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JFP 1/17: Tunisia puts focus on West-Arab security ties
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 17 January 2011 - 7:08pm
Just Foreign Policy News
January 17, 2011
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Center for Economic and Policy Research: Analysis of the OAS Mission's Draft Final Report on Haiti's Election
CEPR finds that the OAS Mission did not establish any legal, statistical, or other logical basis for its conclusion that candidate Michel Martelly finished second and Jude Celestin third.
Center for Constitutional Rights: Support the Call for Fair Elections in Haiti
Ask the State Department to support fair elections in Haiti. 3076 have signed the petition.
Tunisian Protests Move Hillary's Line on Democratic Reform
As Hillary Clinton was delivering a "scalding critique" on the need for reform to Arab leaders, the New York Times noted that protests demanding that the President of Tunisia resign "echoed loudly in the background." Could Clinton's remarks mean a shift in U.S. policy? "Revolution by the Have-Nots has a way of inducing a moral revelation among the Haves," Saul Alinsky said, as Secretary Clinton may have noted when she was researching her senior thesis on Alinsky.
Amnesty, HRW, IJDH: Haiti Should Arrest, Prosecute Duvalier
Amnesty- Jean-Claude Duvalier must face justice for Haiti rights violations
HRW-Haiti: Prosecute Duvalier
IJDH-Human Rights Groups Call for Immediate Arrest of Jean-Claude Duvalier
Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman: Five Myths About Military Spending
Their list of myths includes: military spending is dictated by the threats we face; a larger military budget makes us safer; Republicans can't cut military spending; Gates' cuts are enough.
1) The wisdom of Western counter-terrorism links to Arab leaders with poor human rights records is under fresh scrutiny after the ousting in Tunisia of a president who portrayed himself as a bulwark against al Qaeda, Reuters reports. "We have to get this idiotic analysis out of our minds, that its 'either repression or al Qaeda'," said Francis Ghiles, Senior Research Fellow at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs. "Western security discourse is like a broken record and we have to transcend it. Brutality and cruelty by Arab leaders are a huge moral liability for the West," said Larbi Sadiki, Senior Lecturer in Middle East politics at Exeter University.
2) Tunisia's prime minister announced a national unity government on Monday, NPR reports. The EU said Monday it stands ready to help Tunisia become a democracy and will offer economic aid. A spokeswoman said the EU is willing to "prepare and organize the electoral process" in Tunisia. French Finance Minister Lagarde told French radio Paris is keeping a close watch on the assets of Tunisians in French banks. [Oddly, no word in this NPR story on whether US authorities intend to keep a "close watch" on the assets of Tunisians in US banks - JFP.]
3) Secretary of State Clinton on Sunday urged Tunisia's new leadership to adopt broad economic and political reforms, AP reports. In a phone call to Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamal Merjan, Clinton called for the government to address the underlying causes of the popular discontent that fueled the uprising, such as unemployment and poverty. "She also underscored the importance of addressing popular concerns about the lack of civil liberties and economic opportunities, and the need to move forward with credible democratic elections," the State Department said.
4) The political paralysis created by the bungled and inconclusive presidential election in Haiti has virtually halted business investment and reconstruction aid from rich countries, the Washington Post reports. The return Sunday night of former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier further roils an already tense situation in Haiti, the Post says. Four years ago, Haitian President Preval said Duvalier would face charges and trial if he came back.
5) The Obama administration announced the broadest liberalization of travel to Cuba in a decade, making it easier for US students and religious and cultural groups to visit the island, the Washington Post reports. It still will not be legal for ordinary US tourists to vacation in Cuba. But the measures will expand the categories of who is authorized to travel, which are currently restricted to Cuban Americans and a limited number of others. They also will allow U.S. citizens to send up to $2,000 a year to help Cubans support religious institutions or run small businesses. The rules are similar to ones put in place during the Clinton administration, but rolled back under Bush. Sen. Kerry has been pressing for the rules to be issued, noting that Cuba has been allowing more economic freedom.
The new regulations allow authorized religious institutions and universities to issue permits for their members to travel to Cuba. Other cultural and educational groups will be able to seek licenses for such trips. The measures will also allow more U.S. airports to run charter flights to Cuba. [Under Clinton, the interpretation of "educational" was broad, and included attending conferences in Cuba, including for people not affiliated with academic institutions - JFP.]
6) In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times takes the Obama Administration to task for appearing to hedge on its deadlines for troop reductions and withdrawal from Afghanistan. The LAT calls for a significant withdrawal this year and an unambiguous completion of the mission in 2014. "Biden was right the first time," the LAT says.
7) The US now has an ambassador in Syria for the first time in five years, AP reports. The nomination of Robert Ford, a former ambassador to Algeria, to the post in February. The nomination stalled after Ford's confirmation hearings, but Obama bypassed the Senate in December and directly appointed Ford. A number of senators objected because they said sending an ambassador to Syria would reward it for bad behavior.
8) Israel is to approve 1,400 new settler homes in east Jerusalem, defying pressure to halt settlement building that has stalled peace talks, AFP reports. "We strongly condemn this Israeli escalation and continued decisions in the area of settlements and the imposition of new facts on the ground," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. Yariv Oppenheimer, secretary general of Peace Now, said he was "deeply concerned" by the planned project and that it would "damage the chances of reaching an agreement on the Jerusalem issue."
9) A protracted fuel blockade by Iran sparked protests in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. Afghan demonstrators in the western border city of Herat threw eggs and stones at the Iranian consulate. Iranian officials said they were stopping the fuel transports because the government suspects the product ends up with NATO forces in Afghanistan. NATO officials have denied the fuel was being sold to U.S. and NATO troops.
10) The Afghan government is ramping up efforts to tax U.S. contractors, the Washington Post reports. A contracting executive said there was "tension in the embassy" between those officials who work on helping the Afghan government collect more revenue so it can pay its own way, and those "responsible for working on behalf of U.S. business." The executive pointed out that "The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are putting heat on the government to create a tax base. Some of the biggest cash flow into the country is Western aid."
11) Guyana became Thursday the seventh Latin American state to recognize an independent Palestinian state since Dec. 3, Inter Press Service reports. Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and now Guyana, have all offered such recognition. Paraguay and Peru are expected to do so soon. Venezuela had already recognized Palestine in the mid-2000s. The PA is circulating a draft resolution to the members of the UN Security Council stating that Israeli settlements activities are illegal and are the main obstacle to a two- state solution. In contrast to past similar resolutions, this draft uses moderate wording. Israeli officials worry that it will be more difficult for the U.S. to veto such a resolution.
12) Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, broke away from the Labor Party to escape pressure from within the Labor Party to quit the government coalition over lack of progress on peace, the New York Times reports. Eight Labor dissidents will become part of the opposition. Netanyahu's majority in the 120-member Parliament will drop from 74 to 66 members. But without the threat of Labor's departure, the government is now considered to be more stable than before.
13) The dominant view in Cairo is that the military-backed regime of President Mubarak is far more formidable than the regime of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Inter Press Service reports. But this view is widely disputed especially among human rights activists, bloggers, Islamists, some university professors and independent journalists, who say that Egypt is flirting with revolt.
1) Tunisia puts focus on West-Arab security ties
William Maclean, Reuters, Sun, Jan 16 2011
London - The wisdom of Western counter-terrorism links to Arab leaders with poor human rights records is under fresh scrutiny after the ousting in Tunisia of a president who portrayed himself as a bulwark against al Qaeda.
Democracy campaigners in the Middle East have long criticized the West for heightening cooperation with Arab security services after the Sept 11. 2001 attacks, saying the implicit price exacted by Arab rulers was muted Western criticism of often venal and brutal rule.
The West's perceived willingness to compromise democratic values for the sake of intelligence on Islamist militants has fueled a resentment in the Arab world that is exploited by opposition groups as well as al Qaeda, analysts say.
Civil society groups say that governments friendly toward the United States and Western European nations are some of the most dogged opponents of democracy, repressing peaceful Islamist groups which seek power through democratic elections.
Arab leaders have learned that the price for ignoring Western lectures on human rights has been slight.
Francis Ghiles, Senior Research Fellow at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs, told Reuters that while no one expected an early or dramatic change in Western security policy, new thinking was urgently needed.
"We have to get this idiotic analysis out of our minds, that its 'either repression or al Qaeda'," he said. "The mantra of the battle against Islamist terrorism has meant that, even more than we used to, we have closed our eyes in the last 10 years to what these rulers are up to."
A stable transition to representative rule in Tunisia following the removal of Zine al Abidine Ben Ali could act as a "laboratory" for Arab political renewal, Ghiles said, offering a powerful example of change that might eventually prompt the West to be more assertive about promoting human rights.
In the end, it was not the armed militants of al Qaeda or peaceful political Islamists who ended Ben Ali's rule, but ordinary people protesting against poverty and despotism.
To expect these facts about Tunisia's revolt to inspire any early change in Western security policy toward the region "is wishful thinking," said Larbi Sadiki, Senior Lecturer in Middle East politics at Exeter University, but it was important to recognize there were risks in the status quo. "Western security discourse is like a broken record and we have to transcend it. Brutality and cruelty by Arab leaders are a huge moral liability for the West," he said.
Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history at University of Michigan, said Tunisia was a reminder that "acquiescence in, and even support of, tyranny, torture, etc., can badly backfire, as happened in (revolutionary) Iran in 1978-79."
A speech by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar on January 13 pressing for better government in the region has been seen by some analysts as evidence that a rebalancing of U.S. priorities in the region was on the cards. Clinton said states across the Middle East needed to shake up corrupt institutions and reinvigorate stagnant political systems or risk losing the future to Islamic militants.
2) Tunisia Forms New Government Amid Protests
NPR, January 17, 2011
Tunisia's prime minister announced a national unity government on Monday, hoping to quell simmering unrest following the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali amid huge street protests.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a longtime ally of Ben Ali, and several top ministers retained their posts in the shake-up - and at least one top opposition leader was expected to join the government.
The European Union said Monday it stands ready to help Tunisia become a democracy and will offer economic aid. EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the 27-nation bloc is willing to "prepare and organize the electoral process" in Tunisia.
Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of France - a former colonial overseer of Tunisia - told French radio that Paris is keeping a close watch on the assets of Tunisians in French banks.
3) Clinton urges reforms by new Tunisian govt
Associated Press, Monday, January 17, 2011; 7:15 AM
Washington - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday urged Tunisia's new leadership to restore order and adopt broad economic and political reforms in the wake of the popular revolt that overthrew the North African nation's authoritarian president.
In a phone call to Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamal Merjan, Clinton offered U.S. support for Tunisia as it transitions from the autocratic rule of ex-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Clinton called for the government to address the underlying causes of the popular discontent that fueled the uprising, such as unemployment and poverty.
"She urged that the government work to re-establish order in the country in a responsible manner as quickly as possible," the State Department said in a statement released as looting and violence continued to rock Tunisia in the aftermath of Ben Ali's ouster on Friday. "She also underscored the importance of addressing popular concerns about the lack of civil liberties and economic opportunities, and the need to move forward with credible democratic elections."
Clinton said she was encouraged by remarks by Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and interim President Fouad Mebazaa "indicating a willingness to work with Tunisians across the political spectrum and within civil society to build a truly representative government."
A day before Ben Ali fled the country, Clinton delivered a stark warning to Arab leaders that they must open economic and political space to the Mideast's exploding youth population if they wanted to blunt extremism and prevent unrest and rebellion. In a speech in the Qatari capital of Doha on Thursday, Clinton said the foundations of development and progress in the Middle East were "sinking into the sand" and would continue to do so unless reforms were enacted.
4) Duvalier's return adds to Haiti's political turmoil
William Booth, Washington Post, Monday, January 17, 2011; 11:17 AM
Port au Prince - The political paralysis created by the bungled and inconclusive presidential election here has virtually halted business investment and reconstruction aid from rich countries, as ordinary Haitians seethe and international diplomats fear Haiti might spin into another round of chaos and violence.
Haitian leaders and U.S. diplomats were stunned to learn of the return Sunday night of former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who landed at the Port au Prince airport on a flight from his exile in France, where he lived after being ousted in a popular uprising in 1986.
Duvalier has threatened to return to Haiti in the past and expressed his desire to run for president. Four years ago, Haitian President Rene Preval said Duvalier would face charges and trial if he came back.
Duvalier's return further roils an already tense situation in Haiti. The November election tallies, supported with $15 million in U.S. government aid, appear to be worse than thought, with more than 50,000 votes tainted, the run-off vote delayed, the candidates uncertain and the unpopular President Preval, widely criticized for his post-quake performance, insisting he remain in power after his constitutional term ends on Feb. 7. Parliament last year approved an extension of his term until May.
5) Obama administration lifts some Cuba travel, money-sending restrictions
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Friday, January 14, 2011; 10:32 PM
The Obama administration on Friday announced the broadest liberalization of travel to Cuba in a decade, making it easier for American students and religious and cultural groups to visit the Communist-ruled island. It still will not be legal for ordinary American tourists to vacation in Cuba, which has been under a U.S. economic embargo for nearly 50 years.
But the measures will expand the categories of who is authorized to travel, which are currently restricted to Cuban Americans and a limited number of others. They also will allow U.S. citizens to send up to $2,000 a year to help Cubans support religious institutions or run small businesses.
The rules are similar to ones put in place during the Clinton administration, but rolled back under President George W. Bush. The new regulations had been drawn up by Obama administration officials last summer. But, wary of political fallout, they had held off introducing them until after the November elections.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been quietly pressing for the rules to be issued. In a recent letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton obtained by the Post, Kerry wrote "the United States has a choice and an opportunity to be relevant" at a moment when Cuba has allowed more economic freedom.
The new regulations allow authorized religious institutions and universities to issue permits for their members to travel to Cuba. Other cultural and educational groups will be able to seek licenses for such trips. The measures will also allow more U.S. airports to run charter flights to Cuba.
Americans will be permitted to send up to $500 per quarter to Cubans, as long as they are not senior Communist officials.
The regulations do not need congressional approval. President Obama earlier eased restrictions on Cuban Americans' visits and remittances to the island.
6) Stick to the Afghanistan deadline
The Obama administration appears to be hedging on its troop withdrawal timeline. That's a mistake.
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2011
Vice President Joe Biden, contradicting his previous assertion that U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan in 2014 "come hell or high water," said during a visit to Afghanistan last week that the United States might maintain a presence there beyond that date. It's the latest indication that the Obama administration is moving the goalpost for U.S. withdrawal. With a rising American death toll - 499 last year - this continual prolonging of the war is unconscionable.
In 2009, when he announced his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, President Obama said that the withdrawal of U.S. forces would begin in July of this year. But it is increasingly doubtful that the initial withdrawal will be a significant one. The administration's review of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan last month said that the July withdrawal would be "responsible" and "conditions-based." Meanwhile, NATO and the United States, in deference to President Hamid Karzai, have set 2014 as the deadline for turning over all security responsibilities in Afghanistan. Yet even that deadline, as Biden's remarks indicated, is a soft one. The administration's review refers to "NATO's enduring commitment beyond 2014."
The shifting timeline is extremely distressing. When Obama sent the 30,000 additional troops - raising the force level to almost 100,000 - the expectation was that the buildup would produce a meaningful improvement in the effort to rout the Taliban and Al Qaeda and help establish a more stable government in Kabul.
But by the administration's own testimony, achievement of those goals is still in question. The December review concludes that the troop buildup "has reduced overall Taliban influence" but acknowledges that "these gains remain fragile and reversible." (It's equally cautious in claiming success for efforts in Pakistan to dismantle Al Qaeda, warning that defeating the terrorist group "will require the sustained denial of the group's safe haven in the tribal areas of western Pakistan.")
Still, we worry that the administration's more ambitious goals - a credible government in Afghanistan, the permanent defeat of the Taliban - may prove elusive even after three more years of military involvement, let alone a presence beyond that. We hope that isn't the case, but regardless of what happens, the United States and NATO should take their own deadlines seriously. That means a significant withdrawal this year and an unambiguous completion of the mission in 2014. Biden was right the first time.
7) First U.S. Ambassador In 5 Years Arrives In Syria
Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Associated Press, Sunday, January 16, 2011; 11:03 AM
Beirut - The first American ambassador to Syria since 2005 arrived in Damascus on Sunday at a time of regional turmoil and with Syrian-U.S. relations still mired in mutual distrust.
Few expect immediate changes, but having career diplomat Robert Ford in Damascus offers Washington a better glimpse into Syria at a time of rising tensions - particularly in neighboring Lebanon, where the Western-backed government collapsed last week.
"Intelligence sharing is the most promising overlap in U.S.-Syrian relations," said Joshua Landis, an American professor and Syria expert. He noted that like Washington, Syria's secular regime is against al-Qaida and "takfiri" Islamists, referring to an ideology that urges Sunni Muslims to kill anyone they consider an infidel.
President Barack Obama's administration has argued that returning an ambassador to Damascus would help persuade Syria to change its policies regarding Lebanon, Israel and Iraq and end its support for extremist groups. Syria is designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department.
Ford's arrival is a clear sign of Obama's push for engagement. Obama nominated Ford, a former ambassador to Algeria, to the post in February.
The nomination stalled after Ford's confirmation hearings, but Obama bypassed the Senate in December and directly appointed Ford and three other new U.S. ambassadors whose nominations had been stalled or blocked by lawmakers for months. A number of senators objected because they believed sending an ambassador to Syria would reward it for bad behavior.
8) Israel eyes huge east Jerusalem settlement project
AFP, Monday, January 17
Jerusalem - Israel is to approve 1,400 new settler homes in east Jerusalem, media and the local council said on Sunday, defying pressure to halt settlement building that has stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.
The massive construction project will add homes to the annexed east Jerusalem settlement neighbourhood of Gilo and is expected to receive final approval from the district planning commission within days.
The project is likely to spark condemnation from the international community, which has repeatedly called on Israel to avoid new building projects in mainly Arab east Jerusalem.
The project drew immediate criticism from Israeli left-wing politicians and activists, as well as Palestinian condemnation.
"We strongly condemn this Israeli escalation and continued decisions in the area of settlements and the imposition of new facts on the ground," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP. "I think it's the time for the US administration to officially hold the Israeli government responsible for the collapse of the peace process."
Yariv Oppenheimer, the secretary general of Peace Now, an Israeli NGO opposed to settlement building, said he was "deeply concerned" by the planned project. "Not only will it damage the chances of reaching an agreement on the Jerusalem issue, it might also create an international problem for Israel in its legitimacy abroad," he told AFP.
9) Afghan protesters hurl eggs, stones at Iranian consulate over fuel blockade
Pamela Constable, Washington Post, Sunday, January 16, 2011; 9:00 PM
Kabul - A protracted fuel blockade by Iran sparked protests in Afghanistan for the second day in a row Sunday as tensions rose between the Islamic neighbors, who share a long border and a complicated history.
Afghan demonstrators in the western border city of Herat threw eggs and stones at the Iranian consulate, protesting the six-week border blockade of fuel tankers passing through Iran that has caused prices of gasoline and winter heating fuel to rise between 35 and 60 percent across the country.
Afghanistan's commerce minister, Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, said at a news conference in the capital Sunday that the government was "not happy" with Iran, marking the first public criticism of the actions by Afghan officials. He said the Afghan government had not received any plausible explanation for the blockade, which has left up to 2,000 fuel trucks stranded on the border. "Whatever reason they have given is not acceptable to us," Ahady said.
Iranian officials said they were stopping the fuel transports because the government suspects the product ends up with NATO - and perhaps U.S. - forces in Afghanistan. "We have news that fuel transited through Iran is handed over to NATO forces. We are extremely worried about this," Fada Hossein Maleki, Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Jan. 5.
"We will provide fuel for the people, but no one has the right to give it to the military of a country who will use it against the interests of the nations of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.
NATO officials here have repeatedly denied that the fuel was being sold to U.S. and NATO troops fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
10) Afghan Tax Effort Targets U.S. Firms
Karen DeYoung and Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Monday, January 17, 2011 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/16/AR2011011603645.html
The Afghan government is ramping up efforts to tax U.S. contractors operating there - an effort that could raise millions for the cash-strapped government but could also provoke fresh confrontation with the United States, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
Taxation of U.S. government assistance is barred by U.S. law, as well as by a number of bilateral accords between Afghanistan and the United States. But the wording in the documents is vague, and the two governments disagree on what "tax-exempt" means.
Non-Afghan contractors who have recently received tax bills for work done under U.S. government programs say they have appealed to the Defense and State departments to clarify the matter with the Afghans. But they have been told simply to ignore the bills and "stand up for our rights," said one official of an American company that has multiple U.S defense contracts in Afghanistan.
The Afghan government says no clarification is needed. It has started to send out what it says are overdue tax bills and has threatened some U.S. companies with arrests, loss of licenses and confiscation of aid goods.
"I don't need any new plan [to require a] foreign company to pay tax," Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said in a text message in response to questions. "Whatever is not exempted by law and treaties will not be exempted." Afghanistan, he said, is "serious against tax evasion."
The simmering controversy is the latest in a series of run-ins between the Afghan government and the U.S.-led coalition that spends up to $10 billion a year on private contractors in Afghanistan, more than five times the $1.8 billion in total revenue the Afghan government expects to take in by the end of the fiscal year in March.
"Many companies, especially if there are agreements with USAID or ISAF or donors, they are not paying taxes," said Ahmad Shah Zamanzai, director general of revenue for the Finance Ministry. "Companies profit, why don't they pay tax for the profit they make? We don't tax the donation," he said, "we tax the company that is gaining from this donation."
Taxation has rarely, if ever, been a problem with worldwide U.S. foreign assistance programs, and some officials expressed concern that any possible concessions made in Afghanistan would set a precedent for other recipient countries.
In its 2008 State Department appropriation, Congress mandated that no new aid agreement be signed with any country without unambiguous tax exemption language. The law called on the secretary of state to "expeditiously" renegotiate existing agreements to include such provisions.
There is widespread agreement that Afghan subcontractors paid with foreign funds are not exempt from domestic Afghan taxes. The senior Afghan official said that the fact that "many well-connected Afghan contractors [are] paying no tax to the government" was a separate issue. U.S. prime contractors maintain that they regularly withhold income tax - set at 2 percent - from payments to Afghan subs and turn it over to the government.
"DOD and State and the primes are telling them, 'No, you're subs, don't pay taxes,'" the company official said. But "the Afghan government has become so hard to work with on so many fronts that I'm not sure whether this issue is still in the embassy's top-10 list of things."
Another contracting executive said there was "tension in the embassy" between those officials who work on helping the Afghan government collect more revenue so it can pay its own way, and those "responsible for working on behalf of U.S. business."
"We know we're going to have to pay at least $8 billion to $10 billion a year for the next 10 years to keep these guys running," the executive said. "The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are putting heat on the government to create a tax base. Some of the biggest cash flow into the country is Western aid."
Under Afghanistan's new regulations, Zamanzai said, foreign prime and subcontractors will both be eligible for taxation in certain circumstances. The United States is supporting Afghanistan's transformation, he said, and "if you do not have a good tax system, how can you finance your other reforms?"
11) Latin America Deepens Israeli Isolation
Pierre Klochendler, Inter Press Service, Jan 16
Jerusalem - Guyana became Thursday the seventh Latin American state to recognise an independent Palestinian state. Although the official recognitions are largely nominal, they have irked the State of Israel as they expose its growing diplomatic isolation in the face of the current peace deadlock.
It was the announcement in support of Palestinian statehood by Brazil on Dec. 3 that inspired other countries in the continent to follow suit. Since then, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and now Guyana, have all offered such recognition.
Paraguay and Peru are expected to do so soon. Venezuela had already recognised Palestine in the mid-2000s.
Israeli officials fear a 'domino effect'.
Recently, Norway upgraded the Palestinian representative office in Oslo from a 'general delegation' to a 'diplomatic delegation'. And over the past four months, several countries, including none other than the U.S. (followed by other Israeli-friendly states such as France, Spain, and Portugal) upgraded the standing of Palestinian representatives.
Another hundred or so other countries - most of them developing nations - had recognised 'Palestine' after Yasser Arafat unilaterally declared "independence" in 1988.
Other states, mostly from the former Eastern Bloc, recognised Palestinian statehood in the wake of the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
On one hand, more and more states are willing to recognise a future Palestinian state with or without Israel's approval; on the other, Israel faces proportionately increasing diplomatic isolation.
Israeli officials are all too aware that unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood "within the 1967 borders" underscores the increasing unwillingness in the international community to wait until Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace deal.
Since the U.S.-brokered peace efforts faltered over the issue of a three- month extension of a freeze in Israeli settlement construction, the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas has lobbied nations for recognition of Palestinian sovereignty in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
In parallel, in a bid to evaluate the viability of a unilateral declaration of independence, the PA started last month to circulate a draft resolution to the members of the UN Security Council. The Palestinian document states that Israeli settlements activities are illegal and are the main obstacle to a two- state solution.
In contrast to past similar resolutions which were easily thwarted due to their harsh anti-Israeli character, this draft uses moderate wording. Israeli officials worry that it will be more difficult for the U.S. to veto such a resolution.
"I wouldn't be surprised if within one year the whole world supports a Palestinian state, including the U.S.," says Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a senior Labour party minister in the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
12) Barak's Break With Party Shakes Up Israeli Politics
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, January 17, 2011
Jerusalem - Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, broke away Monday from the left-leaning Labor Party he had led and formed a smaller, centrist faction that will stay in the governing coalition under a new name. The surprise move shook up Israeli politics but was expected to have little impact on its policies.
Mr. Barak told a news conference that Labor had drifted too far from the mainstream and that he was tired of the pressure to withdraw from the government over the lack of progress on peace. Mr. Barak and four like-minded Labor parliamentarians will remain alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the hawkish Likud party; the remaining eight Labor dissidents will become part of the opposition.
With those departures, Mr. Netanyahu's majority in the 120-member Parliament will drop from 74 to 66 members. But without the threat of Labor's departure, the government is now considered to be more stable than before, not less. Mr. Barak informed Mr. Netanyahu in advance of his planned break with Labor, and he was assured he would remain chief of the Defense Ministry.
Within Labor, there had been talk for months of leaving the coalition because of its lack of progress with the Palestinians. Hostility toward Mr. Barak within the party ranks was palpable, and efforts to oust him had been widely aired.
Isaac Herzog, who resigned on Monday as welfare minister, and Avishai Braverman, who quit as minority affairs minister, will vie for leadership of the newly consolidated and more frankly left-wing Labor Party.
"The Labor Party, which founded the State of Israel, got rid of the hump on its back," Mr. Herzog told a news conference. "Ehud Barak's masked ball is over." He added, "I am confident today more than ever that the Labor Party has again become a political home for those who felt betrayed by it."
The inclusion of Labor in the otherwise right-wing Netanyahu government had provided it with something of a buffer internationally. Mr. Barak has been a frequent visitor to Washington in the 22 months of the government's existence. A decorated and cerebral former general, Mr. Barak is also a former prime minister whose admirers on the left believed his influence over Mr. Netanyahu would be crucial to the peace process.
13) Egypt Is Not Tunisia, But…
Emad Mekay, Inter Press Service, Jan 15
Cairo - "Where can I find a Tunisian flag?" The question flooded Egyptian blogs, tweeter and Facebook pages minutes after news that popular protests had forced out long-time Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
Egypt is feeling the ripple effect from Tunisia already. Egypt's 85 million people constitute a third of the Arab population. Until Tunisians ousted their autocratic ruler Friday evening after his 23 years in power, Egypt, a regional trendsetter, was seen as the first candidate for regime change by popular uprising in the Arab world.
John R. Bradley penned a book in June 2008 predicting a revolution in Egypt. He said the country was slowly disintegrating under the twin pressures of "a ruthless military dictatorship" at home and a flawed Middle East policy in Washington.
In his book, 'Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution', Bradely argued that Egypt was "the most brutal Arab state where torture and corruption are endemic" and it would therefore be "the next domino to fall" to popular anger. The book was banned in Egypt.
Today the view from Cairo is that the military-backed regime of 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak is far more formidable, and more subtle, than the brutal regime of Ben Ali that alienated its own people, and failed to handle the unrest when it first erupted Dec. 17. Mubarak's supporters say he carries the public with him, and has a wide support base that includes the army and many businessmen.
"We should remember that he has survived at least three assassination attempts and hundreds of protests and demonstrations against food prices and other issues," says Khaled Mahmoud, an independent analyst. "Mubarak is simply much stronger than Ben Ali, and enjoys the backing of the country's most powerful institution; the army."
Elshobaki points to another difference between Egypt and Tunisia. Labour unions in Tunisia had appeased the regime to a degree, but they kept their structure and some of their integrity, he says. Unions in Egypt "have become like a government entity. Their leaders are government staff."
Moreover, the Egyptian regime has used religion cleverly to keep the young under control through proxy players. The Islamic Salafi movement, that does not believe in challenging a Muslim ruler, turns passion among the young into "passive religion", Elshobaki says.
But this view is widely disputed especially among human rights activists, bloggers, Islamists, some university professors and independent journalists, who say that Egypt is flirting with revolt. Tunisia comes as a major boost to the idea, they say.
"Like Ben Ali, Mubarak offers nothing to his people but tyranny, emergency law and armies of security troops. They are alike in that nobody wants them and nobody likes them," says Ibrahim Issa, editor of the online daily Al-Dostor and one of the main critics of the regime in Egypt. "What the Tunisians showed us is that change will inevitably come to sweep away all the stooges of Washington and Tel Aviv in all Arab states."
Others argue the similarity between ruthless police tactics in both nations, which in part led to the Tunisian unrest. "The expulsion of Ben Ali shows how his model of governing, which exists in many other Arab countries including here in Egypt, is fragile," says Bahai El-Deen Hassan, head of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights. "Police states are not sustainable."
Gagging trade and labour unions, containing political parties, and stifling civil society organisations do not carry a regime for long, he said. "The rationale for revolt is the same. The people are the same. The general atmosphere is the same," says Abdelmonem Amer, editor of the Islamist- leaning Arab News. "Tunisia's tyrant ran away. It is Egypt's Pharaoh's turn. Today, it is Tunisia and tomorrow it is Egypt."
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