Reasons for Dennis Ross' departure

I have no idea why Dennis Ross, to the surprise of many, has announced he will leave his White House position next month, as the NYT reported. Some questions this raises:

  • Why did Ross make the announcement at a gathering of Jewish leaders? Is it linked to the recent comments by Obama and Sarkozy about Netanyahu? Ross was often said to be, among other things, a key liaison to the lobby writ large — in a sense, their man inside the White House of a president that Zionists never fully trusted. 
  • As a corollary: does this mean that major Jewish organizations are likely to dump Obama for re-election? This is what Elliott Abrams suggests (perhaps wishful thinking on his part, and not representative in any case of the wider average Jewish-American electorate which remains pretty Democratic and mostly concerned about other issues than Israel — even if the major Jewish organizations have significant fundraising clout).
  • Is it linked to Obama's Iran policy, including his reluctance to beat the war drums? Ross was supposed to be the key pointman on Iran — was he pushed out of that role or frustrated because he could not get his way?
  • Is it simply that with the peace process going nowhere (Ross having made sure of that), he is no longer needed or no longer feels useful?
  • Is it that, ahead of the presidential election, the Obama administration will not engage in any major new initiatives, and thus Ross feels like he would be twiddling his thumbs waiting for an uncertain second term?
  • Or maybe it's just the promise to his wife — but if so, how come we didn't know earlier than he would leave in December 2011?

Whatever the reason, good riddance.

The Economist debates the Middle East Peace Process

The Economist is hosting one its week-long online debates this week, on the following question:

This house believes that bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are not currently a viable way to reach a two-state solution. 

On one side of the debate is David Makovsky, an Israeli-American and a major figure of the Israel lobby writ large in Washington and director of the leading Zionist think tank WINEP.

On the other side is Daniel Levy, who is Israeli-British, the co-director of the left-leaning New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force, and former peace-processor in the government of Ehud Barak. Levy has written some great things generally and is taking the lead on skepticism about resuming negotiations now. 

Two Israelis. Two commonly seen talking heads about the nitty-gritty of the 20-year peace process. I like Daniel Levy and his work, so at least there is a real difference between the sides, but still: there are so much fewer opportunities for Palestinian (or other Arab) analysts to put their views on this topic to a public of the kind The Economist can muster. 

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On Egypt's Gaza policy

After the recent cabinet change, Egypt now has a Prime Minister and a Minister of Foreign Affairs who argue against Egypt's role in the Gaza blockade. Nabil al-Arabi, the new FM, in particular is on record has criticizing that policy on the grounds of international humanitarian law. Will we see a change in the policy anytime soon?

In some sense, it already has changed. Palestinian officials from Hamas have been allowed to travel from Rafah. The border crossing has also been re-opened after a month-long shutdown following January 25, although it is still only taking 300 people a day. But fundamentally, the official position is the same for now. It's based on a legal reality that the siege of Gaza is Israel's responsibility, since it is the occupying power, as well as more convoluted legalism that the border cannot fully be reopened until Gaza is part of an independent Palestinian state. The real reasons for Egypt's participation in the blockade were a mixture of anti-Hamas sentiment, legitimate concern that Egypt could be held responsible for Hamas' actions by Israel, American and Israeli pressure on Cairo, and a fear that the Israelis were maneuvering to dump the Gaza problem onto Egypt's lap.

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A few links on the EU and Israel/Palestine

Some interesting recent developments in the Israel/Palestine issue, notably in terms of EU-Israel relations. The letter cited at the end from European heavyweights who were formerly deeply involved in EU policymaking is quite important.

EU stops short of outright recognition of Palestinian state - but final statement is weak and limp, as usual (I guess the usual suspects — UK, Netherlands, France, Germany and some of the newer Eastern states — provided protection for Israel.)

Hamas reiterates 'all of Palestine' claim - Mixed messages from Hamas, as always.

US envoy returns to grasp nettle of Mideast peace - Mitchell resurfaces.

Palestinians express doubts over 2-state future - No kidding.

Letter from European Former Leaders Group (EFLG) [PDF]

Excerpt from the above letter:

It is now one year on and we appear to be no closer to a resolution of this conflict. To the contrary, developments on the ground, primarily Israel’s continuation of settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) including in East Jerusalem, pose an existential threat to the prospects of establishing a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestinian state also embracing Gaza, and therefore pose a commensurate threat to a two-state solution to the conflict.

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Flotilla fallout: strategize and disentangle

I want to get this quick thought down amidst tons of work and much distraction from Twitter and the flotilla fallout.

There are three issues that have been raised at the heart of international debate as a result of the flotilla murders:

  1. The need for an investigation into the incident;
  2. The need to lift the Gaza blockade;
  3. The longer-term need for a breakthrough in the deadlock in the Middle East peace process caused in part by Israel's intransigeant and aggressive behavior, from settlement expansion to landgrabs to assistance to attacks by settlers to its lack of desire for a permanent resolution that is in anyway reasonable (or indeed, its lack of interest in a viable two-state solution)

These must be disentangled from one another and prioritized. The international response so far, at the UN, has put the focus on the investigation. It should instead be moved to lifting the Gaza blockade. Several governments have explicitly come out in favor of this, as well as many opinion leaders around the world.

The investigation process is underway, and there will inevitably be battles over what direction it takes. There is a principle in parts of international law that countries get to conduct investigations on their own actions themselves, and that things go to an international investigation only after the country in question is shown to be incapable of conducting a fair investigation. This is certainly the case with Israel — the precedent of the military investigation into the Gaza war, which was inadequate and led to the Goldstone report suggests that. There may also be a legal argument that Turkey should be conducting the investigation, although that's up to Turkey. I say let that process take place and be debated, but do not allow it to take center stage.

Gaza is the crux of the matter. An international effort towards lifting the blockade must be inventive and propose a solution to a complicated problem quickly. They should be focused on lifting the restrictions Israel imposes on goods coming into Gaza and ensure that reconstruction materials are allowed in. They must also tackle the security demands that Israel will make to prevent weapons going into Gaza. International institutions like the UN will almost certainly have to play a role, and perhaps also the European Union as monitors (as has been suggested before.) This is costly both politically and financially, support needs to be rallied around the idea. But an immediate aim must be allowing aid and reconstruction material, and secondly relinking the Gazan economy to that of the West Bank, i.e. restoring Palestine's economic integrity. 

This brings us to reviving an admittedly discredited peace process.

Update: to clarify (see Helena Cobban's comment below) I think focus peace process and what follows from here should take place after the blockade on Gaza is lifted.

Fully normalizing Gaza's status has to mean abandoning the "West Bank First" strategy implemented by the Bush administration in 2006, endorsed by the Quartet and continued by the Obama administration. It has to mean working towards Palestinian reconciliation leading to new elections and a legitimate Palestinian representation (neither the PA nor the Hamas government are currently legitimate, since their electoral terms have expired), and turning the proximity talks into preliminary talks while that can happen. It means renewed efforts at stopping potential spoiler states (Iran, Syria, Egypt and the United States) and spoiler factions (parts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Dahlan Gang, Shas, Israel Beiteinu and others). And it may mean abandoning some of the legal infrastructure of the Oslo process and the Quartet process and bringing a fresh approach. I'm not optimistic, but as I see it this might be necessary. There is a great risk that various parties involved in this conflict will choose to grandstand and temporize — the Arab states with their threats of reneging the Arab Initiative, the US by continuing a policy based entirely on shielding Israel from hard decisions and sensible behavior. Now is the time to push, not retreat.

Out of chaos and tragedy, a breakthrough is possible — but only with intensive and continuous effort.

Update: Along the same lines do read Helena Cobban, who has much deeper knowledge of the intricacies of the Middle East peace process than I do: How to end the siege of Gaza and How to end the siege of Gaza, addendum.

Egypt and peace-processing

Here is in black and white what has long been obvious about the Egyptian-mediated Palestinian reconciliation talks — that they were never conducted in earnest:
Senior sources in the defense establishment say that the Egyptians are even willing to agree, albeit belatedly, with the Israeli-American conclusion that nothing good will result from Cairo's effort to mediate between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The Obama administration fears that intra-Palestinian reconciliation would only bolster Hamas at the expense of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad. 

Palestinian unity has been understood to mean that a joint government would involve Hamas and that would also present the United States with a constitutional problem. 

Legislation passed in Congress would prevent the administration from continuing to give aid to the Abbas-Fayyad government the minute it agrees to include Hamas as a partner. Cairo will not admit it publicly but it appears that its reconciliation initiative is dead. 

An Egyptian source says that the mediation efforts stopped because "conditions in the area do not permit it." The source said that the Hamas rejection of an Egyptian compromise proposal, in part because of pressure from Iran and Syria, is preventing progress toward reconciliation. 

On the other hand, the Egyptians are now trying to push for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the PA, even by indirect American mediation. 
This is a reminder that the Gaza war was a gift for Egypt: Nicolas Sarkozy and the EU, at a time of US presidential transition, restored Egypt's "regional role" by appointing it as the key mediator between Israel and Hamas (for a permanent ceasefire and, separately, a prisoner exchange), Hamas and the PA (for reconciliation), and an important player in the regional peace process and relations between the PA and Israel. Egypt's intention has never been to conclude a Palestinian reconciliation, because Congress and the Obama administration would probably exit the peace process if that happened. Whatever happens, for Cairo, the process — any process — must be maintained in order to generate strategic rent. 

Links for 11.16.09 to 11.18.09

ضغوط أمريكية لزيادة الغاز المصري لإسرائيل وخفض أسعاره - بوابة الشروق | al-Shurouk reports that US is asking Egypt to increase gas deliveries to Israel, and at cheaper price. ✪ US rebukes Israel on settlement plans - Yahoo! News | ... but will do nothing about it. ✪ Nubian fury at 'monkey' lyric of Arab pop star Haifa Wehbe | World news | The Guardian | The Haifa Wehbe / Nubian scandal. ✪ The Obama admin is selling the peace process, but the press is not buying it. | Phil Weiss has surreal transcript from State Dept. over new settlements. ✪ Readability - An Arc90 Lab Experiment | Very nice bookmarklet for reading long articles. ✪ Palestinians say they will ask UN to recognise state - Yahoo! News | Doesn't the UN already accept previous resolutions with the 1967 line? Regarding my previous comment on US senators' call for a veto, the Palestinians do appear to want to take it to UNSC, not UNGA. ✪ Le Figaro - Conjoncture : Le grand Monopoly mondial des terres agricoles | Nice chart accompanying this article on the sale of arable land to food importing nations. ✪ U.S. "would veto" Palestinian state move: Senators - Yahoo! News | I suspect recognition by the UN would take place by the General Assembly, not the Security Council, so that turncoat Lieberman can take his veto and shove it... ✪ The pro-Israel lobby in Britain: full text | openDemocracy | Report on UK Israel lobby by documentary filmmaker Peter Oborne. ✪ FT.com - Inflation rears its head again in Egypt | Mostly affecting food prices ahead of Eid. ✪ Egyptian Blogger Beaten | "During the mayhem of a major soccer match, Egyptian blogger Kareem el-Shae’r was kidnapped and beaten. El-Shae’r moderates the Free Egypt blog and is a member of Ayman Nour’s el-Ghad party and the April 6 Youth movement. For his activism, el-Shae’r has been arrested several times and beaten before. The Egyptian interior ministry refused to comment on the incident." ✪ Gaddafi hires 200 young Italian women – to convert them to Islam | And tries to convert them to Islam. ✪ Israel must end Gaza blockade, evictions, alleged abuse of Palestinian children - Ban | "Israel should end the blockade of Gaza, cease evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes, and ensure that the rights of children are respected and that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly investigated and perpetrators prosecuted, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an annual report released today." ✪ Yemen Finds Dreamland of Architecture - NYTimes.com | On Yemen's traditional architecture. ✪ The Arabs by Eugene Rogan | Book review | The Guardian | Robert Irwin reviews this book, which I am currently reading.
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Links for 11.09.09 to 11.12.09

Report: Angelina Jolie planning to adopt child from Syria - Haaretz - Israel News | Jolie and Pitt thinking of adopting an Iraqi refugee baby in Syria. They also met with Bashar and his wife, apparently. United Colors of Adoption... this will cause a stir. ✪ Israel & Palestine: Can They Start Over? - The New York Review of Books | Malley & Agha's latest, in which they criticize the two-state solution, criticize alternatives to it (notably one-state), and sketch out the alternative: a hudna, a long-term interim truce while work on fundamental questions is carried out. Not entirely convincing, too vague at times, but there's something interesting there nonetheless. I wish they could be more straightforward. ✪ UN: Gaza needs construction material before winter - Yahoo! News | Even greater humanitarian crisis looming. ✪ Palestinian borders could solve settlements row: Fatah - Yahoo! News | Muhammad Dahlan picks up Daniel Levy's line about deciding on borders. Worrying. ✪ Israeli flights over Lebanon break resolution: UN - Yahoo! News | "UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – All Israeli military flights over Lebanon break a resolution aimed at ending the 2006 hostilities between the two neighbors, a UN envoy said Tuesday." So let's have the UN set up air defenses, then! ✪ Abbas slams Israel on settlements at mass Arafat rally - Yahoo! News | Funny pic of Abbas alongside this story. Well he's shown he can have some balls, at least, and highlight the dismal failure of the Israelis and Americans on the settlement question. ✪ Israel mulls draft refugee law - Yahoo! News | "JERUSALEM (AFP) – A draft law stipulating that any Middle East peace treaty must mention compensation for Jews forced to leave Arab states has passed a preliminary reading in the Israeli parliament, a spokesman said on Wednesday." ✪ Gaza, Gilad Shalit, Hamas, and Israel : The New Yorker | Somewhat flawed piece by Lawrence Wright, but nice descriptions of the misery of Gaza. Too much Gilad Shalit for my taste. ✪ Arab Reform Bulletin - Brotherhood Faces Leadership Challenge | Ibrahim al-Hudaiby about the MB's internal dispute and its need to institutionalize decision-making. ✪ Memo From Riyadh - Influence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Fades - NYTimes.com | An interesting story on Egypt and Saudi Arabia's dwindling relative power to influence regional affairs. Except I would not put Cairo and Riyadh in the same basket: Egypt is in absolute decline, Saudi in relative decline. Also interesting stuff on differences between the two on how to handle Syria. ✪ 6 Guantanamo detainees resettle in Palau Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The absurdities of the war on terror: "KOROR, Palau (AP) - Six Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay but still wanted at home as separatists arrived Sunday on their new tropical island home of Palau after the tiny Pacific nation agreed to a U.S. request to resettle the men." ✪ Géopolitique des médias arabes (1/2) : Rotana, mondialisation et normalisation | Culture et politique arabes | First post in a series of the geopolitics of Arab media. This one largely focuses on Kingdom Holdings and Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. ✪ الرئيس جمال عبد الناصر، الصفحة الرئيسية | Gamal Abdel Nasser archives at the Alexandria Library. ✪ In Turkey, fertile ground for creationism - washingtonpost.com | On Islamist creationists in Turkey. ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Obituary Amin Howeidi (1921-2009) Vexed, not villainous | Gamal Nkrumah's obituary of former Egyptian spy chief Amin Howeidy.
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Don't expect too much from T.J. Friedman

Several years ago I decided that reading and blogging about what Thomas Friedman writes was tiresome, and I haven't linked to much by or about him since then. I will break this rule for his latest column, on the whole quite reasonable about being fed up with the impasse with the peace process (although of course he criticizes the Palestinians in part for the wrong reasons), which some people like my friend Phil Weiss think is a call to turn off the aid spigot to Israel. Here's the passage he and others think may hint at this:
If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table. Let’s fight about something big.
I don't see how this can be interpreted as a call to cut off aid to Israel. It's at best a call to cut off aid that supports the Middle East Peace Process, which is largely aid to the Palestinian Authority. But I wouldn't even read that much into it. I am pretty sure Friedman will never, ever threaten the Israel-US relationship. It's a bad habit to pay attention to bad writers when they write something we like. In this column many may sympathize with MEPP fatigue; but his analysis is flawed. Friedman is sick of intransigeant Israelis but also of Palestinians (i.e. the PA) for not wanting negotiations before a settlement freeze. This is a ridiculous assessment, much like the recent about-face about Israel's "unprecedented concessions" by Hillary Clinton is ridiculous. Obama offered set the standard to restart MEPP talks by talking about a settlement freeze -- a complete settlement freeze, not a partial one. The PA said, OK, that works for us. It is now the US that is changing that bar, not the PA. But the Obama administration now appears to be blaming the PA and the Arabs for not accepting its own about-face, i.e. for sticking to the rules of the game Obama had set at the beginning of this round of pre-negotiations. A much better analysis of US policy is provided by Daniel Levy, a dovish former Israeli official and advisor to Ehud Barak (to be frank, the kind of person I am generally skeptical of.) In this condemnation of Obama's amateurism, he explains the missed opportunity for dealing with Israeli intransigence and gets a nice dig in at Hosni Mubarak:
The Obama team's call for a comprehensive settlement freeze was consistent with past U.S. policy (notably Bush's Roadmap of 2003), although it was perhaps treated with more seriousness coming from the new 'hope and change' President. The Israel Prime Minister's answer came in June, and it was a rejectionist one: no full freeze, and no limitations whatsoever on settlements in East Jerusalem. That is when the malaise set in. The administration had three possible options in responding: 1) Stick to its guns and calibrate a set of escalating consequences in response to possible ongoing Israeli recalcitrance. 2) Make a smart pivot by declaring, for instance, that if Israel could not for its own reasons freeze settlements, then this would make all the more urgent the need to quickly define and agree a border for an Israel-Palestine two-state solution. And the U.S. could reasonably have adopted a formula regarding that border (such as based on the 1967 lines, minor mutual modifications to accommodate settlements close to the Green Line in a one-to-one land swap). The U.S. could have explained to its Israeli friends that absent a defined border, the settlement freeze would have to be comprehensive, but in the discussion on borders, there could be more flexibility given the one-to-one land swaps. 3) Dig themselves into a hole. Insisting on a freeze, heightening expectations, without a plan for achieving that end, and by then acceding to talks with the Israeli government over koshering aspects of settlements expansion. It is certainly legitimate for the administration to have not chosen option one, and to have decided that this was the wrong issue and/or wrong timing to escalate with the Netanyahu government. My own preference would have been for option two, and indeed, the administration could reasonably be perceived to have laid the ground deftly for such a pivot. Unfortunately, they went for option three, and it all came crashing down around their feet this week. The Secretary's last minute stop in Cairo to round off the trip said it all. The Mubarak regime tried to help salvage some American pride, lining up behind the Secretary's efforts. Except that it is precisely the Mubarak government whose credibility is so severely questioned in the region, it is the largest Arab recipient of American financial assistance, and is obsessed with leadership succession--in short, getting a smile out of the Egyptian leader doesn't even register on the congratulatory charts.
Is consistency really too much to ask? If the settlement freeze really is an impasse, I would favor for some form of negative consequence for Israel. But perhaps that is politically impossible for domestic US reasons. So the second option, shifting the emphasis to what Israel considers its permanent borders -- something it has always avoided defining -- would be a better start.
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Links for 10.21.09

'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Nozette: Pollard, 2.0? | On the latest Israeli spy scandal in the US. ✪ "friday-lunch-club": Netanyahu refuses Kouchner's request to see Gaza's destruction ... | Gaza? What Gaza? ✪ To Earn HIs Nobel Prize, Obama Will Need a "Plan B" | Stephen M. Walt | "If I were President Obama (now there's a scary thought!), I'd ask some smart people on my foreign policy team to start thinking hard about "Plan B." What's Plan B? It's the strategy that he's going to need when it becomes clear that his initial foreign policy initiatives didn't work." ✪ ذاكرة مصر المعاصرة - الصحافة | Alexandria Library's online collection of historical Egyptian newspapers, including the first issue of al-Ahram (which was founded, it must be reluctantly noted, by Lebanese.) ✪ News Analysis - Painful Mideast Truth - Force Trumps Diplomacy - NYTimes.com | Painful Media Truth: For NYT, bias always trumps journalism. Look at the language used in this piece: Palestinian violence is "very bloody" and Israel carries out "military action." Israel's plans to attack Iran are considered as legitimate. And there is a mixing of terrorism and the attacks on Israel's "legitimacy" -- i.e. the legitimacy of its landgrabs, occupations and militarism. Pure hasbara. ✪ Israel, US start major joint air defence drill - Yahoo! News |
The exercise will test the Arrow (Hetz) system, the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System, as well as Patriot and Hawk anti-aircraft systems, media said. It will simulate the firing of long-range missiles from Israel's foes Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and towards the end it will include a "live" missile interception, reports said.
Matthew Yglesias » Bernstein on Human Rights Watch | A good retort to the latest silly attack on HRW (by one of its former chairman) "or having the temerity to hold Israel to the same standards of international humanitarian law to which it holds every other country." But this just points to the problem of bias in the higher echelons of HRW - among former and current staffers. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | No Fly Zone | Nice story looking at the recent airport detentions of various kinds of activists. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Pope Shenouda: "I Support Gamal Mubarak" | What a nasty little man, and what disservice he does to his flock. I hope Copts flee the Orthodox Church en masse over this. ✪ Arab states consider joint counter-terror police unit | "Arabpol." Oh Lord Have Mercy. ✪ Egyptcarpoolers | A carpooling connecting website for Cairo. ✪ Saddam Interview | Transcripts of interviews with Saddam Hussein during his captivity in 2004.
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Links for 10.08.09 to 10.09.09

‘Abuse’ of Islamic rule lands lawyer in court - The National Newspaper | About time someone stopped Nabih el Wahsh and his ridiculous hesba claims, but this needs to go further: a judicial ruling or new law should declare hesba unacceptable in courts.

Israel FM to tell U.S. envoy no peace deal possible | Lieberman always says what's on his mind.

Mideast sliding into 'darkness': Jordan king | Jordan's king does his Cassandra routine.

Sudan: SLM Warns US Envoy Not to Visit Darfur Areas Under Its Control Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "The Sudan Liberation Army Movement [SLM] led by Abdul-Wahid Nur who resides in France has warned US Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration not to visit the areas in Darfur that are under its control and where he is expected to hold a conference in the "Darbat" area in Murrah Mountain on 20 October."

Unjustifiable To Lose ‘Goldstone’ Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "It is not the time for point-scoring. Goldstone’s report marked the beginning of the international justice the Palestinian people need. The issue goes beyond political wrangling between Hamas and the PA, and also goes beyond the assumed price for slip ups. It is about responsibility for people’s lives."

‘The Times’ lets everyone off the hook on Goldstone | The NYT's continued hasbara on the Goldstone report.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | UN body to debate Gaza 'crimes' | Slated for 14 October.

Fatah seeks joint action with Hamas over Gaza report - Yahoo! News | About time.

ei: Abbas helps Israel bury its crimes in Gaza | Ali Abunimah: "Just when it seemed that the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader Mahmoud Abbas could not sink any lower in their complicity with Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the murderous blockade of Gaza, Ramallah has dealt a further stunning blow to the Palestinian people."

“The Challenge of Moderation in Islam: Egypt’s Religious Institution Versus Extremism.” | POMED notes on speech by Egyptian Mufti Ali Gomaa.

Palestine on the brink: only a quick de-escalation can prevent an explosion | Israel Policy Forum | Hussein Ibish.

Abbas Cancels Israel War-Crimes Report, Boosting Hamas - Yahoo! News | It's over for Abbas, morally now and politically eventually.

Saudi, Syria agree to 'remove obstacles' to closer ties - Yahoo! News | They also called for a NUG to be formed in Lebanon.

Security Council to raise UN Gaza report next week - Yahoo! News | Libya move to push for discussion of Goldstone report moves ahead, despite Mahmoud Abbas's failure to push for it (and his subsequent reversal.)

All these Abdelazizes | New head of Western Sahara mission MINURSO is Egyptian.

Oren likens Goldstone to… Nazi threat | Israel Ambassador to US Michael Oren: Goldstone = Nazis = Nuclear Annihilation.

Agents arrest dozens for theft scheme in US, Egypt | Egyptian hackers engage in $2m phishing scam.

Pew Forum: Mapping the Global Muslim Population | Pew report says there are 1.57bn Muslims, analysis and breakdown through maps and more.

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Peace process? What peace process?

Shimon Peres, president of Israel:
CERNOBBIO, Italy (AFP) – Israeli President Shimon Peres said Friday he was "quite optimistic" about peace and downplayed reports that his country will carry on with settlement construction before agreeing to a freeze. "I am quite optimistic about peace," Peres, said, evoking the "pragmatic approach in all quarters," during a speech to the Ambrosetti Forum grouping political and business leaders on the shore of Lake Como in northern Italy.
Meanwhile Israel is... going ahead with new settlement construction. Peres is also suggesting that the Palestinian state come before a peace deal -- probably he had in mind that the Palestinians (well Fayyad and so on) should go on ahead pretending that they have a state but Israelis continue to build settlements. Good thing that the Obama administration is soooo credible on the peace process. As Stephen Walt notes:
In response, the Obama administration said, "We regret the reports of Israel's plans to approve additional settlement construction," adding that additional settlements are "inconsistent with Israel's commitments under the road map." Ouch. That must really sting. The government of the world's most powerful country "regrets" what you are doing. Oh dear. I'll bet there's fear and trembling in PM Netanyahu's office tonight. The administration's official statement also declared "The U.S. commitment to Israel's security is and will remain unshakeable," and said that it still believed a two-state solution was the best way to guarantee that objective. But here's my question: If Netanyahu and Co. can count on this "unshakeable commitment" no matter what they do, why should anyone expect their behavior to change?
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Links for 08.04.09

AFP: Maroc : Mohammed VI très populaire, selon un sondage interdit dans son pays | Great headline - "Morocco: Muhammad VI very popular, according to poll banned in his country." FT.com / Middle East / Economy - Egypt’s cotton kingdom cut down to size | Good story on Egyptian textile industry: "Egypt is likely this year to produce its smallest cotton crop in a century." FT.com / Comment / Editorial - The cost of Arab peace concessions | Bravo FT: "In 1992-96, at the height of the peace process, Israel reaped a peace dividend without concluding a peace. Diplomatic recognition of Israel doubled, from 85 to 161 countries, exports doubled and foreign investment increased sixfold. Per capita income in the occupied territories fell in the same period by more than a third, while the number of settlers expanded by half. A broad-looking avenue led quickly to a road-block. The Arabs have not forgotten, and Mr Obama will have to get more than a settlement freeze out of Israel to lure them down that road again." Newsweek Steps Up Effort to Free Reporter in Iran - NYTimes.com | On Maziar Bahari's detention in Iran. Venezuela : Chavez suspend 34 médias d'opposition | Hugo Chavez bans 34 independent media outlets. In the Sahara, a Film Festival Complete With Camels - NYTimes.com | On a film festival in Sahrawi refugee camps. Blog: Middle East Diary | Hannah is back. Hugh Miles and CCTV Arabic | The author of a book on al-Jazeera on the new Chinese channel. 'VALIS and Later Novels,' by Philip K. Dick | VALIS, which I am now reading, enters Library of America. Someone should write a PKD-ish novel set in the Arab world. Then again, I've always found Cairo highly reminiscent of the world of Bladerunner. 10,000 Uighur disappear in China, U.S. silent | Spero News | Shocking link from Angry Arab, although I'm not sure about the source - this site has a lot of religious agit-prop. Liam Stack, Greek Club Civil War, and Developing Developments | Boi boi Liam...
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The Leveretts on Obama's approach to the MEPP

The Leveretts - Middle East commentary's smartest couple?
Obama's statement has been heralded (and criticized) as a striking departure from the policy of George W. Bush. In fact, the Cairo speech squandered Obama's best opportunity to revitalize U.S. policy in the Arab-Israeli arena by describing Israeli settlement activity not merely as violating previous agreements and undermining efforts to achieve peace, but as "illegal," because the settlement of Israeli civilians in occupied territory violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. More broadly, Obama's rhetoric in Cairo strongly suggests that his Middle East diplomacy will extend America's decades-long record of ineffectual efforts at Arab-Israeli peacemaking -- a record that has its origins in the Reagan administration's 1981 decision to abandon the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations' characterization of Israeli settlements in occupied Arab territory as "illegal." While the European Union and most of the rest of the world have consistently done so, the last four U.S. administrations have not -- a position Obama is continuing.
Do read on for their blistering critique of the ridiculous Middle East roadmap, and Obama's failure to steer away from it.
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Middle East diplomacy: Myths, illusions and peace | The Economist

Middle East diplomacy: Myths, illusions and peace | The Economist
A blandly positive review of Dennis Ross and David Makovsky's new book (which takes an opposite position on engagement with Iran than official Obama policy, which this review does not note), in which they argue against talking to "the Khamas and the Khizbullah".
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EU must step up Mideast engagement: Portugal - Yahoo! News

EU must step up Mideast engagement: Portugal - Yahoo! News
This comes as the EU is involved in a protracted battle between member states over whether to suspend the EU-Israel upgrade process. Portugal sides with the states that want, very rightly, to impose conditionalities on Israel for the Gaza war and its continuing blockade. Against are most of the East Europeans, Italy, UK, Denmark ans Germany. Bloody useless EU and its even more useless foreign commissioner...
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