January 07/15

Bible Quotation for today/Those who rebelled against me the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
"Isaiah 66/01-24: " This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person, and whoever offers a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense is like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and they delight in their abominations;  so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring on them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.”  Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: “Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame. Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the Lord repaying his enemies all they deserve.  “Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son.  Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.  Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the Lord. “Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God. “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.  For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”  For this is what the Lord says:  “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass;  the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes. See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord.
 “Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one who is among those who eat the flesh of pigs, rats and other unclean things—they will meet their end together with the one they follow,” declares the Lord. “And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.  And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the Lord. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels.  And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the Lord. “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.  From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord.  “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”.

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 06-07/15
Can relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia improve/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed /Asharq Al Awsat/January 06/15
Kataib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS/Matthew Levitt and Phillip Smyth/January 06/15
Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass/Dennis Ross /New York Times/January 06/15

Egyptian Copts’ problems should not be swept under the rug/H.A. Hellyer /Al Arabiya/January 06/15
The Palestinians Go to the ICC: Policy Implications/David Makovsky /Washington Institute/January 06/15

Lebanese Related News published on January 06-07/15
Special Tribunal for Lebanon confirms Lebanon paid full $36 million annual bill
Hezbollah, Future make headway easing tension
Corruption In Lebanon: ‘It’s like opening Pandora’s box’
'Greedy' economy ministry ignoring citizen health: Jumblatt
Hizbullah, Mustaqbal Agree to Back Security Plan in 'All Regions', Make Progress on 'Defusing Tensions'
U.S. 'Very Concerned' by New Visa Requirements for Syrians
Masri 'Suspends' Mediation, Forcing Cancellation of Priest Meeting with IS
Kanaan: FPM-LF Dialogue to Lead to Joint Action on Several Issues
Bou Saab Warns of Hesitation at Cabinet, Says Spat between Hakim-Abou Faour Ended
Report: U.S. Official Optimistic on Election of President by March
Kataeb Ministers Present Plan on Solid Waste Treatment as Sharp Differences Threaten Cabinet's Stability
Hammoud Tasks Judges to Probe Radioactive Material
Jumblat Lashes Out at 'Elite Group' over Food Safety File
Violent winds shut Lebanon ports, destroy property
ISIS kills 8 men for 'cooperating' with Iraq government
Syria envoy blasts 'unacceptable' Lebanon visa requirements

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 06-07/15
Egyptian police killed outside Coptic church
School attacks killed 160 Syrian children: UN
Rewriting the rules
US weighs cutting aid to Palestinians over ICC move
Saudi Arabia an “oasis of peace” amid chaos: King Abdullah
Syria opposition head casts doubt on Moscow talks
Suicide bombings, clashes kill 23 in Iraq
Old diseases return as Syrian doctors warn of 'medical disaster'
Yemen: Hadi advisers meet with Houthis on security
Israeli nationalist in spotlight over 1996 Qana massacre
Cairo stops subsidies to farmers of cotton
Amal Clooney disputes Egypt arrest warning story
World losing capacity to prevent conflict: UN
SpaceX calls off launch to space station at last minute
Saudi Arabia executes Syrian for drug trafficking
Saudi Crown Prince Blames Weak Growth for Oil 'Tensions'
Middle East Conflict Enters New Phase With Palestinian ICC Bid

John Boehner re-elected U.S. House speaker
Echoing Erdogan, Turkish PM brands graft scandal a ‘coup attempt’
World losing capacity to prevent conflict: U.N. refugee chief

Jihad Watch Site Latest Posts
State Department wishes ‘RIP’ to living captives of jihad terrorists
Islamic State chief executioner found beheaded with cigarette in his mouth
Mali: Islamic jihadis kill seven soldiers in dawn attack
Egypt’s Sisi: “We are in need of a religious revolution”
Italy: Screaming phrases from the Qur’an, a 67-year-old Muslim devastates a church in Trento
Islamic State chief executioner found beheaded with cigarette in his mouth

Video: Sisi’s Remarkable Speech on Dangers of Islamic “Thinking”/Click Here
By Raymond Ibrahim on January 6, 2015 in Islam, Other Matters
The video of Egyptian President Sisi discussing how Islamic “thinking is antagonizing the entire world” can be viewed below. If English subtitles do not appear click “CC” in bottom-right-hand corner.

Egypt’s Sisi: “We are in need of a religious revolution”
January 6, 2015
By Robert Spencer
IThe speech that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently made calling for Islamic reform is getting quite a bit of attention, and warrants close examination. Here are the excerpts that Raymond Ibrahim posted here at Jihad Watch a few days ago, with my comments interspersed: I am referring here to the religious clerics. We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before. It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!
This is extraordinary to begin with: I can recall no other Muslim leader (political or religious) going back to Ataturk who acknowledged that “the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.” Instead, generally they deny that Muslims have done killed or destroyed, or done anything whatsoever that should cause any anxiety for anyone — or blame non-Muslims for the violence, and claim that Muslims were only responding to extreme provocation.
That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. It’s antagonizing the entire world!
The distinction el-Sisi makes here is all-important: “I am not saying ‘religion’ but ‘thinking'” — in other words, the problem is not Islamic doctrine, but “the corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years.” Apparently, then, el-Sisi is saying that the problem is not Islam’s sacred texts themselves, but interpretations of them that have become widespread and even mainstream. So apparently he fits into the camp of those who say that Islam properly understood will not give rise to violence, terrorism and supremacism.
Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!
I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.
All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it it from a more enlightened perspective.
I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.
A “religious revolution” that will limit the capacity of Islam to incite violence. This is all to the good. El-Sisi drew back from acknowledging that there is a problem not just in “thinking” but in “religion,” but his statement is nonetheless positive, as a massive reconsideration of violent and supremacist aspects of Islam is indeed much needed. The thing is, if it is undertaken honestly, it will lead not just to a reevaluation of “thinking” (the interpretation of texts) but of “religion” (the texts themselves), and the scholars of al-Azhar and others are almost certain not to allow that. El-Sisi is no doubt aware of that. The fact that he made this speech anyway, and challenged the scholars to find some way forward so that Muslims could live in peace with non-Muslims, is a testament to his courage.
Will the “religious revolution” that he calls for actually come about? The odds against it are prohibitive. But even staking out his position in this way may further enable el-Sisi to act to restrict the power and influence of political Islam in Egypt.

Special Tribunal for Lebanon confirms Lebanon paid full $36 million annual bill
The Daily Star/Nov. 06, 2014/BEIRUT: The Lebanese government Thursday transferred $36 million to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, its annual budget contribution, as the The Hague-based court moved forward with the controversial trials of local journalists.
"I welcome Lebanon’s contribution and I thank the Lebanese government for fulfilling its international obligation to fund the tribunal," STL Registrar Daryl Mundis said in a statement confirming the transfer of the funds.

Egyptian police killed outside Coptic church
By Maggie Fick/ Reuters, Minya /Tuesday, 6 January 2015
Three Egyptian policemen were shot dead on Tuesday as they stood guard at a Coptic Christian church in a city south of Cairo, witnesses and a local security source said. The policemen were killed after being shot by masked men, the source and the witnesses said. The website of  Egypt’s flagship Al-Ahram newspaper also reported the deaths. Egypt’s Coptic Christmas falls on Wednesday this year and security is typically tightened at churches ahead of the holiday. The country’s Coptic Christians makes up about 10 percent of the population of 85 million. The community has largely coexisted peacefully with the majority Sunni Muslims for centuries. Following the army’s ouster of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, a number of churches and Christian properties were burned and destroyed in the impoverished south that is home to many Christians. The Brotherhood said at the time it had nothing to do with attacks on Christians and accused the army of cynically using the minority population to justify a fierce security crackdown.

Hammoud Tasks Judges to Probe Radioactive Material
Naharnet/State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud tasked on Tuesday Judge Sabouh Suleiman with investigating the alleged presence of radioactive material in goods imported to Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported. NNA said that Suleiman would inquire the customs over the failure to report to the general prosecutor's office about the suspicious material at Rafik Hariri International Airport and Beirut Port. Hammoud also asked Beirut Judge Ziad Abou Haidar and Mount Lebanon Judge Claude Karam to carry out - each within his own jurisdiction - an “immediate investigation” into the case, the agency added. Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil revealed on Monday that the authorities have seized radioactive and poisonous material in industrial and kitchen items at the airport and port.
He called for returning the goods and said the companies importing such products, which include food, drugs, production equipment and cutlery, will be held accountable. Khalil vowed to follow up the issue with the involved ministers and the judiciary.

Kataeb Ministers Present Plan on Solid Waste Treatment as Sharp Differences Threaten Cabinet's Stability
Naharnet /Kataeb Ministers have handed over to Environment Minister Mohammed al-Mashnouq their notes on the treatment of the solid waste in Lebanon as media reports estimated that the cabinet will hold a heated debate over the matter during its session on Thursday.
Labor Minister Sejaan Qazzi informed An Nahar newspaper published on Tuesday that he and Economy Minister Alain Hakim presented the memo to the Environment Minister. The minister said that the four-page memo includes two sections - comments on the cabinet's suggested plan and the alternative solutions. The sharp differences between ministers regarding the waste file, Naameh landfill and other matters are threatening to destabilize the cabinet amid the absence of a president. The cabinet assumes the executive tasks of the president as stated by the constitution until a new head of state is elected. Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, who is loyal to the Free Patriotic Movement, stressed in comments published in al-Joumhouria newspaper the importance of seeking a permanent solution to the waste dispute. “There are mafias that are blocking all solutions that suit citizens and the state's treasury.” In its last session in 2014, the cabinet failed to reach a decision on the matter, postponing discussions on solid waste treatment after the Kataab ministers demanded time to review the file. Ministerial sources told An Nahar newspaper that concerned officials are carrying out the necessary contacts with the rival parties to reduce the tension between the ministers. On Monday, Mashnouq also stressed the importance of extending the license for the al-Naameh landfill in the coastal Shouf town for additional months. However, Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayeb, who is loyal to the Progressive Socialist Party leader, rejected the request. The cabinet vowed last year, under street pressure, to close the al-Naameh landfill in January 2015 indefinitely, saying that a crisis plan will be set to deal with solid waste in the country.

Jumblat Lashes Out at 'Elite Group' over Food Safety File
Naharnet/Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat lashed out at corrupt officials on Tuesday, accusing them of trying to protect their interests at the wheat silos in Beirut's Port and other institutions, which harmed the health of citizens for decades. “How can we hold them accountable for negligence, harm and uncountable diseases that they caused for citizens over the past few decades?” Jumblat wondered on Twitter. “When wolves gather, we come to understand their greed in trying to protect their interests,” Jumblat said, adding that his tweets are not directed at Economy Minister Alain Hakim but to the “elite group” surrounding him. He stressed that “the worn goods, which are infested with mice and maybe whales, in the silos, warehouses and refrigerators were exposed.”PSP Health Minister Wael Abou Faour engaged in a verbal spat with minister Hakim over the food safety campaign. Hakim, who is loyal to the Kataeb party accused Abou Faour of “running a circus” after the latter criticized the poor conditions at the wheat silos in Beirut's port and the distribution of expired sugar in the northern city of Tripoli. Jumblat later revealed in his tweets that a restaurant, without mentioning the name, is using its powers and hasn't been mentioned in media outlets. “The restaurant’s name begins with B... It's okay, it's a place for the elite politicians and social powers... maybe they get poisoned... forgive me for the slip of the tongue,” the Druze chief added. “Judiciary remains the most adequate solution to hold those who are responsible accountable.”

Syria envoy blasts 'unacceptable' Lebanon visa requirements
The Daily Star/Jan. 06, 2015/BEIRUT: Lebanon’s decision to impose entry visa requirements for Syrians is “totally unacceptable,” Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdul Karim Ali said Tuesday. “The decision contradicts bilateral agreements signed between Lebanon and Syria, which stipulate that any change in the treaties should be discussed between the two countries,” Ali told daily Al-Akhbar, hinting that Damascus may close the border in retaliation to disrupt the transit route to the Gulf countries for Lebanese merchandise. He stressed, however, that Syria approves Lebanon’s efforts to regulate and organize the presence of Syrian refugees and is ready to cooperate in that regard. “Organizing the entry (of Syrians) is better than the humiliation and degradation to which the Syrians are subjected at the border, but the issue of entry visas is a strange matter,” Ali said, adding that his government was not informed of the measure and did not discuss it. Asked how Syria would react to the new measure, Ali said: “Syria does not favor escalation which is not in the interest of bilateral relations between the two brotherly countries.” “But if Syria reacts by closing the border to (transit) trucks, Lebanon would be harmed more than Syria. We have to wait and see how the matter would develop,” Ali added. Also Tuesday, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas told Voice of Lebanon Radio that the measure was devised as a result of a thorough study by a ministerial committee and was unanimously approved by the Cabinet. “Some countries want Lebanon to become a province for UNHCR,” Derbas said, in implicit criticism of the U.N. agency which had reproached Lebanon over the new measure. “The measure taken by General Security helps Lebanon reinforce its sovereignty, security and borders,” Derbas said, stressing that “there is nothing in the Treaty of Brotherhood and Cooperation (between Syria and Lebanon) which says that 1.5 million Syrians can flood Lebanon within one year.” Derbas pointed out that Syria was notified about Lebanon’s decision through the secretary general of the Higher Syrian-Lebanese Council, Nasri Khoury.

Violent winds shut Lebanon ports, destroy property
The Daily Star/Jan. 06, 2015
BEIRUT/TRIPOLI/SIDON: Lebanon halted maritime traffic in its southern ports of Sidon and Tyre as a result of violent winds from an incoming storm which destroyed orchards, caused property damage and knocked out power and Internet in parts of the country Tuesday.
Air traffic, however, was still operating normally. Fishermen at the San Simon area of Jnah, south of Beirut, were able to pull fellow citizen Rabih Kaderi after he drifted away on high seas for nearly two hours. High waves slammed into Jbeil's waterfront, drowning the seaside promenade and forcing the closure of restaurants around midday. Fruits that had been blown off their tree branches littered orchards across the north as well as in Sidon and Tyre, while at least one large Christmas tree displayed in the northern city of Tripoli was toppled.
Storm “Zina,” which is expected to hit Lebanon in full force Tuesday afternoon and continue until Sunday, also knocked down utility poles, causing power and Internet outages in some parts of the north. High winds, reaching up to 90 km/hour, have toppled billboards and damaged cars. Greenhouses were also torn apart by the storm. “This is not the worst storm ever,” a source at the Department of Meteorology at Beirut airport said. “Lebanon has seen ... worse than that.”The Traffic Management Center said Civil Defense workers managed to haul off a tree that had blocked a street in the Beirut district of Hamra. Many mountain roads were still blocked by snow, including Sannine-Zahle, Ayoun Siman-Hadath Baalbek and Mnaitra-Hadath Baalbek. Kefraya-Barouk and Dah al-Baidar roads were passable for jeeps and vehicles equipped with metal chains. Heavy rains are expected Tuesday night and tempatures will continue to drop as “Zina” intensifies. The storm is being brought over by a low-pressure weather system from the North Pole via Eastern Europe, according to Michel Frem, head of the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute. Frem, who said the cold weather would continue until Sunday, warned of flooding and strong winds through Wednesday, especially in Beirut and the south. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday temperatures will drop as low as minus 10 degrees in the Bekaa Valley, Frem added.

Corruption In Lebanon: ‘It’s like opening Pandora’s box’
Jan. 06, 2015/Venetia Rainey/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The recent burst of revelations about the level of corruption and mismanagement in Lebanon, from radioactive goods at the airport to moldy labneh, can be classified as news only in its details – the broad shape of the situation has been known for years. So what’s going on? Monday saw several ministers issue forceful, even combative statements over the performance of their respective ministries. Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk called out “some people” for demanding that the Naameh landfill be closed, citing the lack of an alternative, putting himself up against Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and his Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb and their insistence that the dump be shut down after 17 long, smelly years. Elsewhere, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour and Economy and Trade Minister Alain Hakim traded blows over the former’s ongoing and highly controversial food safety crusade, which over the last week has zeroed in on ministerial control of sales of sugar and grain in the country. Also Monday, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil revealed that dangerous radioactive parts had been found in industrial and kitchen items recently seized at Beirut’s port and international airport, vowing to hold importers accountable. But none of these will truly come as a surprise to anyone who is used to the way Lebanon works, so why the sudden, very public blame game between established ministers who have seen it all before? “I think it’s politically driven, I don’t think these ministers are sincere,” said Hilal Khashan, professor of political sciences at the American University of Beirut. “Politics is stagnant and these people want to maintain a place in the sun of Lebanese politics.” “They are trying to make waves, these will not amount to much.”He pointed to the hypocrisies within the stances of the various ministers, arguing that their campaigns to expose wrongdoing were unlikely to last long. He argued, for example, that Abu Faour’s campaign to name and shame restaurants lacked transparency. “[Abu Faour] never told us about the specifications that he was using for the violations, which in any case have been going on for years and years. I’m surprised that he has just discovered it recently.”He also suggested that Abu Faour was attempting to divert attention from less savory rumors doing the rounds in Lebanon. “Meanwhile, Khalil is talking about the radioactive things coming into Lebanon,” Khashan continued. “He comes from the group of [Speaker Nabih] Berri, who openly admits that he is corrupt and works only for the interests of the country’s Shiites. Now one of his men is coming out and talking about public safety, I wouldn’t take it too seriously.” This view was echoed by Imad Salamey, a political science professor at the Lebanese American University, who said that such ministers taking a vocal and aggressive approach to longtime, institutional issues was highly problematic. “What is interesting is that the health minister has overtaken the rule of other political entities, so instead of acting as an executive he is acting as a watchdog, releasing himself from the responsibilities of an executive branch minister,” Salamey said.
“The executive branch which Abu Faour represents should not be taking on such a role; they should be the ones to be accountable. If all these things are true, then he should resign,” he said. He also pointed to the dangerous precedent being set by such public accusations and actions. “If a minister unleashed a campaign exposing things that he believes are in the public interest, then he could start a ministers’ war that could undermine the whole government,” Salamey said. “These things should be discussed by the Council of Ministers in order to keep everything functioning properly. It should not be done in the press,” he said. But not everyone agrees, and for Yahya Hakim, the director general of the Lebanese Transparency Association, such open discussion of the crippling, endemic problems facing Lebanon is long overdue. “The simple idea of opening the subject is excellent,” he said. “People never thought of the magnitude of these problems – the accumulation of years and years of neglect, carelessness and laissez faire – until somebody bursts the bubble.”
“The problem is that it’s like opening Pandora’s Box: if they want to change things, then the whole system needs to change. It can’t be done by simply sending a few inspectors to a factory or warehouse.”

Hezbollah, Future make headway easing tension
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/Jan. 06, 2015
BEIRUT: The Future Movement and Hezbollah made “serious progress” Monday in a second round of talks to defuse sectarian tensions exacerbated by the conflict in Syria, officials from the two rival factions said. The two sides also agreed to continue the implementation of a government security plan in all Lebanese territories following the successful restoration of state authority in the northern city of Tripoli. Discussions between senior officials from the Future Movement and Hezbollah centered on a main item: defusing sectarian tensions, according to an official statement issued following a four-hour meeting hosted by Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence. “Serious progress has been made in this respect [defusing sectarian tensions],” the terse statement said. It added that the two sides also agreed to support the continued implementation of a security plan in all Lebanese territories.
The Lebanese Army last year heavily deployed in Tripoli, crushing Islamist militants in line with a security plan to restore law and order to the city torn by sectarian fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Following the Army deployment in Tripoli, there have been calls mainly by Future and March 14 allies for the security plan to be enforced also in the Bekaa Valley region, long plagued by kidnappings for ransom, killings, vendettas, drug smuggling and car thefts.
Hezbollah enjoys wide popular support in the Bekaa Valley, especially in areas near the border with Syria. The Shiite party has been accused by the March 14 coalition of preventing the Army from asserting government control over these areas.
The statement did not say what measures Future and Hezbollah would take to ease political and sectarian tensions, which had in the past flared up into street violence between supporters of the two sides. Berri, the sponsor of the Future-Hezbollah dialogue, did not attend Monday’s session. He was represented by his political aide, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil.
As in the first session held at Ain al-Tineh on Dec. 23, the Future Movement was represented by Nader Hariri, chief of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s staff, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and MP Samir Jisr. Hezbollah was represented by Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan and MP Hasan Fadlallah. Monday’s was the second session of a dialogue launched last month with the aim of easing Sunni-Shiite tensions and facilitating the election of a new president. Defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions is the main item on the dialogue agenda which, according to officials from both sides, also includes finding a mechanism to allow the election of a president, boosting efforts to combat terrorism, promoting a new electoral law and energizing stagnant state institutions.
Last month’s meeting was the first face-to-face encounter between Future and Hezbollah officials in four years since the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance toppled Hariri’s national unity government in January 2011. Prime Minister Tammam Salam as well as Future MPs and rival politicians have voiced hopes that the Future-Hezbollah dialogue would help break the 7-month-old presidential deadlock. In addition to gaining support from rival politicians, the Future-Hezbollah dialogue has also won backing from Egypt as well as the U.S., Saudi and Iranian ambassadors in Beirut. The dialogue was also praised by the European Union. “The European Union welcomes the dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement,” EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst told reporters after meeting Berri at Ain al-Tineh. “This dialogue sends a good signal to the Lebanese people and the region that differences can be overcome.”
She said she congratulated Berri for his efforts to get the two rival parties talking to each other. “It is a good beginning for the New Year with the convening of the second session of this dialogue which is a subject of interest for everyone with regard to overcoming differences among the Lebanese parties,” Eichhorst said. Machnouk sounded optimistic about the outcome of the Future-Hezbollah dialogue.
“Our main goal is to defuse Sunni-Shiite tensions and later discuss the presidency,” he told reporters after meeting Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian at Dar-Fatwa hours before heading for the talks with Hezbollah officials. “We are still at the beginning and let’s wait. We are always optimistic.” A senior Hezbollah official said dialogue must be upheld by Sunnis and Shiites in order to ward off the threat of sectarian strife hanging over the country as a result of the repercussions of the war in Syria. “The gate of dialogue must remain open among Muslims in order to snuff out the fire of strife and raise hope,” Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, head of Hezbollah’s Political Council, said at a dinner hosted by the party at a restaurant south of Beirut on the occasion of Prophet Mohammad’s birthday. Separately, Nasrallah will tackle local and regional issues in a televised speech Friday marking Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, Al-Manar TV station reported Monday. It said Nasrallah’s speech, likely to touch on the dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, would be aired during a Hezbollah-sponsored rally at Mahdi school in the southern Beirut suburb of Hadath at 2:30 p.m

Rewriting the rules
The Daily Star/Jan. 06, 2015
The problem with constitutions in the Arab world is one of direction. Sound constitutions function as a set of guidelines that groups in society impose on their rulers, from bottom to top. In this part of the world, constitutions are documents that people at the top use to keep everyone else in their place. Whenever the need arises constitutions are amended, so quickly that the Guinness Book authorities should be alerted. Back in 2000, Syrian lawmakers suddenly found themselves obliged to change the law of the land if it didn’t suit the birth certificate of Bashar Assad. Over the weekend, it was Sudan’s turn, as Parliament unanimously endorsed amendments to give longtime leader Omar al-Bashir even more power. The list of amendments in this region is unlimited, and is universal.
The situation isn’t restricted to places with longtime strongmen, as Lebanon has proven many times, and not just because of its powerful neighbor Syria. In Lebanon, a lack of respect for the constitution is a national sport, and people have stopped counting the times that emergency amendments suddenly appear. And when change, such as lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, is actually needed, people can be certain that politicians and state officials will do everything they can to prevent it from happening.
Constitutions are the highest expression of a national political entity, but they’re based on a simple premise: More than one group in society deserves consideration. The sorry state of the region’s constitutions provides clear evidence that Arab political culture largely lacks this fundamental notion.

US weighs cutting aid to Palestinians over ICC move
Associated Press/Ynetnews
Published: 01.05.15 / Israel News
State Department spokeswoman says Congress to decide whether to cut annual $440 million financial package to the PA.
The Obama administration is weighing whether to cut its annual $440 million financial package to the Palestinians because of their effort to join the International Criminal Court to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday. “The next step would be Congress deciding what step or action they may take as it relates to assistance," she said.  And under American law, any Palestinian case against Israel there would trigger an immediate US aid cutoff. But Palestinian membership, by itself, doesn't incur an automatic US punishment. She also criticized Israel for freezing tax revenues to Palestinians. "We oppose any actions that raise tensions and we call on both sides to avoid it," she said.
Israel has frozen the transfer of half a billion shekels (about $125 million) from tax funds collected on behalf of the PA by Israel and distributed every month, in response to the Palestinians' request. The frozen funds were scheduled to go through this month, but the decision was made Thursday during a discussion convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin himself harshly criticized on Monday the decision to freeze tax revenues to the Palestinians.
"(Palestinian Authority President) Abbas is trying to reach a forced arrangement and his requests (to the Security Council and ICC) are a breach of the Oslo Accords, which supposedly justifies punitive action. But the punitive actions should suit Israel's interests. Delaying the transfer of tax money, for example, does not benefit us, or them," Rivlin said at a meeting with current and future Israeli ambassadors to Europe.  The Palestinian decision to join The Hague court came after the UN Security Council rejected setting a three-year deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian-claimed lands. The Palestinians delivered to UN headquarters in New York on Friday documents on joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and other global treaties, saying they hoped to achieve "justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power". The Hague-based court looks at cases of severe war crimes and crimes against humanity such as genocide. Israel fiercely opposes the Palestinian membership at the court.
Shurat HaDin files ICC complaint against Palestinians
An Israeli official told Reuters the Palestinian leaders "ought to fear legal steps" after their decision to sign onto the Rome Statute. "Israel is weighing the possibilities for large-scale prosecution in the United States and elsewhere" of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinians, the official said. Israel would probably press these cases via non-governmental groups and pro-Israel legal organizations capable of filing lawsuits abroad, a second Israeli official said, explaining how the mechanism might work.
So it was no surprise Monday when Israel-based Shurat HaDin Law Center has filed a war crimes complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague against PLO leaders Jibril Rajoub, Majid Faraj and Rami Hamdallah, the current Palestinian prime minister, it accuses of terrorism, torture and civil rights violations. The suit follows similar complaints the group previously filed against Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The move appears to be a longshot as the court receives thousands of such requests and rarely takes action. But it comes a week after the Palestinians announced they would be joining the international court to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel.
The Palestinians had no immediate comment to the allegations.
Reuters contributed to this report.

Can relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia improve?
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed /Asharq Al Awsat
Tuesday, 6 Jan, 2015
Though foreign missions in the Iraqi capital face the danger of attack, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to send a technical team to choose a new location for its embassy in Iraq, which closed its doors 24 years ago. The visit aims to break the ice in a relationship that has been frosty for the past 10 years. Saudi Arabia has also decided to open a consulate in the Kurdistan region, finally implementing a decision which had previously been delayed due to political and security tensions.
Though relations were never severed completely, there has been no Saudi embassy and no Saudi ambassador in Baghdad in recent years. An embassy sends a message and the diplomatic team based in it has a mission to carry out, which includes fixing what has been damaged during the many decades under various Iraqi governments. Bilateral relations were bad in the 1970s, especially with the rise of Saddam Hussein to the post of vice president, as he incited Iraqis against Saudi Arabia, supported opposition groups, and funded secret operations inside the Kingdom. This did not end until after a meeting organized by Jordan. The meeting resulted in a number of agreements which included specifying a neutral zone and ending hostile activities.
It wasn’t long until Saddam Hussein attacked Iran, exploiting the fall of the Shah, who was his military nemesis. Saddam launched the attack to reclaim what he called occupied Iraqi lands. Recklessly, he led the Gulf countries—who feared for their security should the Iraqi defenses collapse—to enter the fray in support of Iraq, especially as Khomeini’s regime threatened them with invasion. After the war with Iran ended, relations with Iraq soured when Saddam invaded Kuwait, and it should be noted that the war to liberate Kuwait triggered a number of crises and continuous wars that have lasted until this very day. Actually, Iraq and the Gulf have lived through 34 years of tension since the 1980s and the region remains unstable.
I have written before on the topic of Saudi-Iraqi relations, and the relationship between the two is certainly capable of either leading the region towards security or dragging it toward further turbulence. It all depends on the politicians’ ability to manage complicated crises between the two countries. There are some issues which both agree on but there are other issues which the two parties may butt heads over. The war on terrorism, such as that against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, is not controversial as both extremist groups clearly target both countries. Riyadh believes it is the Iraqi government’s duty not to blur the line between terrorist groups and Sunnis who are angry at being marginalized and are disillusioned with the deteriorating living conditions and humanitarian situation in five of Iraq’s provinces. Riyadh also thinks that the previous government’s militarized approach to public protests sparked the current crisis and strengthened ISIS, leading it to take over Mosul. It was the day after terrorists took over Mosul that Saudi Arabia issued a statement against ISIS and reinforced its northern borders, realizing that these terrorist organizations don’t just threaten Iraq but also threaten Saudi territory.
A cause for concern for Saudi Arabia is the Iranian infiltration of Iraq and Iran’s attempt to subjugate Iraq to its influence under the excuse of fighting terrorism. Riyadh cannot do anything about this. However, the Iraqi leadership must accept its responsibility to confront the reality of this, and maintain Iraqi sovereignty and reject Iranian interference, which will be difficult for the Iraqis to curb in the future. Iraq is not a small or poor country and should not need a foreign power to protect it and guarantee its internal security.
Ensuring positive relations with all its neighbors, including the Saudis, will serve the interests of Baghdad, whose government still has a long way to go in terms of achieving internal reconciliation. The government also still has a way to go in achieving positive relations with the Kurdistan region, and in getting rid of the legacy of the harmful governments of Saddam Hussein and Nouri Al-Maliki.

Kataib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS
Matthew Levitt and Phillip Smyth /Washington Institute
January 5, 2015
Although Iran's proxies are fighting ISIS in parallel with the U.S.-led effort, their actions and radical Shiite agendas are diametrically opposed to the goal of building inclusive governments and societies in Iraq and Syria.
Over fifty Shiite militia organizations in Syria and Iraq currently claim to be training and fighting against the "Islamic State"/ISIS. Many are armed branches of established political parties or follow individual clerics. Some are fronts for established groups, while other newer groups are developing their own profile and presence. In addition, new militias have been established along the lines of al-Hashd al-Shabi (The Popular Mobilization) and are growing in size and influence. Although many of these groups are indeed countering the ISIS advance, a number are linked to extremist anti-American leaders and factions, particularly Kataib al-Imam Ali (the Imam Ali Brigades). Such militias present further threats to regional security and U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Announced in late June as the armed wing of the newly created Harakat al-Iraq al-Islamiyah (The Movement of the Islamic Iraq), Kataib al-Imam Ali burst onto the scene with uniformed and well-armed members. It has been quite active in Amerli, Tuz, and Diyala fighting alongside other Iraqi Shiite militias, all of them Iranian proxies. In Salah al-Din province, fighters from the group posed in videos with the severed heads of their slain enemies. And in late December, the group even set about training Christians for a subgroup called Kataib Rouh Allah Issa Ibn Miriam (The Brigade of the Spirit of God Jesus Son of Mary).
Shebl al-Zaidi, the secretary-general of Kataib al-Imam Ali, was once a noted figure in Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army -- and reportedly one of its more vicious sectarian leaders. He was jailed during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, only to be released by the Iraqi government in 2010. Last summer, as Kataib al-Imam Ali became more established after its June debut, Zaidi was photographed with Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. The group also appears to have strong links with the Iraqi government; in August and September, it published pictures of Zaidi riding in an Iraqi army helicopter and one of the militia's field commanders, Abu Azrael, manning a different helicopter's machine gun.
However, another IRGC-linked leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, appears to head Kataib al-Imam Ali's operations and expansion efforts, and his presence explains the group's meteoric growth. Wearing patches belonging to the militia and shown in a number of photos embracing Zaidi, Muhandis is a commander with considerable experience in building new extremist Shiite groups -- and a long history of attacks against Americans and American interests.
Iraqi Shiite extremists in general, and Muhandis in particular, have featured prominently in Iran's arsenal of regional proxies for many years. Some of the most proactive Iraqi figures who have worked with Tehran since 2003 began as Iranian proxies some twenty years earlier.
Muhandis (a.k.a. Jamal Jaafar Muhammad Ali) first came to prominence as one of the Iraqi Dawa Party terrorists who partnered with Hezbollah to carry out the 1983 embassy bombings in Kuwait and the 1985 assassination attempt on the Kuwaiti emir. Convicted in absentia for his role in those attacks, he went on to lead the Badr Corps, the militant wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The Badr Corps not only fought alongside Iranian forces in the Iran-Iraq War, it also engaged in acts of sabotage and terrorism targeting Saddam Hussein's regime. Muhandis worked directly with the Qods Force and other militant Iraqi Shiites who opposed Saddam.
According to Iraqi documents captured by coalition forces, his chief of staff in the Badr Corps was Hadi al-Ameri, who would go on to head the Badr Organization (so renamed in an attempt to rebrand itself as a political party) and serve as a parliamentarian after Saddam's overthrow. During the 1990s, Muhandis was succeeded by Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani as commander of the Badr Corps. By this point, Muhandis had Iranian citizenship, and he became an advisor to Qods Force commander Soleimani. Muhandis and Sheibani even lived in the same IRGC compound for some time, and together with Ameri, they went on to become key Shiite militant leaders in the post-2003 invasion period. In 2008, a report published by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center concluded that "some of Iraq's most wanted Shi'a insurgents share Badr Corps lineage with Iraqi politicians operating openly in Baghdad."
Today, links persist between the Badr Organization and newly established militias. For example, one former member -- parliamentarian and militia leader Sheikh Adnan al-Shahmani -- now heads the group Tayyar al-Rasouli. Kataib al-Imam Ali appears to have similar links; in September, it even produced martyrdom posters commemorating fallen Badr Organization commander Abu Zahra al-Ghafari. Such links may explain how Kataib al-Imam Ali grew so quickly and already included a sizeable number of what appeared to be trained fighters.
Even as it supported political allies such as SCIRI and Muqtada al-Sadr, Iran also backed their respective military wings, the Badr Corps and Mahdi Army. When the renamed Badr Organization entered politics, Iran encouraged extremists to splinter off and form their own militant groups, echoing its past encouragement of Shiite radicals to split from Lebanon's Amal Party to form Hezbollah. Accordingly, Sheibani and Muhandis dropped their associations with Badr and went on to found terrorist groups that played central roles in Iran's proxy networks.
In 2007, Muhandis formed Kataib Hezbollah (the Hezbollah Brigades, or KH). Given his longtime ties to Dawa and the Qods Force, it was no surprise when his new group began receiving more sophisticated training and sensitive equipment than all other Iranian proxies in Iraq. Although KH was technically distinct from its namesake in Lebanon, it would develop especially close ties with Unit 3800, the Lebanese Hezbollah entity dedicated to arming and training Iraqi Shiite militant groups.
In July 2009, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Muhandis and KH for having "committed, directed, supported, or posed a significant risk of committing acts of violence against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces." Both were designated under Executive Order 13438, which targeted insurgent and militia groups and their supporters; KH was also added to the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.
According to information released at the time of these designations, Muhandis was employing Lebanese Hezbollah instructors by early 2007 to train KH and other Shiite militant special groups in using guerrilla warfare, explosives, and various weapons (including missiles, mortars, and sniper rifles) against coalition forces. He also led smuggling networks that moved ammunition and weapons (e.g., explosively formed penetrators and sniper rifles) from Iran to Iraq for these militias. In addition, he provided other forms of logistical support for attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces, such as facilitating the movement of local Shiite militia members.
Under Muhandis, KH forces were among the first Iranian proxies to join the Syria war as well. In March 2013, after a number of funerals were held for Lebanese Hezbollah members killed in Syria, KH became the second group to declare it had lost fighters there. The group claims to have lost around forty fighters in total, going so far as to build a new martyrs area in Najaf's Wadi al-Salam cemetery. It has also helped build Syria-based Shiite militias such as Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) and Iraq-based groups such as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba.
Fighting in Syria did not distract KH from last year's upsurge in violence in Iraq, however. As with other Iranian proxies, Kataib Hezbollah was several steps ahead of mainstream calls from Iraq's government and traditional clerical apparatus for the mobilization of Iraqi Shiites against ISIS. In April, a new militia -- Saraya al-Difa al-Shabi -- issued calls for volunteers. And in early May, KH claimed the loss of two fighters in Anbar, its first fatalities in the fight against ISIS. Both KH and Saraya al-Difa al-Shabi have since been operating across central Iraq, from Anbar to Samarra to Diyala.
If Muhandis's hand in the development of KH and Kataib al-Imam Ali proves one thing, it is that Iran's extremist proxies assume a variety of forms and functions, with some taking on lives of their own as they expand in size or enter the Iraqi political fray.
Unlike other Iranian Shiite radical groups, KH has not entered politics; instead, it has chosen to project power by remaining in Iraq as an armed group. Other groups have retained their militia structures but embedded them into Iraqi state apparatuses.
For its part, Kataib al-Imam Ali may be seeking a political role in the future by claiming ties to a parent party. At present, its influence has spread from southern Iraq, through Baghdad, to most of the frontline ISIS hotspots, as the militia trains new combatants and fulfills Iran's strategic goal of crafting more "Islamic Resistance"-style organizations.
The creation of new militias may appear counterintuitive when there are already many established groups that could be further built up. Yet new groups enable Tehran to diversify its political and military portfolio in Iraq. The wide range of these organizations also serves as a way to slowly impart and legitimize its ideology and power within Iraq. This phenomenon is slowly happening in Syria as well.
For Western and regional policymakers, the large number of groups, connections, and overlapping areas of influence creates further confusion, giving Iran and its proxies further room for plausible deniability if the need arises. The situation also creates an illusion of choice and independence for those joining or supporting these radical Shiite militias and parties.
Most important, it is incorrect to suggest that these groups are limited to combating ISIS or operating in Syria or Iraq alone. Tehran and its proxies are primarily focused on those theaters at the moment, but radical Shiite militias are already beginning to behave like regional actors with larger goals. For example, KH, Kataib al-Imam Ali, and similar groups have repeatedly threatened Saudi Arabia over the death sentence handed down to Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was charged with sedition and related offenses in October. Although these radical militias are fighting ISIS in parallel with the U.S.-led effort, their actions and sectarian agendas are separate from the coalition's and run counter to the goal of building inclusive governments and societies in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, Kataib al-Imam Ali and its ilk present long-term threats to regional stability and U.S. interests. Even as Washington focuses on fighting ISIS, it would do well to prepare now for the day when radical, Iran-linked Shiite militias turn more actively against America's interests and allies.
***Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute. Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland, is author of the blog Hizballah Cavalcade and the upcoming Institute monograph The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects.

Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass
Dennis Ross /New York Times
January 6, 2015
Palestinians must be asked to respond to proposals that address Israeli needs and not just their own.
The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, insists on using international institutions to pressure Israel, even after he was rebuffed in the United Nations Security Council, where he sought a resolution mandating Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mr. Abbas has now announced that he will turn to the International Criminal Court -- a move that will produce Palestinian charges and Israeli countercharges but not alter the reality on the ground.
A European official I met recently expressed sympathy for the Palestinians' pursuit of a Security Council resolution. I responded by saying that if he favors Palestinian statehood, it's time to stop giving the Palestinians a pass. It is time to make it costly for them to focus on symbols rather than substance.
Since 2000, there have been three serious negotiations that culminated in offers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Bill Clinton's parameters in 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts last year. In each case, a proposal on all the core issues was made to Palestinian leaders and the answer was either "no" or no response. They determined that the cost of saying "yes," or even of making a counteroffer that required concessions, was too high.
Palestinian political culture is rooted in a narrative of injustice; its anticolonialist bent and its deep sense of grievance treats concessions to Israel as illegitimate. Compromise is portrayed as betrayal, and negotiations -- which are by definition about mutual concessions -- will inevitably force any Palestinian leader to challenge his people by making a politically costly decision.
But going to the United Nations does no such thing. It puts pressure on Israel and requires nothing of the Palestinians. Resolutions are typically about what Israel must do and what Palestinians should get. If saying yes is costly and doing nothing isn't, why should we expect the Palestinians to change course?
That's why European leaders who fervently support Palestinian statehood must focus on how to raise the cost of saying no or not acting at all when there is an offer on the table. Palestinians care deeply about international support for their cause. If they knew they would be held accountable for being nonresponsive or rejecting a fair offer or resolution, it could well change their calculus.
Unfortunately, most Europeans are focused far more on Israeli behavior and want, at a minimum, to see Israel's continuing settlement policy change.
But turning to the United Nations or the International Criminal Court during an Israeli election is counterproductive. It will be seen in Israel as a one-sided approach, and it will strengthen politicians who prefer the status quo. These candidates will argue that the deck is stacked against Israel and that the country needs leaders who will stand firm against unfair pressure.
Why not wait? If a new Israeli government after the elections is prepared to take a peace initiative and build settlements only on land that is likely to be part of Israel and not part of Palestine, there will be no need for a United Nations resolution.
If not, and the Europeans decide to pursue one, it must be balanced. It cannot simply address Palestinian needs by offering borders based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps and a capital in Arab East Jerusalem without offering something equally specific to Israel -- namely, security arrangements that leave Israel able to defend itself by itself, phased withdrawal tied to the Palestinian Authority's performance on security and governance, and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue that allows Israel to retain its Jewish character.
In all likelihood the Palestinians would reject such a resolution. Accepting it would require compromises that they refused in 2000, 2008 and 2014. There is, of course, no guarantee that the next Israeli government would accept such a resolution. But the Israelis are not the ones pushing for United Nations involvement. The Palestinians are. And if their approach is neither about two states nor peace, there ought to be a price for that.
Peace requires accountability on both sides. It's fair to ask the Israelis to accept the basic elements that make peace possible -- 1967 lines as well as land swaps and settlement building limited to the blocks. But isn't it time to demand the equivalent from the Palestinians on two states for two peoples, and on Israeli security? Isn't it time to ask the Palestinians to respond to proposals and accept resolutions that address Israeli needs and not just their own?
**Dennis Ross is the counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute.

School attacks killed 160 Syrian children: UN
Agence France Presse/Jan. 06, 2015/GENEVA: At least 160 children died in attacks on schools in war-ravaged Syria last year and the education of 1.6 million has been cut short by the fighting, the U.N. said Tuesday. Schools should be "zones of peace", the U.N. children's agency said, adding that pupils should be allowed to study without risking death or injury. "There were at least 68 attacks on schools in Syria (in 2014), which killed at least 160 children and injured 343," Christophe Boulierac, spokesman for UNICEF told reporters in Geneva. "It is very probable that this is an underestimate," he added. While many schools were caught in the crossfire of fighting that has been raging since March 2011, Boulierac said there were indications that some were deliberately targeted.
"Attacks on schools, teachers and students are further horrific reminders of the terrible price Syria's children are paying in a crisis approaching its fifth year," UNICEF's representative in Syria Hanaa Singer said in statement.Between 1.3 and 1.6 million children in Syria are no longer able to attend school due to the war that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced around half of the country's population, Boulierac said. He expressed concern over the recent closure of numerous schools in areas partially or fully under the control of ISIS in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor governorates and parts of rural Aleppo. "This is seriously affecting the schooling of an estimated 670,000 students," Boulierac said. More than eight million Syrian children have been affected by the war, with 1.7 million now living as refugees, according to the latest U.N. figures.

Why Hamas Feels So at Home in Turkey
Burak Bekdil/The Gatestone Institute
Originally published under the title, "Davutoglu and Mashaal: A Marriage Made in Heaven."
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was given a hero's welcome by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu last month.
In the heat of August 1980, Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the now-defunct National Salvation Party and founding father of political Islam in Turkey, published two articles, "Jerusalem and Zionism," and "Anarchy and Zionism." In the latter, he likened Zionism to an "octopus with numberless arms." Some of those arms were "communism, capitalism, freemasonry and racism."
Before that, in much of the 1970s, Turkey had been captured by political violence. It had killed on average a dozen people each day in clashes mainly between ultra left- and ultra right-wing militants.
The sole source of anarchy and chaos in Turkey, Erbakan then wrote, was Zionism.
Shortly after the publication of Erbakan's articles, on Sept. 6, 1980, his party organized the infamous "Jerusalem meeting" in the central Anatolian city of Konya, an Islamist stronghold to this day. Thousands, including children, shouted "Death to the Jew" and marched through the city. Six days after the demonstration, the military staged a coup d'état. The generals not only wanted to crush warring extremists, but also religious fundamentalists.
Like most of Turkey's cabinet ministers and ruling MPs, Erdogan comes from the ranks of Erbakan's school of political Islam.
Little has changed in Konya's political demographics since the 1980 coup. It still boasts being the center of Turkish political Islam even though, ironically, the city's name is a Turkish distortion of its original medieval Greek name "Ikonion." This August, three-quarters of residents of Konya voted for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who became the president of the country, with 51.5% of the nationwide vote. Like most of Turkey's cabinet ministers and ruling MPs, Erdogan comes from the ranks of Erbakan's school of political Islam.
But these days Konya is even more loudly proud of one of "its own sons." Former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan's choice, was elected party leader and prime minister this summer.
Last weekend, Davutoglu gathered a regional party congress in his native Konya, where enthusiastic locals and party loyalists called him "a true grandson of the Ottomans."
The party congress looked like any other congress of the ruling Justice and Development party [AKP]: a fawning crowd, cheering, singing and shouting pro-Davutoglu (and pro-Erdogan) slogans, and waving Turkish and Palestinian flags. But there was more.
Davutoglu's guest of honor at the party congress in Konya was Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas's political bureau and the darling of Messrs Erdogan and Davutoglu -- a feeling that is apparently not unrequited.
Taking the stage, Mashaal congratulated the Turkish people "for having Erdogan and Davutoglu." Thundering applause, Palestinian flags waving passionately and thousands of AKP fans shouting, "Down with Israel!"
Mashaal, who lives in exile in Qatar, shyly boasting an opulent life style, voiced his hopes that, together with the Turkish leaders, that they would "liberate Palestine and Jerusalem."
"A democratic, stable and developed Turkey," he said, "is a source of power for all Muslims. [A] strong Turkey means a strong Jerusalem, a strong Palestine."
Unfortunately, Turkey is neither democratic, nor stable -- nor developed. The world's most credible pro-democracy institutions, most notably Freedom House, list Turkey in their democracy indices as either a "not free" or a "country with major democratic deficit."
The country is scene to constant political bickering, and neighbors, next to Syria and Iraq, one of the world's most unstable regions. Its per capita income is a mere $10,000.
In his speech, Davutoglu accused Israel of "attempts to reduce the Islamic character of Jerusalem," and repeated that Turkey and Palestine have a common stance (against Israel). He also declared a new mission for Turkey: the self-declared guardian of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque.
Whenever there is a visiting foreign dignitary, a head of state or a prime minister, Davutoglu will usually meet with his guest bilaterally for an hour or two. In Konya, his tête-à-tête with Mashaal lasted for four and a half hours.
"Turkey will do whatever needs to be done to protect Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque," he said. More thundering applause, more Palestinian flags waving and more "Down with Israels."
Whenever there is a visiting foreign dignitary, a head of state or a prime minister, Davutoglu will usually meet with his guest bilaterally for an hour or two. In Konya, his tête-à-tête with Mashaal lasted for four and a half hours -- a span not surprising, given the lucrative engagement with "all things Palestinian." Playing the champion of the "Palestinian cause" has traditionally been a smart vote-catcher in the Turkish lands, especially in Konya.
Thirty-four years ago, the people of Konya had to take to the streets to shout "Death to the Jew," wave Palestinian flags and chant all possible Quranic slogans -- and clash with the military for doing it. Today, they enjoy the Islamist ritual at the regional congress of the country's ruling party, with "a son of their city" running the show from the seat of the prime minister.
Thirty-four years ago, their hearts and minds were united with their Palestinian brothers, but a public "Jerusalem meeting" could earn them a jail sentence. Today, failing to stand by the "Palestinian cause" could earn someone a jail sentence, if not a good public beating. Sadly, this is how democracy has evolved in Turkey.
**Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Egyptian Copts’ problems should not be swept under the rug
Tuesday, 6 January 2015
H.A. Hellyer /Al Arabiya
A community that exists in the midst of substantial antipathy against them will never be easy to write about critically – at least not without empowering bigoted narratives that permeate throughout society. Nevertheless, one wonders if at the beginning of 2015, as Coptic Christmas Eve approaches this evening, if it may be time to consider that impetus.
Writing about demographically minority communities is not always easy, given the milieu they sometimes exist in. After the bombings in London in 2005, anti-Muslim sentiment in the media changed from being a marginal, radical fringe position, to slowly becoming accepted in society at large. A former minister in the present British government described it as “passing the dinner-table test,” meaning that anti-Muslim bigotry was no longer something that went far beyond it. That sort of atmosphere continues today – only last week, mosques were attacked in Sweden. Against the backdrop of such a vitriolic atmosphere, it can sometimes be difficult to make public critiques of prominent members of such communities for fear they might be abused for unintended purposes. Indeed, even without that narrative being directly inspired, even if inadvertently through such public criticisms, one can often find that such minority communities are held to much higher standards, at least in the realm of the media, than the majority. Such criticisms are necessary – but care is often prudent, in order to avoid empowering the strengthening of a radical xenophobic narrative.
Delicate balance
Such a delicate balance is not only difficult to keep in mind when discussing Muslim European communities – but also with regards to Christian Arab communities, for example. To take one such community – the Egyptian Christian community over the past few years has often been in the limelight for rather unflattering and problematic political positions taken by its leadership. Shortly after the January 25 revolutionary uprising in 2011, the Coptic Church came out rather strongly in support of a “no” vote on the constitutional amendments that were being discussed at the time. The validity or invalidity of its arguments notwithstanding, it was unwise for a religious institution to take a partisan view on what became a highly charged political issue. Indeed, it was followed by the eruption of a rather ultra-conservative Salafist and Islamist response, which was deeply sectarian and damaging.
“A demographic minority that is not fully accepted by all sectors of the society in which it is a part of is always going to be difficult to write about”
Should the Church have been criticized for taking such a partisan stance at the time? It’s an academic point now – but the issue of the Coptic clerical establishment directly engaging in such partisan political topics remains. Yet, the discussion of those same issues come at a time when the Coptic Christians of Egypt, the flock which the Church’s leadership is meant to represent, albeit in a clerical fashion, remain subjected to all sorts of challenges. Sectarianism against Coptic Egyptians exists as a very real threat, and the discourse of various, rather insidious anti-Christian and pro-Mursi preachers and figures is incredibly damaging to Egypt’s social cohesion. Indeed, that sort of discourse has merely intensified over the past three years, and continues in a massive fashion – it exists as a main bone of contention between revolutionary critics of the current Egyptian political establishment, and the pro-Mursi Islamist camp.
Falling into a trap
Can criticism of the Church take place, thus, without falling into the trap of empowering and encouraging further sectarian incitement against Christians? When, for example, the Coptic Pope claims it is “not the time” to discuss the Maspero massacre, when dozens of peaceful, mainly Coptic Christians were killed in clashes with military forces, should criticism be averted, in order to avoid giving promoters of sectarianism ammunition? Certainly, many Coptic activists deny such a conclusion and are often the most vocal about critiquing their clergy for engaging in political matters in what they see as negative interventions.
Like so many Egyptians, whether Muslim or Christian, these Coptic critics complain when they view their religious leaders as, at least from their perspectives, as simply enabling the narrative of the powerful. When the pope himself claims the events at Maspero were the result of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood luring’ Copts, for example, critics, and many others, will justifiably pause and wonder – why would such a peculiar claim be expressed without appropriate evidence provided? Particularly as, at the time at least, the Brotherhood publicly backed the military on the issue of the clashes? Where is the outrage at the deaths that took place, such critics ask, and the calls for accountability? Why are there no demands for an investigation into, for example, the state media, whom media experts accused of coverage that unfairly targeted Copts, portrayed Coptic protesters in a deeply negative fashion and raised the overall temperature against them?
A demographic minority that is not fully accepted by all sectors of the society in which it is a part of is always going to be difficult to write about. There will be always be a context that is important to keep in mind, whether when it comes to Muslims of the West, or Christians of the East. But while keeping in mind that context is vital, and the criticism made with such background must be noted with full awareness, critical assessments of institutions and individuals within those communities remain necessary, according to the same standards that all sectors ought to be held up to. There is a way – there must be a way – to criticize and critique, without providing fodder for bigotry. Otherwise, we run the risk of just sweeping problems under the rug, where they will fester and eventually be used and abused probably even worse by bigots. More than that, we may even begin to infantilize such communities, denying them full agency. In either eventuality, it is only the members of those communities that will suffer the most.

The Palestinians Go to the ICC: Policy Implications
David Makovsky /Washington Institute
January 6, 2015
Although the prospect of the ICC actually prosecuting Israeli officials is uncertain at best, the PA has torpedoed any chances for near-term diplomacy merely by opening that door, and perhaps invited U.S. financial countermeasures as well.
On December 30, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas signed twenty different international conventions, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The name of the statute refers to the 1998 conference that established the treaty-based court, which began operations in 2002.
In principle, the PA's move enables the ICC to assert jurisdiction over future developments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and empowers any signatory to the Rome Statute -- currently including 160 countries -- to claim that Israel should be brought to the court on charges of war crimes. Palestinian officials have said that they want the ICC to investigate Israel's settlement policies. Once any such inquiries were concluded, it would be up to the ICC's chief prosecutor, Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda, whether to move forward with actual cases against Israeli officials.
Abbas's move comes on the heels of his failure last week to garner the votes needed for the UN Security Council to approve Palestinian statehood. Although that failure averted a potentially controversial U.S. veto, the ICC move raises other thorny problems.
While the Israeli-Palestinian relationship has not exactly known many highs in recent years, one could argue that the signing of the Rome Statute sends diplomacy to a new low, at least under the current leadership. The ICC is designed to deal with deliberate war crimes, such as state officials carrying out genocidal policies, so Israelis would not take too kindly to being painted with that brush if cases were brought against their leaders.
Moreover, the PA's latest move creates an entirely new arena for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, casting the often-adversarial relationship in criminal terms. As part of the ICC's effort to apply a profound moral stain on those it convicts, any future Israeli prosecutions in The Hague would be designed to ensure that the country's political and military leadership could not travel, among other limitations. In that vein, the Palestinians and their sympathizers would no doubt use any ICC conviction as further justification for the ongoing boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Abbas may also be counting on one advantage conferred by signing the Rome Statute: technically, the PA does not have to be the one that actually submits the complaint to the ICC, since any motions related to the West Bank and Gaza can now be carried forward by any party.
On a personal level, the move is bound to deepen the mutual loathing between Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas, likely shutting down any political space for further negotiations any time soon. And if negotiations are no longer feasible between Abbas and Netanyahu, it may move the entire Israeli-Palestinian discourse toward unilateralism as long as they remain in office.
In terms of Israeli political opinion, the PA's move is bound to face opposition across the political spectrum, since the thought of Israeli political figures or soldiers being hauled before The Hague is unacceptable to officials and voters of most any stripe. With an election looming on March 17, Netanyahu will likely depict the ICC maneuver as the latest manifestation of international pressure, proving that he needs to remain prime minister in order to thwart such actions. At the same time, the opposition -- led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni -- will cite the move as a political metaphor for what they call Israel's growing international isolation under Netanyahu, even as they staunchly oppose what Abbas has done.
As for Palestinian public opinion, a December poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed 80 percent approval for Abbas moving to the ICC. All too often, Palestinians measure their own progress by how much political pain they can impose on Israel. And they may well believe that the ICC strategy will place new constraints on any Israeli decisionmaking about future military operations.
Signing the Rome Statute is unlikely to produce short-term Palestinian legal victories for a variety of reasons, not least because other parties will probably make countermoves. For example, the United States, Canada, and perhaps other states will likely ask UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon -- the point of deposit for Rome signatories -- to urge that the PA's move not go forward, perhaps by questioning the PA's legal right to sign. The U.S. Congress may pass resolutions as well, but it is unclear what impact they would have. The United States (along with Russia, Israel, and some thirty other countries) has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute -- this means it is not a member of the ICC, so Congress cannot threaten to defund the court.
Israel took the first step after Abbas signed the statute by announcing that it is withholding about $150 million in Palestinian tax revenues. Israel has repeatedly warned the PA that any move toward the ICC would be met with financial sanctions and possibly increased settlement activity in sensitive areas. The U.S. Congress could decide to follow suit by withholding its $400 million in annual aid to the Palestinians.
Beyond the financial realm, groups sympathetic to Israel can be expected to file counterclaims against Abbas in U.S. courtrooms for attacks against Israeli civilians or for the PA's relationship with Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. Yet it is far from certain that Israel would file a countersuit against Abbas at the ICC at the very time it is arguing that the court has no jurisdiction over the West Bank and Gaza.
There is also the legal question of when the ICC's jurisdiction, if accepted, would begin. It clearly has jurisdiction after the PA completes the process known as accession, which is likely to be in March or April.
Yet it is uncertain if the ICC even wants to wade into the murky waters of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The court has felt under attack recently, with its case against Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta collapsing within the past month. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is renowned for its endurance, highly charged character, and complexity; for example, if the ICC investigated West Bank settlements, would it be willing to take a position and draw borders between Israel and a Palestinian state? And would those boundaries include east Jerusalem?
The ICC has been careful to take on very few cases, and despite being in existence for over a decade, it has secured only two convictions, both against Congolese warlords of no significant state position. Each case took between six and seven years. Additionally, the court previously rejected taking on the 2011 Gaza flotilla case involving Turkey, stating that the number of fatalities was too few. To be sure, some thirty-three other ICC cases are at different stages of investigation, but these preliminary inquiries often take years before the lengthy trials even begin.
The political implications of Abbas's move to the ICC have just begun to ricochet, as his relations with Netanyahu sink further than ever and a new arena of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians seems to open. In the short term, internationalizing the conflict will have only one surefire result: making the prospects of Israelis and Palestinians resolving their own differences ever more distant.
**David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.