Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Civilian Rule

Pervez Musharraf became a civilian* today. The elections are scheduled and candidates across the country are filing their candidacy papers - in great numbers, especially in the troubled regions. This despite great debate across the two major political parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz on whether to participate or boycott the elections. Their hesitance is understandable. Pervez Musharraf, as a civilian President will rule under the 1973 Constitution which has the oft-used Eighth Amendment to the Article 58, enacted by the last dictator Zia ul Haq in 1985. The Amendment grants the President the power to "dissolve the National Assembly where, in his opinion,…the Government of the Federation cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and appeal to the electorate is necessary". The amendment was used first by Zia ul Haq against the civilian government of Muhammad Khan Junejo, then by Ghulam Ishaq Khan against Benazir Bhutto, then by Ghulam Ishaq Khan against Nawaz Sharif and again by Farooq Leghari against Benazir Bhutto. The last Nawaz Sharif government nullified this power of the President by passing the Thirteenth Amendment Act in 1997. In 2002, under the Legal Framework Order, General Musharraf fixed it right back.

Basically even if these elections take place as scheduled, even if all the political parties participate, even if they are fair, open and untampered elections (to whatever extent possible) ... President Pervez Musharraf can, at his will, dismiss the elected government when he pleases. Historians predicting the future need only point to the past.

Nawaz Sharif's touted return (after his touted unceremonious departure) has caught the attention of those who deem it necessary to find hidden links. It is pretty straightforward: Nawaz Sharif is the protogé of Zia ul Haq and a close intimate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He comes here because they cleared the way with Pervez Musharraf. He does not enjoy a broad support - his party has many other rivals for leadership including his brother, Shahbaz Sharif. Although, he is also not touched by the obvious stain of being a US-engineered candidate. So maybe that helps?

*Those curious about his successor to the military throne, General Kiyani should consult this profile. I venture that he is more in the mold of General Aslam Beg than Zia ul Haq or Pervez Musharraf. It would be interesting to see if he continues his support of Musharraf - the civilian. Read more on this article...

Gloves are off in Iran as Parliamentary Elections Near

Iranian pre-election political dynamics are always raucous and full of surprises. But this time around, as we get closer to March 2008 parliamentary elections, things look a bit more intense than in the past. The intensity of the competition becomes even more curious with the realization that this time around the bipolar nature of Iranian politics is showing itself in the fight between hardline conservatives (or "principlists" as they call themselves in Iran) and the center of Iran’s political spectrum and not between reformists and hardliners.

Of course, one could argue that this new polarity was already evident in the Ninth presidential election which ended with the defeat of the centrist Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani by hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the second round of the 2005 presidential election and continued with a push back by the centrists in the 2006 elections for the Assembly of Experts and municipal councils. It reached a new peak in the competition for the head of the Assembly of Experts after its long standing leader, Ayatollah Meshkini, died. The hardliners, through their newspapers such as Kayhan and websites such as Rajanews and Khedmat, made every effort to discredit Hashemi Rafsanjani and prevent him from taking the helm of that assembly. Although they were successful in making the fight over the chairmanship of that institution competitive for the first time in its history, they failed in their attempt to prevent his ascent.

One would have thought that two unsuccessful attempts at dislodging Hashemi Rafsanjani and his centrist supporters from all positions of power would have been sufficient lessons for the hardliners not to try again. But faced with the possibility of yet another defeat in the upcoming parliamentary elections in the hands of centrist forces, the hardliners have taken their gloves off and are directly aiming at Hashemi Rafsanjani and in the process placing all the key players in Iranian politics in a very uncomfortable position.

The occasion for this rather ugly fight was the decision by Ahmadinejad’s Ministry of Intelligence about seven months ago to accuse and arrest Hossein Moussavian, Iran’s former ambassador to Germany, former member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, and deputy director of the Strategic Studies Center affiliated with the Expediency Council, on charges that were initially quite vague but suggested giving secret information to a foreign government (later revealed to be UK). After a while, through the reporting on various hard-line sites, these charges solidified into spying for a foreign government, holding of secret documents, and propaganda against the system.

The gravity of these charges and the closeness of Moussavian to both Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator during Khatami’s presidency, shook the Iranian political scene. Moussavian was released on a relatively mild bail in 9 days, causing the parliament to call in for questioning Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei. It indeed the charges were so severe, what justified Moussavian’s release, members of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and National Security reportedly asked in closed door meeting? Ejei’s answer was a weak one: As far the Intelligence Ministry was concerned Moussavian’s crime was evident but the bail decision was set by the judge and his decision must be respected.

Worries about what the judge in the case would decide seemed to have been the trigger, prompting Ahmadinejad to go public on November 12 and announce in front a student audience that if domestic elements do not stop pressure regarding the nuclear file, they will be introduced to the people of Iran, adding “they are traitors… they are now putting pressure on the judge of a case so that a spy is exonerated… The People of Iran will not allow some, using their economic and political influence, to save criminals from people’s reprisal.”

Hashemi Rafsanjani’s action on the same day had more nuance. He simply allowed Moussavian to attend an official function of the Expediency Council and sit two seats apart from him and next to Moussavian’s former boss, Hassan Rowhani, who later chastised the president for finding someone guilty before the judge renders his decision. The message was clear. Hashemi Rafsanjani was not going to back away from his support of a loyal state manager.

All this led to public uproar. Hard-line media accused Hashemi Rafsanjani of trying to influence the case while the centrists accused the president of doing the same through his public announcements. In an opinion piece in the hard-line Rajanews, a commentator, in a not so subtle hint directed at Hashemi Rafsanjani, even raised the specter of Iran’s biggest foreign policy scandal of 1980s (revelations of Iran’s secret arms dealings with the United States), the execution of Mehdi Hashemi, and the ultimate purging of the then designated supreme leader to be, Ayatollah Hossein-ali Montazeri, for his unwavering support of the man who was found to be a traitor and executed.

Meanwhile, subtly criticizing Ahamdinejad, an increasing number of important conservative players, such as Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator until recently, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, and Ahmad Tavakoli, the head of Majles’ Research Center, began wondering about the wisdom of using the nuclear issue in a factional fight. Tavakoli suggested that these conflicts, instead of publicly, should be taken care of through “communication of the situation to the office of the leader.” The conservative newspaper Jomhuri-ye Eslami, even hinted at the prosecution of Ahmadinejad for defamation of a public servant prior to the decision made by courts.

The leader, meanwhile, is heard only making empty calls for national unity in a year ironically identified as the year of "national unity and Islamic solidarity" without any reference to the specifics of the conflict between the hardliners and the centrists or its intensity. He clearly wants to stay above the fray in a situation that may not allow him to do so.

Yesterday, the preliminary judge in the case finally rendered his decision, essentially throwing away the two charges of spying and holding secret documents, only upholding the nebulous charge of propaganda against the system (I say nebulous because almost all those arrested for political reasons are charged with this) and handing out a suspended sentence. This led to an immediate call by Ahmadinejad for the release of close to dozen conversations between Moussavian and foreigners which will prove his crime. The Intelligence Minister said that the Ministry will appeal and all this commotion paid off as Tehran’s chief prosecutor (who has very close ties to the supreme leader) refused to confirm the case today and in fact voided the suspended sentence, ordering a re-investigation. However, the chief prosecutor also ordered the Intelligence Ministry to keep the evidence it has secret.

So the drama will continue as Ahmadinejad and his supporters, including Minister of Intelligence Ejei, see no choice but to push full throttle in order to prove themselves right in making the conflicts over the nuclear file so public. Their supporters have called on members of the Basij militia to demonstrate in front of the judicial compound on Monday to protest the judge’s decision.

By elevating the case and posing a direct challenge, however, Ahmadinejad and his supporters have also made it impossible for Hashemi Rafsanjani to back down as this will be seen as an important loss for him. They have also antagonized a whole array of more moderate conservatives who are unhappy with the outright politicization of the nuclear issue for political gains.

Hashemi Rafsanjani is of course not immune to losses. On two important occasions he has lost through an electoral process. In the 2000 parliamentary elections, in which reformists won handily, he took an incredible amount of criticism from the reformers (who dubbed him “The Red Eminence” behind many malicious acts of the Islamic Republic). Voters had to be convinced about the reformers’ intent. Their strategy worked and many new voters thought that if the reformers could attack Hashemi Rafsanjani, the literal backbone of the Islamic Republic, so freely, then their desire for reform was serious.

Hashemi Rafsanjani also lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election on the basis of a campaign that made the former’s wealth and corruption an issue. Whether or not Ahmadinejad and his supporters can get mileage from the same theme after more than 2 ½ years of their own service is not entirely clear. This theme, publicly replayed through the Moussavian drama, will certainly excite Ahmadinejad’s own base of about 4 to 5 million who voted for him the first round of the 2005 election. But it is not clear if it would similarly excite the relatively large number of voters (again about 4 to 5 million) who shifted their allegiances from reformist and centrist candidates to vote for Ahmadinejad, presumably in an anti-Hashemi Rafsanjani move in the second round of the 2005 election.

Ahmadinejad supporters are also faced with the problem that parliamentary elections in Iran are a lot more parochial than presidential ones and the most important contest occurs in the city of Tehran which has 30 seats; with most of the leaders of the parliament coming from this capital city where reformist and centrist forces traditionally do better than hardliners if relatively large number of voters come out and vote.

Added to this problem is the fact that Hashemi Rafsanjani will not be on the ballot, only many former ministers, ambassadors, and prominent state managers who are identified with him or former president Khatami. By making accusations against Moussavian and essentially the entire previous nuclear team, hardliners hope to keep the connection to Hashemi Rafsanjani alive and convince the electorate to continue their pattern of mostly anti-elite vote that began with the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997.

But this strategy runs the risk of further alienating a large number of more moderate conservatives with long-standing ties to Hashemi Rafsanjani and the former state managers who are gearing up for the election. Many such the former presidential candidate Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri have called for the acceptance of the judge's decision.

In 1997, the reformists attacked Hashemi Rafsanjani in order to mobilize voters who were dissatisfied with the Islamic Republic. The hardliners attack on Hashemi Rafsanjani, this time around, will in all likelihood fire up their own base but probably not many more. The effect will more likely be like the 2006 Assembly of Experts election when Hashemi Rafsanjani garnered the largest number of votes in the city of Tehran out of the fear that his loss will push the scale too much to the side of the hardliners.

At the end, though, let us also remember that we are talking about Iran and nothing is settled until elections are actually held. The only thing for sure is that the upcoming parliamentary elections will be represented as a fight between the new elite (who deem themselves as incorruptible, in favor of social justice and hard-line but are represented by opponents as incompetent and hard-line) versus the old elite (who are represented as economically and politically corrupt by opponents but represent themselves as centrist and in favor of balance between social justice and capital accumulation). Not much of a choice, to be sure, but a choice nevertheless that has to be made by the voters either by voting in favor of one side or non-voting (as non-voting traditionally helps the hardliners in Iran). Read more on this article...

Fighting Drugs and Building Peace

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung has published a report I co-authored with Alexandra Guaqueta on a conference on how to implement counter-narcotics policies in a conflict or post-conflict situation. The conference was co-sponsored by FES, the Center on International Cooperation (NYU), the Fundacion Ideas para la Paz (Bogota), and the Open Society Institute. The conference also benefited from support from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

FES describes the report as follows:
A frequently overlooked feature of the fight against drugs is the linkages between the production of illegal narcotics and the political dynamics in post-conflict countries. Afghanistan and Colombia are cases in point.Post-conflict situations not only attract the cultivation of crops used for the production of illegal drugs. Events in Guinea-Buissau and Haiti illustrate that the same sad logic applies to the international drug mafia’s selection of trading “hot spots”.It is against this background that a debate has ensued on the policy coherence between the international community’s fight against drugs and its parallel efforts to sustain peace in post-conflict countries.
Download the pdf file here. Read more on this article...

"Why are We in Afghanistan?" December 5 Public Lecture by Barnett R. Rubin at Tufts University

I will be giving a public lecture next Wednesday evening (December 5) at the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University. The subject is "Why are We in Afghanistan?" I wanted to let any readers in the Boston area know about it.

You can register online for a webcast of the event.

If there are any points that readers would like me to cover, please leave requests in the comments section. I'll try to post a video or audio recording of the lecture afterwards. Read more on this article...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Will the results justify the pre-Annapolis boilerplate?

Are you wondering about the Annapolis meeting that will open this week? Will the meeting exceed the low expectations that now embrace it? The confab has already been downgraded from a “conference” to just a “meeting.” I have posted an authentic copy of the official “boiler plate” that has been circulated to U.S. diplomats. In other words, what you read is the language that has been crafted prior to the meeting by State department officials intent on convincing you, and me, that the Annapolis meeting is a bona fide step forward.

Were you the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, the political officer in El Salvador, the cultural affairs officer in Russia, the consular affairs officer in Poland, the economic attache in France or the State deparment spokesperson in Washington, this is the suggested language ("boilerplate") for responding to public inquiries and questions from the press about Annapolis.

See the crosslisting: Speaking Truth to Power from Boston: Annapolis boilerplate Read more on this article...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Akond of Swat

Who or why, or which, or what, is Maulana Fazlullah of Swat? Recent headlines from Pakistan have been grim - pitched battles with many reports of casualties and mass migration of civilians from the conflict region. Yet, the foreign media hasn’t really focused on Maulana Fazlullah - perhaps thinking that the story of “Talibanization” covers this particular mullah just as well as it does any other (Baitullah Mehsud, in Waziristan, is slowly getting some attention, though). At a cursory glance, it all does blend in. The overall deterioration in the NWFP (North Western Frontier Province) and the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) areas in recent years - specifically in Waziristan, the Malakand Agency regions, Dir, Bajaur, Swat and areas around Peshawar - is often called “Talibanization” and is often pegged to the aftermath of the Afghanistan war of 2001. There is, though, a longer history that offers some additional venues of thought. At the very least, it tells us to pay attention to the local even as we highlight transnational movements like the Taliban.

Shah Ismail (1789-1831) and Sayyid Ahmed Barelvi (1786-1831), specifically, are pivotal figures in the memory and history of Swat.1 In the late 1820s, they waged a religious war against Ranjit Singh’s forces for the control of Peshawar. They succeeded briefly, declared themselves an emirate where the creed of Muhammad held sway, and were swept away in 1831 - killed in battle. Shah Ismail and Sayyid Ahmed, though defeated, emerged as an integral part of the narrative of anti-imperialism. But not simply for their militant struggle for the establishment of an Islamic polity, they came to represent a profound connection to the revivalist thought of nineteenth century Muslims in India. Shah Ismail was the grandson of Shah Waliullah - the progenitor of the deobandis, who have continued to enjoy a wide following in NWFP. I know that it is more fashionable nowadays to connect Shah Waliullah to Abdul Wahhab and build an argument about some unitary “fundamentalist” strain of Islamic thought - but, it is a wrong notion. There are crucial difference, not only in history but in the theological arguments underlining deobandi and wahabbi ideologies of revivalist Islam. The deobandi, in particular, combined the idea of a polity based on Islamic Shar’ia and free from foreign influences with a more quixotic attempts to “migrate” or “settle” a Caliphate in Afghanistan. (The migration of thousands of Muslims to Afghanistan in 1920 needs recent historical attention.)

The mountainous regions between Kabul and Peshawar and across Baluchistan and Gilgit remained an odd absence in the centralizing ideology of Pakistan. Partly it was due to the linguistic and ethnic communities that stretched beyond the nation-state. Partly it was a function of the lack of political legitimacy for any federal government in the region. The Pakistani State, created with unequal halves of East and West Pakistan, proved unequal to the task of imagining itself. In 1971, Bangladesh emerged out of the political chaos and opportunism and military destruction wrought by West Pakistani armies. In 1972, Pakistan embarked on a new path to re-affirm itself. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir Bhutto, was the chief architect of a program of Islamization to glue together the rest of Pakistan. He looked towards the Pan-Islamic movement to position Pakistan as an international entity that wasn’t simply a footnote in the red hot Cold War. Bhutto’s Islamization efforts continued under Zia ul Haq, who overthrew Bhutto in 1977. Except, that under Zia ul Haq, they became the Sunnification efforts to counter his (and Saudi) fears of a Shi’a revolution sweeping out of Iran and across the Muslim world. The frontier, as always, of these efforts was the NWFP. It is around this moment that the Soviet-Afghan war overshadows all local narratives but I would like to put in a call to study the movement of Pashtun men out of NWFP territories and into the urban centers of Karachi and Lahore - and further to Riyadh and Doha - for economic reasons. We are sorely lacking scholarship that can trace these movements back to the origins where petro-dollars (from doing labor in the Gulf States) transformed these small communities. (It is one sad casualty of our current myopia that we are interested only in the monolithic account of Soviet-Afghan war and the “Talibanization” and continue to stress “top-down” factors in our analysis.)

In November 1994, the year old government of Benazir Bhutto faced a crisis in NWFP. Some of the Pashtun tribal chiefs, led by a Maulana Sufi Muhammad proclaimed that Shari’a needed to be enforced in NWFP. His movement, the Tehrik Nifaz-i Shariat Muhammadi (Movement for the Establishment of the Path of Muhammad), enjoyed wide-spread support. He was shutting down airports and businesses and making life hard for the PPP. So, she cut a deal. It may be shocking to remember that this same Benazir Bhutto who is now proclaiming herself as the Sole Secular Leader was none too shy about cutting deals where it suited her. The Musharraf regime also turned to TNSM and Maulana Sufi Muhammad to try and operate in the Swat region. But, the Bajaur strike and the Lal Masjid crisis ended their partnership. Maulana Sufi Muhammad is under arrest but Musharraf is actively trying to broker another deal.

The reason is Maulana Fazlullah and his declaration of open hostility against the Pakistan military. Fazlullah is the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Muhammad and has organized his own army called Shaheen Commandos. He is operating in and around Matta and openly calling themselves the Taliban. He is young - 30 or 32 - and comes from Imam Dheri area in Swat. Around a year or so ago, as the Imam of the seminary in Imam Dheri, he established an FM radio channel in the area to deliver sermons and became a local celebrity.2 After the Lal Masjid crisis, he declared jihad on the state of Pakistan. His Shaheen Commandos now control Matta. And the fight is slowly reaching the capital.

This is certainly a complex and deeply troubling development for the state of Pakistan. The rise of local militias and the oppressive reaction by the military was certainly a contributing factor in the secession of East Pakistan. And a similar pattern is clear in Baluchistan. Just two days ago, Mir Balach Khan Marri was killed - something that is sure to have wide repercussions for thatseparatist movement.

So to wrap it up: separatist religious movement in Swat, separatist nationalist movement in Baluchistan and a separate Musharraf from his dictatorship movement in the rest of the country. Things can only get better, no?

  1. See, for example, []
  2. FM radio channels have proliferated in the past 3 years as the key means of transmission of ideas and information. They are very cheap to set up, mobile and can usually transmit up to 80 miles. No militant is without one. []
Read more on this article...

Baghlan Massacre: The Teetering Half-Full Glass

I started this blog by posing myself the common question, was I optimistic or pessimistic about Afghanistan? The answer, readers may recall, was, "No." I borrowed a neologism (in translation) from Palestinian novelist Emile Habiby, to style the refusal of attitudes as "pessoptimism."

I pursued the same line of thinking through a different metaphor, by asking, "Is the Afghan glass half empty or half full?" I concluded:
The Afghan glass may be half full, a tenth full, or near to overflowing. But it is standing on a very rickety table in an earthquake prone area. It will not matter how full the glass is if the table collapses or one of the region's unstable tectonic plates suddenly shifts.
On November 6 a suicide bomber assassinated opposition spokesman Sayed Mustafa Kazemi and six other members of the National Assembly at a newly privatized sugar factory in Baghlan, northern Afghanistan, setting off panicked shooting, by the end of which over 70 people had been killed, over 59 of them schoolchildren (funeral at left). In an article for Madrid's El Pais, I analyzed how this one event demonstrates the fragility of all that has been achieved in Afghanistan. The International Herald Tribune has now published this article in English.

Since that time the Senlis Council has reported:
In the five years since international military operations began, Afghanistan’s security situation has deteriorated significantly. After a period of relative calm during the first few years that followed the removal of the Taliban, violence is spreading once again throughout this country. As a consequence, many Afghans now perceive their country to be less secure than it was in 2001. Although “democratic government” is now in place, the Afghan population has not yet experienced many of the promised economic and social stability benefits of peacetime. Specifically, international military operations have failed to achieve their main objective which was to assure security and stability in Afghanistan, both essential foundations for democracy and economic development.
The report presents a misleading map of Afghanistan showing a clear frontline between a Taliban-controlled south and a government-controlled north. This map exaggerates the extent of control by both the government and the Taliban. The reality is much more a patchwork of access by different actors for different purposes and a population that is sick of false promises, brutality, and incompetence from everyone. It is harder to depict this fractal reality than to show an oversimplified, dramatic "front line." But amid all the criticism of the Senlis Council that is sure to follow, I would like to mention one over-riding impression: this report largely echoes what Afghans tell me in Afghanistan. Official statements issued by the U.S., NATO, and the UN do not. Read more on this article...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Is it freezing yet?

Ehud Olmert stated on Monday that "It is impossible to repeat that the 2002 Road Map is a strategic asset for Israel and at the same time to ignore our obligations. Let us admit to ourselves: We committed not to built new settlements - we won't build new settlements. We promised not to expropriate land - we won't expropriate. We promised to raze illegal outposts - so certainly, we will raze them." How much credence should we put in these three promises and what is the declaration’s significance?

Bismarck is reputed to have warned against believing promises made on eve of elections, wars, and weddings. It is probably a good idea to add to this list promises made on the eve of peace conferences. A new round is to start in Annapolis next week.

Olmert carefully omitted from his list the obligation to freeze settlement activities, including natural growth due to births and the formation of new families. The Israeli promise to freeze settlements under the Road Map is now dead letter. Indeed existing settlements will continue to grow. As the past record demonstrates, Jewish settlements in the West Bank can either expand or shrink; they are never frozen. The raison d’être of the settlements is expansion and, consequently, the settlers are mobilized by any threat of freeze.

But Olmert’s other promises are significant in themselves. One of the great Palestinian worries is the building of new housing for Jews by the Israeli government in the E-1 area. This is the last remaining unsettled area that connects the Old City and some of the other Arab neighborhoods to the West Bank. Building in E-1 would put the cork in the bottle of the Israeli encirclement of East Jerusalem by Jewish townships. Presumably the promise not to build new settlement signals a willingness not to expand into this area. That we have come this far, namely to a point where a single new settlement can sever East Jerusalem from a future Palestinian state shows just how late in the game of peacemaking we are and how devastating a failure of the Annapolis talks can potentially be.

Olmert’s other promise to begin dismantling illegal settlements is also significant, especially, if in contrast to similar promises given in the past, it will be implemented. Such policy’s importance is not due to its impact on settlements –after all, for most of the word all settlements are illegal—but to its impact on the settlers. Dismantling any settlement, whether authorized or not by the government, is a major manifestation of Israeli political will. It will demonstrate that the settlers’ support is limited and their stranglehold on the peace process is broken. One of Sharon’s contradictory legacies was the object lesson of two withdrawals from the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Olmert was at Sharon’s side during the latter and during the last election campaign run on the platform of continuing the process in the West Bank. But if nothing concrete comes out of Annapolis he will be able to conveniently forget this pre-peace conference promise. One more false promise for Bismarck to chalk up.

Finally, the significance of Olmert’s promises is that they will allow Saudi Arabia to attend the Annapolis conference. In fact, for the Israelis this might be the real lure of the conference. But it is probably equally important for the Saudis themselves to sit down with the Israelis. The Saudis, after the inconclusive Israel-Hizbullah war of last summer and the Iranian nuclear sabre rattling, are intent on pulling together the Sunnis of the Middle East. For the purposes of an anti-Iranian and an anti-Iranian-supported-Shi’a coalition, the Israelis seem to qualify as honorary Sunnis. Read more on this article...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Politics of Reporting on IAEA Reports

It is always interesting to read the actual text of reports issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding Iran not only because of what they reveal about Iran’s program, but also because of the interestingly partial way various news organizations and governments end up interpreting or representing the report to audiences they are sure will not read the reports themselves.

The IAEA report that just came out regarding Iran was much anticipated because of the agreement on a work plan between the IAEA and Iran regarding a time frame for the resolution of “outstanding issues” that had remained regarding Iran’s past activities. Based on this agreement Iran was expected to cooperate and effectively divulge information that would allow the IAEA to assess whether or not Iran has come clean on its past activities. This process is still ongoing but the November report was expected to give a hint about the extent of Iranian cooperation.

The IAEA and its director Mohammad ElBaradei were heavily criticized by the United States and several European governments for the work plan because of its focus on Iran’s past activities or breaches and the possibility of the resolution of the questions regarding these past activities undercutting the force of the UN sanctions regime that demands suspension of Iran’s enrichment program. As such, the report issued on November 15 had to be, and is, very clear that “contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities.”

The IAEA report also states that “since early 2006 [this is when Iran suspended its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol due to UN Security Council initiated sanctions against Iran], the Agency has not received the type of information that Iran had previously been providing, pursuant the Additional Protocol and as a transparency measure. As result, the Agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current programme is diminishing.”

On the remaining major issues relevant to the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear program, however, the report paints a cooperative picture of Iran and states: “The Agency has been able to conclude that answers provided on the declared past P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programmes are consistent with its findings. The Agency will, however, continue to seek corroboration and is continuing to verify the completeness of Iran’s declarations.” This is not a statement of closure of the issue as the Iranian leaders are claiming but is an important steep forward. In fact, the language of Iran providing information that is “consistent with the Agency’s findings” or “information available to the Agency” from other sources is repeated several times in the report regarding a variety of issues.

Also positively reported is Iran’s level of cooperation. The report explicitly states that “Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan. However its cooperation has been reactive rather than proactive.” This I take to mean that Iran has responded to questions and cooperated in specific areas when asked but not before. The IAEA clearly wants Iran to engage in “active cooperation and full transparency” in a proactive manner but the report does not state that Iran’s reactive approach has led to lack of cooperation as agreed upon in the work plan.

Finally, the IAEA is also quite explicit that “the Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities.” But, as mentioned above, the Agency wants Iran to implement the Additional Protocol to prevent its “diminishing” knowledge of Iran’s current program (this is by the way something Iran has said, at least in the past, that it will do if Iran’s nuclear dossier returns to the IAEA).

So a close reading of the report suggests that the IAEA is unhappy with Iran’s continuation of enrichment (because it is contrary to the Security Council decisions) and would like Iran to voluntarily implement the Additional Protocol as it did in the past. At the same time, the report suggests good progress on the issue of Iran’s past activities. It also reveals no evidence of diversion to a weapons program despite “a total of seven unannounced inspections” carried out which are beyond Iran’s current NPT obligations (as I understand it, IAEA inspectors have been issued multiple entry visas to enter Iran as they wish).

I lay the report out in detail because I think it is important as a backdrop to the hesitance shown by Russia and China in approving another set of sanctions against Iran before IAEA’s engagement with Iran through the work plan is finished.

But as I said above it is also interesting and quite revealing to see how the report itself is reported. In Iran, the statements about non-diversion and consistency with the Agency’s findings are trumpeted by government officials as an affirmation of Iran’s righteousness. The United States government, on the other hand, has found the report inadequate and in fact has immediately called for a Security Council meeting to discuss a new round of sanctions (a meeting China reportedly initially refused to attend but has now reluctantly agreed to do so after Thanksgiving)

These are expected governmental positions. Perhaps also not too unexpectedly, the American newspapers and news agencies also do seem a bit too willing to tow the U.S. government line. The New York Times, in a piece entitled “Report Raises New Doubts on Iran’s Nuclear Program,” reports that the Agency “said in a report on Thursday that Iran had made new but incomplete disclosures about its past nuclear activities, missing a critical deadline under an agreement with the agency and virtually assuring a new push by the United States to impose stricter international sanctions.” No where in text of this piece, however, there is anything about what these “new doubts” are or where exactly the report has said that a critical deadline has been passed. Also not referred to are the explicit statements about non-diversion of nuclear material and consistency with the Agency’s findings.

The piece goes on to say, “the report made clear that even while providing some answers, Iran has continued to shield many aspects of its nuclear program.” The report says no such thing but the NYT piece takes the report’s reference to Iran’s “reactive rather than proactive” cooperation, mentioned in the paragraph about Iran’s “sufficient” and “timely” cooperation with the work plan, along with the suspension of the Additional Protocol (calling it instead “restrictions Iran has placed on inspectors”) as the reasons for why the “agency’s understanding of the full scope of Iran’s nuclear program is diminishing” and represents this as a "shielding" by Iran.

The Associated Press’ heading is “IAEA: Iran Not Open About Nuke Program,” while the opening of the piece is: “The U.S. called for new sanctions against Iran after a U.N. report Thursday that said the Tehran regime has been generally truthful about key aspects of its past nuclear activities, but is continuing to enrich uranium.”

After several changes in the Internet versions, the Washington Post’s heading ended up slightly less provocative (“U.S. to Seek New Sanctions against Iran: UN Report Faults Tehran’s Input on Nuclear Program”). But the text begins by saying “The Bush administration plans to push for new sanctions against Iran after the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency reported yesterday that Tehran is providing "diminishing" information about its controversial nuclear program, U.S. officials said. In a critically timed assessment, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran provided "timely" and helpful new information on a secret program that became public in 2002, but that it did not fully answer questions or allow full access to Iranian personnel. Iran is even less cooperative on its current program, the IAEA reported.” This reporting is not only flatly wrong regarding what the report said about full access to Iranian personnel but also completely mum, like the reporting from AP and NYT, about the reasons for the “diminishing” information (the suspension of the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol which was instigated by the Security Council action).

If you are wondering if there is reporting that accurately uses the language used by the IAEA findings, I think the BBC piece entitled “Mixed UN Nuclear Report for Iran,” although short and still mum on the reasons for why the Additional Protocol is no longer voluntarily implemented by Iran, gives a relatively accurate description of the issues involved. So it can be done! Why it is not, make a guess…. Read more on this article...



Gershon Shafir
University of California, San Diego

Why does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem so intractable and, in particular, why did the Oslo process --the most ambitious attempt to bring it to resolution through compromise-- fail so tragically? This short article cannot do justice to all aspects of the conflict and in the following I only promise to explore the twin issues of colonization and extremism.

Most analyses of the Oslo and post-Oslo process have been conducted from an international relations perspective which highlights the asymmetry of power between the two sides, a view also accepted here. This "realist" methodological perspective also portrays each side as a single actor animated by one will; an approach that any sociological perspective must contest. From the latter vantage point the conflict is best analyzed not as being between 'Palestinians' and 'Israelis' as such, but between the extremists of both societies who gained disproportionate influence and thereby sideline, sometimes silence and, on occasion absorb, their own larger moderate camps.

In the following I will argue that from a comparative-historical perspective the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the last unresolved legacy of the colonial era. Consequently, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians is a decolonization process which, however grotesquely, coexists with continued Israeli colonization. The agonies of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking are related to this split political personality disorder. Continued colonization perpetuates the territorial core of the conflict and is stimulating political and, in particular, religious extremism on both sides. Jewish messianic fundamentalism, on its part, legitimates Israeli settlement in the "holy land," and Palestinian jihadist movements simultaneously engage in acts of indiscriminate terror and shelling to prevent territorial compromise.


The Oslo Declaration of Principles of September 13, 1993 relegated all the truly divisive issues: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, and borders to article V, paragraph 3, and postponed their resolution to the final status negotiations to be concluded in five years time. It was unrealistic to contemplate such a long hiatus. The downward spiral of the peace process began as soon as the implementation of the Oslo DOP collided with prior Israeli colonization.

The original Oslo plan implicitly envisioned Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories while leaving the individual settlements within the Palestinian-administered territory. But just a month later, Israel grouped the Jewish settlements in Gaza and their intermediate land into three continuous blocs that, in effect, cut Gaza into separate cantons. The Gaza blocs of Jewish settlements, military installations, and bypass roads gave the then 6,000 Israeli settlers one third of the territory, whereas the 1.1 million Gaza Palestinians received the other two thirds. The AInterim Agreement,@ or Oslo II agreement of September 28, 1995, extended this arrangement to the West Bank and formalized it by dividing the region into three types of jurisdiction. Area A, consisting mostly of the seven major Palestinian towns, was to be under the Interim Palestinian Authority's civilian and security control. In Area B, which incorporates the remaining Palestinian population centers and some of the refugee camps and villages, civilian control was to reside with the Palestinian Authority while security control was to remain in Israeli hands. Area C, comprising Jewish settlements and military bases as well as public land, was left under both Israeli civilian and military jurisdiction. In September 2000, the eve of the al-Aksa intifada, Area A comprised about 17 percent, Area B about 24 percent, and Area C the remaining 59 percent of the West Bank. The West Bank was so fragmented that the Palestinian Authority had under its full or partial control 227 cantons separated by cantons under Israeli control.

Instead of laying the groundwork for separating Israelis and Palestinians into two distinct geopolitical entities, the Oslo process became a plan to accommodate the Israeli colonies. These settlements fell into three different types. Conflicting motivations and disagreements over post-1967 political goals gave rise to distinct military, religious and suburban settlement waves. Security settlements were built along the Jordan River (which serves as the border with Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), suburban settlements along the old armistice line between the West Bank and Israel (the Green Line) and, in-between, atop the mountain range that is densely populated by Palestinians, a messianic drive mapped settlements onto the region's rich ancient religious geography. The latter's effect was the most deleterious since it had prioritized a map which disrupted, frequently deliberately, Palestinian territorial contiguity and ignored Palestinian demography. These religious settlers spearhead the settlement movement.

Under the guise of peacemaking, Israeli occupation was continued in another significant respect as well. Between the signing of the Oslo DOP and the outbreak of the al-Aksa intifada, the Israeli settler population grew roughly by 100,000, in effect doubling in seven years.

The large shadow cast by Israel over the Oslo process is explained, most commonly, as "hegemonic peacemaking." (The term hegemony is not used in the Gramscian sense of moral and intellectual leadership but is drawn from the literature in international relations and means its opposite - domination.) Stable peace agreements, in this view, are concluded between relative equals or between a victor and a vanquished enemy, whereas the Oslo agreement was signed by two "significantly unequal powers," namely Israel backed by the U.S. versus the PLO which enjoys mixed Arab support (Robinson:17). Consequently, it is pointed out, "the Oslo process...did not represent the end of Israeli occupation but its continuation, albeit in less direct form" and Palestinians are worse off in the wake of Oslo DOP than they were before (Roy:9). The ability of Israeli governments to significantly shape the Oslo process is unmistakable but the "hegemonic peacemaking" model endows only a sole actor --the Israeli government-- with agency. Other Israeli actors are conflated with the government, whereas Palestinians of various stripes appear to be but passive observers as their destiny is being determined by outsiders.

However, anyone even vaguely familiar with Israeli political life will testify that ever since the 1973 War it has been deeply polarized: divided roughly equally between supporters and opponents of the Aland for peace@ idea that undergird Oslo. The proportionate electoral system both represents and reproduces this fragmentation: no party has received absolute majority in the Knesset and fragile coalitions based on complicated trade-offs between multiple parties are needed to form coalition governments. In the thirteen years since signing the Oslo DOP, six Prime Ministers alternated and no Israeli government completed its full term in office. Even small groups can tilt the balance of power between the two blocs and, as a result, small ideological groups committed to single issues have amassed disproportionate power.

The most effective of these groups is the settlement movement, that comprises both secular and religious elements. While the division of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C may be explained by reference to the settlement map as it was in 1993, the continued expansion of settlements cannot be. Why did both Labor-led and Likud-led Israeli governments agree to withdraw from parts of the West Bank, but continued building new colonies and settling new colons? And as long as Israeli governments wished to expand settlements, why did they not do it strategically? Why were settlements that were obviously unviable, such as those in the Gaza Strip from which Israel unilaterally withdrew in September 2005, also expanded? In short, why would Israeli governments tie their own hands? There appear to be too many questions that cannot be explained by thinking of Israel as a unitary actor.

The continued expansion of the settlements as well as the indiscriminate nature of their expansion suggests the pervasive influence of the Council of Yesha - the organization of the existing settlements, Members of Knesset who reside in the occupied territories, and especially the religious settlement movement Gush Emunim and Amana, its settlement arm. Not surprisingly, they take credit for detouring Oslo around their settlements. In one article with the telling title: "The Maps of the Oslo Accord are the Maps of Jewish Settlement," a settler leader triumphantly concluded that "the Oslo process is the best example...of the influence of Jewish settlement on the political process."

Settler representatives and the Israeli military establishment played an inordinate role in negotiating the extent and layout of the phased Israeli withdrawals. The negotiations were either conducted by or led behind the scenes by the Israeli military, especially the Central Command in charge of the West Bank, which sought to retain control over vital roads or demanded the construction of "by-pass roads" in order to ensure the settlers' safety. Before Oslo II was approved, the Secretary General of Gush Emunim's settlement arm was allowed to recommend changes to the agreement. When it was discovered that the provisions of a map already approved by Knesset hurt settler interests, the map was surreptitiously changed. The committee to prepare the map for the three withdrawals agreed to at the Wye Plantation Accord of October 1998 was composed entirely of settlers, representing the various Israeli ministries, even the military itself. Even at the low point of the settlers' influence, Ehud Barak's December 2000 final status plan, which offered to withdraw from all of Gaza and over 90 percent of the West Bank, extended two deep territorial Afingers@ into the West Bank east of Ariel and Ma=aleh Adumim, in effect subdividing the Palestinian state into three cantons and controlling the major artery connecting them. When they could not have their way, settlers and their sympathizers cursed, condemned, threatened, carried out vigilante style attacks on Palestinians villagers, and murdered Yitzhak Rabin.


Whereas the polarization of Israeli politics invested the settler population with influence disproportionate to its size, we encounter the opposite dynamic in Palestinian political life but, ironically, with the same outcome. After the 1948 naqba, Palestinians have become one of the most fragmented national groups in the world both geographically and in terms of legal standing and the major challenge facing the PLO leadership was to try and forge a measure of unity among disparate factions and scattered communities. As a coalition of organizations, the PLO managed to maintain its grip by accepting an artificial consensus rather than seeking majority rule. "Consensus politics granted disproportionate influence over decisions making to the smallest group..." which, often was the most militant one. (Sayigh:679; Rubin:200)

This preference dovetailed with the historical rejection of compromise with the Jewish nationalist-colonialist project and the accompanying use of an extraordinary measure of violence aimed against the Jewish settler-immigrants but also against moderate Palestinian leaders. As Khalidi points out, even after the PLO seemed to have agreed to a two-state solution and renounced terrorism it continued equivocating for many years under the influence of its more radical constituent groups in regard to the use of violence (Khalidi:146). And today, even when the Hamas government undertakes to cease fire from Gaza it does not stop Islamic Jihad from lobbing Qassam rockets at southern Israeli towns.

The exception to the pursuit of consensus was the signing of the Oslo DOP by Arafat. This he did at the time when public support began moving away from the PLO and it became afraid of being upstaged by the new revolutionary leadership of the spontaneous intifada, the younger generation of the Tanzim, and a politicized Hamas. The 100,000 "Tunisian" returnees of the PLO were an outside elite that did not lead the intifada but returned to end it. Maybe it is not so surprising that under Arafat the Interim Palestinian Authority, fearful of the new forces and unable to either catch up with or incorporate them, adopted such an authoritarian bend. Ultimately, the inability of the Tunis leadership to deliver the "goods" of Oslo limited its appeal. That failure pushed Arafat to rely more and more on the forces behind the intifadas, in particular on Hamas, in spite of the fact that their extremist agenda had diverged from his (Robinson:19-20).

Just as the analysis of settlements may be used to illuminate the autonomous role and decisive influence of the settlers and their organizations in Israel, so a discussion of terrorism will rekindle the question of agency and highlight the diversity within Palestinian society. The Hamas ideology consecrates all of Palestine for future Muslim generations as an Islamic endowment and homeland that could never be surrendered to non-Muslims, and asserts that jihad to wrest control of the land from Israel is a religious duty for individual Muslims. Consequently, Hamas is opposed to forswearing violence, pursuing territorial partition, and a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad travel the well-trodden path of extremism. Terror had primarily been a tool of propaganda and recruitment as far back as the Russian nihilists and European anarchists. Such groups target innocent noncombatants with the express purpose of provoking a disproportionate governmental response that will increase solidarity for terrorists causes. "The victim's innocence," as Michael Gross points out, "is a necessary condition for terror, without which its perpetrators fail to provoke moral outrage of sufficient intensity to elicit the response they desire" (Gross: 370). Significantly, terror had regularly been unleashed when other, less violent options of reform and change, were available. In Russia it was Alexander II, in Weimar Germany Walther Rathenau, in Sri Lanka Neelan Tiruchelvam - all moderates, who were murdered. The worst ETA terrorism was directed not against Franco's regime but the newly emergent Spanish democracy. The peak of the IRA attacks date not to Protestant Ascendancy but to the 1970s when the British government sought to improve Catholic citizenship rights. The al-Aksa intifada broke out not under Netanyahu but Barak (Ignatieff: 63-66, 102-104). And, of course, a Jewish terrorist murdered Yitzhak Rabin, the signer of the Oslo DOP.

As Kydd and Walter conclude: "...terrorist a clear and recurrent pattern: violence is timed to coincide with major events in a peace process." "Extremist violence plays on the uncertainty that exists between moderate groups and can lead them to reject a peace settlement even if the majorities on both sides initially favored the deal" and, consequently, "extremists...are surprisingly successful in their aims" (Kydd & Walter:263-265).

The gravest over-reaching of the Palestinian resistance organizations was to adopt the weapon of suicide bombings and, in particular, to aim it against all Israeli civilians (Khalidi: xxiv) since such attacks show an " understand the limits of violence" (Khalidi: 178). The choice of suicide bombings as a strategy of resistance by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and later Fatah=s al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade is far from self-evident. Suicide bombing, a strategy originally invented by Shi'ites in Lebanon, was at odds with, and required the reinterpretation or radicalization of Islamic traditions and tenets of warfare, martyrdom, and suicide. The suicide attack was also deplored as an illegal form of resistance, for example by Human Rights Watch which designated it, even when perpetrated on civilian settlers, as a crime against humanity and as a war crime (HRW: "Erased in a Moment"). It proved "disastrously counterproductive strategically" (Khalidi: xxv). Attacks not only against settlers in the occupied territories but residents within the 1948 Green Line put into practice the view that all of Israel is occupied territory. Consequently they undermined of support for the peace process among Israeli moderates; and saw the election of Sharon as Israel's Prime Minister, the reoccupation of Palestinian towns, raids, targeted assassinations, closures, and the construction of separation walls.

The work of the extremists in both camps Bthe shielding of Israeli settlements from the Oslo DOP and the terrorist attacks-- quickly interlocked: the cantonization of the West Bank and Gaza provided the infrastructure for the imposition of effective closures on the Palestinian population. Closures were first imposed in early 1991 "in response to heightened violence by Palestinians against Israelis inside Israel," but produced their most deleterious mark once they operated in tandem with the canton system. Even more than the expansion of settlements, the closures, according to Sara Roy, had the "single most damaging effect on the Palestinian economy." (Roy: 9)

At the same time, suicide bombings, wrapped in the guise of martyrdom, had generated massive support far and beyond the ranks of Hamas and Islamic Jihad: they were adopted by Fatah=s al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades and at times hailed by the majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Moderate Palestinians, including Mahmoud Abbas and intellectuals who wished to engage in a non-violent intifada or restrict it to attacks on soldiers and settlers, were unable to be heard or implement their vision. In the longer run, the lowering of moral constraints which allows the indiscriminate targeting of civilians might return to haunt Palestinians themselves, as it did in Algeria where the campaign of terror against the French occupiers and settlers in the 1960s has been replicated during the civil war between Islamicists and the government in the 1990s. Recently, Ghazi Hamad, the Hamas government's own spokesman, caused a stir by sharply asking whether violence has become a "Palestinian disease."


There is no shortage of explanations which portray Israeli colonization or Palestinian violence, respectively, as self-sustaining forces. There have emerged, in fact, a school which sees only an "Israeli conflict" and another which thinks that there is only a "Palestinian conflict," each respectively holding that the opposing side is doing what it does not only because of what it wants but because of what it is. I belong to the older school that perceives an "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" in which the strongest cause of behavior seems to be the impact of each side on the other, and in particular, the impact of the extremists of each side on the moderates of both sides.

My admittedly partial survey demonstrates what Michal Walzer has laid out so clearly: there are not two but four sides to this conflict, and consequently four wars or conflicts are fought between Israelis and Palestinians. They are the Palestinian war to destroy Israel, the Palestinian war to create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, the Israeli war for security within the 1967 borders, and the Israeli war for the settlements and Greater Israel (Walzer:113). Two of these are waged by the extremists, the other two by the moderates of each side. The failure of Oslo resulted from the crowding out of the moderate conflicts by the extremist wars.

It will be argued that the boundaries between moderates and extremists are not fixed; the size of these respective camps ebbs and flows. This holds true for followers and leaders alike; Sharon and Arafat for example, were at times leaders of the moderates and at other times of both the moderates and the extremists. The size of the extremist camps swells at times of violent confrontation since ethnic or religious identities require closing ranks but such transfer of loyalties, after all, is the very goal of extremist strategies of faits accomplis, provocation, and terror. It would, however, be a mistake to take the extremist strategy as an accurate description of two irreconcilable camps; the question for the peacemaker is how to enlarge the moderate camp and shrink the extremist one.

What does this analysis suggest for the future? The Oslo DOP left a legacy within which the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains impossible, but without it would not be possible. First, Oslo is conterminous with the mutual recognition and legitimation of Israel and the PLO, namely with transformation of an existential war into a political conflict. Six Israeli Prime Minsters (Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, and Olmert) and two Palestinian Presidents and two Prime Ministers (Arafat, Qurei, Abbas) accepted, some with clenched teeth, the inevitability of certain aspects of the Oslo process. During the second intifada, Palestinians elected Abbas to continue it. Second, Oslo also saw the beginning of Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities and the creation of the institutions of a Palestinian state, though admittedly, the former incomplete and reversed, the latter imperfect and corrupt. And this process did not stop there, for the first time the unthinkable issues, Jerusalem and the refugees, were put on the table during the Camp David II summit in July 2000 and later in Taba. It is too soon to write off the Oslo process of "land for peace," leading through partial decolonization to a two-state solution.

How can this process be best resumed? None of the current proposals for addressing the conflict are viable. The Israeli withdrawal of settlers and troops from Gaza in September 2005 was carried out in a singularly counterproductive fashion. Though it has shown that against moderate resolve settlers are powerless, this withdrawal was carried out in a unilateral fashion which played into the hands of Hamas. Though Barak offered to fully withdraw from Gaza in 2000, when it was carried out five years latter, the withdrawal seemed to have been a capitulation to the violence of the second intifada. The ten year cease fire idea Hamas floated in return for complete Israeli withdrawal is a non-starter. There is no reason that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority not be based of international law but on an ambiguous Muslim historical tradition which can only be arbitrated by Islamic ulema. President Bush=s June 2002 Road Map, which was adopted in April 2003 by the E.U., Russia, and the UN, and was supposed to have led to the creation of a Palestinian State in stages by 2005, was never implemented.

It is a sad conclusion that given the stalemate of Israeli-Palestinian relations in result of their respective extremists influence, the best and maybe only hope for now, is to seek the help of moderates from the outside. Now that the U.S.'s prestige and influence are at an ebb in the Middle East due to its own extremism, room has opened up for less influential players to play a greater role and try out new models of peacemaking. Two come to mind. The first is the March 28, 2002 Beirut Declaration put forward by the, then Saudi Crown Prince and now King Abdullah and adopted by the Arab League. In return for full Israeli withdrawal and a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem it offers to "establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace" and "consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended" (
This plan was never considered seriously since March was one of the bloodiest months of the al-Aksa intifada and on the proceeding day a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up at a Passover seder in Netanyah and Israel retaliated by re-occupying parts of the West Bank it vacated under the Oslo accord. Recently Israeli cabinet members spoke of the declaration approvingly and Hamas and Fatah have considered adopting a version of it.

An alternative or complimentary approach, made more probable with the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon, would be the establishment of an interim international governing authority which would prepare Palestine for an end to Israeli occupation and independence for the Palestinian people. Such a United Nations mission would be modeled on the Security Council's United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) as an integrated, multidimensional peacekeeping operation that was fully responsible for the administration of East Timor during its transition to independence from October 1999 to May 2002. Resolution 1272 mandated UNTAET to provide security and maintain law and order; to establish an effective administration; to assist in the development of civil and social services; to ensure the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance, to support capacity-building for self-government; and to assist in the establishment of conditions for sustainable development ( To gain legitimacy such governing authority would have to be approved by a Palestinian referendum and, as in East Timor, local participation in the governing authority would be required.

Though needing further elaboration, either the Beirut declaration or an UN plan would tip the balance away from the extremists and re-energize moderates. The involvement of the moderate Arab states in resolving the conflict would add the regional dimension that has been missing since the early 1990's Madrid talks and UN's imprimatur would bring legitimacy based on international law and precedent.

December 2008


About six month after the submission of this article, the Palestinian civil war it forewarned about had come to pass. Though the Hamas putsch in Gaza was over so quickly that it seemed as if it did not happen, its impact is profound. Hamas most likely had overplayed its hand by overthrowing the democracy that elected it, inflicting violence on fellow Palestinians, becoming more dependent on Israel, and effectively partitioning Palestine. Abbas’s uncharacteristically energetic actions had also reduced Hamas’s institutional power and authority. The moderates and the extremists are now separated not only ideologically, but are rooted in different geographical locales and led by separate governments. The existence of a “moderate” West Bank, buttressed by Israeli gestures and supported by US and European financial aid seems to give new life to a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

But no amount of Israeli gestures will help out Abbas as long as Israeli occupation and colonization continue in the West Bank. The Israeli settlement project, as we have seen, can either expand or shrink, but had never stayed at a steady state. Israel had not negotiated with the PLO in earnest in a long time. It is questionable whether in the wake of the Lebanon War’s mixed results Israel will have a government both strong enough and sufficiently willing to confront the settlers in order to reach a full-fledged two-way peace agreement with Abbas, knowing that Hamas will not abide by such compromise. Hamas had rejected past agreements with Israel - now it would become irrelevant if it changed course or looked the other way.

Can support from moderates from outside the region make a difference? Now that it had upped the ante by taking sole control in Gaza, Hamas is not likely to accept any limitation on its power by an East Timor type U.N. sponsored trusteeship or transitional administration. An attempt by the Arab League or its moderate members to see the 2002 Beirut Declaration implemented would carry more authority. In the past, Arab states shrank from playing a mediating, let alone interventionist, role in regard to the resolution of the Palestinian issue. The current polarization in the Arab, and even more so the Islamic, world that radiates out of Iraq and Iran has already pushed moderate Arab states to be more assertive. Hamas would find it hard to violently resist an agreement, guaranteed by the Arab League, that ends Israeli occupation on the basis of the two-state solution. And yet, in the near future run such intervention is likely to further deepen the divide within the heart of Palestinian politics.

July 22, 2007


Bitterlemons is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on issues of controversy:

Khalidi, Rashid, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, Boston, Beacon, 2006 is a revisionist perspective of the Palestinian side by a prominent expert and intellectual.

Kydd, Andrew & Barbara F. Walter, "Sabotaging the Peace: The Politics of Extremist Violence," International Organization, Vol.56, No.2. Spring 2002, pp.263-296, offer a theoretical and quantitative study of the impact of extremism.

Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories, A Bimonthly Publication of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, provides carefully gathered and updated information.

Robinson, Glenn E., "Israel and the Palestinians: The Bitter Fruits of Hegemonic Peace," Current History, January 15, 2001, pp. 15-20

Roy, Sara, "Why Peace Failed: An Oslo Autopsy," Current History, January 8, 2002, pp. 8-16. Both Robinson and Roy represent the "realist" international relations approach.

Walzer, Michael, Arguing about War, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2004 presents this eminent philosopher's observations on contemporary military conflicts and the ethical issues they raise.

(A version of this article appears in the Fall 2007 issue of Contexts: Read more on this article...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Not Yet Nation

Several senior administration officials said that with each day that passed, more administration officials were coming around to the belief that General Musharraf’s days in power were numbered and that the United States should begin considering contingency plans, including reaching out to Pakistan’s generals. NYT, U.S. Is Looking Past Musharraf in Case He Falls, Nov 15, 2007.

I have argued, for a while and to earlier criticisms, that the American support for Pervez Musharraf is wrong-headed - not just on ideological terms (our self-proclaimed call for Freedom's March Across the Muslim World) but also in the strategic terms (our efforts to eliminate al-Qaeda and counter extremist ideologies in Western Asia).

The support for Musharraf on ideological terms seems to me to be a rather indefensible position but people still manage to do it, including the White House. The defense hinges on the "Not Yet Thesis" - freedom is good, dictators are bad, but Pakistan is not yet ready for freedom and must depend on dictators to build civic institutions, train the electorate and, in future, bring democracy. (Which is akin to waiting for the fox to install security in the henhouse. Makes perfect sense.)

We maintain that the man we know - a benevolent dictator named Pervez Musharraf - is better than the multitudes we do not know. We fear the multitudes on two fronts. One is that we conceive of them as masses without politics - forever hostage to gross religious and ideological provocations. Masses which do not constitute a body politic or act with an interest in self-preservation or self-growth. Faced with that absence of reason, we are forced to support native royals to do the job (from Egypt to Pakistan). We justify it by stressing that we may not like these dictators but we know that if we did not have them, the masses would instantly betray us to the very forces of extremism that we seek to destroy. This ignores, of course, actual historical and political realities in those countries. Such mis-engagement means that our knowledge remains sketchy, undifferentiated and reliant on gross generalizations of the "masses". It intimately links us to the gross abuses of power that our dictators exert - with means provided by us. Second is that these masses are Muslim. This fear grounded in our history can, at best, be understood as the fear of the "Other" and, at worst, as the Lewis/Huntington model of civilizational clash. Either case, it is borne out of our inherent belief in "difference". They are not like us. They do not possess reason, etc. (Ask Dick Cheney why nuclear deterrence worked with the Soviets but cannot work with Iranians.)

The strategic case is just as nonsensical. The fight against extremism is a fight that ordinary Pakistani citizens have much more at stake in. It is their immediate freedoms that are threatened by the Talibanization of their society. It is their frustrations that are being capitalized upon by the Islamists. The historical, political and social trends have always clearly shown that the Pakistani publics predominantly prefer a moderate and open society. If we really are serious, we need to empower the Pakistani publics and not facilitate their oppression.

The conventional wisdom, however, remains against such a reading. Take Fareed Zakaria's Pakistan’s Pinstripe Revolution in Newsweek - where he feels that benevolent dictators should be cut some slack and that Pakistan needs that helping hand. But Zakaria seems to misread Pakistan's judicial and political history and, at the very least, Musharraf's entire public persona. He argues that the judicial problems of Musharraf begin in 1999 when he asked - for the first time - for the Supreme Court justices to resign and re-take their oaths of allegiance. What he fails to point out is that Musharraf was simply following in the footsteps of every dictatorial regime in Pakistan - all of whom asked the judiciary to re-take their oaths and that the judiciary acquiesced in every single case. The 'new-ness' of Pakistan's recent judicial crisis is that only recently did they decide not to rubber stamp the military regime. The causes for this break are diverse and I have outlined them elsewhere.

Zakaria makes further dubious claims: "He turned the country's strategic orientation away from the Taliban, revived the economy with real reforms, empowered women and spoke out against the pernicious influence of Islamic extremism." He turned the country away from Taliban insofar as he didn't. The Taliban continue to find solace and refuge in the northwestern province and his relationship with Karzai's regime have never gone below the boiling point. He revived the economy insofar as US poured 10 billion dollars into the Pakistani military-industrial complex since 2001. This influx of money has created the biggest land and industry holding entity in Pakistan's history - the Pakistan Army. Please look at Ayesha Siddiqa's Military, Inc. for a solid understanding of that immediate history. Empowered women insofar as he allowed the Hisba Bill to pass in NWFP and it was only the Supreme Court that stepped in to stop it. And finally, on that Islamic extremism front. I do not really think that publishing an editorial in the Washington Post about "Enlightened Moderation" qualifies as doing much if one constantly cuts deals with Islamist militants in NWFP, Swat, Quetta and Islamist parties in Islamabad.

Another recent piece, Lee Smith's Mixed Messages, in Slate is even worse. It argues not only that we should support Musharraf but that that is the only way to combat extremism. Leaving aside the Orientalist reading of history, Smith appears horribly mis-informed about Pakistan. He claims, for example, that, "The Pakistani military, as is the case with most armed forces in the Muslim world, is the citadel of the country's modernity, its most significant secular institution and protector not only of the modern nation state but the idea of the nation state itself." I don't really know what being a citadel of modernity actually means but the Pakistan Army has undergone a rigorous program of Islamization and faith-based militancy since Zia ul Haq in 1979. Whatever lingering secularism is there, belongs to the older cadre of senior staff that came into the military pre-80s. Folks like Musharraf. The main troop strength comes from rural Punjab, Baluchistan and the Northwestern province and no one is reading Karl Marx or Nietzsche, I assure you.

Therein lies the heart of our problems with making a ideological or strategic case for aligning with dictators. We trust and privilege the narratives they provide us. Musharraf, like Zia ul Haq before him, has successfully explained Pakistan and the world to us. The forces of darkness hover at the border and only the rightfully guided leader can shepherd the nation. For Musharraf the bugaboo is extremism, for Zia ul Haq it was Communism. In both cases, we pumped amazing amounts of liquid cash and military hardware and waited for the eventual victory. Some how we still act surprised when victory doesn't materialize.

The good news is that, as I watch the Democratic Presidential debate - Biden, Obama, Edwards and Richardson are all agreeing that we need democracy in Pakistan before we need to prop up Musharraf's dictatorship. Tide is shifting. The people of Pakistan may yet escape the not yet. Read more on this article...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Israel, free speech, and the Oxford Union

Avi Shlaim

Mirrored here with the author's permission from Alternet.

Israel is often portrayed by its supporters as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. But these very same supporters, in their excessive zeal for their cause, sometimes end up by violating one of the most fundamental principles of democracy -- the right to free speech. While accepting free speech as a universal value, all too often they try to restrict it when it comes to Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians. The result is not to encourage but to stifle debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Britain prides itself on its tradition of free speech and civilised debate on all subjects, including Israel. The great majority of British Jews are part of this tradition. Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, is a notable example of this fair-minded, liberal, and pluralistic tradition. One of his sixteen books is called The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. On the other side of the Atlantic, on the other hand, the public debate on the subject of Israel is much more fierce and partisan, leaving relatively little space for the dignity of difference. The passion with which many prominent American Jews defend Israel betrays an atavistic attitude of "my country, right or wrong".

One example is Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and crusader on behalf of Israel. One of his books is called The Case for Israel. As the title suggests, this is not an objective, academic treatise but a lawyer's brief for his client. The lawyer in question is no friend of free speech when it comes to criticism of Israel, however well substantiated. Recent events in Oxford suggest that those of us who thought that attempts to stifle free debate about Israel are confined to American campuses need to think again.

A debate dissolves

The Oxford Union is one of the world's most illustrious debating chambers and a bastion of free speech. It was founded in the 19th century to uphold the principle of free speech and debate in England at a time when they were being severely curtailed. Recently, however, the union failed to live up to its lofty ideals. A debate was scheduled for 23 October 2007 on the motion "This house believes that one-state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict". Ilan Pappé, Ghada Karmi and I agreed to speak for the motion; Norman G Finkelstein, the American-Jewish academic, David (Lord) Trimble, the Northern Irish politician, and Peter Tatchell, the gay-rights activist, accepted the invitation to speak against. In the end the debate took place without any of the scheduled speakers after an ugly and acrimonious, American-style row over the make-up of the panel.

Various friends of Israel complained to Luke Tryl, the president of the Oxford Union, that the debate was "unbalanced" because it included Norman G Finkelstein, a well-known critic of Israel, on the "pro-Israel" side. What they failed to grasp, or deliberately chose to ignore, was that the motion was not for or against Israel but about alternative solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Professor Dershowitz was the first and the most aggressive of the protesters. He himself had been invited to speak but he replied that he would participate only if he could dictate the motion and approve the other speakers. These preposterous conditions were rejected and Dershowitz stayed away. But he did not simply sulk in his tent: that is not his style. He wrote to Tryl that it was outrageous for the union to give Finkelstein a platform but, once again, he met with a rebuff. Dershowitz then turned his polemical blunderbuss directly against Finkelstein, calling him "an anti-Semitic bigot" in an article he posted on on 19 October 2007 under the title "Oxford Union is Dead".

Peace Now-UK co-chair Paul Usiskin not only added to the pressure on Tryl to drop Finkelstein but offered to take his place. On 14 October a small delegation of Oxford undergraduates went to see Tryl to question the inclusion of Finkelstein and Tatchell on the "pro-Israel" side and to argue that the whole debate was unbalanced. It is perfectly legitimate for members of the union to communicate their concerns to their president. But the insistence on balance in relation to an unbalanced international actor like Israel raises more questions than it answers.

Israel's policies towards the Palestinians surely cannot be described as balanced by any stretch of the imagination. The Biblical injunction of "an eye for an eye" is grisly enough, but Israel goes even farther by its habitual practice of exacting an eye for an eyelash! As Israel's policy towards the Palestinians becomes more heavy-handed and violent, the very notion of balance needs to be re-examined. Luke Tryl displayed neither wisdom nor courage in dealing with these broader issues and he eventually caved in to the pressure. On 19 October, four days before the debate, he curtly informed Finkelstein that his invitation was rescinded. Paul Usiskin realised his burning ambition to be included in the debate as a member of the team opposing the motion.

On 21 October I wrote to Luke Tryl: "I understand that you have been subjected to a lot of pressure recently. You have my sympathy. But perhaps it was a mistake to give in to the pressure. Some people are never satisfied. In any case, I cannot see how dropping Norman Finkelstein can be squared with the principle of free speech."

Paul Usiskin greatly inflated his own part in this sorry saga in the hopelessly distorted account he gave to the correspondent of the Jerusalem Post. He even claimed the credit for having prevailed on Tryl to drop Finkelstein, although Dershowitz has a stronger claim to this dubious distinction. Usiskin told the Post that the proposers of the one-state solution were disgruntled at his inclusion in the debate and demanded Finkelstein's re-invitation. The truth of the matter is that it was not of the slightest interest to me whether Usiskin took part in the debate or not. My only concern was with the infringement of the principle of free speech at my own university by excluding an academic expert from the debate on solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that Finkelstein and I were on opposite sides of the debate was irrelevant. Finally, Usiskin told the Jerusalem Post that I am a key figure in the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel. In fact, I strongly oppose the boycott because it would infringe the freedom of Israeli academics.

Démarche and diminuendo

In the two days before the debate was due to take place, all other five of the original speakers pulled out. David Trimble, not unreasonably, was fed up with all the controversy. So was I. Luke Tryl invited me to take part in the debate as far back as 11 July. Although I did not like the motion, I made no attempt to modify it out of respect for the student officers of the union. Nor did I try to influence the line-up of the speakers. Tryl left me the choice to speak either for or against the motion and I hesitantly opted to speak for. I have in fact always been a supporter of the two-state solution but I planned to argue that that since Israel is systematically destroying the basis for a genuine two-state solution by its constant expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the one-state is the only remaining alternative. These nuances were lost in the media reports and spin that came to surround the collapse of the debate.

My colleagues and I did not withdraw from the debate when we realised that we were going to lose, as our detractors told the media. Our démarche was intended as a protest against the shabby treatment of our academic colleague and the violation of the principle of free speech at the Oxford Union. Even at the eleventh hour we were still ready to rejoin the debate but only on condition that Norman G Finkelstein was re-invited. He was not re-invited, so we stayed away. The debaters on the night were the ubiquitous Paul Usiskin and five students. The motion was defeated by 191 votes to 60. Groucho Marx once said to his host: "I had a great evening but this was not it!" I feel somewhat the same way about this particular Oxford Union debate.

Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at St Antony's College, Oxford.

Among his books are The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (WW Norton, 1999) and (as co-editor) The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge University Press, 2001). His most recent book is Lion of Jordan: the Life of King Hussein in War and Peace (Penguin, 2007) Read more on this article...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Enlightened Dictators

Things to keep in mind: Thursday, November 15th is officially the end of Musharraf’s current term as president. Which means The General has to take the new oath - which he is prohibited to do by the house-arrested Supreme Court - and he has to do it as a civilian. The General wants new election for the dissolved assemblies by Jan 9th. My bet is that Musharraf keeps that army uniform on for the while and maybe we will have another "crisis". Yeah?

Benazir Bhutto is getting tons of press. Our intrepid reporters should note that unlike virtually every other opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, seems to have direct access to all international and state media - including holding gloriously orchestrated press conferences. Still, she has been ratcheting up her rhetoric - declaring now that "I will not serve as prime minister as long as Musharraf is president". Of course, she follows that with the clear-eyed assessment that "even if I wanted to work with him, I would not have the public support." Ah, the machinations of freedom's glorious march across the Muslim world.

I say what I said before, these protests are fulfilling a crucial role: they are making sure that things do not return to status quo, that the vacuum persists and that back-channel deals are forced into the public. In that regards, the role of internet-based distribution of information cannot be stressed highly enough. Benazir may have landed in Pakistan with deals but the democratic forces - those lawyers and college kids - are forcing her to play by new rules. And I say "forcing" because, trust me, she is no Aung San Suu Kyi.

Which isn't to say that there is no other 'viable' leadership in Pakistan (a common refrain from the likes of "realists" like Fareed Zakaria and Zakaria-lites). NYT has a great profile of Aitzaz Ahsan - a stalwart of opposition in many a regimes. He is currently in jail.

Perhaps feeling the inevitable Buyer's Remorse, Pervez Musharraf has been out of sight but he makes a brilliant comeback to the press limelights. First off, he is mad at being called "our sonofabitch" and so he kicks out the Telegraph reporters. Then, the interview, which promises to be just scads of fun with some amazing quotes from the NYT write-up:
About Benazir Bhutto, speaking as a dejected suitor promised a scented garden: “You come here on supposedly on a reconciliatory mode, and right before you land, you’re on a confrontationist mode. I am afraid this is producing negative vibes, negative optics.”
And next speaking as a truly enlightened man of the 21st century:

He called Ms. Jehangir, the leading human rights advocate in Pakistan and one of the first women lawyers, “quite an unbalanced character.”

General Musharraf criticized Ms. Jehangir for being too ambitious in her agenda on how to achieve better rights for women.

Pakistani women deserved more opportunities, and he cited his own legislation that amended the laws to protect women against accusations of rape and adultery.

But Ms. Jehangir, he said, wanted to go too fast, and would therefore fail.

Asma Jahangir is currently under house arrest.

And finally, Stephen Zunes, writing in FPIF Policy report, concludes: Given the unwillingness of both the Republican administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress to stop U.S. military support for the current Pakistani dictatorship, it may be time once again for concerned citizens to engage in similar nonviolent actions to end U.S. support for the oppression. For those at risk as a result of U.S. policy are no longer just those currently oppressed by the Pakistani regime. Some day, as a result of a possible blowback from this policy, it could be Americans as well. Read more on this article...

El Pais (Madrid): Afganistán, ¿hacia el abismo?

My commentary on last week's suicide bombing in Baghlan, north Afghanistan, appeared in El Pais today. Opening in English:
The November 6 terrorist bombing in Afghanistan’s northern province of Baghlan, which killed over 70 people, including 59 school children, symbolizes where the country is today: the real progress the country has made in the past few years is under serious threat from deteriorating security.
I hope the English version will appear soon.

Sources in the Afghan security services tell me that they have collected evidence showing that this was a suicide bombing, most likely traceable back to the training camps identified in a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The bombing killed Sayed Mustafa Kazemi (on right in photo with U.S. ambassador Robert Finn), spokesman of the opposition National Front in the National Assembly, and one of the rising stars of Afghan politics. I met Kazemi at the UN-sponsored Bonn talks in 2001, where he was a member of the Northern Alliance delegation. He later became minister of commerce and was emerging as a young political leader who bridged gaps among ethnic groups and factions in the National Assembly. His death is a great loss, as is the killing of 59 schoolchildren and many others.

One more excerpt from the article:
A year ago, an Iranian official warned me that militants were coming from Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan to train Afghans and Pakistanis in these same tactics. He wanted to share information with the US government, but because of the growing conflict between Washington and Tehran, he could speak only to me, a private citizen. The purpose of such attacks, he said, would be to spark ethnic and sectarian conflict in Afghanistan.
In today's highly charged atmosphere, alas, it might work. Read more on this article...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Going Public


The tide seems to be receding. The protests are not spreading beyond the lawyers and the students. The opposition parties have had no luck mobilizing. Benazir Bhutto's me-first strategy is d.o.a. That robust media, Aaj TV, Geo TV, ARY TV remain inaccessible to the majority of the population. The Supreme Court justices are in house arrest. The majority of the opposition is under strict duress. The General has made a series of announcements while jiggling his Google Calendar and seems to be announcing something for January. Enough, in any case, to placate the White House.

Is it over? This nascent movement for democracy and freedom.

It is, if you conceive of it as an instant reaction to an authoritarian step - a flash of anger and frustration that is slowly simmering back down. It is, if you believe that the lawyers and the students represent rather insulated factions of the overall society who do not effect life in a significant enough manner for "ordinary Pakistanis". There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Musharraf's crackdown on "information" is working. He has sequestered most of the trouble makers. He has cut off any public discussion. He is threatening to try civilians in military tribunals. And the only possible alternatives look like Benazir Bhutto. These are indeed massive odds.

Yet, I do not believe that these are KwiK E Protests that will just go away. Think back to the amazing crowds - hundreds of thousands - that mobilized for the Chief Justice. Think also of those reports about the unpopularity of Musharraf, the fall from grace of the Pakistan Army, the growing discontent about the state of affairs in Pakistan. None of that has changed. None of those miseries have gone away. The Baluchistan crisis is now the Swat and Baluchistan crisis. The Islamists have not disappeared.

These nascent protests will not go away. In fact, they have awakened a new segment of the civil society against The General. A fact that is abundantly clear to those inside. Read more on this article...