March 27/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 1,26-38. In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Free Opinion
The Lights of Washington and the Darkness of Past Centuries-Dar Al-Hayat-March 27/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for March 27/07
Lebanon Split at Arab Summit, Sfeir Says Dual Delegations 'Dangerous'-Naharnet
Saudi Arabia Urges Reconciliation Talks in Lebanon-Naharnet
Security Council to Extend Brammertz' Mandate-Naharnet
Kinshasa Fighting Leaves Lebanese Merchants without Goods-Naharnet
Tarabay New Maronite League President
Lebanon: Chamber of Deputies Speaker Accuses PM of Deceiving ...Asharq Alawsat
Lahoud leads redundant representation for Lebanon at Arab Summit-Ya Libnan
Islamic Jihadists See Divided Lebanon As a Land of Conquest-AINA

Sfeir Laments 'Two Lebanons' at Arab Summit-Naharnet
Lebanon Split at Arab Summit, Sfeir Says Dual Delegations 'Dangerous'-Naharnet

Split Lebanon to send two delegates to Arab summit-Reuters
The way the world doesn't work-WorldNetDaily

Drive for Mideast peace gains momentum
By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer
JERUSALEM - An international diplomatic drive for Mideast peace gained momentum Monday, with Israel welcoming the idea of a regional peace summit and Saudi Arabia suggesting it would consider changes in a dormant peace initiative to make it more acceptable to Israel.
Senior U.S. and U.N. officials confirmed they were trying to bring Israelis and Arabs together in a wide push for peace, but acknowledged the idea is still at an early stage. The new developments came at a time of high-profile diplomacy, with the U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both in the region for talks with Israeli and Arab leaders.
The international officials are trying to break an impasse following formation of a Palestinian unity government that includes the Hamas militant group.
Immediately after the government was formed, Israel ruled out peace talks with the Palestinians until Hamas explicitly recognizes the Jewish state.
But on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he "wouldn't hesitate" to take part in a regional summit. Palestinian officials cautiously endorsed the idea. Any such meeting especially if Saudi and Israeli officials were to publicly meet would be a huge symbolic breakthrough. Saudis and Israelis are believed to have held private meetings in the last year.
After talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials, Rice traveled to Amman, Jordan, for a second meeting with the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, and separate talks with King Abdullah II of Jordan. "Some good things are there. We just have to put them together," Rice said Monday before returning to Israel, where she was to meet for a second time with Olmert, too.
A senior U.S. official traveling with Rice said Monday that one idea that is being pursued is to bring Israel and the Palestinians together as part of wider talks involving moderate Arab countries and the "Quartet" of Mideast peacemakers the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia.
The Arab countries involved in the efforts would include Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace agreements with Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia, which does not. "It's a good idea that's out there," the U.S. official said, adding it was "premature" to schedule a meeting. He said talks were taking in place in Washington and Arab countries.
"The options are being looked at for how you have a more active Arab-Israeli track," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proposal hasn't been formally unveiled. At a joint news conference with Olmert in Jerusalem, Ban confirmed that consultations on bringing the many parties together were "ongoing," but said further talks were needed. Olmert said he would look at an invitation to such a summit "in a very positive manner."
The signs of progress came ahead of an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia this week, where the Saudis are expected to relaunch a 2002 proposal calling for a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Arab world.
Israel rejected the plan when it was first launched, objecting to its calls for a full withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Mideast War, including east Jerusalem. Israel also strongly opposes the plan's endorsement for the right of large numbers of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to properties in what is now Israel. Israel says a large-scale return of refugees would spell the end of the country's character as a Jewish state.
But recently, Olmert and other Israeli leaders have said the Saudi plan could be a good starting point for negotiations.
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister suggested Monday that Arab leaders would be willing to consider changes in the 2002 peace offer to make it "compatible" with new developments. "It is expected from us to take notice of new developments, which require additions and developments," al-Faisal said. "The kingdom is keen that this summit should come out with one Arab voice toward issues of destiny, and in particular the Palestinian issue," he added. Arab leaders had previously publicly rejected Israeli calls for them to make changes to the peace offer.
Rice is thought to have been strongly pushing the Arab countries to offer some hope of changes in the plan, during her tour of the Mideast this week.
While comprehensive peace talks between Israel and the Arab world are likely far off, the idea could appeal to all of the parties involved. The proposal could allow Israel and Abbas to sidestep problems that have hindered bilateral talks while essentially ignoring Hamas. With its troubles in Iraq, the United States is eager to bolster its standing in the region, and moderate Arabs are eager to counter the rising strength of Iran, Hamas' sponsor.
Hamas, for its part, has said it would allow Abbas to conduct negotiations with Israel, though it has given no indication that it would accept a peace agreement. Saeb Erekat, an Abbas aide, said Abbas had affirmed to Rice "our commitment to the Arab peace plan." But he said the focus should remain direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A senior Palestinian diplomat involved in preparations for the Arab summit said he didn't expect major changes in the Saudi initiative. "These articles are going to be a direct call to Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative, as it is, and that Arab countries will commit themselves in front of the international community to start a mutual implementation of this Arab initiative," he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Imagine if Bush never was
By Talal Nizaneddin
Monday, March 26, 2007
FIRST PERSON Talal Nizameddin
Bush is a cowboy, Bush is a fool. Bush is the embodiment of corruption, an imperialist and a war-monger. These are typical characterizations of US President George W. Bush heard not only among the Middle East general public but also among academics of fine Western institutions and world-famous journalists. Europeans in general and sophisticated Americans loathe the man. If there is any good that can be attributed to him, it is that Bush has made it easy for any analyst of Middle Eastern politics to reach a decisive answer to the current international quandary: "It's that idiot Bush again!"
A sideways glance of political fantasizing the other day led me to imagine what the contemporary world would be like if Bush was never elected to the presidency at all. While it is true that the study of politics should never really be about the ifs but rather the hows and the whys, the exercise raises interesting possibilities if one focuses on three Middle East trouble zones: Iraq-Iran, Palestine-Israel, and Lebanon-Syria.
Beginning with Iraq, the US intervention there has been Bush's Achilles heel. American soldiers are dying there every day, hundreds of civilians are being murdered every week and there is no end of sight. To make matters worse, US entrenchment in the bloody Iraqi crisis has allowed Iran to extend its reach of influence and according to some, potentially dominate the Arab East.
To imagine Iraq today if Bush never was, we must first look at Iraq before Bush came to power. During the Clinton era, Iraq was besieged by the most comprehensive and oppressive sanctions known in modern history. Hundreds of thousands of children were estimated to have been killed in the 1990s because of a shortage of such basic supplies as medicines and even baby milk. Madeleine Albright told the media that such numerous deaths of innocents was a "price worth paying" for the successful implementation of US policy. As Saddam Hussein, so demonized in the West, was to blame for the Iraqi suffering and not the US, Washington was determined to press on with the sanctions.
Thus it was highly unlikely that if Al Gore became president he would suddenly weaken at the knees, announce an end to the sanctions and share hugs with Saddam Hussein in a historic rapprochement. The sanctions would have continued, the indignity of no-fly zones would have continued, the periodic missile attacks on Iraq would have continued and with them the deaths of innocent Iraqis. Meanwhile, the regime would struggle to keep control, use more terror, torture and violence on its people, already impoverished by the rampant corruption caused by the sanctions. Saddam's regime of terror was collapsing before the US invasion and the militias, whether pro-Iranian Shiites or the Kurds, were ready to take over.
Another wiser US president would have saved thousands of American lives by holding back from the start and letting the Iraqi gangs and foreign-backed militias shape the future of post-Saddam Hussein without any undesirable Western interference. This would have probably meant an Iranian role in Iraq without a counterbalance, widening its unrivalled sphere of influence in the Gulf and beyond. Within Iraq unchecked neighborhood cleansing between Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis would have been a realistic nightmare scenario so frightening that no sane public opinion would have approved sending in an international force to clean up the mess. With an Al Gore administration refusing to get involved, Iran and Turkey would seriously consider taking matters into their own hands and invade Iraq, drawing in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
In the Palestine-Israel scenario, those fond of Clinton and the Democrats nostalgically recall the good president's peace efforts, in between his womanizing, in finding a solution to the Palestinian cause. He convinced the late Yasser Arafat to recognize Israel in return for not much, actually, if one reads carefully the agreement signed in September 1993 with the also deceased Yitzhak Rabin. There is no recognition of Palestinian statehood, of the return of Palestinian refugees, and even mere discussion on the status of Jerusalem was to be delayed. Later efforts with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak saw Clinton take a back-seat approach. The Clinton administration's attitude to Palestinian rights was that there are no Palestinian rights but what the PLO was able to get Israel to agree to in the process of negotiations. Of course Israel, particularly under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and later Ariel Sharon, wanted to give the Palestinians nothing.
Bush has not given the Palestinians more, although he is the first US president to talk about a Palestinian state (side-by-side with Israel) and not Clinton, who feared upsetting the 60 percent of US Jews who vote Democrat. It is hard to envisage Al Gore waving a stick at Israel.
Finally, in picturing the Lebanese scenario the most obvious difference is that the current crisis we are enduring would likely have been avoided. The peace-loving Democrats would encourage keeping the status quo so Syria would still be in Lebanon in 2007. Fine-thinking elite US diplomats, contrary to Bush and his hawks, would not be foolish and reckless enough to talk about the spread of democracy and human dignity. The people of Lebanon, like the others in the region, according to these urbane-minded intellectuals, live under the gun of authoritarian regimes because they deserve it and probably want it. It is not for the US to force them to change and put them through the pain of such a struggle.
With this mindset in Washington, the anti-Syrian voices in Lebanon might well have been quieter. Rafik Hariri might not have considered rebelling against Emile Lahoud's extension or Syrian efforts to undermine him. Instead, he probably would have been alive today, retired from politics and living contentedly in his seaside villa in Sardinia.
A Lebanon, and a Middle East, without Bush it seems would have probably been spared that stomach-wrenching roller coaster of the last seven years. Instead, we might have placidly watched a growing nuclear-armed Iran, a disintegrated Iraq, an ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a vibrant Lebanese culture slowly choked of all its freedoms and locked in an eternal state of war between Hizbullah and Israel over the Shebaa farms.
As I emerge from my world of foolish imagination I find myself thinking about all those wise men with their feet on the ground standing in line to throw stones at he who dared imagine something different.
**Talal Nizameddin is associate dean of student affairs and lecturer in political studies at the American University of Beirut.

The Lights of Washington and the Darkness of Past Centuries
Mustafa Zein Al-Hayat - 25/03/07//
Four years have elapsed since the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and more than that since the Bush administration decided to create a new Middle East after overthrowing the authoritarian regimes, combating terrorism and obscurantist ideologies, and spreading democracy.
The region has changed significantly in those four years, but the change was not in the interests of the US project nor the peoples that really are yearning for democracy. Iran, which underwent a significant shift toward moderation in the reign of former President Mohammad Khatami, tried to adapt to the existing regimes in the region and signed security and trade agreements with them, especially Saudi Arabia, found itself face-to-face with the US army and a plot to strike it and change its regime. All indications and analyses expect this to happen, especially as the White House officials issued a threat after the other to Tehran.
Motivated by the strength of the event, Iran changed. The role of moderates and the enlightened declined, and extremists as well as some of the old guard came to the forefront. They found a suitable opportunity to intervene in Baghdad, especially when Bremer, stupidly or intelligently, accelerated the fragmentation of Iraq into sectarian countries governed by militias coming from Tehran, some collaborators who came from Washington and London, and the Kurds. John Bolton has finally admitted to this strategic mistake, but insisted that the war was necessary though.
It was natural for Iran to benefit from this US mistake. But, despite its blatant interference in Iraq, Iran is still wary of a Shiite coup against it led by Iraqi Arabist clergymen, whose voices are now low amid the current chaos and carnage but who have presence and could play a big role in the formation of a public opinion. Such public opinion will be anti-Iranian, or, at least, would not accept that Baghdad remains manipulated by Tehran. The more the militias' role decline, the more those clergymen advance.
The Iranian regime, which has been expecting a strike following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, is still dominated by the priorities of the internal game: its split into conservatives and reformists, and the emergence of young right-wing activists some of whom believe that the confrontation with the US, if takes place, consolidates their orientations, while others, led by Larijani, see that an understanding with Washington would pave the way for Tehran to play a significant role in the Middle East.
Both sides wager on a US failure, and the establishment of strong ties with Arab regimes, by reaching an understanding with them over some issues regarding Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. To this effect was Ahmadinejad's visit to Riyadh.
This is at the Iranian level. At the Arab level, the Syrian regime was more exposed to the US-stirred winds of change than any other regime. So what happened?
The US Congress has enacted an act providing for the liberation of Syria and Lebanon. Washington imposed some sanctions on Damascus, and requested some UN resolutions be adopted to aggravate its isolation and put pressures on the EU to halt a partnership agreement with it. It also sponsored some elements of the Syrian opposition, who are received by White House officials every now and then. They remind us, at best, of Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi dissidents who took refuge in the US.
The Israeli war on Lebanon was a precious opportunity for Washington to accelerate the destabilization of Syria, and so it worked, with Paris, to procrastinate the issuance of a UN resolution to stop the war, in the hope that Israel will eliminate Hezbollah, Damascus' major ally. This should have enabled the US to besiege Syria politically and militarily, if necessary. But the Israeli aggression failed to achieve this goal. Thus ambitions retreated, but the attempts still continued. These attempts could be translated into a sectarian civil war in Lebanon, some signals of which have already appeared: the control of the presidential palace, cessation of Parliament, and the congestions in the streets.
Four years have elapsed since the occupation of Iraq. Many things have changed in the Middle East, but to the contrary to the ambitions of the US administration, which is seeking to get out of the Iraqi swamp through negotiations with Tehran and Damascus.
Many things have changed, but the promised democracy has declined. Extremism spread, and the influence of tribalism expanded. It is now the time the Arab liberals should declare their defeat by the lights of Washington and the darkness of past centuries