Some Good Reading for the Weekend

[tweetmeme] It’s late and I just watched Barca trample Stuttgart in the Champions League, so instead of any original thought tonight (I am devoting all of my mental capacity to celebrating Messi) I am just going to point out some outstanding work of others.  Tonight we are covering mostly Israel-Palestine, as that is the crise du jour, but, like Barca, we cannot be contained.

Hezbollah’s Extreme Makeover – The Middle East Channel.  Hanin Ghaddar looks at the Lebanese Shi’ite militia and how the group has evolved over the years.  The money coming from Iran has allowed Hezbollah to build popular support by mixing politics with religion and fun.

The fusion of leisure, religion, and politics has become an indispensable strategy for Hezbollah, particularly following its 2006 war with Israel. As the party reconstructed South Lebanon and Beirut’s southern suburbs (known as Dahiyeh) following the conflict, it built — and encouraged investors to build — entertainment venues that cater to Shiites of all social and economic classes.

After the 2006 war, Iranian money flowed in massive quantities to Hezbollah. This was not charity: The Islamic Republic of Iran was determined to ensure that its client could solidify its standing within Lebanon’s Shiite community and reconstitute its fighting strength before the next round against Israel. Hezbollah used these funds to compensate the Shiites who lost relatives, homes, and businesses during the war.

Israel: Activists urge musicians not to perform in Israel – Babylon and Beyond.  The BDS movement continues as Rhianna, the Pixies, Metallica and others are under pressure to cancel shows in Israel this summer.

Peace activists are picking on the Pixies, slated to play Israel in June.  They’ve sent the band an open letter saying “as much as some of us are huge fans and would love to hear your show, we won’t cross the international picket line.” This line isn’t always visible, but it’s there, they write, asking: “Are you prepared to perform in Tel-Aviv while just under your noses millions of human beings are suffering under a cruel Israeli military regime?” The activists, Israeli citizens from a group that supports the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) “from within,” urged the Pixies to refuse to perform in Israel “until there is freedom here.”

An Attack on Steve Walt – Mondoweiss.  Phil Weiss picks up on some academic black-balling as some academic folk are calling Walt a anti-Semite again because of his book on the Israeli lobby.  Check out the Boston Study group link.  At first glance (my weekend reading) the topics look great.

The “Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace” has issued a group of papers calling for the two-state solution in a hurry. One of the authors is blogger/professor Steve Walt. I’ll be reading them later as I struggle with my partition over partition. But there is already this attack on the document from Roger Scher, an economist writing at the Foreign Policy Association site:

“The major problem I had with this document was the inclusion among the authors of Stephen Walt, whose bias against Israel and the US-Israel alliance is well-known. His inclusion undermines the seriousness of the document.”

Changing Views of Youth in the Arab World – The Middle East Channel.  Marc Lynch’s Middle East Channel just keeps churning out great stuff.  Here Ashraf Zeitoon looks at the political views of Arab youth in the Middle East and what the future might look like.

There seems to be a consensus among foreign policy commentators and experts following the region that the Middle East is no place for optimists. However, a recent survey of Arab youth finds that the region’s largest demographic segment (where 200 million Arabs are under 25 years of age) are in fact optimistic about the future.

Last week, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, the regional public relations firm based in Dubai, announced the findings of the Arab Youth Survey 2010. The survey, which has been described as the “largest ever study of its kind of the region’s largest demographic”, included 2,000 face-to-face interviews with Arab nationals and Arab expatriates between the ages of 18-24 in the six Gulf Cooperation Council nations, as well as in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. The study asked respondents a wide range of questions covering topics such as politics and economics, globalization and religion, among many others.

Taking Sides – London Review of Books.  Steve Walt’s fellow ‘anti-Semite,’ John Mearsheimer looks at how and why the recent spat between Israel and the US is exposing the Israeli lobby.  By siding against Obama, the lobby is putting itself in a tight spot.

This concerted effort to rewrite history and generate lots of happy talk about the special relationship will surely help ameliorate the present crisis, but that will only be a temporary fix. There will be more crises ahead, because a two-state solution is probably impossible at this point and ‘greater Israel’ is going to end up an apartheid state. The United States cannot support that outcome, however, partly for the strategic reasons that have been exposed by the present crisis, but also because apartheid is a morally reprehensible system that no decent American could openly embrace. Given its core values, how could the United States sustain a special relationship with an apartheid state? In short, America’s remarkably close relationship with Israel is now in trouble and this situation will only get worse.

Any Dialogue with Hezbollah is futile – Elias Bejjani.  Bejjani looks at the military and political power of Hezbollah.  Is it possible to disarm the Shi’ite group?  Not when Lebanese politicians are scared.

Lebanese politicians and leaders from rival parties are scheduled to engage tomorrow, March 09/10 in a new national dialogue session at the presidential palace under the chairmanship of President Michel Suleiman to look into means and ways that could ultimately lead to the disarmament of the Hezbollah terroris Iranian militia and give the Lebanese central government the sole authority on the decision making process of war and peace.

Hezbollah is insisting that the fate of its weapons is not on the table by any means, and arrogantly is calling on all the Arab countries to adopt its role model of resistance against Israel and abandon hope of reaching peace with Israel via negotiations.

Meanwhile, several top notch Hezbollah leaders have been lately boldly and with a tone of overt intimidation and threats asserting almost on daily basis that those Lebanese politicians and leaders who call for its disarmament are Israeli and American agents and traitors. Hezbollah wants all the Lebanese people to embrace its weaponry and support its “divine resistance”.

Getting Over the Sanctions Delusions – The Middle East Channel.  Lara Friedman, of Americans for Peace Now, looks at the efficacy of sanctions on Iran.  Friedman argues that even targeted sanctions are only hurting Iranian civilians and that the sanctions only make the ‘sanctioners’ feel better.

Recently I was talking with a friend from the military-intelligence world about the mounting pressure on Congress to pass the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act – legislation aimed at “crippling” Iran’s civilian economy.  Reportedly a House-Senate conference is already informally underway trying to craft a consensus version of the bill, and last week AIPAC sent a message to every Member of Congress urging that IRPSA be enacted “without delay.”

I explained that in my view sanctions aimed at civilians were a bad idea, and that sanctions in general, while a potentially powerful tool, do not, on their own constitute a policy.  My friend’s  response? “Sanctions are the sign of a failed policy, period.”

He makes a good point.  Fundamentally, sanctions are how the US tells a foreign government:  we don’t like you, we can’t convince you to see things our way, and we can’t (or aren’t ready to) overthrow you – so get ready to feel some pain.

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