JFP 2/8: US Backs Off Calls for Swift Reform in Egypt

Just Foreign Policy News
February 8, 2011

"Orderly Transition," or "Nothing Burger" Reforms? Benchmarks for US Policy in Egypt
The Obama Administration claims to support an "orderly transition to democracy" in Egypt, but the trajectory of current U.S. policy, without clear benchmarks for reform, is a transition from Mubarak to Mubarakism without Mubarak. "Reforms" and "concessions" announced so far are a "nothing burger" as far as a transition to democracy is concerned. Benchmarks for US policy should include: ending the detention and harassment of journalists and human rights activists, lifting the state of emergency, allowing electoral competition, and restoring judicial supervision of elections. Congress and the Administration should link these benchmarks to US aid.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/orderly-transition-or-not_b_820327.html

Gallup: 61% of Republicans Favor Congressional Action to Speed Afghanistan Withdrawal
Support for Congressional Actions, by Political Party:
Speed up withdrawal from Afghanistan: D - 86%, I - 72%, R - 61%
http://www.gallup.com/poll/145880/Alternative-Energy-Bill-Best-Among-Eight-Proposals.aspx

US for Okinawa: U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa Fact Sheet
U.S. military bases occupy approximately 20% of Okinawa Island. Although Okinawa makes up only 0.6% of Japan, it "hosts" 75% of all U.S. military bases in Japan.
http://peacephilosophy.blogspot.com/2010/01/us-for-okinawa-who-initiated-major.html

NYT video: Egyptians React to U.S. Policy
"Protesters in Egypt insisted that President Obama could not stop their revolt."
http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/02/06/world/1248069617401/egyptians-react-to-us-policy.html

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The Obama Administration appears to be backing away from its earlier calls for swift political reform in Egypt, the Los Angeles Times reports. A week after the Obama administration demanded a swift transition to a post-Mubarak era, it has dampened the sense of urgency and aligned itself with power-brokers such as Vice President Suleiman. Some analysts pointed out that Suleiman shows little appetite for addressing the concerns of the protesters. On Monday, a group of Middle East experts wrote Obama expressing fears that the White House might "acquiesce to an inadequate and possibly fraudulent transition process in Egypt." "The process that is unfolding now has many of the attributes of a smoke screen," said the letter from the Working Group on Egypt, an influential voice on Middle East policy. "Without significant changes, it will lead to preservation of the current regime in all but name and ensure radicalization and instability in the future."

2) The Islamist presence has for decades justified the West's acceptance of the worst dictatorships in the Arab world, writes Oxford professor of Islamic studies Tariq Ramadan in the New York Times.

The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood no longer fully represents the aspirations of the younger members, who are much more open to the world, anxious to bring about internal reform and fascinated by the Turkish example, he writes. The Muslim Brotherhood is not leading the surge that is bringing down Mubarak; the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamists in general, do not represent the majority.

By deciding to line up behind Mohamed ElBaradei, the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership has signaled that now is not the time to expose itself by making political demands that might frighten the West, not to mention the Egyptian people. Citing the voices of dangerous Islamists to justify not listening to the voices of the people is short-termist as well as illogical, he writes.

3) President Karzai said he wanted to bring a Taliban official being held at Guantánamo back to Afghanistan to join in reconciliation talks, the New York Times reports. His remarks seconded a request by the government's High Peace Council calling for the release of the Taliban figure, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, who has been held at Guantánamo since 2002. According to an official of the High Peace Council, Khairkhwa would be kept in Kabul under house arrest.

4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns criticized the White House for delaying an ATF proposal to make gun dealers along the border with Mexico report bulk sales of semiautomatic assault rifles. "The White House decided that the illegal trafficking of thousands of semiautomatic assault rifles from the U.S. to Mexico is not an emergency, our coalition of over 550 mayors strongly disagrees," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Jordan

5) Several dozen Jordanian tribesmen, historically core loyalists to the monarchy, have issued a rare statement calling for urgent and far-reaching political reform in Jordan, the New York Times reports. The statement called on King Abdullah to no longer appoint the members of his cabinet but rather for them to be elected. The Jordanian news web site that reported the statement was shut down but authorities relented after journalists held a sit in. "We are not going to accept this way of dealing with journalists," the publisher said.

Pakistan
6) The Obama administration has suspended all high-level dialogue with Pakistan over the case of a US official the Pakistanis have detained on possible murder charges, the Washington Post reports. In Pakistan, the issue has become embroiled in widespread anti-Americanism and suspicions that U.S. spies and intelligence contractors are secretly operating in the country. A Pakistani intelligence official said two men the US official killed were not, as he has said, armed robbers, but Pakistani intelligence agents assigned to tail him. On Sunday, the widow of one of the men committed suicide. According to a doctor at the hospital where she was admitted, she said she ingested rat poison because she feared the US official would be released without facing trial.

Israel/Palestine
7) The Palestinian Authority set long-overdue local council elections for July 9 in the West Bank and Gaza, AP reports. A Hamas spokesman said Hamas would not participate in any vote until Hamas and Fatah were reconciled. The PA move appears to reflect vulnerability on the issue of Palestinian democracy in the wake of the protests in Egypt, AP says.

Israel/Iran
8) Former US under-secretary of defense Dov Zakheim said an Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities would be pointless and could turn the Obama administration against Israel like never before, the Jerusalem Post reports. Zakheim said Israel did not have to attack Iran to stop its nuclear program. He said an Israeli attack would turn the Iranian people into Israel's "permanent enemy," and an attack could lead to "terrible relations" with the US. "The US will be attacked in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this could turn the administration against Israel like never before," he said.

Contents:
U.S./Top News

1) U.S. Backs Off Call For Swift Egypt Reform
The Obama administration feels the approach is needed to reassure Middle East allies of U.S. loyalty. But gradual reform isn't going to satisfy the protest movement in Cairo.
Paul Richter and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2011, 7:53 PM PST
http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-fg-us-egypt-20110208,0,3417025.story

Washington - The Obama administration has reconciled itself to gradual political reform in Egypt, an approach that reflects its goal of maintaining stability in the Middle East but is at odds with demands of the protest movement in Cairo that President Hosni Mubarak relinquish power immediately.

A week after the Obama administration demanded a swift transition to a post-Mubarak era, it has dampened the sense of urgency and aligned itself with power-brokers such as new Vice President Omar Suleiman, who are urging a more stable, if much slower, move to real democracy.

But U.S. officials privately acknowledged that there is no guarantee that Suleiman, a former intelligence chief closely aligned with the military, is committed to substantial reforms.

They have said that countries in the Middle East must be allowed to progress politically at their own speed. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. supports democratic reforms across the region but acknowledges that "some countries will move at different paces."
[...]
U.S. officials insist that there have been positive signs thus far from Suleiman, notably his meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamic movement, and acknowledge anxiety that a speedy end to Mubarak's government could sweep in a threatening new regime. But they have been unnerved by some developments.

In an interview with ABC News, Suleiman suggested that he would not meet with Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize laureate who has emerged as a leading opposition figure and who has demanded Mubarak go. Suleiman also maintained that a "culture of democracy" must be in place for democracy to flourish.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs criticized that position. "It's clear that statements like that are not going to be met with any agreement by the people of Egypt because they don't address the very legitimate grievances that we've seen expressed as a result of these protests," he said.

Some analysts pointed out that Suleiman has almost no record of recognizing democratic movements and shows little appetite for addressing the concerns of the protesters.

On Monday, a group of Middle East experts wrote Obama expressing fears that the White House might "acquiesce to an inadequate and possibly fraudulent transition process in Egypt."

"The process that is unfolding now has many of the attributes of a smoke screen," said the letter from the Working Group on Egypt, an influential voice on Middle East policy. "Without significant changes, it will lead to preservation of the current regime in all but name and ensure radicalization and instability in the future.

"Throwing the weight of the U.S. behind the proposals of President Mubarak and Vice President Suleiman, rather than the legitimate demands of the opposition, would be a serious error."
[...]
During the initial unrest, Vice President Joe Biden denied Mubarak was a dictator and Clinton described his government as stable. But the dramatic scenes of largely peaceful protesters clamoring for democracy and freedom forced the administration to alter its message, pushing Obama to issue thinly veiled calls for Mubarak to quit.

Now, with Mubarak refusing to go and concerns about a contagion of collapse across countries that form the basis of U.S. security in the region, the administration has tempered the rush to reform.

It is "important to look over the horizon," Clinton told reporters Sunday. "You don't want to get to September and have a failed election and then people feel: What did we do? What was the point of all this?"

A senior administration official added that the U.S. wants reform that unfolds "over the medium term."

"This is a country that is not used to democracy as we know it, and it is going to take a while for them to get used to the idea," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
[...]
U.S. officials have said privately that longtime allies in the Middle East and North Africa were dismayed at how quickly the Obama administration called on Mubarak to step aside. To them, it raised questions about America's commitment to its friends.
[...]

2) Whither the Muslim Brotherhood?
Tariq Ramadan, New York Times, February 8, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/opinion/09iht-edramadan09.html

[Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, is professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford. His latest book is "The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism."]

Oxford, England - Even as the mass demonstrations began in Tunisia, who would have thought that Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's regime would have collapsed so quickly? Who could have predicted that Egypt would soon witness such unprecedented popular protest? A barrier has fallen. Nothing will be the same again. It is quite likely that other countries will follow the lead of Egypt, given its central and symbolic significance. But what will be the role of the Islamists after the collapse of the dictatorships?

The Islamist presence has for decades justified the West's acceptance of the worst dictatorships in the Arab world. And it was these very regimes that demonized their Islamist opponents, particularly Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which historically represents that country's first well-organized mass movement with the political influence to match.

For more than 60 years, the Brotherhood has been illegal but tolerated. It has demonstrated a powerful capacity to mobilize the people in each relatively democratic election - for trade unions, professional associations, municipalities, parliament and so on - where it has been a participant. So, are the Muslim Brothers the rising power in Egypt, and, if so, what can we anticipate of such an organization?

In the West, we have come to expect superficial analyses of political Islam in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. However, not only is Islamism a mosaic of widely differing trends and factions, but its many different facets have emerged over time and in response to historical shifts.
[...]
Today's Muslim Brotherhood draws these diverse visions together. But the leadership of the movement - those who belong to the founding generation are now very old - no longer fully represents the aspirations of the younger members, who are much more open to the world, anxious to bring about internal reform and fascinated by the Turkish example. Behind the unified, hierarchical facade, contradictory influences are at work. No one can tell which way the movement will go.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not leading the surge that is bringing down Hosni Mubarak: it is made up of young people, of women and men who have rejected dictatorship. The Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamists in general, do not represent the majority. There can be no doubt that they hope to participate in the democratic transition when Mubarak departs, but no one can tell which faction will emerge in a dominant position. That makes it impossible to determine the movement's priorities. Between the literalists and the partisans of the Turkish way, anything can happen; the Brotherhood's political thinking has evolved considerably over the past 20 years.

Neither the United States nor Europe, not to mention Israel, will easily allow the Egyptian people to make their dream of democracy and freedom come true. The strategic and geopolitical considerations are such that the reform movement will be, and is already, closely monitored by U.S. agencies in coordination with the Egyptian Army, which has played for time and assumed the crucial role of mediator.

By deciding to line up behind Mohamed ElBaradei, who has emerged as the chief figure among the anti-Mubarak protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership has signaled that now is not the time to expose itself by making political demands that might frighten the West, not to mention the Egyptian people. Caution is the watchword.

Respect for democratic principles demands that all forces that reject violence and respect the rule of law (both before and after elections) participate fully in the political process. The Muslim Brotherhood must be a full partner in the process of change - and will be, if a minimally democratic state can be established in Egypt (though no one can define the intentions of foreign powers).

Neither repression nor torture has been able to eliminate the Brotherhood. It is only democratic debate and the vigorous exchange of ideas that have had an impact on the development of the most problematic Islamist theses - from understanding of the Shariah to respect for freedom and defense of equality. Only by exchanging ideas, and not by torture and dictatorship, can we find solutions that respect the people's will. Turkey's example should be an inspiration to us.

The West continues to use "the Islamist threat" to justify its passivity and outright support for dictatorships. As resistance to Mubarak mounted, the Israeli government repeatedly called on Washington to back the Egyptian junta against the popular will. Europe adopted a wait-and-see stance.

Both attitudes are revealing: at the end of the day, lip-service to democratic principle carries little weight against the defense of political and economic interests. The United States prefers dictatorships that guarantee access to oil, and allow the Israelis to continue their slow colonization, to credible representatives of the people who could not allow these things to continue.

Citing the voices of dangerous Islamists to justify not listening to the voices of the people is short-termist as well as illogical. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the United States has suffered heavy losses of credibility in the Middle East; the same is true for Europe. If the Americans and Europeans do not re-examine their policies, other powers in Asia and South America may begin to interfere soon with their elaborate structure of strategic alliances.
[...]
The Arab world is awakening with dignity and hope. The changes spell hope for true democrats, and trouble for those who would sacrifice democratic principle to their economic and geostrategic calculations. The liberation of Egypt seems to be just the start. Who will be next? If Jordan and Yemen follow, so will Saudi Arabia - the heart of the Muslim world - and Riyadh would be in a critical position, with no choice but to evolve toward a more open political system.

Around the world, among Muslims, there is a critical mass that would support this move, the necessary revolution at the center. In the end, only democracies that embrace all nonviolent political forces can bring about peace in the Middle East, a peace that must also respect the dignity of the Palestinians.

3) Karzai Calls for Release of Taliban Official From Guantánamo
Rod Nordland, New York Times, February 8, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/world/asia/09afghan.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that he wanted to bring a Taliban official being held at the Guantánamo Bay prison back to Afghanistan to join in reconciliation talks.

His remarks seconded a request by the government's High Peace Council calling for the release of the Taliban figure, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, who has been held at the prison on the United States military base in Cuba since 2002. Mr. Khairkhwa, from Kandahar, reportedly had been the Taliban interior minister and also the governor of Herat Province during the Taliban regime. "If he wants to talk, we welcome him," Mr. Karzai said in response to a question at a news conference. "We would talk to him, we would arrange his release."

American officials declined to comment immediately. But they have expressed reluctance to release Taliban figures held at Guantánamo ever since one high-profile prisoner, Mullah Abdul Quyam Zakir, was turned over to the Afghans and later ended up back with the Taliban, where he rose to second in command. Mr. Karzai suggested that Afghan officials would be able to win Mr. Khairkhwa's release. A spokeswoman for the American Embassy, Kerri Hannan, said, "The United States supports the work of the High Peace Council," but did not comment on calls to release Mr. Khairkhwa.
[...]
Efforts to start reconciliation talks with the Taliban are a high priority of Mr. Karzai's government, which last year formed the High Peace Council, whose 70 members include a dozen former Taliban officials. One of those, Mullah Arsala Rahmani, who now leads the council's political prisoner committee, also called for Mr. Khairkhwa's return to Kabul.

Mr. Rahmani said the initiative began when Mr. Khairkhwa's American lawyer, Frank Goldsmith, wrote to Mr. Karzai recently saying that his client would be eager to join the peace process. His e-mail was passed along to the High Peace Council, which recommended asking for his release. As Mr. Rahmani envisions it, Mr. Khairkhwa would be sent to Kabul and given protection but kept there under house arrest. "He is a very smart guy, a very good Muslim and a good person to help us in our aim, which is bringing peace and stability to our country," Mr. Rahmani said.

The move is yet another possible point of contention between the Afghan president and American officials. Mr. Karzai also said Tuesday that he was seeking more information on the death of an Afghan Taliban detainee at Guantánamo, Awal Gul, 48, who American officials said died at the prison camp last week after exercising.

Mr. Gul's body was returned to his hometown, Jalalabad, over the weekend, and a funeral service there on Monday drew several thousand mourners, many chanting anti-American slogans and vowing revenge for what they said was his murder. A statement was read at the funeral from a prominent local Taliban commander, Anwar al-Haq Mujahid.
[...]
There has been little concrete progress toward reconciliation since the High Peace Council was convened in September after months of political infighting over its composition.

The group met last month with Pakistani officials, calling on their country to hand over prominent Taliban political prisoners so they could engage in the peace process as well. The two countries agreed to set up a joint commission on the peace process, but Pakistani officials have made no commitments about releasing prisoners.

Among at least eight prominent Taliban members being held in Pakistan is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was captured by Pakistani officials early last year, effectively ending what had been negotiations between Mr. Baradar and Mr. Karzai, according to diplomats and officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, organized his arrest, reportedly carried out in cooperation with the C.I.A., because they were angry that he was negotiating with Afghan leaders without Pakistan's approval.

4) Statement of Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chairs in Response to White House Delay of ATF Policy on Reporting Bulk Sales of Semiautomatic Assault Rifles
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Sun Feb 6, 1:13 pm ET
http://news.yahoo.com/s/usnw/20110206/pl_usnw/DC43194_1

New York - White House Office of Management and Budget Rejected an Emergency Rule Proposed by The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) to Require Certain Gun Dealers Along the Southwest Border to Report Bulk Sales of Rifles, Including Military-style Semiautomatic Rifles.

The Rejection of the Emergency Rule Could Delay the Implementation of the ATF's Proposal for Months.

Statement of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
"The White House decided that the illegal trafficking of thousands of semiautomatic assault rifles from the U.S. to Mexico is not an emergency, our coalition of over 550 mayors strongly disagrees. These guns are fueling violence that has claimed more than 30,000 lives and putting our law enforcement officers at risk. ATF recognizes the emergency but we need the White House to give the agency the support it needs do its job effectively."

Statement of Mayor Thomas M. Menino
"ATF's emergency proposal to require reporting of bulk sales of long guns would give law enforcement meaningful intelligence about gun trafficking from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels. According to the Justice Department's Inspector General, these long guns make up nearly half of the guns recovered in Mexican crimes. ATF has said an overwhelming majority of these guns are traced back to the United States. It is disappointing that the Administration will not act swiftly to give ATF the investigative tools it needs to help stop these crimes."

Jordan

5) Tribesmen in Jordan Issue Urgent Call for Political Reform
Ethan Bronner and Ranya Kadri, New York Times, February 7, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/world/middleeast/08jordan.html

Jerusalem - Several dozen Jordanian tribesmen, historically core loyalists to the monarchy, have issued a rare statement calling for urgent and far-reaching political reform in Jordan. They said that without it, the country was headed down the path taken by Tunisia and Egypt.

"Before stability and food, the Jordanian people seek liberty, dignity, democracy, justice, equality, human rights and an end to corruption," said the statement, signed by 36 members of tribes, mostly Bedouins.

The statement, ignored by most Jordanian news media, was published Monday on Ammonnews, the country's most popular news Web site. But the site was hacked and out of commission for four hours on Monday, restored only after about 50 journalists held a sit-in at the journalists' association headquarters in Amman, the capital.

"The intelligence police called us and told us they were taking down our site because it was against national interests," Basil Okoor, the publisher and editor of Ammonnews, said in a telephone interview. "But we are not going to accept this way of dealing with journalists."

The tribesmen's statement said, "We are on the path where the floods of Tunisia and Egypt will reach Jordan sooner or later, whether we want it or not." It called on King Abdullah II to no longer appoint the members of his cabinet but rather for them to be elected.

Jordan is a country of six million, more than half of them Palestinian, and 40 percent members of tribes, also known as East Bankers. The two groups maintain an uneasy coexistence under Abdullah's rule. The country has faced not only weeks of protests over prices and subsidies but also calls for wholesale political reform.
[...]
"This statement was very important because it sent a clear message to everyone," said Mr. Okoor, of Ammonnews. "It reflects the sentiments of the majority of Jordanians."

Pakistan
6) U.S.-Pakistan relations strained further with case of jailed diplomat
Karen DeYoung and Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 11:17 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/07/AR2011020705790.html

The Obama administration has suspended all high-level dialogue with Pakistan, a key U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war, over the case of an American diplomat the Pakistanis have detained on possible murder charges, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The case of Raymond Allen Davis, who has admitted he fatally shot two Pakistanis he said threatened him from a motorcycle while he was driving in Lahore on Jan. 27, has severely strained relations between the two governments and threatens to scuttle a planned summit among U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders scheduled for the end of this month in Washington.
[...]
In Pakistan, the issue has become embroiled in widespread anti-Americanism and suspicions, fanned by the Pakistani media and used for political advantage, that U.S. spies and intelligence contractors are secretly operating in the country. It has also posed a challenge to Pakistan's weak civilian government as it struggles to wrest control of national security policy from the powerful military and fends off opposition political parties.

The most powerful opposition group, the Pakistan Muslim League headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, rules Punjab province and its capital, Lahore, where Davis is being held and several hearings have taken place in the case.

Although the administration has been unequivocal in its insistence that Davis has diplomatic status, it has been less than clear on the nature of his job in Pakistan over the last two years. An early embassy statement said it was "security" related, while officials in Washington have said that he vetted questionable visa applicants. The CIA has declined to comment on the case.
[...]
Although Zardari's Pakistan People's Party government has close relations with the administration, and depends on the billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic assistance, it fears being painted as a U.S. lackey.

A foreign ministry official said that the government itself is divided over the case. The ministry has determined that Davis is immune from prosecution based on his passport and diplomatic visa, and the fact that Pakistan "accepted" that when Davis first arrived in the fall of 2009, the official said.

Other parts of the government, he said, see some advantage in using the situation to prove the government's independence from Washington. But the Americans, he said, "have dropped hints they could go to any extent" to get Davis released.

Further complicating the situation, a Pakistani intelligence official said that the two men Davis killed were not, as he has said, armed robbers intent on stealing money, his telephone and perhaps his car, but intelligence agents assigned to tail him. This official said the two intended to frighten Davis because he crossed a "red line" that the official did not further define.

Both the military's Inter-Services Intelligence service and the Interior Ministry's Intelligence Bureau regularly use motorcycle tails to track the movement of U.S. officials, another Pakistani official said.

The Pakistani media has also suggested that Davis is being held hostage to a wrongful-death case brought in New York by family members of four Americans killed in the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. U.S. and Indian officials have blamed the attack on the Pakistani organization Lashkar-i-Taiba, which has long-standing ties to ISI. Four senior ISI officials, including the organization's director, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, have been called as witnesses in the case.

According to his 2009 visa application, Davis was born in Wise, Va. He gave an address in Las Vegas, where he is listed in Nevada state registration records as the co-owner of a firm called Hyperion Protective Services.

On Sunday, the widow of one of the men killed by Davis committed suicide in the city of Faisalabad. According to a doctor at the hospital where she was admitted after ingesting rat poison, she said she did it because she feared Davis would be released without facing trial.

Israel/Palestine
7) Palestinians to hold local elections July 9
Mohammed Daraghmeh, Associated Press, Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 7:53 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/08/AR2011020801429.html

Ramallah, West Bank - The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday set long-overdue local council elections for July 9 in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the government spokesman said. The rival Hamas government that rules Gaza promptly rejected the move.

The recent push for Palestinian elections appears to reflect fears that two weeks of street protests demanding increased democracy in nearby Egypt could lead to similar calls in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian Authority has not held elections since 2006, leaving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and members of parliament in office after their elected terms ended.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said the Cabinet decision calls for elections in both of the bitterly divided Palestinian territories. He said if Hamas did not allow for vote preparations in Gaza, the balloting would be held only in the West Bank.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the West Bank government has "no right to call this election." He said Hamas would not participate in any vote, even in the West Bank, until the two governments were reconciled.
[...]
The Palestinian Authority - a huge recipient of American and European aid - has had a spotty record with democracy in recent years. In 2010, Abbas canceled local elections in the West Bank when it appeared that his Fatah movement would lose key seats to independents.

Fatah has been burned twice before by heading into elections despite warnings of impending defeat. Hamas scored heavily in 2005 municipal elections and won a strong majority in the Palestinian parliament the next year. Elections have not been held in the territories since.

Abbas' four-year term expired in 2009, though it has been extended indefinitely. The parliament's term expired in 2010, but the legislature remains in office, although its work is hindered by the split between the territories.

Palestinian Minister of Local Government Khalid Qawasmi said the election is to be for 305 seats in municipalities and village councils in the West Bank and 25 in Gaza. He said all political groups, including Hamas, could participate. "The government has no objection to any faction or any list. On the contrary, we invite them to join the election," he said.

Qawasmi denied that the Egyptian upheaval triggered the announcement. The Cabinet was complying with a Supreme Court decision that called last year's cancellation illegal, he said.

Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri acknowledged the court decision, but said he still suspected events in Egypt played a role. "The Egyptian uprising was an alert to every regime in the region to correct the situation in its country," he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority has been criticized for its handling of freedom of speech and political power sharing. "Without finding solutions for these problems, no one is immune to upheaval," he said.

Israel/Iran
8) Former US official: Iran attack would be counterproductive
Dov Zakheim says Israel does not have to use military strike to stop Teheran's nuclear program.
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, 02/08/2011 03:23
http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=207266

An Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities would be pointless and could turn the Obama administration against the Jewish state like never before, former US under-secretary of defense Dov Zakheim said on Monday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Herzliya Conference, Zakheim said in an interview that in his opinion, Israel did not have to attack Iran to stop its nuclear program. Israel, he said, has developed the Arrow 2 ballistic missile defense system, which, together with US Navy Aegis missile defense ships in the Mediterranean, would likely succeed in intercepting an Iranian missile fired at Israel.

"There is less than a 1-percent chance that an Iranian missile will get through these defenses," Zakheim said. "Iran, however, is worried about Israel's alleged nuclear program, and their fear is 100%, so why would they want to take a 1% chance if there is a 100% chance that they will be destroyed?" Zakheim also warned about the potential fallout Israel would face from such an attack. He said that on the one hand, Israel would turn the Iranian people into its "permanent enemy," and on the other hand, an attack could lead to "terrible relations" with the US.

"The US will be attacked in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this could turn the administration against Israel like never before," he said.

Earlier in the day, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy played down the severity of the Iranian threat and claimed that Israel and the US were actually winning the war against Iran.

"Israel is in a situation that it is one of the most powerful forces in the Middle East," he said. "We have an inferiority complex of a minority, and we behave as if we are a minority," he went on. "The time has come for us to face Iran as one of the powers in the Middle East, and I believe the Iranians in their hearts know that we are one of the [leading] powers."

As proof, Halevy cited Iran's refusal to step in and attack Israel during the Second Lebanon War against Hizbullah in 2006 and during 2009's Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. "In 2006, during the war in Lebanon, the Iranians themselves didn't fire one shot, even though Hizbullah was a blood ally. And in 2009 in Gaza, when we fought with Hamas, Iran did nothing," he said.

-

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