Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What Blair should have said

By MELANIE PHILIPS 26/04/2014      
Tony Blair, Britain’s former prime minister, took a scalpel to a neuralgic issue last week. In a major speech on Wednesday, he declared that the West needed to swallow its differences with Russia and China and make common cause with them to counter the threat of radical Islam, the biggest threat to global security today.

Blair has understood that, with the world facing this lethal threat, there is an even more dangerous reluctance in the West to engage with it – even to the point of understanding exactly what it is.

His remarks provoked scorn and fury in equal measure. He was accused of being “the tyrants’ friend,” “embarrassingly simple-minded” and posing a “threat to world peace.”

The second issue on which Blair provoked fury was Israel. Despite his pro-Israel views – for which he paid a heavy price in British politics – he used to maintain that solving Israel/Palestine would solve the region’s problems. Now he understands, correctly, that solving the region’s problems is critical to solving Israel/Palestine.

This is incomprehensible to those for whom Palestinian “victimization” by Israel is the defining issue of the times. But Mr. Blair wants people to understand that the real issue is the global threat from radical Islam.

As he said, “There is not a region of the world not adversely affected by Islamism” – including Europe, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda of Islamizing the West has been allowed to proceed unchecked. Yet the West goes to extraordinary lengths to deny this common factor. For saying we need to take sides, to “engage” and “intervene” against radical Islam, Blair stands accused of supporting tyrants. But in strategically crucial Egypt, it is only rational that Blair should say of General Sisi, the autocrat who stands against rule by the Muslim Brotherhood, that “it is massively in our interests that he succeeds.”

Nevertheless, aspects of this speech suggested Blair remains in a bit of a muddle. The turmoil in the Middle East, he said, was fundamentally due to the “titanic struggle” between Muslim reformers and Islamic radicals within both the Sunni and Shia worlds. That undoubted struggle, however, is by no means the whole story.

The unpalatable truth which he failed to acknowledge is that, invariably, the choice in the Middle East is not between a nasty strong man and nice reformers, but between a nasty strong man and Islamic radicals who threaten the West.

His deepest mistake, however, was to say that the “radicalized and politicized” view of Islam was “an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message.”

This is the argument that Islam is really a religion of peace and so the extremists don’t represent “true” Islam. But this is not correct. While millions of Muslims around the world do shun the violent or extreme tenets of the religion, these are endorsed by all the Islamic authorities who matter.

It is more correct to say Islamic radicalism is a valid interpretation of Islam, no less “true” just because it is not universally endorsed. Yet Blair elides “interpretation” with “perversion” – thus undermining his own message that the West doesn’t understand the nature and severity of the threat from the Islamic world.

He also omitted to mention the most devastating blow of all to the security of the West: that President Obama’s America has stopped defending its allies and is instead empowering its enemies. The Arab and Muslim world perceives the US throwing in the towel in Afghanistan, breaking its own red lines over Syria and displaying impotence over Ukraine.

Above all, it recognizes from the farcical negotiations in Geneva that the US will not stop Iran from getting the bomb, and that it has actually strengthened Iran’s stranglehold on the region.

Arab rulers will always align themselves with whatever “strong horse” they perceive to be dominating the pack. Accordingly, Arab states previously helpful or essential to the West such as Egypt are cozying up instead to Russia, China or even Iran itself.

The one beacon of stability and freedom in the entire region is the nation that is directly threatened with annihilation: Israel. America and Europe should therefore stop beating it up and rewarding or appeasing those who want it destroyed, from the Palestinian Authority to Iran. They should instead start defending their one true ally against the enemies who threaten them all. Western interests, commercial as well as security and political, lie in supporting Israel. Only when the West finally understands that will it have any hope of defeating the radical Islamist enemy. That’s what Blair should have said.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Waiting for the Palestinian Godot

Why are we repeatedly surprised every time Mahmoud Abbas fails to sign a peace agreement with Israel?
 By Ari Shavit Apr.24.2014
There are some moments a journalist will never forget. In early 1997, Yossi Beilin decided to trust me, and show me the document that proved that peace was within reach. The then-prominent and creative politician from the Labor movement opened up a safe, took out a stack of printed pages, and laid them down on the table like a player with a winning poker hand.
Rumors were rife about the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement, but only a few had the opportunity to see the document with their own eyes or hold it in their hands. I was one of those few. With mouth agape I read the comprehensive outline for peace that had been formulated 18 months earlier by two brilliant champions of peace -- one, Israeli, and one, Palestinian. The document left nothing to chance: Mahmoud Abbas is ready to sign a permanent agreement. The refugee from Safed had overcome the ghosts of the past and the ideas of the past, and was willing to build a joint Israeli-Palestinian future, based on coexistence. If we could only get out from under the Likud’s thumb, and get Benjamin Netanyahu out of office, he will join us, hand in hand, walking toward the two-state solution. Abbas is a serious partner for true peace, the one with whom we can make a historic breakthrough toward reconciliation.
We understood. We did what was necessary. In 1999, we ousted Likud and Netanyahu. In 2000, we went to the peace summit at Camp David. Whoops, surprise: Abbas didn’t bring the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan to Camp David, or any other draft of a peace proposal. The opposite was true: He was one of the staunchest objectors, and his demand for the right of return prevented any progress.
But don’t believe we’d give up so quickly. During the fall of 2003, as the Geneva Accord was being formulated, it was clear to us that there were no more excuses, and that now, Abbas would sign the new peace agreement and adopt its principles. Whoops, surprise: Abu Mazen sent Yasser Abed Rabbo (a former Palestinian Authority minister) instead, while he stayed in his comfy Ramallah office. No signature, no accord.
But people as steadfast as us don’t give up on our dreams. So in 2008 we got behind Ehud Olmert, and the marathon talks he held with Abbas, and the offer that couldn’t be refused. Whoops, surprise: Abu Mazen didn’t actually refuse, he just disappeared. He didn’t say yes, he didn’t say no, he just vanished without a trace.
Did we start to understand that we were facing the Palestinian Yitzhak Shamir? No, no, no. In the summer of 2009, we even supported Netanyahu, when he made overtures to Abbas with his Bar-Ilan speech, and the settlement freeze. Whoops, surprise: the sophisticated objector didn’t blink, or trip up. He simple refused to dance the tango of peace with the right-wing Israeli leader.
Have we opened our eyes? Of course not. Again, we blamed Netanyahu and Likud, and believed that in 2014, Abu Mazen wouldn’t dare to say no, not to John Kerry. Whoops, surprise: In his own sophisticated, polite way, Abbas has said no in recent months to both Kerry and Barack Obama. Again, the Palestinian president’s position is clear and consistent: The Palestinians must not be required to make concessions. It’s a complicated game – squeezing more and more compromises out of the Israelis, without the Palestinians granting a single real, compromise of their own.
Take heed: Twenty years of fruitless talks have led to nothing. There is no document that contains any real Palestinian concession with Abbas’ signature. None. There never was, and there never will be.

During the 17 years that have gone by since Beilin took that document out of his safe, he’s gotten divorced, remarried, and had grandchildren. I also divorced, remarried, and brought (more) children into the world. Time passes and the experiences we’ve accumulated have taught both Beilin and me more than a few things. But many others haven’t learned a thing. They’re still allowing Abbas to make fools of them, as they wait for the Palestinian Godot, who will never show up.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Europe's Unaccountable Palestinian Aid

By  Michael Theurer*  April 9, 2014

(“BIG” Editor comments -The government is considering subtracting from the monthly tax revenue it transfers to the Palestinian Authority the amount the PA pays to terrorists and their families, a government official said on Wednesday.
Holding back the monthly tax revenues – or a part of them – is one option Israel is considering, the official said, in response to the PA ’s unilateral application last week to join 15 international conventions and treaties, a move that sent the diplomatic talks into a tailspin.
According to a document released from the Prime Minister’s Office, the PA transferred $153.5m. in 2012 to terrorists in Israeli prisons and to their families, as well as to families of deceased terrorists, including suicide bombers. This amounts to nearly 16 percent of all foreign aid to the PA .
It should also be noted that the Palestinians owe in excess of $300 mill. to the Israeli Electric Co. )
The government in the West Bank is the only body receiving EU funds regardless of its human-rights record or economic performance.

At a time of austerity and belt-tightening, the European Union remains the biggest donor to Third World countries. EU assistance to the developing world serves European values and objectives—but only if EU institutions abide by the highest standards of accountability in managing European taxpayers' money. As a recent report by the European Court of Auditors found, that hasn't always been the case with respect to EU aid to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

Since the 1994 Oslo Agreement, which created the Palestinian Authority, the EU has offered generous financial assistance to Ramallah to help advance a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. The EU is today the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, which relies mainly on foreign donations. But European lawmakers have a duty to ensure that EU funds aren't diverted from the noble purpose for which they're intended.
In its report, issued in December, the European Court of Auditors revealed major dysfunctions in the management of EU financial support to the Palestinian Authority, and called for a serious overhaul of the funding mechanism.

Among other things, the court criticized the absence of any conditions for EU aid to the Palestinian Authority, an approach that reduces the potential leverage of the EU to push for more reforms from the Palestinian Authority. This is a surprising exception to the EU's famous "more-for-more" principle, according to which the EU offers stronger partnership and more incentives to countries that make more progress toward democratic reforms. This principle applies to every other recipient of EU aid in the world. In other words, the Palestinian Authority is the only body that receives EU funds regardless of its human-rights record or economic performance.

The court also revealed that, since 2007, "a considerable number" of Palestinian Authority civil servants in Gaza have received their salaries partly funded through EU aid—even though they "were not going to work due to the political situation in Gaza." How exactly does this contribute to peace-building? And how can the EU preserve its credibility back home when it pays salaries to people who don't work, while millions of European citizens are unemployed?

The court also found that the EU paid insufficient attention to the fungibility of the funds it provided to the Palestinian Authority. There is reason to believe that EU financial assistance has allowed the Palestinian Authority to use its own general budget to support terrorist or criminal activities.

The Palestinian Authority, for example, allocates a significant portion of its budget to paying salaries to Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism offenses. These salaries are up to five times higher than the average salary in the West Bank. Prisoners also receive large grants from the Palestinian Authority. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 2012 the Palestinian Authority's payments to convicted terrorists in Israeli prisons and to the families of deceased terrorists (including suicide bombers) together accounted for more than 16% of the annual foreign donations and grants to the budget of the Palestinian Authority. In February this year the Palestinian minister for prisoners' affairs announced that €30 million will be allocated to current or former prisoners in 2014.

One of the Palestinian Authority's main challenges is its widespread reputation for graft. That reputation has contributed to the success of Hamas, an EU-designated terrorist organization. Very simply, the more the PA is perceived as corrupt by the Palestinian people, the greater their support will be for Hamas. Thus, to promote peace and stability, Brussels must help the Palestinian Authority build strong and transparent institutions. This can't be achieved as long as the EU fails to set clear conditions for aid.
How can we ensure that EU financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority helps advance peace and stability in the region, while also promoting freedom, democracy and the rule of law? How can we guarantee no EU funds are used to reward terrorism? How can we be sure that EU money meant for public investment doesn't wind up in private Palestinian bank accounts?

The report from the European Court of Auditors is a wake-up call on the need for stricter supervision of how EU funding to the Palestinian Authority is spent. The plenary of the European Parliament last week passed a resolution calling for greater transparency in EU aid to the Palestinian Authority.

As chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control and a contributor to that resolution, I'm proud of my colleagues. But much more needs to be done: A useful next step would be the imposition of clear benchmarks and conditions that the Palestinian Authority would have to meet in order to receive additional EU funds. These should include improving the state of human rights in the West Bank, cracking down on corruption and cutting off subsidies to convicted Palestinian terrorists.

In these hard times, Brussels shouldn't tolerate blatant misuse of EU taxpayers' money.

* Mr. Theurer is chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Twelve Questions About the “Peace Process”

In today’s New York Times, a letter from Dov Bruce Krulwich in Beit Shemesh, Israel, asks two questions about the possible release of Jonathan Pollard to encourage Israel to release Palestinian murderers to convince the Palestinians to discuss a Palestinian state, even though the Palestinians “refuse even to agree that the end game involves two states for two peoples”:
(1) Shouldn’t a people who have never had a state be the ones making goodwill gestures to continue a process that will benefit them the    most?
(2) Why weren’t the previous good-will gestures, not to mention all the good-will gestures in the past 20 years, enough to expect the Palestinians to take a step themselves?

Those questions lead to some of my own:
(3)  Why do people have to be paid–in the form of cash, prisoners, freezes, etc.–to convince them to show up to negotiate a state for themselves?
(4)  Why do people who have signed a formal agreement, obligating themselves not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the status of the disputed territories, have to be paid to convince them to adhere to their agreement?
(5)  Why are people who have already been offered (and rejected) a state three times in the last decade–with each offer covering substantially all of the disputed territories and a capital in Jerusalem–entitled to a fourth offer?
(6)  Why is a putative Palestinian state, ruled half by a terrorist group and half by a “president” currently in the 10th year of his four-year term, with the two groups unable to live side by side in peace with each other (much less Israel), ready to be a state–even assuming agreement could be reached on its borders or any other issue?
(7)  Why is U.S. foreign policy–with the Arab world in a state of chaos ranging from Libya to Egypt to Syria to Lebanon–fixated on trying to establish another already-failed state right next to Israel?

Which brings one again to the two questions posed by Dennis Ross last month in the course of summarizing the Israeli position in the current impasse:
(8)  If you [the Palestinians] believe in two states, why is it that Israel being the nation-state of the Jewish people is something that you can’t accept?
(9)  Why is it that self-determination for the Jewish people in a part of historic Palestine is something that you [the Palestinians] can’t embrace?

As the American secretary of state reduces his goal from (a) reaching a peace agreement to (b) reaching a “framework” for an agreement to (c) simply keeping the Palestinian “president” at the negotiating table for six months, to be purchased by more Israeli pre-negotiation concessions, the pertinent questions include those that Elliott Abrams asked yesterday:
(10)      Where does it stop?
(11)      What are the limiting principles? …
(12)      What will [the secretary of state] want next year [from Israel] when Abbas threatens to leave the table again?

The history of the “peace process” is now several stages past tragedy and farce. The side that supposedly wants a state won’t discuss one without compensation to do so; won’t accept a state as an end-of-claims solution but only as a stage in a continuing attempt to “return” to the other one; won’t agree that “two states for two peoples” is the goal of the process, much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state; can’t even hold an election, much less manage a stable state; ignores obligations under its prior agreement with Israel while asking Israel to believe it would abide by a new one; has already demonstrated three times in less than a decade it will not accept the “Everyone [Supposedly] Knows” peace plan; and does not even have a “president” legally in office, able to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinian groups, much less enforce any agreement he might reach.
Meanwhile, the U.S. leans on Israel, because a Palestinian state remains the central goal of an American foreign policy that long ago lost sight of the fact that–under the above circumstances–a Palestinian state would not be a “solution” to anything.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Comparing the BBC’s coverage of two tragic stories from Gaza

Seventeen months ago the BBC gave extensive coverage to the story of a child killed in the Gaza Strip during the conflict between Hamas and Israel in November 2012. The corporation’s journalists rushed to promote an unquestioned and unverified version of the story of the death of Omar Masharawi – the son of a BBC employee – according to which he had been killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Months later, in March 2013, that already shaky story was shown to be even less rooted in accurate and impartial reporting when a UN report stated that the incident was most likely caused by a misfired rocket launched by one of the Palestinian terror organisations operating in the Gaza Strip.

The BBC’s subsequent addition of a footnote to a report which had at the time appeared on its website for four straight months did little to correct the damage caused by the irresponsible and cavalier promotion of an inaccurate story which its journalists had not adequately verified, but which fit in with their own preconceived narrative.

Last week a two year-old child named Mohammed al Hamadin died as a result of injuries he had sustained in an explosion on March 11th at his family home in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip. Mohammed was among some six people injured and three killed in that explosion. The three dead weredescribed by Palestinian sources as being “affiliated” with Hamas and indeed the al Qassam Brigades published notification of the death of one of the men whilst two of the others appear to have also hadSalafi Jihadi connections.

 According to AP“A security official said the three dead were Hamas militants, and that the blast had been caused while mishandling explosives.”

Palpress reports that:
“According to media reports that the explosion, which occurred last week in the home led to the deaths of three young men who were working on the processing of homemade rockets.”
The fact that no mention of this latest incident of a child being killed in the Gaza Strip because of the actions of Palestinian terror organisations has appeared in any BBC News report will not come as much of a surprise to readers because the BBC habitually turns a blind eye to the many cases of Palestinian casualties caused by short-falling missiles and other terrorist activity of the type which resulted in the death of little Mohammed al Hamadin.

That state of affairs raises uncomfortable questions about which factors in a story relating to Palestinian casualties make it newsworthy – or not – as far as the BBC is concerned and why an incident in which a child was killed that does not further a preconceived political narrative is not told to BBC audiences.