April 23/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 21,1-19.
After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We also will come with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No." So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught." So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast." And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs."He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." (Jesus) said to him, "Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."

Free Opinions
The Underlying Risks in Missing The Arab Peace Initiative Dar Al-Hayat. April 23/07
Will the Initiative Change the Course of History? Asharq Alawsat. April 23/07
US Playing a Dangerous Game With Israel and Syria.TPMCafe, NY. April 23/07
Israel's message in talks with Gates: Syria is preparing for war.Ha'aretz, Israel. April 23/07

Latest News Reports From  The Daily Star for April 23/07
Elections without politics in Syria.By Omayma Abdel-Latif. April 23/07
Army seizes clothing destined for camps
Divided Lebanese leaders set sights on battle for presidency
Qatari emir hosts Lahoud for official visit, vows to continue postwar support
French voters in Lebanon begin presidential pick
Sfeir laments continuous political bickering
Lebanon's business community calls for 100-day truce
5-month-old baby dies in care of local nursery
Archaeologists find ancient skulls in Baalbek
Nowhere fast: Beirutis spend day fighting exceptional traffic jams
LF slate wins in elections at LU Engineering Faculty
10 AUB graduates receive awards for publishing, research

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for April 23/07
Israeli Jetfighters Buzz Hizbullah's New Bases.Naharnet
Syrian Opposition Boycotts Election of Baath-Dominated Parliament

Michel: U.N. 'Will Push Through Hariri Tribunal'
Cabinet Authorizes Saniora to Send 2nd Letter on Tribunal to U.N.
Putin to Saniora: We Will Continue to Provide Support to Reach Settlement
U.S. to 'Find Other Way' to Set up Tribunal
Olmert: Assad's Peace Signals 'Not Sufficient'
Olmert: Iran's Nuclear Program Can Be Stopped Peacefully.
Voice of America
Crossfire War - High Ranking Syria Military Delegation Arrives in Iran.NewsBlaze
Bishara Resigns in Cairo.France24
MK: Bishara's resignation a gift to Israel.Ynetnews
ISRAEL-LEBANON: UN envoy asks for records of cluster bomb strikes.Reuters
Israel violates Lebanon air space.PRESS TV
Syrian MP exiled in Lebanon slams Syria elections.Ya Libnan,
Israeli Arab MP resigns from Cairo.France24
US to sell bombs to Israel‎.PRESS TV,
Egypt Convicts Egyptian-Canadian Man of Spying For Israel.Egypt Guide
Israel's finance minister steps down during police probe.CNN 
Israel Turns Down Musharraf's Offer To Mediate Peace.All Headline News
Arab states form Israel “contact group”.Tehran Times
Lack of interest in Syria polls that opposition dubbed ‘illegitimate’.Ya Libnan,

Squeeze Play: Approach Tehran with Sticks, Not Carrots
By Dennis Ross
New Republic, April 23, 2007

Consider this scenario: The Saudis have gone nuclear. So have the Egyptians. Both countries had been signatories to the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, but that agreement is now dissolved. Riyadh and Cairo acquired their weapons from Pakistan, a Sunni ally, in response to the nuclear threat from Shia Iran. Meanwhile, Iraq continues to fester, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from settled, and Iranian proxies remain firmly entrenched within Lebanon's combustible sectarian mix -- a mix that pits Sunni against Shia and just so happens to exist on Israel's northern border. In short, all the key players in the Middle East -- Sunni, Shia, Israeli -- now have nuclear weapons at a moment when the simmering and, in some cases, quite open conflicts between the region's states, sects, and ethnicities are almost too numerous to count.
If that situation sounds terrifying, it should. And it may well come to pass if Iran is allowed to go nuclear. This past December, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Saud Al Faisal, declared that Riyadh, in conjunction with surrounding Gulf states, might seek to develop nuclear power. He insisted the program would be used only for peaceful purposes, but, to many, Faisal's words sounded like a threat: Since Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, maybe we will, too. If that happens, Egypt probably won't be far behind. Senior Egyptian officials have told me that, if we cannot stop Iran from going nuclear, it will spell the end of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
Needless to say, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East would greatly increase the chances of war -- between Sunnis and Shia or between Israelis and Muslims -- through mistake or miscalculation. For this reason alone, we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The question is: How?
There seem to be two parallel realities today regarding Iran's nuclear program. On the one hand, most of the international community appears to oppose Iran going nuclear, and the Bush administration has helped forge two U.N. Security Council resolutions (despite Russian and Chinese hesitancy) that impose limited sanctions on the Iranian nuclear and missile industries, as well as individuals and entities associated with them. Even though the sanctions were far less stringent than those the administration initially sought, they seem to have created dissonance within the Iranian elite. Criticism of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has become much more open and far more pointed. One newspaper associated with Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei went so far as to say that Ahmadinejad was using the nuclear issue to divert attention from the failings of his government. As Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the administration's point person on the issue, put it, "We've roiled their government, and I think we've shocked them a bit."
That's the good news. Now the other reality: The Iranians continue to press ahead with their nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Tehran, some technical difficulties notwithstanding, has already produced at least 1,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium. It is now reasonable to assume that Iran will, before the end of this year, be able to reach its aim of manufacturing 3,000 centrifuges. And, once Tehran has that many centrifuges operating efficiently, it will only need about nine months to generate sufficient fissile material for one nuclear bomb.
In other words, the Iranians may be feeling pressure, but they have yet to change their behavior. The diplomatic track is slowly having an impact on Iran's leadership, but at a pace that continues to be outstripped by the country's nuclear advances. The key, then, is to find a way to alter the calculus -- and, therefore, the behavior of Iran's rulers -- more quickly.
Some suggest this can be done by dropping our conditions and engaging Iran. I favor this approach -- but only if it is guided by an understanding that penalties, more than inducements, are the key to altering the Iranian position. When inducements have been put on the table -- such as the British, French, and German offer to provide Iran with light-water nuclear reactors -- the Iranians seem to have had little trouble rejecting them, and without hints of dissonance among the country's elite. Yet, when even the threat of U.N. sanctions appeared real, we began to see signs of a much sharper internal Iranian debate. For instance, last October, as discussion of sanctions was unfolding at the United Nations, former Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani released a secret letter from Ayatollah Khomeini explaining his decision to end the war with Iraq. With Ahmadinejad and his constituency as the intended audience, an Iranian newspaper commented that the letter revealed Khomeini's understanding that one cannot permit ideology to get in the way of a "realistic understanding of the international situation."
Why have sticks been more effective than carrots? Because virtually all members of the Iranian elite, including moderate ones, appreciate the value of having nuclear weapons -- they are a symbol of national power, they can be useful for deterring the United States, and they are seen as promoting Iranian dominance throughout the Middle East. No combination of inducements can match the value of having nuclear weapons. But the value of nuclear weapons has to be weighed against the potential cost. If the cost is international isolation and economic deprivation, the picture changes for a significant part of the Iranian elite. That elite is basically divided between the Revolutionary Guard confrontationalists represented by Ahmadinejad, the conservative but pragmatic mullahs represented by Rafsanjani, and the reformers represented by former President Mohammed Khatami. The Rafsanjani and Khatami contingents are clearly susceptible to negative external pressure; and they, in turn, can curb the influence of Ahmadinejad and his followers.
Indeed, it seems they already have; witness the recent release of the British sailors. What's more, with an economy characterized by significant unemployment, high inflation, a plummeting stock market, declining oil production, and a diminishing of the revenue so necessary for preserving social peace, and with Ahmadinejad's confrontational approach on the Iranian nuclear program generating internal criticism, it is probably no coincidence that Ali Larijani -- Iran's nuclear negotiator, who also happens to be close to the supreme leader -- is these days evincing more hints of willingness to strike compromises.
All of which is to say that a deal may be possible, but it won't come from chasing after the Iranians. They must know that they will pay a high price for pursuing nuclear weapons (while also seeing that the door remains open to a deal that allows for civil nuclear power and includes economic sweeteners as well as mutual security guarantees). This argues for an approach focused on squeezing Iran economically -- a strategy in which the Europeans and Japanese will have to assume the lead. Both are taking some steps now, but they are capable of doing much more to cut Iran off from credits, outside investment, banks, and commerce. So long as the Europeans are providing approximately $18 billion in loan guarantees for companies doing business in Iran, the Iranians won't be convinced they are on the brink of seeing their economic lifeline severed. Here, the Bush administration should be more aggressively exploiting the leverage of the Saudis, who, after all, see Iranian nukes as a profound threat: We should be encouraging Riyadh to use its financial clout with the Europeans, the Japanese, and even the Chinese to choke off Iranian access to the international economic system.
Most world leaders, including our allies, are desperate to prevent the United States from attacking Iran. President Bush should make it clear to them that they have the power to forestall military action -- by exerting economic pressure that further opens fissures in Iran's elite, which will in turn raise the likelihood of Ahmadinejad being forced to back down. We must convince our allies to move comprehensively, not incrementally, to ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran -- and soon. The choice is theirs, but they are running out of time to make it.
**Dennis Ross is counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the forthcoming Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World.

Israeli Jetfighters Buzz Hizbullah's New Bases
Israeli jetfighters buzzed Hizbullah's new bases in south Lebanon and the western flank of the Beqaa valley Sunday, drawing anti-aircraft fire, but no raids or hits were reported. Local reporters said at least four Israeli jetfighters flew apparent reconnaissance missions at medium-low altitudes over the mountainous range stretching from the southern Shebaa sector to the Jezzine-Chouf region, cracking sonic booms and drawing scattered anti-aircraft fire.
The overflights covered a stretch of the terrain north of the Litani River in south Lebanon, to which Hizbullah was pushed after the July-August war with Israel. Witnesses in the area told Naharnet the Israeli jetfighters dropped scarlet balloons in a protective tactic designed to deflect heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. No such weapons were observed, however.
Anti-aircraft rounds made white puffs of smoke in the clear sky as they exploded around the Israeli jetfighters. No hits were reported, however.
The overflights created panic in the Hizbullah-controlled villages of the Apple Province, east of the southern provincial capital of Sidon, residents told Naharnet.The Israeli move was carried out shortly before a visit to neighboring Syria by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss with Damascus officials, among other topics, relations with Lebanon and the alleged smuggling of weapons to re-arm Hizbullah.
Illegal trafficking of weapons to Lebanon has been banned by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended a 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel last August. The resolution created a weapons-free zone south of the Litani River to prevent Hizbullah from staging cross-border attacks against Israel. The party, however, has set up fortified bases north of the Litani River and in the western region of the Beqaa valley, close to the borders with Syria.A U.N. peacekeeping force created by resolution 1701 patrols the zone south of the Litani rover to support Lebanese army operations in the area.
Beirut, 22 Apr 07, 11:18

Cabinet Authorizes Saniora to Send 2nd Letter on Tribunal to U.N.
The Lebanese cabinet has authorized Premier Fouad Saniora to send another letter to the U.N. asking for the establishment of an international tribunal, An Nahar daily reported Saturday. It quoted ministerial sources as saying the cabinet late Friday "authorized (Saniora) without declaration" to send a second letter to the U.N. "if the need arises or when he sees it necessary" to ask the U.N. to set up the court after attempts to ratify the draft law for the tribunal in parliament have reached a dead end. Last week, the prime minister sent a letter along with a copy of a petition signed by 70 lawmakers to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon asking him to move on the international tribunal.
An Nahar said that the memorandum will not be sent immediately to the world body to pave the way for last-ditch attempts by U.N. legal chief Nicolas Michel to find a compromise over the court although the envoy's mission "officially ended with no solution."
At a news conference held at the Grand Serail on Friday, Michel urged all parties to continue to search for a solution to the crisis and expressed confidence that the tribunal can still be ratified by parliament. But in comments published Saturday by An Nahar and As Safir dailies, Michel said the U.N. will push through the court if the Lebanese legislature failed to ratify it. Michel has been trying to get Lebanese rivals to agree on establishing the court to try suspects in the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, an issue that has sharply polarized the country.
Michel said all political leaders voiced support for the tribunal in talks with him, and he urged them to follow through on their words. Dialogue was the key to working out the differences, Michel said, adding an agreement among the Lebanese would create "favorable conditions" for the work of the tribunal, once it's established. Michel, who is to report to U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on his return to New York, denied media claims the U.N. has given the Lebanese a few weeks to agree or face U.N. intervention. He said, however, that serious actions and goodwill were necessary to get things moving.
"I hope that our efforts will bear fruit and that the parties will continue to seek a solution to the impasse and I urge them to do so," he said.
Michel also said the Lebanese factions "agreed to continue discussions with the United Nations" but didn't elaborate. He capped his weeklong visit Friday with a second meeting with Saniora and Speaker Nabih Berri who is refusing to convene parliament to ratify the tribunal.
Michel left Lebanon Saturday morning.(Naharnet-AP) Beirut, 21 Apr 07, 06:57

Syrian Opposition Boycotts Election of Baath-Dominated Parliament
Polling centers opened throughout Syria Sunday allowing voters to elect 250 new pro-regime Parliamentarians dominated by the ruling Baath Party amidst a declared boycott by the opposition. According to Syrian law applied for more than three decades, the 12 million registered voters will have to elect 131 MPs from President Bashar Assad's Arab Socialist Baath Party, 83 "independent" MPs, who are usually businessmen affiliated with the ruling elite, and 36 MPs from leftist parties affiliated with the Baath in the so-called National Progressive Front (NPF).
Opposition parties are banned by Syrian law. The two-day elections are the second since President Bashar al-Assad assumed power in July 2000.
Voting began at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and will end at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT). On Monday the polling stations will open at 7:00 am and close at 2:00 pm (1100 GMT).
Some 2,500 candidates are standing, the official SANA news agency said. Originally, it said, there were 9,000 candidates. The report did not explain the discrepancy. Lawyer Hassan Abdul Azim, spokesman for six banned parties operating under the umbrella of the National Democratic Rally (NDR) noted that the 83 seats reserved for the so-called independent MPs are usually filled by "those close to the authorities."
Opposition hopes of increased democracy were raised, falsely, by Bashar's accession to power in 2000 following the death of his father Hafez, who had ruled with an iron fist. Late in 2005 opposition parties which are tolerated but have no legal status launched an appeal for "democratic change" in Syria, but the plea failed to bring positive action.
The following May, the authorities jailed 10 opposition figures who had signed a statement seeking reform in the country's relations with Lebanon, where Syria was the power-broker for nearly three decades. Damascus has been subject to intense international pressure since the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 in Beirut, of which Syria was widely accused despite its denials.
Among other demands, the opposition wants a modern law authorizing the creation of parties other than the Baath and its allies, and abrogation of the emergency law which has been in force since 1963. After the poll, a referendum is planned on a new mandate for Assad. He received 97.29 percent of votes in a plebiscite after the death of his father.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 22 Apr 07, 10:44

Michel: U.N. 'Will Push Through Hariri Tribunal'
The United Nations will push through an international court to try suspects in ex-premier Rafik Hariri's murder if the political deadlock continues, the U.N.'s top legal adviser warned in comments published Saturday.
"If the statutes of the tribunal laid out in the accord between the United Nations and the Lebanese government are not ratified in accordance with Lebanese constitutional procedures, other ways will have to be found," Nicolas Michel told the Lebanese dailies An Nahar and As Safir.
"In such a case I would see no other legal solution than recourse to Chapter Seven," he said.
"But that would definitely not be under Article 42 which authorizes the use of force to impose resolutions, but under Article 41" which makes no reference to the use of force, Michel added. "Anyway, the U.N. commission of inquiry was created under Article 41, which means all member states must cooperate with it." Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter gives the Security Council the power to impose mandatory actions on member states.
Michel said that the tribunal's terms of reference would not include crimes that are not linked to Hariri's Feb. 2005 murder, and that Hizbullah fears of an extension of its competence were unfounded.
"It is impossible to examine other cases because, according to the statutes, the court's competence is determined by time. It begins on October 1, 2004 (date of the attempted assassination of now Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh) and includes the attacks that followed" if it turns out that the events are linked. "That was specified notably so the tribunal's constitution would have a deterrent effect against the cycle of violence continuing in Lebanon," Michel said. Michel said that Syria has "been informed of" the special court's statutes, and that it had submitted "verbal observations." Damascus has indicated that it will not allow Syrians to appear before the tribunal.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 21 Apr 07, 11:19

The Underlying Risks in Missing The Arab Peace Initiative
Henry Siegman Al-Hayat - 22/04/07//
The Arab peace initiative has been widely misunderstood, and occasionally even deliberately misconstrued.
The initiative is not a road map providing a step-by-step approach to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, nor does it demand of Israel prior acceptance of certain Arab or Palestinian conditions. It does not provide a framework for peace negotiations other than what is already specified in the Roadmap that Israel claims it fully supports: Israel's return to the pre-1967 armistice line as the basis for negotiations for alterations, if any, to that line; the location of a capital of a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem; and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem.
Negotiations over these three principal permanent status issues are not a condition dreamed up by the Saudis or the Arab League. They are the universally accepted ground rules for peace negotiations that even President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have stated categorically Israel cannot alter on its own.
Asked in February of 2006 by a reporter for her reaction to a statement by the then acting prime minister Ehud Olmert that Israel wants to set its permanent borders unilaterally, Secretary Rice responded, "No one should try and unilaterally predetermine the outcome of a final status agreement. That's to be done at final status." She added that President Bush's suggestion, in his letter to Prime Minister Sharon of April 14, 2004, that a permanent status agreement recognize "new realities on the ground that have changed since 1967," cannot be acted upon unilaterally by Israel "in a preemptive and predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status."
The specific terms of a peace agreement are essentially left by the Arab initiative to the parties themselves. Whatever terms enable the parties to close the deal will be acceptable to the initiative's sponsors. Their concern is less that Palestinians will be too generous to Israel than that they will be too inflexible.
Arab leaders therefore see Olmert's request for a meeting to "clarify" the Arab initiative as his way of obtaining normalization with all Arab countries without doing anything for the Palestinians in return. That their skepticism is not misplaced was confirmed by Olmert's boast in one of his many pre-Passover interviews published in Israeli newspapers that if he were to succeed in his demand for a meeting with Arab leaders, Israel would already have gained a significant measure of recognition from all Arab countries. That is why the Arab League has turned Olmert down.
Israel's acceptance of the Arab League peace initiative would not limit its ability to protect its vital interests in negotiations with the Palestinians. Saudi officials confirmed in 2002 that their peace initiative does not preclude minor territorial adjustments, by mutual consent, on both sides of the pre-1967 border for security reasons and to enable Israel to incorporate large concentrations of population in the settlements that adjoin the former Green Line. This would entail no more than about 2 percent of Palestine in exchange for comparable territory on Israel's side of the border. Nor would the location of the capital of Palestine in East Jerusalem preclude Israeli sovereignty over the Wailing Wall, the Old City and Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This Saudi clarification of the peace initiative was confirmed by senior U.S. Administration and Saudi officials on February 21, 2002.*
Olmert's declaration in his pre-Passover interviews that he would not allow "even a single Palestinian refugee" to return to his home inside Israel was heartless and gratuitous. Olmert is aware that the Arab League's version of the initiative requires that a solution to the refugee problem receive Israel's agreement. He also knows that in 2002, the Arab League rejected efforts by several Arab countries to include an affirmation of the "right of return" in the initiative, and it did so again at the meeting in Riyadh this past February.
Olmert's insistence that any reference to UN resolution 194 - which makes no mention of a Palestinian "right of return" - be omitted from the Arab initiative is a non-starter. Even Palestinians who agree that most refugees will have to be repatriated in the new Palestinian state will not agree to the elimination from the initiative of a reference to a UN resolution that acknowledges, however inferentially, a measure of Israeli moral responsibility for the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes in the war of 1948.
Israeli historians have established beyond any question that such responsibility does indeed exist. Its acknowledgment by Israel - even if it finds it impossible to permit a return of anything more than a symbolic number of refugees - is no less important to the Palestinians than the demand that its own history of persecution and oppression not be denied is to the Jews.
There are no grounds for Israel's rejection of the Arab initiative. If after forty years of occupation, two intifadas and much bloodshed and suffering by both Palestinians and Israelis, Olmert foregoes this opportunity to normalize Israel's relations with the entire Arab world, the only explanation will be that he - like his Likud predecessors Sharon and Netanyahu - believes a deadlock in the peace process that enables Israel to continue its territorial expansion into the West Bank serves Israel's interests better than a peace agreement. The U.S. and its Quartet partners will have much to answer for if they continue to aid and abet such madness.
*"U.S. Is Talking Up Plan from Saudis on Mideast," by Todd Purdhum, New York Times, February 22, 2002
** Henry Siegman is director of the U.S./Middle East Project and research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung
Middle East Program at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. These views are his own.

Will the Initiative Change the Course of History?
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
I have never come across an experiment similar to the endeavor of the [Arab] task force which is entrusted with marketing the Arab initiative to [establish] contacts with Israel. The negotiation situation between the Arab and Israeli sides has been problematic. It was based on the spear of one arrow. Each side used to talk directly about its own rights, not those of the entire Arab society. The Egyptians negotiated on behalf of Egypt, the Jordanians on behalf of Jordan, the Palestinians on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO], and the Syrians on behalf of Syria and Lebanon.
The Arab initiative committee is made of a big number, 13 ministers representing 22 Arab countries. The committee includes ministers such as Prince Saud al-Feisal who did not fear any idle talk about the inclusion of his country in a committee whose task, among other ones, is to hold contacts with Israel, even though he did not go [to Israel] as such. The minister plays a major role in pushing this initiative forward, and giving it wheels that will take it as far as possible to test its success or failure. The committee also includes Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allim whose participation has silenced left-wing Arab critics who went on mocking and holding anyone who embarks on a conciliation project as a traitor, without even offering an alternative. One should also point to the role of Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa whose influential personality and Arab position carry an impotent symbol. In my view, this is one of his most important political projects ever. Should this be crowned with success, it will be the most important achievement the Arab League will have scored since its creation in 1954.
In other words, we are witnessing a new course of history in motion. There are many reasons for optimism, chief among which Israel's absolute realization that bilateral conciliation is only an agreement, but peace requires a collective agreement, which gives better guarantees than bilateral peace deals. The Arabs have also noticed recently that fires are flaring up everywhere and that their main issue [the Palestinian problem] is no longer as central as they used to think. The Palestinians, with all their different factions, have also realized that the Arabs have been auctioning their cause for the last 50 years without reaping any benefits, not even a minimum level of human treatment. The world has realized that one of the conditions of cordoning off violence on the planet is solving the Palestinian tragedy: that of the land, the people and the state. At last and for the first time, the Arabs have submitted a practical solution after having waited for external initiatives.
I will pause at what Prince Saud [al-Feisal] said about no normalization with Israel before the initiative is accepted in full and in detail. With this, he has given future political action a framework that does away with outbidding. He also avoided the mistake of the roadmap project which was based on the principle of interrelated steps. This is faced with the risk of interruption at any time, as happened since the beginning of the project in 2002 which set itself the objective of establishing the Palestinian state in 2005. As we have seen, it was possible for any team to procrastinate and block the project in its entirety, and here we are five years later with a map that has not made a single step on the road.
Contrary to the roadmap, the Arab project is founded on a wholesale principle. It promises Israel to meet its utmost political wishes: [Diplomatic] relations and normalization, and, in exchange, it gives the Arabs all their major requests: The land, the state and the people. I do not think that we will ever reach a collective cohesive and realistic solution as the Arab initiative and the Arab initiative committee, which deserve to be pushed ahead as far as possible before we enter the tunnel of the US elections.
***the general manager of Al -Arabiya television. Mr. Al Rashed is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine, Al Majalla. He is also a senior Columnist in the daily newspapers of Al Madina and Al Bilad. He is a US post-graduate degree in mass communications. He has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

US Playing a Dangerous Game With Israel and Syria

By Mitchell Plitnick
Amid all the controversy American support for Israel has generated in recent months, between the Walt-Mearsheimer paper, Jimmy Carter’s book, et al, many have lost sight of the damage the Bush Administration’s policies are doing to Israel and to any hope of resolving the ongoing Middle East conflict.
Robert Gates and Ehud Olmert
I’ve mentioned previously in this space the interference of the US in Israeli-Syrian relations. The problem is continuing to grow, and is all the more obscene because there are realistic and attainable options, something that is not usually the case with American Middle East policy.
This article in Ha’aretz by Ze’ev Schiff offers both illustration of the problem and some obfuscations and omissions as well.
The visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Israel was already significant for being another in a line of signals that an attack on Iran is not forthcoming. Israel’s message to him was equally noteworthy.
There have been reports for some time that Syria has been building up its military in preparation for a war with Israel. No one believes Syria is foolish enough to actually launch a first strike on Israel. But they are concerned that Israel will attack them, for a variety of reasons. And that puts their military in a more mobilized state. This is met by increased Israeli preparations, which, in turn, creates a situation where it is more likely that events either on the Syrian border or in Lebanon could trigger a conflict between Israel and Syria.
Israel has little interest in attacking Syria, though one can hardly blame the Syrians for being skeptical about this point. But even the Olmert government has generally realized that weakening the Assad regime in Syria would only lead to less welcome alternatives in that country. Whenever the US has raised the idea of attacking Syria, Israel has rejected it on precisely those grounds. Still, increasing military mobilization which is occurring in both Syria and Israel makes the possibility of an armed engagement more likely, whether either party actually wants it or not. Such unintended flare-ups are not uncommon in history in many parts of the world, most less volatile than the Middle East.
The obvious alternative to all of this is diplomatic engagement with Syria, a course which has significant, albeit minority, support in the Israeli government and military. That minority support, however, would quickly become a strong majority were it not for the stern opposition to diplomacy from the Bush Administration.
Schiff repeats in his article the conventional wisdom that engaging Syria and thus diminishing their isolation would be a serious blow to the US-backed Siniora government in Lebanon. Leaving aside the dubious value of US support as reflected in America’s actions during last summer’s Israeli onslaught on Southern Lebanon, the notion that diminishing Syria’s isolation in the Arab world would harm the Siniora government is highly debatable.
This idea flies in the face of the accusations that Syria has been a key actor in orchestrating the ongoing protests led by Hezbollah that have, at times, threatened to overwhelm the Siniora government. Moreover, as I’ve pointed out before, Syria has a number of different avenues it can pursue to exert influence in Lebanon; a less isolated Syria might turn toward other options, at least to some degree, rather than putting as much of its weight as it does behind Hezbollah. Finally, a less isolated Syria would actually work with other Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, even if it continues to back Hezbollah fully, to maintain calm in Lebanon. And the Siniora government, which has problems of corruption and a strong perception of weakness in the wake of last summer’s war, that could undermine it without any change in Syria’s positions as they currently stand.
Instead, it is far more likely that the US is reluctant to see diplomacy with the last isolated spoke in the axis of evil. Olmert, who is desperately trying to cling on to a policy where Israel refuses to talk with its nemeses, is gladly following along.
Indeed, the weak and directionless Olmert government, with approval ratings so low they approach zero, continues to throw in its lot with the failing Bush Administration, despite the consequences to Israel. This was evident in his comments after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Syria, a trip closely coordinated with Israel, yet one which greatly angered the White House. Olmert tried to do Bush’s bidding and embarrass Pelosi, then scramble to mend fences with the Democrats who now control Congress. Predictably, he ended up satisfying no one and looking the fool himself, a role he has been cast in all too often.
There is only a year and a half left of Bushite misadventures. The Democrats remain, of course, staunchly pro-Israel, but their relationships with both the Olmert government and AIPAC have been strained by those bodies’ lock-step support of Bush Administration policies. The Democrats clearly intend to chart a different course, one which will likely have much more resemblance to the policies of Bill Clinton. That, to be sure, presents its own challenges to advocates of a just peace. But if Olmert continues to pursue a policy where he avoids making any conciliatory move (and his obfuscation in response to the Arab league initiative indicates that he will), he will be leading Israel down a path to increased violence and insecurity.
Finally, it’s important to address the last paragraph in Schiff’s article, which implies a relatively neutral Israeli stance and a belligerent Syrian one. Syria’s statements are obviously a bit of posturing, and, since they are the ones who have a claim and demand, whereas Israel is only interested in maintaining the status quo vis a vis Syria, the tone reflects that imbalance more than anything else. Moreover, Schiff’s interpretation of Syria’s use of the word “resistance” is questionable. The term almost certainly refers to hezbollah, not to a threat of Syrian attack.
Mitchell Plitnick's blog | login or register to post comments Apr 22, 2007 -- 10:22 AM EST

Israel's message in talks with Gates: Syria is preparing for war
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz Correspondent
The gist of the Israeli message in its recent talks with United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates is that Syria is preparing for a military confrontation with Israel.
The U.S. message to Israel on Syria, in contrast, remained unchanged: Israel should at present avoid diplomatic talks with Damascus because President Bashar Assad plans to use such talks to extricate Syria from its isolation. Israeli talks with Damascus would be a knife in the back of the government of Fouad Siniora in Lebanon.
No tangible evidence exists, Israel told the U.S., that Damascus is planning an all-out war with Israel. But it is believed that Damascus has concluded that Israel might respond to various Syrian actions and that would be the cause of a full-blown confrontation.
Such an Israeli response might come following Syrian assistance to Hezbollah or Palestinian terror organizations like Islamic Jihad. Damascus would have no choice but to respond with a more extensive operation.
Such evaluations have been made before and proven mistaken. However, facts on the ground show the Syrian army is increasing its battle readiness, munitions production (especially of rockets and missiles), emergency stores and is acquiring more weapons systems from Iran. It has purchased a large number of advanced anti-tank missiles from the Russians, with whom it also negotiating the purchase of Russia's latest anti-aircraft missiles.
The Syrians have deployed Iranian naval missiles (originally Chinese), the C. 802. The destructive power and range of Syria's rockets and missiles has clearly grown in recent years. Israel does not rule out a possible Syrian grab for the Golan, assuming that if Israel counter-attacks the Syrian lines it will incur heavy losses. Thus, the IDF's power has also increased, especially that of the Israel Air Force.
Like the Syrians, the Israelis are upgrading the training of their units and providing them with the latest equipment.
The difference is that Israel is not threatening war on Syria, while Syrian leaders, including Assad, have frequently said recently that if they do not get the Golan Heights back, Syria will turn to "resistance." In other words, it will go to war.