Monday, November 2, 2009

Hezbollah in the Larger Scheming of Things

In the early days of last September, Ibrahim Amin delivered a scorcher. The editor-in-chief of al Akhbar, a leading left-leaning broadsheet whose sympathies for Hezbollah are as visceral as they are principled, wagged his caress-worn finger at the Party of God. It was the surest sign yet that the ululating faux pas involving Mr. Salah Ezziddine had indeed the makings of a full-blown scandal.
On the surface of this man’s sin squirmed a group of embarrassing revelations: the mysterious two days and nights Salah spent with Hezbollah before he was sent on his way to declare his bankruptcy to the Lebanese state; the inconvenient detail that this glaringly pious businessman was not the Madoff of the Shiites, but the Madoff of Hezbollah’s Shiites, a community whose blind faith in him stemmed directly from its blind faith in the Party; the absurdly high 40, 50, even 80% returns on dodgy speculative projects that spoke of sloth and greed and gluttony afflicting a sect which still liked to think of itself as deprived; and, of course, Hezbollah’s indulgence in business practices that mocked not a few teachings by Islam.
But as damaging as these disclosures were, their impact paled before that of the much larger question that recast a seemingly scrawny tale of theft and betrayal as a political bombshell: ensconced in its Shiite terrain, all mighty and divine, did Hezbollah, as Fida’ Itani put it in yet another al Akhbar editorial, shave the beard and put on the neck tie?
Or, as Amin lamented at the end of his September 4th column: “Many years ago, there was a man high up in the enemy’s hierarchy whose name is Uri Lubrani. Do you remember him? He was the coordinator of the enemy’s operations in Lebanon. Once, during a discussion on how to face the tough and stubborn foe that goes by the name of Hezbollah, he remarked: ‘We will be able to nail it only when the contagion that struck the PLO in Lebanon hits it; that is, when it becomes a show off and bourgeois.’ “
In a region where newspapers are little more than echo chambers, this is what we interminably skeptical spectators call an interesting moment. It’s not that newspapers like al Akhbar had never before chided Hezbollah, but whereas the old rebukes were about missteps and miscalculations, this one was about essence and trajectory. The meaning of resistance itself—as an identity, as liberation theology, as a down-to-earth, temptation-free way of life, as a socio-economic proposition in earnest search of alternatives to capitalism and globalization--was on the table. And those who put it there were not the usual disbelievers, but the devotees and admirers. Hezbollah, for the first time, was being called into account by its own followers.
All those dreams and expectations that wove myths on the coattails of genuine achievements were having epiphanies and experiencing doubt. Old sacred truths were becoming fair game in the debate arenas.
But the last thing you want to do is treat Salah Ezziddine as a lone matter in a room full of strangers. Context is everything in the Arab world. Salah is not only about the inevitabilities of extreme exposure for a party who has long been on the political scene. Nor is his indecency, and Hezbollah’s implication in it, merely a parable about the particularly odious corruptibility of those who peddle themselves as spokespersons for the deities.
So, when following the thread of Hezbollah’s Salah, you might want to probe farther in the fog for the other intrigues that appear to be wrapped around it. Like those about the UAE’s recent expulsion of around 40 of the many Lebanese Shiites residing in the Emirates, and the forced return of Imam Abd al Mun’im Qubaisi, one of Hezbollah’s fundraisers, from the Ivory Coast’s Abidjan. And those about the court case currently on-going against a so-called Hezbollah cell in the land of the Nile, and the movement’s busted sabotage activities in Azerbaijan. And those about the Katyushas flying from Southern Lebanon into Northern Israel, courtesy of the Battalions of Ziad al Jarah, a Jihadi group with links to al Qaeda, and subsequent Israeli taunts that Hezbollah is losing its grip on the South.
Like pieces, these news items fit into that puzzle that is Israel and Iran, both of whose regimes at present are as seemingly hostile as they are palpably distraught. This is a very intricate dance as colored by Shiite-Sunni sectarianism as it is driven by hard-ball politics. It is all the more interesting, then, that Turkey, the region’s Sunni powerhouse, should be building bridges to and striking deals with Shiite Tehran at a time when Arab Sunnis and other chums of America are encircling Persia’s allies in their own backyard. It is even more interesting that the US, contrary to conventional wisdom, may actually be encouraging Turkey’s extended hand, which explains Israel’s furious facial expressions from what is increasingly looking like a tight spot.
These are delicate times, however. So, mind the ifs and buts and maybes that pester every other line of this unfolding story.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Only Way is Civil

They’re rebuilding with mud now in Gaza. Humanitarian aid is still a droplet in the scorching sun. The tunnels built as lungs have become coffins. For Gazans, the toll of Operation Cast Lead stands last in a queue of open, infected wounds. For us, the numbers have become drab memoirs of days time has made less ugly: the left jaw of Gaza’s face smashed, 1,430 people killed, 4000 houses gone, 90,000 human beings made homeless, 179 schools throttled, eight demolished, one-fifth of greenhouses felled, 92 mosques without a prayer in hell… And that’s just for starters. There is a much thicker file lying somewhere about the death of Gaza long before the first bullet last December reached its target. It reads like a Dr.’s check list right before he pulls the plug.

They’ve been combing through Gaza the way detectives survey a crime scene. They want to know which label to attach to the innocent dead: deliberate or collateral damage. Funny...sifting through the charges and counter-charges and watching sobriety arm wrestle with outrage, you almost want to chide yourself for asking a fundamental question to which the answer is as obvious as it is tragic: when life itself collapses, in mad, asymmetrical war or from a slow, bloodless asphyxiation, on whose heads does it actually crumble?


Still, it’s good to debate intent when innocence is violence’s casualty. Good for morality. Good for the rule of law. Good for the color gray, for the record, for the next round.

It’s good to ask, as David Landau does: “When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?”

It’s good that shock and anger, no less than applause, are alighting all around Richard Goldstone, a prominent Jewish jurist and supporter of Israel for whom the case against the Jewish state is as clear as it is not simple. A harsh rebuke from a friend is another chip in the edifice of occupation, another badge of shame, another wakeup call, an appeal to the conscience that cannot be ignored.

What does it matter that, with the help of Obama and Abbass, the vote on Goldstone’s report in the UN Human Rights Council has just been delayed till March? The verdict, precisely because it is Goldstone’s, has already achieved its purpose.

As for Obama and Abbass, to which intelligent mind did their actions come as a surprise?


Dissent is good. It blurs us vs. them. It forces the matter of blame out of its dark, narrow chambers. It makes self-righteousness squirm. And what vision is more satisfying than that in these Arab and Israeli parts.

It’s been nine months since trigger–happy tempers were brought back down to a simmer in Gaza. Much looks the same. Much has changed. The way of the borders is still the whim of Egypt and Israel. Catastrophes still hover over this anguished land as clouds packing torrential rains and thunder. A bleak existence has become more barren still. Beggary abounds. The missiles are lurking in their hidden sites, but Godly extremists are out and about, as confounding today to Hamas as the Islamist movement itself was once to Fatah.

And yet, we are meant to believe that Hamas triumphs. It triumphs even though every orifice of Gaza is still corked up. It triumphs just to spite that toll. It triumphs without a single tank destroyed, nor a helicopter downed, nor a soldier kidnapped, nor a suicide bomber blitzed for maximum havoc. I paraphrase from an Israeli military source because nutshells don’t come any handier than that. Hamas triumphs because it is still in control even if what it is “securing is a graveyard” (I am borrowing again, this time from a Palestinian source).

Only days into Cast Lead, experts began to talk: Hezbollah will join the fight if Hamas’s position became “desperate.” Ominous predictions delivered in thick-set, think-tank papers and in Op-Eds and news articles. Not everyone bought. You could hear the sarcastic retorts ricochet, as bullets would, off of these reports: good thing for Hezbollah that Hamas, whatever the tally, was always sure to be the winner. I suppose it was hardly relevant to Hezbollah or Hamas—or those experts--that Gaza was pretty desperate from where every Gazan was crouching.

There were those hopelessly spastic missiles, of course, as self-defeating to the Cause as they are degrading to its principles. Sad to see cutting off your nose to spite your face pass for defiant resistance. Even sadder to witness a people’s struggle for liberation starved down to feckless payback. But so it has been between a pitiless occupation conducted by remote control and an obtuse movement for whom resistance is little more than a Pavlovian reflex.

“I can take it like a man.”

If Hamas’s missiles could talk, that’s what they would be saying.

And for quite a few of us Arabs, that somehow is more than enough said.


All this sorry business is more than vaguely familiar. It’s been déjà vu in those quarters for years now. Like Fatah, like Hamas. You can grow forests in that space between reality and pretense in Gaza as lush as those that are the legacy of Arafat. Which reminds me of that lamentation by a Palestinian taxi driver in Amman last February: “First we were resisting for the whole of Palestine, then for half of it, then for ‘67, then for the neighborhood, then for a quiet night? Now, we fight to keep the breadcrumbs coming. What the hell kind of resistance is that?”

An intensely focused one, it would appear. You know, the kind with a single-item agenda: to emerge every single time from the rubble and pretend that it has pulled off yet another win. Which reminds me of those words by the late Issam Sartawi, one of Arafat’s closest and dearest, after the 1982 evacuation of the PLO forces from Lebanon: “One more victory like this one and the PLO will find itself on the Fiji Islands.”

Like Arafat, Like Mish’al. It’s a sight, no doubt, Hamas’s Khalid Mish’al doing his own Arafat-like verbal acrobatics and harrumphs in search of a way out--or is it in? But then it was a sight watching Hamas in 2006, like Fatah since 1993, become a master under occupation much as a warden over a prison.

The edge of the cliff is where Palestine stands. To walk the road that took it there is to march through a wasteland bestrewn with mistakes and scarred by abuse. There truly never was much hope in Fatah or Hamas.

But there are faint murmurs, in more serious places by more serious people, about the wisdom of massive civil disobedience, about the humanity of it, the possibility of it as the only path to an exit. There are already glimpses of it by that Wall, on those fields in tiny villages. Incidents of it in the archives. Surely there should be all the space for it now in Palestinian thought.

Life is as hopeless in Palestine as it seems. But as Jeff Halper, the Director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, wrote in a recent piece for Middle East Report, “The Palestinians, exhausted and suffering as they may be, possess a trump card of their own. They are the gatekeepers. Until the majority of Palestinians, and not merely political leaders, declare that the conflict is over, the conflict is not over.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bewildering (or Is It Delirious?) Lebanon

Lebanon seduces. That’s what every smitten foreigner—and they are many—will tell you. There is a sultry feel to the place, they say; seedy, perhaps, yes, and intoxicating all because of it. It could very well be Lebanon’s blithe openness to life’s best and worst possibilities that gives it this special glow even though it actually makes it stink. The taste of the West flirting shamelessly with that irresistible whiff of the East, the covered heads and bared bottoms that promenade in the same neighborhoods, the frills of modernity that obscure the chaotic rhythms of backwardness. A smart people, a dumb country. Botox and Bombs, the grimy glitter of Beirut, the fierceness of the mountains, the drums of war that play as background music to the mindless, never-ending political chatter. Sky Bar on the waterfront, vistas of beards and resistance barely ten minutes south. An Alzheimer stricken country that stubbornly latches on to age-old nasty habits but is amnesiac about yesterday’s horrors…

And then, of course, there are the goons who preside over this Lebanon: warlords and feudal masters, pimps and carpet baggers, small-time thieves and big-time crooks, crazy generals and turbaned warriors--this one with the fine English, that one with the fine wine cellar, another a devotee of Hegel, his nemesis a sucker for Sartre --mixing it up or bringing the house down, as it were, in the closest thing to a democracy in the Arab East.

For a particular type of Westerner there is even more to Lebanon than this delicious array of contradictions. Beirut itself is for lost souls, spooks in training, adventurers looking for a home, a name, an identity, knowledge to buy or sell. You run into them everywhere: in the capital’s sleazy joints, in its still brooding, ponytailed, chin-scratching leftist hangouts, in Tripoli’s burning Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp, in Hezbollah’s southern suburbs, on the op-ed pages of the New York Times, in CounterPunch… Wannabes on the make, they come to Lebanon knowing nothing, and a nice, quick three months later they come out knowing it all. The expertise of choice nowadays is, of course, Hezbollah, but a sojourn here can deliver as well expertise on, say, the psycho-dynamics of Lebanese-Syrian relations, or even on how you can commit a 17-year-long civil murder and claim that the butler did it. And these out-of-towners can be all this, do all that, without much interference or obstruction, for no other Arab hideout, however thrilling, offers the-live-and- let-live mayhem and flesh that Beirut does.

It makes life suddenly worth living, this place, us.

But real as this Lebanon might be for these naifs and floaters with a mission, for little, old Lebanese me (and, no doubt, for other natives), this corner of the Levant is the stuff of fiction, realities donning the many garbs of make believe and performing for a mock nation. In this marvel of a country, so-called multiculturalism can, at the flutter of an eyelash, turn into something hideously sectarian, and warring men by day can, when night’s curtains fall, swing together, drunk and genuinely happy, to the spine-tingling voice of Cesaria Evora. Youth, talent, brains, the future are in flight from this dead-end, and yet, when it comes to blood and gore, to bosoms and lips, Lebanon is way happening. The silliness and cruelty of this dump is not in the speed and ease with which it allows truths and lies and love and hate to exchange places, but in the people’s indifference to the sickening back and forth between them.

For me, the Lebanon I am living in could have become, in time, a mirror of its best yarns but instead decided to settle for its worst illusions. It is the Lebanon where the harassed, tree-rich mountains of yore peer over a filthy, ecoli- infested sea; where gorgeous parties float on thinly roofed lakes of your and my feces; where electricity still comes in dribs and drabs to entire communities; where rampant poverty is tempered and masked by a web of sectarian and feudal patronages; where food poisoning, skin diseases from toxic swimming pools, car pollution and day-long waits in traffic jams during the summer months are brandished as proof of tourism’s love of this haunt; where public works celebrate almost quarterly anniversaries on the same sites year after year after year.

This is the Lebanon that glides, haggard, stateless and broken, through life as if it’s waltzing its evenings away on marble; that thinks its sexy, beautiful, sophisticated, “with it”, when in actual fact it is over the hill, ugly, passé, money grubbing, uncouth, farts all day long, has BO and is downright moronic to boot.

August is a mother, ain’t it?

No, really, on a serious note, the other day, I was leafing through Phillips de Pury & Company’s catalogue for the May 16, 2009, auction and came across two photographs. One, titled Saida, is a shot by Elger Esser of the sea-planted citadel facing the city of Sidon. In life, it is decrepit and swimming in ink blue waters. Through Esser’s lens, it is poetry; for me, if not for him, a visualization of Lebanon as it should be: its damaged beauty still obvious to the eye, still loved, its mood melodic, even serene, its present mature and not allergic to introspection. The other photograph, by Fouad el Khoury, is of Beirut’s corniche on a very stormy day, blurred, perturbed and unbearably sensual. This imagined Lebanon is like a great idea that lives in its lazy author’s head refusing to dart out and become a full-grown story. Of my country’s many tragedies this one tugs most at the heart—at least mine.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

From this Side of the Fence

In this month’s Vanity Fair, Juan Lopez does the “dummies” among us a favor by offering them a peek into “Modern Iranian Culture” through literary means: a couple of lines on several books that can do much better than Twitter in illuminating the colorful rhythms of Iran.

This should help, I am sure. But in this chaos of claims and counterclaims, in this rush of burning images and on-the-run tweets, the more riveting type of news is threatening to obscure quieter realities. Iran’s political crisis is the stuff of history at its most rambunctious and exciting, but the truth of the matter is that modern Persia and its Islamist revolution have been captivating many of us for thirty years now, and the most fascinating dynamic to watch has been the capacity of a robust civil society to grow and consolidate its presence in spite of the regime’s best efforts against it, and the inability of an Islamist idea to take hold and establish solid roots in spite of the regime’s best efforts on its behalf.

Here’s the bottom line: the current debacle might be a high-stakes joust between Iran’s competing elites, with havoc on the streets acting as a prop, but had the revolution been alive and well, had its promise been untarnished, had its achievements been widespread and obvious, had its patrons been as clever and as close to the people as they thought they were, its progenitors would not be at such loggerheads.

Without a doubt, Islamist Iran’s accent is as crude and jarring as that of every other Arab authoritarian rule. But there are qualities to this Iranian polity that make it singular in this region: the often heated give and take between the different poles of influence, the clerical audacity that has often challenged, and still does, the idea of Khomeini’s Wilayat al Faqih (the Guardianship of the Supreme Jurist); the sophistication of many high-ups in the political establishment that both complements and stands in stark contrast to the grime pitilessness of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and blatant thuggery of the Basij Mostazafin (mobilization of the oppressed) voluntary militias; the remarkable resilience and ingenuity of a civil society that keep outsmarting, and even at times derailing, the stubborn encroachments of the state’s piety.

Whereas here, in this Arab dominion, our societies are fractured, tired and cowed by leaderships who stare down, club in hand, as one. So now, as many people in Iran make a statement and take a stand, we gape, confused, not sure if we should be happy or up in arms. For certain, our rulers are fretting that they shall soon miss the brazenly hostile politics of Ahmadenijad. And hilariously, so are quite a few of America’s bashers in the opposition, religious conservatives and so-called leftists alike, who seem to be convinced that Mousavi is the “Great Satan’s” man. To this camp, one can easily add Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who is praying as well for the bad boy of Iran.

But for those who see beyond the very narrow concerns of their agendas, both the streets of Iran and the push and pull in its corridors of power are an impressive sight.

It is indeed ironic for the Islamist republic’s masters that at precisely the moment when they thought they were about to finally find their place in the sun, they discovered they were losing it among their own people. The impact of this palpable, though not total, loss of face and legitimacy on their conduct in the regional and international arenas is very likely to be deep and unnerving. If only because of the perception of weakness, Khamenei and his entourage, should they survive this fight, might feel compelled to really jack up the ante.

The plot thickens and, of course, it is early days yet. Still, the most significant development in Iran began to unfold well before the present showdown: the Islamist experiment has been in retreat for quite some time, and one does not have to strain in search of the narratives which have been stacking up against it.

For every story that tells of the wretchedness wrought by foolish pieties and cruel beliefs there is one that speaks of triumphant defiance and unbowed dignity. In the mid-1990s, Iran had no more than 25 to 30 women writers; today, it boasts 400. Moreover, 60 percent of university graduates are women, and well over half the students in Medicine, Basic Sciences, Humanities and Arts and Experimental Sciences are of the finer sex. What opportunities the clerical order was loath to cede to women, wars and economic difficulties gave them. But would that the state’s miserliness were the only impediment obstructing the path of Iran’s struggling women. For thirty years, laws, decrees, morality crusades and modesty campaigns have conspired to thwart potential, kill dreams and insult. Even a random selection of these is enough to clue in the reader.

Almost immediately after the 1978 revolution, the marriage age for girls was reduced from 18 to nine years (it was raised to 13 years only in 2002) and married women were prohibited by law from attending regular schools. In 1982, the strict Islamic dress code was imposed. Before 1996, punishment for violators was 74 lashes; after it, jail time or a fine. Article 105 of the civil code decrees that “a woman cannot leave her home without her husband’s permission, even to attend her father’s funeral.” In 2005, Tehran’s City Council put forward yet more “Strategies to Extend Piety.” In the same year, a “cultural modesty” campaign was launched to restore strict veiling by doing away with “bad hejab” (I suppose this must mean loose-fitting veil) and daring though technically Islamic hejab (humm…a better fitting but still flowing veil?). In 2006, a security report produced by the political bureau of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) classified feminists along with “mystics, dervishes, devil worshipers, journalists, bloggers, secular students and intellectuals, reformists, as the main threats to the national security of the country.” In 2007, a clamp down on “loose veiling” resulted in the arrest of 150,000 women in the first four days of the drive. In 2008, bicycle riding for woman was prohibited as immoral.

Yet this presumably God-fearing place, this community of the faithful is teeming with so many prostitutes that a few of the more creative mullahs contemplated the establishment of chastity houses to make temporary wives of these women of the night. Tehran, home to 10-12 million people, has an estimated 300,000 prostitutes—that is one out of every ten women of childbearing age. During the craven days of the Shah, the average age of a prostitute was 27; in the devout days of Khamenei, the Imam’s stand-in, it dropped to 20.

For all of the state’s pains to “Command What is Just and Forbid What is Wrong (al Amr bil Marouf wa al Inha’ A’an al Munkar) behind many of its laws and policies is an embarrassment of failure and pullback. In 2000, a poll done by Tehran’s Cultural and Artistic Affairs Council found that 75 percent of the people and 86 percent of students do not say their daily prayers. By its own admission, Iran is the number one drug abuser in the world. As recently as January 2009, the minister of interior and deputy police commander intimated that the public safety program, which in the first four months of its implementation in 2007 resulted in the humiliation or reprimand of one million people and the arrest of another 40,000, is a violation of people’s citizenship rights.

Yes, the regime has the guns and, yes, its Islamist reign is far from over, but the message is sullied, the example is good in every way the theocrats and their enforcers do not want it to be, the charisma is a thing of the past and, it appears, the future is ready to surprise.

A 17th century Isfahani saying admonishes people to “keep a wary eye in front you for a woman, behind you for a mule, and from every direction for a mullah.” Islamism in Iran may not be going anywhere anytime soon, but clearly the Iranian people are.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Snapshots of Lebanon's Nutshells

Snapshots of Lebanon's nutshells.
Saad gets three because, well, because he's Saad

While I gather thoughts and facts about Iran, which will take some time, and on the occasion of the cataclysmic, do or die, life or death, watershed June parliamentary elections in Lebanon, here are a few helpful lines on this Switzerland of the Middle East. Mind you, if you are desperate to take this country seriously, there are plenty of serious analyses out there waiting desperately for someone like you. But if you have been rehabilitated, this post, as untidy as it necessarily has to be, should be more than enough for you.

Exchange between Marwan Hmadeh and Michel Aoun on March 19, 2009--but before that, some necessary introductions:

Michel Aoun: ex-general; perennial presidential candidate; ex (as in many years ago)-psychiatric patient (he’s feeling much better now); ex-nemesis of Syria, current friend of Syria; Christian leader (75% of the Christian vote in the 2005 parliamentary elections); ex-enemy and now ally of Hezbollah.

Marwan Hmadeh: a Druze leader, man of Walid Jumblatt (the Druze leader); ex-man of Syria; one of the late (by assassination) Rafiq Hariri’s enablers/friends; now hero of March 14, which supporters dub as an enlightened, progressive, non-sectarian and democratic coalition; anti-Syria man; Saad (the son) Hariri’s enabler/friend.

Hezbollah: as per its own description, a tiger of a Shiite, Lebanese, nationalist, Islamist but non-sectarian, black but pastel, resistant of a political party, which also happens to be—according to the precise words of Hassan Nassrallah--a “proud soldier in the army of Wilayat al Faqih”(you know what that is, don’t you?).
Hmadeh about Aoun:

“The General wants to liquidate the political and intellectual legacy of Jubran Tueni (Hmadeh’s nephew) and return Ashrafieh to Syrian custodianship.”

Time out: Tueni, an ally of Aoun back when the General was at war with Syria, was assassinated three years ago, and his 26-year old daughter Nayla is running for his old seat in Ashrafieh, East Beirut, as a March 14 candidate. God rest his soul, I knew Jubran to be many things, but that intellectual bit would probably have surprised him just as much as it surprised the rest of us.

Back to Hmadeh’s quote:

“…the one thing that ties them together (Aoun, Hezbollah and Nabih Berri’s Amal movement) is their alliance with Syria, first and foremost, and some of them with Iran.”
Aoun about Hmadeh:

“With regards to the statement issued by the sick man who was kicked out of the beik’s garden in the mountain; the godfather of strife and traps and conspiracies, who turned the politics of recklessness and the planting of divisions in people’s souls into a profession; the boy scout to occupations and custodianships; the expert in squandering the political legacy of Jubran Tueni, we need to ask if Marwan Hmadeh is the spokesperson for the Metn (mountain) and Ashrafieh? Because if he is, then without a doubt time is about to come to an end.”
Sami Gemayel, 29-year old son of Amin Gemayel, ex-president of Lebanon (other qualities are just too difficult to quantify), brother of the late (by assassination) Pierre Gemayel; Metn candidate of the Phalange Party, one of Lebanon’s early experiments with Christian fascism and current member of the enlightened, progressive, non-sectarian and democratic March 14 coalition:

“Consensus contradicts the principle of democracy…There is no Sunni-Christian or Shiite-Christian or Druze-Christian project. There is only a Christian-Christian project.” April 4, 2009, Al Hayat Newspaper.
Saad al Hariri (son of the late Rafiq; current sheikh of the Sunnis; aziz (as in the dear one) of Azouz, son of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia; the big guy in the enlightened, progressive, non-sectarian and democratic March 14 coalition, to whom everyone goes for monetized blessings) inaugurated last month the nursing school at the American University of Beirut (AUB), for which his father was the main donor. Receiving him was the Board of Trustees and the new American President of AUB. Accompanying him was the usual orchestra of cheerleaders-cum-hooligans-cum-thugs that have been accompanying all respect-starved Lebanese politicians since modern Lebanon was born on that precious day in 1920. After every other line uttered, the gents erupted into applause and shouts: “Saad w bass”-- Saad and only Saad. They must have been on to us, because one Saad is about all we can handle.

But the most beautiful moments during the speech came when Saad stopped every once in a while to have a sip of water. “SAHTAIN,” would thunder from the back of the room after each gulp--a double good health, but unfortunately for Saad w bass.

Check out clauses 1&3 in the agreement that was drafted between Hezbollah and certain groups within the Lebanese Salafi (as in extremely Sunni) current in August 2008, a few months after Hezbollah crashed through many of Lebanon’s red lines.

The Salafis, under pressure from other Sunni groups (including Saad w bass), withdrew from the agreement the day after it was announced. For assistance in catching all the nuances packed into the clauses, look for the underlined crucial parts.

Clause 1: “Based on the sacredness of a Muslim’s blood, we forbid any attack by any Muslim group against another Muslim group…”

There was not a peep from the normally voluble Aoun about where exactly that would leave Christian blood. Maybe he felt his own sacredness was guarantee enough.

Clause 3: “To stand in the face of the American-Zionist project whose most important tool is inflaming sectarian divisions and fractioning the fractioned and dividing the divided.”

Now does all this not evoke the evocable and goosebump the goosebumpable?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

About Matters Fundamental

Why waste time on gargara (blather)? A couple of perfect Kodak moments, and that should wrap it up for this post.

We will get rid of the disruptions
and implement development schemes
…to forge a great nation.”

President Omar Bashir of Sudan,
During a rally in March after being
indicted by the ICC for War Crimes
in Darfur.

Britain created you and America protects you.
But out of respect for the nation, I consider

the personal spat between us over…I am a
leader, a nationalist, the dean of Arab rulers,
king of African kings and the Imam of Muslims.
My international standing does not allow me to stoop lower.

President Mu’amar Qadafi of Libya during last week’s Arab League meeting in Qatar, addressing King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.


First, the grizzly exit line: “Economic volatility, plus ethnic disintegration, plus empire in decline: That combination is about the most lethal in geopolitics. We now have all three. The age of upheavals starts now.” This is the apocalyptic point finale with which Niall Ferguson sealed a recent lead article in Foreign Policy Magazine.

Happily, of the 14 offenders cited by the historian, eight are in the greater Middle East and eight are card-carrying members of the Muslim club. The beldams competing to turn our dreams—at least those of us who dare indulge in happy ones--to dust are Gaza, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey and Indonesia. The others? Russia, Mexico, the Congo, Zimbabwe and Thailand.

So, it would appear, something wicked this way comes.

Since seven of the cited Middle Eastern countries are either grappling with fundamentalisms eager to rule or with fundamentalisms working hard to stay in power (I am exempting Turkey, not Israel, by the way); and since most analysts keep repeating, mantra-like, that Islamic fundamentalism is the one inspiration that is growing stronger in the midst of turmoil and in the shadow of political stagnation; and since there is a raging debate about the need to establish (at least) eye contact with Islamism, it is only reasonable that I stick to the subject that seems to be on everybody’s mind, and head straight for Egypt.

But before I plunge into umm al dunya (the mother of the world) and its Brotherhood, the mother of all brotherhoods, let me offer this by way of a preface and a conclusion: the short end of this tale is that you’re standing right on the tail end of it. As powerful a presence as Islamic fundamentalism is in the Middle East, it is not new, its ways are no longer mysterious, its message is neither fresh nor untried and those voices that spoke to us as one for many decades have split into so many vernaculars. Islamism might be the rave now in the West-- everyone from goonish Pat Robertson to the infinitely more elevated Martin Amis have been delighting in it (in a manner of speaking, of course), feeling its fangs and horrorizing on its pull over here and its push over there—but, truthfully, enigma left this fellow and its compadres a long time ago. Whatever its home base, Islamic fundamentalism has had a full life and has all the scars to show for it.

Above all, Islamism, contrary to the herd think that still dominates the discussion on it, is not the status quo anti, but actually can claim just as large a slice of the status quo as the so-called Arab order itself. For many years, in countries like Egypt and Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood has been as much a fixture of the political scene as the regimes themselves, while elsewhere—from Wahhabi Saudi Arabia to clerical Iran to Talibanic Afghanistan to Turabian Sudan to Hamassian Gaza--an assortment of Islamisms have been calling the shots for quite sometime. It is therefore not only glaringly ignorant but patently silly for presumably seasoned observers to keep wondering about how Islamism will behave once it is in power. We know. And the picture is as colorful as they come.

Hence if the future, as Ferguson predicts, will soon tire of the old game and start a new one whose name is havoc, we will not see a discredited, bankrupt authoritarianism fighting it out with a lithe, sharp, towering, blunder-free, on-message fundamentalism. True, wherever the old boys remain, and wherever Islamists have replaced them, there is still a firm grip on power: the power to bully, to mobilize the die-hards and the courtiers, to use bread and butter to fill hungry stomachs and lull rebellious thoughts. But for all the bluster of these two camps, one is a cruel, ranting, imbecile of an uncle, and the other may have been a dashing promise 20 years ago, but today is a disheveled, browbeaten if not beaten record. Much like the competition, fundamentalist dominions are wrestling with the dissonance between their lofty rhetoric and their people’s lowly realities, repenting Al Qaeda mentors such as Sayyed Imam al Sharif of Egypt and Abu Mohammad al Maqdissi of Jordan are taking the wind out of a fuming, cave-bound Ayman Zawahiri and temperate fundamentalists are blowing all shades of gray into the more mainstream currents within Islamism.

There is flux, to be sure, but a close look at the tensions inside both the more extreme and milder expressions of fundamentalism will tell you that tumult is very likely to be as sorely felt inside its sea as out.


On to Egypt!

In 2006, specifically on April 9, a crack in the hard-edged, chiseled image of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) appeared. It came in the shape of a smirk. In an apparently feisty interview with the pro-government Rose el Youssef, Mohammad Mahdi Akef, the Supreme Guide of the MB loutishly declared to the reporter, Tuz fi Misr.” The shy translation is “to hell with Egypt.” The more accurate and, it just so happens, hilariously revealing one is “my fart on Egypt.” During the interview, Akef had indicated that, if it came down to it, he would prefer to see a Malaysian Muslim rather than a Christian Egyptian as president of the country. Intrigued by the implications of Akef’s preference, the reporter pressed him about the Society’s commitment to the national integrity of Egypt, to which Akef replied, “Tuz fi Misr.” That was his way, I suppose, of insisting that for the Brothers the Muslim umma (community) takes precedence over a bunch of borders.

Two years later, specifically on May 11, 2008, a long conversation took place between two intrepid al Hayat Newspaper reporters and Akef (the translation and underlined parts in bold are mine).

Question: Since you are unable at present to hold elections for Maktab al Tarshid (The Office of Guidance), will you resort to appointments to fill some of the positions?

Akef: This is not your concern, this is our concern, the Muslim Brotherhood. In the shadow of this assault on us, we will fill any vacuum by our own special method.

Question: But the masses want to know more about the Brotherhood?

Akef: They (the masses) have the right to support us in our battle against this oppression, but it is not anybody’s right to talk to me about my modus operandi unless he is from the Brotherhood.

Question: According to this logic, then, no one has the right to question the ruling National Democratic Party?

Akef: I am not an owner of projects (sahib mashari’) and I am not in the business of issuing corrupt laws. The NDP has to be accountable. I am not the ruler here, I am the oppressed one.

A few lines down the page…

Question: The price rise in Egypt has a global dimension. The Brotherhood criticizes but has yet to offer any solutions?

Akef: I am not the government for me to be specific. I caution only. Offering solutions is not part of my responsibilities. The institutions are not in my hands. I say--my point of view is-- that what is happening is symptomatic of a sickness. The people have no freedom, and I can only say: Leave the people alone.

Two questions ensued on sources of funding, and then…

Question: The people need some issues clarified?

Akef: The street has no right to question me. Let it question the government first.

Question: But you are betting on the street?

Akef: When it [the street] comes to me and becomes part of the Brotherhood, then it can question me, and I will answer. I am responsible for the Brothers who have accepted our program and have been living with us. I am not responsible for the secularists and mercenaries.

Now if your thoughts happen to be of the swashbuckling variety, they might just get away with persuading you that of the four qualifiers—serious, credible, alternative and opposition—which accompany the Egyptian Brothers everywhere they go like advance bodyguards, these interviews laugh out of the room the first three and leave the fourth to loiter around like an out-of-work pencil pusher. In which case, you can, and with much ease of conscience, stop here and wait for the next post.

But if you need to linger on backdrops and spend some time with contexts, then, by all means, read on.
Peculiar tenor from the leader of an 80-year old movement which was celebrating as recently as 2005 a stupendous victory in the first parliamentary elections it decided to seriously contest—88 candidates out of 165 fielded as independents won in spite of brazen state fraud, harassment and intimidation—giving it 20 percent of the seats. And that triumph was only the last in a series of feats achieved over the course of three decades, all of which were more than enough to persuade even the worst of skeptics that the MB, as both a social and political force, is a formidable influence on Egyptian life.

At first glance, the Society’s rush through Egypt looked like bear-hug encirclement: dominance in Egypt’s major professional and student associations from the right, a countrywide, dollar-rich network of social and charitable services from the left, dawa (proselytization or outreach) up and down and more conservative, sharia-based state laws all around. By the early 1990s, among an estimated 85 percent of women the veil became a daily habit, among a good majority of men the mosque became a daily destination and among a good majority of Egyptians Islam became a daily ritual. To the MB—by turns oppressed and massaged by the state--went the credit for Egypt’s increasingly conservative bend. Come 2005, the organization was boasting one million members (independent sources estimate registered membership at 50,000 to 60,000 and supporters at 400,000 to 500,000) and the people’s sympathies.

And yet, if Akef’s clownishness, barely months after his party’s parliamentary win, was reminiscent of anything, it was of Mubarak’s own gaffes in many an instance. Fatigue, it had become inescapably clear, was showing on the two faces of Egypt’s politics, that of the regime from being in power for too long, and that of the MB from being in opposition for even longer. But more than fatigue itself, “tuz fi Misr,” “offering solutions is not part of my responsibilities,” “the street has no right to question me,” showed the extent to which the Brotherhood and the regime were cut from the same cloth. It is no small irony that at a time when Egypt is reeling from having to work so bloody hard for a living, neither the state nor its main opposition are able to inspire anything other than fear and derision.

Call it extreme exposure. Truthfully, for those who cared enough to watch and listen and question, the cracks had been creasing the polished surface of Egyptian Islamism for a while, and all that Akef’s faux pas did was deepen the lines. Over the past decade, everywhere you turned there were signs of trouble. Unease began to deepen when inquisition-style legal suits by conservative Islamists against “heretic” professors, against “blasphemous” books, “degenerate” poets, “depraved” women-- against life itself if it dared swim in a bit of color—found receptive judgments within the state’s own judiciary system. Soon enough, the front pages of newspapers and the Internet were relaying the latest pornographic fatwa, some by the state-sponsored Azhar, many not. It did not help that such fatwas and other lascivious statements by this sheikh and that prayer leader were taking place at a time when sexual harassment was reaching epidemic levels in a country that had grown visibly more pious, and that among the countless Egyptian women habitually suffering from such harassment, the veiled ones would turn out to be the most inviting target.

But perhaps it was the 2007 draft political platform of the MB that finally betrayed its inability to reconcile the demands of citizenship and pluralistic democracy with its specific interpretations of sharia-based governance. The manifesto, which soon after its release was shelved under a storm of protests from civil organizations, human rights groups and even the party’s own liberal wing, declared that women and non-Muslims are not eligible for the office of president. It also called for the establishment of a council of ulama (religious scholars), whose main purpose would be to make sure that all legislation conforms with sharia. No less intriguing was the clause which stipulated that tourists should abide by the Islamic dress code and use Islamic banking. Significantly, telling criticism came from leading MB bloggers (there are 150 Brotherly blogs out of an estimated 34,000 Egypt-wide), who counseled their leadership to abandon, once and for all, their party’s outmoded and exclusionary tenets.

Flummoxed by the intensity of the wall-to-wall criticism—which, I suppose, should tell us plenty about the MB’s feel for Egypt’s pulse—the movement has yet to issue the new and improved platform. A public relations blunder, many called this last episode. The program, claimed detractors, revealed the wolf in sheep clothing; the joke was that it actually exposed the sheep in wolf clothing.

Seriously, though, what does Akef’s “offering solutions is not part of my responsibility,” say to an Egypt riven with problems in desperate need of solutions? More specifically, what does it say about the MB that they can be so easily roused for Palestine and so conspicuously absent from the workers’ strikes and riots that have recently struck several of the country’s industries—no less than 400 actions between mid-2005 and the end of 2007 alone. More poignantly, what does it say for the prospects of a heaving country that it is about to limp into even sorrier times with neither parent really caring for or about it.

Don’t think that the Egyptians, for all their world weariness, are indifferent to any of this. The voter turn out in the 2005 parliamentary elections was a mere 27 percent; for the presidential ones 24 percent. The silence of the majority sometimes can be quite deafening.

There has been interesting chatter about the struggle inside the MB along generational, urban-rural, liberal-conservative, religious-political lines that apparently intermingle intimately rather than politely keeping to themselves. “A plurality of trends,” MERIP, Middle East Report, called the give and take in a recent exposé on the party. Should coexistence become untenable between the more pragmatic, politically oriented, moderate bloc and the more reticent, religiously conservative, dawa-driven, and currently stronger faction—whatever their ages or geographic location—it would not be the first time the Society undergoes this kind of divorce. In the mid-1990s, a group of Brothers, under the leadership of Abu al-Ila Madi, split with the MB and established the Wasat (Centrist) Party, which, of course, has yet to receive government approval. Healthy or not, the increasingly heated internal debate as well as mounting external repression have left the movement wobbly, reactive and more often than not behind the curve of opposition in Egypt rather than at the forefront of it.

Commenting to International Crisis Group on the fiasco surrounding the draft political program, a high ranking member of the MB, obviously a liberal voice himself, quipped: “The ideological stagnation of the Muslim Brotherhood is part of Egypt’s political crisis.”

Ballah ? No, really?

The question is: Does anyone sniff the opportunity in this upheaval?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Birth Pangs or Death in Camouflage?

The customary victims of the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy have assembled again in their full, familiar regalia. There they are, the crouching man, head between hands, about to give full vent to his Munchian scream; the baby, a bloodied, lifeless Cabbage Patch dangling from her panic-stricken mother’s arm; the terror-filled children lining the corridors of supposedly safe schools minutes before lining the corridors of a supposedly extant heaven; life itself in the twin grip of defiance and beggary. And yes, they are all Palestinian because, hands down, in the heartbreak department they are always the winners.

The occasion does call for poetry, and even the Economist was moved enough to oblige with prose that makes of raging realities a thing of quiet eloquence: “And Gaza, remember, is only one item in a mighty catalogue of misery, whose entries are inscribed in tears.”


Throughout this last bit of bloodletting, almost everything that needed to be said about Gaza has already been written. And yet, somehow the story refuses to leap into the next dreaded page as if in mortal fear that this drama has outgrown all the old plotlines and is agitating for new ones. A century into this conflict, even the most bold amongst us are loath to part with perspectives and interpretations that have served us so well for so long.

But it is time to move on, and perhaps the first serious thought we need to confront is that well before Israel and Hamas came to blows over the ruins of Palestine the only conceivable way out of this problem—the two-state solution—was already dead, and it breathed its last as shifting trends and alliances converged to reshape the face of the region.

Among the new regional variables that have come to influence the question of Palestine, Iran’s final ascendance in the aftermath of Saddam’s collapse (and concomitant Shiite resurgence) looms largest. In fact, Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s nervousness about Persia’s growing hegemony in the Middle East and Shiite assertiveness in Iraq is amply reflected in their loud impatience with Sunni Hamas, which, along with Shiite Hezbollah and Alawite Syria, has enabled Iranian encroachments deeper into Arab turf. Palestinian factions have always been a playing piece in the Arab regimes’ rivalries, but while Arafat’s somersaults may have been infuriating, he kept them strictly in the family. Hamas’ willingness to pair with the Iranian intruder crosses the line and borders on heresy, especially for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two pillars of the Arab status quo. The disaffection with Hamas is not necessarily a prelude to a Sunni-Israeli alliance, as some on both sides of the divide hope. There is still much to disagree about between them, and we have yet to see how Iran will play the Obama card. For Hamas, though, there is not much space for a sigh of relief in any of this. When it limps out of this fight, its surroundings will be infinitely more hostile than they were before it.


And so, the pain of Gaza may feel like a replay of the same old sorrows, but this “sad finger of dunes” bleeds over an entirely new political landscape. The usual chest pounding and finger wagging will be distracting, maybe even deceiving for a while, but after all the momentary victories have been declared after this round, they will all be losers, Palestinians and Israelis alike.

True, on the face of it alone the historical record shows that providence has been palpably kinder to Israel than to Palestine. But lurking on the surface of things in the Middle East is like splashing around merrily in a swamp and ignoring the muck tugging at you neck down. It is indeed nothing short of damning for the Israelis and Palestinians that they—and the region with them—are at the doorsteps of a new age, whose beginnings seem to be beholden to the same conviction which set the old one ablaze: that there literally is no room for coexistence between these two people. Except that when this debacle started one hundred years ago, the slate was clean, the killing fields were empty and the possibilities many; today everywhere you look there are vistas of wretchedness and a trail of blood that leads to cul-de-sacs which were once wide-open exits.

Take out a map of this burning expanse. You will see two people in a choking embrace that has put paid to sacred dreams and age-old plans. The growing number of Israeli settlers (464,000 by the last count) living in a mounting number of settlements and outposts (121 and 102 by the last count) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has killed almost all chances for a Palestinian state, and fratricide has completed the job by decapitating an already mangled and tormented Palestinian nation. This does not make for a “2-state plan” in peril, as Michael Slackman offered in last Monday’s New York Times. It makes for a dead one. And it did not die the casualty of furious events, it died a slow, deliberate, well-executed, ugly death. Avi Shlaim put it well a few days ago in The Guardian when he wrote, “Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.” However reticent or ill intentioned or violent or weak the Palestinian side has been throughout this impasse, as Israel has long been claiming, the settlements and the policies devised to satisfy the messianic hunger of their residents are a reflection of the Jewish state's own motivations and choices.

But if the settlers are a blatant commentary on the ideological fervor and militant politics that have nurtured and guided Israel’s strategy in the Occupied Territories, the war between Hamas and Fatah is flagrant proof that these two resistance movements are clueless about the hard business of resistance. Worst still, the fierceness with which both organizations reign over their charred, trapped, wretched patches of Palestine makes clear their contempt for cause and people.

However gratifying all this must be for Israel, whose mantra has always been that Palestinian leaderships, whatever their color, are simply incapable of providing a decent life for their people, the dividends it yields for it are little more than fictional. As dire as the situation is for the Palestinians, that choking embrace has made it just as untenable for the Israelis. Look at the map again to catch a glimpse of Israel frantically picking through the wreckage of its occupation for the prospect of a state that is uncontaminated in its Jewishness and remotely convincing in its democracy. It turns out—and could Israel not have known?--that in plotting to do away with the spirit and aspirations of the Palestinians, it ended up trampling on its own. It turns out—and could Israel not have realized?—that in order for it to be irreversibly Jewish, it would have to commit acts no self-respecting state could possibly entertain let alone undertake. If the settlers have rendered hopes for a Palestinian state practically nil, the 1.4 million Palestinians in Israel and 3.7 million in the Occupied Territories (including Gaza) have ensured that Israel’s hopes to be a Jewish democracy are equally faint.

In spite of the accusations and counter-accusations that coat this morbid issue much like the debris that cakes the corpses of its unending wars, the effects of the 40-year-old occupation are very easy to read, and they have proved as taxing on Israel’s rigor as they have been debilitating to the Palestinians’. Forgive this excerpt from a previous post, but there is no reason to rephrase old conclusions:

This moral and demographic quandary in which Israel has put itself since 1967, because of its conviction that a biblical carte blanch and epical yearnings justify earthly conquest, is pretty much what it has to show for forty years of occupation in the name of redemption. Perhaps the most exasperating part of this journey for Israel has been its inability to write the post-1967 narrative in the spirit of the 1948 one. Neither its exalted conception of itself nor the world’s sympathetic conception of it proved immune enough to its blatantly predatory policies, and the unfortunate outcome is written all over the Israeli state’s current distress.


These past three weeks have been a time of wrath and then some. From them, Israel might well reap a licked Hamas, pounded, clobbered and thrown about. That’s what happens when a liberation movement opts to raise itself above ground and govern a people who are living in an encircled virtual prison: many of its representations become tangible, more of its assets become visible, more of its cadre becomes identifiable, its institutions become concrete—literally. It morphs from a stealth force into a sitting duck, easier pickings. Hamas should have known that much as land grabbing and peace are incompatible, resistance and governance (under occupation) are simply irreconcilable. Hamas had a choice and it chose governance. It would appear this Islamist group thought it had absolutely nothing to learn from Fatah. But then again, of all the flaws that make one of the PLO under Yasser Arafat and those who came after him, and Hamas (and those certain to come after it) the most detrimental is a crippling intoxication with power and a devastating disinterest in the grueling and painstaking struggle for liberation.

For this breathtaking failure of leadership, the Palestinians have been paying the highest price. Now they are two movements down and there is not a third voice in sight. In their century-long battle for a fistful of biblical sand, this moment is historic: where it most counts for the Palestinians—a dignified life in a state of their own—Fatah and Hamas, for all the wiliness of Arafat, the toadying of Abbas and the fury of Hamas, have delivered nothing and are all but bankrupt. Since their inception, Hamas and Fatah have each committed many follies and followed many a wrong path, but it was sheer madness to finally achieve for Israel what it could not have accomplished by its own wits alone.

Where to from here?

When Gaza quiets down, the more Hamas’s wounds, the more boastful its victory lap will be, and the fewer its wounds, the more boastful its victory lap will be. You see, however major the strategic miscalculations, however great the losses and traumatizing the outcome, there is no place for defeat in our Arab dictionaries, because when we die in our battles with Israel, we die as martyrs, and when we survive, we live as heroes.

For Israel, this hardly matters. If Hamas is visibly beaten down, then more radical elements will pick up where it left off and Israel will have an even more attractive pack of enemies; and if Hamas stays defiant and retains control of its boxed in, flattened strip of land, then all the better because Israel will have an even softer punching bag. Needless to say, Mahmoud Abbas will be what all moderates usually become when blood is shed and violence sets up camp: enfeebled, discredited, irrelevant.

And yet because of that chocking embrace, Israel will still be stuck where it was before it embarked on Operation Cast Lead: its democracy in tatters, its society at once implacable and demoralized, its Jewishness still in jeopardy, and an occupation that is sure to keep eating into the three of them.


A tragic panorama, you’re sure to think, irrespective of the side of the fence you happen to be standing on—and it is primed to become even more harrowing. Alas, the audacity needed to bring the two-state solution back from the dead, even if Obamanesque in name, will have to be herculean in size. Not surprisingly, as fast as the vision of two states is dissolving into a mirage, the imponderables of the past are becoming the only possibilities of the future. One old, particularly sinister Israeli idea currently being openly peddled by the likes of John Bolton as a respectable way out is a Jordanian nanny in the West Bank and an Egyptian one in Gaza.

War in the Gaza Strip demonstrates yet again that the current governance paradigm for the Palestinian people has failed. Terrorists financed and supplied by Iran control Gaza; the Palestinian Authority is broken, probably irretrievably; and economic development is stalled in Gaza and the West Bank….Given this landscape, we should ask why we still advocate the "two-state solution," with Israel and "Palestine" living side by side in peace, as the mantra goes…Instead, we should look to a "three-state" approach, where Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty.

Thankfully the gods of subtlety were taking a snooze when Bolton popped out of his mother because, when it comes to saying it like it is, there is no one quite like this much mustachioed, neoconservative, one-two-punch. Who better, then, than a straight shooting friend of Israel’s to imbue a loathsome notion with the air of resigned inevitability? If not this infernal exit for the Palestinians and their Jordanian and Egyptian neighbors, there is another no less searing for Israel: a bi-national state. Other than these two propositions, we have, of course, permanent occupation.

No wonder the hip, hip, hoorays for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative have suddenly begun to sound in the West after four years of silence. Hope has become dirt poor again and is frantically looking for shelter, and short of this last ditch of a peace effort the alternatives are few and all plainly deadly.