November 21/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 19,1-10. He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner." But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."

Releases. Reports & Opinions
Analysis: Syria becomes the Annapolis prize.By HERB KEINON. Jerusalem Post. November 20/07
This time, the IDF favors Syria. By Amir Oren. Ha'aretz. November 20/07

Lebanese leaders have no choice but compromise to avert disaster.The Daily Star. November 20/07
Mistaking unity for democracy in Lebanon.By Rayyan al-Shawaf. November 20/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for November 20/07
Lebanon postpones presidential vote to Friday.Africasia
Putin Promises Hariri to Talk Syria-Iran into Facilitating ...Naharnet
Russia Hopes Lebanon will Elect New President.Naharnet
Syria sticks to Golan quest before Mideast talk.Reuters

Majdalani: the Presidential Election Problem is with Ahmadinejad.Naharnet
Lebanon in critical week as president's term ends.Reuters
Lebanon presidential vote set to be postponed to Friday.AFP

Presidential Elections Likely to Be Postponed till Friday. Naharnet
Sfeir: I Cannot Foretell Whether Elections Will Take Place or Not.Naharnet
Election Deadlock Persists as Clock Ticks toward Deadline.Naharnet
MP accuses Hezbollah of plot to change Lebanon's regime.Gulf News
Suspected Hezbollah Mole Began as Illegal Immigrant in US.Family Security Matters
Geagea: French Initiative Faces Obstacles. Naharnet

Kouchner chides Lebanese politicians for failure to reach consensus-The Daily Star
Arab League official in Lebanon to help resolve deadlock - Summary.Earthtimes
Diplomats scrambling to push deal for Lebanon as clock ticks.Boston Globe
UNIFIL chief stresses ties with Southerners-The Daily Star  
Israeli Army 'very weak' during 2006 summer war-The Daily Star  
EU foreign ministers 'concerned' over Lebanese crisis-The Daily Star  
Press Federation announces holiday on November 22-The Daily Star  
Sidon service drivers hike prices to meet rising costs-The Daily Star  
Health center holds art contest for children with diabetes-The Daily Star  
Lebanese gripped by fear over presidential crisis.AFP
Abolition of death penalty linked to stability-The Daily Star  
Italy to finance $100 million in Lebanon projects-The Daily Star  
Look-alike Graziano causes minor stir in South-The Daily Star  
One crisis after another: presidential logjam follows two years of turmoil-The Daily Star  
Azour urges new government to push ahead with reforms-The Daily Star
Ahmadinejad, Chavez predict fall of US 'empire'-The Daily Star
Iraqi Army raids Shiite militia strongholds, finds cache of Iranian-made weapons-The Daily Star  
Omert pledges to freeze settlements, free prisoners-The Daily Star  

Sfeir: I Cannot Foretell Whether Elections Will Take Place or Not
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir warned Monday that if the feuding political sides were not willing to compromise, presidential elections will be very difficult.
"If each group wants to stick to its stance, without taking any action to meet the other, then elections seem to be very difficult," Sfeir told a delegation from the journalists' syndicate headed by Melim Karam. Sfeir said he cannot "foretell" whether elections will take place or not. He said it was up to the leaders to add or wipe out a name from the list of presidential candidates the cardinal had submitted. Sfeir said things seem complicated at this point with some leaders insisting on electing a president after solving the country's disputes, noting that Lebanon faces "many disputes." While others, Sfeir said, want a president who agrees on the shape up of the government and who agrees with everybody, from Syria and Iran to France and the Palestinians. "All that means that if they want all those problems to be solved in one day, then electing a president is still distant," Sfeir complained. "But we don't wish this to happen. "No one can solve all these problems in one day … but rather one problem at a time," he soncluded. Beirut, 19 Nov 07, 18:50

Election Deadlock Persists as Clock Ticks toward Deadline
Lebanon's November 23 presidential election deadline is only a few days away, but talks are intensifying in an eleventh-hour effort to clear "obstacles" to a consensus between the opposition and the ruling majority on the country's next president. The daily An Nahar, citing circles following up contacts, said Tuesday it was doubtful that the Paris initiative would succeed, particularly after Iran rejected a visit by French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran.
It said a Wednesday parliamentary session set to elect a new head of state for Lebanon will "almost certainly" be postponed till Friday, Nov. 23, the day President Emile Lahoud's term runs out. An Nahar said "backstage channels" were exerting parallel efforts to get guarantees from the political groups that no unrest would occur in the event that election failed to take place. Lebanese army troops and police were already on high alert to prevent any chaos, An Nahar noted.
International and Arab pressure mounted on feuding Lebanese leaders to agree on a successor to Lahoud and break the deadlock in a yearlong political crisis that has sharply divided the country. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Arab League chief Amr Moussa were in Beirut in a last-ditch bid to salvage the presidential elections. Kouchner on Monday threatened to expose the parties that are hampering a Paris initiative to facilitate the elections, pointing an accusing finger at forces "outside" Lebanon, in an apparent reference to Syria and Iran. Moussa, in turn, said the Arab world is "worried about the current situation in Lebanon."
He said that the impasse could be resolved "in just half an hour" if there were a political will to find a solution to the ongoing crisis. An Nahar said the obstacles that emerged over the elections and prompted Kouchner to rush back to Beirut were two – 1. adding up names to the list of presidential candidates drawn up by Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and 2. going beyond the consensus mechanism where MPs should have chosen a nominee. It said Moussa offered "interim suggestions" to the crisis such as electing a president for two years, but the daily said that his proposal went unheard. Beirut, 20 Nov 07, 08:09

Presidential Elections Likely to Be Postponed till Friday
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Tuesday was expected to postpone till Friday a presidential election session to choose a new president for Lebanon.
Several officials said Berri would likely postpone Wednesday's session to Friday, just hours before the mandate of current head of state Emile Lahoud expires.
"Everything indicates that Berri and (parliamentary) majority leader Saad Hariri will agree to postpone the session to Friday to allow for negotiations to continue on a consensus candidate," an official with the ruling March 14 coalition told AFP. A source close to Berri confirmed that "the session would likely be postponed", taking the election in parliament down to the line. His comments came as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Arab League chief Amr Moussa shuttled between the various political leaders to nudge them to work out a deal by the Friday Kouchner and Moussa warned that little time was left for the ruling majority and the Hizbullah-led opposition to agree on a candidate and spare the country further turmoil. A tripartite meeting between Kouchner, Moussa and Prime Minister Fouad Saniora got underway at the Grand Serail. "There are still chances (to resolve the crisis) ... and the remaining period is not so short if we know how to take advantage of it," Moussa told reporters after meeting Lahoud at Baabda Palace on Tuesday. "There is still hope although there are difficulties," he added.
Moussa said Lahoud will not make a decision that would partition the country. Three previous sessions to elect a successor to Lahoud have already been postponed amid fears that failure to reach agreement could lead to the formation of two parallel governments, a grim reminder of the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled it out. The president in Lebanon wields little power, and the current crisis is widely seen as an extension of the regional confrontation pitting the United States against Iran and Syria. Hizbullah has said it would not settle for a president chosen by Washington while March 14 has balked at any candidate close to Syria and Iran. Fears are running high that the crisis could split the country and lead to civil unrest. The army and internal security forces deployed heavily Monday in and around the capital to maintain order, especially in sensitive areas such as the parliament building, the premier's office and a luxury hotel where March 14 MPs have been staying for fear of assassination.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 20 Nov 07, 12:06

MP accuses Hezbollah of plot to change Lebanon's regime
Published: November 20, 2007, 09:08
Beirut: Member of Parliament Akram Shehayeb accused Hezbollah of plotting to control Lebanon and change its regime, a local newspaper reported on Tuesday.
"Hezbollah is for a pre-emptive war to control state institutions … to torpedo the Taif accord," Shehayeb told Naharnet newspaper, referring to 1989 national reconciliation accord. Shehayeb’s speech came as Lebanon’s rival political parties remained deadlocked on finding a presidential candidate to replace pro-Syrian leader Emile Lahoud by Friday. "That is why we insist on electing a strong and capable president who can prevent this march of autocracy by Nasrallah," Shehayeb said. Shehayeb referred to an "active Arab and foreign diplomatic activity … We hope this would achieve results. The Lebanese people await a settlement."
He predicted tough times, even after the presidential elections and said there would be "more violence, assassinations” while Syrian influence remained in the country.
He said Hezbollah is "not interested in Lebanon, the state and the people. Hezbollah has its own agenda which is part of a nation sponsored by Iran."
The United States and Israel have charged that Hezbollah’s members are Iranian-backed terrorists.

Geagea: French Initiative Faces "Obstacles"
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Monday efforts to agree on a consensus presidential candidate are facing "obstacles", expressing a belief that a parliamentary session scheduled for Wednesday to elect a new head of state could be postponed. Consensus, Geagea said, "does not mean that we accept the opposition candidate. This is not logical."Geagea, after talks with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, noted that parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri "exerted sincere efforts to achieve consensus.""Consensus on some candidates was possible, and God knows how much Hariri endured" to achieve consensus.
"Things have complicated," Geagea said. He stressed that contacts persist with the various parties, including Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.
"Elections would be held and whoever boycotts the (Parliamentary) session would be held responsible," he added.The March 14 majority alliance, according to Geagea, has decided to give the French initiative "a last chance."He accused the Hizbullah-led opposition of "preparing something for tomorrow or after tomorrow. Let them save their efforts, the security forces would shoulder their responsibilities.""Eventually, the election would be held and, God willing, we will have a president," Geagea said. Beirut, 19 Nov 07, 19:04

Analysis: Syria becomes the Annapolis prize

By HERB KEINON -Jerusalem Post
November 20/07
Ostensibly, the Annapolis conference is about Israel, the Palestinians and efforts to bring about peace between them.
But Annapolis is about much more than just that. From the very beginning, Annapolis has also been about a key US interest: forming a coalition of "moderate" Sunni states to serve as a bulwark against rampaging Shi'ite extremism after the US leaves Iraq, or if Washington decides to move into Iran. And in recent days the Annapolis conference has also turned into a meeting that is to a large degree about Syria.
Regarding the formation of a moderate Sunni coalition, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is betting that showing progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track will go a long way toward cementing together a moderate coalition willing to stand up to Iran and Shi'ite extremism.
Therefore, despite all the problems in pulling the meeting off, despite the failure up to this point to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a joint statement, despite a realization in Washington that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not have the ability to carry out an agreement and that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may not be able to carry it off politically, the US is dead set on going ahead with the meeting.
The reason: US President George W. Bush announced in July that such a meeting will be held in the fall, and - as a result - such a meeting will be held in the fall, ready or not. Bush cannot afford to be seen now as someone who cannot even succeed in bringing two parties heavily dependent on the US to a US-sponsored meeting. That would be a huge slap in the face, and another sign of US weakness in the region.
And this is where Syria comes in. While there is no love lost in Washington for Syrian President Bashar Assad, Syria's presence at the meeting is something that in a matter of months has gone from something that the US indicated it would tolerate, to something that the US now wants badly.
And not only the US. Jordan's King Abdullah II made a rare trip to Damascus Sunday to try and get Assad on board. As odd as it may sound, Syria is the prize.
The US wants to see Syria at Annapolis because its presence there will be proof that it may very well be possible to peel Syria out of Iran's orbit and into the warm embrace of the "normative" Arab world. Iran, obviously, is pulling Syria in the other direction.
Washington is so keen on seeing some kind of Syrian presence at Annapolis that it has apparently given assurances that "Syrian issues" will be addressed there in some fashion. And Syrian issues in this context means only one thing: the Golan Heights. Syria has made it clear that it would not show up in Maryland unless the Golan was on the agenda. It is clear that Assad will not be sending a representative to Annapolis to grant legitimacy to a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian process that is meant to end up with an agreement between Israel and the Fatah-led PA. Keep in mind that Damascus houses and fully supports Hamas, which is ideologically opposed to any such process. Rather, Assad has a price for his attendance and for moving away from Iran, a price that - sooner or later - Israel will be asked to pay

This time, the IDF favors Syria
By Amir Oren - Haaretz
Last update - 09:31 20/11/2007
Ehud Olmert is superfluous at Annapolis. And not only superfluous, but detrimental. The substantial gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions is currently unbridgeable; it is like the "safe passage" between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank - not currently applicable. Diplomatically, there is no marvelous juggling act that only Olmert can perform, because a reasonable and stable deal between nations must be able to stand on its own, independent of the identities of the negotiators. Politically, Olmert's presence at the head of the government harms the chances of obtaining and implementing an agreement. The criminal investigations against him - which are wholesale, as opposed to the retail probes of several of his predecessors - make him "damaged goods," as the Americans say. His motives will always be suspect.
But with or without Olmert, Israel cannot improve either its security or its diplomatic situation by storming the Palestinian front. All the alternatives are bad, from tolerating the ongoing Qassam rocket attacks and the strengthening of Hamas to attacking built-up areas of Gaza - which would be even worse, as it would exact a heavy price and leave the Israel Defense Forces there for a long time, with no effective exit. The General Staff will eventually second the Southern Command's recommendation to launch such an operation, but only when forced to do so by a change in the balance among these alternatives, not because it is seeking a pretext or an opportunity.
It is not only the Egyptians who are to blame for the sieve that their border with Gaza has become. The Americans share the blame, as they have not exerted their full force to solve the problem. After all, it does not really affect them.
Over the past few months, President George W. Bush has invested great effort, as well as $550 million, in the Merida Initiative, named after the Mexican city that hosted this year's summit of leaders of North and Central America. Bush is trying to block the drug smuggling routes into his country. He understands that the battle will be lost if it begins at Mexico's border with California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; it must be waged, financed and made more efficient, including by cleansing armies and police forces of corruption, far away, in the drugs' countries of origin.
In order to block Hamas in the Egyptian part of Rafah or the depths of Sinai, what is needed is a Middle Eastern "Merida Initiative" - even if it is gray, dusty and generally less photogenic than the Bush-Blair-Olmert-Abbas speeches we can expect at Annapolis.
Faced with this feeling of constant siege - which one can survive with a mixture of ease and suffocation, but which it is better to break out of, into a different life - the IDF favors accelerating peace talks with Syria. The calculation is simple and practical: Such a move could sever extremist elements in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon from external support by breaking the chain that leads from Iran via Damascus to Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Events in the Israeli-Syrian theater in recent months have obligated the IDF, and especially Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, to reconsider the relationships among the permanent and variable elements of the equation.
Ashkenazi, who was GOC Northern Command toward the end of Israel's presence in Lebanon, is known to support an agreement with Syria at the specified price, which in his view is steep, but worth paying in exchange for Israel's national security. As chief of staff, Ashkenazi returned to an army that was afraid of sliding, whether deliberately or accidentally, into war with Syria.
But another factor was suddenly inserted into the complex web: the necessity of coping with the intelligence, operational and diplomatic challenge of what foreign publications have described as Syria's nuclear ties with North Korea. It was like a sniper faced with a nearby enemy who is holding a hand grenade and sitting on a bomb: The goal is to hit only the grenade, not the man, as he is liable to fall on the bomb and set it off, killing them both. Or in this case, to conduct a pinpoint operation against a specific threat while also containing the larger conflict.
After 60 years of fighting, the IDF's top brass does not delude itself that military successes are an end in themselves. Without diplomatic follow-up - "leverage" is the fashionable term - military operations, regardless of whether they succeed or fail, will continue forever. Just as Anwar Sadat leveraged the Yom Kippur War to achieve peace with Jerusalem (and Washington), the General Staff believes that this is an opportune time to leverage the IDF's power to achieve peace with Bashar Assad.