Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Palestine papers: A Palestinian tragedy

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Palestine papers: A Palestinian tragedy

The ‘Al-Jazeera’ documents do little to help save the prospects
for a future Palestinian state, and, in fact, empower the extremists.

No matter what position Palestinian secular leaders take on compromise with Israel, they will always be denounced as traitors by the extremists. That’s a fact one must remember in trying to decipher the accuracy and details of the socalled Palestine Papers – more than 1,600 notes and records of contacts between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators desperately trying to carve out a final peace deal.

Although the veracity of the documents has not been proven, the reports smack of truth.

Palestinian leaders are divided into two camps – secular Arabs willing to compromise to end more than 62 years of conflict and statelessness, and religious fanatics who would rather die than compromise on two states, especially if one is Jewish.

Naturally, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is going to be attacked by the fanatics and their Hamas terrorist supporters. That’s what fanatics do.

The worst part is that, judging by the leaks released so far, it’s clear that the Palestinian negotiators did their best to make concessions meant to encourage the Olmert-led government at the time to sign a peace accord. But no dice.

As for the current government lead by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, it was clear from the moment he refused to extend the moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank and around Jerusalem that he was not interested in a two-state solution, despite his statements to the contrary.

This battle shows where the real priorities of both Israel and the Arab extremists are.

Israel’s government is not ready to compromise. And it’s just as clear that Hamas and its fanatic supporters do not want peace and believe that in continued conflict, they have a chance of one day destroying Israel and restoring pre-1920s Palestine.

THE REAL tragedy is that the documents, obtained and released by Al-Jazeera, have only helped further divide the already divided Palestinian people.

Although fanatics opposed to concessions fuel the anger of the Palestinian people, that anger is only digging them into a deeper hole of despair.

Palestinians have no future with the fanatics, but in the face of Israel’s refusal to compromise, even futility can be made to feel good.

The irony here is that the real story is not that the Abbas government was willing to “surrender” too much in the failed peace talks. The real story is that the Palestinians too offered the Israelis the best deal they can ever expect and it was still refused.

Tragically, moderate and secular Palestinians are being pushed aside by the strident rhetoric of the fanatics. The Al- Jazeera documents do little to help save the prospects of a Palestinian state, and, in fact, empower the extremists.

In this Palestinian tragedy is a future of pain and suffering for Israel too.

History has shown that secular Palestinians have been the ones willing to make peace; it has been the religious fanatics who have thrown out reason in favor of a future where they believe they have a chance at destroying Israel.

The real tragedy is that the Israeli government’s intransigence risks hastening the day when Hamas and Hizbullah will become a potent unified force, guaranteeing a future of dangerous uncertainty.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yalla Peace: What's the alternative?

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Yalla Peace: What's the alternative?

The extremists are the only other option in several Arab countries
and they offer an even more frightening future – devoid of any freedoms.

Many are closely watching the events in Tunisia, where protesters have brought down the repressive, half-century old dictatorship that saw one tyrant replaced by another.

The people of Tunisia, like most people in the Arab world, have never tasted real freedom. In 1987, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali staged a bloodless coup that unseated one tyrant and placed the future of the country in his hands. That ended when a young college graduate set himself on fire last month to protest oppressive government policies, setting off riots and protests in the streets.

Ben Ali has fled, but his oppressive policies and government are being absorbed by his political pals, and the call for democracy and freedom in Tunisia is going unheeded.

Many would like to see the fires of freedom spread across the Arab world and into Israel, where the Jewish state enjoys a dual system – full democracy for some and less for others.

It’s even worse in the Arab world. Although Israel is far from a perfect democracy, the Arab world is anything but. There are no freedoms in Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Lebanon, where sectarian violence is again rearing its ugly head, this time with a Hizbullah vengeance. Lebanon is the Arab country that has been closest to real democracy, but religious fanatics continue to threaten that goal.

Egypt is a dictatorship. The so-called president, Hosni Mubarak, reportedly ready to retire or at least preparing for his own death, is pushing his son as his successor. Nepotism is a key characteristic of Arab dictatorships, and Egypt is no exception.

The real threat to the Mubarak dictatorship is in fact the reason why he remains in control of that impoverished, oppressed country. The religious fanatics are the only alternative to Mubarak’s secular tyranny, and they offer an even more frightening future – devoid of any freedoms.

The fanatics are a gathering storm in the Middle East, and the only answer so far has been dictatorship to prevent them from taking control in several Arab countries.

Lebanon is a good example of how religious extremism from Hizbullah is threatening to destroy the secular democracy that the country has barely enjoyed. Already, Hizbullah is slowly taking control.

Elsewhere, Iraq has a puppet government controlled by the American military – it had elections but it took more than eight months of American wheeling and dealing to bring them to a semblance of closure.

Jordan is in a precarious position. Ruled by an absolute monarch, it faces the same religious fanaticism that threatens Egypt. When confronted with a choice between religious extremists and the existing tyranny that controls Egypt, Jordan and even Syria, tyranny looks far better.

That’s the future for the Arab world. Israel could help stand up to the religious fanatic threats, but its failure to bring peace only feeds the religious fervor, as Hamas gains in strength each day that peace is not achieved.

Tunisia may symbolize a people’s revolt against tyranny and oppression, but it’s not a pattern that will soon repeat itself in other countries.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Yalla Peace: Is this not terrorism?

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Yalla Peace: Is this not terrorism?
01/11/2011 23:32

When a white man shoots 17 people and kills six, he’s ‘crazy,’
but if the killer were Arab or Muslim, we would be having a very different conversation.

When news reports broke that an unidentified man had fired a gun at a meeting organized by a local congresswoman in Tucson, Arizona, I immediately wondered if it was an act of terrorism or just meaningless violence.

Among the 17 people wounded and six killed was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who had been the target of much hate rhetoric that has come to dominate the political debate in America, not just about the Middle East but about domestic politics.

The gunman turned out to be a 22-year-old white male named Jared L. Loughner. And immediately, media pundits started to say that he was just a “crazed loner.”

It made me think about what might have been said if the killer had been Arab or Muslim.

You know the debate would be different and people would be screaming that the Arab killer was clearly a part of some international jihad network, even if he (or she) had committed the crime on his own.

Yes. When a white man shoots 17 people and kills six, including a nine-year-old girl, he’s a “crazy person.”

But when an Arab or Muslim kills people, like military officer Nidal Hassan for example, he’s part of some vast Islamic conspiracy.

I was about to complain.

But then I actually thought about it; when you are white, you are crazy, when you are Arab, you’re part of some conspiracy, which I guess is better than being a crazy person.

Arabs are never “crazy” in events like this. Even though Loughner refers to himself as a terrorist on one of YouTube videos, no one else is. They just call him a killer.

You see, the fact that some innocent persons were killed doesn’t seem to be as important as the attempts to define why the murders took place.

ONE BRAVE American, Clarence W. Dupnik, has declared that the Loughner shooting is the result of an increase in the strident hate rhetoric that is overcoming America over the past few years, especially since September 11, 2001 and the election seven years later of President Barack Obama.

Dupnik is not just some pundit.

He is the sheriff in Tucson, Arizona, where the killings took place.

Immediately, the right-wing nut jobs started to come out from under their rocks denouncing Dupnik, especially after many media started wondering if some politicians may have been helping to raise the level of hate. They pointed to the website of Sarah Palin and members of the extremist Tea Party movement, who have put “telescopic crosshairs” on graphics to target members of Congress who have been “too liberal.”

A crosshair is a symbol of a rifle’s scope and is associated with guns, so the symbolism is not lost on many observers.

I know that the majority of Americans are good people. In fact, the majority of Palestinians and Israelis are good people, too.

But sometimes the good people don’t speak out enough to challenge the voices of stridency and hatred. We avoid confrontation yet we’re outraged when the stridency results in killings as it did in Arizona.

Moderates need to do more.

We need to speak out against strident voices whether they are here in the US or in Israel and Palestine.

If we want a good future, we need to start showing some compassion, not hostility for those with whom we might disagree.

There is a way to disagree without being disagreeable.

And while we need a lot more of that in the US, Palestinians and Israelis could some too.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

Yalla Peace: The Katsav verdict and Arab gloating

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Yalla Peace: The Katsav verdict and Arab gloating

In the Arab world the oppression and rape of women
is not always considered an offense but a male right.

Many in the Arab and Muslim world are gloating at the news of the conviction of former president Moshe Katsav on charges of rape and sexual harassment. To them, it is proof of Israel’s corruption and helps them maintain their campaign for Palestinian justice and point fingers at the country without being in the crosshairs of world opinion themselves. Clean and clear blame. Proof that Israel is bad.

The Katsav headlines, they claim, show how corrupt Israel is and how uncorrupt the Arab world is. That’s far from true, of course.

The Arab world has always used Israel as a distraction for the public from its regimes’ own corruption. When Saddam Hussein launched unprovoked wars or persecuted minorities and became the target of Western anger and military assault, he wrapped himself tight in the Palestinian cause. Many Arab tyrants have used Palestinian suffering similarly.

The truth is that the Katsav conviction actually shines a bright spotlight on the corruption in the Arab world, corruption that, unlike in Israel, goes unpunished in most Arab countries.

How great would it be if a court in an Arab country, or even in a Muslim country where laws are held in such alleged high esteem, were to announce the conviction of an Arab tyrant or dictator the way Israel’s prosecutors have taken on Katsav?

KATSAV WAS convicted for sex crimes, while sadly in the Arab world the oppression and rape of women is not always considered a crime, but a male right. And when women protest, they are punished and sometimes killed. There are laws to protect male abuse of women, laws dubbed “honor crimes.”

The truth is the Katsav prosecution is yet another example of how Israel, despite its occupation and unfair treatment of the Palestinians, is a much more legally just nation than any other in the region.

For all the claims by those in the Arab world that the Palestinians deserve justice, there is very little real justice in their own countries.

That’s not to say that there are no crimes in Israel or that the country is right in its obstinate refusal to recognize Palestine as a state without extracting ridiculously unfair and unjust concessions. But there are lessons from Israel that many in the Arab world could learn. And this is one of them.

THE REAL tragedy of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that issues of justice become political. Real crimes in our own backyard as Arabs are hidden or brushed aside as if they do not exist.

We have lost the sense of true justice, the principle that a crime is a crime regardless of how it might impact a political environment or a political conflict.

I wonder how many presidents or kings in Arab countries would face such accusations. My guess is the prosecutors or witnesses in such cases would be silenced. The media would not be permitted to publish such heresy. Newspapers reporting it would be shut down. Anyone in the Arab public caught repeating the charges would be jailed or worse. Instead of shining a light on the criminals in power, those crying for justice would be punished.

And that’s a tragedy for civil rights in the Arab and Muslim world. Because until they can prosecute a corruption case of such similar magnitude, they cannot claim to be better than Israel.

That kind of justice is the justice that all Arabs and Muslims should strive to achieve – prosecuting anybody who violates the rule of law, regardless of who they are.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.