May 12/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 15,12-17. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.

Free Opinions
A new French resistance.Washington Times. May 12/07
The Price of a Presidential Vacuum in Lebanon.By: Walid Choucair. May 12/07
Thomas Friedman: Hezbollah win negated by Israel's strength. May 12/07
Can Ban Shift From a Mere Mediator to a Secretary-General. By: Raghida Dergham. May 12/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 12/07
Sfeir Tolls Bells of Bkirki and Vatican for Lebanon's Presidential Elections.Naharnet
Elysee Meeting Conveys Importance Chirac Places on Tribunal-Naharnet
Saniora Urges Israel to Accept Peace Initiative, Criticizes War Inquiry-Naharnet
Welch Says Trial in Hariri Case Very Difficult-Naharnet
Olmert Wants to Appear 'Again' Before Lebanon War Commission
Sunni-Shiite 'Code of Cooperation' Signed in Detroit-Naharnet
Hizbullah Attacks Ban
Rice: Syria real problem in Middle East.Ynetnews - Israel
Don't read much into the US-Syria talks.Gulf News
Syria's Assad defiant toward Israel and US.International Herald Tribune
Condi Avoids Syria Snapshot.TIME - USA
Halutz failed to deliver.Ynetnews
Syria jails activist for DC meetings.Washington Times
Sydney Muslim cleric cleared of financing Hezbollah.Radio Australia
The UN in Lebanon is Ineffective and Unaccountable.AINA

Latest News Reports From The Daily Star for May 12/07
Defiant Assad warns UN court to respect Syrian sovereignty
Olmert shrugs off responsibility for failure in war, blames military
Hariri throws full weight behind Chapter 7 route
Shiite leaders insist on quorum for presidential vote
Southern MPs denounce delays in war compensation
Next president should be 'accepted by all' - Berri
Romanian Embassy invites nationals to vote
Lebanese banker says political rift will affect profits
Israeli media as both monitors and occupation tools
Instability has damaged Turkey's international standing
Azmi Bishara and never leaving home
Arab ministers brief Livni on peace offer

Sfeir Tolls Bells of Bkirki and Vatican for Lebanon's Presidential Elections
Naharnet: Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir informed President Emile Lahoud in a surprise visit Friday that the Maronite Church and the Vatican support organizing Presidential elections without foreign interference and the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination and related crimes.
Sources close to Sfeir's seat in Bkirki said the patriarch decided to make the visit to the Presidential Palace in Baabda to inform Lahoud that the Maronite Church has "adopted a series of serious steps in light of the current political developments" to guard against attempts to block the presidential elections and the creation of the international tribunal. Sfeir, the sources added, stressed on four major topics:
"-The Presidential elections should be held in line with the constitutional schedule and all attempts to stratagem implementation of the constitution are rejected.
"-The President (Lahoud) should facilitate the election of a successor. All attempts leading to duality of authority are strictly rejected such as the formation of a second government or refusing to hand over authority to the president-elect.
"-Rejection of any attempt to disable parliament and preventing it from carrying out its duties, either by disbanding the legislature or doubting its legitimacy or that of its decisions.
"-The International Tribunal issue should be settled as soon as possible."
The sources noted that Sfeir was clear in saying that if the tribunal was not set up by parliament, then creating it by the U.N. Security Council under Chapter seven of the international organization's charter becomes imperative.
Sfeir, the sources said, reminded Lahoud that he sent him a message last November urging him to resign his post.
The Patriarch stressed that organizing early presidential elections and allowing Lahoud to remain in office until his term expires next November "could defuse the tense situation and help the Lebanese people avoid further tension," the sources added. Such a move, they explained, would also help in overcoming economic hardships that have gripped Lebanon since last summer's Hizbullah war against Israel. Sfeir, according to the sources, "stressed to Lahoud that this is not only the stand of the Maronite Church, but it also is a stand adopted by the Vatican."
Sfeir Visited the Vatican earlier this month and held a series of meetings with officials of the Catholic Church that focused on Lebanon and the future of its Christian community. Beirut, 11 May 07, 17:10

Thomas Friedman: Hezbollah win negated by Israel's strength
HEZBOLLAH'S leader, Hassan Nasrallah, made a remarkable statement last week. He praised Israel for conducting an inquiry into last year's war with Hezbollah - an inquiry that accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of "serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence."
Nasrallah was quoted by the BBC as saying Israelis "study their defeat in order to learn from it," in contrast with the Arab regimes that "do not probe, do not ask, do not form inquiry commissions, as if nothing has happened."
One has to be impressed by his honesty, but he did not take it all the way, since the Arab leader who most needs to be probed is Nasrallah himself. He started the war with Israel, which was a disaster for both sides. If there were an honest Arab League Inquiry Commission into the war, here is what it would say about him:
On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fighters directed by Nasrallah abducted two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in an unprovoked attack across the Lebanon-Israel border, on the pretext of seeking a prisoner exchange. This triggered a war that killed about 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis. After interviewing all relevant parties, the Arab League Commission finds Nasrallah guilty of a serious failure of judgment, responsibility and prudence - for the following reasons.
1. Nasrallah demonstrated a total failure to anticipate Israel's response to his raid. He assumed Israel would carry out the same limited retaliation it had with previous raids. Wrong. He failed to take into account the changed circumstances in Israel. The kidnapping of an Israeli soldier in Gaza a few weeks earlier, plus the fact that a new chief of staff of the Israeli army, a new prime minister and a new defense minister had just taken office and all felt they were being tested, triggered an enormous Israeli response. Some 1,200 Lebanese died because of this gross error in judgment.
2. In unilaterally launching a war against Israel, without a vote of the Lebanese cabinet - of which Hezbollah is a member - the militia did grievous harm to Lebanon's fragile democracy and democratization in the Arab world. All the fears that if you let an Islamist party into government it will not respect the rules of the game were fulfilled by Hezbollah.
3. Iran and Syria gave Hezbollah its rockets for their own deterrence. Hezbollah was their long arm to pressure Israel into political compromises and to threaten Israel if it attacked Iran or Syria. By launching all these rockets prematurely, without strategic purpose, Hezbollah has diminished its capability and Syria's and Iran's. The commission can't find a single strategic gain from Nasrallah's actions.
4. When the war started, Hezbollah's fighters were sitting right on the border with Israel, operating freely. This was a real threat to Israel. As a result of the war, Hezbollah was pushed off the border by Israel and, in its place, the U.N. inserted a new peacekeeping force of some 10,000 troops, including a big European contingent, led by France and Italy. Yes, Hezbollah still has fighters in the area, but it has lost its military infrastructure and can't attack Israel now without getting embroiled with France and Italy - a huge strategic loss for Hezbollah.
5. Israel had allowed its ground forces to be degraded in order to invest more money in its air force's ability to deter Iran and into policing the West Bank. Hezbollah's attack exposed just how degraded Israel's army had become. As a result, Israel has embarked on a broad upgrade of its military. In any future war, Arab armies will meet a much better trained and equipped Israeli force.
6. Hezbollah claims that its Shiite militia, in attacking Israel, was serving the security needs of Lebanon. But Israel's response to Hezbollah's attack has resulted in billions of dollars of damage to Lebanese homes, factories and roads, with Shiite areas the worst hit and with zero security benefit to Lebanon.
Lebanon has had to rely on Arab and Iranian charity to rebuild. Israel, by contrast, suffered relatively minor damage, and, after the war, its economy enjoyed one of its greatest growth spurts ever, as foreigners invested a record amount in Israel's high-tech industry.
In sum, Nasrallah may have won popularity for himself and Hezbollah by fighting Israel. But so what? Today, less than a year after a war that Hezbollah called a "divine" victory, Lebanon is weaker and Israel is stronger. That's what matters. And that is why, if the Hezbollah leader had any honor, he would resign.
**Thomas Friedman is a columnist with the New York Times.

The Price of a Presidential Vacuum in Lebanon
Walid Choucair Al-Hayat - 11/05/07//
The Lebanese people have a chance in the next presidential elections, scheduled for September 25, to reach the minimum portion possible of reconciliation that would bring about an escape for all, the majority and the opposition, to refer the country's stifling political crisis to constitutional institutions and get Lebanon out of the narrow tunnels of sectarian and ideological mobilization and failing bets on alliances that aim only to weaken this sect or that.
Parliament Spaker Nabih Berry has been repeating for weeks that the presidential election would be a stop for reconciliation. He knows very well, by virtue of his position on top of one of the constitutional institutions, how shaken his constitutional position has been since the parent institution was shut down, and what this imply of destructive impacts on Lebanon and the interests of the public, including his own supporters.
As to his political standing and sectarian representation, Berry is very well aware, also by virtue of his position on top of the Parliament, of the negative effects of this mess Lebanon is going through on his own sect in particular. Beside the fact that the higher political milieus will all be held responsible for the failure to reach a suitable political settlement before the presidential run, a presidential vacuum would further deepen the country's political rift in a way that would cripple the State and prevent it from taking care of the interests of all of its people. A great part of the country's Shiite sect would be among those most afflicted. The Shiites of the south, Bekaa and the Southern District have sustained the greatest damages following last summer's Israeli aggression. The country's inability even aggravated when the internal political crisis was escalated until it has reached a presidential vacuum that made the people shun away from the rebuilding process. In addition, the State's inability to handle the economic crisis has been reflected very negatively on all the Lebanese.
Berry knows that it is vain stubbornness to believe that Hezbollah can carry out the task of rebuilding the devastated areas if the State is paralyzed because of this vacuum. The party is escalating its campaign against the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and accuses it of blocking the rebuilding process. The party had realized the impossibility of keeping the promises it made following the war; to employ its resources to remove the effects of the Israeli aggression. It has become clear that these promises, without the help of the State - in spite of its bureaucracy, incapacitation and corruption - remain impractical and imaginary. These promises need the State's institutions, services and workforce expertise, in spite of the corruption - which is condoned by the political milieus including the party itself.
The presidential vacuum in Lebanon means much more than just obstructing the rebuilding process and crippling the economy in a weak and war-torn country. It means that the parliament, and its head, is about to slip in a deep hole that contradicts the pretext saying that it was not called to convene to avoid further splits in order to maintain it the only viable institution.
This vacuum also means the installation of two governments, according to what President Emile Lahoud wants and Hezbollah does not rule out. It means that the security services would be confused under multi-leaderships. The same would also happen to the Bank of Lebanon, the public treasury and other administrative apparatuses.
Some in the Lebanese opposition believe that it could use the presidency as a trump card; they would leave the country in vacuum after the end of Laoud's term and bargain it for the Security Council's approval of an international tribunal to try those accused of assassinating Hariri. These intend to block the appointment of any Lebanese judges in the tribunal and question the court's legitimacy. Thus, they are shooting themselves in the chest, not only in the leg

Rice: Syria real problem in Middle East
US secretary of state says Syria continues to be 'major funder of terrorism,' and that it represents obstacle to peace and democracy in region. Damascus' attitude suggests it's not ready to try and pursue peace, she states
Yitzhak Benhorin Published: 05.11.07, 00:07 / Israel News
WASHINGTON – the US is unimpressed with Syria's peace overtures, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday, adding that "in terms of the Middle East, the Syrians are a real problem" for leaders who wish to pursue peace.
Speaking at a meeting of the Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rice stated that "Syria continues to be a major funder of terrorism; a major harborer of those elements of the Palestinian political elite, for instance, who are opposed to a two-state solution, who are the ones who continue to perpetrate violence in the Palestinian territories and to attempt to do it in Israel.
"And so, in terms of Middle East peace, the Syrians are a real problem for leaders like Mahmoud Abbas who want to take a different course toward a two-state solution."
Referring to the possibility that Israel and Syria would enter peace negotiations, Rice said, "If it were possible, I think everybody would jump at the chance. But Syrian behavior is such that, particularly in the support that it gives to elements of Hamas that are preventing a two-state solution, it's not exhibited an attitude that suggests that it's ready for or intending to try and pursue peace."
Danger to democracy
Rice also spoke of the Syrian involvement in the conflict in Iraq, stating that she had asked the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Mouallem, to help stop the influx of militants into Iraq from Syria. "When it comes to Iraq, we are very concerned about the foreign fighters that are transiting the Syrian border and are, therefore, doing great harm to innocent Iraqis and to our forces," she said. The secretary of state concluded by addressing the situation in Lebanon, where she said "Syria and its allies continue on a daily basis, really, to threaten the stability of the democratically elected government of Fouad Siniora, to resist the establishment of an international tribunal… "And so Syria is a significant problem, not just for American policy in the Middle East, but for democratic forces that are trying to take hold in the Middle East. "

Don't read much into the US-Syria talks

By Marwan Kabalan, Special to Gulf News
In the clearest sign so far about a change in the US policy towards Syria, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Syrian counterpart, Walid Mua'allem, met last week at the Sharm Al Shaikh resort, Egypt. The 30 minutes meeting was the first such high- level contact between the two countries since the US recalled its ambassador from Damascus 30 months ago, following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The meeting was celebrated in Damascus as a victory for Syrian diplomacy. After years of bullying, pressure and demonisation, the Bush administration has agreed to engage Syria, abandoning its long-standing policy of not talking to enemies. For the Syrian government, the Bush administration seems to have finally realised that without recognising Syria's interests and regional role, there will be no peace in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.
Besides, the Syrians were pleased that they did not have to give in to US demands to persuade the Bush administration to reconsider its policy. Syria did not expel Hamas's leaders, it did not abandon Hezbollah, and most importantly it did not break its alliance with Iran as preconditions for the resumption of dialogue with the US.Yet, a closer look at the Sharm Al Shaikh meeting and the ensuing reactions in both Damascus and Washington show that it might be a bit early to celebrate a breakthrough in the relationship between the two countries.
In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, in an interview with NBC, downplayed the significance of the Rice-Mua'allem meeting, saying that "It's too early to say it's a breakthrough. ... We are still waiting to see how the US wants to start". Similarly, Rice cautioned from Washington against reading too much into the meeting. "Let's take this one step at a time," she said. "I'm very glad we had the opportunity ... but this was not about anything other than Iraq, and we will certainly see whether we can observe words being followed by deeds."The meeting itself showed a conflict between the two countries over what issues should they talk about. While Rice insisted on limiting the talks to Iraq and Syria's role to contribute to stability and security in that country, Mua'allem, wanted to discuss the resumption of Middle Eastern peace talks, bilateral relations, the US sanctions on Syria and more important Lebanon, wherein Syria is under huge pressure to help establish an international tribunal to try those involved in the assassination of Hariri.
To confirm that there was no substantial shift in US policy towards Syria after meeting Mua'allem and in an attempt to assure its Lebanese allies that there will be no deal with Syria on their expense; Rice wrote an editorial in the anti-Syria Lebanese daily An-nahar.
In the article she urged the establishment of an international tribunal to bring to trial those responsible for the killing of Hariri. She warned that the "UN would act on its own if the Lebanese parliament failed to give the go-ahead for the establishment of such a court".
The rhetoric from both Washington and Damascus has lent credit to those who argued that the Rice-Mua'allem meeting was never about Syria, but about Iran. The US key objective of meeting the Syrians after years of hesitation was to help nudge Syria away from Iran.
The pan-Arab daily Al Hayat reported last week that the Iranians were absolutely disturbed by the Rice-Mua'allem meeting and felt that the Syrians were too eager to talk to the Americans.
In Washington, Iran is considered the big fish and that something should be done to circumscribe its increasing regional influence by wining it over or by further isolating it. That was absolutely clear when Rice tried to meet Iranian foreign minister during the Sharm Al Shaikh conference. It did not work out.
The Sharm Al Shaikh meeting showed that US-Syrian relations are absolutely tied up to developments on the US-Iranian track.
This explains why neither Washington nor Damascus was willing, or even able, to deliver what the other wanted. The only important result of the Rice-Mua'allem meeting was that the two sides have just found out that all routes are leading to Tehran.
**Marwan Kabalan is a lecturer in media and international relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Syria.

4 Islamists killed near Syria-Iraq border
Send by e-mail Save Print Syrian forces have killed four members of Palestinian militant group Fatah al-Islam trying to sneak across the border to join the insurgency in Iraq, the group said Friday. A spokesman for Fatah al-Islam, who gave his name as Abu Salim, told AFP that the incident occurred on the Syrian border with Iraq almost a week ago, and that five Syrian soldiers were killed in the clash. "The Syrian forces killed two military chiefs of Fatah al-Islam, Abu Laith al-Shami and Abu Abdel Rahman al-Shami, as well as two combatants," said the spokesman, who is based in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon.
They were killed, he added, "while trying to get into Iraq to support their Islamic brothers."
Syria has not immediately reported the deaths nor confirmed the claimed clash. The United States frequently accuses Syria of allowing insurgents to cross into Iraq through its porous border and of having a hand in insurgent attacks in Iraq. Damascus denies the claims and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday dismissed them as little more than scapegoating. The Syrian leader added that in lodging the accusations, US officials "want to absolve themselves from the responsibility," for the continuing violence in Iraq. Spokesman Abu Salim did not give the nationality of those killed but from the nom de guerres of the two military chiefs they could be Syrian -- al-Shami is Arabic for Damascus. He also said the militant group would avenge the killings, but he declined to elaborate.
Fatah al-Islam posted an announcement of the killings on an Islamist Internet site, giving similar information to that provided by Abu Salim.
Fatah al-Islam, which is ideologically close to the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, boasts about 150 militants who have fought in Iraq.
The group, along with another Islamist group Jund ash-Sham (Soldiers of Damascus) have boosted their presence in Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps in recent years. Lebanese authorities have accused Fatah al-Islam of working for the Syrian intelligence services.

Can Ban Shift From a Mere Mediator to a Secretary-General?
Raghida Dergham Al-Hayat - 11/05/07//
New York - It seems that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is seeking to play the role of an international mediator, particularly, in the Middle East, a region he visited thrice since he assumed his post at the beginning of the year.
However, the rough path of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the complexities of the Lebanese-Syrian file, and the tremendousness of both the regional and international dimensions of the Iranian issue are things Ban Ki-moon should thoroughly consider before embarking on adventures that might burn him. They might even steer the UN right into deep waters, especially if these adventures were embarked on without a proper deliberation or an in-depth reading into these files and their key players. However, there is a strategic and leading role waiting for the Secretary-General to assume, in addition to his role as an international mediator. He is expected to carry out this role with respect to the various regional issues, and particularly those of a pressing nature.
Before him lies the opportunity of reuniting the world with regards to Iraq in a way that prepares the international community to work together to ensure Iraq's recovery. This could be done in a manner that would guarantee reaching a common understanding behind closed doors on the concept of sharing resources, benefits and responsibilities.
If Ban Ki-moon manages to thrust this concept to replace the current bitterness stemming from what was seen by some in the international arena, as a war of excluding others from the Iraqi 'cake', in order to single-handedly enjoy it; if this concept replaces the gloating over the US arrogance and the refusal to extend any real lifelines to its rescue from the quagmire of Iraq, then the new Secretary-General would have really embarked on a new phase in international relations, through long-term strategic planning.
Iraq would not be the sole beneficiary in introducing such a qualitative transformation through an initiative from Ban Ki-moon's part, but also the global and regional systems that are heading toward a new, frightening unknown.
Also, if the Secretary-General was able to conduct these major talks with the world's senior leaders, he would certainly be able to touch upon other issues of concern. Addressing such issues must be through a different sort of influence that cannot be exerted by someone who merely plays the role of a regional or international mediator.
The post of United Nations Secretary-General is perhaps one of the toughest positions, as it requires skilful diplomacy and a balance between boldness and conventional limitations. It is a position that raises the banner of the international legitimacy, law and resolutions, and not the position of a mediator. It is a position of moral leadership; not for running to the forefront in an escape from the commitment of confronting those relying on evasive skills, whether in whether in Darfur, Israel, Iran, Syria or Lebanon.
Ban Ki-moon appears relaxed and at ease in his new post. He has a pleasant character when receiving his visitors. So far, he seems to be enjoying his position, whether in the lobbies of the United Nations, aboard an aircraft, or in conferences away from his headquarters.
He laughs and makes humorous remarks, and takes the time to stop and attentively exchange niceties with those who greet him.
While accompanying him aboard a private jet from Sharm el-Sheikh to New York, he drew everyone's attention by greeting his aides one by one, expressing his appreciation for their efforts during the conference as he boarded a plane, and by doing the same upon deplaning.
In an interview with al-Hayat aboard, Ban Ki-moon appeared relaxed as he single-handedly responded to questions, but started to get a tad fidgety upon feeling that he was being surrounded by questions. Nevertheless, he did not terminate the conversation despite the provocative nature of the questions, and did not appear angry though he was bothered.
He is a good natured man and a veteran diplomat in previous positions including the post of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Korea. His current position, however, is far more complex, and comes with tougher challenges.
He refused to criticize the Israeli settlements and the separation barrier, even though he is expected to be prime spokesman on behalf of international legitimacy.
His rationale was that he wanted to be able to assume a role, and did not want to disclose the content of the private talks he had with the Israeli officials. These pretexts and justifications, however, are unacceptable since it is among the core responsibilities of the UN Secretary-General to take public and declared stances against illegitimate acts and violations of international law. He assumed the same stance with respect to the International Tribunal to try those behind the politically motivated terrorist assassinations in Lebanon, including that of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and his colleagues. It also appeared as if he was trying to undermine the work of his deputy for legal affairs, Nicolas Michel, one of the most important pillars of confidence in UN, by stating that Michel's report to the UN Security Council was not the Secretary-General's report.
For one reason or another, Ban Ki-moon decided to play the role of the mediator to achieve a consensus on the tribunal even though his senior expert on that issue had informed him that passing the tribunal through a constitutional process has reached a dead end.
His stance has raised questions, especially since he has not been able to fully explain what alternatives or strategy of persuasion he has, or how much time he needs to work on mobilizing the Lebanese consensus on the issue of the tribunal.
While his good intentions and genuine desire to achieve this consensus may have been the motive for his persistent efforts - despite his legal advisor's deeming such a consensus impossible - what Ban Ki-moon seems to have overlooked, however, is the time factor. He failed to see the possibility that he, as well as the Security Council, might fall into the trap of the crucible of killing time, a dominant strategy with Hezbollah and Syria.
It seems highly unlikely that Ban Ki-moon has taken the decision to grant Syria or Hezbollah any favors. However, by impeding a Security Council resolution that would establish the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, even if inadvertently, reflects the UN Secretary-General's ignorance of the merits and details of this complex issue despite its crucial importance.
It is unacceptable for Ban Ki-moon to appear as though he might be willing to compromise on an issue as important as establishing a tribunal ratified by the United Nations and the legitimately elected Lebanese government to prosecute terrorist crimes and uphold the Security Council's pledges that the era of non-accountability has come to an end.
It is unacceptable for Ban to appear as though he has failed to comprehend the significance of the Syrian element in the Lebanese equation by stating that he seeks to influence Syria so that it could play a role in Lebanon.
It is unacceptable for him to present the content of the report of his Special Envoy for the Implementation of Resolution 1559 in a manner conforming to his desire to entice the Syrian leadership into cooperating with him. Instead, he should have highlighted the content that indicates Syria's failure to uphold pledges made to the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as, to Ban Ki-moon himself, in addition to its failure to implement international resolutions.
As a matter of fact, the UN Secretary-General would be much better off to refrain from meddling in roles his advisers, deputies and envoys are more capable of assuming in order to preserve the weight of his distinct role when the need arises.
Even his role as a mediator, should not be carried out in the same manner of the mediations carried out by envoys. For, the UN Secretary-General's mediation role should be limited to exceptional and rare instances that are guaranteed success in advance or to those that call for taking the risk of failure when there is absolutely no other alternative.
As far as the Middle East peace process is concerned, Ban Ki-moon's desire to exert efforts to facilitate it is not sufficient to allow him to play a distinct role or become an international mediator.
As a matter of fact, Ban Ki-moon, would be making a mistake by believing that his responsibilities as a mediator or facilitator are an excuse for not taking necessary public declared stances that comply with international legitimacy.
Ban Ki-moon's first mistake was his declaration that it would be better to leave this issue for the Arabs and Palestinians at this juncture, since it is the other way around. For the international community, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations in particular, are the ones who should push both the Arab and Israeli sides toward peacemaking with the highest degree of urgency.
Therefore, if the UN Secretary-General is seeking the role of the Special Envoy for the Peace Process, then, he would actually be undercutting the status he and his post deserve. If, however, he is seeking to play a role that produces a qualitative shift in the peace process and the Arab-Israeli relationship, then he should start thinking in terms of an integrated strategy that rises to the level of the challenges and obstacles. This strategy should not stem from leaving things to the Arabs and Israelis, but from wholeheartedly pushing the international parties to seize the reigns of the initiative and leadership.
Some Arab countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE, have embarked on what could be seen as a campaign to create an international awareness of the perils of neglecting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The main concept behind this campaign is that dealing with the Palestinian issue will radically help in warding off numerous regional and global wars and confrontations.
These countries advocate a point of view that resolving the Palestinian issue will prove beneficial even in Iraq, through mobilizing the public opinion against extremism in all its forms and wherever it exists, and also by serving to neutralize some of the reasons fueling resentment towards the US administration and its military adventures there.
In any case, the UN should carefully examine what it can do in response to any possible developments in Iraq.
No one expects the UN to send its blue berets to Iraq now on peacekeeping missions, nor is anyone contemplating that these missions replace the US and coalition forces there. Nevertheless, there is a need for a party that can act as a channel that facilitates re-establishing the essential, in-depth dialogue between States on what should be done in Iraq in light of all the various possible scenarios.
Ban Ki-moon could be this channel, which would facilitate, foster and boost the needed in-depth dialogue between the major powers within the Security Council and the key regional States.
Such a dialogue is not an alternative to conferences and meetings that bring together Iraq, its neighboring countries, and the five permanent members of the Security Council. These are always important and beneficial, even if they turn into venues for bilateral meetings between representatives from the US on one hand, and Iran and Syria on the other.
This other channel, however, should not preoccupy itself with playing the role of the sponsor of these bilateral encounters, nor should it place Iran and Syria at the forefront as the case with the channel that brings together Iraq's neighboring countries and the five permanent members of the Security Council. It should be the channel of serious talks, conducted behind closed doors, and which should begin with a candidness that has never been achieved between the five permanent members.
For neither the US has demonstrated any willingness to acknowledge its mistakes in Iraq, nor do other governments seem to be keen on rescuing the US from the predicament of the occupation of Iraq, or the deep waters of its embroilment in a sectarian war there.
It is high time now for a dialogue that does away with pretension and resentment.

Elysee Meeting Conveys Importance Chirac Places on Tribunal
Jacques Chirac has hosted his elected successor Nicolas Sarkozy and MP Saad Hariri at the presidential palace, which suggested the importance that the outgoing French president places on finding and prosecuting those behind the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Fresh off a whirlwind yachting break, Sarkozy on Thursday returned to busybody form, meeting with Hariri, commemorating the cruelty of slavery and rallying political supporters for legislative elections -- with a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair set for Friday.
The joint Hariri-Chirac-Sarkozy meeting at the Elysee on Thursday also came at a time where many expect France's ties to the Arab world to cool after Chirac leaves. But Hariri told reporters after the meeting that Sarkozy had pledged to "continue the relations between Lebanon and France in the same manner as in the past with President Chirac." Hariri said Sarkozy also supported the idea of a U.N.-backed international tribunal to investigate the killings of his father and other anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon.
"President-elect Sarkozy asserted the need to create an international tribunal," Hariri told journalists after the 45-minute meeting.
"He asserted the need to pursue relations between Lebanon and France... as they were in the past under President Chirac," he said.
An Elysee spokesman said that Chirac wanted Sarkozy to take part in the meeting with Hariri because of the importance that France accords to its ties with Lebanon. Syria, which has been implicated in a U.N. probe over the Hariri assassination despite its repeated denials, is opposed to plans for the court which have been endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.
Chirac was a close friend of Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a massive bombing February 2005. Chirac and his wife are to move into a Paris apartment belonging to the Hariri family when he leaves the Elysee on Wednesday. Sarkozy, a tough-talking former interior minister who is loved on the right and loathed on the left, defeated Socialist Segolene Royal on a platform including calls for tax cuts, free-market reforms, stronger U.S. ties and bold ambitions to bring down entrenched unemployment. U.S. President George Bush, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, had kind words for Sarkozy, calling him a "very engaging, energetic, smart, capable person." "We will have our differences, and we will have our agreements, and I'm looking forward to working with him," Bush said. Sarkozy has called for improved French-U.S. relations, but has said he would have kept France out of the Iraq war.
On Friday, Sarkozy planned to meet in Paris with Blair, though the agenda for the talks was not announced. Blair, who said Thursday he would step down as Britain's premier on June 27, also planned to meet with France's outgoing President Jacques Chirac. Sarkozy joined Chirac, with whom he has had tense ties in recent years, at a ceremony in the capital's Luxembourg Gardens honoring victims of slavery. Sarkozy's abrasive language, tough line on crime and immigration, and proposals to weaken labor protections have angered many on the left and in rundown apartment complexes that erupted in riots two years ago. Many predict he will face protests and other resistance to his planned reforms.(Naharnet-AP) Beirut, 11 May 07, 08:58

Saniora Urges Israel to Accept Peace Initiative, Criticizes War Inquiry

Premier Fouad Saniora in an op-ed piece published Friday in The New York Times urged Israel to work for a Middle East settlement based on an Arab peace initiative, and said the U.S. can help the parties compromise. Saniora also criticized an Israeli inquiry into last summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah for failing to address the huge losses and damage inflicted on Lebanon by Israel's massive bombardment.
"The July war proved that militarism and revenge are not the answer to instability; compromise and diplomacy are," Saniora wrote. "This should be the impetus for Israel to seek a comprehensive solution based on the Arab Peace Initiative." The initiative promises full peace with Arab nations in return for Israel's withdrawal from territories captured in the 1967 war and the creation of a Palestinian state. It also calls for a "just solution" to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
Israel has expressed reservations about the initiative and the U.S. has lauded the offer as a possible basis for reviving the Arab-Israeli peace process.
With the U.S. support and that of other international partners, "we hope to use the Arab Peace Initiative as the foundation to finally bring about a comprehensive peace to our troubled region," Saniora wrote. "Leading these peace efforts is not only an American responsibility, it is in the United States' interests: Peace in the Middle East would offer a gateway to reconciliation with the Muslim world during these times of increased divisiveness and radicalism," he wrote in the piece.
Saniora said that Arabs, too, have legitimate security concerns. "The only way for the people of Israel and the Arab world to achieve stability and security is through a comprehensive peace settlement to the overarching Arab-Israeli conflict," he wrote. "The inevitable alternative is increased extremism, intolerance and destruction."
Israel's July-August military campaign sought to crush Hizbullah and win release of two Israeli soldiers the fighters kidnapped in a deadly cross-border raid that triggered the war.
Israel, however, failed to achieve those goals.
The fighting ended with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that called for deployment of U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon.
The Winograd commission, an Israeli government-appointed inquiry into the war, has said that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was responsible for "very severe failures" in the war that ended inconclusively and killed more than 1,200 Lebanese.
"The report made no mention of the sheer damage inflicted. Lebanon's airports, bridges and power plants were systematically ravaged. Villages were destroyed, and more than an eighth of its population displaced. The bombardment caused an estimated $7 billion in damage and economic losses while leaving behind 1.2 million cluster bomblets that continue to kill and maim innocent people," Saniora wrote.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 11 May 07, 13:12

Welch Says Trial in Hariri Case 'Very Difficult'

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Davis Welch accused the Hizbullah-led Opposition of blocking the international tribunal and said in an interview published Friday that the trial in the Hariri case is "very difficult."
"When you have an investigation, it may or may not lead to results including prosecution," Welch said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star.
"In this (Hariri) case we don't know. Mr. Brammertz is commendably discreet," Welch said in the interview conducted in New York. "He (Brammertz) has not said yet what he has found but he has given interesting indications that he's made considerable progress." He was referring to Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, head of the U.N. probe into the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes.
"It may be very difficult to try this case," Welch said. He said that since it takes time to set up such a tribunal, as many as several months, "it was important to start that now, to be ready in case the case matures and Mr. Brammertz does want to have a prosecution." Welch emphasized that the tribunal was both a Lebanese and a U.N. decision, "with nobody in the Security Council interfering, with no other country involved." He stressed that the tribunal would be under Lebanese law with the participation of Lebanese judges. Welch, however, cited the "unfortunate situation" in Lebanon as reason for endorsing the tribunal under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. "Unfortunately, some in Lebanon have blocked the normal process for coming to support an international agreement. They did it after it all had already been agreed," Welch told The Daily Star.
He added: "Now that Lebanon is not able to act on this … because of an illegitimate president, because of the inability of the majority of Parliament to make its views clear, because the speaker will not call it into order, and because of the fracture of the Cabinet, it's important for people who want to see justice done to step forward." Responding to a question on whether the tribunal has brought Lebanon to a complete standstill, Welch said: "I disagree with that premise.
"I believe the political impasse in Lebanon has occurred because some wanted to cause, it may be using the tribunal as an excuse, but the political difficulties preceded the idea of a tribunal and to this day the opposition, which has divided the Cabinet and impaired the ability of the government to function has not commented specifically on the tribunal itself."Asked to comment on a Hizbullah warning that establishment of the tribunal would "threaten and undermine the stability in Lebanon," Welch said:
"I don't understand what the exact concern of the Hizbullah party is with respect to the tribunal … Instead if they are truly concerned for the welfare of the Lebanese people as they claim to be, then they would find a way for this government to function, they would enable the Parliament to meet as they majority want to do, and they would find a way to participate in the reconstruction of Lebanon which they cause so much damage last summer." Beirut, 11 May 07, 10:16

Olmert Wants to Appear 'Again' Before Lebanon War Commission
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who admitted he ignored warnings that Israeli forces were unprepared for the conflict last summer, wants to testify before the Lebanon war commission again after testimony published by the body showed he blamed the army for shortcomings.
Olmert's office said late Thursday that he wants to counter a statement to the commission from his foreign minister and political rival, Tzipi Livni, that she recommended a diplomatic solution instead of a large-scale military operation the day after a cross-border raid in which Hizbullah captured two soldiers and killed three others. Olmert said there was no such recommendation. Olmert's appearance before the panel failed to stave off its severe censure of his wartime performance. Last week's publication of the commission's first report triggered a wave of calls for his resignation.
The war ended without Israeli forces fulfilling Olmert's two stated goals -- crushing Hizbullah and returning the captured soldiers. Instead, Hizbullah rained almost 4,000 rockets on Israel during the 34-day conflict. In his testimony, Olmert made a pointed distinction between combat forces, whom he praised as "exceptional," and the military command, which he said "seriously let itself down."
"Something in the conception of how they operated the forces, something in the conception of their control over the forces, something wasn't what we expected, unfortunately, and that no doubt led to the disparity between what we are capable of doing and what we actually achieved," he said.
Olmert acknowledged that senior security officials told him troops hadn't conducted military exercises along the Lebanese border. But he said he "didn't really pay much attention" because the defense establishment "always" complains that it is short of funds for training.
The 89 pages of testimony were released 10 days after the commission issued a scathing report on his handling of the initial stage of the war. A final report on the war is due out in the summer. In questioning Olmert, commission members repeatedly implied he made decisions without seriously exploring alternatives or digging deeper for information. Asked whether he displayed any skepticism about what the military told him, Olmert didn't offer evidence to support independent thinking. Instead, in a meandering and oblique reply, he told the commission that he, as prime minister, had to "apply another perspective that they (military commanders) don't have and can't have."
At the end of his testimony, Olmert acknowledged making mistakes of his own, saying, for example, that he might have met more often with senior Cabinet ministers to consult with them on diplomacy. But he quickly added, "at the key junctures where decisions were made, we acted responsibly, and in my opinion, very reasonably." Olmert told the panel he was convinced Hizbullah would send rockets thudding into Israel's northern communities -- as it did -- and that he had two options: do nothing or do something from the very first minute. "I don't think there was any option but to act from the very first," he told the commission.
The censored testimonies of Defense Minister Amir Peretz and wartime military chief Lt. Gen. Halutz were also published on Thursday.
At a meeting with Halutz and other defense chiefs, Peretz said, "the prevailing opinion was that ... we could not pursue a policy of restraint under the circumstances."
Peretz told the panel Israel expected the war to last 10 to 14 days. Halutz told the committee that the army's greatest failure was its inability to bring the war to a swifter conclusion. "Without a doubt, I recognize that at the end of the day that was the most blatant non-achievement or failure," he said.
Halutz resigned in January following widespread criticism of his performance during the war.
Peretz is expected to leave his post after this month's primary election in his Labor Party, which he is expected to lose.(AP-Naharnet)
Beirut, 11 May 07, 09:39

Sunni-Shiite 'Code of Cooperation' Signed in Detroit
Sunnis and Shiites in Michigan, home to one of the largest Arab-American communities in the U.S., have signed a code of cooperation, affirming their commitment to protest against conflicts between the two Islamic sects. The "Intra-Faith Code of Honor" is designed to decrease the likelihood that the kind of Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions gripping Iraq emerge in the United States. The Detroit area is home to about 300,000 Arab-Americans, with many either hailing from, or tracing their roots back to, a number of Arab nations, including Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. About 30 leaders from both the Shiite and Sunni sects on Thursday signed the code at the Islamic House of Wisdom in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, said Victor Ghalib Begg, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. "The meeting was to come together, particularly with all the rumors and speculation that there are problems," Begg said. "It's important that we celebrate our diversity and have a good system in place in case something does happen." Under the code, local Muslim leaders from each sect have pledged not to say disparaging things about the other. Detroit-area Shiites recently blamed Sunnis for vandalism at Shiite-affiliated mosques and businesses after the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Muslim leaders in Southern California signed a similar version of the code in February.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 11 May 07, 09:18