A jilted lover is wooed again by America

“Some view the US-Pakistan relationship as a temporary marriage of convenience,” Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in an op-ed published in two Pakistani newspapers during his latest visit to the region. But, he sought to assure sceptical Pakistanis, “Our partnership is for the long term.”

Most Pakistanis’ response will be this: What worth do words last, when they so easily perish? Pakistan is the burnt child, made timid from previously dashed hopes, certain that the nuclear capability that it developed as a response to India’s own nuclear programme will someday be the cause for America declaring it an enemy state.

Washington has previously forgiven Pakistan’s failures in democracy whenever forgiveness served short-term American purposes – say, while enlisting Pakistan’s help in wars in Afghanistan against communists or terrorists, or while maintaining Pakistan as a cold war bulwark while neighbouring India aligned itself with the Soviet Union. But whenever the American need for Pakistan has been less urgent, congressmen and lobbyists punish Pakistan through neglect or ponderous sanctions.

The Bush administration has taken a pummelling for its simplistic moral clarity, and deservedly so. But when it comes to Pakistan, it is infinitely suppler in its moral discernment than many sanctimonious American critics of its South Asian policy.

It is easy to say that Pakistan must be punished for its rogue intelligence agents and generals who have allegedly supported Al Qaeda secretly or for its rogue scientists who have shared nuclear technology with leaders of other nations. It’s too easy to say that American aid should be pulled back due to Pakistan’s slowness in making democracy work. It’s too easy to demand that Pakistan’s military president be “pushed” to enact political reforms more quickly.

Navigating a consistent course of American action is difficult, because Pakistan is where easy answers go to die. But Powell is right to say that now is the time to bring a consistent pragmatism in forging a productive relationship with Pakistan – an insecure nation sporting some 50 nuclear weapons and a Rolodex filled with the names of would-be Osamas who want to prove they care about it more than America does.

Poverty claims nearly half of Pakistan’s 150 million citizens, and religious extremism has its own claim. Pakistan’s own leaders balance noble goals with a corrupted government machinery and hard-core religious elements. General Pervez Musharraf made power-sharing compromises in December that should have earned applause both from religious parties and pro-democracy forces – but for his trouble he endured two assassination attempts in rapid succession.

Granted, Musharraf should be prodded to deliver on his goals of reform, but he must not be pushed to his doom by zealous congressmen.

Furthermore, Americans must recognise the difference between aiding a citizenry and aiding a particular regime. Sanctions against Pakistan failed to deter its leaders from developing nuclear weapons in the 1990s, but did help destroy the future of millions of children. Ongoing congressional threats to pull billions in promised American aid if Musharraf doesn’t jump high enough are just as damaging. Pakistan’s swords must be pounded into ploughshares, and this will happen when funding allows its religious madrasas to become true educational institutions. This takes development money, unfettered by politics.

Since Musharraf led a military coup in 1999, he has disappointed some Western observers by seeming to cling to power longer than may be necessary; but he recently announced he’ll vacate the headship of the military by the end of 2004. He has been walking his own tightrope, modelling moderation and secularisation, pushing back extremists as much as possible without triggering a reactionary torrent, easing the country onto a surer path to effective democracy, and even exploring the possibility of relations with Israel. His reward should be sufficiently consistent support to make it worth his while to stay aligned with Washington while dodging assassins’ bullets.

Finally, the entire world community must help Pakistan and India to balance legitimate differences with common economic goals. Both hover at the border between disaster and prosperity, both are astoundingly rich in intellectual capital and cultural heritage, and both are hemmed in by poverty and mutual dislike. But their short-term safety and the world’s long-term well-being demand nothing less than the kind of attention given to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iraq isn’t the future of political Islam: Pakistan is. Created 56 years ago as an explicitly Muslim nation, Pakistan is a microcosm of modern Islam, an untapped gold mine, an atomic mix of moderation and fanaticism, a hotbed of Muslim frustration – and above all, a more important laboratory for 21st century Islam than any other country. If Pakistan moves forward, so too will the world. It’s time it were given a sustained push in the right direction.

The writer is an independent Pakistani-American journalist who lives in Los Angeles. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

This article article originally appeared in the Wednesday, April 7, 2004 edition of the Jordan Times. It is used here with permission.

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New poll suggests Israelis and Palestinians want two states (OneVoice Report)

by Darya Shaikh

NEW YORK – In the midst of a stalled peace process in the Middle East, a new poll released today by the OneVoice Movement, an international grassroots peace movement equally represented both in Israel and in Palestine, provides a snapshot of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion and insights into how peace negotiations should move forward from now on.

With fieldwork conducted after the recent Gaza war and Israeli elections on 10 February, the poll engaged 500 Israelis and 600 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza on final status issues and negotiations. The questions pushed beyond the usual, intransigent ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses, attempting to get to the heart of what people on the ground are willing to accept and how they think the process should play out.

At the macro level, the findings indicate that the two-state solution remains the only resolution that is acceptable to the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians: 74 percent of Palestinians and 78 percent of Israelis would be willing to accept a two-state solution, while 59 percent of Palestinians and 66 percent of Israelis find a single, bi-national state to be unacceptable.

What’s more, Israelis and Palestinians are as convinced as ever that negotiations are the way to get there: 77 percent of Israelis and 71 percent of Palestinians find a negotiated peace to be either ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’.

Of course, that’s the macro view, and it’s not the whole story. The findings imply that mainstream Israeli and Palestinian populations have yet to acknowledge the significant concerns of the other side.

While the issue of greatest significance for Palestinians is freedom from occupation (94 percent deem it a ‘very significant’ problem in the peace process, ranking it the primary issue on the Palestinian side), only 30 percent of Israelis find it to be ‘very significant’, ranking the issue 15th on the Israeli list of priorities. Similarly, the primary issue for Israelis is stopping attacks on civilians (90 percent rate it a ‘very significant’ issue). This issue meets with 50 percent approval on the Palestinian side, but ranks as 19th in a list of 21 issues.

So how do we push past the impasse? How do we build consensus? And – perhaps most importantly – how do we ensure that this process doesn’t fail, like all the others? The poll gives us some interesting answers here, as well.

First and foremost, the poll reveals a clear desire for civic engagement in the peace process: ordinary Israelis and Palestinians not only want to be informed about the negotiations’ progress, they desire greater involvement in the process (58 percent of Israelis and 74 percent of Palestinians think civic involvement in the peace process is ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’).

Progress at the negotiating table is only one step in the process of reaching a realistic solution. An end to the conflict will only come when leaders reach an agreement that their peoples are ready to understand, accept and support. And this comes through civic education, true engagement of the grassroots.

Governments alone can’t take this on.

They need to work in tandem with civil society and grassroots organizations to ensure true connection between the top-level negotiation process and the will of the citizens of all sides.

As part of this effort, OneVoice will be launching a Town Hall Meetings series throughout Israel and Palestine, which will start in May and continue throughout 2009. The meetings will build on the poll’s results to start critical discussions, highlight consensus where it already exists, and work toward consensus where there is none.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not impossible; failure is not a foregone conclusion. The shape of an agreement is there, and there is a genuine possibility to work toward compromise on even the toughest final status issues.

But without more attention to the process – without a genuine engagement of the people on the ground, who will have to live with whatever agreement is put down on paper – we will inevitably fall victim to the shortcomings and failures of the past.

And our children will have to pay the price.

Darya Shaikh is Chief Operating Officer of the OneVoice Movement. The poll was commissioned by OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine in collaboration with the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool. The fieldwork was undertaken by Arab World for Research and Development of Ramallah and Dahaf Institute of Tel Aviv. Download full polling report here: http://onevoicemovement.org/programs/documents/OneVoiceIrwinReport.pdf. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 April 2009, www.commongroundnews.org.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Egyptian Authorities Release Detained Wheaton College Graduate

Philip Rizk, a Wheaton College graduate and a German-Egyptian dual citizen, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Friday night, February 6th. Despite the Egyptian populace’s widely shared sympathy for the plight of Palestinian civilians, the Egyptian government has chosen to crack down on peaceful Gaza activists and demonstrators. Today, according to the facebook group set up by his family, Philip has been released.

According to the group notices: “Philip is out, he is safe and home with his family. He requests that all upcoming planned protests and marches still take place to end siege on Gaza.”

The incident begs the question of why Egypt would risk the threat of international protests to detain and silence the voice of one humanitarian advocate? Two views from the press:

From the Guardian:

Abducted in Egypt

The detention of protesters highlights Middle East governments’ ambivalent attitudes towards support for the Palestinians

By Ben White

Last Friday night, after a peaceful, small-scale march north of Cairo in solidarity with the besieged Palestinians of Gaza, Egyptian secret police kidnapped one of the event organisers, Philip Rizk. Philip is an Egyptian-German blogger, film-maker and activist, who had previously lived in Gaza for two years. As I write this, no one has yet received confirmation of his location or had any communication with him.

There are more detailed accounts of what happened on Friday and events since then on various blogs. The family, while desperately worried, have been working with local activists and friends abroad to mobilise a campaign for Philip’s release (the Facebook group attracted more than 2,500 members in the first two days).

However, Phil would be the first to point to the fact that what has happened to him is all too common in Mubarak’s Egypt. In fact, this “Mafia-style” abduction, and the Palestine focus of Philip’s work that made him a target for Egypt’s mukhabarat, draws attention to some larger developments in Egypt and the region.

Firstly, it is no coincidence that the Egyptian police chose to clamp down on a display (however modest) of both support for the Palestinians and opposition to Egypt’s policies towards the Gaza Strip and Israel. Even before Israel launched its assault on the Palestinians in Gaza, Mubarak was under pressure for helping to maintain the blockade on Gaza as Israel’s “siege” ground on. But Egypt became the target of particularly fierce anger once Operation Cast Lead had begun, as reports emerged of possible Egyptian collusion.

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Van Spirits Away Protester in Egypt, Signaling Crackdown on Criticism Over Gaza

From the New York Times:

By Michael Slackman

CAIRO — State security came for Philip Rizk on Friday night. He had just finished a six-mile protest walk with about 15 friends to raise support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip when he was detained for hours and then hustled into an unmarked van and driven off. He has not been seen or heard from since.

For two days the authorities denied that he was being held. Then on Sunday, at 10 p.m., a security official at the American University in Cairo, where Mr. Rizk studies, was able to confirm his arrest to his family. His mother and father tried to get some sleep, but at 1 a.m., security agents showed up at their door, five plainclothesmen and two guards carrying automatic weapons.

After searching their apartment, the security agents tried to take his father, Magid, away, too. He refused to go, and the authorities backed off when representatives of the German Embassy and Amnesty International arrived in the middle of the night. Philip Rizk’s mother, Judith, is German, and he has dual Egyptian-German citizenship.

“It’s like a bad movie,” Mrs. Rizk said.

The war in Gaza has left its mark in Egypt. The authorities here have been increasingly frustrated with criticism at home and abroad for refusing to fully open the border between Rafah and Gaza.

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Send a US hospital ship to Gaza

by William Bache
03 February 2009

San Antonio, Texas – Nothing would telegraph the message that “America is back” in the Middle East with a balanced, smart-power policy better than for US President Barack Obama to immediately send a US Naval hospital ship to Gaza.

The deployment of a hospital ship should be the centrepiece of a highly visible American-led, sea-based disaster response and humanitarian relief effort. This action will help restore America’s global image as a nation that cares about the downtrodden, who are, in this case, predominantly Muslims and Arabs.

The time is right for the dramatic deployment of a humanitarian relief task force to respond to the desperate needs of the people locked in the Gaza Strip. Over 1,300 Palestinians have been killed– and over 5,000 wounded – by military violence. Most of the casualties are civilians who were caught in brutal combat operations in densely populated urban areas. “I have seen only a fraction of the destruction. This is shocking and alarming”, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon after his visit to Gaza on 21 January.

Thousands of survivors of the violence need definitive medical care to survive their wounds and recover this winter. Yet, the Israeli and Egyptian governments continue to refuse the transportation of the injured into their respective countries for medical care.

The visible and explicit support of this war by the Bush administration was not in the great humanitarian tradition of the United States. Something must be done to counter Bush’s legacy. The US military possesses great capabilities to support humanitarian relief efforts in the area, and can make a real difference in relieving human suffering.

“Thousands of survivors of the violence need definitive medical care to survive their wounds and recover this winter. Yet, the Israeli and Egyptian governments continue to refuse the transportation of the injured into their respective countries for medical care.”

There are two US Navy hospital ships, each with a self-contained definitive treatment facility with 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000-bed hospital facility, radiological services, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, a CAT scan and two oxygen-producing plants. Helicopters can deliver patients to the ship while it is at sea. As non-combatant vessels they are protected by The Hague and Geneva Conventions, and therefore free from any military interference.

The movement of medical supplies and of the US military hospital, pre-positioned in Israel, to Gaza or Egypt to support casualty triage and the efforts of local medical personnel should start immediately. The helicopters from a US aircraft carrier can provide medical evacuation from the triage area in Gaza to the hospital ship and/or to airfields in Israel or Egypt for subsequent medical evacuation to Europe or the United States.

The 18-month Israeli embargo of Gaza has resulted in the degradation of the electrical power infrastructure and failure of the sewage treatment system. A US Navy nuclear submarine can provide emergency electrical power for Gaza this winter, as one did for the Virgin Islands after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Military construction battalions, especially the famous Navy “Sea Bees”, should be part of the effort to restore critical infrastructure degraded by the embargo and combat operations.

President Obama should immediately direct his Secretary of State and Defense Secretary to coordinate an American inter-agency disaster response effort.

To show our willingness to work with everyone interested in taking care of the widows, orphans and wounded of the Gaza disaster, Arab countries should be invited to provide Arabic-speaking medical personnel to work side-by-side with Americans on the hospital ship.

President Obama could again make history. A deployment of the hospital ship in Gaza would be remembered by Arabs everywhere for generations to come.

William Bache, of VIM Consultants, is a retired US Army Colonel, writer and interfaith study facilitator based in Istanbul. This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate blog and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 3 February 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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War plan

On July 12, Hezbollah fighters crossed the border separating Israel from Lebanon. They killed several Israeli soldiers and captured two others, spiriting them across the border into Lebanon. Those who want to believe the best about Israel will say that this single action started this summer’s war between Hezbollah and Israel.

But a closer look reveals that it is not that simple. After the border incursion by Hezbollah there was still time to negotiate for the return of the prisoners, something that Israel had done in the past (1996, 1998, 2004). Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah held a press conference shortly after his unit returned from its incursion into Israel to say he was ready to negotiate a prisoner exchange.

But Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had a different plan. In an emergency meeting, Olmert told his cabinet: “This morning’s events are not a terror attack, but the act of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and without provocation. . . . The Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part, is trying to undermine regional stability. Lebanon is responsible, and Lebanon will bear the consequences.”

By 9 p.m. Ha’aretz was reporting that Israel had bombed bridges in central Lebanon and attacked “Hezbollah’s posts” in southern Lebanon. The next day, Amnesty International reported that 40 Lebanese civilians had been killed, including several families, with 60 other civilians injured.

In the Palestine Chronicle, Tanya Reinhart reported: “Israel launched its first attack on Beirut. . . . Israeli warplanes bombed Beirut’s international airport and killed at least 27 Lebanese civilians in a series of raids.” It was not until after those initial Israeli attacks inside Lebanon that Hezbollah began to fire rockets into northern Israel. Israel said it was attacking Lebanon to recover its soldiers; instead, it was launching a massive air attack, not just against Hezbollah, but against the entire country with no effort at diplomacy or negotiations. The word disproportionate began to emerge in media coverage.

In the U.S., both Congress and the White House embraced Israel’s preemptive strike. There was no pretense that the U.S. would act as an honest broker. The Senate unanimously condemned Hamas and Hezbollah and their state sponsors and supported Israel’s exercise of its right to self-defense. A House version passed 410 to 8.

According to Ari Berman, writing for the Nation, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) not only lobbied for the resolution, but wrote it. “They [Congress] were given a resolution by AIPAC,” said former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Israel knew that the war would be costly. Ha’aretz reported that the Israeli cabinet was aware that Hezbollah had been stockpiling rockets since 2000, and expected that Hezbollah would use them if provoked. Matthew Kalman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that Olmert had been waiting for any incident Israel could use as an excuse for an attack and had a plan in place.

Kalman says that over a year ago “a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations on an off-the-record basis to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail.” The war plan called for a three-week air assault and land invasion, which would explain Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s foot-dragging as she claimed to be seeking a cease-fire in the United Nations Security Council.

Kalman reports:

The first week concentrated on destroying Hezbollah’s heavier long-range missiles, bombing its command-and-control centers, and disrupting transportation and communication arteries. In the second week, the focus shifted to attacks on individual sites of rocket launchers or weapons stores. In the third week, ground forces in large numbers would be introduced, but only in order to knock out targets discovered during reconnaissance missions as the campaign unfolded.
Yet Hezbollah’s resistance surprised both the Israelis and the U.S. Israel seems to have joined George W. Bush and Tony Blair in believing that “Arab nationalism could be bombed into defeat” (Jackie Ashley in the Guardian).

This is a delusion. As Ashley writes, “In a hearts and minds struggle, it does not win much leverage to bomb civilians and kill children. . . . Arab Shias are the same as anyone else: murder makes them angry, not conciliatory.”

Making the region over in the image of the West was the U.S. goal in Iraq; it is the Israelis’ goal in Lebanon and Palestine. But the war in Lebanon benefits no one. As the conflict continued, Brzezinski warned: “The radicalization of the Arab masses is going to become more pervasive, the sympathy for Hizbullah more extensive and, as a consequence, the prospects for a favorable outcome beyond some sort of ad hoc solution will be reduced” (Christian Science Monitor).

Had the July 12 border incident ended in negotiations for a prisoner exchange, many lives would have been spared. But that was not part of the plan.

James M. Wall is senior contributing editor at the Century.

Copyright 2006 CHRISTIAN CENTURY. Reproduced by permission from the September 2006 issue of the CHRISTIAN CENTURY. Subscriptions: $49/year from P.O. Box 378, Mt. Morris, IL 61054. 1-800-208-4097

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