the middle class and democracy over a period of 1,000 years.
In its place the emphasis that developed was on the individual and human
rights. This was transferred to the United States, and all groups that
subsequently immigrated there also adopted this standard, although
maintaining greater or lesser allegiance to their group of origin. For
example, Jews in the US tend to live in the same districts but do not vote
purely on the basis of Israel. In fact, the majority vote on social
issues, which is why Israelis supported Pres. Bush 3:1 while American Jews
by contrast supported Sen. Kerry 3:1.
The question then resolves itself into: can the Arab States make the
transition from feudalism to democracy in one fell swoop? No doubt it will
take a generation or two, but one has to start somewhere.

Sunday, November 28, 2004


After a Fatah delegation went to see Marwan Barghouti, with Israel's
permission, he reversed his decision and has now decided not to run as an
opposition candidate to Mahmoud Abbas in the PA Presidential election. This
is good news, since it relieves Israel of having to worry about the impact
of his potential popularity, and because it leaves the way clear for Abbas,
the official Fatah candidate.
What did they say to Marwan to convince him? Maybe one of the things they
said is that if he doesn't run, then when Abbas is elected he will arrange a
deal with Israel to release him. I doubt if Israel would go for this since
he has "blood on his hands" but you never know. The fact that he stepped
down makes the possibility of a "young guard" challenge to Abbas and his
supporters that much less likely, which is good for the prospect of future
In a related development, Minister Natan Sharansky has been appearing on
local news channels following his hour meeting with Pres. Bush in
Washington, where he discussed his new book on Democracy. Apparently both
Bush and Condoleeza Rice were reading it, and since Bush's original policy
was essentially based on Sharansky's view, that only truly democratic reform
in the PA can result in a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, then
one can assume that his views are still influential
Sharansky made several good points, first that the mere exercise of an
election does not make a society democratic, since the USSR had plenty of
(one party) elections. The important point is that the election must take
place in a society where the freedom to express opinions and to vote is
truly open. In the PA, where law and order has broken down and groups of
thugs control most of the cities, this is not currently the situation.
He also pointed out that while the West was essentially unified in its
approach to the Communist bloc, the Europeans tend to take a hands off or
even pro-Palestinian attitude, even though the Palestinians are
anti-democratic and use terrorist violence (it has not stopped yet).
He also said that Israel should not make any concessions to the PA until it
becomes democratic and serious in its approach. This is where I disagree
with him, since he is against Sharon's Disengagement Plan, seeing it as an
unnecessary one-sided concession to the PA, while I see it as an attempt to
get things off dead center while taking the initiative out of the hands of
the Palestinians. As it happens, the unilateral disengagement from Gaza
comes with good timing for changes towards democracy in the PA, so that once
Abbas is confirmed as President in January, there will be a chance for the
disengagement to be coordinated with the PA, and the new Government can then
establish its authority as Israel withdraws. This is the optimistic view,
that Secty. Powell expressed while here this week. Let's hope it comes to

Friday, November 26, 2004


Marwan Barghouti has now declared that he will be a candidate for the
Presidency of the PA. This is a challenge to the leadership of the "old
guard," represented by the official Fatah candidate Mahmoud Abbas. There is
already a move by the power structure of Fatah to try to dissuade Barghouti
from running. Barghouti is in jail in Israel, after being found guilty and
given five life sentences for the direct murder of five Israelis, as well as
organizing numerous other terrorist incidents and running a terrorist
organization, namely the Fatah al Aksa Martyr's Brigades. So it is also a
challenge to Israel.
Israel has said that whatever happens he will not be released, but they
cannot stop his name from appearing on the ballots, so this can be viewed as
a means of pressuring Israel. There is already a campaign underway in
Europe for the release of Marwan Barghouti, with posters appearing all over
France. So it is part of the overall PR struggle against Israel, as if he
is a political prisoner or has been illegally imprisoned.
The issue of what happens if Barghouti should win the "democratic election,"
must be faced. If he wins then there will be enormous pressure on Israel to
release him. But, if he wins it will also mean that there will be a power
struggle for control of the PA, with the political wing of Fatah represented
by the "old" power structure against the new military wing of Fatah
represented by the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Its as if in N. Ireland both
Sinn Fein and the IRA had rival candidates.
The Islamist groups would undoubtedly support Barghouti, as the more radical
of the candidates. They may even run a candidate of their own, although he
would be unlikely to get sufficient votes. A lot hinges on how fair the
election is, as can be seen by what is happening in the Ukraine. The EU is
supposedly going to send election monitors into the PA, but how effectively
they will operate and how the election will be run remains to be seen.
The choice before the Palestinian electorate would seem to be stark, either
elect a respectable well-established and moderate politician or a
rabble-rousing terrorist extremist. If the Palestinians as usual "never
miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" (to use Abba Eban's famous
phrase) then they will choose Barghouti. But, the actual difference between
the two men is not as great as it appears. Both of them appeal to the
voters on the basis of following Arafat's true legacy. Abbas has already
stated that he will continue the "dream" of Arafat to obtain the "right of
return" for all so-called Palestinian "refugees," as well as having
Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State. The only real difference
between them is the attitude towards violence/terrorism. So the electorate
has a choice, either endorse a possibly peaceful way forward by choosing
Abbas or continue the current violent intifada by choosing Barghouti. If
the majority choose the latter course it will be another case of the
Palestinians shooting themselves in the foot again, and it will lead to a
cessation of the Road Map and a period of further violence and uncertainty.
If Israel refuses to release Barghouti to serve as the President then this
will revitalize the extremist elements and more terrorism will ensue.
An alternative and radical view is that Barghouti would be the better choice
for both Israel and the Palestinians, because if he is really prepared to
make a deal and achieve the Palestinian State, then he has greater
credibility to deliver the Palestinians than Abbas could, much in the same
way that Begin could withdraw from Sinai and Sharon from Gaza. But, this is
an extremely unlikely scenario.
If the Palestinians choose Abbas then the chances for a negotiated peace are
much greater, but as I have pointed out this does not automatically mean
that peace will break out. First, the extremists will challenge him and
there could still be an internal power struggle, second the terrorists will
want to continue the "armed struggle" against Israel, and third Abbas might
not be the responsible "partner for peace" that both Israel and the US hope
and expect. If he is, he faces the possibility of assassination by being
considered an "agent" of the US or Israel. So either way we are in for a
bumpy ride ahead.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Sharon's victory in Likud

PM Sharon's victory in getting his candidates and supporters elected to the
head of the Likud Party is a possible turning point for him in his campaign
to get his Government coalition stabilized and his Disengagement Plan
implemented. In the elections for the Chairmanship of the Party Central
Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi, Min. without Portfolio in the Govt., was elected
by 1,457 votes against 1,207 for Uzi Landau MK, former Min. of Security, who
was fired by Sharon for not supporting his policy. Two other Sharon
supporters, Avraham Herschenson and Danny Naveh, were elected to the other
two highest Party positions.
This represents a turnaround in that Sharon had lost two previous Likud
votes. The explanations given for this are that the rank and file of the
Likud had finally been galvanized to come to Sharon's aid because of the
fear that if they did not the Likud Party would split, and because of
Sharon's warnings that an outside extreme rightist element (the so-called
"Jewish Management" group of Moshe Feiglin) would take over the Party. In
giving these warnings and canvassing for votes Sharon finally managed to
activate his supporters to come out and vote in record numbers (93% voted).
Now Sharon is empowered in his coalition negotiations that have been in
abeyance for some time. He is talking to the United Torah Judaism Party and
after them with Labor. Labor Party head negotiator Dalia Itzik said that
time is running out. With new Labor Party elections coming up, she said
that now is Sharon's second chance for a United coalition government with
Labor, and there won't be a third opportunity. So hopefully we will soon
know if Sharon will be able to overcome his situation of a minority
government. Even though he has managed to survive so far he knows this
can't go on for ever.
Meanwhile the new leadership of the PA is threatening that they will call
off the January election if Israel does not make concessions to them in
facilitating the elections. PM Querei said this to US Asst. Secty. of State
William Burns in Ramallah on Sunday. Sharon has already announced that the
IDF will withdraw so that Palestinians will have freedom of movement, but
not so that it will reduce Israeli security. He also said that Arabs in E.
Jerusalem will be allowed to vote by mail, as they did last time there was
an election 19 years ago. This is not what the Palestinians want, they want
a direct vote in Jerusalem, but Israel will never agree to that, so let's
hope they see sense. Querei also announced that he is trying to incorporate
the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades into the PA security forces. This has pros and
cons, on the one hand it makes the security forces more radical, but on the
other hand it brings the radicals under the control of the PA. We'll see
how this works out.
Meanwhile Secty Powell is here, probably for his last visit as Secty. of
State, and said the right things about the US becoming re-engaged and a
"window of opportunity." But, no-one expects any initiatives from him as a
lame duck. There is a specific report in the Times of London that last week
Powell told Pres. Bush that he wanted more power to confront Israel over the
peace process and that Bush turned him down, so he had no choice but to
resign. (That's why we voted for Bush!) Now we await the delicate hand of

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Kiss of death

Yuval Steinitz, the Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee made
an insightful comment in an interview yesterday. He said that while Arafat
had the power to make peace with Israel but chose not to, conversely the new
leadership of the Palestinians, namely Mahmoud Abbas, may want to make
peace, but do not have the power to do so.
Because of this new reality, Israel has to fine tune its response to the
current Palestinian situation, particularly not to be seen as supporting any
particular candidate, however moderate they may seem. This could be the
"kiss of death" because there are many armed extremist groups in the PA that
don't need much excuse to start shooting at Abbas and his supporters, as
already happened in Gaza last week. A general breakdown of law and order,
and especially assassinations of the moderate leadership, would not be in
Israel's best interests.
That is presumably why PM Sharon in a speech delivered Thursday night at the
Likud Central Committee meeting enumerated the requirements the PA must take
in order to show that they qualify as a responsible "partner for peace."
The first step he mentioned was the end of incitement on PA radio and TV, in
which Israelis and Jews are depicted in racist terms. He said this is an
immediate step the new leadership can take to show they are serious about
reaching a peaceful relationship with Israel. He then mentioned their need
to stop terrorism, but he did not stress as he has done before that they
must destroy the infrastructure of the terrorist groups. If Abbas started
out with the declared aim to do this, he would then find himself in direct
confrontation with the Islamist resistance, and a civil war would erupt in
which the moderates would be seen, as they have already been labeled, as
agents of Israel and America. But, even an end to incitement is expecting
too much from the new leadership, Abbas today already rejected Sharon's
The thug who controls Jenin, Zacharia Zubeidi, head of the local al Aksa
Martyrs Brigades and affiliated groups, while sauntering around with a
loaded Kalashnikov and wearing Israel-issue army clothing, declared in an
interview on Sky that he no longer considers himself bound to Fatah, and
that he will act independently if he thinks they are betraying Arafat's
cause. As far as he is concerned, the legacy of Arafat is to fight to the
death in order to destroy Israel. He does not want to see any compromise
that will lead to a "peace" that is short of his maximal goals. Under those
circumstances, the moderate leadership have an uphill stepwise struggle not
only to carry out an election, but to win it, and then to neutralize Zubeidi
and his counterparts throughout the PA territory.
It is not clear that these steps are possible or even probable. So those
who have rushed to announce the outbreak of peace upon the death of Arafat,
as the removal of the biggest impediment to peace, must beware that his
legacy as interpreted by many of his followers is not actually peace but a
continuation of the status quo, the terrorist war against Israel, that the
new moderate leadership are currently not in a position to stop.
It would be a mistake for Israel to make further concessions to the
Palestinians even before elections actually take place and before it is
clear that the moderates can indeed win any elections and can consolidate
their power in the PA. Not only could this be dangerous for Israel, it
could be dangerous to the very moderates we would like to see win these
elections and with whom we hope to be able to deal.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Dream team

It's difficult to believe, but things are going well for Israel for a change.
Pres. Bush was re-elected, Arafat died, Secty. of State Powell resigned
and has been replaced by Condoleeza Rice, and there are now reports
that Secty. of Defense Rumsfeldwill resign probably to be replaced by
Under-Secty. of State Wolfowitz.
It's not that Powell was not a good friend of Israel, but he was widely
known as the "liberal" voice in the Bush Administration, arguing for more
caution and more cooperation with allies, such as France and Germany.
That may have been his role as the chief diplomat of the Govt. but it was
characteristic of him. Many will know that Powell was against the first
Gulf War when he was Chief of Staff of the US Armed Forces, and was also
not enthusiastic about the Iraq war. Since the war was fought and won,
and France and Germany refused to cooperate, his position basically became
untenable in the Administration. Some of you will say that the war hasn't
been won yet, but it is only a matter of time if the US uses its forces to
literally flush out the insurgents from one Sunni city after another, as in
Falujah and Mosul, and then the results of the too-easy winning of the war
will be overcome.
Rumsfeld is a Neocon hawk, and as such was behind much of the military
decision-making to fight the war in Iraq. But, he also made mistakes,
including the Abu Ghraib mistreatment of prisoners that occurred
on his watch, as well as the lack of preparation for the insurgency after
the war, so it may be time for him to leave. Wolfowitz is Rumsfeld's man,
so there will be little change in policy. It is a measure of the internal
changes and
strength of the US that a black woman and a Jew can be appointed to the two
most powerful positions in the land after the President (and I don't count
the VP). But, perhaps I am getting a bit ahead of myself, Wolfowitz has not
been announced as Rumsfeld's successor and Rumsfeld has not even resigned
as of this writing, so let's wait and see. Whatever happens now, the removal
ofArafat, and the ascension of Rice represent a net positive outcome for
In the area, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have responded negatively to acting
Fatah Chief Abbas' call to cooperate with other groups in a ceasefire with
Israel during the run-up to the PA elections in two months. But, it is felt
that if the PA really wants these elections to go smoothly, then they will
need Israel's absolute cooperation, to enable free movement of voters, and
they can only get this if the wave of terrorism ceases, i.e. if there is a ceasefire.
Hamas and the others want in exchange a commitment from Abbas to
include them in the interim PA governing process. But, if he is elected,
Abbas will not want them controlling his actions, so this is very unlikely.
Nevertheless, some form of at least temporary ceasefire is likely, and if
all goes well Abbas will be elected President of the PA in place of Arafat.
Many have criticized Abbas for his past close relationship with Arafat, his
role in earlier PLO terrorism and so on. But, this is a new day. Abbas was
not only prepared to meet with Bush and Sharon when he was briefly PM,
but also to come out publicly against terrorism. While he certainly does
not want to fight a civil war with the Islamic resistance, he is the best hope
for a partner for peace on the Palestinian side. Remember that Khrushchev
was Stalin's right-hand man, but he was the one who denounced him after his
death and changed the system in Russia. The al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, have
now dissociated themselves from Fatah and call themselves the Arafat Martyrs
Brigades, have set up their own courts to "try" Arafat's corrupt cronies,
and they will sentence them to death! If they try to carry out their verdicts
then all hell will break loose in the PA.
Let's hope Abbas too becomes a member of the Dream Team that can bring a
measure of peace to the area. If he does, then Sharon, having committed
himself to unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, will be in a strong position to
coordinate with Abbas through the good offices of the US.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Bright spot

At night from space Israel appears as a bright spot surrounded by the
darkness of the Middle East. From Israel to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia
there is practically nothing visible. Cairo makes a bright splash, but
Damascus and other cities are hardly seen. It's as if the whole of the
Middle East is a blighted region.
One possible explanation could be a low density of population, but that is
hardly true given the millions of Arabs crowded into cities and camps
throughout the Middle East. Another more likely reason is the lack of funds
to pay for lighting, for example compare the GDP per capita for Jordan of
ca. $1,000 pa, for Syria and Egypt of ca. $600 pa, while for Israel it is
ca. $18,000 pa, in line with many European countries. So that's the key
difference, for the 56 years that Israel has been in existence it has raised
itself from nothing to this level.
And when I say nothing I mean nothing! After the victory of the War of
Independence in 1948 Israel took in at least 1.5 million Jewish refugees,
both from the camps in Europe after WWII and from the Arab countries. They
came with nothing and lived mostly in tented cities in Israel, called
ma'abarot, and I remember still seeing some of them when we lived here in
1964-66. No international agency gave them the funds that have been
lavished on the Palestinians, who on a per capita basis have received many
times more than any other refugees in the world, and still receive, even
though their current status as refugees is insupportable under the rules of
the UN High Commission for Refugees.
However, most of this money, and the billions given by the Arab countries
and the EU, has been squandered. Instead of working industriously to build
up their "homeland" the Palestinian youth have instead been wasting their
time, egged on by their great leader Yasser Arafat. While Israeli youth
have been studying and developing businesses, Palestinian youths have been
honing their skills in throwing Molotov cocktails and blowing themselves up.
Theirs is a culture of death and destruction, while Israel has a culture of
life. This clear dichotomy is aptly symbolized by the light of Israel and
the darkness of the surrounding Arab region.
The undisciplined nature of the Palestinians was amply illustrated by the
events at Arafat's funeral in Ramallah, when the crowd prevented the
deplaning of the Palestinian leaders and then took over Arafat's coffin, and
the events yesterday in the funeral tent in Gaza. Whether it was an
assassination attempt on PLO Head Mahmoud Abbas or not, the fact is that a
group of armed gunmen pushed their way into the crowd and started shooting,
while chanting anti-Abbas slogans. There was an exchange of fire with his
bodyguards and two were killed. This is just the beginning of the clash for
power in Gaza and the PA. It is amazing to me that the liberals in Europe
are not yet disillusioned by the nature of the Palestinians with or without
It seems that the Arab mentality is better served by a strong dictatorial
leader, which is what they have always had (although Arafat was not as
strong as Nasser, Assad and Saddam). The notion, advanced by Pres. Bush,
that the Arabs can adopt democracy like any other group has little basis in
reality. If the Palestinians or the Arabs in general ever manage to get the
idea that victory does not mean killing your rival but succeeding by
competing against him, then there may be hope. But, that is expecting a
major cultural change that is probably in the realm of fantasy. Until then
the Arab Middle East will remain a region of darkness.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The trouble with Islam

This is the title of Irshad Manji's book, with the subtitle "a Muslim's call
for reform of her faith." It is a breezy read in which she hits all the
high points of Muslim aberrations, the excess violence, the anti-Semitism,
the proclivity towards terrorism, the terrible treatment of women, the
closed minds, etc. etc. The main value of this book is that a Muslim wrote
it, since it contains many of the facts and opinions that we as Jews and
Israelis have been pointing out for years. She tells how those Muslims who
criticize Israel and castigate the West do so from a perspective that allows
no self-criticism, while within Israel and the West all opinions are
Growing up in Richmond, BC Canada, Irshad was a troubled and troublesome
girl, asking awkward questions of her Islam teacher and finding little in
Islam that corresponded with her reality. She could not understand how the
Jews she was constantly warned against in her madrassa (Muslim religious
school) seemed much less dangerous than she was taught. She played with
Jewish girls and went to Jewish shops and the Jews she met seemed normal,
not terrible anti-Muslim madmen.
But, as a self-confessed outspoken lesbian, Irshad obviously is not your
typical Muslim girl. For every one of her there may be 10,000 other Muslims
who accept at face value the kind of dangerous nonsense she was taught.
Although she represents part of the response to terrorist murder that we
have been asking for, namely a moderate Muslim who publicly dissociates
herself from it, she is hardly a typical Muslim spokesperson.
I found her book enjoyable and worth reading but light and probably written
for a much younger audience than me. It is not a work of scholarship, and
avoids the citations that would usually weigh the book down, although it is
nevertheless well argued and quite comprehensive, quoting many of the
authors and works that I quote.
She states that with her "Islam is skating on thin ice," but she cannot
bring herself to jettison the faith, even with its myriad of problems that
she enumerates. She instead suggest a "project ijtihad," in which ijtihad
means open questioning of the faith, that was found in early Islam until
about the 12th century when the ulema, the band of Imams who protect the
faith, proscribed individual enquiry. It is this lack of openness and
questioning, the very antithesis of Judaism, she argues that is the main
fault of Islam as it now exists. It seems unlikely that a woman such as
Irshad, although she has made a valuable and brave addition to the cause,
will be a significant factor in bringing about such an evolution.
An example is Theo van Gogh, the great-great nephew of the painter Vincent,
who was stabbed to death on an Amsterdam street in broad daylight because he
had made a movie criticizing Islamic treatment of women. This is an example
of the extreme intimidation that Muslims wreak on anyone who dares criticize
their religion. As Irshad pointed out when interviewed about this on CNN,
other religions don't find it necessary in this day and age to eliminate all
those who criticize them, from within or without. But, even if the
majority of Muslims, especially those in the West, don't support this kind
of terrorist intimidation, it makes little difference unless they assert
themselves and apply to Islam the same degree of tolerance and restraint
that they demand from the rest of society for themselves.
Her main hope and ours is that a secular society with its liberal tolerant
tendencies will spread to the Muslim world and so dilute out the more fierce
antagonisms to Western or non-Muslim culture. But, that is a faint hope.
There are parts of the world, such as northern Pakistan and eastern
Indonesia, that Western culture has hardly touched, and the slog of fighting
the Sunni insurgency in Iraq may have to be tackled one city at a time.
Only once the extremists are defeated and the Iraqis and the Palestinians
actually accept democracy can there be progress towards making peace
agreements with them. And how long could that take? Irshad's book is but a
leaf in the forest of hope.

In a foreign field

The fighting in Fallujah has resulted in many US casualties. It made me
think about the parents of these soldiers who will suffer the consequences.
No doubt some will be reconciled to the loss given the nature of their loved
one's commitment, but others will find it hard to reconcile themselves to
the death of their son in a "foreign field." Last week also three British
Black Watch soldiers were killed in Iraq at a road-block by a suicide
bomber. Their parents have expressed great bitterness to PM Blair over
their "unnecessary" deaths.
Today we were in Beersheva, and took a walk in the afternoon. What has this
got to do with British and American soldiers dying in Iraq? Well we
happened to visit the British military cemetery in Beersheva. We counted
ca. 1,500 head stones resulting from the battle for Beersheva in 1917. Most
of them were Australian and at least one of them was Jewish, Captain van den
Bergh of the British Army.
During WWI the British army in Egypt was fighting the Turks, who with German
support, were entrenched in Gaza. The defenses were so formidable that the
British could not break through. A risky plan was devised in which the
Australian Light Horse regiment was sent over the desert by night from Egypt
to Beersheva. The Turks were surprised by such an attack, and were
overwhelmed in a suicidal horse charge, one of the last in military history.
The charging Australians and some British were completely vulnerable and
sustained heavy casualties. But, they managed to capture Beersheva with one
of its wells intact. This enabled the British Army to outflank the Turks in
Gaza, and they were forced to withdraw. Their next line of defense was at a
small river further north, called the Yarkon, where Tel Aviv now stands.
But, they were vanquished there too and the British captured Palestine.
Those brave soldiers who fell in a foreign field ensured the defeat of
Turkey and Germany and the victory of Britain, which lead inevitably to the
British Mandate for Palestine and eventually to the State of Israel.
One day there may be a British or an American military cemetery in Fallujah,
where people will go for an afternoon walk, and marvel at the courage of
those who fought for the freedom of others. Although the Iraqis tend not to
show much gratitude.
Nearby the British cemetery in Beersheva was an obelisk, right near a main
road, that many cars pass by without ever noticing. On it was an epitaph
explaining that this had been erected in 2002 in memory of the 298 honorable
Turkish soldiers who had died there fighting for their country. Against the
obelisk were laid wreaths from the New Zealand and Australian armies. Once
the battles fade into history and their consequences have become
irreversible, the bitterness may die, and the dead may be left to lie in

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Blair as conduit

PM Blair's current visit to Washington is freighted with significance. Even
before the coincidental death of Yasser Arafat, liberals in Britain and in
Europe were putting pressure on Blair to make representations to Pres. Bush
to re-start the Middle East Peace Process, as compensation for letting him
off the hook on Iraq. It's as if they have decided that since they can't
reverse the process in Iraq, at least give them Palestine.
Their basic concept is that the poor Palestinians can't be expected to do
anything, while they are "occupied" by Israel and surrounded by the "wall"
and without choices (terrorism is reduced to the actions of a few
"militants"), especially now that they have lost their "great leader." So,
of course, it is Israel that must make the concessions. Never mind that PM
Sharon has declared a unilateral disengagement from Gaza, never mind that in
fact the PA territories are NOT occupied by the IDF, and never mind that the
Security Fence was built in order to stop the terrorists.
So now the pressure will be on Bush. PM Blair needs to return to the UK
with something, not only that Bush is still the "good guy," but that he can
deliver peace in the Middle East by restarting the Road Map, and in order to
do so he will make sure that Israel makes concessions. Now everything
depends on how Bush will respond, whether or not he will put additional
pressure on PM Sharon, who is already under intense political pressure at
home as a result of his own initiative. Or whether he will also pressure
the new gang running the PA, that includes some of the old gang that he
knows from before, Abbas and Querei, who were previously severely restricted
by Arafat in their freedom of action. Now the question is, can they make
any moves towards fulfilling their commitments to the Road map, particularly
their first requirement of stopping the terrorism.
Of course, first they will plead that they have to be given time to
establish their control after Arafat's removal from the scene. Then they
must tread carefully so as not to antagonize the extremist militants (read
terrorists) of the Islamist rejection front. If they do, then there could
be a civil war. Also, they need 60 days in order to organize elections, of
which there have been previous few in Palestinian history.
So while Bush would no doubt like to give Blair something to take home with
him, to appease his own Party as well as his many critics, it is not clear
what that could be except for a promise that once the dust settles, Bush
will restart the Road Map in conjunction with Sharon and with Querei/Abbas
if they are able. So the pressure on Blair will be transferred to Bush and
then off-loaded in the short term onto Sharon in order to appease the
liberal left-wing pro-Palestinians in the UK and EU.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Suha and Arafat's death

Although Suha Arafat is acting out the role of the proverbial "selfish
bitch," we should thank her for her contribution to bringing the current
political situation of the Palestinians out into the open. There is no
doubt that her outburst on Al Jazeera the other day was deliberately
calculated for two reasons, first to get revenge on the political
establishment surrounding Arafat that hold her in low esteem and essentially
exiled her to Paris, and second to establish her legitimate rights as the
heir to the billions of dollars that Arafat stole from the Palestinian
In doing this she essentially set herself up as the symbol of resistance to
the establishment, including PM Querei and acting PLO Chairman Abbas, who
she accused of wanting to "bury my husband alive." By preventing all
Palestinian political access to her dead/dying husband, she has in effect
got even with them for her previous (in her eyes) shabby treatment.
Particularly because they exposed the payments of $100,000 per month that
she was getting to cover her expenses in Paris, that they then halved. There
is no indication that Suha wants to play a political role herself in the
PA, rather she is seeking to undermine her political enemies, and at the
same time make the claim on Arafat's many accounts.
This has far-reaching implications, not least in that she is supported in
her actions by some Palestinians, including the PLO FM Farouk Kaddoumi, who
lives in Paris. Also, many young Palestinians, of the Fatah al Aksa Martyr's
Brigades and Tanzim, oppose the "old-timers" who have been Arafat's cronies
and would like to replace them. They and the Islamic resistance may both
not have much time for Suha herself, but may appreciate her attacks on the
current leadership. Israel and the US, and probably even the EU, would
prefer to see Querei/Abbas taking over the PA, and they are likely to give
them preference over any rivals for power.
Meanwhile Querei and Abbas flew to Paris to appeal to Pres. Chirac to help
them in dealing with Suha and gaining access to the dying "rais"
(President). By doing so they established "the truth" about his current
condition, and have taken charge of the impending funeral arrangements.
Cairo has been chosen for the funeral ceremony and Ramallah for the burial
site, since Jerusalem is definitely out.
Arafat is almost certainly dying (or has died) of AIDS. According to two
independent evaluations by doctors that I have seen, this is the
only disease that fits the very varied symptoms that have been described,
namely a stomach infection, a blood disease, mental confusion, a coma, and a
brain hemorrhage. Arafat was a very active homosexual in his years living
in Lebanon, as described in a biography that I read many years ago written
by a British journalist, whose life was threatened and he had to escape from
Lebanon. He described how Arafat had his pick of the young recruits to
Fatah. If the boy resisted or threatened exposure he was killed, either by
Arafat, but usually on his orders by his personal bodyguards of Force 17.
The parents were told that the boy died heroically fighting the Zionist
Arafat and his thugs also extorted money from the Palestinian and Lebanese
inhabitants of S. Lebanon. That's why at first they greeted the IDF as
liberators when they swept into Lebanon in 1982. It was the ascendance of
the Islamist parties, particularly Hizbollah, that reversed this attitude,
as happened in Iraq with the US forces.
When the Islamist forces grew stronger and Arafat had to compete with them
it became necessary to cover up his homosexuality because it would have been
unacceptable to Muslims. He did this effectively through the use of
intimidation. This may explain why no news media have "outed" him now, they
have probably been warned by the PA that if they do, their news access will
be denied and their reporters lives may be in jeopardy. So Arafat the
homosexual, criminal, thief and terrorist will be buried with full honors in

Monday, November 08, 2004

The battle for Fallujah

The US Marine assault on Fallujah has been far more costly in terms of lives
than the comparable attacks by the IDF on Jenin or other Palestinian cities
in Gaza. This is because they are softening it up in advance with the use
of artillery and aerial bombardment. From a military point of view this is
the correct approach, as used by the Russians to deadly effect in Grozny.
They are also dropping leaflets telling civilians to leave, so the
population has been reduced from 300,000 to ca. 50,000. But, the IDF never
employed this initial phase, preferring to go in on the ground to avoid
civilian casualties.
American Jews who are so sensitive to the casualties caused by the IDF, and
who were disposed to believe the outright lies that the IDF had massacred
civilians in Jenin two years ago, are not putting comparable complaints to
their own Government to stop these tactics as they did against the Israeli
Government then.
However, now that the initial phase is over and the Marines are invading the
city, they will follow the tactics developed by the IDF in Jenin and
elsewhere for close combat in narrow city streets. Unfortunately, in one
incident the IDF lost 32 soldiers when a whole alley that was mined was
blown up ambushing them. This is the danger that the Marines face in
Fallujah. But, they must re-take the city from the insurgents in order for
Iraq to be truly free and united and to have a democratic election.
There has been a lot of fuss in the UK about the Black Watch Scottish
regiment going north about 100 miles from Basra to guard the southern
approaches to Fallujah. Already 3 of them were killed in a suicide attack.
But, until now they have had a relatively easy war, since the Shi'ites in
the south were very anti-Saddam. Now they are in a Sunni area where the
support for Saddam was strongest and where the resistance to the Coalition
forces has been brutal. It is good that they should support their US ally
in this major confrontation with the insurgency.
In Fallujah there are ca. 10,000 US troops vs. ca. 3,000 estimated
insurgents of three different groups, the foreign fighters, mainly Syrians
and Iranians, supporting al Qaeda, the pro-Saddam Sunni revanchists, and
former Iraqi army left-overs who want to continue the fight against the
Americans. They will be defeated, but in the course of the fighting there
will be US casualties. At least this time the new Iraqi armed forces will be
fighting alongside the Americans and let's hope they perform well. If so it
will be a breakthrough for the interim Iraqi Government, and they can then
claim that they liberated their own territory.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Arafat is dead!

Arafat is dead, long live Arafat! That is the current working slogan of the
PA leadership, who cannot afford to let Arafat die, because they don't know
what to do next. He probably died last Thursday, but no-one else has the
right to sign checks on the many accounts he personally controlled, some of
them funds for the PA, some for the PLO, some for Fatah and many of them, up
to b$10, supposedly his own (stolen) funds, and this is claimed by his wife Suha
Arafat as his heir and she has an expensive life style tomaintain in Paris. But,
on the other hand, the PA desperately needs allthis money, including the huge
amount that he salted away into secret accounts. So they have kept him
preternaturally "alive," a kind ofretro-Frankenstein's monster, until they
can resolve this issue. There may yet be a court case over who legitimately
owns these accounts, and a lot of money is at stake.
There is also the little matter of the succession. The "old guard" of Abu
Ala and Abu Mazen, former followers of Arafat from Tripoli and Lebanon, are
working hard together trying to keep the reins of power. Although they are
talking to the Islamist resistance groups, particularly Hamas, there is
little chance that they will agree to share power or decision making for the
PA with them. This would be a bit like putting the anti-EU party in Britain
in charge of relations with the EU.
In addition you have the "young Turks" of the al Aksa Martyr's Brigades and
the Tanzim who are looking to take over more power from the "old guard."
And in the background within the "old guard" there are also potential
schisms, for example with Mohammed Dahlan in Gaza. The distinctions between
these groups is really nothing to do with Israel. Although the "old guard"
might be judged to be more moderate than the others in relation to
peace-making, this is not the issue. The issue is power, money and control.
So Arafat may still be kept in a "controlled coma" for a year or more while
they try to sort things out.
Nevertheless their spokesmen, Abu Rodeina and Saeb Erakat, naturally blame
Israel for all the confusion. The issue of his burial is merely a
distraction to cover up the power struggle. But, since Israel will not
allow him to be buried in Jerusalem, the PA leaders and Suha will likely
settle for Gaza. If he is buried with his father he will finish up in a
small plot inside a market next to the fish stalls. Perhaps appropriate.

What symbols?

The attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11/01 was an attack not only in the
physical sense, but it was also an attack on a quintessential symbol of
America. This is clear not only from what Osama Bin Ladin himself said in
his latest video, accepting responsibility for the attack, but also from the
fact that he chose to attack the WTC twice, the first time not so
successfully. In his mind the Twin Towers represented the symbols of
American business and power.
But, in my mind the Twin Towers represented something else, the sheer
dynamism that has catapulted the US forward as the most affluent society in
the world, and of its people who have transformed the culture of the world.
That dynamism is the basis for the unique development of capitalism, and
although many suffered from exploitation in the process, overall the journey
was worthwhile and necessary. Only a free market in a liberal democracy,
that allows dissent and the organization of interest groups, such as Unions,
could have achieved this. Attempts to develop alternative means of
organizing society, such as Nazism, Communism or Socialism have been abject
failures, ending in massive bloodshed, war and suffering.
The Bush approach to the Middle East diverges from those of previous
Presidents in that he puts the need for reformation of Arab society first.
This will guide his policies in his second Administration. He believes that
Islam and democracy are not incompatible, even though there are few
examples, such as Turkey, but as they say the exception proves the rule.
Also, he believes that freedom and industriousness, his twin towers, are
universal characteristics, and that once the Arabs are freed from repressive
regimes they will prefer to take the peaceful road rather than the violent
road of anti-Western terrorism. Let us hope that he is right.
Two possible examples loom ahead for him, Iraq, where the US is engaged in
combat to defeat the insurgency against Western influence, and Palestine,
where the impending death of Yasir Arafat opens the possibility of a
reformation of the PA, as envisaged under Bush's Road Map Plan. However,
this will not be easy, the meeting today in Gaza of all the Palestinian
groups to agree on a period of calm is a deceptively civil gathering.
Before it, Hamas announced portentously that they will not agree to a
ceasefire with Israel. And although they also announced that they want to
be included in an overall joint committee to share power in governing the
PA, they do not recognize the PA itself! So it is unlikely that this
particular horse will trot, and initiative will last no more than the 40
days of the mourning for Arafat. If Sharon goes ahead with the Disengagement
Plan from Gaza without consultation with the PA authorities, it is likely
that this will only advance the clash between the PA and the Islamist
resistance forces. So there will likely be some kind of civil war in Gaza
in the following months to fill the vacuum left by both Arafat and the IDF.
Until now the Arabs have only developed the ability to destroy the symbols
of America, but they have not produced equivalent symbols of their own.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

New airport

Yesterday we went to the new airport for the first time. Actually it's not
technically a new airport but a new terminal (#3) at Ben Gurion Airport. It
is very large and very modern and is already crowded. I was not prepared
for how crowded it would be, already the huge car parks were almost full,
and the arrival and departures were incredibly busy.
This terminal was supposed to have been built by 2000, for the extra crowds
expected then for the visit of the Pope and the Christian pilgrims. But,
once they missed that they slowed down. One good thing about this terminal
is that it has walkways directly onto the planes, which the old terminal did
not. They said it was for security, but that seems the opposite to me, this
is more secure. We were not impressed by the security entering the terminal
or inside, but they do still have a checkpoint as you enter the airport.
The terminal has a lot of shops and cafes outside the departure gates. We
did not go inside to see the duty free, but it's supposed to be a big
supermarket. Anyway, this terminal represents another step forward for
Israel as it develops into a modern advanced country. Many Israelis bemoan
the fact that Israel is becoming "Americanized," but in that sense so is
most of the world becoming modernized.
In other transportation respects Israel is behind the times. There is still
no railway connection between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They closed the old
line built by the British because it was in disrepair, and started to build
a new more direct one, via the new airport and Modi'in. The part to the
airport is now working, but they realized it would take so long to get it to
Jerusalem, that they decided to renovate the old tracks. So there will be a
rail connection some time in the future, but no-one knows when.
Route 6 is a great addition to the road system in Israel because it runs
north-south, but more inland, so that some traffic is transferred from the
clogged coastal roads. But, now they need to spend much more money on an
efficient urban rail system. Perhaps we'll get to these things if the
defense budget ever gets significantly reduced, if there is ever a
meaningful peace process.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Bush's victory and consequences

As I predicted President Bush won the election, but by a larger margin than
expected. I think this is partly the fault of the liberal bias in the press
that presented Kerry's challenge as more effective than it was. My rationale
was that more American voters, (i) recognized the danger of international
terrorism after 9/11, and (ii) seeing that Bush had done a good job in
combating it, and (iii) realizing that the US cannot withdraw from Iraq
under present circumstances without a great loss of credibility, whatever
the merit of the reasons for going in there in the first place, decided to
stick with the incumbent.
What was strange, but perhaps predictable, was that American Jews did not
vote primarily on this issue, but rather on the Democratic platform of
social, economic and human rights issues. In a way this is a typical Jewish
attitude, pretending that all is OK and that we can afford to help support
the poor workers and oppose the Patriot Act, etc. etc. Liberal bias by an
overwhelmingly affluent and pacifist group that doesn't like conflict and so
prefers to pretend it doesn't exist. American Jews are too good and too
intelligent to vote for that "idiot" Bush. Talk about self-defeating, they
voted 3:1 for Kerry, roughly the same as the French would have done. Now
there's a scary thought!
Now that he is a last-termer (or "lame duck" as they like to call it), Bush
can do more or less anything he wants. But, he is likely to consider his
success a mandate to continue as before. He will re-double his efforts to
"win" in Iraq and try to introduce democracy and stability there. This will
mean a major attack on Fallujah, the center of the insurgency, as well as on
several other cities in the Sunni triangle. For now it seems the Shi'ites
are quiescent, Sadr's militias having been more or less defeated in Najjaf
and Sadr City.
Now that Afghanistan has a legally elected pro-American government, and Iraq
will have elections in January, the focus will likely shift to Iran. Note
that Iran is surrounded by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf.
Although the Mullahs apparently think that US forces are stretched too thin,
they must have an uncomfortable feeling looking in any direction. I think
that this will be the main foreign policy aim of the Bush Administration's
second term (W2), namely the blocking and defeat of the Islamist Government
in Iran. This is a significantly more difficult task than either
Afghanistan or Iraq, but the US is now poised to pursue it.
Iran's mullahs have emphatically announced their right to develop enriched
uranium (for peaceful purposes!) against their international agreements.
Neither the EU's quiet diplomacy nor the US working thru the IAEC have had
any influence on them. Therefore, either the US must take stronger action,
or it will be left to Israel to do so.
A lot depends on whether or not Bush decides to give free reign to the
Neo-cons on his staff, or as the Europeans, Arabs and Democrats wish, he
would curb them and preferably get rid of them. Now the former is likely to
happen, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice and Secty of Defense Rumsfeld will
probably be in the ascendancy, while Secty of State Powell will either be
replaced (by one of them) or be sidelined. If that happens look for a firmer
line on Iran and N. Korea.
It's true that the attack on 9/11 made international terrorism the main
threat to US and Western interests. But, it also gave the green light for
Bush to take action against the "axis of evil." Having rid the world of the
Taliban and Saddam Hussein, look for the other members of the axis to be