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JFP 9/23: Mahmoud Abbas, the Jackie Robinson of Palestine
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 23 September 2011 - 8:26pm
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September 23, 2011
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Mahmoud Abbas, the Jackie Robinson of Palestine
Abbas' "no excuses" policy - firm opposition to violence to prevent the U.S. and Israel from having an excuse to block Palestinian national aspirations - is akin to Jackie Robinson's commitment not to be provoked by racist attacks when he integrated major league baseball. Mahmoud Abbas has held up the Jackie Robinson side of the bargain. The question now is whether the "international community" will hold up the Branch Rickey side of the bargain.
Full transcript of Abbas speech at UN General Assembly
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1) Palestinians thronged the central squares of Ramallah and other cities of the West Bank on Friday to watch President Mahmoud Abbas address the UN and formally announce the Palestinians' request for full membership in the world body, the New York Times reports. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly festive, the Times says. But it was also tinged with a measure of defiance, as well as disappointment over the stance of the Obama administration, which has opposed the Palestinian bid for full membership in the UN and has vowed to veto it if necessary. "I am here to tell the Americans that we are with Abu Mazen," said Issa Al-Rafati, a construction worker, calling Abbas by his popular name. "America took Israel's side against our people." Palestinians rallied inside the city centers, mostly avoiding friction with Israelis, as Abbas had instructed.
Many Palestinians said they understood that the UN bid alone would not change their circumstances, the Times says. "There will be no change on the ground, but a change in our national strategy," said Ibrahim Barham, a businessman who is active in Abbas's Fatah movement. "If there are negotiations with Israel, they will be based on new rules."
2) Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command ["AfriCom"], says the Libya war shows AfriCom must be able to lead offensive military operations and not just do training, The Hill reports. The stakes for the US in Africa are high, The Hill says. The US is more dependent on Africa for oil than the Middle East.
3) NATO announced a three-month extension of its bombing campaign in Libya, the New York Times reports. It is the second 90-day extension, and it was approved less than a week before the campaign was set to end.
4) Bill Gates appears poised to endorse the adoption of a financial transactions tax to be used as a new source of development aid for poor countries, Inter Press Service reports. Such an endorsement will likely boost efforts by France to persuade other countries, particularly in the EU to impose such a tax, said activists who have long advocated what some of them call a "Robin Hood tax". "The FTT ship has sailed, and the world's richest man is on board," said Richard Gower of Oxfam. "We're on course for an agreement which delivers billions to help poor countries fight poverty and climate change."
5) Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath says the PLO will give the UN Security Council "some time" to study their application for full membership in the UN before going to the General Assembly, Reuters reports. Shaath said the Palestinians would turn to the General Assembly if there was an "undue delay" in Security Council consideration.
6) Iranian President Ahmadinejad said Iran would be willing to halt production of more highly enriched uranium if the US sells Iran fuel for a reactor that produces medical isotopes, Inter Press Service reports. David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security said the new offer was worth pursuing to limit Iran's production of more highly enriched uranium. "Take it as a small proposal, sell two years of fuel and cap enrichment at five percent," Albright said. "If you can curtail that, you are better off." Such an agreement would dissipate urgency about Iran's nuclear program and allow more time for diplomacy, Albright said.
7) Senior Iraqi officials said they expected Iraq to ask for several thousand U.S. troops to remain, but only as trainers, AP reports. Iraqi officials said U.S. troops would no longer go on joint patrols with Iraqi forces.
8) President Saleh returned to Yemen on Friday, the New York Times reports. The US reiterated its support for a plan for political transition that would lead to Saleh's departure from power. "Whether President Saleh is in or out off the country, he can make that happen by signing this accord, stepping down from power and allowing his country to move forward," the State Department said.
1) Palestinians Rally in West Bank for Abbas Speech; Clashes Reported
Isabel Kershner and Ethan Bronner, New York Times, September 23, 2011
Ramallah, West Bank - Palestinians thronged the central squares of Ramallah and other cities of the West Bank on Friday to watch President Mahmoud Abbas address the United Nations and formally announce the Palestinians' request for full membership in the world body.
A hush came over the crowd of as many as 10,000 people in Ramallah as Mr. Abbas began to speak, and all eyes were fixed on a large television screen. The city was festooned with Palestinian flags, adding to the sense of momentousness. Many of those too young to remember the return of Yasir Arafat to the West Bank in the mid-1990s said that this was the first national celebration they could recall.
"Large numbers of people have come out like this before, but they always had anger on their faces," said Muhammad Jimi, 21, a student.
This time the atmosphere was overwhelmingly festive. But it was also tinged with a measure of defiance, as well as disappointment over the stance of the Obama administration, which has opposed the Palestinian bid for full membership in the United Nations and has vowed to veto it if necessary.
"I am here to tell the Americans that we are with Abu Mazen," said Issa Al-Rafati, 46, a construction worker, calling Mr. Abbas by his popular name. "America took Israel's side against our people."
Columns of youths marched into the square from side streets holding aloft portraits of Mr. Abbas. They lit candles as Mr. Abbas spoke and darkness fell. At the end of the speech the crowd roared "Allahu Akbar," or God is great, and another popular Palestinian chant: "With blood and spirit, we will redeem you, O Palestine!"
The Palestinians rallied inside the city centers, mostly avoiding friction with Israelis, as Mr. Abbas had instructed. But the relative calm was marred by the killing of a Palestinian man earlier in the day during a clash with security forces near the village of Qusra in the northern West Bank.
A dozen Israeli settlers from a nearby outpost had arrived to pray on land at the edge of the village, an act that the Palestinian villagers viewed as a provocation. Hundreds of people marched toward the settlers, some with Palestinian flags, and Israeli troops intervened. The Israeli military said its forces used riot dispersal means and eventually, live fire after Palestinians hurled rocks at security personnel. The military said that a joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation was under way.
The Israeli military has heavily boosted its presence around the West Bank, worried that the Palestinian move toward international recognition of its statehood might inspire large-scale marches or violence against some of the 330,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. It is equally concerned that radical settlers could provoke confrontations.
At Kalandia, the often-tense crossing point between Ramallah and Jerusalem, clashes rumbled on for hours on Friday as Israeli troops used tear gas against several dozen people throwing stones. In the village of Nabi Saleh, where there are weekly Friday demonstrations against the Israeli occupation, a large chair painted in the blue of the United Nations was carried in a procession, a symbol of the aspiration for Palestine to be declared the organization's 194th member. In addition, demonstrators burned Israeli flags and posters of President Obama.
Israel still fears that Palestinian frustration could turn to violence in the coming weeks or months, when it becomes apparent that Mr. Abbas's bid for recognition has not led to any significant change in the West Bank.
But many Palestinians said they understood that the bid alone would not change their circumstances. "There will be no change on the ground, but a change in our national strategy," said Ibrahim Barham, a businessman who is active in Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement. "If there are negotiations with Israel, they will be based on new rules."
2) US Africa Command Looks To Strengthen Role In Region
John T. Bennett, The Hill, 09/22/11
The U.S. Africa Command is making changes that show it is taking on a vital role on a volatile continent, a shift etched in stone when it led the early weeks of the Libya military campaign.
Before Libya, the still-young command "never thought of itself as leading [offensive military] operations" said Army Gen. Carter Ham, its commander.
The command was established in 2008 and was long thought to be best shaped for training African nations and "building their capacity" to maintain stability.
But the command's first leader, Army Gen. William "Kip" Wald, believed the United States would eventually need an AfriCom that could undertake more traditional military operations, and he moved his command in that direction, Ham said.
Ham has continued that shift, and has made it clear he intends to keep it going by, among other things, adding many more special-operations forces.
In Libya, AfriCom led the opening weeks of the operation, as U.S. and NATO warplanes and cruise missiles pounded Moammar Gadhafi's regime. Ham said the operation showed that every U.S. military combatant command must be able to conduct "the full spectrum of operations," which to the Pentagon includes diplomatic talks, humanitarian relief work, training of indigenous troops and combat operations.
The stakes for the United States in Africa are high.
For one thing, the United States is more dependent on Africa for oil than the Middle East.
"America gets approximately 18 percent of all of its hydrocarbon imports and the majority of [other fuel sources] from Africa," Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, said Monday during a conference in National Harbor, Md. "Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, supplies close to 8 percent of all the U.S. imports - a figure that's equivalent to what we get from Saudi Arabia."
A majority of the liquefied natural gas used on the East Coast of the United States comes from Africa, which over the next decade is expected to provide 25 percent of the oil and natural gas that the United States imports annually, Carson noted.
3) NATO Extends Libya Bombing Campaign
Kareem Fahim and Rick Gladstone, New York Times, September 21, 2011
Tripoli, Libya - With armed loyalists of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the fallen Libyan leader, still ensconced in his hometown and a few other redoubts as the seven-month-old Libyan conflict winds down, NATO announced a three-month extension of its bombing campaign on Wednesday.
"We are determined to continue our mission for as long as necessary, but ready to terminate the operation as soon as possible," the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in a statement from the alliance's Brussels headquarters.
It is the second 90-day extension, and it was approved less than a week before the campaign was set to end.
4) Bill Gates to Support "Robin Hood" Tax
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Sep 22
Washington - Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates appears poised to endorse the adoption of a controversial financial transactions tax (FTT) to be used as a new source of development aid for poor countries.
Such an endorsement, to be included in a report to the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Cannes in November, will likely boost efforts by summit's host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to persuade other countries, particularly in the European Union (EU), to impose such a tax, said activists who have long advocated what some of them call a "Robin Hood tax".
It was Sarkozy who last February asked Gates to prepare a report for the upcoming summit on new ways that money could be raised to promote development and alleviate poverty in poor countries, particularly in light of the sharp cuts in official development assistance (ODA) from many donor countries that followed the 2008-9 financial crisis.
"The report will acknowledge the controversy around the proposal, … but will make the case for a substantial allocation to development," according to a "Technical Note" on the report that will be presented Friday to officials gathered here for the annual World Bank- International Monetary Fund meetings.
"If G20 members or some other set of countries (e.g., within the EU), can agree on the outlines of an FTT, Bill's report is likely to argue, it could generate substantial resources," according to the Note which was attributed to Geoffrey Lamb, the senior advisor on international policy development at the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"For example, some modelling suggests that even a small tax of 10 bp (basis points) on equities and 2 bp on bonds would yield about 48 billion (dollars) on a G20-wide basis, or 9 billion (dollars) if confined to larger European economies. Some FTT proposals offer substantially larger estimates, in the 100-250 billion (dollar) range, especially if derivatives are included."
"If a substantial part of the revenues could be allocated to development, this would be a useful addition to resources – and would be additional help to some donor countries to meet their aid commitments in the current environment," according to the Note.
Activists who favour the FTT said Gates's position as described in the Note should help their efforts.
"The FTT ship has sailed, and the world's richest man is on board," said Richard Gower of Oxfam International. "We're on course for an agreement which delivers billions to help poor countries fight poverty and climate change."
5) PLO to give UN council time to mull bid
Reuters, Thursday 22/09/2011
United Nations -- The Palestinian leadership -- despite firm US and Israeli opposition -- will give the UN Security Council "some time" to study their application for full membership in the United Nations, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday.
"We will give some time to the Security Council to consider first our full membership request before heading to the General Assembly," Nabil Shaath, a senior official in President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Some UN diplomats and officials have said that the 15-nation Security Council might buy time by dragging out its review of the Palestinian UN membership application, which Abbas has vowed to submit on Friday to the UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
That review, they say, could theoretically take months, or even years.
"Any delay will be part of the procedure," Shaath said, adding that if there was an "undue delay," the Palestinians would turn to the General Assembly.
By turning to the General Assembly, Shaath was referring to a second UN option the Palestinians have been considering alongside full UN membership.
The second possibility is the so-called "Vatican option," under which the Palestinians would seek status as a non-member observer state in the United Nations, which would enable them to join the International Criminal Court and sign other international treaties and covenants.
It would not be difficult for the Palestinians to gain non-member state status, like the Vatican, as it would not need Security Council approval and would require only a simple majority approval in the 193-nation General Assembly. It would also be an indirect recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Full membership requires Security Council approval and a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly.
6) Iranian President Offers Nukes Compromise to U.S.
Barbara Slavin, Inter Press Service, Sep 22
New York - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that Iran would be willing to halt production of enriched uranium that is close to weapons grade if the United States sells Iran fuel for a reactor that produces medical isotopes.
But Ahmadinejad said Iran would not stop making low enriched uranium and would not give up its nuclear stockpiles, making it unlikely that Washington will embrace his proposal.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has more than 4,500 kilogrammes of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent U-235 – which is suitable to power nuclear reactors for electricity – and more 70 kilogrammes of uranium enriched to 20 percent of the rare isotope. Weapons grade uranium is enriched to 90 percent U-235, but getting there from 20 percent is much easier than starting from scratch.
The Iranian president has suggested in several recent interviews that Iran would stop making 20 percent uranium if the United States sold Iran fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, an aging facility provided by the United States when the shah ruled Iran. Argentina provided the last batch of fuel for the plant in the 1990s but that is now running out. It is not clear that Iran has the expertise to make the necessary fuel rods and assemblies.
Speaking to about a dozen senior U.S. editors and reporters Thursday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad said Iran had only begun to enrich to 20 percent because "some of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) members set up preconditions" for providing fuel. He was referring to a U.S.-backed offer in 2009 for Iran to send out most of its stockpile of 3.5 percent uranium for further processing by Russia and France. At the time, Iran had no uranium enriched to 20 percent.
Iran agreed to the swap, then reneged after the proposal was harshly criticised by Ahmadinejad's political rivals. It later re-embraced the idea after mediation by Brazil and Turkey, but by then, Iran had amassed a larger quantity of enriched uranium and begun enriching to 20 percent and the U.S. and its allies were no longer interested in the original deal.
David Albright, president and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington research organisation, told IPS that the new offer was worth pursuing to limit Iran's production of more highly enriched uranium.
"Take it as a small proposal, sell two years of fuel and cap enrichment at five percent," Albright said. "If you can curtail that, you are better off."
Sanctions would remain in place against Iran so long as it does not abide by repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend uranium enrichment, he said. But the sense of urgency about Iran's nuclear programme would dissipate and allow more time for diplomacy.
Ahmadinejad, Albright noted, is under pressure to meet the needs of Iranian cancer patients who require the radioactive isotopes for treatment.
Ahmadinejad said Thursday that "over 800,000 people in Iran are dependent on this medicine".
7) Iraqi budget crunch slowing US troops decision
Lara Jakes, Associated Press, September 21, 2011
Baghdad - Budget battles are the latest roadblock delaying a decision by Baghdad on how many U.S. troops it might request stay in Iraq, although a top government official predicts the American military will remain as a training force beyond a year-end departure deadline.
Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said there's no way to estimate how many troops would be asked to stay, or what exactly they will be doing, until parliament passes its $110 billion spending plan for 2012.
Iraq's Cabinet could tentatively sign off on the budget as early as next week, but parliament has until the end of the year to approve it.
Despite the delays, the comments by al-Shahristani, a major figure in Iraq's Shiite political leadership, were one of the most certain signs yet that Baghdad has decided to seek some sort of U.S. presence, likely numbering several thousand. With about three months before the deadline, U.S. leaders are increasingly agitated with Iraq's reluctance to say whether it will ask U.S. troops to stay beyond the Dec. 31 departure date required by a 2008 security agreement between Washington and Baghdad.
Iraqi officials have been torn between their needs for U.S. help in security and public pressure for the Americans to leave - particularly from Shiite militants who threaten violence if they stay.
There are currently 44,500 U.S. troops in Iraq, due to fall to 40,000 by the end of the month, according to U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen. Starting in October, an estimated 1,000 troops will leave daily.
American officials said Iraq's government has not told them exactly what a continued U.S. military presence would do.
Al-Shahristani, an English-speaking Shiite seen as a possible successor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said one task American troops won't be asked to continue is joint patrols with Iraqi forces. "We are very confident that we have enough trained forces in the country to deal with any terrorist activities or disturbances in Iraq," he said.
The Obama administration is considering 3,000 to 5,000 troops for an Iraqi training mission, according to officials in Washington familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. Al-Shahristani said no specific range of numbers for the training mission has been discussed.
One Iraqi lawmaker close to al-Maliki, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Baghdad may ask only for about 2,500 forces - a level that likely would be accepted by his war-weary public.
Another lawmaker, Iskandar Witwit of the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya political coalition - a rival of al-Maliki's bloc - said Iraqis could accept a force solely for training or protecting the embassy. "If it is a battle force, then accepting it would be very hard," said Witwit, deputy head of parliament's defense and security committee.
Al-Shahristani said he could not speculate on whether parliament would approve immunity but maintained his belief that a training mission deal will be reached.
He said all of Iraq's major political groups agree some sort of training mission is needed - except for the followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has threatened a surge in violence if the U.S. troops remain into 2012.
"We reject even the staying of trainers," said Sadrist lawmaker Mushraq Naji. "Our stance is clear and that all U.S. troops should leave. Negotiations to keep them here run against the will of the Iraqi people."
8) Yemen's President Abruptly Returns From Saudi Arabia
Laura Kasinof, New York Times, September 23, 2011
Sana, Yemen - President Ali Abdullah Saleh made a dramatic and sudden return to Yemen on Friday after nearly four months in Saudi Arabia, seeking to reinsert himself into the fight for the future of his slowly fracturing country. His return comes as the capital is mired in bloody clashes among the government and two armed anti-government groups.
In a statement quoted by the state news agency, Mr. Saleh called for a cease-fire and a return to negotiations, saying "the solution is not in the barrels of guns and cannon, but in dialogue." The report said he would deliver a speech on Sunday.
But his return appeared unlikely to immediately quell the fighting, which has left more than 70 people dead since Sunday in fierce street battles, most of them between government forces and soldiers who have sided with anti-government protesters.
As word spread of Mr. Saleh's return, gunfire rang out across the capital - much of it celebratory - and mixed with the thundering of artillery, raising fears that an effort by the president to retake control in the capital would only deepen the current conflict.
Mr. Saleh has not been in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation and a haven for extremists, since he left for Saudi Arabia to seek medical treatment in early June, after an attack on his presidential palace. The blast left him with severe burns over much of his body and killed several guards and a senior official of the governing party.
On Friday, his jubilant supporters rode atop honking minibuses in areas of the capital controlled by the government and shouted "The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh," as thousands more gathered at a rally nearby, waving photographs of the president and flags of his ruling party. Several high-ranking government officials said they were not given any prior warning of his return.
Two miles away, protesters at the antigovernment sit-in expressed shock and a belief that his presence would touch off new fighting. Thousands pumped their fists and chanted "The people want to prosecute the killer" at one end of the sprawling protest before Friday prayers, while at the other end, rebel soldiers in ramshackle bunkers clashed with government forces.
"We want him tried like Hosni Mubarak," said Shaif al-Jabri, a tribesmen from northern Yemen, in reference to the ousted Egyptian leader currently being prosecuted in Cairo.
Obama administration officials appeared surprised by Mr. Saleh's return, though they acknowledged the possibility had existed for weeks following his recovery. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met in New York with ministers from the Persian Gulf states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council only hours after his arrival in Yemen. The council had brokered the basic plan for the political transition that would lead to Mr. Saleh's departure from power, and Mrs. Clinton's spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, reiterated American support for the plan.
"Whether President Saleh is in or out off the country, he can make that happen by signing this accord, stepping down from power and allowing his country to move forward," Ms. Nuland said.
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