An Alternative to the P.L.O. -- Fundamentalists

This piece appear in the New York Times on Sept. 9, 1989. As some have reported, Israel backed Hamas -- sort of a microcosm of the U.S. backing the Majuhadeen in Afghanistan. This is an example of that actually being openly advocated. Might write more about this later, but thought it important to get it out and, to avoid accusations of pulling out of context, show it in full. -- Sam 

An Alternative to the P.L.O. -- Fundamentalists 
by Clinton Bailey

Jᴇʀᴜsᴀʟᴇᴍ -- As the episode of Israel's abduction of Sheikh Abdul Kareim Obeid, A Lebanese Shiite clergyman, fades from the headlines, the influence of Islamic fundamentalism in the occupied territories deserves the attention of Israeli and American policymakers. Surprisingly, these fundamentalists may hold a key to a Middle East towards peace settlement.

It is true that Islamic fundamentalists are known for violence and hostage-taking. Not only is fundamentalism been behind the uprising against the Israeli occupation, but the spirit of fundamentalism has largely sustained it for 21 months. Recently, fundamentalists have attacked Israelis deep inside Israel further destabilizing the situation.

Moreover, an estimated majority of the Arabs in the territories (80 percent to 90 percent in Gaza, 40 percent in the West Bank) now adhere to the fundamentalist umbrella organization Hamas (the Movement of Islamic Opposition) and no longer consider the Palestine Liberation Organization their representative. 

At present, Hamas leaders are looking forward to competing with the P.L.O. in the elections that are part of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir peace initiative. Their aim is not to advance the peace process, they say, but to show they represent 60 percent of the Arab population.

A deep ideological gap separates Hamas and the P.L.O. Hamas holds that a Palestinian state must be Islamic with a constitution based on the Koran. The P.L.O. advocates a secular state for Palestinians and includes factions that are Marxist and atheistic. Hamas does not intend to challenge the P.L.O. until the Palestinians are free of Israeli occupation, but its leaders express no doubt that an armed clash will ultimately come.

Many western leaders, concerned about the growth of militant Palestinian fundamentalism, urge a hasty resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations with the P.L.O. Perhaps understandably, little thought has been given to the possibility of using fundamentalist influence in the occupied territories in the service of a compromise solution.

Viewed ideologically, a compromise based on Hamas's participation seems impossible. Its charter stresses that all Palestine is a trust from Allah to the Palestinian Muslims and must be under Islamic rule. There is nothing to negotiate with Israel except its dismantling. Even Hamas's elected representatives, in the event of future elections, would not negotiate with the Jewish state.

On a pragmatic plane, however, Hamas has unwritten positions that demand attention. For example, it holds that determination of the Israeli occupation of any Muslim territory is preferable to the present situation. Its members claim that, while Hamas would never negotiate a compromise with Israel, it would not obstruct others from doing so. And, unlike the P.L.O., it would not insist on tying an Israeli withdrawal to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Hamas also views with equanimity the prospect of Jordan's assuming primary responsibility for the occupied territories. Its adherents cite a history of amicable relations between the Muslim Brotherhood -- the main component of Hamas -- and the Hashemite regime. They would not oppose a return to Jordanian rule, perhaps in a confederation.

These position, held by an organization that claims to represent the majority of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, should not be disregarded. The Israeli public will be persuaded to cede territory only if it feels such actions will not endanger its security. And the P.L.O.'s unwillingness to stop attacking Israelis makes the prospect of a P.L.O.-led state seem too great a risk. On the other hand, having lived peaceably with Jordan for 18 years, most Israelis might be persuaded to cede land to Jordan in exchange for peace and proper security agreements.

Thus, if America and the international community decide to concentrate their efforts on implementing Security Council 242 with an Israeli-Jordanian accord, they might find the ground largely prepared in the Palestinian camp -- ironically, by the Islamic fundamentalists. Moreover, the fundamentalists' emphasis on regaining whatever territory they can might leave room for compromises with Jordan that the P.L.O. does not allow itself to make.

These possibilities are not without danger. The fundamentalists' ultimate aim of placing all Palestine under Islamic rule hardly differs from the PLO's plan for regaining all of Palestine by stages. Both advocate using any land that Israel cedes as a springboard for gaining more. The survival of the Hashemite regime after it assumed authority over a largely fundamentalist Palestinian population would also be problematic.

These dangers can be met. Without doubt Israel and Jordan, as well as other parties to the peace agreement, would have to exercise a firm hand against extremists that oppose territorial compromise. If, however, an end to the Israeli occupation were coupled with generous international aid for Palestinian development, much of the malaise that swells in the ranks of extremist fundamentalism would wane.

In light of the deadlock that blocks progress towards peace between Israel and the P.L.O., it is vital to remember that another option involving Hamas may exist.

Words Mean Things: Stop Calling Him "Justice" Roberts

One of my favorite poems by Rumi is "Who says words with my mouth?" It can most obviously be read as a meditation on the self, the soul and free will. 

But too often this question can be directly answered in our time: the major media, the political establishment they are intertwined with and all who thoughtlessly echo them -- that is who puts words in people's mouths that are endlessly parroted. 

Case in point is how so many call John Roberts "Justice John Roberts." Even discounting one's views on Roberts, this is a particularly misguided use of title and convention since Roberts himself has said before and since getting on the court that "justice" is not the job of the "Chief Justice." 

I first heard Roberts say this just after he was nominated to the court by George W. Bush in the summer of 2005. C-Span Radio broadcast a talk Roberts gave at Georgetown University in 1997. He tells a story of "Justice Holmes, when he was getting out of a carriage and going up to the court to do his work, a person yelled out after him 'Do justice!' Quite angry, he turned around and said 'That’s not my job!' And it very much is not the job of the Supreme Court." [Clip; full video, (at about 10:30 mark)].

Still, in the Nation, Eric Alterman writes of "The Roberts Court’s Stealth Campaign Against a Free Press," but the prefix "Justice" remains fixed to Roberts' name -- no matter how nefarious his actions. Similarly, David H. Gans in the New Republic asserts in "The Roberts Court Thinks Corporations Have More Rights Than You Do" that "Chief Justice Roberts has opened new fronts in his First Amendment revolution." And David McCabe in the Huffington Post writes a piece titled "Chamber Of Commerce Emerges As Big Supreme Court Winner" that states: "Under Chief Justice John Roberts ... the Supreme Court has been far more likely to issue a ruling favorable to the chamber than the court was under his immediate predecessors, according to the [Constitutional Accountability Center's] analysis."

I wrote the piece "Why Is Everyone Still Calling Him 'Justice' Roberts?" shortly after the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling in which the Supreme Court struck down overall limits on campaign donations making this argument. As if to highlight how difficult it is to break out of calcified habits, an editor at the website that published the piece initially ran a caption calling him "Justice John Roberts" -- overlooking the basic premise of the piece (this was later dropped). 

It becomes a world of glazed over and empty dead eyes when words we say -- including the most profound words like justice -- are used as mere formalisms, with the meaning emptied out of them. In Robert's entire talk he comes off more at times an expert clerk than as one aspiring to be in any way the Embodiment of Justice. What does it say about our society and major institutions that the man referred to as "Chief Justice" doesn't think that's his job? 

We should add the honorific "justice" for those on the courts to the list of words like "defense" -- as in "Department of Defense" -- that are ridiculous Orwellianisms. Anyone thinking about what they are saying should scrutinize words if they are to have integrity and not to all join the ranks of the Hollow Men. 

There's some evidence that the U.S. public -- despite numerous obstacles -- is becoming more clear eyed. Gallup recently noted that confidence in the Supreme Court has dropped from 48 percent in 1991 to 30 percent today, following the same trend as the public's confidence in the president and congress. Notes Gallup: "While the Supreme Court, with unelected justices serving indefinite terms, is immune to the same public pressures that elected members of Congress and the president must contend with, it is not immune to the drop in confidence in U.S. government institutions that threatens and complicates the U.S. system of government."

Rumi aims in his poem to "Break out of this prison for drunks." Indeed, we need to sober up in the language we use. Speaking of himself, Rumi says "This poetry, I never know what I'm going to say. I don't plan it. When I'm outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all." In contrast, we see so many prepared with their talking points, pre-rehearsed and polished in their deformity. We must dispense with the conformity of many seemingly desperately seeking to be relieved of the burden of thinking about the words coming from their mouths.

Thanks to Avram Reisman. 

Questioning Deputy Israeli Defense Minister About Israel's Nuclear Weapons Arsenal

Today, Deputy Israeli Defense Minister Danny Danon spoke at a news maker event at the National Press Club. Mine is the third question. I asked him about Israeli's nuclear arsenal and how his government could be taken seriously regarding their pronouncements regarding Iran when they will not acknowledge their own nuclear weapons arsenal. Danon talked about how "Arabs" were concerned about Iran's nuclear capacity. I attempted to follow up drawing a distinction between autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia, which are in defacto alliance with Israel, and the people of the region, but got cut off. 

Immediately following my question was a question about Israeli spying against the US by Jafar Jafari of Al-Mayadeen. There was also an interesting question on Israel's non-ratification of biological and chemical weapons treaties. Here's audio of Q and A: 

Kerry's Incredible Projection

John Kerry: "Everything that we’ve seen in the last 48 hours from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine tells us that they’ve been sent there determined to create chaos. And that is absolutely unacceptable. These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, frankly. And quite simply, what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary engaged in this initiative."

If Money=Speech and Speech is Free, then Shouldn't Money be Free? -- Plus, the History of Money in Politics

Regarding today's McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision: I pulled together this news release: "Supreme Court Establishing 'Plutocrat Rights'," which has some good crit. 

But beyond that, I've always wondered: If (money = speech) and speech is free -- then shouldn't money be free? But the ultimate logic of the "freedom" for money in politics proponents, we have a an argument for a rather radical form of material equality. 

The story of money in politics is in a sense of the story of the United States: As the franchise has expanded, money has been used to make its import seemingly, increasingly meaningless. That is, It used to be that you could only vote if you were a white, male property owner. Now, all peoples' votes are diminished as money dominates. I think this is why some people have an image of the U.S. as having a "golden age" -- being a citizen actually meant something. That's been rather hollowed out because most actual decisions in the society are not taking place in any meaningful democratic form. 

Should note: The NSA story is very much related to this story since the surveillance companies are huge funders for the politicos who enable them. See: "New Study on Campaign Cash Behind the National Surveillance State." Appropriately enough, Thomas Ferguson is featured on that release, he wrote the book Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Politics, which traces the influence of money in politics way back, so perhaps the preceding paragraph is too generous to the history of the U.S. 

Barack Obama vs John Adams on Art and the Meaning of Life

Obama: "The problem is ... a lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career. But I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree. Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree -- I love art history. (Laughter.) So I don't want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. (Laughter.) I'm just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need. (Applause.)" 

Adams: “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

"Garbage" Ironically is Perhaps Pete Seeger's Greatest -- and Most Political -- Song

So just after I heard that Pete Seeger died, Emily mentioned to me that she was first introduced to him as a child via Sesame Street. So I did a search online and found him singing a song with Oscar the Grouch called "Garbage". I immediately loved it -- it brilliantly played off environmental issues with the garbage that envelops our "culture". Well, today I found another version of "Garbage" which has an additional, overpowering verse that was co-written by Seeger himself (the original song was written by Bill Steele). Here's the song and the part that Seeger co-wrote (with Mike Agranoff):

In Mister Thompson's factory, they're making plastic Christmas trees
Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand
The plastic's mixed in giant vats from some conglomeration
That's been piped from deep within the earth or strip-mined from the land.
And if you question anything, they say, "Why, don't you see?
It's absolutely needed for the economy," oh,

Oh, Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
There stocks and their bonds -- all garbage!
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!
What will they do when their system goes to smash
There's no value to their cash
There's no money to be made
But there's a world to be repaid
Their kids will read in history books
About financiers and other crooks
And feudalism, and slavery
And nukes and all their knavery
To history's dustbin they're consigned
Along with many other kinds of garbage.
Garbage! Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!

[I was delighted that this song was also highlighted in this great post by Jim Naureckas -- err, Peter Hart -- at FAIR: "Pete Seeger: 'It's Hard for Me to Talk About the Media Without Getting Angry'"] 

Do We Really Want Privacy?

Over the last several months, and again today with the NSA porn story, I find myself wondering if we should really be fighting for "privacy" per se as many have been doing for months and years. I think I can imagine a good society where there's little privacy. One where everyone is accepted by others -- and themselves. Rather, the problem is the public (and especially politically involved people in all likelihood) get no privacy from the government and internet corporations while the government and corporations get near total secrecy about their activity from the public. So disparity is really the key. 

Audio: U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Acknowledge they Have Refused Negotiations with Assad to End Civil War

At the National Press Club, a representative of the U.S.-backed opposition confirmed this week that they have refused to sit down and negotiate with Assad. 

Investigative reporter Robert Parry reported last week: “Though many Americans may believe -- from absorbing the mainstream U.S. news -- that it is Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad who needs to be pressured to the negotiating table, the reality is that Assad has repeatedly offered to join peace talks in Geneva. It is ‘our’ opposition that has refused to go. 

“The rebel leaders have offered up a host of excuses: they want the U.S. government to provide sophisticated weapons first; they want all Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon to withdraw; they want to be in a winning position before talks begin; they want Assad to agree to resign as a precondition of talks.

“In other words, the fractious rebels, whose most effective fighters are allied with al-Qaeda, don’t want peace talks; they’d rather wait for the United States and other outside powers to be drawn into the civil war and ensure Assad’s ouster, an outcome that also could make Syria the new hotbed for terrorism in the Middle East.”

Yesterday, Parry followed up: "The Syrian rebels, already angry over the postponed U.S. military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s government, appear determined to obstruct peace talks and thus may be wielding what amounts to a veto against plans to dismantle Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, a process that would be fraught with danger if there is no cease-fire.

"While it might seem counterintuitive for the rebels to undercut an international plan to eliminate the government’s poison gas, there is logic to the rebels’ position, in that their goal is the overthrow of Assad, not simply removing one category of weapon – and indeed one whose primary value may be that it makes a U.S. military intervention against Assad more likely." 

On Tuesday, I questioned the Special Representative to the United States for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces Najib Ghadbian at the National Press Club and he confirmed that the U.S.-backed rebels (as opposed to other, independent factions) are refusing to sit down with Assad [emphasis added]: 

Husseini: I want to clarify something you said earlier.  ... You didn't want to negotiate with the current regime of Bashar al-Assad. Can you clarify -- so -- what have been the modalities, for those coming in to this late, you folks have been refusing to negotiate up until this point? Is that accurate?

Ghadbian: No, that's not accurate.

Husseini: That seems to be what you were saying.

Ghadbian: Let me be very specific: We supported every political initiative to end this conflict. We supported the Arab League initiative, which begins with Assad delegating his powers to his vice president, we thought that was a good idea. We supported the elements of Geneva One. We were willing -- in fact we were working -- to go to Geneva Two. But, our understanding of Geneva One is the following: there will be a transitional government with full executive authorities, including the security and military areas, which means Assad has no role in these areas. That's our understanding of Geneva One. So, we were going to Geneva Two with this understanding. We wanted to include an element of accountability in the negotiations, in the political process. And that is why we believe Bashar al-Assad has committed crimes against humanity. And he is not acceptable as a person. We believe that his departure from the scene is a positive step for any political solution, by any means. And definitely after the use of chemical weapons, he's absolutely not acceptable. He, his brother and those who are implicated in the use of chemical weapons.  

Now, there are a lot of people who support Bashar al-Assad. They are Syrians. Some of them are forced to do so. Some of them are in fact under the propaganda of the regime. Some of them are defending their privileges. It's those elements, in fact, we want to talk to. Those, those are Syrians and that's what we want to talk about. So -- again -- we want a political solution that -- again -- would include some element of accountability. And -- again -- we believe Bashar al-Assad is a basically destructive element in any negotiations. So, that's the way we understand Geneva and any political solutions after the use of chemical weapons. He should, in fact, be brought to justice; preferably very soon. Any international effort by our friends at the UN should include that. Otherwise, we would not support it.

Husseini: Now, just to clarify, it's not a new position -- it's been your consistent position over time -- that you will not sit down with him for negotiations, you want to sit down and negotiate with other factions.

Ghadbian: Right.

Husseini: Well prior to this, over the past two and a half years, you will not sit down with Bashar al-Assad --

Ghadbian: Well, that position evolved. Early on -- before the regime committed atrocities on the mass scale -- early on we were, people were asking Bashard al-Assad before the revolution, to take serious, reformists steps to bring Syria into a democratic kind of conclusion. But, you know, the regime was using lethal weapons, using live munitions from day one, in Dara, remember. And so, immediately, as the regime continued, and it was obvious that the regime did not believe in a political solution, Bashar al-Assad up to the use of chemical weapons, he communicated to us, directly and indirectly, that he can achieve a military victory and he's working toward that end. He's talking Geneva, but he's not going to go to Geneva. Why should he talk about his departure Why should he talk about his stepping down? I mean, it doesn't make sense. But, I think, for us again, since the Arab League initiative, we took that position that, if he in fact were to delegate his powers -- at that point delegating powers; maybe he could stay for a while. - But as he continues to commit atrocities, crimes against humanity, against Syrian people, we were clear -- we would not negotiate with individuals who committed crimes against humanity and against the Syrian people. That's a principle position. We continue to stick by that, position.

Audio of full event below. Excerpt from above starts at 26:55:

By Sam Husseini; special thanks to Brendan Kelly.