1) The Palestinian myth of legitimacy
In 2002, Daniel Polisar wrote Yasser Arafat and the myth of legitimacy (.pdf). The preview of the article ends with:
Only after examining the way Arafat went about creating his regime, and the nature of the landslide that he won as a result of these efforts, can we return to the question of whether he deserves the kind of legitimacy he now enjoys among many leaders in the West.In the full article, Polisar went into more detail:
What made the PA security forces particularly eﬀective in stiﬂing dissent was their wide range of political activities. The intelligence units,especially the PSS, sought to identify opponents of Arafat and the PA,and to win their cooperation or their silence. Their oﬃcers engaged in numerous tactics that are oﬀ-limits to police in democratic states:David Keyes, wrote Palestine's Democratic Deficit for the New York Times and shows how Mahmoud Abbas has continued this tradition (and how the West has abetted him, in the name of "peace.")
Threatening political opponents, censoring the media, intimidating NGO leaders and human rights activists, and enforcing business monopolies given to Arafat’s allies. Though limited by the Oslo accords to the Gaza Strip and Jericho, Palestinian intelligence units boasting 5,000 men operated throughout the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, which was the base of operations for the leading Palestinian newspapers and human-rights activists. Top-ranking Israeli security oﬃcials approved this departure from the written accords via the Rome Agreement, a secret understanding reached with Dahlan and Rajoub in January 1994, which conditioned the extra geographic latitude given to PA police on their pledge to ﬁght Islamic and leftist militants planning attacks against Israelis from these areas. In fact, the PA police did little to combat terrorism aimed at Israelis, but were highly eﬀective in silencing Arafat’s would-be critics, weakening potential challengers, and intimidating the local population. With the security forces lined up foursquare behind him, Arafat was able to use them to enforce decisions made by the corrupt civilian government, to intimidate judges, to bring the media around to supporting the Palestinian Authority, and to persuade human rights activists to temper their criticism—in short, to shape the institutions of government and civil society in a manner most conducive to a dictatorial regime. It is to the ﬁrst of these, the civilian government, which we now turn.
It should come as no surprise that the Palestinian Authority is cracking down on basic freedoms. From the top down, a culture of repression reigns supreme. President Abbas’s term ended four years ago. He has clung to power as an unelected autocrat for nearly half a decade.
In November, a senior adviser to Mr. Abbas, Mohammad Shtayyeh, told me that Mr. Abbas had no desire to continue ruling, but that he simply could not leave because of the divisions in Palestinian society. Suppressing criticism by resorting to a 50-year-old Jordanian law — designed to punish critics of Jordan’s monarchy when it ruled over the West Bank — has not helped burnish the questionable democratic credentials Mr. Abbas so often claims when meeting Western leaders. This is not the first time the Palestinian Authority has used antiquated laws to clamp down on Internet activists. Last year, the Palestinian blogger Jamal Abu Rihan was arrested for starting a Facebook campaign called “The People Want an End to Corruption.” Like Mr. Awwad, Mr. Rihan’s crime was “extending his tongue” against the Palestinian leadership. In April, the university lecturer Ismat Abdul-Khaleq was arrested for criticizing Mr. Abbas on Facebook. Days later, a journalist, Tarek Khamis, was detained for criticizing the Palestinian Authority’s treatment of Ms. Abdul-Khaleq. George Canawati, the director of a Bethlehem radio station, and the journalist Rami Samar were similarly detained for posting criticisms of the Palestinian Authority on Facebook. So long as Mr. Abbas says he is committed to peace, there appears to be little pressure from the West on issues of human rights. Human rights for Palestinians, it seems, continue to play second fiddle to the peace process.While it's true that this is less pro-Israel than it is anti-Abbas, it is an important antidote to the regular opinion articles in the New York Times blaming Israel for the lack of peace. It's also important to keep in mind the next time you read Thomas Friedman write about how Israel is risking its democracy by failing to make peace. Aside from the dubiousness of the claim, why doesn't he express a similar fear about the Palestinians, who have never had democracy to lose? (Answer: Friedman only believes in blaming Israel.)
Amazing, isn't it? In the space of one day, the New York Times had two very good opinion articles about the Middle East. Someone is slipping.
2) Soccer to me
If you've read the New York Times you probably know about how the racism of some of Israel's soccer fans reflects the racism of Israeli society as a whole. Shmuel Rosner's To kick a ball down the field provides an excellent corrective:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the mayor of Jerusalem condemned the attack on the club last Friday. More than a week earlier President Shimon Peres criticized fans for inciting violence against Arabs and Muslims. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a lifelong Beitar supporter, said he was outraged by the fans’ behavior and vowed not to attend another game.
These are welcome reactions. Not only is Beitar waging a battle against its bad image, but many Israelis seem determined to no longer turn a complacent ear to what they once dismissed as the predictable racist clamor of rowdy sports fans. At last, Israel — itself a country built by refugees fleeing discrimination — is banning, investigating and legislating against racism in sports. Monday morning, after the tense game against Bnei Sahknin, I heard Beitar’s general manager, Itzik Kornfein, a former goalkeeper, repeat the same message on several radio shows: He said he was determined to clamp down on unruly fans but reminded listeners that the culture and sports minister, the police and legal authorities would have to keep battling discrimination after the “dust settles down.”
3) Hezbollah vs. Israel
Ambassador Michael Oren wrote in, Iran's global business is Murder Inc. yesterday's Wall Street Journal (or click on the link from here):
In 25 cities across five continents, community centers, consulates, army barracks and houses of worship have been targeted for destruction. Thousands have been killed. The perpetrators are agents of Hezbollah and the Quds Force, sometimes operating separately and occasionally in unison. All take their orders from Tehran. Hezbollah's relationship with Tehran is "a partnership arrangement with Iran as the senior partner," says America's director of national intelligence, James Clapper. The Lebanon-based terror group provides the foot soldiers necessary for realizing Iran's vision of a global Islamic empire. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah says his organization was founded to forge "a greater Islamic republic governed by the Master of Time [the Mahdi] and his rightful deputy, the jurisprudent Imam of Iran." With funding, training and weapons from Iran, Hezbollah terrorists have killed European peacekeepers, foreign diplomats and thousands of Lebanese, among them Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. They have hijacked American, French and Kuwaiti airliners and kidnapped and executed officials from several countries. They are collaborating in Bashar Assad's slaughter of opposition forces in Syria today.But that doesn't mean that Israel doesn't fight back. A few years ago Ronen Bergman wrote in Israel's Secret war with Hezbollah:
Then, in February 2008, Imad Mughniyeh, the organization's military commander and Nasrallah's close associate, was killed in a car bomb in Damascus. The assassination of the man who topped the FBI's most-wanted list prior to Osama bin Laden was a severe blow to morale, as well as to Hezbollah's strategic capabilities. Nasrallah was convinced that the Mossad was responsible, and vowed to take revenge "outside of the Israel-Lebanon arena."Now many details of the killing of Mughniyeh are retold by Erol Araf in Death of a master terrorist (h/t Meryl Yourish):
Israel also paid particular attention to former East German Stasi agents who had maintained contacts with their Palestinian allies even after the fall of communism. When East Germany collapsed, many of its spies packed up whatever sensitive documents they could obtain and then vanished. They used the sensitive information contained in their stolen files to sustain a comfortable living for themselves even long after the end of the Cold War. Israel set about locating them and offering generous payments to anyone with useful information. Before long, a former Stasi agent reached out to a Mossad agent in Berlin: He had the Stasi file on Mughniyah, and it was available for a price. The meeting between Mossad representatives and the ex-Stasi spy took place at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. A large file containing Mougniyeh’s latest photographs was exchanged for a brief case containing $250,000. Le Carré would have approved. This was a major coup in the hunt for Mughniyah, but it required a further lucky break to give Israel the information it needed to bring Mughniyah down. As recounted by David Markovsky in his article “The Silent Strike,” published last fall in The New Yorker, in 2007, Israeli agents infiltrated the home of Ibrahim Othman, head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. Once inside, they bugged his computer. While Israel had been looking for information about the Syrian nuclear weapons program (and indeed, in September of 2007, bombed a nascent nuclear reactor inside Syria), access to this computer allowed Israel to compromise other computers inside the supposedly secure networks of Syria’s rulers.
Among the information obtained through this operation were details of weapons transfers from Syria to Mughniyah. These Syrian files, the ex-Stasi documents and the intelligence trickling in from Mossad’s spies in Lebanon began to provide a detailed picture of Mughniyah’s recent locations and activities. Israel was getting closer, and in January of 2008 made a breakthrough — it developed intelligence indicating that Mughniyah was having an affair with a woman in Damascus, and would often spend time with her inside a luxury condo in the Syrian capital. The condo, owned by a cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was put under surveillance. It is believed that Mossad was able to get photos of Mughniyah as he came and went from this condo, and that they matched the Stasi files.Ambassador Oren's article reminds us that Hezbollah doesn't just threaten Israel, but the West too. Unfortunately too many in Europe believe that silence in the face of Hezbollah's provocations is the way to security.
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