Tag Archives: Obama

Who Lost Fatah?


‘Who lost China?” was the battle cry of a witch-hunt conducted in the US State Department following the 1949 victory of Mao Zedong’s communists. The department’s “China hands”, critics charged, had been woefully ignorant of the dynamics at work on the ground in China after the Second World War, and undermined the US ally Chiang Kai-shek. While the purge that followed is unlikely to be repeated, Washington may soon be asking itself, albeit quietly, “Who lost Fatah?”

Last week’s announcement by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that he would not seek re-election next January was a warning to the Obama administration, which had put Mr Abbas in an untenable position. Having retreated from its own demand that Israel halt all construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Washington expected Mr Abbas to open talks with the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu without conditions.

For the Palestinians, however, the settlement-freeze demand was a test of Mr Obama’s willingness to pressure the Israelis into taking steps they won’t take by choice. Mr Abbas knows that Mr Netanyahu, if it were up to him, would not yield to a viable, independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. If the US is not prepared to pressure Israel, negotiations would not only be fruitless, they would actually help sustain a reality that is relatively comfortable for the Israelis but intolerable for the Palestinians…

…The sad truth dawning on Ramallah, now, is that there will be no salvation from Washington. Not now, possibly not ever. A sad truth, perhaps, but the kind that can set free those who recognise it. In the shocked aftermath of the 1967 war, Fatah took the lead in breaking the Palestine Liberation Organisation free of the tutelage of the Arab League, in a declaration of independence that put their fate in their own hands rather than relying on Arab armies to defeat Israel. Today, they face a similar challenge – declaring independence from Washington and once again taking their fate into their own hands.
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Mideast Failure Looms for Obama


Published on TIME.com
The Obama Administration’s bid to relaunch an Israeli-Palestinian peace process is falling apart faster than you can say settlement freeze — in no small part because President Obama began his effort by saying “settlement freeze.” On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found herself struggling to persuade skeptical Arab foreign ministers to see the silver lining in Israel’s “no, but” answer to the U.S. demand that Israel halt all construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. At least Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was offering to restrain settlement activity, Clinton argued, but Arab leaders, whom Obama had hoped would make reciprocal gestures towards normalization of ties with Israel, were not buying. For Arab League secretary Amr Moussa, Clinton’s message offered a grim outlook for the Administration’s peace efforts: “I still wait until we have our meetings and decide what we are going to do,” Moussa reportedly said Monday in Morocco, where Clinton was meeting with Arab leaders. “But failure is in the atmosphere all over.”

Asking the Arab states to accept Israel’s offer to simply slow down construction in the West Bank and its refusal to stop building and demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem — after President Obama publicly and repeatedly demanded it — has battered the Administration’s credibility in Arab capitals. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated on Monday his refusal to heed Washington’s call to begin negotiating with Netanyahu in the absence of a settlement freeze. Abbas has promised his public and his own Fatah movement, which is deeply skeptical of the prospects for dealing with Israel’s current hawkish government, that he won’t return to the table until Netanyahu has signaled his bona fides by halting all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has used the Palestinian refusal to engage in unconditional talks as an opportunity to blame them for the impasse in solving the conflict, noting that Abbas spent last year in talks over a two-state deal with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without ever mentioning a settlement freeze. Why are the Palestinians suddenly making such a fuss about a settlement freeze now, the Israelis ask, as if this signifies a hidden agenda. The Obama Administration appeared to take Netanyahu’s side last weekend, pressing the Palestinians to drop the precondition for talking. But the Palestinians point out that they weren’t the only ones raising the issue: the Obama Administration, too, had issued an unambiguous demand that Israel halt all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in line with the 2002 road map. Continue reading

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Why an Election Couldn’t Fix Afghanistan

Published on TIME.com:

Little over a week ago, Senator John Kerry was hailed for his diplomatic success in Kabul, where he cajoled President Hamid Karzai into accepting a runoff in the disputed Afghan election. But Sunday’s withdrawal from the race by Karzai’s challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, rendered Kerry’s achievement moot. Moreover, it was an outcome the U.S. had come around to rooting for.

The fact that U.S. officials in Kabul had pivoted within a matter of days from insisting that a runoff be held to pressing for it to be canceled highlighted the problem with the U.S.’s obsession on staging elections in conflict zones. Such elections, though often held up (with the U.S. domestic political audience in mind) as examples of democracy’s triumph, can actually undermine U.S. goals in those situations. Contrary to the Obama Administration’s spin, resolving the dispute over the fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan’s August election was never the key to determining whether to send more U.S. troops into the country. In fact, the runoff election was never going to strengthen the legitimacy of the resulting government; it was always more likely to further weaken it.
(See pictures of the presidential election in Afghanistan.)

Elections typically only resolve a conflict when the major parties to that conflict have accepted the balloting and its ground rules as the basis for a solution. And that was no more the case in Afghanistan today than it was in the U.S. in 1864, when a presidential election was held during the Civil War. Nobody imagined that the electoral contest between President Abraham Lincoln and General George B. McClellan was the country’s primary political battle; nor was the contest between Karzai and Abdullah the key conflict in Afghanistan. Instead, Afghanistan is in the grip of a civil war that pits a U.S.-backed political establishment, which includes both Karzai and Abdullah, against the Taliban.

In that light, the main legitimacy problem with the August vote was not the 1 million–plus fake votes that were cast mostly for Karzai but the 12 million–plus votes claimed by the Taliban. No one actually voted for the Taliban, of course, and its call for a boycott of the poll was enforced by threat of death. But whether out of fear, political choice or sheer indifference, 12 million voters — representing 70% of the electorate, compared with just 30% in 2004 — stayed away from the ballot stations. A runoff election was expected to see an even smaller turnout. Continue reading

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Obama’s Afghanistan Vaudeville


John Kerry was the toast of the spoon-fed media last week for his ostensible “achievement” in cajoling Hamid Karzai into accepting a runoff election in Afghanistan. Where was Richard Holbrooke, the sophisticates who indulge in Beltway kremlinology asked, as if his absence from this supposed “breakthrough” moment was telling. The reality, of course, is that Kerry’s insistence on standing behind Karzai, as if twisting the visibly uncomfortable U.S.-installed president’s arm as he announced a humiliating retraction of his insistence that he’d won the election on its first round, simply confirmed that the failed U.S. presidential candidate from Massachusetts is a political dolt. But the announcement — a delicious propaganda moment for the Taliban, who insist that Karzai is an obedient servant of the U.S. — was not half as damaging as the political gambit it showcased: Forcing Karzai to accept a runoff election which even the U.S. knows is a farce — so much so, that Washington is now hard at work trying to press Karzai into a power sharing deal so as to avoid the very runoff they had insisted was a precondition for sending more troops. Continue reading

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More Iran Hysteria from the NY Times

The surest sign that another neocon bill of goods is being hawked in respect of the Iran “nuclear peril” is the revival of Rumsfeld-esque “unknowable unknowns”, a la Iraq WMD panic circa late 2002. In the real world, of course, solid progress is being made towards a plausible diplomatic deal to strengthen safeguards against Iran weaponizing the nuclear material it is producing. (See my latest on this at TIME.com)

But in the fevered world of the neocons, which the New York Time has, once again, bought into wholesale, the progress is illusory; Iran is playing games by only showing us the tip of the iceberg. Utterly shameless in its willingness to repeat the Judith Miller debacle, the Times tells us that Iran at Geneva agreed “to send most of its openly declared enriched uranium” to Russia for reprocessing into fuel rods for a medical research facility. Twice more in the story it uses the phrase “declared stockpile” — unmistakably signaling the reader that he or she ought to believe that Iran, of course, has other stocks of enriched uranium that are undeclared. Continue reading

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The Travels of Abu Mazen…

Sometimes, pictures render words superfluous… (see more, click below) Continue reading

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Obama to Unveil ‘Roadmapolis’


If you’re getting a little uneasy about President Obama reprising Bush Administration policies with new gloss — my personal favorite being his decision to continue the policy of ‘rendition’, under which terror suspects are sent to third countries where the rules governing interrogation are more permissive, but Obama promises to do it “with greater oversight” — his Middle East peace plan is unlikely to make you feel much better.

Obama’s Mideast peace plan appears to be a hybrid between President Bush’s “roadmap” and his “Annpolis” initiative — Roadmapolis, if you like. Continue reading

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Karzai as Diem in Obama’s Vietnam

The suggestion that doubts over the clearly crooked election process in Afghanistan somehow undermine the U.S. strategy there are missing the point: As I wrote last week, an inconclusive poll that fails to clearly legitimize the next government may not be a setback for the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan strategy. On the contrary, it could offer an important opportunity to remake a system of government so dysfunctional that it has enabled a massive Taliban resurgence. Continue reading

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Netanyahu Sr. Lets the Cat Out of the Bag

When the father of some well known footballer suddenly pops up in the media with a tale of how his son is unhappy at Club X and wants, instead, to go to Real Madrid, you can be sure that he’s saying the things the son can’t afford to say for fear of antagonizing his employers. So, when Ben-Zion Netanyahu tells Israeli TV that his son has no intention of actually implementing a two-state solution, and will evade having to do so by setting conditions impossible for the Palestinians to embrace, you know that Israel’s current government has no intention of seriously pursuing President Obama’s peace plan. Continue reading

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Obama, the Holocaust and the Palestinians

The line in last Friday’s New York Times summed it up: Some Israelis and their American supporters are furious with President Barack Obama, the Times reported, because they saw his Cairo speech as “elevating the Palestinians to equal status.” And those who would be threatened by Palestinians being viewed as equal human beings to Israelis may have reason to be concerned. That’s because whatever its policy implications — and the jury is very much still out on those — Obama’s Cairo speech marked a profound conceptual shift in official Washington’s discourse on the nature and causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of America’s obligations to each side. So much so that one as prone pessimism as I was before the speech was forced to note that the reason Israel’s more right-wing supporters are worried is that, rhetorically at least, Obama was trying to move the U.S. position towards one of an honest broker. Continue reading

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