Friday, October 29, 2004

Will Palestine be different without Arafat?

Arafat's sudden illness & trip to France for treatment raises questions whether he will live or not. I strongly believe that Arafat has been obsessed with power and has deviated from the Palestinian cause - he has been the main obstacle for major reform in the Palestinian leadership. I also think it is very important for Israel for Arafat to live: As long as he is alive, his government is corrupted & the US is unwilling to deal with him, Israel is free to do what it likes. From the Haaretz: "The demise of Arafat would also mean the demise of the Palestinian "non-partner,"the loss of the excuse for all of Israel's main political decisions being taken unilaterally, without negotiating with the Palestinians or reaching an agreement. From Sharon's standpoint, it is preferable for the next stages o fhis plan to be carried out unilaterally, with a weakened Arafat peering out from the Muqata at the unfolding events. The timing of the severe deterioration in Arafat's health seems to have been orchestrated by a political maestro. It happened just as a majority of members of the Knesset confirmed Sharon's disengagement plan for the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, and when the United States is facing elections that may usher in a new president, John Kerry, or alternately, Bush may decide on a new policy line after Arafat. The conjunction of these three factors might create a new political opportunity, with the rise of a Palestinian leadership who will act to put an end to terror and to reform the Palestinian security organizations. But a negative scenario is also possible: Arafat's illness incapacitates him, and the leadership is paralyzed because no one will dare to take steps leading to real change, such asending the violence and renewing negotiations with Israel. Another negative scenario would be a vacuum created in Arafat's absence, leading to a battle over the inheritance, which could deteriorate into gang warfare."

"If Arafat goes, Israel is likely to hear from Europe and others that it should reopen negotiations with the new Palestinian leadership over the disengagement plan. If Abu Mazen takes the Palestinian throne, Israel will have a chance not to repeat past mistakes and to assist him immediately, and generously, so that he becomes a serious partner without the shadow of Arafat hovering over him. The same applies to Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala, who consistently avoids taking any real action. The obligations do not exist only on the Israeli side. They also confront the entire Palestinian leadership after Arafat. From Israel's point of view the first Palestinian obligation is to end terror, and to combat Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which don't want to end the war with Israel. Here Egypt has a central role to play, in brokering a cease-fire among the Palestinians and a general cease-fire. Second, the Palestinians must carry out the reforms they committed to under the road map. The reforms include reducing the number of security organizations to three, all answerable to the Palestinian PM or the Interior Ministry of the PA."
However, Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah said on FOX News: "Anyone who thinks that it makes a jot of difference whether Sharon...or Arafat is removed...will be very disappointed when they see that the conflict grinds on and the only thing that will resolve the conflict is dealing with its root causes: military occupation, settlements and Israel's determination to hold on to as much Palestinian territory as possible."

Arab media: the US punching bag? From The Jordan Times: "[NY Times columnist] Thomas L. Friedman's piece last Sunday said he found "a steadily rising perception across the Arab-Muslim world that the great enemy of Islam is JIA -- `Jews, Israel and America' -- lumped together in a single threat." Here, he too participates willingly in bashing the favourite American punching bag -- the Arab media, particularly television networks and especially Al Jazeera...Friedman charged that this anti-JIA "trend has been fanned by Arab satelliteTV stations, which deliberately [emphasis added] show split-screen images of Israelis bashing Palestinians and US forces bashing the Iraqi insurgents". What escapes Friedman's analysis, surprisingly, is the fact that these two subjects are indeed the Arab world's prime concern...He certainly must be aware, for example, that the American media have hardly exposed Israeli machinations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip...For a start, the American media can investigate Israel's lame excuse by highlighting the underground tunnels it said the Palestinians had dug across the Israeli-controlled Palestinian-Egyptian border to smuggle in arms. Or they can examine the deplorable living conditions of the Palestinians in the UN-run refugee camps which served as killing fields for the marauding Israeli troops...Another Times columnist, William L. Safire... is concerned that the "stunning reversal of opinion within a growing voting bloc [of Arab and Muslim Americans] is having an impact" in the presidential election. There are about half a million Arab Americans in Michigan, one of the battleground states, and he reports that, according to the Arab-American Institute, "most have turned anti-Bush"... Safire offers a lopsided cover-up: "... most Jewish Americans quite properly base their vote on the issues like social justice, civil liberty, economic fairness and not primarily on what may be good for Israel."Hogwash. I will bet my last dollar that had Senator John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, come out for a fairer consideration of the Palestinian position, the Jewish American community would have backed Bush, come hell or high water."

This may come as a shock to many, but according to this BBC report, a study by a respected Brtish medical journal is reporting that the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of 1000,000 Iraqi civilians. "Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US city of Baltimore gathered data on births and deaths since January 2002 from 33 clusters of 30 households each across Iraq. They found the relative risk of death was two-and-a-half times higher for Iraqi civilians after the 2003 invasion than in the preceding 15 months. That figure drops to one-and-a-half times higher if data from Falluja - the scene of repeated heavy fighting - is excluded. Before the invasion, most people died as a result of heart attack, stroke and chronic illness, the report says, whereas after the invasion, "violence was the primary cause of death." ... most individuals reportedly killed were women and children. The sample included randomly selected households in Baghdad, Basra,Arbil, Najaf and Karbala, as well as Falluja. Unofficial estimates of the civilian toll had varied from 10,000 to more than 37,000." From Informed Comment: "The troubling thing about these results is that they suggest that the US may soon catch up with Saddam Hussein in the number of civilians killed. How many deaths to blame on Saddam is is often alleged that Saddam killed 300,000 civilians. This allegation seems increasingly suspect. So far only 5000 or so persons have been found in mass graves...The methodology of this study is very tight, but it does involve extrapolating from a small number and so could easily be substantially incorrect. But the methodology also is standard in such situations and was used in Bosnia and Kosovo.I think the results are probably an exaggeration. But they can't be so radically far off that the 16,000 deaths previously estimated can still be viewed as valid...The 16,000 estimate comes from counting all deaths reported in the Western press, which everyone always knew was only a fraction of the true total...The most important finding from my point of view is not the magnitude of civilian deaths, but the method of them. Roberts and Burnham find that US aerial bombardments are killing far more Iraqi civilians than had previously been suspected...Spencer Ackerman at TNR's online blog on Iraq has a long interview with Burnham about the study, in which Burnham is quite humble about it not being definitive."

Halliburton has been in the news quite often due to corruption accusations and the organization's past connection to Dick Cheney. From the NY Times: "The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether the Army's handling of a large Iraq contract with the Halliburton Company violated procurement rules, according to lawyers for an Army official who made the charges of improprieties. F.B.I. agents have requested an interview with the official, Bunnatine H. Greenhouse, the chief of contracting with the ArmyCorps of Engineers, on her allegations regarding a 2003 contract with Halliburton to repair Iraqi oil fields...The oil contract was awarded in early 2003 without competition to the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, as the American-led invasion of Iraq began, and was initially for five years and up to $7 billion...After a public outcry over the large contract with Halliburton, the Pentagon did cut short the agreement after less than a year and $2.4 billion in expenditures and put the remaining work out for bid...One aspect of the company's performance - the importation of high-priced fuels into Iraq soon after the invasion - had already attracted the attention of Pentagon auditors, who say the government may have been overcharged by $61 million...It is unclear whether the decision to question Ms. Greenhouse reflects an expansion of the criminal inquiry on fuel charges into the broader, more politically explosive allegation of favoritism in the initial award."