Ed: 37: March/2012
Recently, detailed accounts were published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz of the January round of Israeli-Palestinian "negotiations about negotiating" held in Amman, Jordan.
According to the Haaretz account, Israeli negotiators offered a somewhat vague but important statement of the principles which would underly a peace agreement to include a Palestinian state in the vast majority of the West Bank plus Gaza - one which Haaretz described as "similar, if not identical to that which was presented by [then Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni during the negotiations that took place in 2008 after the Annapolis Conference."
In December, I wrote on AIJAC's "Fresh AIR" blog (available on-line at www.aijac.org.au/news/article/antisemitism-in-the-middle-east-in-1835) about a 19th century book that had been rediscovered which shed a great deal of light on the situation of Jews in the Arab Middle East in the 1830s - before Zionism became an issue, and before there was significant European influence on those societies. I noted that the book in question, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, by Edward William Lane and Edward Stanley Poole, based on numerous visits to Egypt, countered common but erroneous beliefs that the Middle East was largely free from significant antisemitism or large-scale persecution of Jews before these influences.
Idlib Province, Syria - The mountains outside Antakya were wrapped in black clouds the day we crossed the border from Turkey into Syria. The smugglers said this was a good sign as the Syrian Army patrols don't care for rain and mud, and would tend to stay in their huts, making our crossing safer. That was how it turned out. We pushed up the border fence and crawled through at around 9 p.m. There were horses heavily laden with contraband waiting for us just inside. We rode them across the mountains in the rain and arrived in Syria without being seen.
What began in March 2011 as an attempt to suppress peaceful anti-government demonstrations has evolved into a war - one that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now waging against armed groups and the Syrian people with utter determination and extreme violence. Viewing the conflict as a life-or-death struggle, the regime is escalating its use of military force with near-total disregard for the opinions of the outside world. Since late January, it has used a combination of strategic, operational, and tactical measures to conduct a major offensive against the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the popular opposition, and the areas they control. In doing so, it has revealed its strengths and weaknesses, suggesting areas of focus for any potential international military intervention. Ultimately, without armed intervention, substantial military assistance to the FSA, or both, the best that can be hoped for is a bloody and protracted war of attrition with an uncertain outcome.
On February 6, 2012, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal signed a new agreement to create a Palestinian national unity government for the West Bank and Gaza.
The Doha Declaration, like previous Fatah-Hamas agreements, emphasises the need to implement the agreements between the sides - once again demonstrating the difficulty of achieving institutional unity in the Palestinian arena in light of Hamas' declared ambition to assume senior status in representing the Palestinian people. The two sides will have to show great creativity to overcome the many obstacles facing the holding of elections, from unifying the separate civilian and security institutions in the West Bank and Gaza, to budget allocations.
Half-a-decade after it won its first and last general election, Israel's political centre is scrambling for a future in a rapidly changing ideological landscape.
At the heart of the jockeying is a three-way contest over the leadership of the main Israeli opposition party, Kadima, and the emergence of a new rival to the party for the middle of the road voter.
Iran's policies now lie at the centre of world politics. Far too little attention, however, is being paid to the unique ideological atmosphere that makes the Iranian nuclear weapons program so dangerous.
Holocaust denial is certainly the cruellest aspect of this ideology, for whoever denies the Holocaust kills the victims a second time. The denial of the Holocaust is also its most bewildering aspect - no other crime in history is better documented.
The recent international focus on Iran's nuclear ambitions generated a lot of heat and occasionally some light in the Australian media.
A Sydney Morning Herald (February 6) editorial astutely warned "there is simply no precedent for a revolutionary Islamist regime getting its hands on nuclear weapons." But there was no grasp that sanctions need a credible military option too, with the paper insisting "Israeli air strikes will only strengthen Tehran's determination to get the bomb".
An additional SMH editorial (Feb. 20) sensed Iran was holding out "the white flag of negotiation."
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a Muslim-owned café in an east Jerusalem suburb, discussing the complexities of Middle Eastern affairs with a Greek Orthodox Palestinian nationalist.
Hours earlier, I had met with a young, American-born Jewish woman, a high achiever academically who seemed to have the world at her feet in the USA or Europe. She spoke of her decision, as an independent young adult, to emigrate to Israel, where she is currently going through basic military training.