Monday, 26 November 2007

The Annapolis paradox

(Edited by France 24)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are meeting – along with representatives of more than 40 countries and organisations – in Annapolis, Maryland, to try and resume the Mideast peace process, seven years after the Camp David summit ground to a halt.

It’s a meeting of moderate leaders on either side of a fractious conflict that has dragged for more than half-a-century.

According to Nissim Zvili, former Israeli MP and ex-Israeli ambassador to France, never before in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have leaders from both sides held closer standpoints as Abbas and Olmert.

And yet, like most Middle East experts, Zvili believes their chances for reaching an official agreement are slim.

“The paradox is that Annapolis gathers leaders who are moderate, they both share the vision of a two-state solution and agree on the need to negotiate the question of (Palestinian) refugees and (the status of) Jerusalem, yet they cannot reach an agreement because they are both too weak,” said Zvili.

Domestically, both Abbas and Olmert are politically weak leaders. After the 2006 war with Hezbollah, Olmert’s approval ratings have dipped and few Israelis trust Olmert to make a deal with the Palestinians.

On the Palestinian side, Abbas has effectively lost control of a segment of the Palestinian nation since his Fatah party was routed out of the Gaza Strip by the Islamic Hamas movement in June. The legitimacy of Abbas, as the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – the interim administrative organisation that governs the West Bank and the Gaza Strip territories –will be questioned by a segment of the Palestinian population.

As Bilal Hassan, noted journalist and former member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), puts it, Abbas is in an unenviable position. “If Abbas accepts the Israeli conditions, the crisis within the Palestinian nation will increase – I believe that’s exactly where we’re heading,” he said. “On the other hand, if Abbas refuses the Israeli conditions, tensions will rise between the PA and Israel.”

Don’t expect a deal

No official document is expected to come out of Annapolis and even the final common statement US President George Bush was counting on seems further than ever as disagreements have emerged over most of the issues plaguing past peace summits.

However, analysts say Annapolis could have positive results and that its mere existence could lead to future talks and give new a dynamic to the Israeli-Palestinian process.

“The main goal of Annapolis is to strengthen Abbas and to show Palestinians that the moderate way leads to compensations, contrary to the violent methods of Hamas,” Frederic Encel, from the Paris-based Institut français de géopolitique, told FRANCE 24. “Obviously the Bush administration and Ehud Olmert are also hoping to gain some benefits for themselves out of the conference, as they’re both in a weak position.”

Days before the conference, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US would try to close the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before Bush leaves office in January 2009.

Israeli President Shimon Peres also appeared pessimistic regarding the American administration’s hope for a quick breakthrough in negotiations: “A Mideast deal would be impossible to settle during the term of President Bush,” he admitted to reporters.

Hopes on the ‘moderate axis’

Much of the hopes for Annapolis rest on what President Bush refers to as the “moderate axis,” that promoted the 2002 Beirut peace plan.

“The goal of Annapolis is also to try and strengthen this ‘moderate axis’, of which Saudi Arabia is a major actor,” said Zvili. “The goal is also to encourage Syria to join the moderate circle.”

In some respects, Annapolis has succeeded in pushing parties closer to that goal. For the first time in history, Saudi Arabia – which has never recognised the state of Israel - will be sitting at the table with Israel to discuss Middle East peacemaking.

Rice has expressed the hope that Annapolis could be a “launching pad” for the two-state solution.

Analysts believe that most Palestinians support a two-state solution. But a contentious issue is the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian position is that a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would forfeit the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Israel opposes the right of return since it would jeopardise its Jewish majority. And that, says Encel, lies at the heart of the problem.

“The crucial issue Palestinians and Israelis have to address today is the fundamental need to genuinely recognise one another. The other issues, such as the Israeli settlements and the Palestinian right of return, are not fundamental and can be resolved,” he said. “Palestinians see Israelis as Jews and Israelis see Palestinians as Arabs and as long as they keep their distorted vision, negotiations will fail. The Oslo agreement was a first step to mutual recognition as Israel accepted the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinians recognised the state of Israel. But both parties have to go further. Peace cannot be reached otherwise.”

Thursday, 15 November 2007

French court examines Al Dura footage


PARIS - A French appeals court screened footage Wednesday of the September 2000 television report on the death of Mohammad al-Dura, in a case of defamation brought against French television and its correspondent in the Middle East, Charles Enderlin.

The veteran journalist was accused in 2004 by Philippe Karsenty, the owner of an internet site, of broadcasting a staged report on the al-Dura killing, and of instigating hate against Israel and Jews throughout the world.

Karsenty was convicted in the original defamation trial, but a second trial ended with the judge demanding to examine the full footage of the al-Dura report before deciding whether Karsenty was guilty of defamation or not.

Enderlin explained in court each segment of the 18-minute footage- filmed on September 30, 2000 by his cameraman Talal Abu Rahma at Netzarim junction while Enderlin was in Ramallah- the street battles with dozens of people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at an IDF outpost, an interview with a Fatah official, and the incident involving Mohammed al-Dura and his father in the last minute of the video.

Karsenty challenged Enderlin's explanations. "The boy moved his head after we heard the cameraman say he was dead. How do you explain this?" asked Karsenty. "Why is there no blood on their shirts although they had bullet wounds?"

Enderlin said that Talal Abu Rahma did not say that the boy had died, but that he was dying. The journalist maintained that only the Israelis shot at the al-Duras, explaining that he could hear the difference between the shooting of the Israeli rubber bullets and Palestinian regular ones.

Karsenty repeated several troubling details already pointed out in an article by senior journalists Denis Jeambar and Daniel Leconte in 2004, noting some staged scenes filmed by Abu Rahma in the first part of the footage, which they had examined at French TV studios with former le Monde journalist Luc Rosenzweig. Jeambar and Leconte called on French TV to launch its own internal inquiry, citing a possible lack of journalistic standards, but did not not share the theory of a possible staging of al-Dura's death.

"The al-Dura report has had terrible consequences, causing hate against Israel and Jews," Karsenty told Haaretz. "We have to repair the damage now, before it's too late."

Tension was high in the courtroom Wednesday, and some pro and anti-Enderlin militants were arguing loudly, causing some commotion. Dozens of Jewish bloggers were present at the courthouse.

Serge Kovacs, a friend and co-worker of Enderlin, said Enderlin was falsely accused and has become a "new Dreyfuss." Enderlin told journalists that there was no new "affair," and suggested they come to the next hearing on February 28.

Karsenty said that he intends to counter-attack French TV by pointing out that they only presented 18 minutes out of the 27 minutes Abu Rahma originally claimed to have shot.

"Bhutto isn't part of the opposition"

Maryam Abou-Zahab, researcher, Pakistan expert at the Paris Institute of Political Studies reacts to Musharraf’s call for fresh elections.

Monday, November 12, 2007

FRANCE 24: Pervez Musharraf has announced that elections could be scheduled for January, but then he added that the state of emergency will continue. Can free elections be held in these conditions?

Abou-Zahab: The situation evolves from day to day in Pakistan. Today, no one can say if elections will take place and under what conditions. One thing that’s for certain is that it would be difficult to organise elections during a state of emergency.

If the elections are to be free and credible, it’s imperative that all the parties and candidates are free to campaign and travel within the country. This isn’t the case right now. Most notably, Nawaz Sharif must be allowed to return to Pakistan. Finally, security needs to be guaranteed throughout the country.

FR24: What forces are at play?

AZ: There’s no easy answer to this question. The situation is changing constantly. Alliances have not yet been struck. Keep in mind that there aren’t homogenous political blocs in Pakistan, and negotiations are underway between most political parties, often in secret.

The religious parties, nationalist Pashtun parties, Bhutto’s party and Musharraf’s followers are all engaged in different negotiations for eventual alliances.

Contrary to appearances, Bhutto isn’t part of the opposition. She’s simply a figure who wants to govern. She has, unlike others, complete freedom to move around as she wishes. As a result, this spectacle that we’ve been watching for the last three days is a show because she, like Musharraf, needs to save face.

You have to understand that Bhutto cannot obtain an absolute majority, and that she will have to find partners to form a coalition. At the same time, the democratic religious parties are divided. Some are in negotiations with Bhutto and don’t support a revolt against Musharraf.

F24: What are Musharraf’s reasons for first declaring a state of emergency then calling for elections to remain on schedule in January?

AZ: Musharraf is already unpopular due to the situation in the country and economic problems facing the population. But he was further weakened after the state of emergency was declared. Musharraf is a strategist and he played the election card in order to get back into the game. However, other twists and turns are possible. We are in a period of absolute uncertainty.

Musharraf knows that his survival is assured thanks to American support. The United States has certainly criticised the state of emergency, but their position remains ambiguous. All the different American political players have been hot and cold during this crisis: President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, the State Department and former officials have staked out contradictory positions.

Musharraf knows that their biggest concern is the establishment of security and that their stated worries about the maintenance of democratic values is nothing other than a façade to seal the leaks in Musharraf’s system, which they count on.

FR24: How can the Pakistani people survive during this troubled period with both a state of emergency and political confrontation?

AZ: The population isn’t really affected by the state of emergency because their problems are deeper and more immediate: the difficulties of finding food, rising prices, inflation, unemployment and insecurity, etc.

Pakistanis are not mobilised to protest in the streets. They are, however, tired of the political leadership on all sides that cannot solve their problems.

But, contrary to many commonly held beliefs, the Pakistanis are not ready to sign up with religious extremists either.

The democratic religious parties have very weak electoral support, and the militant Islamists cannot attract much of a following. They aren’t a major risk today, and the large majority of Pakistanis aren’t responding to their message.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Musharraf le joueur sort ses carte

« Bhutto ne fait pas partie de l'opposition »

Mariam ABOU-ZAHAB, chercheur au CERI, Sciences-Po Paris, nous donne sa lecture des événements au Pakistan.

lundi 12 novembre 2007
Par Shirli Sitbon

Pervez Musharraf vient d’annoncer que des élections pourraient avoir lieu dès janvier, mais il a ajouté que l’état d’urgence sera maintenu. Des élections peuvent-elles être libres dans ces conditions ?

La situation évolue de jour en jour au Pakistan, personne ne peut dire aujourd’hui si les élections auront lieu ni dans quelles conditions. Ce qui est certain c’est qu’il est difficile d’organiser des élections sous l’état d’urgence.

Pour que des élections soient libres et crédibles, il est indispensable que tous les partis et candidats puissent faire campagne librement et se déplacer dans le pays. Ce n’est pas le cas actuellement. Il faut notamment que Nawaz Sharif puisse rentrer au Pakistan. Et par ailleurs, garantir la sécurité sur l’ensemble du territoire.

Quelles sont les forces en jeu?

Cette question n’a pas de réponse simple. La situation change continuellement. Les alliances ne sont pas encore faites.

Il faut savoir que contrairement aux idées reçues il n’y a pas de blocs politiques homogènes au Pakistan et les négociations sont en cours entre la plupart des partis, parfois dans la discrétion. Les partis religieux, les partis nationalistes pachtouns, le parti de Bhutto, les partisans de Musharraf notamment sont tous engagés dans différentes négociations pour d’éventuelles alliances.

Bhutto ne fait pas partie de l'opposition contrairement aux apparences. C’est une figure politique qui veut gouverner. Elle a, contrairement à d’autres, une liberté de mouvement complète.

Le spectacle que l’on voit depuis trois jours, est pour ainsi dire du cinéma car elle doit, tout comme Musharraf, sauver la face. Il faut comprendre que Bhutto ne peut obtenir une majorité absolue et qu’elle doit trouver des partenaires pour former une coalition.

De leurs côtés, les partis religieux démocratiques sont divisés. Certains sont engagés dans des négociations avec Bhutto et ne sont pas favorables à une révolte contre Musharraf.

Pour quelles raisons Musharraf a-t-il successivement décrété l’état d’urgence puis appelé à la tenue d’élections en janvier ?

Musharraf est un leader déjà impopulaire à cause de la situation dans le pays et des problèmes économiques auxquels font face les habitants.
Mais on peut dire qu’il s’est davantage affaibli depuis qu’il a décrété l’état d’urgence. Puisque Musharraf est joueur, il a sorti la carte des élections pour relancer l’échiquier. Mais d’autres rebondissements sont possibles. Nous sommes dans une période d’incertitude totale.

Musharraf sait que sa survie est assurée grâce au soutien américain. Les Etats-Unis ont certes critiqué l’état d’urgence mais leur position est ambigüe. Les différents responsables politiques ont soufflé le chaud et le froid dans cette affaire, le président Bush, le Congrès, Condoleezza Rice, le département d’Etat et d’anciens responsables ont émis des positions contradictoires. Musharraf sait que leur grande préoccupation est l’instauration de la sécurité et que leur souci du maintien des valeurs démocratiques n’est qu’une préoccupation de façade pour calfeutrer les failles du système Musharaf sur lequel ils comptent.

Comment la nation pakistanaise vit-elle cette période mouvementée, l’état d’urgence et la confrontation politique ?

La population n’est pas touchée par l’état d’urgence car ses problèmes sont plus profonds et immédiats : les difficultés de se nourrir, la hausse des prix, l’inflation, le chômage, l’insécurité, etc.

Les Pakistanais ne sont pas mobilisés pour descendre dans la rue et manifester. Ils sont en revanche lassés par les leaders politiques de tous bords qui n’apportent pas de solutions à leurs problèmes.

Mais contrairement à certaines idées reçues, les Pakistanais ne sont pas non plus prêts à s’engager sur le terrain de l’extrémisme religieux.

Les partis religieux démocratiques disposent d’une base électorale extrêmement faible et les islamistes militants de leur côté ne parviennent pas à attirer le soutien du peuple. Ils ne représentent pas de risque majeur aujourd’hui et la grande majorité des Pakistanais n’adhère pas à leur discours.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Defence lawyer in Selam case: 'anti-Semitic insults but not anti-Semitic murder'

Lawyer Ambroise Colombani, who represents Adel Amastaibou, answered our questions regarding the murder of Sebastien Selam:

He admitted that his client said to police that he was happy the 'dirty Jew was dead' but evaluated that his anti-Semitic insults were part of a delirious state.
"Do you realise how these policemen get confessions?" the lawyer asked me. "They nearly torture the suspects."
Mr. Colombani added that Adel Amastaibou wasn't even aware at the time that he had killed Sebastien Selam.

He also declared that the two men were friends until several months before the killing.

Article published in the JC on November 9:

French court re-opens case of stabbed DJ

French authorities have re-opened an investigation into the 2003 murder of a 23-year-old disc-jockey.

On the night of November 19, as Sebastien Selam was about to drive to the Paris night club where he worked, his neighbour Adel Amastaibou stabbed him to death in their building’s parking area.

After his arrest later that night, Amastaibou admitted to police that he had killed Mr Selam, claiming that he had heard voices that told him to stab his neighbour. According to the deposition, which the JC has seen, the killer said he was happy that “the dirty Jew was dead”.

Police considered that Amastaibou was mentally unstable and could not be held responsible for his actions.

“This is not a racial or a religious hate crime,” Ambroise Colombani, Amastaibou’s lawyer, said. “My client is much worst than unstable, he is very sick. His antisemitic insults were a part of his delirious state.”

In court, Mr Colombani presented psychiatric experts who diagnosed his client as unstable, and in 2006 the court sent Amastaibou to the Maison Blanche psychiatric hospital in Paris.

He has since been transferred from the hospital to another institution, but his lawyer confirmed that Amastaibou is still in a closed psychiatric institution.

At the time, Jewish leaders considered that since Amastaibou was diagnosed as insane there was no use in mobilising the community to have the murder recognised as a hate crime.

However, Mr Selam’s mother Juliette and her lawyer Alex Metzker do not believe the insanity theory.

“Obviously, a man who kills so savagely is deranged, but not irresponsible for his actions,” said Mr Metzker. According to Mr Metzker, Amastaibou was convicted of antisemitic violence several months before the Selam killing, after attacking a rabbi.

“He was considered sane at the time,” said the lawyer.

Amastaibou’s lawyer said he was not aware of this prior conviction.

Mrs Selam has managed to obtain a re-examination of the case over a technicality, and recently met with Jewish leaders and Christophe Ingrain, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s adviser on justice affairs, Sammy Ghozlan, the head of the vigilance bureau against anti-Semitism has told the JC.

“I believe things are changing. I believe the truth can be discovered,” Mrs Selam said.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Tribute turns to anti-Israel tribune

The Paris support poster for the liberation of the three abducted Israeli soldiers, installed less than a month ago in Rabin garden (12th arrondissement), was destroyed by the CAPJPO organisation a few days ago.
Its members organised a 'destruction ceremony', during which they read a speech which they filmed and posted on the web.