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JFP 4/27: Tahrir fruit: Fatah, Hamas reconcile with Egypt aid
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 27 April 2011 - 7:25pm
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April 26, 2011
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Barbara Boxer: Ending the Endless War
California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced former Senator Feingold's bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan - a timetable with an end date. Senators Durbin, Harkin, Gillibrand, and Brown have already signed on as co-sponsors. A real deadline for US withdrawal would facilitate meaningful peace talks. More visible Senate criticism of the endless war can move the White House. Urge your Senator to co-sponsor.
An Anti-War Candidate Announces for President
If there is no anti-war Democratic primary for President, would you consider voting in the Republican one?
Talking Points on S. 186, Boxer's Bill to Require End Date for Afghanistan War
Washington Post: A space for Republicans on Afghanistan
Polling suggests Republicans could be open to anti-war message.
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1) President Obama told AP last Friday that his coming July announcement of troop withdrawals would be "significant…not a token gesture," writes Tom Hayden in The Nation. At the low end of "significant," Obama could announce a withdrawal of 33,000 beginning in July and carrying through 2012, enabling him to claim he ended the surge.
A more robust definition of "significant" would be a decrease of 32,000 troops by October of this year, followed by another decrease of 35,000 by July 2012, a reduction of more than half of America's forces through the 2012 presidential campaign. These numbers are proposed by national security experts at the Afghanistan Study Group. The ASG estimates $60-80 billion in savings to American taxpayers per year. That still would leave some 30,000 Americans in Afghanistan [about the same level as when Obama took office - JFP.]
2) A veteran Afghan military pilot said to be distressed over his personal finances opened fire at Kabul airport after an argument Wednesday, killing eight U.S. troops and an American civilian contractor, AP reports. There have been seven such attacks so far this year. The incidents of Afghans turning against their coalition partners seem to reflect growing anti-foreigner sentiment independent of the Taliban, AP says. Afghans are increasingly tired of the nearly decade-long war and think their lives have not improved despite billions of dollars in international aid.
3) Afghan officials says when Pakistan's prime minister Gilani visited Kabul this month, he and leaders of Pakistan's military and intelligence service said the Afghan government should distance itself from the US and seek new allies, particularly China, the Washington Post reports. Gillani outlined Pakistan's view that the U.S. military strategy had no prospect for success, that its troops antagonized the region and that the Afghan government should avoid any agreement that allows long-term US military bases in Afghanistan, according to the Afghans.
Obama administration officials said their reading of the meeting differed sharply from that of the Afghan officials. "Although the Pakistanis did caution the Afghans not to become too dependent on the Americans," one official said, "they were reaching out to the Karzai government in a way that suggested they thought the time was right to move toward some kind of political settlement." Some Afghan officials echoed this view. "That was the first time that the whole Pakistani state, military and civilian, spoke to us with one voice. That is important," one Afghan official said. "If a country comes and puts its conditions on the table, we have to take that seriously." Karzai's chief of staff, Abdul Karim Khuram, called the meeting "historic" but would not go into details. "Now we know what Pakistan wants," he said.
4) Russian Prime Minister Putin attacked the NATO military campaign in Libya, saying it violated the principle of sovereignty and the wishes of the Libyan people, the New York Times reports. He asked whether Western allies planned to fire missiles at all the world's "crooked regimes." "When the so-called civilized community, with all its might, pounces on a small country, and ruins infrastructure that has been built over generations – well, I don't know, is this good or bad?" Putin said. "I do not like it." Putin played into longstanding suspicions of US motivations, noting that Libya has Africa's largest oil reserves and its fourth largest gas reserves. "Of course, this instantly raises the question: could this be the main subject of interest to those who are operating there?" he said. The intervention is unpopular among the Russian public, the Times says.
5) Egyptian gas supplies to Israel have become the focus of a wide-ranging corruption investigation into the dealings of Hosni Mubarak, The National reports. The prosecutor alleges the deal has cost Egypt more than $714 million in lost revenue, and the future of the exports is now in doubt. The prosecution's case hinges on allegations the Egyptian government sold gas at below market price, with key government figures, including Mubarak, receiving kickbacks.
6) Anyone is allowed to read on the internet leaked documents about the prisoners held by the US at Guantánamo, except for the lawyers who represent the prisoners, the New York Times reports. Joseph Margulies, a Northwestern law professor who represents Abu Zubaydah, the detainee accused of being a terrorist facilitator who was waterboarded by the CIA, said he could not comment on the newly disclosed assessment of his client. "Everyone else can talk about it," Margulies said. "I can't talk about it."
The prohibition for Guantánamo lawyers has serious implications, said Margulies. Decisions about who gets released have been influenced by politics and public pressure as much as by legal standards, he said. "It's important to be able to use these documents to shape and inform the discussion in the public square," he said. If a leaked risk assessment contains clearly disproved accusations about a prisoner, a lawyer should be able to publicly refute it, he said.
7) Fatah and Hamas announced an agreement in principle on Wednesday to end a years-long internal Palestinian schism, the New York Times reports. A Hamas spokesman said the two sides had reached a preliminary agreement to form a transitional unity government for the Palestinian territories to be followed by new elections after a year. Another Hamas spokesman credited Egyptian mediators with helping achieve the deal. The tentative deal is the first sign that the recent upheaval in the region, and specifically the Egyptian revolution, has reshuffled regional diplomacy, the Times says. The agreement appeared to catch the Obama administration by surprise, the Times says.
8) Washington voices who claim Iran's "Green Movement" is united in a desire for "regime change" are misrepresenting Iran's opposition, writes Ali Gharib for Inter Press Service. "There are different groups," said Shirin Ebadi. "Some think we have to throw the regime out. But some others think this will not be possible without bloodshed, so the best thing is to do is use the present constitution." Ebadi herself still believes that the constitution has provisions that, if enforced, could enable reforms and that outright regime change would likely bring violence.
9) Mothers of innocent civilians who were killed by the Colombian military and presented as insurgents are still receiving death threats, writes Mike Power in The Guardian. But they are still campaigning for justice: "We are women, poor and fighting against the government, which refuses to recognize its responsibility, but we will not surrender."
10) Wikileaks cables paint a damning portrait of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, whom President Obama will receive at the White House on Thursday, McClatchy reports. U.S. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson sent a cable to Washington relating how Martinelli sent her "a cryptic BlackBerry message that said, 'I need help with tapping phones.'" In follow-up meetings, Martinelli and his aides demanded that a U.S.-designed wiretap program to catch drug traffickers be expanded to target his domestic political foes, a move that was illegal under Panamanian and U.S. law. He threatened to reduce counter-narcotics cooperation if Washington "did not help him on wiretaps." Martinelli's chief security aide, Olmedo Alfaro, confided to a U.S. agent that the president had an ulterior motive. "Alfaro said he had orders from the president to find out who 'was sleeping with his wife,'" Stephenson cabled Washington.
1) Obama's Decisions on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan Will Determine Re-Election Chances
Tom Hayden, The Nation, April 26, 2011
The president is on the cusp of a decision which will define his presidency and re-election chances in 2012: whether to risk multiple military quagmires or campaign on a decisive pledge to pull American troops out of Afghanistan and Pakistan and drones out of Pakistan and Libya.
Centrist that he is, President Obama may gamble on a promise to "stay the course." Sound familiar? All that is known is that the decisions will come quickly.
On Afghanistan, Obama told the Associated Press last Friday that his coming July announcement of troop withdrawals would be "significant…not a token gesture."
Though the president offered no specific numbers, the phrasing was an important signal, delivered in White House–speak. According to Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars, the internal debate between the White House and Pentagon over Afghanistan has been intense. When the president announced in a December 2009 West Point speech that he was sending 30-33,000 more American troops in a military surge to Afghanistan, it appeared that the Pentagon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had won the argument. But Obama slipped a hedge into the West Point speech pledging that he would "begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July 2011."
What did it mean to "begin" a transfer? When would it end? Would it be based on conditions on the ground, as demanded by the military, or a firm deadline, which Obama expected would come from the Hill? Peace groups, opposed to Obama's troop surge of 33,000, weren't impressed by vague talk of simply beginning something that had no end. The cynicism deepened when Obama announced in November 2010 that American combat operations would end by 2014, and that counterterrorism capabilities would remain beyond that date.
Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, have publicly advocated the most minimal version of an initial withdrawal. In a recent speech to NATO recently, Gates chastised the Europeans for "too much talk about exit and not enough about continuing the fight." He added that "we will not sacrifice the significant gains made to date, or the lives lost, for a political gesture." Woodward's book quoted Petraeus saying "I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting."
Obama's concern was being dragged into an unpopular, unaffordable quagmire by generals with competing agendas. As Woodward quoted him, "I can't lose all the Democratic Party."
But that is what's happened. Peace sentiment, expressed openly in the streets during the Bush years, became a silent but expanding presence inside the Democratic Party as Obama escalated the war. Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans, including 86 percent of Democratic voters, favor speeding up the withdrawal of American troops.
In February, the Barbara Lee, the sole Congressional opponent of the open-ended authorization to go to war a decade ago, found herself in the mainstream of her party in opposing Afghanistan. Lee submitted a resolution to the Democratic National Committee calling on Obama to announce a "significant" and "substantial" withdrawal by July, a rapid pullout over the next two years and the transfer of the savings to job creation at home.
Since Obama is the leader of the DNC, all resolutions are vetted by the White House. At first, the Lee language was rejected by the staffers who monitor the doings of the party. Then something happened. White House objections disappeared. Centrist party leaders like Donna Brazille and Alice Germond signed on as co-authors of the Lee resolution, which passed without dissent.
Was the White House sending a signal that a strong peace statement from the party would be useful political cover? No one knows. Then came last week's announcement by Obama echoing the DNC resolution's call for a swift, sizeable and significant reduction.
So what would those terms mean in raw numbers? At the low end of "significant," Obama could announce a withdrawal of 33,000 beginning in July and carrying through 2012, enabling him to claim he ended the surge he promised his military. That still would leave many Americans in confusion, wondering how a 2009 level of US combat would mean a step towards peace.
A more robust definition of "significant" would be a decrease of 32,000 troops by October of this year, followed by another decrease of 35,000 by July 2012, a reduction of more than half of America's forces through the 2012 presidential campaign. These numbers are proposed by national security experts at the Washington, DC–based Afghanistan Study Group . The ASG estimates $60-80 billion in savings to American taxpayers per year.
That still would leave some 30,000 Americans in Afghanistan through 2014 focused on training Afghan troops, checking the expansion of Taliban control and engaging in counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda cells. In 2014, an Afghanistan election will choose a successor to Hamid Karzai. The US secret war in Pakistan would continue on its own dynamic. Politically, the total numbers of American troops, dead and wounded, might plummet, winning the approval of Americans at home.
There is a great danger that the Obama administration will be knee-deep in the Big Muddy by next year, as Pete Seeger used to phrase it. The chance to campaign in 2012 on a platform of ending two trillion-dollar wars at a time of economic recession should be attractive, especially to a president who has lost his liberal base. But cutting compromises with the Pentagon and Republicans may leave Obama right where his opposition wants him, floundering in the center of quagmires he has created.
2) Afghan military officer kills 8 American troops, 1 US contractor after argument at airport
Associated Press, Wednesday, April 27, 3:25 PM
Kabul, Afghanistan - A veteran Afghan military pilot said to be distressed over his personal finances opened fire at Kabul airport after an argument Wednesday, killing eight U.S. troops and an American civilian contractor.
Those killed were trainers and advisers for the nascent Afghan air force. The shooting was the deadliest attack by a member of the Afghan security forces, or an insurgent impersonating them, on coalition troops or Afghan soldiers or policemen. There have been seven such attacks so far this year.
Although the individual circumstances may differ, the incidents of Afghans turning against their coalition partners seem to reflect growing anti-foreigner sentiment independent of the Taliban. Afghans are increasingly tired of the nearly decade-long war and think their lives have not improved despite billions of dollars in international aid.
3) Pakistan asks Afghanistan to distance itself from United States, Afghan officials say
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Wednesday, April 27, 12:56 PM
Kabul - When Pakistan's prime minister visited Kabul earlier this month, he spoke grandly to the public of an enduring friendship between neighbors and his country's commitment to help Afghans in the grinding war with the Taliban.
But in private meetings, Yousaf Raza Gillani and the leaders of Pakistan's military and intelligence service offered a startling proposal for cooperation: The Afghan government should distance itself from the United States and seek new allies, particularly China, according to current and former Afghan officials with knowledge of the meeting.
Gillani read to President Hamid Karzai from a paper outlining Pakistan's view that the U.S. military strategy had no prospect for success, that its troops antagonized the region and that the Afghan government should avoid any agreement that allows long-term American military bases in Afghanistan, according to the Afghans.
Because of the growing fiscal problems in the United States, Gillani argued, America was a power in decline, one without the ability to support Afghanistan and Pakistan in the future, and Afghans should look "for alternative allies," said one senior Afghan official.
"That was the first time that the whole Pakistani state, military and civilian, spoke to us with one voice. That is important," the Afghan official said. "If a country comes and puts its conditions on the table, we have to take that seriously."
Although Pakistan is a U.S. ally, top Pakistani officials have long been deeply disdainful of U.S. policy in the region, and have been hedging their bets in case U.S. efforts in Afghanistan fail. Pakistan's overture to the Afghan government - if Afghan accounts are accurate - marks one of the clearest signals to date that Pakistan is moving away from its partnership with the United States.
A spokesman for Gillani denied that the Pakistanis delivered any such message but would not discuss the content of the meeting. "Whatever you're saying is not true," Shabir Anwar said.
Pakistan's foreign affairs ministry released a statement Wednesday saying that "Pakistan recognizes the key role of the United States in promoting stability, peace and harmony in Afghanistan."
Obama administration officials said their reading of the meeting differed sharply from that of the Afghan officials. "Although the Pakistanis did caution the Afghans not to become too dependent on the Americans," one official said, "they were reaching out to the Karzai government in a way that suggested they thought the time was right to move toward some kind of political settlement."
"The good news," the official said, "is that I think that there's some prospect that Afghanistan will become the common ground on which the U.S. and Pakistan" can solidify their relationship.
The meeting, details of which were first reported in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, has sparked considerable debate in recent days among various factions in the Afghan government. Some see Pakistan's offer as a turning point in the relationship with the two countries and one that shows promise. Others distrust Pakistan's motives and believe Afghanistan cannot afford to abandon the United States in favor of partnerships with China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Karzai's chief of staff, Abdul Karim Khuram, called the meeting "historic" but would not go into the details about the discussions. "Now we know what Pakistan wants," he said in an interview.
Several prominent Afghans with knowledge of the workings of Karzai's office confirmed the basic outline of the message from the Pakistani delegation, which included its army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and ISI's director, Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
The Afghans said the Pakistani officials argued that there will be no peace without Pakistani involvement, and that as U.S. troops begin withdrawing this summer, its commitment to the region will flag. Gilani described the American strategy in Afghanistan as contradictory: On one hand, promoting a military, civilian and diplomatic "surge"; on the other, saying they are interested in a political settlement with the Taliban.
4) Putin Criticizes West for Libya Incursion
Ellen Barry, New York Times, April 26, 2011
Moscow - Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday delivered his most passionate critique to date of the Western intervention in Libya, underlining a rare open disagreement between him and his protégé, President Dmitri A. Medvedev.
At a news conference in Copenhagen, Mr. Putin was asked to elaborate on his comment that the United Nations resolution allowing airstrikes resembled "a medieval call for a crusade." He launched into an extended, caustic attack on the NATO campaign, saying it violated the principle of sovereignty and the wishes of the Libyan people.
He asked, sarcastically, whether Western allies planned to fire missiles at all the world's "crooked regimes," and directed special contempt to world leaders who have approved attacks on Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. "When the so-called civilized community, with all its might, pounces on a small country, and ruins infrastructure that has been built over generations – well, I don't know, is this good or bad?" Mr. Putin said. "I do not like it."
Mr. Putin has made no secret of his distaste for the Libyan operation, leaving the impression that he might have used Russia's veto power to block Resolution 1973 – something Mr. Medvedev chose not to do. Then, when Mr. Putin likened the intervention to a "crusade," Mr. Medvedev called such language "unacceptable," in an unusual rebuke of his mentor.
Libya swiftly proved a wedge issue within the Russian government; a prominent lawmaker from the ruling party, United Russia, was removed from the leadership of his parliamentary committee after openly stating his support for Mr. Putin's position over the president's. The intervention is not popular among the Russian public, which was incensed by NATO's 1999 bombing campaign in Serbia and opposed the American-led war in Iraq. In a poll of 1,600 citizens taken by the Levada Center shortly before the airstrikes began, 51 percent said that "other countries should not interfere in the internal affairs of Libya." Only 10 percent said they supported the imposition of a no-fly zone.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Putin played into longstanding suspicions of American geopolitical motivations, noting that Libya has Africa's largest oil reserves and its fourth largest gas reserves. "Of course, this instantly raises the question: could this be the main subject of interest to those who are operating there?" he said.
5) Corruption inquiry focus on Egyptian gas contract
Tamsin Carlisle, The National (UAE), Apr 26, 2011
Egyptian gas supplies to Israel have become the focus of a wide-ranging corruption investigation into the dealings of Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, and key associates.
The Egyptian public prosecutor this week ordered Mr Mubarak to be detained for a further 15 days to allow time for him to be questioned about a controversial contract to export gas to Israel.
The prosecutor alleges the deal has cost Egypt more than US$714 million (Dh2.62 billion) in lost revenue, and the future of the exports is now in doubt.
Sameh Fahmy, the former Egyptian oil minister, and five other former energy officials are in custody pending an investigation of the deal.
They have been charged with "hurting the country's interest, squandering public money and enabling others to make financial gains" by exporting gas to Israel below the market price and based on "unfair contractual conditions", said the office of the prosecutor general.
Under a 20-year contract signed in 2005 between the Israeli-Egyptian company East Mediterranean Gas (EMG) and Israel, up to 1.7 billion cubic metres a year of Egyptian gas was to be delivered by pipeline to southern Israel at a maximum price for the first 15 years of $1.25 per million British thermal units (btu).
But by the time the gas started flowing in 2008, international prices were at least three times higher. The direct cost of exporting the gas had risen to an estimated $2.56 per million btu.
In early 2009, an Egyptian court ordered the exports halted, but it was overruled by a higher court. Last year, EMG signed a new contract valued at $19bn, boosting the exports to 6 million cubic metres a year or about 40 per cent of Israel's total gas demand.
The prosecution's case hinges on allegations the Egyptian government sold gas to EMG at below market price, with key government figures, including Mr Mubarak, receiving kickbacks.
6) Detainees' Lawyers Can't Click On Leaked Documents
Scott Shane, New York Times, April 26, 2011
Washington - Anyone surfing the Internet this week is free to read leaked documents about the prisoners held by the American military at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to print them out or e-mail them to friends. Except, that is, for the lawyers who represent the prisoners.
On Monday, hours after WikiLeaks, The New York Times and other news organizations began publishing the documents online, the Justice Department informed Guantánamo defense lawyers that the documents remained legally classified even after they were made public.
Because the lawyers have security clearances, they are obligated to treat the readily available files "in accordance with all relevant security precautions and safeguards" - handling them, for example, only in secure government facilities, said the notice from the department's Court Security Office.
It is only the latest absurdist challenge posed by the flood of classified material obtained by WikiLeaks over the past year: field reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; State Department cables; and now the military's risk assessments of 700 past or present Guantánamo prisoners.
Joseph Margulies, a Northwestern law professor who represents Abu Zubaydah, the detainee accused of being a terrorist facilitator who was waterboarded by the Central Intelligence Agency, said he could not comment on the newly disclosed assessment of his client, which is posted on The Times Web site. "Everyone else can talk about it," Mr. Margulies said. "I can't talk about it."
The ballooning category of public-but-classified documents has befuddled officials and led to a series of unusual pronouncements from government agencies and those who work with them.
Some of those warnings were quickly modified or withdrawn after attracting public ridicule. But the general principle that the leaked files remain classified remains in effect, with varying consequences.
Some foreigners applying for asylum in the United States have attached diplomatic cables printed from the Internet that describe repression in their native countries - requiring the Department of Homeland Security to store their applications in special safes and to apply cumbersome security rules.
State Department employees have confided that they read leaked cables on newspaper Web sites at home rather than risk trouble by viewing them at work. A Times reporter who appeared with a State Department official on a recent panel was advised not to show leaked cables as slides - the official was prohibited from looking at them.
But the prohibition for Guantánamo lawyers has serious implications, said Mr. Margulies, who wrote a book on Guantánamo and has represented five prisoners there. Decisions about who gets released have been influenced by politics and public pressure as much as by legal standards, he said.
"It's important to be able to use these documents to shape and inform the discussion in the public square," he said. If a leaked risk assessment contains clearly disproved accusations about a prisoner, a lawyer should be able to publicly refute it, he said.
At the Congressional Research Service, the branch of the Library of Congress that advises senators and representatives, employees were advised in December that they could not quote the classified documents obtained by WikiLeaks in their reports. Some analysts with the service grumbled privately that members of Congress were asking about diplomatic cables, but they were not permitted to quote the cables in reply.
Janine D'Addario, a spokeswoman for the research service, said she could not say whether the restrictions had hampered its work because its research was supposed to be confidential. But Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said there was no question that the researchers were handicapped as they reported on the wars, foreign relations or Guantánamo.
"It's the definition of self-defeating," Mr. Aftergood said. "It doesn't serve the interest of Congress or the public."
7) Fatah and Hamas Announce Outline of Deal
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, April 27, 2011
Jerusalem - Fatah and Hamas, the rival Palestinian movements, announced an agreement in principle on Wednesday to end a years-long internal Palestinian schism.
Taher Al-Nounou, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said the two sides had reached a preliminary agreement to form a transitional unity government for the Palestinian territories to be followed by new elections after a year.
The agreement appeared to catch the Obama administration, like many others, by surprise. In a sharply worded statement, Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said that the administration was seeking more information but that it considered Hamas a terrorist organization that would not be a reliable partner in peace talks with Israel.
At the press conference in Cairo Wednesday, Moussa Abu Marzouq, a representative of Hamas, said the preliminary agreement "ended a painful period in the history of the Palestinian people." Adding that the Palestinian division had given Israel an opportunity to continue building settlements in the West Bank, he said, "Today we turn this page and open a new page." Asked why the deadlocked talks had come back to life, Mr. Nounou, also of Hamas, said, "The will was there for everyone." He also credited the new mediators from Egypt, put in place after that country's revolution, with "an exemplary performance," including weeks of courtship at private meetings with each side before they met face to face with each other for the first time today.
Palestinian negotiators offered few details of the proposed transitional government, saying it would be composed of neutral professionals and that the leaders of each side would work out the details. Mr. Nounou said the leaders of Fatah and Hamas are expected to meet within a week to sign a formal agreement.
The tentative deal is the first sign that the recent upheaval in the region, and specifically the Egyptian revolution, has reshuffled regional diplomacy. Previously, efforts to reconcile the two Palestinian factions fell under the jurisdiction of Mr. Mubarak's right-hand man, Omar Suleiman. Although he talked to both sides, he and the Egyptian government were considered openly hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, and deeply committed to Egypt's alliance with Israel.
Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Gaza's Al-Azhar University, said that he believes Hamas was motivated to reconcile with Fatah in part because of changes in the region, especially the revolt in Syria, where Hamas's politburo is based.
He also said the Palestinian Authority's failure to reach an agreement with Israel and the disappointment following the American veto in February of a United Nations Security Council resolution against Israeli settlement construction encouraged Fatah to come to an agreement.
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu instructed the Israeli military and security establishment to take all necessary measures to ensure the enforcement of Israel's naval blockade of Gaza amid reports of plans for another international flotilla this spring.
8) Washington Failing to Understand Iran's Opposition
Ali Gharib, Inter Press Service, Apr 26
Washington - The popular uprisings that have brought turmoil to Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa have also underscored Washington's dearth of knowledge about forces on the ground in authoritarian states in the Middle East. One of the largest questions bedeviling policy makers has been the composition of various emerging opposition movements.
The same uncertainty, meanwhile, has been plaguing those in the U.S. dealing with policy questions around Iran for decades, most recently with Iran's embattled Green Movement. Nearly two years since a popular protest movement in the wake of a disputed presidential election, Washington still wonders: Just what exactly is the Green Movement?
The sudden and vocal opposition was immediately fêted in the West, especially in capitals, as a viable opposition to not only re-elected hardline President Mahmood Ahmadinejad, but also the regime as a whole, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei even targeted by protesters' slogans.
Though the movement was beat back by the authorities' brutal crackdown, causing some to question its viability, many in the West continue to celebrate Iran's Greens, often ascribing their own views to the larger, disparate opposition. "The Green Movement seems to be a collection of hopes and dreams of Iranians outside of Iran and policy makers here in the United States," said Nagmeh Sohrabi, an assistant director at Brandeis's Middle East studies department.
The exiles and policy makers – among whom, Sohrabi points out, are many who don't want a military solution to Iran's nuclear stand-off with the West – base their characterisation of the movement as "what they want it to be and don't take into account the reality on the ground."
Sohrabi proposed that Washington's discourse tended to be limiting instead of taking a broader approach: "There are multiple ideas of what the Green Movement is. We need to be more careful about what it is and what it isn't. That doesn't mean that it can't be all these things at the same time."
Hawkish pundits have also been among the chief cliques in Washington assigning their own motivations and aspirations to the Green Movement writ large.
For example, senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute Josh Block, promoting a new Iran task force he co-chairs, has displayed this tendency. Block, for most of the previous decade, served as the ubiquitous spokesperson for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an organising hub of the U.S. pro-Israel lobby that has consistently pushed for harsher economic measures against Iran.
Contrary to some neoconservative hawks like Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Block acknowledged, in an interview with the Washington Post, that a threat of or an actual military attack on Iran could be damaging to the country's opposition.
But Block also told neoconservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, who supports attacking Iran and downplays the repercussions for the opposition, that he is certain what the opposition movement seeks: "It seems obvious the Iranian people want regime change. They voted that way in 2009." (Block did not respond to a query for clarification.)
Block's analysis of the vote and its aftermath capture none of the nuance presented by Iranians and Iranian-Americans at George Washington last week.
Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel laureate who is now based in the U.S., spoke directly to these issues in her keynote address at the conference. "Within (the Green) movement, people with different ideologies exist," Ebadi said. "There are different groups. Some think we have to throw the regime out. But some others think this will not be possible without bloodshed, so the best thing is to do is use the present constitution."
Indeed, those Block cited who voted in the election – as opposed to an overlapping set of people who marched in the post-election protests – were the ones who voted for Reform candidates. Iranian politicians in the Reform camp are exactly those who Ebadi mentioned who seek to make changes within the framework of the existing constitution.
Ebadi did note that that more Iranians associated with the Green Movement are shifting into the regime change camp because of the intransigence of authorities to respond to the Reform camp's demands, but this transformation is far from complete.
Only the sort of projection Sohrabi discussed could account for Block's assessment that not just protesters but Iranian voters in the 2009 election voted for regime change. The leading opposition candidate in the race, former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi, ran on a Reform platform.
Even as she sees the shift in the Green Movement, Ebadi herself still believes that the constitution has provisions that, if enforced, could enable reforms and that outright regime change would likely bring violence she seeks to avoid.
Furthermore, Ebadi warned against threats of military action against Iran, let alone an attack. "The worst solution is a military attack. Remember that democracy is not merchandise to be exported to a country," she said. "Democracy cannot be purchased and sent to another country. For these reason, wars and military attacks of non-democratic countries should be forgotten. The dictators actually like to be attacked by foreigners so, under the excuse of national security, they can put away their opposition."
9) The devastation of Colombia's civil war
In Colombia, years of civil war and assassinations have torn families apart
Mike Power, The Guardian, Saturday 23 April 2011
Sitting in a shack that totters on stilts in a slum overlooking Bogotá, Colombia's capital city, Gloria Torres gasps as she looks at the creased and faded photograph of her son. He is smiling slightly, dressed in his best, thumbs in pockets, his dark eyes soft.
Torres holds it to her chest, crumples, seems to shrink by half in less than a second, then remembers she has guests. She composes herself, and lays the photo carefully back in a shoebox and strokes the face, brushes down her apron and pulls her youngest daughter closer. In a gentle, determined voice, she begins to tell her family's story.
Torres will remember 7 June 2007 for the rest of her life. She can even pinpoint the hour she knew that her son, 17-year-old Aurelio, was dead. "It was 3am. I felt something, like he'd come home, come to my bedside. I awoke and spoke to him, but he wasn't there. Then a feeling, a pain came over me, which to this day I still can't shake off."
In Colombia, torn apart by decades of civil war, premonitions of deaths foretold are often heeded. "Later, I found out that at that very moment the army were assassinating him," she says.
Colombia's conflict is a three-way standoff between the leftist Farc (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas, the government, which is represented by the military, and paramilitary groups founded by wealthy Colombian landowners. And swept up in this conflict in the most brutal manner are ordinary families.
The Farc was formed in the 1960s by peasants after government soldiers attacked rural communist enclaves, and today numbers about 10,000 men, women and children. They face down the Colombian military, funded by the US under its Plan Colombia, an anti-drugs and counter-insurgency initiative introduced by the Clinton administration.
In the 80s, as the Farc gained territory, wealthy Colombian land-owners formed paramilitary groups (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC) to defend their property. But the brutal, pro-government groups of the AUC were little more than death squads, often carrying out the government's dirty work.
In this crossfire are the campesinos, the rural poor. Unluckily for Torres, the soldiers wanted a combat kill to please commanders. They are rewarded with cash or holidays for killing guerillas but, essentially, any corpse will do in this dirty war. They had intended to bury Aurelio as a "no name" (NN), an unknown guerrilla combatant, but a friend of the boy identified his body at the graveyard. "There are so many mothers here in the same situation, who have lost their sons as NNs," says Torres.
Although most of these killings remain largely unreported around the world, one particularly brutal event in another part of the country sparked a macabre international cause celebre. In October 2008, 11 young men were enticed away from their homes in Soacha, a poor suburb of Bogotá, and offered work. A few weeks later, they were found in a grave in Ocaña, near the border of Venezuela, dressed in Farc uniforms and presented as dead guerrillas.
The Soacha killings prompted Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, to say: "… while the Soacha killings were undeniably blatant and obscene … they are but the tip of the iceberg." The practice, he said, was "carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military."
The mothers of the dead men, Los Madres de Soacha (The Mothers of Soacha), as they are known, have been campaigning for justice ever since and are still receiving death threats. Nevertheless, one of the women, María Ubilerma Sanabria, recently called for every mother in Colombia who has suffered as they have to stand up and report their loss without fear: "We are women, poor and fighting against the government, which refuses to recognise its responsibility, but we will not surrender."
According to John Lindsay-Poland, of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a faith-based NGO that campaigns on human-rights issues in Latin America, "The Colombian state has long framed its war against guerrillas as a war against narcoterrorism. The war on drugs is combined with Colombia's long-running dirty war on people," he says. "The same army units that are fighting guerrillas involved in the drugs trade also have killed many civilians.
"The shocking thing about the false positives was it took it to a new level," he adds. "It wasn't just targeting social leaders or activists, it was people who might be easily forgotten. The military thought if we pick up someone – someone who wouldn't be missed, or people whose families have no political or economic sway – we add to the bodycount. It grows out of the social inequalities in the country that are so deep. Some people can just be forgotten."
10) Wikileaks: Dim view of Panama president Obama will meet
Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers, Tue, Apr. 26, 2011
Washington - Ah, to be a fly on the Oval Office wall Thursday as President Barack Obama meets with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, the subject of a series of State Department cables that WikiLeaks obtained and passed to McClatchy.
The cables aren't kind to Martinelli. They describe him as a man of "limited attention span" who "makes strong impulsive decisions with minimal information." They cast him as vindictive, authoritarian, fixated on spying on his political foes and contemptuous of checks on what one cable calls his "hyper-presidency."
If diplomacy is the art of discretion and subtlety, these cables miss the mark. But they lay out the contours of an often-abrasive relationship between then-U.S. Ambassador to Panama Barbara J. Stephenson and Martinelli, a University of Arkansas graduate and self-made millionaire who took office July 1, 2009.
Martinelli, who founded Panama's Super 99 supermarket chain, cast himself as a right-of-center counterweight in Latin America to Hugo Chavez, the radical Venezuelan leader. Martinelli's isthmus nation, which occupies a choke point at the center of the Americas, is a global transit point for commerce. Two-thirds of the ships that cross the isthmus are either going to or coming from the United States.
Roughhouse skirmishes between Martinelli and Stephenson began days after his inauguration, and the cables peel back the issues at stake.
Stephenson sent a cable to Washington relating how Martinelli sent her "a cryptic BlackBerry message that said, 'I need help with tapping phones.' " In follow-up meetings, Martinelli and his aides demanded that a U.S.-designed wiretap program to catch drug traffickers be expanded to target his domestic political foes, a move that was illegal under Panamanian and U.S. law. He threatened to reduce counter-narcotics cooperation if Washington "did not help him on wiretaps."
Martinelli's chief security aide, Olmedo Alfaro, confided to a U.S. counter-all drug agent that the president had an ulterior motive. "Alfaro said he had orders from the president to find out who 'was sleeping with his wife,'" Stephenson cabled Washington.
By the second week of the Martinelli administration, Stephenson alerted superiors in Washington to what she called a hardball style that was "almost certain to spell trouble for Panama's democratic institutions." It was a message that would grow stronger in the cables well into 2010.
A month later, in another cable marked secret, she noted "an attitude of suspicion and vindictiveness" and an aggressive style designed "to push the limit to get what he wants" even at the cost of alienating the United States. "His penchant for bullying and blackmail may have led him to supermarket stardom but is hardly statesmanlike," she wrote.
In later months, she'd inform the State Department of Martinelli's efforts to install two "cronies" on Panama's Supreme Court, replace an attorney general whom he couldn't control and send tax auditors after businessmen who were friendly to the political opposition.
Yet Martinelli and his top security aide were still focused on gaining control of the wiretap unit, which employed only U.S.-vetted Panamanians listening in on some 200 cellular phone lines linked to suspected organized crime figures and Colombian guerrillas in camps in the remote jungles of Panama's Darien Gap.
Stephenson ended her stint in Panama in mid-2010. Her State Department superiors clearly thought highly of her work. She's now the No. 2 diplomat in the U.S. Embassy in London, Washington's most important posting in Western Europe.
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