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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shalom, Salam and Hello

"Why ... should I not dream and hope? For is not revolution the making real of dreams and hopes? So let us work together that my dream may be fulfilled, that I may return with my people out of exile to live in one democratic state where Christian, Jew and Muslim live in justice, equality, fraternity and progress...Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” Nobel Peace Laureate Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, UN Address November 13, 1974.


Last week rumors floated suggesting Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister might be arrested to face war crimes, if she attended the Summit of European Foreign Ministers in Brussels.

Mounting fear in Israel that the country's leaders face war crimes charges over their involvement in the recent Gaza offensive pushed officials into a frenzy of activity at the weekend to forestall legal actions abroad.

According to Menachem Mazuz, Israel will soon face "a wave of international lawsuits".

In response, the government is setting up a special task force to work on legal defenses, has barred the media from naming or photographing army officers involved in the Gaza attack, and has placed restrictions on overseas visits. Today, ministers were expected to approve an aid package to help soldiers fight warrants abroad for their arrest.

The concern about war crimes trials follows a series of pronouncements by Richard Falk, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the occupied territories and a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University in the United States.

He has accused Israel of gravely violating the laws of war during its three-week offensive, which killed more than 1,300 Gazans, most of them civilians, and wounded thousands more.

There is a well-grounded view that both the initial attacks on Gaza and the tactics being used by Israel are serious violations of the UN charter, the Geneva conventions, international law and international humanitarian law," he said during the final stages of fighting. Jonathan Cook

In an attempt to make life more difficult for Israeli leaders, anonymous activists in Israel launched this website -- "outing" those it accused of war crimes, including Ehud Barak, the defence minister, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and Ms Livni. It also identified most of the senior military command.

This link in Hebrew could also have the support of the former, tainted politician Bibi Netanyahu and his party of right wing Likudniks in the hope of making gains in the forthcoming Israeli elections.

Israel is the non NPT Signatory nuclear power in the region and it behooves it to extend to its neighbours, including those in the occupied territories, the same dignity, rights and respects that it demands from them. all the states, and occupied territories should also learn that force is not the solution to solve their problems, however rudderless they may appear at times.


In a frank blunt assessment, unusual for the usually taciturn Saudis, Prince Turki al Faisal, former head of the Saudi Intelligence and then ambassador to UK, Ireland and the US, warned the Obama Administration that "the US-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk."

First he speaks candidly about the Bush Administration:

America is not innocent in this calamity. Not only has the Bush administration left a sickening legacy in the region, but it has also, through an arrogant attitude about the butchery in Gaza, contributed to the slaughter of innocents. If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact - especially its "special relationship" with Saudi Arabia - it will have to revise drastically its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.

And then he proffers advise to Obama Administration without mincing words:

First, President Barack Obama must address the disaster in Gaza and its causes. Inevitably, he will condemn Hamas's firing of rockets at Israel. When he does that, he should also condemn Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians and support a UN resolution to that effect; condemn the Israeli actions that led to this conflict, from settlement building in the West Bank to the blockade of Gaza and the targeted killings and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians; declare America's intention to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, with a security umbrella for countries that sign up and sanctions for those that do not; call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Shab'ah Farms in Lebanon; encourage Israeli-Syrian negotiations for peace; and support a UN resolution guaranteeing Iraq's territorial integrity.

The Saudis believe in quiet diplomacy and almost never speak out like this. The royal family rules with consensus and these words from Turki reflect their current exasperation and fears. At stake is not only the fate of the warring factions in the the mid-east, but one can sense their own insecurities. Nobody can predict what may happen to their rule if the Kingdom's citizens rebel.

(I owe an apology to readers of Baithak, where I had linked this article by Prince Turki and dismissed it derisively, bracketing him with the double speak that emanates from the usual suspects in the region and alluding a collusion of interests bandying the Saudis, the Mubaraks and the Abdullahs with the Olmerts.)


Barak Obama in the first interview granted to a major network chose Al Arabiya. As every move by the his administration is keenly observed and analysed this first interview to Hisham Melhem when compared with his first phone call to a foreign leader (President Mahmud UncleTom Abbas of the near defunct and puppet PA) gave out mixed signals.

He spoke of instructing Mitchell to "listen" lamenting that in the past the US started off by "dictating". He was careful to mention "Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan. These things are interrelated" while skirting around India.

Obama reiterated the US support for Israel in no uncertain terms to his Arab and Muslim audience ..."... Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel's security is paramount." But almost in the same breath he spoke to a increasing lobby within Israel that has had enough of the mayhem and violence..."But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace." and added these encouraging words, "They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side."

I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith -- and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers -- regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams. And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect.

Steve Clemons of the The Washington Note notes that Obama's "first moves have been utterly brilliant." He also connected his Al Arbia interview with what he called "Prince Turki al-Faisal's warning in the Financial Times this week" that the Arab Peace Proposal offered by King Abdullah would not remain on the table indefinitely, and that the window could be closing in the wake of the Gaza crisis."

After the previous administration's my way or the highway attitude, Obama's respect's for "words" was evident in this interview. He used "respect" four times in his interview which ran over from the initial 6-7 minutes to over 25 minutes. While ostensibly speaking to the Arabs and Muslims he also provided a parameter that his Secretary of State, Defense and National Security Adviser would find illuminating and illustrating of Obama's approach, beyond which they would venture at their peril.

The sense that IDF and Israeli politicians could be hauled for War Crimes, the loathing and impotence felt in the Arab/Muslim Main Street articulated by a reticient Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal - and responding to them as well as the haughty disregard of the Bush era - Obama's reach out to the Muslims - will prove to be the seminal events that will cast their shadows for long.

This Obama interview reminds one of Yasser Arafat's maiden speech at the UN. Now that the neoconzix era is over, let us hope this olive branch is cherished.


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