Masters Of War

Come you masters of war You that build all the guns You that build the death planes You that build all the bombs You that hide behind walls You that hide behind desks I just want you to know I can see through your masks. You that never done nothin' But build to destroy You play with my world Like it's your little toy You put a gun in my hand And you hide from my eyes And you turn and run farther When the fast bullets fly. Like Judas of old You lie and deceive A world war can be won You want me to believe But I see through your eyes And I see through your brain Like I see through the water That runs down my drain. You fasten all the triggers For the others to fire Then you set back and watch When the death count gets higher You hide in your mansion' As young people's blood Flows out of their bodies And is buried in the mud. You've thrown the worst fear That can ever be hurled Fear to bring children Into the world For threatening my baby Unborn and unnamed You ain't worth the blood That runs in your veins. How much do I know To talk out of turn You might say that I'm young You might say I'm unlearned But there's one thing I know Though I'm younger than you That even Jesus would never Forgive what you do. Let me ask you one question Is your money that good Will it buy you forgiveness Do you think that it could I think you will find When your death takes its toll All the money you made Will never buy back your soul. And I hope that you die And your death'll come soon I will follow your casket In the pale afternoon And I'll watch while you're lowered Down to your deathbed And I'll stand over your grave 'Til I'm sure that you're dead.------- Bob Dylan 1963

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Palestinian reconciliation sends shock waves By Victor Kotsev

By Victor Kotsev
TEL AVIV - When Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas directed harsh accusations against United States President Barack Obama and his team in what looked like a carefully prepared public relations stunt (letting "Newsweek into his personal space" for five days, as the magazine put it), the writing was already on the wall.
"It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze," Abbas told Newsweek's Dan Ephron. "I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it." Among other criticism, Abbas complained about the "impolite" way in which Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was pushed out, and about the recent American veto on a United Nation Security
  
Council resolution draft which would have condemned Israeli settlement construction. [1]
There were indications for over a month that something big was brewing (see my article Jerusalem bomb seeds gathering conflict, Asia Times Online March 24, 2011). Few, however, expected Wednesday's announcement that a Palestinian reconciliation agreement had been forged with Egyptian mediation between rival factions Fatah and Hamas, and a national unity government was to be announced soon. Those taken by surprise reportedly included the Israelis, the Americans, the Turks, and indeed most of the international community.
While the announcement of a vague Palestinian unity deal falls far short of speculations that the Palestinian Authority would rush a declaration of independence (the meeting of the Quartet for the Middle East scheduled for mid-April was in fact postponed), it is certainly a big step in the direction of independence. According Israeli analyst Ron Ben-Yishai:
The Palestinian president has been granted renewed political legitimacy for his rule in the Palestinian street, because formally his term as president ended a while ago. Now, Abbas is the president in every why, until the next elections are held. This also enables him to appear at the United Nations as a legitimate representative of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and demand recognition of a Palestinian state ... The unity deal take away an important bargaining chip from Israel, which has consistently told UN members that Abbas only represents the West Bank.
To expand on these observations, the reconciliation move signals also that Abbas made a very specific choice of his path to Palestinian independence, most likely forsaking his relationship with the United States. While the White House issued a muted response, supporting Palestinian reconciliation but expressing concern that Hamas "is a terrorist organization which targets civilians", members of the US Congress bluntly threatened to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if the deal is implemented. [2]
Hamas, meanwhile, appeared set on keeping up with its hardline image. "Our program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognizing it," commented one of its leaders, Mahmud az-Zahar. "It will not be possible for the interim national government to participate or bet on or work on the peace process with Israel." These comments throw a shadow on Abbas' assertion that he would continue to be in charge of the peace talks.
One compelling interpretation of Abbas' actions, in line with the Newsweek interviews, is that he finally lost faith in Washington. Up until now the possibility remained open that he would choose to isolate and disregard Hamas as he pushed for a recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN in September; the campaign has already started, and so far it was conducted without the militant rulers of the Gaza Strip.
This option had its allures, not least since the Palestinian Authority, dominated by Abbas' Fatah party, has a lot more international legitimacy than does Hamas; the latter's failure to accept the Quartet Principles and use of terrorist tactics could undermine the PA's case that it is offering peace.
However, the American administration's refusal to abandon Israel at the UN Security Council, coupled with pressure from Egypt, seems to have tipped the scales and pushed him into a more confrontational stance. Abbas apparently calculated that his legitimacy with the rest of the international community - specifically at the General Assembly of the UN - would be improved by the move, and that he had less to lose than to gain.
What appears odd, however, is that he does stand to lose quite a bit - not least in financial assistance from the United States. It is hard to imagine that Abbas would embark on such an adventure without having secured alternative sources of funding to make up for the loss. European and Persian Gulf donors top the list of suspects, and it is important to watch the behavior of Saudi Arabia, which is rumored to be quite active throughout the Middle East recently.
The precise parameters of the agreement are unclear - and possibly are not finalized yet. Different sources have written about "a government of experts" that would rule both the West Bank and Gaza, about integration of security services, about the release of prisoners, and general elections within a year. How exactly any of these stipulations is to be achieved is another matter; not only is the devil in the details, but these details have managed to derail repeated attempts at reconciliation for at least two years now.
The basic outlines of the deal are nothing new - Egypt had drafted them in 2009. What is new is that Egypt was able to apply pressure efficiently on both sides. This is partly a result of the Arab uprisings - in the face of Hosni Mubarak, Abbas lost an ally, while Hamas' main base in Syria is endangered due to the escalating unrest there. Both were weakened, making them more amenable to compromise.
In addition, Egypt applied some carrots - for example, it promised to open "permanently" its border crossing with Gaza at the town of Rafah, effectively ending the blockade on the strip. It is unclear what Abbas received, but some analysts speculate that he would retain the greater share of power in the new government.
For the Palestinian president, a major risk is that the deal might collapse, as previous agreements with Hamas have collapsed - many Palestinians [3] and Israeli observers [4] are reportedly skeptical that it will last long. This would leave Abbas once again without full legitimacy but further isolated from both the United States and Israel. Hamas will beyond doubt reap enormous benefits from the opening of the Rafah crossing; once the border opens, Egypt is unlikely to close it again due to domestic pressure.
The militant organization could also use the reconciliation to strengthen its position on the West Bank and eventually to try to take it over, as it did in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority and Israel have worked together to prevent such a scenario over the past years, arresting numerous Hamas activists.
In light of all the uncertainties surrounding the deal, it is hard to completely rule out the possibility that it is an elaborate bluff of some sort (perhaps in order to extract concessions from the United States and Israel or to suit the needs of an external power). Even in this case, however, it will have a profound effect on the regional relationships.
Israel's reaction will be particularly important. Israeli politicians across the board ruled out the possibility of talks with Hamas, unless the latter "undergoes a deep and fundamental change". The greatest fear of the Jewish state is that Hamas will re-establish terror bases in the West Bank, from where it could strike at the Israeli heartland. A secondary problem is that if a Palestinian unity government gains international legitimacy, this would come at Israel's expense. Thus, Israel cannot be expected to stand by passively for long.
A number of apocalyptic scenarios circulate. If the agreement is implemented and Hamas forces are integrated into the security apparatus in the West Bank, this would mean the end of security cooperation with Israel (and also the United States). While some analysts have spoken about a third intifada (Palestinian uprising), however, and the peace process is buried for the near future, violence is not necessarily imminent.
The initial Israeli response, at least, was non-violent. On Friday morning, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that Israel planned to "launch a diplomatic campaign, with particular emphasis on the European Union, to thwart international recognition of the unified Fatah-Hamas government".
It is important to note that aside from dangers, the reconciliation deal also carries some important benefits for the Benjamin Netanyahu government, and strengthens its security-related arguments both domestically and internationally. According to Israeli journalist Aluf Benn:
The Palestinian reconciliation deal, if realized, heralds the takeover of the Palestinian national movement by Hamas, providing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an escape from the rut he has fallen into because of the deadlock in the peace process. This is just what Netanyahu needed to unite the Israeli public behind him and thwart international pressure to withdraw from the West Bank. ... From here on, the pressure will mount on [leader of the opposition Kadima party] Tzipi Livni to join an Israeli unity government to stand against the Palestinians and international community. When Mahmoud Abbas joins Hamas, Kadima cannot say it has a peace partner and cannot propose an alternative policy. Why should Kadima stay in opposition now? ... The reconciliation has also saved Netanyahu's trip to Washington to speak at the AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] convention and in Congress. He no longer has to line the trip with concessions to the Palestinians. The pressure is off.
Indeed, Netanyahu's relationship with Washington might just have taken a turn for the better. If Obama wants to be re-elected as president, and he does, he cannot afford to be seen supporting Hamas against Israel. The European Union, as the Palestinian news agency Ma'an observes, is "more open than [the] US on [the] unity deal", but even there Netanyahu could gain some traction. Alternatively - though unlikely - Hamas could mitigate its stance and renounce violence, which would grant it international legitimacy, but would also serve the Jewish state well.
In addition, now that the Rafah crossing is about to open, Israel will face a greater danger from smuggled weapons into the Strip, but will also have another option open to deal with Hamas. It could seek to disengage from Gaza fully, cutting off electricity, food and fuel supplies, and leave Egypt to deal with the situation. A number of Israeli politicians and analysts have advocated this course of action, and it is important to note that it would also allow the Jewish state greater military freedom there, since it would no longer have the status of an occupying power according to international law.
Overall, the Palestinian reconciliation deal is a major gambit, especially for Abbas. If implemented, it would have a profound and complex impact on the basic relationships in the Levant, and in the Middle East in general. Even before it has been signed, it is sending shockwaves throughout the region.
Notes 1. The Wrath of Abbas, Newsweek, April 24, 2011.
2. Congress says will halt US aid if PA merges with Hamas, Ynetnews, April 28, 2011.
3. Ramallah residents wary of unity deal, Ynetnews, April 28, 2011.
4. Gov't officials skeptical about Hamas-Fatah agreement, Jerusalem Post, April 28, 2011.
Victor Kotsev is a journalist and political analyst based in Tel Aviv.

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