February 22, 2011

EDITOR: The Butcher of Tripoli goes on the rampage

It has become crystal clear that Gaddafi, apart from being the longest surviving tyrant in the world, is also criminally insane, and capable of the most terrible atrocities if left to his own devices. He now has nothing to lose, as no government is likely to give him refuge, not even Saudi Arabia. In that situation, he will fight the whole Libyan people to the bitter end.

It may be certain that he will lose this battle, but at what cost? Isn’t the responsibility of the UN to step in and stop the massacre? This inane organisation seems unable to act on every single issue it touches, and its arcane regulations, such as those governing the Security Council, are of another age, and represent a skewed value system of the old empires. Never has there been a more urgent case to intervene in recently, but this seems totally out of the question, sadly. While Gaddafi is murdering his people, the UN is talking about sanctions.

A delirious sideshow to the mass protest in the Arab world, has been the Arms Sales Circus, headed by the trapeze artist David Cameron, and appearing in various capitals offering more armaments to all and sundry, and especially to the tyrants still left. And they will need the arms, of course, if they are to resist the people’s struggle to topple their bizarre regime. Excellent performance by Cameron and Co., all devoted to the task of selling death and destruction. Not to be missed!

The Guardian Feb 22, 2011, by Steve Bell

Defiant Gaddafi vows to fight on: Al Jazeera online

In televised speech, Libyan leader blames youths inspired by regional events for uprising and vows to die a “martyr”.
22 Feb 2011
Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has vowed to fight on and die a “martyr”, calling on his supporters to take back the streets from protesters demanding his ouster, shouting and pounding his fist in a furious speech on state TV.

Gaddafi, clad in brown robes and turban, spoke on Tuesday from a podium set up in the entrance of a bombed-out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence hit by US air raids in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.

“I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end,” he said.

“Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of the revolution, I am not a president to step down … This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post.”

“I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when I do, everything will burn.”

He called on supporters to take to the streets to attack protesters. “You men and women who love Gaddafi …get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs … Starting tomorrow the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them.”

Gaddafi said “peaceful protests is one thing, but armed rebellion is another”.

“From tonight to tomorrow, all the young men should form local committees for popular security,” he said, telling them to wear a green armband to identify themselves. “The Libyan people and the popular revolution will control Libya.”

The speech, which appeared to have been taped earlier, was aired on a screen to hundreds of supporters massed in Tripoli’s central Green Square.

At times the camera panned out to show a towering gold-coloured monument in front of the building, showing a fist crushing a fighter jet with an American flag on it – a view that also gave the strange image of Gaddafi speaking alone from behind a podium in the building’s dilapidated lobby, with no audience in front of him.

Speech highlights

Shouting in the rambling speech, Gaddafi declared himself “a warrior” and proclaimed: “Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world”.

Among the other points made by Gaddafi in his speech:

He called on the people to catch what he called drugged young people and bring them to justice.

He called on the people to “cleanse Libya house by house” unless protesters on the streets surrendered.

He warned that instability in Libya “will give al-Qaeda a base”.

He cited the examples of attack on Russian parliament and China’s crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, saying that the international community did not interfere.

He said he could do the same in Derna and Bayda.

He offered a new constitution starting from Wednesday, but this would come with dialogue, not by collaboration with the enemy.

He blamed the uprising on Islamists who wanted to create another Afghanistan, and warned that those in Bayda and Derna had already set up an Islamic Emirate that would reach Benghazi.

He said that the country’s youth was drugged and did not know anything; they were following the Islamists’ leader and their leaders would be punished with death in accordance with the Libyan law.

Just hours after Gaddafi’s speech, Libya’s interior minister, General Abdul-Fatah Younis, announced his defection and support for what he called the “February 17 revolution”.

In a video obtained by Al Jazeera, he was seen sitting on a his desk and reading a statement that also urged the Libyan army to join the people and their “legitimate demands”.

Gaddafis’ hidden billions: Dubai banks, plush London pads and Italian water: The Guardian

Libya’s oil wealth has been siphoned out of the country by a powerful elite – including Gaddafi and his nine children

An oil well in Shahara, Libya, 2004. Libya is Africa's fourth-largest oil producer, but analysts say much of the wealth from its reserves has been stolen. Photograph: Benjamin Lowy/Corbis

The Gaddafi family could have billions of dollars of funds hidden away in secret bank accounts in Dubai, south-east Asia and the Persian Gulf, much of it likely to have come from Libya’s vast oil revenues, according to analysis by leading Middle East experts.

Professor Tim Niblock, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter, has identified a “gap” of several billion dollars a year between the amount Libya makes from its oil reserves and government spending – a shortfall he expects has contributed greatly to the wealth of Muammar Gaddafi and his nine children.

“It is very, very difficult to work out with any degree of certainty just how much they have because the ruling elite hides it in all sorts of places,” said Niblock, who is also vice president of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES). “But at the very least it would be several billion dollars, in whatever form and it could potentially be a lot higher although I wouldn’t want to predict just how much it might be.”

Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, the Japanese bank and president of BRISMES, agreed that it was difficult to establish the extent of the Gaddafis’ wealth but said he “would be surprised if it didn’t run into billions”.

Where the Gaddafis have hidden their vast funds is anybody’s guess, although Niblock expects that most of it is “in bank accounts and liquid assets in Dubai, the Gulf and south east Asia” rather than in relatively transparent countries such as the UK, where the Libyan state has invested in London properties and in companies such as Pearson Group, owner of the Financial Times.

In addition to squirrelling away much of their income, the Gaddafis have spent fortunes over the years “propping up” various African regimes, with Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, widely acknowledged to be among the biggest recipients, Niblock said.

In the 1990s Gaddafi is thought to have given money to the Zaghawan tribe in Darfur, “and I suspect some of them are among the African mercenaries fighting the civilians in Libya,” Niblock added.

Libya’s breakneck growth has enabled the country to build up myriad investments overseas. In addition to the Gaddafis’ private holdings, the state is thought to have invested close to £61.8bn in assets across the globe.

Their investments in the UK include an eight-bedroom home in Hampstead, north London, with a swimming pool and suede-lined cinema room. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s second son, bought it in 2009 for £10m.

Most of the state’s investments are made by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), a so-called sovereign wealth fund set up in 2006 to spend the country’s oil money, which has an estimated $70bn of assets. LIA bought 3% of Pearson last year for £224m, making it one of the group’s biggest shareholders, and had a 0.02% stake in RBS, although this has been sold in the past few months.

The fund’s UK property investments include Portman House, a 146,550 sq ft retail complex in Oxford Street, London, which houses retailers such as Boots and New Look, and an office at 14 Cornhill, opposite the Bank of England in the City.

Aside from the Hampstead home, which is not primarily an investment, the only two direct investment projects that the Gaddafi family are known to be involved with both involve water.

In 2009, when Silvio Berlusconi hosted the summit of G8 leading economies, he invited the Libyan leader as a special guest. Speeding towards the earthquake-stricken city of L’Aquila, which Berlusconi had chosen as the venue, Gaddafi’s motor cavalcade stopped in a remote town by a river at the bottom of a deep gorge.

Not many people find their way to Antrodoco, let alone a “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution”. Such was the welcome he received that shortly afterwards a Libyan delegation returned to the town to announce that the colonel wanted to plough money into it.

Agreement was reached on a complex involving a luxury spa hotel and water bottling plant. Last September, Antrodocoís mayor, Maurizio Faina, said the €15m (£12.7m) scheme was “firming up”.

Whether it survives the current turmoil in Libya, however, remains to be seen. A similar question mark hangs over the established, if struggling, spa town of Fiuggi, south of Rome where pope Boniface VIII, among others, took the waters. In January, the Corriere della Sera reported that Gaddafi’s family had formalised a proposal to sink €250m (£211m) into a conference centre with an airstrip and a complex that, once again, involved a spa and a water bottling plant.

The paper said the deal was being brokered, not through Libyan channels, but by the Italo-Iraqi chamber of commerce. Fiuggi’s mayor, along with his counterpart from Antrodoco, was a guest at a party thrown by Silvio Berlusconi in honour of the Libyan leader when he visited Rome last September.

Gaddafi and Berlusconi have a famously warm personal relationship. Less well-known, however, is the fact that Berlusconi is in business with one of the Libyan state’s investment vehicles.

In June 2009, a Dutch-registered firm controlled by the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, took a 10% stake in Quinta Communications, a Paris-based film production and distribution company. Quinta Communications was founded back in 1990 by Berlusconi in partnership with Tarak Ben Ammar, the nephew of the late Tunisian leader, Habib Bourguiba.

The Italian prime minister has a 22% interest in the company through a Luxembourg-registered subsidiary of Fininvest, the firm at the heart of his sprawling business empire. Last September, the Libyans put a director on the board of Quinta Communications to sit alongside Berlusconiís representatives.

Libyan investors already hold significant interests in several strategic Italian enterprises. They reportedly own around one per cent of Italy’s biggest oil company, Eni; the LIA has an acknowledged 2% interest in the aerospace and defence group, Finmeccanica; Lafico is thought to retain more than 2% of Fiat and almost 15% of a quoted telecommunications company, Retelit.

The Libyans also own 22% of the capital of a textile firm, Olcese. Perhaps their best-known investment is a 7.5% stake in the Serie A side Juventus. But undoubtedly the most controversial is another 7.5 per cent interest in Italyís largest bank, Unicredit.

Last September, the bank’s chief executive, Alessandro Profumo, walked out after a row over his willingness to let the Libyans build up that stake. The Northern League, Berlusconi’s key allies in Italy’s rightwing government, was known to be particularly queasy about the emergence of such a powerful Libyan presence.

Experts say if Gaddafi is overthrown, the investments made by Libya’s various state funds would probably be unaffected, since any new government would have far more pressing matters to attend to, and any sudden movements could damage their reputation for the future.

However, it is thought likely that a new regime in Libya could look to freeze the assets of the Gaddafi family, as the new government in Egypt did with the assets of Hosni Mubarak and his family. Since most of these are held in liquid form – and in country’s outside Europe and the US – this would have no significant ramifications for business, they argue.

UK interests

About 150 British companies have established a presence in Libya since the US and Europe lifted economic sanctions in 2004, after the country renounced terrorism, ceased its nuclear weapons programme and handed over two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing case.

The most high profile have been the oil companies, keen to tap Libya’s vast reserves of fossil fuels. In a deal brokered in 2007 by Tony Blair, BP signed a £560m exploration agreement allowing it to search for oil and gas, offshore and onshore, in a joint venture with the Libya Investment Corporation. Shell is also exploring for oil in Libya as western companies seek to capitalise on a country with the largest oil reserves in Africa and substantial supplies of gas.

High street retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Next, Monsoon and Accessorize have also set up in the country to serve the growing middle-class population, as oil revenues have “trickled down” into the broader Libyan population.

Companies such as AMEC, an engineering firm, and Biwater, a waste treatment company, have supplied services to Libya, which is using its oil revenues to reshape the country through an infrastructure spending spree that will cost about £310bn over the next decade.

British exports to Libya have soared to about £930m in recent years, while the business momentum in post-sanctions Libya is so great that the economy managed to grow by about 5% last year, while much of the rest of the world struggled.

Many British and foreign companies – including M&S, BP and Shell – are evacuating staff from Libya and it could be some time before they return.

by Carlos Latuff

Bahrain protesters back in action: Al Jazeera online

Tens of thousands march in the first organised demonstration since unrest broke out in the Gulf Arab nation.
22 Feb 2011

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Bahrain in the possibly biggest demonstration since unrest began last week.
Demonstrators circled the Bahrain Mall and the financial district of Manama, the capital, in a march to the heart of the protest at Pearl Square.

“We want the fall of the government” was the most common chant among the mainly Shia Muslim protesters who accuse the Sunni rulers of discriminating against the island’s Shia majority.

Led by opposition groups such as Wefaq and Waad, it was the first organised demonstration and followed spontaneous protests by a rising youth movement relying on social media.

Helicopters hovered overhead but security forces offered no resistance after opening fire on protesters last week.

“Some want the [ruling] family out but most [want] only the prime minister [to quit],” Abbas al-Fardan, a protester, said.

“We want a new government, the people need to rule the country.”

Opposition demands

The widow of one of the seven people killed in a crackdown on protesters read a statement outlining the opposition’s demands, which centre on the current government’s resignation and the replacement of the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty with a constitutional monarchy.

The statement also demanded an immediate, “impartial” probe to identify and try those behind the killings and reiterated opposition calls for the formation of a “national salvation” government.

“We don’t have a problem if elections bring a Sunni or a Shia ruler,” Saeed, a protester, said.

“The most important thing is to have egalitarian distribution of wealth among both communities.”

Shias account for about 70 per cent of the population but are a minority in Bahrain’s 40-seat parliament.

The al-Khalifa dynasty has ruled Bahrain for 200 years, and the family dominates a cabinet led by the king’s uncle, who has been prime minister since independence in 1971.

Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition Haq movement, had vowed to return to Bahrain on Tuesday from London where he is based.

He is one of 25 people on trial since last year over an alleged coup plot but a statement by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on Monday hinted that the trial would be shelved, allowing Mushaimaa an unhindered return.

But a friend of Mushaimaa said the opposition leader had been unable to board his flight to Bahrain from Beirut where he had landed earlier for a planned stopover.

State media said the king had ordered the release of convicted prisoners whose names would be released on Wednesday and a stop to ongoing court cases.

The US praised Bahrain’s leadership on Tuesday for having announced steps towards opening a national dialogue, releasing political prisoners and permitting peaceful demonstrations.

“We commend the steps taken by King Hamad as well as Crown Prince Salman and others to restore calm to Bahrain, to allow peaceful demonstrations to take place,” PJ Crowley, the state department spokesman, said.

“We view recent announcements to launch a national dialogue and the release of political prisoners as positive steps towards addressing the concerns of Bahraini citizens.”

PM Fayyad proposes unity government with Hamas: Ahram online

Palestinian prime minister Fayyad proposes forming a unity government with rivals governing the Gaza Strip Hamas
AFP , Tuesday 22 Feb 2011

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaks at the northern West Bank village of Al-Jalameh Sunday 20 February 2011. (AP)

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaks at the northern West Bank village of Al-Jalameh Sunday 20 February 2011. (AP)
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad has proposed forming a unity government with Hamas, under which the Islamist group would have responsibility for security in Gaza.
Speaking to Palestinian journalists late on Monday, Fayyad said the “security concept” applied by Hamas in Gaza, where the group has sought to enforce a ceasefire with Israel, could provide common ground.

“The security concept practised by Hamas in the Gaza Strip should be brought under an official framework because it is not different from what is practised by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank,” Fayyad said. “After a national unity government is formed, it can take on the task of supervising a security agreement based on the institutions in place in the West Bank and Gaza.”

“The compatibility between the policy adopted by the Palestinian leadership and that applied by Hamas on the ground in Gaza… opens the way for a national unity government to immediately manage affairs of state,” he added.

Fayyad’s proposal, which comes as he seeks to form a new government, would not vastly change the situation on the ground in Gaza or the West Bank. But it could pave the way for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Longtime bitter rivals, the tensions between the two groups boiled over in 2007, a year after Hamas won legislative elections. Bloody clashes between the two saw Hamas oust Fatah from the Gaza Strip and take control.

The West Bank, which is under the control of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party, has been effectively cut off from the Gaza Strip ever since.

Repeated attempts at reconciliation between the groups have led nowhere, and the collapse of the Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak, which played a key role in reconciliation efforts, has created new uncertainty.

The issue of control of the security forces has been a key stumbling block in each round of reconciliation talks, with both sides refusing to cede authority over their security apparatus.
Hamas responded to the latest calls for unity with suspicion.

“These declarations lack seriousness and credibility, they make no sense in light of the continued arrests and torture (of Hamas members) in Fatah prisons in the West Bank,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Monday.

“The only real way towards reconciliation is to stop the arrests, free the detainees and allow the movement’s charities to start helping the Palestinian people again,” he told AFP.

Hamas and Fatah have carried out periodic arrests of each other’s members, often holding detainees without charge or trial and routinely trading allegations of prisoner abuse.

“The formation of a national unity government can only be achieved in the context of an all-encompassing national solution and not a partial one,” Abu Zuhri said, referring to calls for the establishment of a coalition which would rule until parliamentary elections can be held at some point before September.

EU tells Israel: Mideast turmoil makes peace talks imperative: Haaretz

Hungary FM tells Lieberman that time is pressing, Israeli-Palestinian talks remain core issue.

BRUSSELS – The European Union is telling Israel that growing instability in the Middle East makes it imperative to immediately resume the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

Hungary’s foreign minister Janos Martonyi, whose country currently chairs the EU, told his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday that time is pressing and that the Israeli-Palestinian talks remain the core issue.

Lieberman, who is holding talks with the EU as part of a decade-old association agreement, also said it was important to resume direct peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians insist they will not restart the talks until Israel halts settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which they want as a capital. Israel has accused the Palestinians of stalling and using the settlement construction as an excuse.

On Friday, the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlement construction. The resolution, which was proposed by the Palestinians and Arab states, had won the support of the other 14 members of the Council.

Jonathan Cook: Israeli army will cash in on Egyptian revolution: Jonathan Cook

22 FEBRUARY 2011
By Jonathan Cook – 22 Feb 2011

Israeli army will cash in on Egypt’s upheavals

Israel has been indulging in a sustained bout of fear-mongering since the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled earlier this month. The ostensible aim has been to warn the international community that the lengthy “cold peace” between the two countries is on the verge of collapse.

In reality, the peace treaty signed three decades ago is in no danger for the forseeable future. The Egyptian and Israeli armies have too much of a vested interest in its continuation, whatever political reforms occur in Egypt.

And if the Egyptian political system really does open up, which is still far from sure, the Israeli military may actually be a beneficiary — if for all the wrong reasons.

The main value of the 1979 Camp David treaty to the Israeli leadership has been three decades of calm on Israel’s south-western flank. That, in turn, has freed the army to concentrate on more pressing goals, such as its intermittent forays north to sow sectarian discord in Lebanon, its belligerent posturing towards first Iraq and now Iran in the east, and its campaign to contain and dispossess the Palestinians under its rule.

But since Mubarak’s ousting on February 11, Israeli politicians and generals have warned that democracy for Egypt is bound to empower the country’s Islamists, supposedly bent on Israel’s destruction.

Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, compared a post-Mubarak Egypt with Iran, saying Israel was “preparing for the worst”. Likewise, Gabi Ashkenazi, the departing chief of staff, stated that Israel was braced for the peace treaty’s cancellation as the “moderate camp” weakened.

Officially, Tel Aviv’s concern is that, should the treaty be revoked, Israel will have to redirect much of its martial energy to preparing for potential hostilties with its neighbour, the most populous Arab state. Israel’s anxious declarations about the peace treaty, however, are largely self-serving.

Peace has reigned between Israel and Egypt because it is so strongly in the interests of both militaries. That is not about to change while the Egyptian and Israeli general staffs maintain their pre-eminent roles as the praetorian guards of their countries’ respective political systems.

Today’s close ties between the Israeli and Egyptian armies are a far cry from the earlier era of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who galvanised Arab nationalism in an attempt to defeat Israel, or his successor, Anwar Sadat, who almost led the Arab world to victory against the Israeli army in 1973.

Since the signing of the 1979 agreement, Washington has bought off the hawks on each side with massive military subsidies underwritten by the American taxpayer. The US has been happy to bankroll an accord that strengthens Israel, its useful Middle Eastern ally, and buys the acquiesence of Egypt, the Arab state best placed to resist the current regional order.

The Egyptian army receives $1.3 billion in annual military aid, making it the second largest recipient after Israel, which gets more than twice as much. In addition, military hardware has been lavished on the Israeli army, making it possibly the fourth strongest in the world — an astonishing situation for a country of only seven million.

The munificence has continued despite the US financial crisis, and includes Washington’s effective donation last year to Israel of two dozen of the next-generation F-35 stealth fighter jet as part of its pledge to maintain Israel’s “technological edge” over its rivals in the region.

Three decades of American money thrown at the two armies have made each a key player in their respective economies — as well as encouraging a culture of corruption in the senior ranks.

In Egypt’s case, large sections of the economy are controlled by retired generals, from electrical goods and construction companies to the production of olive oil and medicines. The army is reported to own about a third of the country’s assets.

The Israeli army’s economic stake is less ostentatious but no less significant. Its officers retire in their early forties on full pensions, and then cash in on their “security know-how”. Second careers in arms dealing, military consultancies or sinecures in Israel’s booming homeland security exports are all but guaranteed. Ehud Barak, a former chief of staff and the current defence minister, made millions of dollars from his security consultancy in a few years out of politics, for example.

Corruption, endemic in Israel’s political culture, has rapidly seeped into the military. Some of it is visible, as demonstrated this month with the passing over of a series of candidates for the vacant post of chief of staff because of the skeletons in their closets. Some is not: current investigations into dubious activities by Mr Ashkenazi and his family are subject to heavy reporting restrictions.

Nonetheless, both armies are revered by their countrymen. Even should that change in Egypt over coming months, the army is too strong — thanks to the US — to be effectively challenged by the protesters.

Israeli hawks, however, are right to be concerned — on other grounds — about the “threat” of political reform in Egypt. Although greater democracy will not undermine the peace agreement, it may liberate Egyptians to press for a proper regional peace deal, one that takes account of Palestinian interests as the Camp David accord was supposed to do.

Not least, in a freer Egypt, the army will no longer be in a position to play Robin to Israel’s Batman in Gaza. Its continuing role in the strangulation of the tiny enclave would likely come to an end.

But in such a climate, the Israeli military still has much to gain. As Israeli analyst Aluf Benn has observed, Israel will use the Middle East’s upheavals to highlight to the US that it is Washington’s only reliable ally — the so-called “villa in the jungle”. Its show of anxiety is also designed to remind the US that a jittery Israel is more likely to engage in unpredictable military adventures.

The remedy, of course, is even greater American largesse. And for that reason, if no other, the fear-mongering from Tel Aviv is not about to end.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

EDITOR: The old world is gone forever

In Israel, some have started to realise the likely results of the Arab revolution will include changes on Palestine; the status quo ante is obviously well over; The new democracies, while not seeking to go to another war with Israel, are totally unlikely to do its bidding, a-la-Mubarak. The Egyptian government has today removed the blockade by opening the border for two-way traffic, ending the Gaza blockade with one fell swoop!

More such actions are likely to follow, and the boss in Washington can veto UN Security Council Resolutions, but cannot change realities. The changes in the Arab world are likely to put real pressure on Israel and the US, and to pressurise Israel out of the territories occupied in 1967, in the long run. This can normally be thought of as an advance, but one has to reckon with Israel’s paranoid policies and reactions, of course.

The UN is ripe for advancing the Palestinian agenda: Haaretz

The settlements have been defined as the number-one problem impeding peace, and no Israeli attempt to blame the stalemate on the Palestinians will be accepted at the UN.
By Shlomo Shamir
NEW YORK – A new era has dawned at the United Nations with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From this point on, new, different rules will characterize discussions of the conflict in the Security Council.

The most important and, from Israel’s standpoint, alarming change is this: In the one UN body that has the authority to forcibly enforce resolutions, a new alignment of forces is rapidly taking shape, and a new distribution of influence is emerging between the United States and the other four members of the exclusive club of states with permanent membership and veto power.

The first result of the new era was the Palestinians’ proposed resolution to denounce Israeli settlements. Though the resolution was vetoed by America in the Security Council vote, it remains inscribed in the council’s annals as a fascinating case and a model to be followed in the future. Granted, it bore no diplomatic fruit. But it is laden with important policy implications that will soon be felt in UN decision-making on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and particularly in the Security Council.

One diplomat who immediately grasped the meaning of the veto of the Palestinian initiative was Brazil’s ambassador to the UN, Maria Viotti, who holds the Security Council’s rotating presidency. She explained to The New York Times that the council views the settlements as an obstacle to peace, and adopting the resolution would have “sent some key urgent messages.” These messages, the Times said, were that “further settlement construction threatens peace in the region, and that halting construction has been misrepresented as an Israeli concession while in fact international law requires it.”

What set the stage for the sea change in approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the UN was the lack of progress in talks between the sides. The awareness among leading UN members of the complete breakdown in communications between the White House and Israel’s prime minister created a new mood in which Palestinian concerns are at the top of the international community’s agenda. The UN has become fertile ground for advancing the Palestinian cause.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s disappearance from the stage strengthened the Palestinians’ resolve to oppose America’s entreaties to remove their resolution from the agenda. UN sources say the absence of Mubarak – a moderating influence who helped ease tensions when crises arose between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – has seriously complicated American diplomacy and undermined America’s status as the decisive power in dealing with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“In cases of friction with the PA, the U.S. usually turned to Mubarak, who was always quick to try to help,” explained a diplomat close to the U.S. delegation. “This time, when the Palestinians obstinately refused to withdraw their proposed resolution denouncing the settlements, the U.S. government had nobody to turn to.” In the headline of an article posted on Time magazine’s website, one veteran commentator summed up the situation as follows: “Without Mubarak, U.S. struggles to shield Israel from diplomatic pressure.”

It is clear – and behind-the-scenes statements from UN ambassadors bolster this conclusion – that the British and French support for the Palestinian resolution reflected a significant hardening of European Union attitudes toward Israel. The fact that the two European powers voted against the U.S. was seen in New York as a clear statement of the EU’s intentions, and of its desire to boost its diplomatic involvement and become a leading force in advancing the Middle East peace process.

From Israel’s standpoint, the most dramatic result of the drama that occurred behind the scenes at the Security Council is that the settlements have been irreversibly and categorically defined as the number-one problem impeding peace between Israel and the Palestinians. No Israeli attempt to blame the stalemate on the Palestinians will be accepted at the UN.

And the fact that 130 member states affixed their signatures in support of the pro-Palestinian draft resolution was seen in New York as a dress rehearsal for the declaration of a Palestinian state at the next General Assembly session in September.

Western arms makers eye lucrative Mideast market: Ahram online

As Arab regimes launch violent crackdowns on protesters across the region, arms makers scramble to finalise deals in the biggest arms fair in the Middle East
AFP , Tuesday 22 Feb 2011
Western arms makers, squeezed by budget cuts at home, jostled to ink deals at the biggest arms fair in the Middle East as crackdowns on anti-regime protestors claimed hundreds of lives in the region.

Shiny fighter jets and armoured vehicles were showcased at the Sunday opening of the 10th International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi amid reports of a bloodbath in Libya, the latest country in the region gripped by a sweeping pro-democracy uprising and ensuing violence.

“The post-financial crisis reality is that today it is clearly the Middle East that is seeing the biggest growth,” said Herve Guillou, president of Cassidian Systems, a subsidiary of European aviation defence group EADS.

Cassidian is in talks with a local company on computerising the defence systems of the United Arab Emirates army.

IDEX, which will run until Thursday, hosts more than 1,000 exhibitors with over 30 pavilions mostly belonging to the UAE, the United States, Britain, France and Germany. Nearly 50,000 visitors are expected from around the world.

A naval defence industries exhibition, Navdex, is also being organised for the first time this year.

The fair is taking place as the Arab world witnesses a wave of unprecedented revolts that have toppled veteran leaders in Tunisia and Egypt since the start of the year. Some governments have responded with violent repression.

In Libya, rights groups put the death toll at between 200 and 400 in the space of a few days. Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco and Algeria have also faced deadly unrest demanding an end to their decades-old regimes.

That has not stopped contractors from rushing to showcase their wares to Gulf states, whose defense expenditures are set to rise over fears of Iran increased spending power due to high oil prices.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait — along with Jordan are set to spend $68 billion (49.6 billion euros) on defence in 2011, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan. Their spending is expected to reach nearly $80 billion in 2015.

“Undeniably, in the Gulf there are very big budgets that we don’t have in Europe,” said Christian Mons, president of French Land Defence Manufacturers Association (GICAT).

The dynamic market is a godsend for Western contractors as defence budgets at home are being curbed, particularly in the United States and in Western Europe. But they are faced with increasing competition from emerging economies. The Chinese, Ukrainian and South African stalls at the event expanded the most this year.

Nevertheless, negotiations are also long and difficult in the region due to demanding clients.

France has been in talks with the UAE since 2008 of 60 Rafale fighter jets designed by Dassault Aviation, but Abu Dhabi is demanding a revamped version of the aircraft with a more powerful engine and an improved radar.

The topic of sharing the costs of touching up the jets is part of the negotiations.

“A negotiation always takes several years,” said Eric Trappier, who oversees the international operations of Dassault Aviation.

The new question mark is what long-term effects will the recent waves of revolts have on Arab defence policies.

Some say that the level of expenditures on equipment, which are spread out over years, would not be affected. “I don’t think there would be a significant impact on budget,” said GICAT’s Mons.

On the other hand, European companies that manufacture law enforcement arms often no longer have the permission of their governments to export to certain crisis zones material that could be used against citizens.

French group Lacroix, which produces tear-gas or stun grenades, said exports of the products to the Middle East have been blocked, its international operations director Jean-Marc Puech said.

Meanwhile, OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia on Tuesday signed a cooperation agreement with France on peaceful nuclear energy development to help meet the kingdom’s rising energy demand, an official statement said.

The agreement will enable Saudi Arabia to compare available options for its long-term program to build alternative energy plants for electricity production and water desalination, said Hashim Yamani, president of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE).

In a statement, KA-CARE said the pact, signed by Yamani and French Industry and Power Minister Eric Besson, “allows institutions in both countries to enhance cooperation in the fields of production, use, and transfer of knowledge of peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”

Yamani said Saudi Arabia had decided to turn to alternative energy resources, such as atomic and solar energy, to meet local demand for energy, which is rising by eight percent annually.

Demand for electricity in Saudi Arabia is expected to triple by 2032, which will give rise to the need for energy plants with a total of 80 gws of installed capacity, the statement said.

The Saudi cabinet in July gave the green light on the accord with France, which could open the way for French aid in the development of nuclear power in the oil-rich kingdom.

The pact was first proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in talks with King Abdullah in June 2007 in Paris.

France submitted the first draft when Sarkozy visited Riyadh in January 2008.

Saudi Arabia is also studying similar pacts with a number of other countries including Russia.

Reporter tries to place Lieberman under citizens arrest: Haaretz

The reporter accused the foreign minister of ‘apartheid’ before he was dragged away from the meeting with EU ministers in Brussels.
Foreign Minster Avigdor Lieberman was challenged by a reporter during his visit to the European Council, when the man told Lieberman that he was under citizens’ arrest and demanded that Lieberman accompany him to the nearest police station.

David Cronin, a freelance reporter and author of the book “Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation” was tackled by security officials only seconds after he began to address Lieberman and physically escorted from the room.

As Lieberman entered a press conference, Cronin stood up and declared, “Mr. Lieberman, this is a citizens’ arrest. You are charged with the crime of apartheid. Please come with me to the nearest police station.” As he was dragged away, he shouted, “Free Palestine! Free Palestine! Apartheid is a crime!”

This was not the first time that Cronin has tried to carry out a citizens’ arrest of a high-ranked public official. Last year he tried to single-handedly arrest former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for what he said were crimes against the people of Iraq.

A member of the Israeli delegation to the European Union said, “This was entirely uncivilized, in bad taste. But Israel, like the EU, is very supportive of free speech. It’s just a shame that some people take advantage of that freedom sometimes,” according to the European Union Observer.

Foreign Minister Lieberman is in Brussels for the annual meeting of the decade-old EU-Israel Association Council. Earlier on Tuesday, Hungary’s foreign minister Janos Martonyi, whose country currently chairs the EU, told Lieberman that growing instability in the Middle East makes it imperative to immediately resume the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

On Eve of Ramadan: Police Demolished Bedouin Village for Third Time: AIC

Tuesday, 10 August 2010
This morning police forces demolished the village of el Araqib for the third time in two weeks. The village residents, however, who remain on the eve of Ramadan without water and shelter under the blazing sun, began rebuilding the shelters from wood even before the police left the area. Left-wing activist Gadi Elgazi was detained.

Tens of left-wing activists, Jews and Arabs, slept in the village and are assisting the residents to rebuild; one activist was detained.

The demolitions began at 5.30 a.m. Two bulldozers were accompanied by 100 police officers, mounted police and trucks. The forces removed water containers and the remains of shelters that were constructed since the last demolition, in order to prevent reuse of these materials. Families, including infants and the elderly, were forcibly removed from their shelters. Tens of left-wing activists from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beer Sheva were present during the demolitions, having slept in the village to express solidarity with the residents. The residents and volunteers resisted in a non-violent manner. Activists in the village report that the demolitions were accompanied by violence toward the villagers and activists. Professor Gadi Elgazi from the Tarabut movement was beaten and injured in his nose. He was detained whilst speaking with the police, asking them to refrain from demolishing.

Residents with the assistance of volunteers are now busy rebuilding their shelters. A resident of the village expressed his anger and rage that the demolitions occurred on the eve of the month of Ramadan, holy to Muslims. “They have no God,” he said, adding that “we will continue to cling to the land of our forefathers and rebuild the village until our right to live there will be recognized by the world.”

The Israeli Land Administration is determined to destroy the village, and the Jewish National Fund plans to plant trees in the area in order to prevent the residents from returning. This is despite the fact that ownership over the land has not yet been established, and is currently being deliberated in the Beer Sheva Regional Court.

The village of el Araqib has been located in the area between Beer Sheva and Rahat already since the 19th century. Residents of the village, the Aturi family, worked the land at the beginning of the 20th century and as both Turkish and British documents testify, they also paid taxes on their land. The village even has an ancient cemetery of the resident family. The residents were removed by state authorities in 1951, and were promised this was a temporary move for military training and that they could return to their village in six months. However, since then they were never allowed back on their land. In the decades since, the residents returned to work their land, and in the 1990’s returned to live there.  Their ownership over the land is currently being discussed in a long and complex court case in the Beer Sheva regional court, and academic researchers have already testified on behalf of the residents’ ownership over the land.

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