January 2009 Archives

January 19, 2009

Recommended: ‘Jews Should Learn From African Americans and Move On’

Recommended: Martin Varsavsky’s January 19, 2009, essay at The Huffington Post headlined “Jews Should Learn From African Americans and Move On.” It’s thought provoking, timely and will likely result in widespread criticism of Mr. Varsavsky. But I’m sure he knew that when he wrote the post.

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There Was No One to Stop Israel’s Attack on Gaza

On January 18, 2009, Gershom Gorenberg made the following observation at Haaretz.com about Israel’s war on Gaza:

The diplomatic timing for the war looked lovely. The U.S. president who loved military action was still in power, though fading into the shadows. The new president, dynamic and popular, hadn't yet entered office. There was no one to interfere, to pressure us to stop.” See “The war as warm-up act for Obama.”

He is absolutely right. Maybe that’s why Israel decided to halt the destruction of Gaza on the eve of President-Elect Barack Obama’s swearing in as the 44th President of the United States. Did Israeli leaders fear they would be told to stop the war?

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January 13, 2009

Gaza Bloggers Do What Journalists Can’t

“The Israeli offensive in Gaza reached its 18th day with Israel continuing to block access to the region for foreign journalists,” reports The Christian Science Monitor’s Kristen Chick in a January 13, 2009, report headlined “Gaza bloggers relay crisis to outside world.” “But bloggers in Gaza are chronicling the conflict with firsthand accounts of their experiences, giving outsiders a look at the unfolding humanitarian crisis.”

Ms. Chick quotes some of the bloggers and provides links to their blogs.

This post can also be found at The Blogging Journalists.

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January 11, 2009

Hillary Clinton’s Confirmation Hearing Set for January 13, 2009

On January 13, 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton, President-Elect Barack Obama’s choice for U.S. Secretary of State, is scheduled to undergo a  confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, headed by Senator John F. Kerry. See “Obama, Clinton Plan to Retrieve Ex-Envoys, Keep Bush Official.”

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January 8, 2009

Bloggers Have Their Say About John Howard’s Stay at Blair House

The Canberra Times of Australia told its readers January 8, 2009, that, “US bloggers are up in arms over former Australian Prime Minister John Howard "bumping" president-elect Barack Obama from an official government guest house in Washington,” the U.S. capital. See “US blogs bitter about Howard's Blair House bump.” The Times reported:

image Mr Howard will stay at Blair House the night before he receives the US [Presidential] Medal of Freedom from retiring President George W. Bush next week.

Mr Obama has been forced onto the Blair House waiting list until January 15 when he and his family will move in, five days before his inauguration as president.

The Obamas requested an early move-in at the 70,000-square-foot, 119-room mansion across the street from the White House, so their children could settle in to start school this week, The Washington Post reported.

But the incoming first family was told the residence had been booked out, so they took a suite at the nearby Hay-Adams Hotel.

The Times said, “President Bush has been the main target for criticism from bloggers to political sites.”

Question: Why couldn’t Mr. Howard stay at the Australian Embassy. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, another of Mr. Bush’s sidekicks in the invasion and occupation Iraq and another Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient designee, is staying at the British Embassy. He reportedly admitted that he didn’t want to be the one to bump Mr. Obama from Blair House.

Besides, as The Australian told its readers in its January 9, 2009, edition: “The Washington Post yesterday summed up the Blair House affair thus: "119 rooms, 70,000 square feet and one lucky Australian.” See “Fury as John Howard's end upsets Barack Obama's beginning.”  Also see “Blair House Mystery Solved: It's John Howard.”

Following is a list of worldwide newspaper articles on Mr. Howard’s stay at Blair House. What some bloggers are saying. What the U.S. media is saying.

Note: This post can also be found at The Blogging Journalist.

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January 7, 2009

Will Turkey’s Gaza Cease-fire Diplomacy Prove Effective?

“Turkey's frenetic diplomacy to win a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas reflects its new-found clout in the Middle East and is also driven to appease a public opinion infuriated by the mounting death toll of civilians,” contends Reuters’ Ibon Villelabeitia in a January 7, 2009, news analysis headlined “Clout, politics behind Turkish diplomacy over Gaza.”

The analysis, which has “additional reporting by Zerin Elci and editing by Samia Nakhoul, says “Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but secular country with good ties with Israel, has been playing a busy role in trying to bridge Arab division and broker a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.”

Iason Athanasiadis at The Washington Times, reporting from Istanbul in a January 5, 2009, dispatch,  concluded that, “Israel's Gaza offensive may have benefits for Turkey, bolstering its diplomatic profile in what some commentators call "neo-Ottomanism" and a Turkish newspaper hailed as a "golden age" for Turkish diplomacy. See “Gaza crisis spurs Turkish diplomacy.”

image “On New Year's Eve,”Iason Athanasiadis noted, “ Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a tour of the region. He visited Syria, Jordan and Egypt before concluding his trip Saturday [January 10, 2009] in Saudi Arabia.

Todays Zaman reporter Ali Aslan Kilic, writing from Ankara, Turkey, notes that, “Turkish politicians, intellectuals and non-governmental organizations have demanded that the government take stronger measures against Israel and not just words.” See “Turks urge government to take concrete measures against Israel.”

“The suggested measures, which found their way to the mass media, include a range of items from complete cessation of diplomatic, military and economic relations with Israel to economic sanctions,” Mr Kilic reported January 7, 2009..

Meanwhile, Israel is not pleased with Turkey’s opposition to its campaign in Gaza against Hamas, which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. See “Show of Israeli faith despite setbacks after crisis in Gaza.”

’To say the least, we cannot support the position Turkey has taken throughout the Gaza crisis,” declares Gabby Levy, Israel's Ambassador to Ankara, in an article by Fulya Özerkan in Turkey’s Hurriyet DailyNews.com. “We certainly express dissatisfaction with some of the statements made by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.”

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January 6, 2009

Did Israel Take Obama’s Statement on Gaza As A Warning?

Haaretz correspondent Aluf Benn reports in a January 7, 2009, article in the Israeli paper Haaretz headlined “Obama's warning to Israel:

Israel's governing "troika" met yesterday in order to find a way out of the conundrum Israel finds itself in, following the bombing of the school in Jabalya, where dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed. The character of the meeting had already been marked by the warning Israel received from U.S. president-elect, Barack Obama, who broke his silence on the fighting in Gaza and made it clear that he will have a great deal more to say after his inauguration.

The announcement from the Bush White House that for the time being Israel could carry on its offensive was little consolation. Obama made it clear that starting on January 20 the rules of American involvement in the region will change, and his administration will be a lot more active in pushing the diplomatic process between Israel and the Arabs forward.

Mr. Benn said, “Obama's timing, after the strike on the school, signals the direction the U.S. will turn in its attitude to the region: It will support Israel, but will oppose any harming of Palestinian civilians. This means that Israel will find it difficult to close the crossings into the Gaza Strip at will.”

A more even-handed policy would be timely and refreshing. The Bush Administration’s Middle East policy has been so 19th and 20th century, meaning colonial.

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Moshe Arens: Israel Has Reached a Crucial Stage in Gaza

Professor Moshe Arens, who served as Israeli Defense Minister on three occasions and also as Foreign Minister and Minister Without Portfolio, made the following observation in a January 7, 2009, article in the Israeli publication Haaretz:

We have reached a crucial stage in the IDF's operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. If we are not careful, we may have defeat staring us in the face - another defeat, after the fiasco of the Second Lebanon War. This time at the hands of Hamas, a terrorist organization even smaller and weaker than Hezbollah.
If you want to read the entire article, please see “The task at hand.”

Related Articles

How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian disaster -- Guardian, United Kingdom

Obama's warning to Israel -- Ha'aretz, Israel

Analysis: The Obama factor in the Gaza equation -- Jerusalem Post, Israel

The risk of complications –- Haaretz Editorial, Israel

As truce efforts grow, Israel mulls expanding Gaza ground op -- Ha'aretz, Israel

IDF: Shelled UN school in Gaza used as hideout by Hamas -- Ha'aretz, Israel

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‘Once Again, Israel Has Opened The Gates Of Hell To The Palestinians’

Robert Fisk, The Independent of London’s Middle East correspondent who “has spent more than 30 years living in and reporting from the region,” raises thought-provoking questions in the January 7, 2009 Independent Online about Israel’s hand in the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians  over the years. These are questions that many western journalists wouldn’t dare discuss for fear of being called anti-Semitic or for ideological reasons. See “Robert Fisk: Why do they hate the West so much, we will ask.” He writes:

image So once again, Israel has opened the gates of hell to the Palestinians. Forty civilian refugees dead in a United Nations school, three more in another. Not bad for a night's work in Gaza by the army that believes in "purity of arms". But why should we be surprised?

Have we forgotten the 17,500 dead – almost all civilians, most of them children and women – in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Chatila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same 2006 bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians?

Mr. Fisk said, “What is amazing is that so many Western leaders, so many presidents and prime ministers and, I fear, so many editors and journalists, bought the old lie; that Israelis take such great care to avoid civilian casualties. "Israel makes every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties," yet another Israeli ambassador said only hours before the Gaza massacre. And every president and prime minister who repeated this mendacity as an excuse to avoid a ceasefire has the blood of last night's butchery on their hands. Had [U.S. President] George Bush had the courage to demand an immediate ceasefire 48 hours earlier, those 40 civilians, the old and the women and children, would be alive.”

There is more, and I highly recommend it.

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Obama’s Answer To a Question About Gaza

On January 6, 2009, President-Elect Barack Obama finally made a public statement on Israel’s war on Gaza. It came at the end of a news conference on his economic stimulus plan at his Washington, DC-transition office.

“Obviously, I am deeply concerned about the conflict that's taking place there,” he said. “I'm being fully briefed and monitored - monitoring the situation on a day-to-day basis. The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me.”

Below in its entirety is what he said on Gaza:

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. You're being put under a lot of pressure internationally to get more involved in the situation in Gaza. I understand you think there should only be one president at a time, but what do you have to say to the Israelis and the Palestinians who are fighting and dying in Gaza?

OBAMA: As I've said before, when it comes to foreign policy, I think the need to adhere to one president at a time is particularly important. In domestic policy, Democrats, Republicans, we can have arguments back and forth about what tax policies are going to be. When it comes to international affairs, other countries are looking to see who speaks for America. Right now, President George Bush, as president of the United States, speaks on behalf of the U.S. government and the American people when it comes to international affairs.

Obviously, I am deeply concerned about the conflict that's taking place there. I'm being fully briefed and monitored - monitoring the situation on a day-to-day basis. The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me.

And after January 20th, I am going to have plenty to say about the issue. And I am not backing away at all from what I said during the campaign, that I - starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.

That's something that I'm committed to. I think it's not only right for the people in that region; most importantly, it's right for the national security of the American people and the stability that is so important to this country. So on January 20th, you will be hearing directly from me and my opinions on this issue. Until then, my job is to monitor the situation and put together the best possible national security team so that we hit the ground running once we are responsible for national security issues.

Mr. Obama has been widely criticized for his silence. See “Mr. Obama’s Deafening Silence on Gaza.”

Source: The New York Times.com

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Reuters’ India Bureau: ‘Pakistan May Outsmart India in Diplomatic Poker’

Simon Denyer, “Reuters Bureau Chief of India,” writes in a January 6, 2009, dispatch from New Delhi, India, headlined “Pakistan may outsmart India in diplomatic poker”:

India may be frustrated and even outwitted by Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks, after placing its faith in diplomacy and the support of the United States.

New Delhi has responded to the attacks on its soil with a determined diplomatic offensive, trusting Washington and ultimately Barack Obama to force Pakistan's hand.

Mr. said, “It could be disappointed, but is unlikely to vent its frustration through military action, analysts and diplomats say.”

I’m sure many in the region hope the analysts and diplomats are right. I fear if the rhetoric on both sides isn’t turned down, Islamabad or New Delphi might make the unfortunate decision to go to war.

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India Formally Accuses Pakistan With Complicity in Mumbai Attacks

The Times of India reported January 6, 2009, that, “Pakistan on Tuesday [January 6, 2009] dismissed as "not credible" evidence provided by India to it on the Mumbai terror attacks, hours after a Presidential aide termed as "premature" local media reports that suggested the material given by New Delhi was insufficient.” For details, see “Pakistan doublespeak, says Mumbai proof not credible.”

The Christian Science Monitor’s David Montero reported January 6, 2009, that, “The growing diplomatic row between India and Pakistan reached new heights this week, with India's prime minister formally accusing the Pakistani state of involvement in the deadly attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), which left 172 dead.” See “India formally accuses Pakistan of involvement in Mumbai attacks.”

“Pakistan demanded Tuesday [January 6, 2009] that India should give access to the Mumbai attacks’ sites,” according to the The International News. See “Pak demands access to Mumbai attacks’ sites.”

image The Pakistani newspaper Dawn quotes Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee as saying in a January 5, 2009,image statement:“We have today handed over to Pakistan evidence of the links with elements in Pakistan of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26th November.” See Jawed Naqvi’s January 5, 2009 report in the January 6, 2009, version of Dawn headlined “India hands over Mumbai ‘evidence’ to Pakistan.”

According to Dawn, “Mr Mukherjee said the government was briefing friendly countries about the material collected so far from the probe.

“I have written to my counterparts around the world giving them details of the events in Mumbai and describing in some detail the progress that we have made in our investigations and the evidence that we have collected.”

“What happened in Mumbai was an unpardonable crime. As far as the government of Pakistan is concerned, we ask only that it implement the bilateral commitments that it has made at the highest levels to India, and practises her international obligations. These are clear. It is my hope that the world will unite to achieve the goal of eliminating the threat of such terrorism.”

The Bush Administration also thinks the links lead to Pakistan.  According to a January 9, 2009, report in the Pakistani paper The International News, “While refusing to reveal any details of the evidence he had seen, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs [and former Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs] Richard Boucher said on Monday [January 5, 2009] it was "clear that the attackers had links that lead to Pakistani soil." See “Attackers’ links lead to Pakistan: Boucher.”

Note: According to Wikipedia, the photograph of Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee the “photograph was produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency. Their website states: "O conteúdo deste site é publicado sob a licença Creative Commons Atribuição 2.5 Brasil" (The content of this website is published under the Creative Commons License Attribution 2.5 Brazil.”

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January 5, 2009

Mr. Obama’s Deafening Silence on Gaza

Observation: President-Elect Barack Obama will have to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the first few weeks of his administration despite his desire to focus solely on the desperate economic situation in the United States. If he remains silent while Israel continues to kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, in its efforts to totally destroy Hamas, he might as well remain silent if another nation decides to slaughter its neighbors.

If he’s not careful, Mr. Obama will also jeopardize the goodwill he has abroad. He has already been burned in effigy in Greece. According to Agence France Presse, “More than 4,000 people joined protests outside the US embassy and the Israeli embassy in Athens, burning effigies of Bush and President-elect Barack Obama and both the Israeli and US flags.” See”Demonstrations continue worldwide over Gaza violence.”

This is going to happen world-wide unless the U.S. does something to stop the war in Gaza. Mr. Obama’s often-used phrase “we only  have one president at a time” does not preclude him from speaking out in favor of ending the slaughter in Gaza.

Related Links

Much like Obama, mainstream media silent on Gaza conflict ... – TPM Cafe, USA

Arabs criticise Obama's 'deafening silence' on crisis -- Irish Times, Ireland

Obama silent on Gaza Politico, USA

Obama should speak up now in support of Israel -- Jerusalem Post, Israel

Obama's inauguration on Jerusalem's mind?New York Daily News, USA

After Gaza, how Obama can pick up the piecesThe Christian Science Monitor, USA

Israel Invoking Barack Obama to Press on with Gaza Attacks -- BBSNews, USA

The Siege of Gaza: Barack Obama's First Test -- Middle East Online, London

Demonstrations continue worldwide over Gaza violenceAgence France Presse

Obama: a new page in US Middle East policy - or just the next one?The Daily Star, Lebanon

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India: Pakistan obligated to extradite Pakistanis Wanted in Mumbai Attacks

The Times of India reported January 5, 2009, that, “India on Monday [January 5, 2009] demanded from Pakistan extradition of perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks so that they can be brought to justice in India. See “Pakistan obliged to extradite suspects: India.”

image According to The Times, India “also said that it cannot believe a commando-type operation that was in  evidence in (the) Mumbai attacks could have taken place without anybody in the Pakistani establishment knowing it.”

The publication quoted Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon as telling journalists: "Our goals are clear. We want the perpetrators to be brought to Indian justice." image

The Times said Mr. Menon briefed journalists in New Delhi “on the material shared with Pakistan today on elements based there linked to the terrorists responsible for the Mumbai carnage.”

"All that we want is action and not words from Pakistan,” Mr. Menon was further quoted as saying. “But so far there is no evidence of it."

The two neighbors appeared on the brink of war following the Mumbai attacks, as rhetoric on both sides escalated. See “Pakistan wants talks, India denies military escalation.” So far, cooler heads have prevailed. See “Zardari and Singh ease Bush worries: US phone diplomacy.”

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Is South Asia becoming wasteland?

Dr. Samiullah Koreshi, regarded as “one of the early pioneers of the [Pakistani] Foreign Services,” asserts in his January 5, 2009, Pakistan Observer column that, “It seems that India is still in a bellicose mood and the option of a surgical strike [against Pakistan] has not yet been given up.” See “South Asia becoming wasteland?” He adds:

There is still some itch in their palm. As I said in a presentation at the Shura-e-Hamdard, the plans of foreign powers, US and Israel to encourage India to strike Pakistan seem to have failed. India’s own initial over reaction to the blitzkrieg like terrorist operation in Mumbai was understandable because it had humiliated India badly. Just a few commando terrorists taking one of the largest cities in the world and paralyzing it for over 72 hours must have made Indian and their government leaders lewd with intense anger that such a security lapse could take place and their mighty armed forces and police were made totally zero in handling the situation for so much time.

The author of Diplomats & Diplomacy Story of an Era 1947 – 1987, said, “In such rage they lost their balance and talked all kinds of rubbish, particularly Parnab Mukerji, the Foreign Minister.”
The Israelis obviously got their opportunity in India’s soft state to turn it against Pakistan. Their aim remains to destroy Pakistan’s military might and its nuclear assets, and US wanted to let India attack Pakistan to demonstrate Indian supremacy in the region and have a partner in crime in violating Pak air space and striking Pakistan from the air and make Pakistan see its inferiority vis a vis India militarily. Indian demands that it hand over the person it named as the suspect, which was to demonstrate its- India’s – superiority over Pakistan. A greater power demands a foreign to hand over its nationals to the power which has been harmed by its nationals.

Mr. Koreshi said, “Indian objections were two, to brow beat Pakistan and demonstrate to the world that Pakistan can be ordered about by India and Pakistan obeys its dictates.”

I hope this two nuclear neighbors keep their heads and use normal diplomacy, and not war, the extension of diplomacy, to solve their serious differences. Leaders in both countries owe it to their citizens and the region.

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Why The Peace Process Between India and Pakistan Has Stalled

Pakistani writer and journalist Ahmed Rashid  says in the January 5, 2009, version of The Wall Street Journal online that, “South and Central Asia is the most explosive region in the world today, especially in the aftermath of the Mumbai massacres in late November, which have indefinitely stalled the four-year-long hesitant peace process between India and Pakistan.” See “Hot Spots: India and Pakistan.”

“Now,” contends  the author of The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism (1994); Taliban:Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (2000); Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia; and Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (2002),  "both countries are playing war games with each other and trading accusations about the perpetrators and their connections to the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies.” It’s definitely worth reading.

 

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January 4, 2009

Uganda May Withdraw Its Peacekeeping Troops From Somalia

The Daily Monitor of Uganda reported January 5, 2009, that, “Uganda warned on Saturday [January 3, 2009] it may withdraw its troops from peacekeeping duties in Somalia as Islamist forces appeared to begin seizing territory left unguarded by departing Ethiopian forces. See “Uganda mulls Somalia pullout as Ethiopian forces depart.”

According to The Monitor, Ugandan Deputy Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) of Germany that,

Uganda is going to consider withdrawing its troops from Somalia and it will do so as soon as possible after weighing the risks on the ground.

The Monitor noted that, "Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia in late 2006 to help kick out hardline regime, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). After two years of battling a bloody insurgency and watching the government it backed fall apart, Ethiopia is now cutting its losses,” according to The Monitor. “Trucks loaded with Ethiopian soldiers and their belongings began filing out of the capital Mogadishu on Friday [January 2, 2009].”

The Monitor said, “Only ramshackle government forces and an undermanned African Union force of around 3,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi will stand between insurgent groups and complete control of Somalia once Ethiopia leaves. Analysts fear that the Ethiopian departure could worsen the conflict.”

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‘Does Somalia Have Any Chance of Ever Returning to Peace?’

“Does Somalia have any chance of ever returning to peace?” That question was asked by journalist Fred Oluoch in a January 3 2009, post in the The East African of Kenya. He adds:

That is the question on everyone’s lips as debate rages over whether the recent resignation of president Abdullahi Yusuf could further destabilize Somalia or present an opportunity for a fresh, workable realignment of forces in the country.

Abdullahi, who was elected to head the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2004 in Nairobi, has achieved very little in the years since and was of late seen as a stumbling block rather than an agent of the restoration of peace in Somalia.

Mr. Oluoch said, “While the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, beginning Friday last week, has also added to the anxiety, the situation is further complicated by the fact that the mandate of the TFG is scheduled to end by December 2009 and attempts to renew the mandate of a government that does not enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of the people will only lead to further divisions.”

If you want read more, please see “Kenya, Uganda look on nervously as 2009 heralds Somalia chaos.”

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Israel Reminded of the Obligations of an Occupying Power

STATEMENT BY BUREAU OF COMMITTEE ON PALESTINIAN RIGHTS ON SITUATION IN GAZA STRIP

The following statement by the Bureau of the Committee of the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on the situation in the Gaza Strip was issued in New York, 31 December [2008]:

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People condemns in the strongest possible terms deadly military assaults and destruction perpetrated by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Gaza Strip that have reportedly killed, by various accounts, more than 390 Palestinians.  The number, which has been constantly growing since Saturday, 27 December, includes many civilians, including women and children.  Considering the high number of those injured and the fact that the Israeli military operation is continuing, the death toll resulting from this escalation of violence is likely to rise.

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U.N. Security Council Seats Five New Members

“Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa have vacated their non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council,” Radio Netherlands reported January 2, 2009. “They will be replaced by Japan, Mexico, Austria, Turkey and Uganda. See “Comings and goings at the UN Security Council.”

As Radio Netherlands notes, “Ten of the Council's 15 seats are not permanent but are held by member states for a periodimage of two years. Unlike the permanent members of the Council - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - the non-permanent members do not have the right to veto Security Council decisions.”

This antiquated notion needs to change. Five members have more power than ten. What’s worse, any permanent member can veto a resolution supported by the remaining four. For example, the U.S. used its veto on January 3, 2009, to, according to the Associated Press,  “blocked approval of a U.N. Security Council statement calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel and expressing concern at the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas.” See “US blocks UN Security Council action on Gaza.”

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January 2, 2009

Why Won’t Arab States Help Palestinians in Gaza?

Al-Jazeera’s Anita Rice has put into clear perspective how Israel’s ongoing destruction of Gaza City in the Palestinian Territories “has exposed in stark terms the growing disconnect between anger on the Arab street against Israeli attacks on Gaza and the slow response - some say total failure to act - by Arab governments.”  See Ms. Rice’s January 3, 2009, analysis headlined  “Arab leaders face Gaza test.”

I think the following quote from Robert Lowe, a research fellow at the UK-based think-tank Chatham House, captures the dilemma:

The problem is Hamas' Islamist ideology. Their success has been deeply troubling for some Arab states, it [the 2006 election that brought Hamas to power] was a democratic election and one of the fairest and freest elections ever to take place in the Arab world, that’s troubling for Arab states in itself.

Ms. Rice said, Mr. Lowe “goes further, saying many suspect some Arab states are "quietly content that Hamas has taken a beating, but there's a massive problem in how to square that with public opinion.” See “Muslims around the world protest Gaza assault.”

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U.S., China Mark 30 Years of Official Diplomatic Ties

On January 1, 2009, China Radio International (CRI) reminded its audience that, “30 years ago today the United States and China made their relationship official. January 1st, 1979 marked the official start of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” CRI reported, adding:

And while the move put both China and the United States on a new political and economic path, the normalization of relations also had a geo-political effect on global affairs at the time. Though official recognition came at the start of 1979, it took a number of years to lay the groundwork for mutual economic cooperation. But 30 years on, experts on both sides will agree that without one another, China and the United States would be drastically different countries.
If you want to read more  and listen to a discussion on the subject, please see “30 Years of Sino-US Diplomacy.” Also see the Voice of America’s January 1, 2009, report headlined U.S., China Mark 30 Years of Diplomatic Relations

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Japan Wants ‘Good Communication” With the Obama Administration

“It is often said Japan enjoys better relations with the U.S., its closest ally, under Republican administrations,” notes Kyodo News’ Janice Tang in a January 3, 2009, article in The Japan Times online. According to Ms. Tang, “Some Japanese officials acknowledge the anxiety in Tokyo and say the government has already begun consultations with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's aides.” See “New U.S. administration, old Asian rivalries to dominate diplomacy.

Ms. Tang quotes Masato Kitera, director general of the Japanese foreign ministry's International Cooperation Bureau as saying:

“I do think there are many fronts where Japan and the United States can work together, as we did with the previous government," such as on Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa.

"But there is no time to waste,” Mr. Kitera added. “We are hoping for good communication from the very beginning of the [Obama] administration.”

According to Ms. Tang, Japanese officials have expressed “concern over the length of time usually required in the U.S. for a new administration to begin full-fledged operations.”

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January 1, 2009

Gaza, The U.S. and The Upcoming Israeli Elections

Politico reporter Ben Smith, who joined the ranks of elite political reporters in 2008 for his coverage of U.S. presidential campaign, writes in a January 1, 2009, analysis headlined “Gaza reshuffles Israeli political deck”:

Israel’s attack on Gaza is scrambling that country’s politics in advance of a Feb. 10 national election that will select the leader with whom the U.S. and Palestinians alike negotiate during President-elect Barack Obama’s first term.

Before the Gaza strikes, which entered their fifth day Wednesday after Israel rejected a plan for a 48-hour ceasefire, Israeli observers had widely expected the hawkish Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, to be chosen as the country’s next prime minister. Netanyahu has hired some of Obama’s consultants and imitated his campaign — but isn’t seen as an Obama favorite.

Mr. Smith said, "Now, Defense Minister Ehud Barak — President Bill Clinton’s negotiating partner in the late 1990s — is the grim face of an Israeli offensive that appears, for the moment, to be popular and his anemic Labor Party has seen a momentary bump in the polls.”   

He quotes Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, as saying:

“They’re saying no political considerations will be part of the decision-making process — which is of course quite ridiculous. Barak is running for prime minister. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is running for prime minister. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is running for prime minister. And I’m sure that when they’re all making decisions, they have it on the back of their minds.

I recommend Rosner's Domain: The Rosner's election poll trend” for a more in-depth look at Israeli election trends.

As for the incoming Obama Administration, I thought the following was the most important observation in Mr. Smith’s analysis:

The stakes are high for the American side of the table — and the Israeli political fallout from the Gaza incursion is just the latest real-world dilemma to face Obama during a transition in which future policy headaches seem to increase by the day.

For the moment, Mr. Obama’s main focus appears to be the U.S. economy. Can Israel’s attacks in Gaza, for obvious political reasons, deter him from the immediate mission of fixing the economy?  We should know before the month is up.

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Haaretz: ‘Time For Diplomacy’

The Israeli daily Haaretz argues in a January 1, 2009, editorial headlined “Time for diplomacy”:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who oppose a renewed cease-fire, must explain to whom they plan to hand over control after they "destroy the Hamas regime." Do they believe that Mahmoud Abbas will deign to return to Gaza on the turret of an Israeli tank? The bitter experience of Operation Defensive Shield that critically damaged the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure should have taught policy makers that a central regime, problematic as it may be, is preferable to no regime and a military victory is not an alternative to a diplomatic solution to a conflict.

Carl von Clausewitz, one of the fathers of modern military theory, stated in the early 19th century that "war is a continuation of politics by other means". Now, on the sixth day of the war, it is not at all clear what policy the state seeks to advance by continuing Operation Cast Lead. In contrast, it is clear that each additional day of trading fire and civilian casualties gnaws at the broad diplomatic support the military operation has received from the leaders of the Western world.

The editorial said, “The question facing our policy makers is if striking a few dozen more Hamas members and destroying another public building are worth the loss of international support including the agreement or silence of important Arab neighbors.”

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Israelis Hold Diverse Views On Calls For A Gaza Ceasefire

Haaretz Correspondent Barak Ravid reported in a January 1, 2009, post that, ”The Israel Defense Forces recommends a diplomatic exit plan be prepared while a cease-fire agreement is formulated. See “Livni: Gaza truce would give Hamas legitimacy.”

“Defense officials tend to favor a clear agreement with Hamas, even if it is not enshrined in a written document,” he writes, noting that:

[Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni, however, reportedly believes that it might be better to aim for a situation in which there is no clearly set-out agreement, but Israel would make clear beforehand that it would respond forcefully to any firing from Gaza after hostilities ended.

Mr. Ravid said, “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for his part, has conditioned any future truce between Israel and Hamas on the establishment of an international mechanism to monitor the cease-fire.

Meanwhile, Haaretz Correspondent Yossi Verter and Haaretz Service report:

A decisive majority of respondents support continuing the army's air campaign against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip without endangering the lives of Israel Defense Forces soldiers in a ground offensive, according to a Haaretz-Dialog public opinion poll.

Haaretz reports that, “Only about 20 percent of respondents support expanding the operation into a ground campaign - about the same proportion that supports an immediate cease-fire.If you want more on the poll, please see “Poll: Most Israelis support continuing Gaza military op.”

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Saud al-Faisal Tells Palestinians Why They Won’t Get ‘Real Helping Hand’

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, in justifying Arab nations’ current, weak policy in the face of Israel’s ongoing military and diplomatic campaign against Hamas and the Gaza Strip, told diplomats and Palestinians attending an Arab League Council of Foreign Ministers meeting on December 31, 2008, in Cairo, Egypt:

This terrible massacre would not have happened if the Palestinian people were united behind one leadership, speaking in one voice.

We are telling our Palestinian brothers that your Arab Ummah cannot extend a real helping hand if one of you doesn’t extend his hands to the other with love. And also that the Arab Ummah is not interested in blaming this side or that side. What matters is to end this nightmarish discord.

image According to Arab News, “The Arab League convened to present a united Arab response against the Israeli offensive that has killed at least 393 and wounded close to 2,000 Palestinians on the Gaza Strip over the past five days. See “End this discord: Saud.”

Arab News added: “Prince Saud also called on Palestinian factions to sit together and take steps to form a national government representing the entire Palestine.” He warned the various groups:

“The transient factions and slogans would disappear but the great Palestinian nation that has been there since the dawn of history will continue to exist."

“The continuing dissension of Palestinians offers success after success to the enemy Israel depriving the Arab nation of the opportunity to make any effective move to rescue the Palestinian people,” he continued.

“Israel’s policy of imposing blockades, frequent killings and destruction in the occupied land is a brazen attempt to undermine any opportunity for achieving real peace which Israel claims to strive for.

The Saudi Foreign Minister’s contention that the “Arab Ummah is not interested in blaming this side or that side” may be partially true. Demonstrations in various Arab and Muslim nations suggest there is concern in the street about the attacks and Arab leaders' weak response to them.There is growing outrage over the killing of Palestinian civilians and the destruction of their homes. See “Demonstrations against Israel in Arab world. ” Saudi Arabia has prevented demonstrations. See “Saudi Arabia To Prevent Anti-Israel Demonstrations” and “Saudis arrest two over pro-Gaza protest.”

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What is Obama’s Opinion of Israel and the Middle East Conflict?

Do you want to know President-Elect Barack Obama’s position on Israel and the Palestinians? If so, read the full text of a speech delivered  on June 4, 2008, at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, D.C. image Of course, he was shilling for votes at the time as Candidate Obama. And, like other candidates, he made the obligatory appearance before AIPAC.

As Wikipedia notes, “The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is an American lobbying group that advocates for pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive Branch of the United States. It is currently one of the most powerful and connected lobbying groups in Washington.”

For an in-depth view of Mr. Obama’s plan for Israel, please see “Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Plan to Strengthen the U.S.-Israel Relationship.”

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The Economy First, The Middle East Second

Will the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be a priority for President-Elect Barack Obama’s administration when he takes office  on January 20, 2009?

Chicago Tribune Reporter Peter Nicholas seems to have obtained an answer to the question during a December 31, 2008, interview with Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, who was quoted as saying:

Not that anyone is unconcerned about the situation in the Middle East, but when you're struggling because you've lost your job or are concerned about losing your job, or you can't get a loan for your business or send your kid to college, it's pretty hard to look past that.[See Obama to seek quick rescue bill.]
In other words, Americans first. That seems to be the answer to those calling on Mr. Obama to take a stand on Israel’s attack on Gaza in Palestine. See “Activists demonstrate outside Obama home.”

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