The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged palestinianreconciliation
Next in Gaza, Palestinian elections or Israeli preemption?

Paul Mutter contributed this commentary — and I have a note at the end.

Ebaa Reqez, an activist who helped organized the “March 15” Movement demonstrations in 2011 that laid the groundwork for the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement I’ve been tracking this week commented on the political sectarianism that is undermining a deal that was always a tenuous proposition:

In Gaza many of the organizers support Fatah and want to end the rule of Hamas. In the West Bank, they want to oust Fatah. And they both used March 15 and afterwards to try to get what they want.

This contest of wills and patronage was clearly illustrated three weeks ago when Hamas presented its “conditions” for becoming part of a unity government, conditions that Fatah partisans – even if they were willing to defy Israeli and American pressure – would balk at because of the key ministries Hamas was demanding control over. The talks in Cairo that were supposed to mark the next step in Palestinian reconciliation are now on hold, and spokesmen from both parties are blaming each other for the collapse of talks.

Abbas’s position is extremely difficult. The West Bank’s economy and his political machine are both still heavily dependent on foreign aid, and Tel Aviv has final authority over Ramallah’s tax stream – joining with Hamas would certainly led to a freeze on some, if not all, of Fatah’s finances by Israel and the U.S.

Hamas also finds itself in a weaker position today now that it has yet again had to endure an exchange between the IDF and other militant organizations that was precipitated by the assassination of a Popular Committees leader. Hamas leader Mohammad Zahhar, who has blustered about “resistance” against Israel and made much of opposition to the Doha deal, reportedly implored the Egyptians to broker a ceasefire before things got out of hand – i.e., Israel started targeting Hamas members. Zahhar is making a bid for power as a “rejectionist” – it’s not quite clear how much of a “rejectionist” he’d be in practice when facing down the IDF.

The latest round of fighting in Gaza has emboldened those Israeli officials who desire another Operation Cast Lead, the winter 2008–9 ground and air assault by the IDF that killed hundreds of Palestinians and displaced many more in an effort to severely damage Hamas’ military capabilities. Now, arguing that Islamic Jihad is being pushed by its Iranian backers to take more active measures against Israel, Israeli officials are increasingly alluding to the “failure” of Cast Lead’s “deterrence.”

One would hope that in admitting concern over Iranian machinations in Gaza, Israeli strategists wouldtake care to avoid being goaded into escalation, but this does not appear to be the case. A proposal from the right-leaning Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies – titled “The Opportunity in Gaza” – is indicative of the case made for escalation. The authors argue that Israel ought to conduct a ground incursion into Gaza soon to “destroy most of the terrorist infrastructure and the leadership of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other organizations,” at least in part as preparation for military against Iran soon thereafter. “Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz stated several times that a large-scale operation in Gaza is inevitable,” the authors argue, and even though they acknowledge that this effort will not finish off Hamas or any other groups (and may even lead to new ones forming), they chillingly note that “Israel will probably have to ‘mow the grass’ again,” meaning Israel should plan to bomb and invade Gaza every few years for the foreseeable future. While BESA’s influence in Israeli politics is debated (think tanks in Israel aren’t as well-established as their counterparts in the U.S.), in citing Gantz, the report is indeed representative of the preemption mentality in the IDF and Likud (the “cordon-and-swat” approach, as former CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar puts it).

One also wonders what Hamas’s leaders think of such calls to arms. They’ve avoided initiating a conflict so far, but with Israeli officials calling for preemption, they have less and less to gain by holding their fighters back except a vague hope that they won’t end up fighting a losing battle soon. Plus, every death in Gaza brought about by the IAF popularizes the smaller groups Hamas seeks to rein in, much to its detriment.

I said last year that Hamas had secured a measure of initiative in the region thanks to the Arab Spring, but now, I am not so sure it can retain it. On the other side of Israel, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are hapless, and within the country, the Likud Party grows ever more bellicose. I do not think elections are in Gaza’s forecast. Though it is in the interests of only the most hardline Islamists or hawkish Zionists that escalation continue, with every new rocket fired and bomb dropped, Hamas and Israel seem to be stuck on the path that leads to a new Cast Lead within the next few years.

Ed. note: I would also factor into this the recent agreement between Hamas and Egypt supplied natural gas for Gaza’s powerplant. Hamas had paid up the initial deposit on the transaction but the Egyptians — specifically General Intelligence — have relented on delivering the gas, causing long blackouts. In the short term, Gaza’s energy dependency on Egypt gives the Egyptians leverage (at least until the Muslim Brothers decide to make it a political issue domestically). In the longer term it fits within an Israeli desire to shed responsibility for Gaza, which is why the Egyptians are now asking for the gas to be transfered via Israel rather than directly to Gaza. What this shows is that post-uprising dynamics are fluid and the beneficiaries are not necessarily obvious — as Hamas is now finding itself reorienting away from Iran and Syria and towards possibily tougher new patrons in Qatar and Egypt. — Issandr.

Palestinian reconciliation: Hamas' opening gambit

Hamas and Fatah leaders have been meeting Cairo this week to continue hammering out the details of the third unity agreement they’ve tried to reach in the past five years. The agreement would give Mahmoud Abbas the authority to appoint a transitional cabinet, sidelining Hamas and, in theory, his own Fatah party. Officially, Hamas’s top leaders - Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh - have committed to them. But Al-Ahram, Egypt’s state-owned daily, is reporting that Hamas is determined to secure their own concessions from Abbas in exchange for allowing him to assume the post of interim prime minister. It is not clear which Hamas leaders are pushing these measures, though if there is a concerted effort from within the group, I would not be surprised to see the name of their #2 man in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahhar, pop up.

If this debate is indeed going on as Al-Ahram describes, it first of all shows that despite efforts to show unity, Hamas’s Gazan leadership is still livid over Khaled Mashaal’s decision to conclude the Doha agreement without consulting them first, and is determined to ensure that it gets a “fair share” of the spoils, which are spelled out in no uncertain terms:

“conditions also feature Hamas’s selection of one of its leaders to assume the post of deputy prime minister and handling of three ministerial portfolios which include the Interior, Justice and Finance ministries … Hamas also wants to select 15% of the members of this government”

The three ministries named are the ones Hamas would most need in order to reinsert itself in the West Bank after losing much of its organizational apparatus there following the 2007 split with Fatah, because since then, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority have cooperated to root out Hamas operatives in the West Bank. This is simply pragmatic self-interest on Hamas’s part. Control of the Justice and Interior ministries would put the movement in a position to influence court decisions and to control appointments/hirings among the internal security forces. Given the power of the purse, a Hamas Minister of Finance would be able to channel money to favored projects and organizations: Hamas’s successes have, since the 1980s in part stemmed from the popular support its charitable and welfare activities generate.

[Editor’s note: Hard to see of a MoF controlled by Hamas would be dealt with by the international community that finances the PA! Or how a Hamas Interior Minister would be accepted by security forces that are basically Fatah gangs trained by US forces! This plan implies a break with the US, at the very least.]

In theory, it would only be fair to give the office of deputy prime minister to Ismail Haniyeh since he is the de facto prime minister of Gaza, or to Hamas’s legislative leader, Ismail al-Ashkar - yet Abbas and Mashaal seem to have already ruled out doing such a thing while meeting in Doha.

These demands are not at all surprising, but they could become yet another stumbling block on the road to fulfilling the unity agreement.

Hamas might settle for some compromise - its leaders, if they are serious about implementing the unity agreement, must know that Abbas will not agree to all of these demands - but a compromise by either Abbas or Mashaal here would be hard for their followers to swallow. Al-Ahram notes that Abbas “will [likely] refuse these conditions, as he is insisting on choosing figures who are accepted on the international level to occupy these sensitive positions.” He’d have to reverse his position, or agree to allot certain ministerial posts to Hamas members ahead of the legislative and prime ministerial elections that are theoretically going to be held in a few months. Either way, he’d look like he was caving in and end up antagonizing both the US and Israel by making concessions. Israel has made clear it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas members, and giving any of these portfolios to Hamas members would jeopardize distribution of US aid to the Palestinian National Authority.

The talks in Cairo are now reportedly on hold as a result of Hamas’s demands.

The domestic and external politics of Palestinian reconciliation

In theory, the unity agreement announced in Doha by Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and the outgoing Khaled Mashaal of Hamas is still going forward, now that Hamas’ Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has accepted the provision that will make Abbas the interim prime minister of the unity government. Abbas and Mashaal have further agreed to meet in Cairo later this month to set a date for a presidential election and new legislative elections for the Palestinian National Council. This would be third major attempt by the two parties to pursue a reconciliation agreement since their violent split in 2007. An effort announced in 2008 never materialized, and another round of talks that began after Operation Cast Lead collapsed in November 2010; this current round of talks comes from a May 2011 agreement.

The political calculus that has led to this latest handshake between Mashaal and Abbas is succinctly summarized by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal: Abbas “is now convinced that the negotiations with the Netanyahu cabinet are nothing but a waste of time,” while Mashaal “believes that his political future is now directly connected to the implementation of the reconciliation.” Or, as Tobias Buck simply puts it, Hamas is grasping at a chance for “international legitimacy and leadership of the Palestinian movement.”

Mashaal is, in this view, likely to stake his career on how this unity agreement proceeds and will not formally step down until he is satisfied it will succeed. Still, as part of the agreement he is set to step down from his post at Hamas in favor of his deputy, Mousa Abu Marzouk, an arrangement that the Gazan leadership of the Islamist organization is by no means happy about. This succession would preserve the primacy of the organization’s “Damascus Politburo,” that has far more of a presence in the international community than the Gazan leadership. Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahhar, Hamas’s top men in Gaza and possible contenders for Mashaal’s job, have criticized Mashaal for his statements on both the two-state solution and the Arab Spring. And Hamas’s Shura Council has not, according to the Financial Times, yet voted upon the policy prescriptions put forward by Mashaal.

The fact that the unity agreement would, however temporary, put non-Hamas (and ostensibly, non-Fatah) bureaucrats on a governing council while giving Abbas the top leadership spots across the board still rankles important people in Gaza who resent their isolation from the rest of the Palestinian nation, an isolation that is sometimes reinforced by their colleagues abroad: Haniyeh is still said to be upset over Mashaal’s decision to have signed the agreement in Doha without bringing anyone from Gaza over for consultations or public appearances. Though Haniyeh and Mashaal seem to have smoothed over their differences to allow Hamas to accept Abbas as interim prime minister, much work – and backroom dealing – remains to be done. Zahhar, meanwhile, is still openly opposed to giving Abbas this position and is now apparently trying to exploit tensions regarding the deal within Hamas’s armed forces wing to undermine Mashaal’s position. Ismail al-Ashkar, head of Hamas’s Gazan delegation in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), has been leading an effort to push back against Mashaal’s concessions, though according to at least one report, the PLC is now going to work on implementing the agreement. In contrast, some Hamas legislators in the West Bank have come out in support of the agreement.

There is also the matter of proxy patronage for Hamas’s leaders to consider if this unity agreement goes forward. The Gazan leadership has to contend with the influence of Islamic Jihad in its territory and is seemingly trying to head off the group’s golden-boy status in Iranian eyes by trying to bring it under Hamas’s umbrella. As the Associated Press notes, with Iran facing new international sanctions and Syria now consumed by violence, Hamas is trying to reach out to Turkish, Egyptian, and Gulf sources for funding and diplomatic support. Domestic rivalries are also still present – unsurprisingly so, given how brutally Fatah was evicted from Gaza in 2007 by Hamas. The two organizations are still harassing each other’s supporters in their respective enclaves, a situation exacerbated by Israeli arrests of Hamas parliamentarians and alleged armed infiltrators. And since both Fatah and Hamas have built up their own political apparatuses in their respective domains, any transfer of power to Abbas will represent a daunting challenge to manage simmering rivalries. The proposed Palestinian elections are a ways off: several months, at the very least.

Much of the debate that was going on among Hamas’s leadership is probably aimed at getting Mashaal to make concessions to the Gazan leadership in exchange for letting Abu Marzouk succeed him over Haniyeh and Zanhar. The unity agreement provides a convenient means to debate the intraparty tensions over how Hamas will continue to challenge Israel in full view of Palestinian voters and sends a message to Abbas, and also to the Israelis, that Hamas expects to be treated at the very least as an equal partner in any new Palestinian government.

This message will certainly not be lost on the Israeli government. Israel’s Prime Minister has warned Abbas that he must now choose between “peace” or Hamas. As an editorial in the Baltimore Sun puts it:

The Catch-22 [for the Palestinians] is that Israel used the split in territorial control between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as an excuse to not negotiate. Now that this has resolved, the very resolution is a reason to not negotiate.

Has Hamas found a way to “recognize” Israel without actually giving Tel Aviv what it most wants to hear, the words “we recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist”? South Asian News Agency reports that it has: “Hamas Chief Khalid Mashal has said that the new independent Palestinian state consisting of pre-1967 borders should be established, adding that the acceptance of Israel consisting of post-1967 borders is like recognizing [the] Israeli state.” This will be a very interesting development to watch, for as Karl Vick notes, “when the reconciliation was announced [in May 2011], Netanyahu angrily slammed the door on talks that would include Hamas while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointedly did not,” though this presumes that the Obama Administration would be willing to risk severe Congressional displeasure over changing its position towards Hamas. And, as noted before, Hamas has clearly not reached an intraparty consensus on how to deal with Israel, a consensus that would absolutely have to come about if the Palestinian National Authority is to continue receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid annually. In theory, “Hamas might be willing to proceed with a dual course: letting the PLO conduct negotiations with Israel while avoiding recognition of Israel.”

While Abbas could stand for election in the new unity government, by far the most acceptable man for the job, Marwan Barghouti, is still being held in an Israeli prison. Though still nominally committed to the Accords, Netanyahu has privately expressed his opposition to them. He refuses to accept one of the Palestinians’ main demands for resuming negotiations, the demand of freezing settlement construction, not least because Netanyahu’s coalition partners have been pushing for increasing settlement construction. It still seems very unlikely that Netanyahu would be willing to commit to negotiations with a unity government, let alone one that Hamas members might dominate after elections take place, not least because there are those in the Israeli government and the defense establishment itching for a fight.

Given Israeli intransigence, Palestinian leaders will, as Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad to Ma’an News Agency last month, need to be concerned with developing a programme that goes beyond deciding how they will work out a power-sharing agreement, or who their new patrons will be if Syrian and Iranian assistance dries up: “Hamas, Fatah and the other powers should tend to the more important and dangerous issue, i.e. that of liberation,” Hamad opined, “while the government could be handled by a group of experts capable of securing progress in the health, education, agriculture and security sectors among others.” Hamad thus supports the agreement, but the issue of “liberation” remains a bone of contention. It has come up repeatedly in comments from Hamas officials in Gaza, and Haniyeh, before making a show of support for Mashaal’s agreement with Abbas, had made a trip to Tehran, telling his audience that “the resistance will continue until all Palestinian land, including al-Quds (Jerusalem), has been liberated and all the refugees have returned,” goals that the US and Israel will absolutely not accept.

“The people who are supposed to represent Palestinians seem entirely consumed by strange priorities, futile ‘peace’ and power-sharing ‘unity’ agreements,” Palestinian-American journalist Ramzy Baroud fumes, and Khaled Amayreh, a controversial West Bank journalist, was recently reprimanded by the Palestinian National Authority for questioning Abbas’s legitimacy. These charges are part of a larger discussion within Palestinian civil society: on whether Abbas, Hamas and the institutional systems they represent are really “fit” to lead the Palestinian people anymore. Baroud, explains why he regards this Doha deal as proof that both parties’ leaderships are out of touch with Palestinian realities:

No achievement of the so-called Arab Spring and no Gulf power can have much of a bearing on Palestinian reality without a self-possessed, truly representative Palestinian leadership — one that is neither fishing for money nor political favours.

Ultimately, Hamas-Fatah unity based on halving the spoils of whatever imagined power they may have over occupied and oppressed people will in no significant way alter the fate of hunger-striker [Khader] Adnan1. Neither will it reclaim one inch of the Occupied Territories, or revive the long-dormant Palestinian national project around new, truly unifying and all-encompassing priorities.

Frankly it is absurd to witness Palestinian factions lobbying among and seeking exclusive approval, funding and backing of countries near and far, while millions of Palestinians carry on facing the reality of sieges, walls, barbed wires and machine guns.

Abdel-Beri Atwan, editor of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, has expressed similar reservations, noting that “the priority of the Palestinian people is to liberate their violated land and regain their legitimate rights in full” and that “implementation remains essential as we have grown sick and tired of the repeated signatures and handshakes in front of the camera lenses.”

“We fear that the new agreements will generate new disputes without solving the primary one,” he added. It remains to be seen just how the two parties can turn their handshake into meaningful reconciliation that could change the present stalemate in the “peace process.” Mashaal will have to prove that he can maintain the political will and capital to bring his organization to that point, to elections in 2012, and perhaps, by the end of the year, he can. Yet 2012 is also an election year in both Israel and the US. “Recognition” of a new unity government including Hamas, even a “reformed” Hamas that’s decides to follow the example of Sinn Fein, and the post-1997 Provisional IRA - and not that of the Real IRA — would require a great deal of political will and capital in both countries’ capitals. Those things are just not there today, and will probably not be there in 2013, either. The ball is indeed in Hamas’s court, but the rules haven’t changed.

  1. Adnan, a former Islamic Jihad spokesman, has been on a hunger strike for 62 days to protest his “administrative detention” by the Israeli authorities. Under this practice, the detainee does not have to be charged with committing a crime while held in custody. Adnan claims he has been tortured by his jailers as well. His actions have now made him an iconic figure among Palestinians and human rights activists calling for his release. ↩

Egypt's foreign policy and Palestinian reconciliation

I have a new Masri al-Youm column on Egypt's foreign policy and its recent midwifing of Palestinian reconciliation here. I argue that the deal is not enough to talk about a new foreign policy just yet, but we're seeing signs of a move in the right direction.

The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation that was inked in Cairo on 4 May is important mainly for Palestinian reasons: For the first time since 2006, an opportunity exists to form a united Palestinian position to address the impasse of the peace process. But the deal also reflects a new style of Egyptian foreign policy and, with time, perhaps a new direction too.

Ever since Omar Suleiman began to broker Palestinian reconciliation talks in 2006, Egypt’s official policy was to support unity. Talks were held in Cairo and elsewhere with multiple factions over the years, and every now and then rumors circulated of an impending deal — often when politically convenient for one of the parties involved. Yet they never amounted to anything concrete. Fatah and Hamas share a good part of the blame: Neither faction was truly satisfied with reconciliation, which threatened to endanger their grip on the respective territories they controlled. Despite the fact that Palestinians clamored for reconciliation, faction leaders prioritized their self-interests and the alliances they forged with regional powers. No doubt the threat of a third Palestinian intifada planned to begin on 15 May — this time against the Palestinian leadership as well as Israel — motivated them to break the deadlock.

Part of the obstacle to reconciliation was Egypt’s policy, though. For several years, Egypt tried to impose a white paper on Hamas that the Islamist group clearly found unsatisfactory and biased towards Fatah. Much like the United States is a biased broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Egypt systematically took a one-sided approach to the inter-Palestinian conflict. Officials would readily acknowledge this in private, giving various reasons. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, diplomats argued that Palestinian reconciliation at the wrong time would jeopardize the entire peace process, since the United States would be unlikely to back a Palestinian national unity government that included Hamas members. In reality, Mubarak’s diplomats cared most about salvaging a peace process that was going nowhere because it at least maintained the myth of Egypt’s centrality in regional politics.

More important for now is the style in which it was accomplished: with discretion and humility, a far cry from the bombast and hysterics of the Mubarak era. I don't necessarily agree that the regional order is being overturned just yet (that link was Asia Times, see also NYT for the same take, just less enthusiastic.) That the Zionists are appalled by the reconciliation is more proof that it's a positive step — notice how suddenly they believe that negotiations were going to happen.

I heartily welcome Palestinian reconciliation, even though this deal is just a first tentative step in achieving it. (Ali Abunimah has a critique of the deal here, and here's the text of the agreement.) As Adam Shatz writes:

The Cairo agreement is not a revolution; it is a settlement between ruling parties keen to hold onto power in their respective realms of influence. Fatah and Hamas will set up an interim government, before elections are held in roughly eight months. Implementing the agreement will not be easy, as both parties seem to understand, which is why they haven’t tried to set up a unified security force. This should avert potential clashes in the short term but could lead to problems further down the line: there couldn’t be separate Fatah and Hamas security forces in an independent Palestinian state. Nevertheless, the agreement is a major step, as there’s no hope of a struggle for independence, much less a state, without national unity.

Both Fatah and Hamas know that the popular mood is running against them. Palestinians are frustrated by the lack of progress towards statehood, a result not only of Israeli intransigence but also of factional strife; and there is a widespread perception that both leaderships are less interested in pursuing independence than in preserving their own power. The regional balance of forces, moreover, has shifted in favour of Palestinian unity: Egypt, which brokered the accord, is no longer trying to undermine Hamas, as it did when Omar Suleiman was intelligence chief; under its new, plainspoken foreign minister, Nabil al-Arabi, Egypt’s transitional government has moved to open the Rafah crossing and to restore full diplomatic relations with Iran. Hamas’s allies in Egypt, the Muslim Brothers, are no longer banned, and they will help to shape Egyptian policy on Israel-Palestine. Hamas, for its part, is said to be anxious about the unrest in Syria, its home-in-exile, and may be looking for a new base of operations in the Arab world.

The Guardian had an excellent editorial the other day on the stupidity of Israel and the US' reaction:

Israel's politicians reacted darkly to the news of reconciliation. From right to left, they shared an assumption which is out of date. It is that they retain the ability – and the right – to dictate what sort of state Palestinians will build on their borders. Having spent years fashioning the environment, the penny has yet to drop that a future environment composed of free Egyptians, Jordanians and even possibly Syrians could well fashion Israel's borders. Even after Mubarak fell, the consensus was that Cairo was so preoccupied with internal problems that it lacked the energy to make foreign policy.

Not so. Yesterday foreign minister Nabil al-Arabi announced that Egypt would shortly be lifting the siege of Gaza. These events pose a direct challenge to the status quo that Israel, the US and the EU have fashioned. Do they now subvert the will of the Egyptians they claim to champion? Does the US do what it did the last time Fatah and Hamas reconciled at Mecca, and pull the plug on the unity government? Do the Quartet threaten to withdraw the PA's funds, because, as is very likely, Salam Fayyad will no longer be there to disburse them? The US could twist Fatah's arm, but Fatah might just sign on the dotted line all the same.

The next step to watch for will be Egypt's position on Palestinian attempts to gain UN recognition in September, which thus far Cairo is backing (how much noise will they make over it though?)

Update: Forgot to include this link to the WaPo's interview with Nabil ElAraby, in which the interviewer embarrasses herself with her bias and focus on Israel. And here are a few more links:


Links for 07.18.09 to 07.20.09
Gambling with peace: how US bingo dollars are funding Israeli settlements | World news | The Guardian | More Moskowitz. There should be an international financial blockade against any institution involved in the settlements.
'U.S. tells Israel to halt East Jerusalem building' - Haaretz - Israel News | More on Irving Moskowitz's settlement plans.
Asma Al Assad: Syria's First Lady And All-Natural Beauty (SLIDESHOW) | HuffPo celebrates the beauty of Asma al-Assad. Never mind her hubby being a dictator and all...
WaPo bows cravenly to pro-Israel lobby | WaPo publishes inaccurate "correction" on Gilo settlement.
De “Freej” à “Hamdoon” : le dessin cartonne aux Emirats | On the spread of homegrown cartoon characters in the UAE.
French agents kidnapped in Somalia | Security trainers were posing as journalists and staying at journalists' hotel — can't say I feel any sympathy for them.
Publier ici votre bilan des dix de règne - Comme une bouteille jetée à la mer! | Larbi, one of the best Moroccan bloggers, is inviting readers to send in their assessment of the first 10 years of Muhammad VI's reign.
Breaking the silence | Soldiers’ Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2009
Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Cementing the rift via dialogue | Update on Egypt-brokered Palestinian reconciliation talks after Ramallah meeting, takes the position that Fatah is sabotaging talks for electoral purposes. But does not acknowledge Egypt's acquiescence in this plan.
The freegans' creed: waste not, want not | Environment | The Observer | Article on freeganism, i.e. eating free food that's been thrown away. Clearly only possible as a lifestyle in the first world.
Somaliland's addict economy | GlobalPost | About Qat (also spelled Khat, the drug) in Somaliland.
EGYPT: Poet accused of insulting Mubarak awaits final verdict | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times | Ridiculous.
OpenStreetMap | Not bad alternative to Google Maps. For Cairo not bad, but Google is more detailed and in Arabic. Still, good effort that might improve, and does not lock us in to the G-Man.
Revisiting Obama's Riyadh meeting | The Cable | So the idea that Obama came out empty-handed out of his pre-Cairo Speech meeting with Saudi King Abdullah is gaining ground. But it is ridiculous to imagine that Abdullah would pre-emptively agree to concessions before the Israelis have made even a single concession.
Egyptian chronicles: Ahmed Rushdie-Barely-Speaks For The First Time | Very interesting post on former Egyptian minister of interior Ahmed Rushdie, described here as the only minister of the Mubarak era to have resigned and the only interior minister who was respected. (I don't know how true this is, but it's interesting!)
International Crisis Group - 152 Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC | New ICG report on Sudan warns of laying off pressure on Khartoum over Darfur as focus shifts to the south and the CPA again. Among key recommendations to the ruling party is that Bashir should step down as soon as possible.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman Talks to Asharq Al-Awsat | Sharq al-Awsat interview, mostly on Syria. The Obama administration sure loves Saudi media.
Palestinians aim for massive pastry record Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | I'm all for building the world's largest ball of twine or baking the biggest kunafa, but the reporting on this is over the top.
Taboo Topics on Contemporary Foreign Policy Discourse | Stephen M. Walt | Excellent post on the Ten Commandments of foreign policy wonks. You could add plenty more, but I would add (as far as Egypt is concerned) "Thou shall greet yesterday's oppressor as today's reformer, or vice versa if appropriate." Walt makes so many good points it's hard to choose a favorite, although #9 is up there.