Ed: 36: August/2011
The acclaimed "Arab Spring" has given way to a murky summer, dominated by uncertainty, fog and danger as much as democratic hopes, according to academic experts. Some of the movements for reform which blossomed across the region earlier this year may take a long time to mature into democratic regimes resembling those in Eastern Europe which emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Others may simply wilt and decay.
It may be more Woodstock than Tahrir Square, but the energy springing from a protesters' tent city along Tel Aviv's fashionable Rothschild Boulevard represents economic, social and political realities that challenge Binyamin Netanyahu's leadership in a way he cannot ignore.
Some 300 tents sprang up almost overnight under the trees lining the road between the national theatre Habima and the glitzy skyscrapers housing Israel's major banks, all put there to protest spiralling housing prices.
The US administration's policy toward Syria is shaping up to be potentially the greatest missed opportunity of Barack Obama's presidency. If Syria were to break the right way and the regime in Damascus were to fall, the most tenacious state-sponsor of terrorism in the Arab world - Teheran's strongest ally and the lifeline to the terrorism-loving Lebanese Hezbollah - would be taken out. Alas, an administration that came into office only a little less eager to engage Damascus than Teheran seems stuck in its stillborn Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the turmoil of the Great Arab Revolt.
In 1977, Abbas Milani, then a US-educated lecturer at the National University of Iran was arrested by Iranian security forces loyal to the Shah as a result of his authorship of anti-regime pamphlets. He was given over to the far-from-tender mercies of the Komiteh ["the Committee to Fight Terrorism"], one of Iran's thuggish security services. In 1996, Milani wrote of his Komiteh interrogator, "In the past eighteen years, rarely has there been a day or night in which the memory of his threats, his punch, and the fierce look in his eyes has not haunted me." After a peremptory trial, Milani was jailed for one year, including three weeks in solitary confinement, at Teheran's infamous Evin Prison. (He would likely have received a harsher sentence if his case had not attracted attention in the West). He shared his imprisonment with such later luminaries of the subsequent 1979 Islamic Revolution as future President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani and Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who became Khomeini's designated successor in 1985 before falling out with him in 1989.
The Palestinian Authority's (PA) bid to unilaterally seek UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines in September appears to be losing momentum - not least among Palestnians...
The PA's plan to seek UN recognition of nominal statehood cannot lead to anything good for either Palestinians or Israelis, as even many Palestinians are now acknowledging. The US will likely veto any resolution on statehood in the Security Council, which alone has authority to grant UN entry, so the Palestinians will have to instead go directly to the UN General Assembly and seek recognition as a non-member observer state.
Not far from Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the storied birthplace of Jesus Christ and the West Bank's most popular tourist site, there lies a landmark of a very different kind. Sitting horizontally on a gate in front of the al-Ayda Refugee Camp is a 10-metre long iron key, weighing nearly two tons. The seemingly innocuous monument actually represents the most controversial demand made by pro-Palestinian advocates: That Israel must permit up to 5 million Palestinians to immigrate across its borders, effectively ending any chance it will endure another generation as a homeland for the Jewish people.
A horrific event, like the July 22 mass-murder of 76 people in Oslo, Norway by far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, inevitably calls forth huge amounts of commentary attempting to explain how it could have happened and what it means. Some of what is said is insightful, useful, knowledgeable, comforting andor thought-provoking. But, inevitably, some is also questionable, misleading, self-serving, ill-informed, foolish, morally dubious and/or just plain ugly. Having read much of what is being said about this sickening crime, I wanted to call attention to some common themes I have seen - especially those exemplifying the latter kind of commentary.
A few days before this article was written, it is doubtful many, if any, readers were familiar with the name Anders Behring Breivik.
Perhaps some of my international colleagues who research and attempt to understand the various personalities that participate in the shadowy world of European extremism may have stumbled upon his rantings and rationalisations, but the dispassionate mass murderer had not been flagged as a person of any influence or likely impact, even though he had reportedly been on a Norwegian government watch list since March.
Now he is notorious - as a callous mass murderer.
One of the most reliable indices of political heat in Malaysia is when the spectre of Jews or Israel is invoked to discredit domestic political enemies. That no instance seems too far-fetched is an interesting indicator of how Jews are perceived in a country with no Jewish population of its own - a fantasy notion of Jewish omnipotence, antisemitism or probably a combination of both.
The unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, and its international recognition, would be a huge mistake.
A peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is essential, but can be achieved only through honest negotiations - not by one party imposing a unilateral decision.
Over the past two years, the Palestinian Authority has refused to sit at the negotiating table with the Israeli government, hiding behind the excuse of construction work on a few West Bank settlements. At the same time, it has been negotiating the creation of a national unity government with Hamas - a terrorist group whose stated aim is the elimination of Israel. A Palestinian "government" of a unilaterally established, self-declared "Palestinian state" in which Hamas is a member will make negotiations, to say nothing of a peace agreement, impossible.