JFP 11/11: Omar's Taliban "Distanced" from Al Qaeda
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November 11, 2009
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1) Although Obama has said the US must remain in Afghanistan because a Taliban victory would mean a proliferation of al-Qaeda fighters, Mohammad Omar's Taliban faction seems to have distanced itself from al-Qaeda in recent months, the Washington Post reports. The shift appears to reflect Omar's growing confidence that his group can operate on its own, without al-Qaeda as its patron. The messages from the leadership of Omar's Taliban faction since the spring amount to something of a "revolution," said a political analyst who was a Foreign Ministry official under the Taliban government. "Al-Qaeda's path is now different from the Taliban's path, and they are growing more separated."
2) President Obama and his war council plan are reviewing four options for Afghanistan that could increase the number of U.S. troops there by as many as 40,000 or fewer than 10,000, the Los Angeles Times reports. The White House insisted Tuesday that Obama has not decided how many additional troops to send.
3) The big story in Kabul is the emergence of coordinated American and Afghan efforts to bring Taliban leaders and fighters in from the cold, writes Trudy Rubin in the Philadelphia Inquirer. When Afghan President Karzai is inaugurated next week, he will call for peace and reconciliation with Afghan insurgents. Popular pressure for such efforts is strong. U.S. officials are now open to efforts by the Karzai government to explore whether top Taliban leaders may be ready to give up fighting, although the US is still insisting that reconciliation demands acceptance of the Afghan constitution. A U.S. official insisted that the U.S. war with the Taliban was over as soon as the Taliban break with al-Qaeda, regardless of what political objectives the Taliban have. But Top U.S. military commanders believe senior Taliban commanders aren't likely to compromise until the momentum shifts on the ground. [It's hard to reconcile this with the Post story. According to the Post, Mullah Omar's faction is breaking with al-Qaeda because they are stronger. According to the Rubin piece, the only dispute with the Taliban is the link to al-Qaeda, and yet US commanders oppose talks with Taliban leaders until the Taliban leaders are weaker. Both of these stories cannot be correct - JFP.]
4) U.S. Labor Against the War is focusing on the war in Afghanistan at its December conference, Labor Notes reports. USLAW leaders have sent out sample union resolutions in advance of the December meeting, asking affiliates to raise and debate the question in their own meetings. One such resolution, from a big New York Teachers (AFT) local, United University Professions, says, "The $65 billion to be spent in Afghanistan this year, and the hundreds of billions of dollars required in coming years for counterinsurgency there, are desperately needed for urgent domestic social purposes."
[The call for the Assembly is here: http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/article.php?id=20274 - JFP]
5) Former officials say top executives at Blackwater authorized payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials to silence their criticism after Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, the New York Times reports. If Blackwater followed through on the scheme, the company or its officials could face charges of obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribes to foreign officials.
6) UNICEF says 200 million children in poor countries have stunted growth because they don't get enough to eat, AP reports. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that countries like Brazil, Nigeria and Vietnam that have invested in their small farmers and rural poor are bucking the hunger trend.
7) Under fire from allies in Latin America and on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration moved to try to salvage the US-brokered agreement that had been billed as paving the way for a peaceful end to the coup in Honduras, the New York Times reports. The US, breaking with its allies in Latin America, had announced it would recognize the results of the coming presidential election, even if Zelaya were not reinstated. A spokesman for Senator Kerry said the senator believed that the State Department's "abrupt change" of policy toward Honduras "caused the collapse of an accord it helped negotiate." OAS Secretary General Insulza, said he would not send observers to monitor the presidential election. Many of the organization's members said they would not recognize the election winner unless Zelaya was reinstated to complete his term. "Paraguay is not only not going to accept the outcome of the elections, it will not even accept that the elections are held," said Paraguay's ambassador to the O.A.S. "These elections for us simply will not exist."
8) Palestinian President Abbas reiterated his stance that there would be no return to negotiations with Israel in the absence of complete settlement freeze, the New York Times reports. Abbas called on Hamas to join forces in the Palestinian national endeavor and to accept an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal with Fatah.
9) A new vehicle crossing between Israel and Jenin will permit hundreds of Israeli Arabs to drive into the West Bank to buy food and appliances, visit a dentist and generally spend their money, the New York Times reports. The change is expected to produce a lift for the Jenin economy. Jenin is making progress on several fronts, the Times says. There is a movie theater going up, the city's first in two decades.
10) Supporters of a new Argentine media law say it will limit monopolies and maintain a diversity of news outlets regardless of wealth, and slammed the press owners' Inter American Press Association for criticizing it, AP reports. Argentina's law preserves two-thirds of the digital spectrum for noncommercial radio. Unless legal challenges succeed, Grupo Clarin - a frequent government critic and one of Latin America's largest newspaper and cable TV companies - will be forced to sell many of its properties within a year.
1) In Afghanistan, Taliban Surpasses Al-Qaeda
Shifting power dynamic could influence where U.S. focuses firepower
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Kabul - As violence rises in Afghanistan, the power balance between insurgent groups has shifted, with a weakened al-Qaeda relying increasingly on the emboldened Taliban for protection and the manpower to carry out deadly attacks, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.
The ascendancy of the Taliban and the relative decline of al-Qaeda have broad implications for the Obama administration as it seeks to define its enemy in Afghanistan and debates deploying tens of thousands of additional troops.
Although the war in Afghanistan began as a response to al-Qaeda terrorism, there are perhaps fewer than 100 members of the group left in the country, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence official in Kabul who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official estimated that there are 300 al-Qaeda members in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where the group is based, compared with tens of thousands of Taliban insurgents on either side of the border.
Yet officials and observers here differ over whether the inversion of the groups' traditional power dynamic has led to better or worse relations. Indeed, it may be bringing al-Qaeda closer to certain Taliban factions - most notably, forces loyal to former Taliban cabinet minister Jalaluddin Haqqani - and driving it apart from others, including leader Mohammad Omar's Pakistan-based group. The shifting alliances, analysts say, could have significant bearing on where the U.S. military chooses to focus its firepower.
Although President Obama has said the United States must remain in Afghanistan because a Taliban victory here would mean a rapid proliferation of al-Qaeda fighters as they return to their pre-2001 sanctuary, Omar's faction seems to have distanced itself from al-Qaeda in recent months.
The shift appears to reflect Omar's growing confidence that his group can operate on its own, without al-Qaeda as its patron. "The Taliban have got the expertise, they have got the resources, they have got the momentum," said Richard Barrett, coordinator of the U.N. Taliban and al-Qaeda Monitoring Team.
This year, Omar's military committee published a rule book for followers, calling on them to protect the population and avoid civilian casualties - much like U.S. counterinsurgency principles. He has railed against the corruption of President Hamid Karzai's government, an issue that resonates with Afghans. He has also solicited support from other Muslim countries. But al-Qaeda's agenda of global holy war and taste for mass-casualty attacks, no matter how many Muslim civilians are killed, complicate that goal.
In a February interview with al-Samoud magazine, Taliban political committee leader Agha Jan Mutassim praised the Saudi Arabian government, called for Muslim unity and said the Taliban "respects all different Islamic schools and branches without any discrimination" in Afghanistan.
Such positions may put Omar's Taliban at odds with al-Qaeda's extremist Sunni agenda of overthrowing what it sees as corrupt Muslim governments and targeting Shiites. Analysts said that Omar, who leads a council of Taliban commanders based in or around the Pakistani city of Quetta, wants such countries as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government if it regains power and that he has little interest in fomenting war elsewhere.
"We assure all countries that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as a responsible force, will not extend its hand to cause jeopardy to others," Omar said in a written statement in September.
The messages from the Taliban leadership since the spring amount to something of a "revolution," said Wahid Mujda, a political analyst who was a Foreign Ministry official under the Taliban government. "Al-Qaeda's path is now different from the Taliban's path, and they are growing more separated."
Although that may be true of Omar's faction, observers here say that other segments of the Taliban have become more closely entwined with al-Qaeda than ever. The Haqqani-led faction, which is blamed for many of the deadliest attacks on U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan, works so closely with al-Qaeda that distinctions between the groups may be irrelevant, officials said.
As the world's premier terrorist brand, al-Qaeda "still has an iconic value, an emulation value," a senior U.S. military official said.
And yet, Omar's Taliban, at least, may not want to repeat recent history, when his group's loyalty to al-Qaeda spoiled the Taliban's opportunity to defeat rival Afghan factions and rule the entire country. "If you debrief senior Taliban guys, they'll tell you that al-Qaeda stole the victory, because they were going to win prior to the World Trade Center attacks," the U.S. military intelligence official said. "The more they connect themselves to al-Qaeda, the less the population's going to welcome them back."
2) Obama, war council to review Afghanistan troop options
The four options being considered would retain elements of a counterinsurgency strategy, officials say. The White House reiterates that the president has not reached a decision.
Christi Parsons and Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2009
Washington - President Obama and his war council plan today to review four basic strategy options for Afghanistan that could increase the number of U.S. troops there by as many as 40,000 or fewer than 10,000.
The White House insisted Tuesday that Obama has not decided how many additional troops to send or how he will deploy them, though the White House has narrowed the options to those outlined by his national security team, the Pentagon and Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan.
All four options would retain some elements of a counterinsurgency strategy, current and former officials said.
The administration is still considering McChrystal's primary recommendation for a reported 40,000 additional troops.
A separate plan calls for sending 34,000 additional troops, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Such a plan remains close enough to McChrystal's primary request that it would allow him to conduct almost all of the operations he is contemplating, military officers and advisors said. International troops then could help make up the difference in the number sought by the Pentagon.
The White House is considering a third option that McChrystal originally labeled a high-risk plan, which would continue his counterinsurgency strategy but send fewer than 20,000 additional troops.
A fourth plan under consideration draws on the ideas pushed by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), which would minimize protection of the population but emphasize the use of strategies such as drone strikes or special forces operations. Kerry has not specified troop levels for such a strategy, but experts said the plan probably would require an increase of two or three brigades. A brigade typically is 3,500 to 5,000 troops.
The troop increases now under consideration would not constitute what the administration considers a full-scale counterinsurgency program. The plans on the table would not represent a significant increase of U.S. troops before next year.
"None of the options is a full counterinsurgency strategy, which would entail hundreds of thousands of troops," said one senior administration official, who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussion. "So anything being considered has elements of both counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism."
3) Kabul, Taliban Are Talking
Karzai's government is reaching out to the insurgents - with U.S. support.
Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wed, Nov. 11, 2009
Kabul - The big story here, underreported so far, is the emergence of coordinated American and Afghan efforts to bring Taliban leaders and fighters in from the cold.
When Afghan President Hamid Karzai is inaugurated again next week, he will call for peace and reconciliation with Afghan insurgents. Popular pressure for such efforts is strong, as I have heard in many conversations with Afghan elders and local officials.
Past efforts at reconciliation have been a dismal failure. But a broad consensus has emerged that the Afghan insurgency can't be quelled by military means alone. So U.S. and Afghan officials are looking to develop more effective programs to reintegrate low- and mid-level Taliban into society. And U.S. officials are now open to efforts by the Karzai government to explore whether top Taliban leaders may be ready to give up fighting and live by constitutional rules.
"We haven't changed the policy," one U.S. official told me, "but we have changed the emphasis in an important way. Now we are actively encouraging an Afghan-led process for reintegration of Taliban, or any insurgents willing to lay down their arms" and respect the Afghan constitution.
When it comes to contacts between Afghan officials and top Taliban leaders, this official made clear that the most pressing American concern was whether such leaders are willing to break convincingly with al-Qaeda.
"We believe our strategic problem with the Taliban begins and ends with their support for al-Qaeda and their aggression against the United States and our allies," he said. "If the Taliban made clear that they have broken with al-Qaeda and that their own objectives were nonviolent and political - however abhorrent to us - we wouldn't be keeping 68,000-plus troops here. We'd certainly continue to support Afghans who are leading the way for human rights and democratic reforms, but we'd do so mainly through traditional means of diplomacy and development assistance."
The Americans want the Afghan government to take the lead in dealing with lower-level Taliban and, most definitely, in contacting Taliban leaders. Karzai's adviser on reintegration, Mohammed Masoom Stanikzai, told me that by December he hopes to put together a comprehensive plan that would offer protection and economic aid to Taliban who switch sides.
As for starting talks with the big Taliban, that will be much more dicey. With rare exceptions, U.S. diplomats in Kabul don't even meet with former officials from the 1990s Taliban government who switched sides years ago and live in Kabul. One part-time adviser to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Barnett Rubin, pursues the issue of reconciliation while wearing his other hat, as an Afghanistan expert at New York University.
I sensed no urgency on the American side to see dialogue with the big Taliban in the near term. Top U.S. military commanders believe senior Taliban commanders aren't likely to compromise until the momentum shifts on the ground.
4) Labor Antiwar Group Refocuses on Afghanistan
Jane Slaughter, Labor Notes, October 29, 2009
U.S. Labor Against the War is preparing for its third national assembly in December as the original motivation for its founding - the Iraq war - is winding down to a more limited but permanent presence. No worries that the nearly seven-year-old USLAW coalition has outlived its usefulness, though: delegates to the Chicago meeting will debate the Afghanistan war.
Thus far few unions have taken positions on the increasingly unpopular U.S. presence there, even those that have historically been leaders within labor on questions of war and peace.
An example is SEIU1199, United Healthcare Workers East, which in 2003 sent 25 busloads of members to Washington to try to forestall the invasion of Iraq. Vice President Steve Kramer says war has not been on 1199's front burner recently. "We're not focused on world issues to the extent we'd like to be," Kramer said, citing concessions demands, a slew of contract reopeners, and the health care reform fight.
Besides preoccupation with day-to-day survival, some union leaders may be hesitant to criticize the U.S. presence in Afghanistan for other reasons. Kathy Black of AFSCME District Council 47 in Philadelphia says, "Nobody knows squat about Afghanistan, which is why USLAW has slide shows and fact sheets." Black, a USLAW co-convenor, sees a change in attitude since President Obama was elected.
"It's been really simple as long as Bush was president to get a lot of these unions to oppose the obscene level of spending in Iraq," Black said. "But anything that will smack of opposing Obama's policies or saying he's not withdrawing from Iraq fast enough - they have other fish to fry."
Kramer noted also the general lack of anti-war protests in the country.
Black sees a "hesitancy to do anything to discredit the administration" during the fight to get health care and labor law reform. "If we get sold out on those things," she says, "it'll be easier to get people to sign on [to an anti-war position]."
USLAW leaders have sent out sample union resolutions in advance of the December meeting, asking affiliates to raise and debate the question in their own meetings.
One such resolution, from a big New York Teachers (AFT) local, United University Professions, says, "The $65 billion to be spent in Afghanistan this year, and the hundreds of billions of dollars required in coming years for counterinsurgency there, are desperately needed for urgent domestic social purposes."
A USLAW slide show is chock full of eye-opening statistics that affiliates are encouraged to share with members: The money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan could have paid for a year's worth of health care for 140 million people - almost every working person in the U.S. The wars have cost each U.S. family $12,750 so far.
John Braxton is co-president of the wall-to-wall Faculty and Staff Federation at the Community College of Philadelphia, AFT Local 2026, an affiliate of USLAW. He says that when some members opposed the local's taking a stand against the impending Iraq war in late 2002, leaders took a membership poll. They found 60 percent supported the local's position.
Afghanistan is trickier, Braxton believes. USLAW was formed after many official union bodies had begun to oppose the war, he notes, and was created to pull those unions together and expand their reach within labor.
But now, Braxton says, most locals don't have any position at all. "We won't be a very effective organization if it's just the activists saying we're against this war," he said.
Given the enormous cost of war and the huge cutbacks this year in government spending on education, health care, and other public goods, it's natural that some unions are educating members and the public on the trade-offs.
SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, for example, trains staffers on how to engage members on the "guns or butter" question, stressing that this is a union issue and shouldn't be shied away from.
Mike Zweig of United University Professions, which represents faculty and professional staff at the State University of New York, says his delegate assembly passed an anti-Afghan war resolution this month by a big majority.
The SUNY system just made a mid-year budget cut of $90 million, Zweig said, and "people are just disgusted with this war, they want the money. Nobody said a word about 'let's cool it till after we get health care reform.'"
5) Blackwater Prepared Bribes After 2007 Nisoor Massacre
Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, New York Times, November 11, 2009
Washington - Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.
Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company's employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater's ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater's president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.
Blackwater's strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegal under American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the former executives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company's vice chairman and a former top C.I.A. and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials.
Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon after returning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company's chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.
Separately, a federal grand jury in North Carolina, where the company has its headquarters, has been conducting a lengthy investigation into it. One of the former executives said that he had told federal prosecutors there about the plan to pay Iraqi officials to drop their inquiries into the Nisour Square case. If Blackwater followed through, the company or its officials could face charges of obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribes to foreign officials.
6) UN says hunger stunts some 200 million children
Ariel David and Maria Cheng, Associated Press, November 11, 2009 1:05 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/11/AR2009111113971.html
Rome - Nearly 200 million children in poor countries have stunted growth because they don't get enough to eat, according to a new report published by UNICEF Wednesday before a three-day international summit on the problem of world hunger.
The U.N. Children's Fund published a report saying that nearly 200 million children under five in poor countries have stunted growth because they don't get enough to eat.
More than 90 percent of those children live in Africa and Asia, and more than a third of all deaths in that age group are linked to undernutrition, according to UNICEF.
While progress has been made in Asia - rates of stunted growth dropped from 44 percent in 1990 to 30 percent last year - there has been little success in Africa. There, the rate of stunted growth was about 38 percent in 1990. Last year, the rate was about 34 percent.
South Asia is a particular hotspot for the problem, with just Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan accounting for 83 million hungry children under five.
The U.N. children's agency called for more strategies like vitamin A supplementation and breast-feeding to be rolled out more widely. That could cut the death rate in kids by up to 15 percent, UNICEF said.
The Rome-based FAO announced earlier this year that hunger now affects a record 1.02 billion globally, or one in six people, with the financial meltdown, high food prices, drought and war blamed.
The agency hopes its World Summit on Food Security, with Pope Benedict XVI and some 60 heads of state so far expected to attend, will endorse a new strategy to combat hunger, focusing on increased investment in agricultural development for poor countries.
The long-term increase in the number of hungry is largely tied to reduced aid and private investments earmarked for agriculture since the mid-1980s, according to FAO.
Countries like Brazil, Nigeria and Vietnam that have invested in their small farmers and rural poor are bucking the hunger trend, FAO chief Diouf told the news conference.
They are among 31 countries that have reached or are on track to meet the goal set by world leaders nine years ago to cut the number of hungry people in half by 2015, he said.
7) U.S. Tries to Salvage Honduras Accord
Ginger Thompson, New York Times, November 11, 2009
Washington - Under fire from allies in Latin America and on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration moved Tuesday to try to salvage the American-brokered agreement that had been billed as paving the way for a peaceful end to the coup in Honduras. Instead, the accord seems to have provided the country's de facto government with a way to stay in power until a presidential election scheduled for the end of this month.
The State Department sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly to Honduras on Tuesday for meetings with Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted from power as president more than four months ago, and with the head of the de facto government, Roberto Micheletti.
Senior administration officials said Mr. Kelly would try to get both men to abide by the terms of an Oct. 30 agreement that called on them to form a coalition government to run the country while the Honduran Congress prepares for a vote on whether to return Mr. Zelaya to power.
The deal began to unravel last week when the Congress announced it would postpone a vote on Mr. Zelaya's return to power until after the election. In protest, Mr. Zelaya then refused to submit names for the coalition government. And the United States, breaking with its allies in Latin America, announced it would recognize the results of the coming presidential election, even if Mr. Zelaya were not reinstated.
While the announcement was celebrated by Republicans as a "reversal" of the administration's policy, it ignited a storm of criticism from Mr. Obama's allies at home and across Latin America.
Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, telephoned Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg to express his concerns about the administration's handling of Honduran crisis.
An aide to the congressman said, "It was not a feel-good phone call."
Frederick Jones, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the senator believed that the State Department's "abrupt change" of policy toward Honduras "caused the collapse of an accord it helped negotiate."
On Tuesday, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, said that he would not send observers to monitor the presidential election, scheduled for Nov. 29. And many of the organization's 34 members said they would not recognize the election winner unless Mr. Zelaya was reinstated to complete his term.
"Paraguay is not only not going to accept the outcome of the elections, it will not even accept that the elections are held," said Hugo Saguier Caballero, Paraguay's ambassador to the O.A.S. "These elections for us simply will not exist."
8) At Arafat Memorial, Abbas Lays Out Continuing Struggle
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, November 12, 2009
Ramallah, West Bank - Thousands of Palestinians turned out on Wednesday for a rally here on the fifth anniversary of the death of the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and to show support for his successor, President Mahmoud Abbas, who recently expressed an intention to retire.
The question mark hovering over his political future is roiling Palestinian politics and places yet another block before any new peace talks. But Mr. Abbas, 74, spoke of a starting a new political battle and of perseverance in the pursuit of an independent Palestinian state.
He said that "on this occasion," he did not want to talk about his "wish not to run in the upcoming elections." Instead, in a 45-minute address to supporters of his Fatah movement, he focused on the tough challenges ahead and called for reconciliation with Hamas, the opposing Palestinian faction.
He said it was time for the Palestinians to reach their goal of an independent state, adding that "desperation will never reach into our hearts."
He reiterated his stance that there would be no return to negotiations with Israel in the absence of complete settlement freeze. And he called on Hamas to join forces in the Palestinian national endeavor and to accept an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal with Fatah.
9) Blair Hails Economic Steps in West Bank
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, November 11, 2009
Ramallah, West Bank - Palestinians marked two significant economic breakthroughs on Tuesday, counterpoints to the growing crisis in peace negotiations with Israel: a second cellphone company opened, with a planned investment of hundreds of millions of dollars; and a long-closed crossing point from Israel opened to limited motor traffic.
Both the cellphone company and the crossing required the Israeli occupation authorities here to yield on security issues and both took considerably longer than expected. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to office last spring vowing to create the conditions for West Bank economic improvement, and Mr. Blair said Tuesday that the growth had been significant, probably in double digits.
Nonetheless, Palestinians say that they fear Mr. Netanyahu wants only economic growth, without a clear path to an independent state. They fear that prosperity would serve as a substitute for sovereignty.
The new vehicle crossing between Israel and Jenin, the site of a grinding Israeli offensive in 2002, was opened by a ceremony at which Palestinian and Israeli officials complained about each other's peace policies.
The crossing will permit hundreds of Israeli Arabs to drive into the West Bank to buy food and appliances, visit a dentist and generally spend their money. The change is expected to produce a real lift for the Jenin economy. For now, Israeli Jews will not be permitted.
The Israelis had long resisted allowing Israeli-owned cars to make the trip, for fear that they would be rigged with explosives before the return trip and pose other security concerns. Mr. Blair called the process of getting permission for the opening "agonizingly slow."
Another successful endeavor of the past 18 months has been the growth of Palestinian security forces, trained with American and European money and guidance. This has allowed Israel to take more risks than it would have two years ago.
Jenin, until a year or two ago a symbol of chaos, is making clear progress on several fronts. Its main streets were bustling on Tuesday. A new courthouse built with Japanese donations handles several hundred cases a week, disputes that were simply ignored or postponed before. There is also a movie theater going up, the city's first in two decades.
10) Pro-government group defends Argentina media law
Vanessa Hand Orellana, AP, November 10, 2009
Buenos Aires, Argentina - Argentine journalists, academics and ruling party lawmakers met Monday to challenge the conclusions of an international media group that Latin American leaders are exerting too much control over the press.
Supporters of a controversial new Argentine media law say it will limit monopolies and maintain a diversity of news outlets regardless of wealth. Critics at the annual meeting of the Inter American Press Association in Buenos Aires say it threatens freedom of expression.
"The best response to this chorus of dinosaurs is to push forth our democratic mechanisms," said Luis Lazzaro of the Federal Counsel of Audiovisuals Communication, a state-sponsored organization that regulates local radio and television stations.
Argentina's law, passed last month, preserves two-thirds of the digital spectrum for noncommercial radio and TV stations and gives political appointees a powerful role in granting licenses and regulating content.
Unless legal challenges succeed, Grupo Clarin - a frequent government critic and one of Latin America's largest newspaper and cable TV companies - will be forced to sell many of its properties within a year.
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