Ed: 37: June/2012
Secretive elections for new Hamas leadership bodies unofficially continued until the end of May, but even before then, it was already safe to point out some emerging trends as the movement struggles to cope with fierce debate over its future course. Top leader Khaled Meshaal has been considerably weakened as his rivals in Gaza gain more influence and commanders in the military wing assume a much broader political role. In all likelihood, these developments will further complicate the group's stalled reconciliation efforts with the Palestinian Authority (PA), accelerate its dash to achieve mass self-production of longer-range, more accurate missiles, and prevent - at least for the foreseeable future - a political divorce from Iran.
Recent weeks have seen violent clashes around Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city located in the north of the country, between Alawite supporters of the Syrian regime and Sunni backers of the anti-Assad opposition forces. To many observers, this violent escalation came as a surprise, in light of the widespread assumption that Lebanon had so far been immune to the "Arab Spring." In fact, the opposite is the case: the regional turmoil has been felt keenly within Lebanon. The events in Syria have had a major impact on Lebanon, primarily because of the tight economic, political, and geostrategic relations that historically have linked the two countries.
The American Jewish Committee is, by any standards, an outstanding organisation, and its May 2012 Annual Meeting and Global Forum provided testimony to this effect.
From debates on Iran featuring analysts who individually would command respect and attention due to their expertise; through sessions where a variety of serving Ministers for International Affairs shared understandings of contemporary challenges; to a hugely informative and educational debate on the strengths and weaknesses of President Obama and Mitt Romney - there was hardly a word spoken which was unnecessary or uninteresting.
The humanity of Israel's system of administrative detention of Palestinian prisoners was the main interest when Israeli-Palestinian issues were covered in the first two weeks of May.
On May 7, Ruth Pollard wrote in the Age/Sydney Morning Herald that "the number of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails has grown to at least 2,800, human rights groups say... Israel's practice of jailing people without charge - known as administrative detention - is the main issue driving the hunger strikers...About 320 Palestinians are being held in administrative detention in Israeli prisons."
If there were more than 2,800 Palestinian prisoners starving themselves in protest against administrative detention but only 320 of them are actually there on administrative detention charges, what were the crimes of the 2,480 who were convicted or awaiting trial?
Israel's new national unity government - one of the country's broadest coalitions on record - will have its work cut out in the months ahead. Domestically, in addition to the need to re-write the rules on military service for the ultra-Orthodox minority, and promised efforts to implement overdue political reforms, last year's controversies over social equity issues are also likely to resurface.
Internationally, the problem of how to deal with Iran looms over everything else, representing perhaps the most significant existential threat Israel has faced in more than a generation.
But almost as important will be adapting to the changing and unsettled situation in Egypt, as it continues its political revolution following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year.
A lot of international commentators have been taken in by Hamas claims to be ready to accept a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders as part of a deal with Israel (though most commentators gloss over the fact that Hamas always also demands a Palestinian "right of return" - which would lead to Israel's demographic destruction.) And Hamas has made enough ambiguous noises about accepting the results of a referendum of all Palestinians on a peace deal that some have rushed to argue that Hamas will agree to a permanent two-state peace if such a referendum can be passed.
But Hamas' deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk made it very clear in an interview with the New York-based Forward published on April 27 that Hamas is saying nothing of the kind. He did say that any Israel-Palestinian agreement must be ratified by a referendum, stating "All of the Palestinians should vote about this." But he was explicit that even if such a referendum passes, it will still be merely a temporary ceasefire - a hudna in Arabic - to Hamas. He said "When we reach the agreement, our point of view is, it's a hudna." Abu Marzouk went on to mention ten years as an appropriate time frame for such a ceasefire.
When Catherine Ashton arrived in Israel last month she was carrying an outsized bundle of political baggage. The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, who is leading the international talks with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, had ostensibly made the journey to assuage Israeli doubts about the effectiveness of the talks (and to avoid public ridicule).
After a bout of negotiations in April between Iranian officials and the P5+1 group - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany - she spoke enthusiastically about creating a "constructive dialogue". In fact, the only tangible progress was an agreement to set the date (May 23) for their next meeting. Ashton's mission to persuade the Israelis that the Iranians were not making monkeys of her negotiators, as they had with earlier European interlocutors, was not crowned with success.
Fifteen months after the Egyptian revolution, the largely secular youth movement on the streets of Egypt has lost much of its enthusiasm. As the deadline for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to transfer power looms ever closer, the most pressing issue for Egypt's revolutionaries is their lack of representation in the formation of a new government in the place of Hosni Mubarak's regime, which they were instrumental in toppling.
The revolutionary youth, however, have failed to articulate clear demands to negotiate with the various presidential candidates. Instead of endorsing one viable candidate to represent their interests, they have backed disparate - and failed - campaigns.
In one of the strangest about-faces ever seen in its politics, the Jewish State woke up Tuesday, May 8 with the main Opposition party, Kadima, joining the Government, after the country had gone to bed the previous night with an early-election bill already in the process of being legislated.
The new broad government, whose backing by 94 of 120 lawmakers makes it the second largest in Israeli history (in 1969 Golda Meir headed a coalition of 102 MKs), is a result of momentary circumstances, but it may have longer-term implications.
Since we don't know what Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said at the recent late April confab in Istanbul, we can't be sure that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was right to dismiss that pow-wow as a "freebie" for Teheran. Also, the Islamic Republic is a theocracy: The most senior officials need to report face-to-face to their master. Jalili, an ill-tempered, narrow-minded, one-legged veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, lost face after a disastrous meeting in Geneva in October 2009, when he tentatively agreed to a nuclear-fuel swap, only to see the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, bat the deal down from Teheran. And so another get-together is scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad.