1)Who will speak up today?
There's an impressive op-ed in the New York Times, The first killings of the Holocaust, which tells the story of a German prosecutor, Joseph Hartinger, who briefly put the Nazis on the defensive early in their history. Towards the end the author, Timothy Ryback, writes:
Clearly, no single man could have prevented the Holocaust, except Hitler himself, but had there been more Germans like Hartinger to hold individual Nazis personally accountable for their excesses, including President Paul von Hindenburg, who possessed the constitutional authority to dissolve the Nazi government at will and dismiss Hitler as chancellor, the course of history could have taken a very different turn.
Let's consider a number of recent news items from around the Middle East.
Al Qaeda's leadership has sent experienced jihadists to Libya in an effort to build a fighting force there, according to a Libyan source briefed by Western counter-terrorism officials.
The jihadists include one veteran fighter who had been detained in Britain on suspicion of terrorism. The source describes him as committed to al Qaeda's global cause and to attacking U.S. interests.
The New York Times reported Taliban Opening Qatar Office, and Maybe Door to Talks (via memeorandum):
In a statement, Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said that along with a preliminary deal to set up the office in Qatar, the group was asking that Taliban detainees held at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, be released. Mr. Mujahid did not say when the Qatar office would be opened, or give specifics about the prisoners the Taliban wanted freed.
The Stonegate Institute (formerly Hudson New York) tells us, Tunisia: The Ennahda Party's Autocratic "Coup":
Tunisia has a new Caliph. The new Tunisian provisional constitution, named "Mini-Constitution," gave the new prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, leader of the Islamic Ennahda party, complete control of the country's institutions.
Members of Ennahda had originally agreed that the commission that was to prepare the Mini-Constitution would be headed by a member of the opposition, but when it came to appoint the commission's president, members of Ennahda disavowed their previous commitment and appointed instead Habib Khedher, a young lawyer and politician, currently a member of the central office of legal affairs in the Ennahda party.
In taking up his assignment, Kheder, displaying all his rhetorical and negotiating capabilities, managed to transform the post of prime minister into an omnipotent position, reducing at the same time the attributions of power of the Presidents of the Republic and of the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly to almost nothing. The Tunisian media outlet, Business News, writes that although Ennhada won a relative majority (not an absolute one) and was obliged to form a coalition with two left-leaning parties, no one stopped Ennahda's hegemonic lunge for power.
The Islamist Justice and Development Party, known as PJD, won the most seats in the Nov. 25 parliamentary elections as part of the wave of election victories by Islamist political parties across North Africa following a series of uprisings across the Arab world.
“This new government has a true will for reform and we will keep all the promises we made,” said Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane outside the palace after the swearing in. “We will do everything to encourage foreign and domestic investment to create a climate of prosperity.”
Barry Rubin observes Hamas Openly Joins Brotherhood; Brotherhood Openly Joins Hamas’s War on Israel:
In meeting Haniyeh at the Brotherhood’s new headquarters’ building, the Brotherhood’s leader Muhammad al-Badi, said that Hamas had been a role model for the Brotherhood. While this might be mere flattery it might be noted that Hamas first won an election, then went into a coalition with a “more moderate” partner (Fatah), and then staged a coup to seize complete power. That’s an interesting precedent for Badi to cite.
Haniyeh described Hamas as the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood. Referring to their alliance Haniyeh said, “Our presence with the Brotherhood threatens the Israeli entity.” It certainly does since Hamas will enjoy the Brotherhood’s full support in its anti-Israel activities including the use of violence and, probably, in the event of any future war with Israel.
Since the Brotherhood will be the main party in parliament that also expresses Egyptian policy, however circumscribed it might be by the army and by a non-Brotherhood president. Of course, there might be a Brotherhood president, too.
The Egyptian Brotherhood now leads an umbrella organization that includes Hamas; the Syrian and Jordanian Brotherhoods in opposition; the ruling party in Tunisia; the potential ruling party in Libya; and branches that dominate many Muslim communities in Europe and North America.
Palestinian Media Watch reports that Newest issue of Zayzafuna youth magazine continues to depict "Palestine" replacing Israel:
In the latest issue of December 2011, the editors chose to include two drawings of maps of "Palestine" that included PA areas as well as all of Israel under the Palestinian flag – a sign of Palestinian rule, political sovereignty and the elimination of Israel. One of the maps includes the image of a dagger being thrust through the map. The number "194" and the letters "UN" in the drawings refer to the PA's bid in September to become the 194th member state of the UN.
The same issue of Zayzafuna also included a Palestinian school principal's essay on Yasser Arafat, describing Arafat's terror as heroic after he established Fatah and lauded Arafat for promising "the liberation of all the Palestinian land, without bargaining, without compromise."
Around the Middle East Islamist forces are gaining power, challenging American interests and threatening Israel. Yet, for the most part, the political, journalistic and academic elites seem oblivious to this threat. While they are worried about the growing authoritarianism of Egypt's military they seem complacent about the recent electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more extreme Salafists.
Writing in the New York Times, Sarah Topol tells of her conversation with a local Muslim Brotherhood leader:
Darrag means to be comforting about freedom of religion. “Our position on this issue is very clear: We are completely with personal freedom.” he says. “You cannot force anybody to do anything against his personal will. This is the stand of Islam.” I bring up the subject of national identity cards, pointing out that the IDs label Egyptians as Muslim, Christian or Jewish, leaving minorities like the Bahais out in the cold (the religion space can be left blank on the card but cannot be filled with another religion). Darrag is unapologetic: Bahais can do whatever they want at home, but they are not a recognized religion in the eyes of Islam, and Islam forms the basis of the state. Conversation over.
Guess what? Most Egyptians would agree.
What's Topol saying? That even though the Brotherhood would discriminate against Bahais, it's okay because "most Egyptians would agree?"
Worse, she quotes an articulate, moderate sounding spokesman and presents his misleading description of the Muslim Brotherhood's beliefs as accurate. But they are not.
Perhaps, I could adapt the sentence quoted from the op-ed above:
Had there been more Westerners to hold Islamists accountable for their excesses, the course of history could have taken a very different turn.
Is that what people will be writing 70 years in the future? What catastrophes will occur in the meantime?
2) Oh good, they're talking
Ethan Bronner reports on the latest Mideast peace talks, As Israelis and Palestinians Talk, the Rise of a Political Islam Alters the Equation:
While officials of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and the Israelis were meeting under the auspices of King Abdullah II of Jordan, who enjoys Western backing, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, was in Turkey dismissing the session and expressing his movement’s solidarity with what he called “the Islamic spring.”
Mr. Haniya’s point was that the upheaval in the Middle East had led to the emergence of political Islam. That, in turn, could create difficult choices for the Palestinians, as well as for the Jordanians and the Israelis, that could unite — or divide — them.
Later on in the article Bronner explains further.
A critical question is what kind of political Islam is emerging. There are indications in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, as well as within Hamas itself, that it is more pragmatic than when it was merely a force of opposition. Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of Hamas, has expressed a willingness to work with Mr. Abbas in a far more accommodating way than in the past, especially in the area of using nonviolence to oppose Israel.
“There is a historic development by Hamas in the last two months,” asserted Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of a Palestinian research group in Jerusalem. “It is going through the same process as the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere. The new political Islam is practical and realistic.”
This is what Islamists say to assuage the West. However, Bronner also writes:
Israeli and American officials are skeptical of such a view.
This should have been supported with evidence. The "indications" that Bronner writes about are presented with no contrary evidence cited other than Israeli and American skepticism. But it's not at all clear that Hamas (or Islamists elsewhere) have moderated. Rather the pragmatism appears to be wishful thinking.
A Washington Post editorial welcomes A small sign of progress toward Mideast peace:
If he doesn’t, the Palestinian Authority will probably renew a self-defeating international diplomatic offensive against Israel that so far has seen Palestine win admission to the international cultural agency UNESCO (at the crippling expense of its U.S. funding) and unsuccessfully petition the U.N. Security Council for full U.N. membership. Mr. Abbas’s next steps reportedly could include another attempt to have the Security Council censure Israel’s settlement construction, which would succeed only in embarrassing the Obama administration.
More significantly, Mr. Abbas’s secular Fatah movement may finally proceed with a long-promised, if likely superficial, reconciliation with the Islamic Hamas movement. Since Hamas still refuses to recognize Israel, this would definitively end the possibility of negotiations and prompt a cutoff of U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority. But Mr. Abbas, who at 76 has pledged to retire this year and seeks a legacy, could claim to have achieved Palestinian “unity,” even if it retards statehood.
For his part, Mr. Netanyahu has done nothing to encourage a Palestinian shift toward negotiation. On the contrary, Israel recently moved ahead on thousands of new housing units in the settlements around Jerusalem. Limited by his own right-wing coalition, by his poor relations with the Obama administration, by his distrust of Mr. Abbas and by his apprehension about the consequences for Israel of the Arab Spring, Mr. Netanyahu shows no inclination to take risks for peace. In the short term, that may make sense; in the longer run, Israelis, like Palestinians, stand to lose.
In the first paragraph, the editors are referring to Netanyahu making a proposal to the Palestinians. Some of the editorial and some is mistaken.
First of all, why is it up to Netanyahu to encourage negotiations? As editorial board member Jackson Diehl has pointed out, Netanyahu's the one who has made such efforts; Abbas is the one who demands preconditions before returning to negotiations.
Perhaps worse, is what's not said. The editorial talks about a consequence of an alliance between Fatah and Hamas as a cutoff of aid. But that's not the most significant aspect of such an alliance. By formally allying itself with Hamas, Fatah would be shedding any pretense of peaceful intent. Until now Fatah's played a double game, negotiating or pretending to negotiate while inciting against Israel. But if Fatah joins with Hamas, it will formally reject the premise of the peace process when in 1993, when Arafat publicly (if insincerely) rejected terrorism. If Fatah is more intent on coming to agreements with Hamas than with Israel, Israeli apartments are not the reason for the crisis.