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Abu Mazen’s Gambit » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

Abu Mazen’s Gambit


A WONDERFUL SPEECH. A beautiful speech.

The language expressive and elegant. The arguments clear and convincing. The delivery flawless.

A work of art. The art of hypocrisy. Almost every statement in the passage concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a lie. A blatant lie: the speaker knew it was a lie, and so did the audience.

It was Obama at his best, Obama at his worst.

Being a moral person, he must have felt the urge to vomit. Being a pragmatic person, he knew that he had to do it, if he wanted to be re-elected.

In essence, he sold the fundamental national interests of the United States of America for the chance of a second term.

Not very nice, but that’s politics, OK?

IT MAY be superfluous – almost insulting to the reader – to point out the mendacious details of this rhetorical edifice.

Obama treated the two sides as if they were equal in strength – Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinians and Israelis.

But of the two, it is the Israelis – only they – who suffer and have suffered. Persecution. Exile. Holocaust. An Israeli child threatened by rockets. Surrounded by the hatred of Arab children. So sad.

No Occupation. No settlements. No June 1967 borders. No Naqba. No Palestinian children killed or frightened. It’s the straight right-wing Israeli propaganda line, pure and simple – the terminology, the historical narrative, the argumentation. The music.

The Palestinians, of course, should have a state of their own. Sure, sure. But they must not be pushy. They must not embarrass the US. They must not come to the UN. They must sit with the Israelis, like reasonable people, and work it out with them. The reasonable sheep must sit down with the reasonable wolf and decide what to have for dinner. Foreigners should not interfere.

Obama gave full service. A lady who provides this kind of service generally gets paid in advance. Obama got paid immediately afterwards, within the hour. Netanyahu sat down with him in front of the cameras and gave him enough quotable professions of love and gratitude to last for several election campaigns.

THE TRAGIC hero of this affair is Mahmoud Abbas. A tragic hero, but a hero nonetheless.

Many people may be surprised by this sudden emergence of Abbas as a daring player for high stakes, ready to confront the mighty US.

If Ariel Sharon were to wake up for a moment from his years-long coma, he would faint with amazement. It was he who called Mahmoud Abbas “a plucked chicken”.

Yet for the last few days, Abbas was the center of global attention. World leaders conferred about how to handle him, senior diplomats were eager to convince him of this or that course of action, commentators were guessing what he would do next. His speech before the UN General Assembly was treated as an event of consequence.

Not bad for a chicken, even for one with a full set of feathers.

His emergence as a leader on the world stage is somewhat reminiscent of Anwar Sadat.

When Gamal Abd-al-Nasser unexpectedly died at the age of 52 in 1970 and his official deputy, Sadat, assumed his mantle, all political experts shrugged.

Sadat? Who the hell is that? He was considered a nonentity, an eternal No. 2, one of the least important members of the group of “free officers” that was ruling Egypt.

In Egypt, a land of jokes and jokers, witticisms about him abounded. One concerned the prominent brown mark on his forehead. The official version was that it was the result of much praying, hitting the ground with his forehead. But the real reason, it was told, was that at meetings, after everyone else had spoken, Sadat would get up and try to say something. Nasser would good-naturedly put his finger to his forehead, push him gently down and say: “Sit, Anwar!”

To the utter amazement of the experts – and especially the Israeli ones – this “nonentity” took a huge gamble by starting the 1973 October War, and proceeded to do something unprecedented in history: going to the capital of an enemy country still officially in a state of war and making peace.

Abbas’ status under Yasser Arafat was not unlike Sadat’s under Nasser. However, Arafat never appointed a deputy. Abbas was one of a group of four or five likely successors. The heir would surely have been Abu Jihad, had he not been killed by Israeli commandoes in front of his wife and children. Another likely candidate, Abu Iyad, was killed by Palestinian terrorists. Abu Mazen (Abbas) was in a way the choice by default.

Such politicians, emerging suddenly from under the shadow of a great leader, generally fall into one of two categories: the eternal frustrated No. 2 or the surprising new leader.

The Bible gives us examples of both kinds. The first was Rehoboam, the son and heir of the great King Solomon, who told his people: “my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions”. The other kind was represented by Joshua, the heir of Moses. He was no second Moses, but according to the story a great conqueror in his own right.

Modern history tells the sad story of Anthony Eden, the long-suffering No. 2 of Winston Churchill, who commanded little respect. (Mussolini called him, after their first meeting, “a well-tailored idiot.”). Upon assuming power, he tried desperately to equal Churchill and soon embroiled Britain in the 1956 Suez disaster. To the second category belonged Harry Truman, the nobody who succeeded the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt and surprised everybody as a resolute leader.

Abbas looked like belonging to the first kind. Now, suddenly, he is revealed as belonging to the second. The world is treating him with newfound respect. Nearing the end of his career, he made the big gamble.

BUT WAS it wise? Courageous, yes. Daring, yes. But wise?

My answer is: Yes, it was.

Abbas has placed the quest for Palestinian freedom squarely on the international table. For more than a week, Palestine has been the center of international attention. Scores of international statesmen and -women, including the leader of the world’s only superpower, have been busy with Palestine.

For a national movement, that is of the utmost importance. Cynics may ask: “So what did they gain from it?” But cynics are fools. A liberation movement gains from the very fact that the world pays attention, that the media grapple with the problem, that people of conscience all over the world are aroused. It strengthens morale at home and brings the struggle a step nearer its goal.

Oppression shuns the limelight. Occupation, settlements, ethnic cleansing thrive in the shadows. It is the oppressed who need the light of day. Abbas’ move provided it, at least for the time being.

BARACK OBAMA’s miserable performance was a nail in the coffin of America’s status as a superpower. In a way, it was a crime against the United States.

The Arab Spring may have been a last chance for the US to recover its standing in the Middle East. After some hesitation, Obama realized that. He called on Mubarak to go, helped the Libyans against their tyrant, made some noises about Bashar al-Assad. He knows that he has to regain the respect of the Arab masses if he wants to recover some stature in the region, and by extension throughout the world.

Now he has blown it, perhaps forever. No self-respecting Arab will forgive him for plunging his knife into the back of the helpless Palestinians. All the credit the US has tried to gain in the last months in the Arab and the wider Muslim world has been blown away with one puff.

All for reelection.

IT WAS also a crime against Israel.

Israel needs peace. Israel needs to live side by side with the Palestinian people, within the Arab world. Israel cannot rely forever on the unconditional support of the declining United States.

Obama knows this full well. He knows what is good for Israel, even if Netanyahu doesn’t. Yet he has handed the keys of the car to the drunken driver.

The State of Palestine will come into being. This week it was already clear that this is unavoidable. Obama will be forgotten, as will Netanyahu, Lieberman and the whole bunch.

Mahmoud Abbas – Abu Mazen, as the Palestinians call him – will be remembered. The “plucked chicken” is soaring into the sky.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

Rights groups urge UAE to release democracy activists ahead of elections – The Washington Post.

Rights groups urge UAE to release democracy activists ahead of elections

By Associated Press,

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — International rights groups have called on the United Arab Emirates to release from custody five political activists who campaigned for democratic reforms in the oil-rich Gulf country.

The activists, including a blogger and an academic, were detained in April after they signed an online petition demanding constitutional changes and free elections.

The rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, said in a statement Wednesday authorities should drop the charges against the activists and release them ahead of parliamentary elections, scheduled for Saturday.

The activists have been charged with insulting the UAE’s rulers. The next hearing in the case is set for Sept. 26.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Barry Lando: The Speech Obama Should Have Given to AIPAC – Truthdig

The Speech Obama Should Have Given to AIPAC

Posted on May 22, 2011

White House / Pete Souza
President Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu converse near the Oval Office during a visit by the Israeli prime minister last week.

By Barry Lando

Editor’s note: Former “60 Minutes” producer Barry Lando imagines what the president might have said to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

My fellow Americans, I could say it is an honor to speak again before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. I could also dish out the usual rhetoric you expect from American political leaders of both parties—an emotional, iron-clad guarantee to maintain America’s undying support for Israel, the embattled outpost of democracy, and so on and on and on, to great applause.

But, as befits a conversation among longtime friends, I’d rather be frank.

As we all know, the reason I’m here is because you are the most powerful lobby in Washington. The mightiest senators and House members live in terror of your disapproval, and your support will be a key factor in the coming presidential elections.

That power has brought you innumerable victories. Though Israel is one of the smallest nations, altogether it has received more foreign aid from the United States than any other country since World War II. Though we condemn Iran’s nuclear program, we still officially ignore the fact that Israel has had the bomb for more than 40 years.

Our leaders have gone along with the fiction that Israel is somehow a key strategic asset for the U.S. in the Middle East, when, in fact, the opposite is true. Our unwavering support of Israel has won us the hostility of much of the Muslim world.

But that’s the past. Today, the U.S. and Israel face huge new challenges in the Middle East. And I have decided that provoking your disapproval is a risk I must take, for the sake of America as well as Israel.

We can no longer afford to confuse supporting the state of Israel with supporting the policies of the leaders who control the Israeli government at a particular time. The interests of the two are not necessarily the same—particularly when, in my view and the view of many Israelis, those policies undermine the long-term security of Israel.

Indeed, within the American Jewish community itself there are new lobbying groups, such as J Street, that are highly critical of Israel’s current leaders and make it clear that AIPAC may not represent the consensus of American Jews.

As I have said, the government of Israel can no longer put off serious negotiations with the Palestinians. Population growth and the current uprisings sweeping the region are certain to work against Israel’s long-run security.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it more than clear that his government has no real interest in taking the steps needed to convince the Palestinians that negotiations would be worth their while. This is not just me saying this. The prime minister’s political opponents and important Israeli commentators are saying it as well.

Therefore, as president of the United States—of all Americans—I am today announcing a change in policy toward the Middle East. I have decided that we will no longer stand in the way of a United Nations resolution next September to recognize the existence of a Palestinian state. I realize that resolution will not actually create a state—but it may be the best way to start the process.

I am also calling once again on the government of Israel to cease the construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. I made that same request not long after I became president but I backed down when Prime Minister Netanyahu refused. I was wrong to back down. It will not happen again.

The Israeli government charges that Hamas is a terrorist organization. It is, and we have labeled it as such. I call upon Hamas to reconsider its aims if it truly wants to achieve a settlement with Israel.

On the other hand, other violent groups once labeled terrorist organizations—such as the Irish Republican Army—changed their tactics amid the lure of peace negotiations. Indeed, at one time in their careers two of Israel’s most renowned leaders—Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir—were condemned as terrorists.

I realize this new policy may well subject me to a barrage of the most virulent political attacks—from right-wing TV talk shows to lurid ads filling our media to congressional resolutions. It will be charged that all along I—Barack Hussein Obama—have been secretly plotting with radical Islam to destroy Israel—and after Israel, the United States.

They will say, of course, that I am anti-Semitic—a charge that is leveled these days against any prominent individual who criticizes the current conservative government of Israel. An irony, since—as I’ve said—some of the strongest attacks on Israel’s current policies come from Israeli Jewish commentators and politicians themselves.

I understand the emotional storm that is roiling this audience right now—I can hear the boos and catcalls. I can feel your enormous upset. But I ask you, members of AIPAC, before you and your allies start an attack against me in the media and in the Congress and in communities across the country, by unleashing such a massive campaign isn’t there a danger you would demonstrate to the American people exactly the point I have been making in this speech? That is, the extent to which your lobby has distorted the workings of our democratic system.

In the end, your attempt to defeat my desire to pursue a policy that is in the interests of all Americans—as well as the state of Israel—could lead to your own downfall.

Think about it. And thanks for letting me talk.

Barry M. Lando spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with “60 Minutes.” He has produced numerous articles, a documentary and a book, “Web of Deceit,” about Iraq. Lando is finishing a novel, “The Watchman’s File.”

This brings back so many memories from the time we were on the streets of Tehran safeguarding our neighborhood from thugs and looters.

It brings me to tears to see the happiness and determination in the faces of these people who are fearless and standing up against one of the strongest military forces in the world.

I wish and hope that they choose wisely and don’t accept just anyone to replace the dictator the same way we did and paid a high price for our mistake.

Egyptian deserves freedom, the proud nation with one of the most fascinating histories of all world nations can be the ones showing the way for other arab nations toward freedom and true democracy.

Robert Fisk: Egypt: Death throes of a dictatorship – Robert Fisk, Commentators – The Independent

Robert Fisk: Egypt: Death throes of a dictatorship

Our writer joins protesters atop a Cairo tank as the army shows signs of backing the people against Mubarak’s regime

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo yesterday climb on an army tank


Anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo yesterday climb on an army tank

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The Egyptian tanks, the delirious protesters sitting atop them, the flags, the 40,000 protesters weeping and crying and cheering in Freedom Square and praying around them, the Muslim Brotherhood official sitting amid the tank passengers. Should this be compared to the liberation of Bucharest? Climbing on to an American-made battle tank myself, I could only remember those wonderful films of the liberation of Paris. A few hundred metres away, Hosni Mubarak’s black-uniformed security police were still firing at demonstrators near the interior ministry. It was a wild, historical victory celebration, Mubarak’s own tanks freeing his capital from his own dictatorship.

In the pantomime world of Mubarak himself – and of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Washington – the man who still claims to be president of Egypt swore in the most preposterous choice of vice-president in an attempt to soften the fury of the protesters – Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s chief negotiator with Israel and his senior intelligence officer, a 75-year-old with years of visits to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and four heart attacks to his credit. How this elderly apparatchik might be expected to deal with the anger and joy of liberation of 80 million Egyptians is beyond imagination. When I told the demonstrators on the tank around me the news of Suleiman’s appointment, they burst into laughter.

Their crews, in battledress and smiling and in some cases clapping their hands, made no attempt to wipe off the graffiti that the crowds had spray-painted on their tanks. “Mubarak Out – Get Out”, and “Your regime is over, Mubarak” have now been plastered on almost every Egyptian tank on the streets of Cairo. On one of the tanks circling Freedom Square was a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Beltagi. Earlier, I had walked beside a convoy of tanks near the suburb of Garden City as crowds scrambled on to the machines to hand oranges to the crews, applauding them as Egyptian patriots. However crazed Mubarak’s choice of vice-president and his gradual appointment of a powerless new government of cronies, the streets of Cairo proved what the United States and EU leaders have simply failed to grasp. It is over.

Mubarak’s feeble attempts to claim that he must end violence on behalf of the Egyptian people – when his own security police have been responsible for most of the cruelty of the past five days – has elicited even further fury from those who have spent 30 years under his sometimes vicious dictatorship. For there are growing suspicions that much of the looting and arson was carried out by plainclothes cops – including the murder of 11 men in a rural village in the past 24 hours – in an attempt to destroy the integrity of the protesters campaigning to throw Mubarak out of power. The destruction of a number of communications centres by masked men – which must have been co-ordinated by some form of institution – has also raised suspicions that the plainclothes thugs who beat many of the demonstrators were to blame.

But the torching of police stations across Cairo and in Alexandria and Suez and other cities was obviously not carried out by plainclothes cops. Late on Friday, driving to Cairo 40 miles down the Alexandria highway, crowds of young men had lit fires across the highway and, when cars slowed down, demanded hundreds of dollars in cash. Yesterday morning, armed men were stealing cars from their owners in the centre of Cairo.

Infinitely more terrible was the vandalism at the Egyptian National Museum. After police abandoned this greatest of ancient treasuries, looters broke into the red-painted building and smashed 4,000-year-old pharaonic statues, Egyptian mummies and magnificent wooden boats, originally carved – complete with their miniature crews – to accompany kings to their graves. Glass cases containing priceless figurines were bashed in, the black-painted soldiers inside pushed over. Again, it must be added that there were rumours before the discovery that police caused this vandalism before they fled the museum on Friday night. Ghastly shades of the Baghdad museum in 2003. It wasn’t as bad as that looting, but it was a most awful archeological disaster.

In my night journey from 6th October City to the capital, I had to slow down when darkened vehicles loomed out of the darkness. They were smashed, glass scattered across the road, slovenly policemen pointing rifles at my headlights. One jeep was half burned out. They were the wreckage of the anti-riot police force which the protesters forced out of Cairo on Friday. Those same demonstrators last night formed a massive circle around Freedom Square to pray, “Allah Alakbar” thundering into the night air over the city.

And there are also calls for revenge. An al-Jazeera television crew found 23 bodies in the Alexandria mortuary, apparently shot by the police. Several had horrifically mutilated faces. Eleven more bodies were discovered in a Cairo mortuary, relatives gathering around their bloody remains and screaming for retaliation against the police.

Cairo now changes from joy to sullen anger within minutes. Yesterday morning, I walked across the Nile river bridge to watch the ruins of Mubarak’s 15-storey party headquarters burn. In front stood a vast poster advertising the benefits of the party – pictures of successful graduates, doctors and full employment, the promises which Mubarak’s party had failed to deliver in 30 years – outlined by the golden fires curling from the blackened windows of the party headquarters. Thousands of Egyptians stood on the river bridge and on the motorway flyovers to take pictures of the fiercely burning building – and of the middle-aged looters still stealing chairs and desks from inside.

Yet the moment a Danish television team arrived to film exactly the same scenes, they were berated by scores of people who said that they had no right to film the fires, insisting that Egyptians were proud people who would never steal or commit arson. This was to become a theme during the day: that reporters had no right to report anything about this “liberation” that might reflect badly upon it. Yet they were still remarkably friendly and – despite Obama’s pusillanimous statements on Friday night – there was not the slightest manifestation of hostility against the United States. “All we want – all – is Mubarak’s departure and new elections and our freedom and honour,” a 30-year-old psychiatrist told me. Behind her, crowds of young men were clearing up broken crash barriers and road intersection fences from the street – an ironic reflection on the well-known Cairo adage that Egyptians will never, ever clean their roads.

Mubarak’s allegation that these demonstrations and arson – this combination was a theme of his speech refusing to leave Egypt – were part of a “sinister plan” is clearly at the centre of his claim to continued world recognition. Indeed, Obama’s own response – about the need for reforms and an end to such violence – was an exact copy of all the lies Mubarak has been using to defend his regime for three decades. It was deeply amusing to Egyptians that Obama – in Cairo itself, after his election – had urged Arabs to grasp freedom and democracy. These aspirations disappeared entirely when he gave his tacit if uncomfortable support to the Egyptian president on Friday. The problem is the usual one: the lines of power and the lines of morality in Washington fail to intersect when US presidents have to deal with the Middle East. Moral leadership in America ceases to exist when the Arab and Israeli worlds have to be confronted.

And the Egyptian army is, needless to say, part of this equation. It receives much of the $1.3bn of annual aid from Washington. The commander of that army, General Tantawi – who just happened to be in Washington when the police tried to crush the demonstrators – has always been a very close personal friend of Mubarak. Not a good omen, perhaps, for the immediate future.

So the “liberation” of Cairo – where, grimly, there came news last night of the looting of the Qasr al-Aini hospital – has yet to run its full course. The end may be clear. The tragedy is not over.

Like Robert Fisk on The Independent on Facebook for updates

The main developments: A nation in turmoil

Protests Undeterred by threats from the Mubarak regime, tens of thousands of protesters swarmed on to the streets of Egypt’s cities. Buildings burned, and police and some elements of the army fired mainly rubber bullets on crowds.

Casualties The death toll from two days of unrest was put at 62 by officials, and nearly twice that by independent news agencies. More than 20 bodies were seen in an Alexandria mortuary by an al-Jazeera crew. There were casualties yesterday, including an unknown number when 1,000 people tried to storm the interior ministry and were shot at by police.

Regime The cabinet, as ordered by Mubarak, resigned yesterday morning. Mubarak, 82, then named his intelligence chief and confidant Omar Suleiman as vice-president. Mubarak’s sons landed in London, said the BBC.

Restrictions The curfew was extended so that it runs from 4pm to 8am, but was ignored by tens of thousands across the country. Tourist access to the pyramids was banned, and banks will close today.

Looting Cairo residents boarded up homes against gangs of thugs roaming the streets with knives and sticks, and set up neighbourhood watches armed with guns, clubs and knives yesterday as looting engulfed the capital, despite the deployment of troops. At least some violence was perpetrated by police to discredit protesters.

Flights Hundreds of people packed Cairo’s main airport yesterday hoping for a flight – 1,500 to 2,000 flocked to Cairo International, many without reservations, but Western carriers were cancelling or delaying services. All non-essential travel to Egypt is ill-advised.

The UK David Cameron unites with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel to warn Egypt to avoid violence against civilians who they said had ‘legitimate grievances’. They called for ‘free and fair elections’.

Voices of protest

“I’ve never seen men so angry, yet so happy to be expressing their anger. I walked next to girls in hijabs screaming for the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. I walked behind men begging God for freedom.

Courtney Graves, American living in Giza, in email to the BBC

“I have to pay 150 pounds a day to bribe police officers to let me sell on this pavement. How can I be this educated and not find proper work?”

Ramadan Mohamed, Law graduate selling sunglasses on Cairo street

“I’m standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure.”

Farid Saad, Engineer, one of the men protecting the museum

“They are torching down the prisons. Our lives and property are at risk. Get out of the way.”

Unknown shopper, Overheard echoing the anxieties of many as they raced to stock up at stores

“The crowds are very pro-army. I filmed an amazing moment when a charismatic one-star general addressed the public and spoke of the importance of maintaining public order. People kept shouting, are you with or against Mubarak? He answered that his mission is making sure the looting stops, and that the issue of who governs is the people’s decision, not the army’s, and that government should be civilian.”

Issandr El Amrani, Blogging as The Arabist