Friday, October 31, 2008

Norway Funding PA Hate Media.

 

by Maayana Miskin

 

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has issued a report on the state of the Palestinian Authority (PA) media in the wake of the Annapolis conference, which was held in late 2007. The report focuses on Norway's funding of the PA in light of recent statements made by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store. Gahr Store defended Norway's decision to fund the PA directly, including PA media, saying TV programs glorifying terrorists are not common and assuring reporters that “Fatah and the PA are prepared to find a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel.”

In fact, however, PA TV programs and newspapers continue to incite Arabs to hate and broadcast messages rejecting Israel's existence and glorifying terrorists, PMW researchers said. Not only did incitement continue after the Annapolis conference - it intensified, they said. “During the 11 years of PMW's existence, there has never been a period with such intense demonization of Israel, continuous hate promotion and denial of Israel's existence by the PA (Fatah) and the media [PA Chairma Abbas controls, as during the period since the Annapolis conference,” the report stated.

Contrary to Gahr Store's assurances, PA programs glorifying terrorists are very common, PMW researchers said. Every terrorist who murdered Israelis in 2008 was termed a martyr (shahid) by PA newspapers, including PA organ Al-Hayyat al-Jadida.

"Norwegian aid is being being allocated directly to Abbas. Abbas directly controls PA media. Thus Norwegian money is funding PA TV and newspapers and all the hate material,” PMW announced.

The group cited dozens of reports broadcast in 2008 in which PA media broadcasters denied Israel's existence, particularly on children's shows. Hosts told children that “Palestine” includes the port cities of Haifa, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Eilat—all cities in pre-1967 Israel; that the size of “Palestine” is 27,000 square kilometers, which corresponds to borders including all of pre-1967 Israel; and that Be'er Sheva, Haifa, Tzfat, and other Israeli cities are “occupied.” Israeli Arab children who called a PA TV show in July 2008 listed their hometowns as “occupied Tzfat,” “occupied Akko” and “occupied Haifa,” and were told by the host, “I'm very happy that our children from the occupied areas in Palestine are calling, those [area which Israel occupies.”

PA media have showed hundreds of maps on TV shows and in newspapers since the Annapolis conference, researchers said. The maps have consistently shown all of Israel as “Palestine.” A public service announcement broadcast during and after the Annapolis conference showed Israel in the colors of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) flag.

Hateful incitement against Israel continues as well. PA officials and others have been quoted in official Fatah-controlled media accusing Israel of deliberately infecting Arabs with AIDS, of spreading drugs within Arab areas, of murdering babies and planning to destroy the Al-Aksa mosque located on the Temple Mount. While Minister Gahr Store said the Norwegian government “disassociates itself from any use of TV programs as a direct [wa of spreading hate or inciting terrorism,” the 790 million NOK (roughly 118 million United States dollars) that Norway has given directly to the PA this year is likely to be spent funding exactly those kinds of programs, PMW said.

Not only have past libels against Israel been repeated, ugly new libels have been created as well, PMW warned. In July 2008, Al-Hayyat al-Jadida and Al-Ayyam, two papers controlled by Abbas, accused “Israeli settlers” of bringing cases full of rats to Jerusalem's Old City and releasing them in Arab neighborhoods. The rats are unusually large and ferocious, and are “immune to poison,” the reports said. Both papers accused Israelis of using the rats to force Arabs from Jerusalem.

In March 2008, the PA held “Holocaust memorial ceremonies” in which Israel was accused of perpetrating a Holocaust against Arab children. Children took part in ceremonies that included a mock crematorium filled with Arab corpses. In May, PA TV broadcast a fake news clip in which an Israeli tank deliberately shot an Arab child.

In April and May of 2008, PA media aired new and particularly harsh slander accusing Israel of perpetrating a Holocaust on Arabs in 1948. The claims made against Israel mirrored reports of Nazi brutality in the Holocaust. Fatah MP Issa Karaka was quoted in Al-Hayyat al-Jadida, Al-Quds daily and PA TV accusing “Zionists” of lining Arabs up in front of death pits and shooting them, of burning Arabs alive, of forcing Arabs to work in labor camps and of running a Nazi death-camp type "selection" in which Arabs were chosen for death or deportation. No evidence was presented to support the charges."

 

Maayana Miskin

 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Identity and Religion in Palestine. A Bookreview .

 

By Loren Lybarger (Princeton, NY: Princeton)

 

This book is an admirable effort to present the Palestinian "narrative" and bash Israel; in this, it certainly attains its goal, if we overlook Loren Lybarger's stated aim of presenting the "truth," for, to him none exists except the Palestinian version. This is evident from the following three self-incriminating points: (1) that the author was a "participant observer" in the events, strongly empathizing with the Palestinians; (2) that the events he presents at the beginning are not a historical chronicle but a list of Israeli "atrocities;" and (3) the various incongruities, inaccuracies, false accusations and unfair judgments he levels against one party while sanctifying the other.

Examples of these abound, and these grossly diminish the otherwise brilliant exposition of the Palestinian narrative as they, and the author, believe and conceive it. Still, this is not supposed to be the author's personal diary nor the Palestinians' diary of the two intifadas, which they initiated. This is the "red" (or should we say "green") thread of the whole book: when the Palestinians break their commitments, engage in terrorism and kill thousands of Israelis, that is "understood" to be the result of the "Occupation," as if there could be any justification of killing civilians. And when Israel retaliates by eliminating one by one and at great risk, the leaders and planners of those killings, they are taken to task for "targeted assassinations." I wonder what Lybarger would have said had Hitler and Saddam (both adulated by the Palestinians for their anti-Jewish exploits) been eliminated by the Allies.

I shall dwell on some of the more serious omissions to prevent uninformed readers from falling into the trap of what could have been a serious study had it not merely followed the author's inclinations, but abided by the rules of scholarship: evidence and documentation, fair assessment of the pros and cons, illumination of all sides of a conflict even when one cannot hide one's biases, and looking at all the available data, whether they support or destroy one's theses. To mislead by omitting information is as unworthy as a straightforward falsification of facts.

From the outset we are told that the Palestinians adjusted their political thinking to the changing fortunes of the conflict, which is fair enough. But when we go into the details, we immediately hear how big imperialistic Israel bullies the poor, stateless Palestinians, as if the story started then and there and not with the Arab invasion of  the fledgling Israeli state with the aim of eliminating it.

We next hear of Israel "occupying the West Bank and Gaza," as if it were a mere whim and Israel had nothing else to do on that day of June 1967. If Lybarger had checked the record, he would have discovered that Israel begged King Hussein through the United Nations Headquarters in Jerusalem to cease the bombardment of Israel (1000 shells fell in Jerusalem alone), but the King, inspired by Nasser, refused. (What should have Israel done? Duck and wait for extermination? Or apologize for winning that war?) It launched a counter attack, vanquished those who attacked her and declared that it was waiting for her enemies to negotiate. The first chance presented itself after Jordan disclaimed its rights over the West Bank in 1988, leaving the ground open for Israelis and Palestinians, the remaining two claimants, to settle the issue, which is how the Oslo process began.

Then we are told that Israel "invaded" Lebanon in 1982. Lybarger again forgets to tell his readers about the Palestinian terrorist attacks launched from Fatahland in Lebanese territory against Israel, which led to hundreds of casualties; about unheeded Israeli pleas to the hapless Lebanese to put an end to those incursions. What should have Israel done? Duck and wait for its elimination? If Lybarger's country was attacked by a neighboring state, I am confident he would be the first to ask his government to protect him and his countrymen. That is exactly why Israel entered Lebanon and destroyed the PLO infrastructure there. Until the Hezbollah replaced the PLO . . . but that is another story.

Had Israel withdrawn from the West Bank without a political settlement could anything have prevented the Palestinians from renewing their shelling of Israel, the very reason for the Israeli "occupation" in the first place? And then, we are back in square one, as the 2005 Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza was to prove. The author cannot at the same time blame Ariel Sharon for "provoking" the Intifada by visiting the Temple Mount (which even the Palestinian dismissed) and for his intransigence and also condemn him for unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza (because the Palestinians refused to negotiate). If you are in Gaza, you are an "occupier;" if you withdraw from Gaza, you embrace "unilateral action," both of which are seen as misguided, "evil" policies.

The author wrongly reads what happened during the Intifadas, especially the second one, launched by the Palestinians (by their own admission) after they scuttled (by President Clinton's admission) the 2000 Camp David meeting. The "brutalities" of Israel's reactions that he describes in such detail overlook the background--thousands of Israeli and Arab casualties of terrorist attacks in Israeli cities. Israel was forced, against its stated wishes, interests and economic needs, to enter West Bank towns, which were already administered by The Palestinian Authority, so as to destroy their terrorist infrastructure, and also to start building the barrier-Wall. While these two measures cut Israeli casualties by 95%, the author sees it as "brutality."

Any fair-minded person who witnessed the Oslo Accords being signed by Israel as a step toward reaching a settlement with the Palestinians, provided they abandoned terrorism (the first clause of the Oslo DOP), which was followed by unrelenting acts of terror against Israel, will not fail to appreciate the bitter dialectics of terror-repression. To complain about the "brutality" of one party while ignoring the horrors done by the other, however noble their goals may be, is like describing a boxing match by singling out the punches delivered by one party and ignoring those of the other.

Finally, what brings this cluster of omissions and misjudgments to its climax is the question of Jerusalem, which scuttled the Camp David agreement and is likely to spoil the Annapolis Conference of November 2007 too. Lybarger consistently refers to The Temple Mount by its Islamic name Haram al-Sharif, but he knows very well that when Ariel Sharon visited it in 2000 he was visiting The Temple Mount, which he had as much right to do as the Muslims. Lybarger must know that he is distorting history and forging archaeology by giving credence to the Arab claim of exclusive rights to this site, which if visited by a Jew necessarily creates a "provocation." How about the Mulsims' "provocation" who are not only "occupying" a 3000-year-old Jewish shrine but exclude Jews from it? According to Lybarger's moral code, the Jews would be justified in launching an "intifada" and causing the death of thousands. In civilized nations, when a shrine is claimed by more than one party, it should be shared by all. This is what Israel did  in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, much to the chagrin of the Palestinians who in turn burned the Jericho Synagogue and Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Wouldn't it be more fair if those who exclude others were brought to account? But Lybarger is too one-sidedness in his commitment to the Palestinian "narrative" to bother about such things as history, facts, fairness.

Alas, I cannot but dismiss this book, for it is an unscholarly and biased account despite all its claims to the contrary. If heeded its questionable conclusions are dangerous prescriptions. Alas, too, for all non-politically-correct scholars who continue to believe in truth, fairness of judgment, and firmness of fact when faced with such flimsiness of wishful thinking and hallucinatory views of events.

 

Raphael Israeli, Hebrew University, Israel

 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

 

 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

If Not for Iran Lebanon and Israel Would Be at Peace.


By Amihai Zippor

 For years it was believed that once Israel and Syria forged a peace agreement Lebanon would follow, as Syria was the main power broker in Beirut.

Over the past four years Syria’s presence in Lebanon has waned but it still commands influence, now shared more decisively with Iran and its proxy militia, Hizbullah.

Hizbullah is mainly a tool to fight Israel but in order to win legitimacy for its occupation of Lebanese villages which it uses as weapons storage facilities and safe havens for its personal and military equipment, it has waged a strong political campaign to gain support from the local populace.

Today Hizbullah’s long arm reaches deep into Lebanon’s cabinet and through Teheran’s support for Hizbullah Iran has taken the new reigns as the body that calls the shots in Lebanon.

As a result, the Islamic state’s continued support of Hizbullah in Lebanon is the crucial factor deterring Beirut from striking an independent peace deal with Israel and that support is only growing.

During a speech in Bahrain last week Iranian speaker of parliament Ali Larijani said his country was proud of the backing it provides to Hizbullah, going as far to say it is not a terrorist group.

“They are freedom fighters fighting to defend their country and independence, that is not terrorism,” he said also referring to Hamas.

At a time when the region is on the verge of possibly becoming even more polarized, a recent report in the Pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat said the director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, Aharon Abramovich, had proposed an evaluation of a potential non-belligerence pact” with Lebanon.

The proposal is being supported by the highest echelons of the Israeli government and would envision Israel and Lebanon negotiating over the small land disputes between the two countries. It would also require the Lebanese army to take a more hands-on role in decreasing Hizbullah’s presence south of the Litani River.

However, in line with the common trend leaning towards a more fundamentalist stance in Beirut, Hizbullah MP Hassan Hoballah rejected any form of negotiations with Israel.
He called on Lebanon to use the resistance, i.e. violence against Israel to reclaim disputed land.

It should be noted Hizbullah has already made clear that even if Israel withdraws from all disputed areas along the Lebanese border, it would not halt its fight against Israel seeking to liberate all of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

The ideology is commonly heard amongst Iranian leaders and from Hamas.

The fact that Hizbullah is speaking in such terms is the latest example that Iran’s domineering authority in Lebanon is increasing and in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah has become emboldened.

It is a telling sign of the times and why the international community must pressure Hizbullah to fulfill its obligations under UN Resolution 1701, which ended that war, or face Iran’s hold on the balance of power in the Middle East swelling as it tries to achieve nuclear power status in the next year.

Amihai Zippor

Copyright
- Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

PLO Acknowledges: Still at War with Israel

by Daniel Pipes

Yasir Arafat may have shook Yitzhak Rabin's hand in 1993 and signed solemn declarations about ending the war to eliminate Israel, but late last month, in a New York City courtroom, the Palestine Liberation Organization formally confirmed that it still sees terrorism against Israelis as legitimate acts of war.

The lawsuit, Sokolow v The Palestine Liberation Organization, brought by the intrepid David Strachman, alleges that the PLO carried out two machine-gun and five bombing attacks in the Jerusalem area between January 2001 and February 2004. The plaintiffs allege, in the words of U.S. District Judge George Daniels, that the PLO did so "intending to terrorize, intimidate, and coerce the civilian population of Israel into acquiescing to defendants' political goals and demands, and to influence the policy of the United States and Israeli governments in favor of accepting defendants' political goals and demands." The attacks killed 33 and wounded many more, some of them U.S. citizens; the victims and their families are seeking up to US$3 billion in damages from the PLO.

To this, the PLO, represented in part by none other than the appalling Ramsey Clark (who in a distant age, 1967-69, was attorney general of the United States), replied that the attacks were acts of war rather than terrorism. As Daniels summarizes the PLO argument: "defendants argue that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking because this action is premised on acts of war, which is barred under the ATA [Antiterrorism Act of 1991], and further is based on conduct which does not meet the statutory definition of ‘international terrorism'."

This response is noteworthy for two reasons: (1) Fifteen years after Oslo supposedly ended the state of war, four years after Mahmoud Abbas took over and supposedly improved on Arafat's abysmal record, the PLO publicly maintains it remains at war with Israel. (2) The PLO argues, even in the context of an American law court, that blatant, cruel, inhumane, and atrocious acts of murder constitute legitimate acts of warfare.

Judge Daniels rightly slammed the PLO's argument: "the Court finds that the attacks, as alleged to have occurred in the amended complaint, do not constitute acts of war nor do they, as a matter of law, fall outside the statutory definition of ‘international terrorism'." He went on to point out that civilians, not soldiers were the intended victims of these assaults:

There has been no showing that the situs of the attacks were in any combat or militarized zone, or were otherwise targeted at military or governmental personnel or interests. Rather, plaintiffs allege that the attacks were intentionally targeted at the civilian population. They were purportedly carried out at locations where non-combatants citizens would be known to congregate, such as in the cafeteria on the Hebrew University campus and on a commercial passenger bus.

Daniels went on, rising to an eloquence not frequently heard in district court decisions:

Additionally, the use of bombs, under such circumstances, is indicative of an intent to cause far-reaching devastation upon the masses. The "benefit" of such weaponry is its merciless capability of indiscriminately killing and maiming untold numbers in heavily populated civilian areas. Such claimed violent attacks upon non-combatant civilians, who were allegedly simply going about their everyday lives, do not constitute acts of war.

That the PLO justifies "merciless capability of indiscriminately killing and maiming untold numbers" suggests it remains the terrorist organization it has always been since its founding in 1964.

When will the diplomatic bright lights in Jerusalem and Washington figure this out?

 

Daniel Pipes

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hamas grip on Gaza hardens: peace outlook bleak.

 

By KARIN LAUB

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Hamas' control of the Gaza Strip is now virtually complete.

Since the summer, the Islamic militants have silenced and disarmed their remaining opponents, filled the bureaucracy with their supporters, and kept Gaza's economy afloat, even if just barely, despite a 16-month-old international embargo and border blockades by Israel and Egypt.

With nothing in sight to weaken Hamas' grip, the political split between Gaza and the West Bank - the two territories meant to make up a future Palestinian state - looks increasingly irreversible.

That conclusion was also reached by the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank, in a September report describing Hamas' ascendancy, and the split is one of the main obstacles to U.S. efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

It weakens moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in the negotiations because he isn't seen as speaking for Gaza. Israel, Abbas and the international community don't want a deal that leaves out the 140-square mile Gaza Strip's and its 1.4 million Palestinians. And it's unlikely Israel would give up the West Bank as long as Hamas is in charge in Gaza.

Undisputed rule has also improved Hamas' leverage ahead of power-sharing talks with Abbas' Fatah movement in Cairo later this month.

Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas leader, said his movement is eager to reconcile with Abbas. "If there is no pressure from the United States and Israel (on Abbas), we can build a good national unity government," Yousef said.

However, in previous negotiations, the militants showed little willingness to give up any of their power and are unlikely to do so now.

Instead, the failure of this round of talks could set the stage for a new round in the Palestinian power struggle.

Compounding Abbas' troubles is a dispute with Hamas over whether Palestinian law allows him to remain in office after Jan. 8, when Hamas says his term officially ends. Abbas, relying on an amendment that was never fully ratified, claims he can stay on another year. Hamas, citing Palestinian law, is set to appoint its own man, Deputy Parliament Speaker Ahmed Bahar, as president in January.

Abbas would be hard put to portray the Islamists as usurpers of power when his own legal status is in question.

"Starting in January, no one is legitimate," said analyst Ghassan Khatib, a former Cabinet minister in the West Bank. "And when everyone is equal in being illegitimate, the advantaged party is the one that has the strength on the ground."

That party is Hamas, which defeated thousands of forces loyal to Abbas in a five-day blitz in June 2007.

"We believe that Hamas is going ahead with its plan to sever Gaza from the West Bank and to build its own regime," said former Deputy Prime Minister Azzam Ahmed of Fatah. "We believe they are succeeding."

One reason they are succeeding is the situation on the ground. Gaza City's streets are cleaner and safer than before the takeover. Despite budget shortages, Hamas has fixed traffic lights, paved some streets and opened a new children's hospital, and claims to have imposed law and order after the chaos that often dogged Fatah rule.

It has also been careful not to push an overtly Islamic social agenda. For example, officials have suggested to female reporters covering Gaza's parliament that they wear head scarves, but those who don't are not shunned.

Still, one-party rule has made dissenters reluctant to talk openly, especially after hundreds of Fatah activists were rounded up over the summer.

Hamas now controls every aspect of daily life, from screening visitors at a new border checkpoint to running what the International Crisis Group described as a network of paid and volunteer informers.

Hamas has seized opportunities to neutralize opponents.

A July bombing blamed on Fatah gave Hamas a pretext for shutting dozens of offices of Fatah and related associations. Hamas policemen guard the now empty former Fatah headquarters.

"Everything has been taken over and there is nothing left for Fatah in the Gaza Strip," said Hazem Abu Shanab, a Fatah spokesman who spent nearly two months in Hamas custody after the July blast.

The bombing also provided the grounds to go after one of Hamas' last armed rivals, the Fatah-allied Hilles clan. In August, Hamas defeated Hilles fighters in a clash, sending dozens into exile and arresting others.

Ahmed Hilles, 24, a mechanic, said he was ridiculed in Hamas custody. "They told us we were defeated," said Hilles, adding that he believes Hamas is now too powerful to fight.

Strikes by teachers and health workers, called by West Bank union leaders in August in an apparent attempt to pressure Hamas, have backfired. Hamas fired thousands of the teachers, replacing them with university graduates, and forced most doctors back to work.

Not all the new teachers are necessarily Hamas loyalists, but even those without political ties feel increasingly indebted to the Islamists.

"I am not a Hamas member, but I think they have done many good things since they took over," said Abu Khaled, 35, a newly hired math teacher.

Economically, Hamas is surviving.

International sanctions can't block the inflow of money from Iran and donations from Muslims worldwide. At the same time, Abbas, Israel and the international community don't want to push Gaza over the brink by fully enforcing the embargo.

"The embargo is working, but not to the extent that we want it to work, and not to the extent that everybody is keeping up the pressure on Hamas," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron.

Abbas, for example, continues to pay the salaries of some 70,000 civil servants in Gaza, in exchange for staying loyal and refusing to work for the Hamas government. Such loyalty, and with that Abbas' main link to Gaza, would likely disappear if the money stopped coming.

Yet the salaries help prop up Gaza's economy, and thus Hamas rule.

In addition, Hamas has about 20,000 people on its payroll, and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh last month cited a monthly operating budget of $20 million. The money is scraped together by smuggling cash, laundering money and stepping up tax collection. There's even enough left over for occasional unemployment payments.

Gazans are also feeling safer these days because of a cease-fire that has stopped Israel's attacks on wanted militants in Gaza and salvoes of Palestinian rockets on Israeli border towns. Israel agreed to the truce in June despite concerns that Hamas would use it to bring in more weapons, and has eased the blockade, allowing in more trucks carrying food and humanitarian supplies.

Life is also made more bearable by the unhindered influx of goods, from weapons to food and medicines, through dozens of Hamas-supervised smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

For example, the underground trade has brought down the price of a pack of Marlboro cigarettes to $3, down from $8.30 a year ago.

Politically, through, the future looks gloomy, the International Crisis Group said.

"Reversing the drift toward greater Palestinian separation, both political and geographic, will be a difficult and, at this point, almost hopeless task," said the think tank, which specializes in areas of conflict and has been monitoring the rise of Hamas in Gaza.

"In Gaza, new realities are taking hold," it added. "Prospects for reconciliation, reunification and a credible peace process seem as distant and illusory as ever."

KARIN LAUB
Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah contributed to this report.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

 

Analysis: Who in the Arab world benefits from crisis?

 

By DR. JONATHAN SPYER

Stock markets across the Arab world experienced unprecedently sharp losses when trading began following the Id al-Fitr holiday earlier this week. The seven stock markets in the oil rich Gulf states shed around $150 billion of their capitalization in the course of the week.

The market in Saudi Arabia sank by 7 percent. In Egypt, the key index fell by around 16%. One Saudi economist quoted by Agence France Presse described the latest developments as a "catastrophe." For a number of reasons, the Arab world may well prove particularly vulnerable to the world economic downturn. This fact has political implications for the region, which are already being glimpsed and acted upon by various regional forces.

The first and most obvious reason why the Arab world is particularly vulnerable to the financial crisis is that a disproportionately large amount of Arab wealth is invested in global stock markets.
Since the 1970s, the Arab world (or parts of it) has enjoyed a long windfall of oil wealth.

Oil wealth is the main source for Arab sovereign wealth funds. Arab sovereign wealth funds, with a combined value of more than $1 trillion, are important investors in what are now being exposed as some of the most vulnerable sectors of global finance.

The Kuwait Investment Authority, for example, placed a $2b. investment in Merrill Lynch last year. At the time, this must have seemed like a secure move. Merrill Lynch, of course, no longer exists.

But the extensive Arab involvement in global stock markets is itself a symptom of a larger malaise. The oil-rich Gulf countries have preferred to use their wealth to build luxurious lives for the lucky few.

Instead of investing in education, especially in cutting-edge fields such as information technology, and in industry, money has been gambled on the stock markets, or invested in glittering real-estate projects, built by foreign labor and using foreign know-how.

The result has been islands of luxury and conspicuous consumption, based on no solid national capital of knowledge and skills. This vulnerability is now being exacerbated by the recent decline in the price of oil - which has fallen nearly 40% in recent months.

This reality has implications not only for the thinly populated, oil-rich Gulf states. The population centers of the Arabic-speaking world, above all Egypt, are also unlikely to remain immune. Development in the Gulf has provided otherwise sparse job opportunities for some of the vast population of under-employed university graduates produced by Egypt.

Large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled laborers have also found work in the Gulf. But if Gulf economies now draw in, this picture is likely to change. Furthermore, the open tap of foreign aid on which the Egyptian economy has been so reliant may begin to run dry - as the US and other Western economies enter hard times.

Since we are discussing the Middle East, it is appropriate to ask "who benefits" from the current worrying situation. Political commentator Rami Khouri, writing in the Beirut Daily Star, notes that "this is not a situation we can blame on anyone but ourselves." Khouri hopes that the crisis will produce a sobering effect in the politics of the region.

But while it would be comforting to believe that the gravity of the crisis may lead to a sudden outbreak of political maturity, one would be unwise to bet on the prospect. The most notable political response to the financial crisis so far has come from Islamist political circles. The response has taken the form of unabashed glee at America's discomfiture, along with attempts to cast the blame for the situation on that ever reliable stand-by - the Jew.

Thus, Al-Manar, Hizbullah's media station, is currently holding an opinion survey of its viewers, asking them "Do you agree with those who see in the international financial crisis the beginning of the US Empire's fall?"

Unsurprisingly, 84.5% of Al-Manar viewers polled have answered in the positive. The Al-Manar Web site is also running an article under the headline "Jewish Lobby in US to blame for world financial crisis." The article details the statement by Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum in which he identified the "Jewish lobby" as the body responsible for the creation of the US financial and banking sector, and asserted that it should therefore take the blame for the current situation.

Not to be outdone, the al-Qaida network has released a statement, contending that "The enemies of Islam are facing a crushing defeat, which is beginning to manifest itself in the expanding crisis their economy is experiencing." Such elements identify the crisis as offering great opportunities for growth for their style of politics. They are probably right. Impoverishment, extreme uncertainty, the sense of things in flux are the fuel on which they run.

One should not over-labor historical comparisons, of course, but there are some that are instructive. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 is an imperfect but useful historical example for understanding what is happening now. In 1928, in a central European country, a small, very radical party was humiliated in parliamentary elections, winning only 2.6% of the vote. The same party, in the transformed circumstances following the crash, won 18.3% of the vote in 1930.

The country was Germany, the name of the party was the National Socialist German Workers Party, and the rest of the story is known. Who benefits, indeed.

Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, Herzliya

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

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