Europese banken zijn failliet

Willem Buiter, de hoofdeconoom van de bankreus Citigroup, is scherp. ‘De Europese banksector is failliet. Maar de politici snappen het gewoon niet en zitten nog altijd in de ontkenningsfase’, waarschuwt hij. ‘Dit stopt niet met Griekenland. Deze crisis is een sneeuwbal die steeds groter wordt en steeds sneller zal rollen.’

Willem Buiter, geboren in Den Haag, is een eigenzinnig econoom. Zijn analyses zijn messcherp, provocerend en baden vaak in sarcasme. ‘Dat Griekenland nog meer moet besparen? Dat is makkelijk gezegd. Wat ga je doen, troepen naar Athene sturen?’

Iedereen krijgt van Buiter een veeg uit de pan. De Europese banken zijn failliet, de politici zijn incompetent en de financiële toezichthouders in Europa zijn ongeloofwaardig en nationalistisch.

Volgens Buiter zijn de banden tussen de financiële toezichthouders en de nationale bankreuzen in Europa veel te nauw. Daardoor werden de problemen bij de Europese banken de voorbije jaren in de doofpot gestopt en werd er kostbare tijd verloren.

De politici moeten de schuldencrisis nu snel en doortastend aanpakken. Er is geen andere uitweg meer. Maar veel hoop op een snelle oplossing voor de schuldencrisis, heeft Buiter niet. ‘Er is een ontstellend gebrek aan visie en daadkracht bij de Europese politici. Ze snappen het niet.’ Sterker nog, ze willen het zelfs niet snappen. ‘Ze zitten nog altijd in de ontkenningsfase.’

Als voorbeeld verwijst Buiter naar de Europese Centrale Bank (ECB), die er in de toelichting van het laatste rentebesluit nog altijd van uitgaat dat enkel Griekenland een faillissement riskeert. Volgens Buiter is dat het bewijs dat de centrale bankiers in Frankfort nog altijd geen rekening houden met besmetting naar andere eurolanden.

‘Ze gaan er bij de ECB nog altijd van uit dat ze Griekenland van de rest van de eurozone kunnen isoleren. Dat is nonsens natuurlijk’, gaat Buiter in de aanval. ‘Dit stopt niet met Griekenland. Portugal en in mindere mate Ierland zullen volgen. Deze crisis is een sneeuwbal die steeds groter wordt en steeds sneller zal rollen.’

Sinds deze zomer liggen ook grote landen zoals Spanje en Italië onder vuur, maar daar zal het niet bij blijven. ‘Ook de rentespreads van Frankrijk en België lopen gevaarlijk snel op. En als ik kijk naar de geconsolideerde banksector van Oostenrijk, doet me dat sterk denken aan de situatie in Ierland.’

Om de dodelijke sneeuwbal te stoppen, zijn dan ook ingrijpende maatregelen nodig. Volgens Buiter kan dat alleen met een ‘big bazooka’: een groot pakket maatregelen die de schuldencrisis moet stoppen. Maar veel hoop dat Europa nu al naar dit soort financiële superwapens gaat grijpen, heeft de hoofdeconoom van Citigroup niet.

( / 24.10.2011)

Israeli military covers up evidence showing Eilat attack was not carried out by Palestinians

After a shooting attack on an Israeli bus and truck two months ago which killed five civilians and three soldiers, Israeli military officials immediately claimed that a Palestinian resistance group was responsible. But an Israeli military investigation revealing that the attack was carried out by Egyptians, not Palestinians, has been ‘embargoed’ by the military.

Military spokesperson Avital Leibovitz (image from

Although the results of the investigation were quietly released by the military last month, they have published no details, and have refused reporters’ requests for more information. An article verifying the results of the internal investigation showing no Palestinian involvement in the attack was published last week in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahranoth, with information from a ‘leaked’ document showing the conclusion of the investigative team.

Publicly, military spokesperson Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitz has refused to comment on the leaked document, and has continued to perpetrate the military’s original claim that the attackers were from Gaza, despite conclusive evidence to the contrary.

Israeli columnist Yossi Gurvitz, with 972Mag, wrote on Sunday, “This looks like a conspiracy to cover up the fact that the Defense Minister misspoke, and that as a result, an attack on Gaza took place, which led to a counter-attack, which in turn led to an escalation, in which an Israeli citizen (and 27 Gazans) died.”

Israel’s ‘revenge attack’ on Gaza following the Eilat murders involved air strikes, ground invasions and cross-border artillery shelling that killed 27 Palestinian civilians, including two young children.

( / 24.10.2011)

Owner: Israel to confiscate Beit Jala land for wall

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces issued a military order on Sunday to confiscate 37,000 square meters of private land from near the Cremisan Monastery in Beit Jala.

One of the landowners told Ma’an that Israeli forces handed confiscation warrants to him and other farmers on Sunday evening. The land slated for confiscation is used for agricultural cultivation, he said, adding that Israel is annexing the area to construct the separation wall.

Land owners submitted a complaint at the civil administration office in Etzion but it was rejected, the land owner said.

Israel began constructing the separation wall in 2002. It stated that the wall was necessary for security purposes after a number of Palestinian suicide attacks within Israel during the second intifada.

When the 435-mile barrier is complete, however, 85 percent of it will have been built inside the occupied West Bank.  In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the separation wall was illegal and “tantamount to annexation.”

Villages affected by land confiscation as a result of the wall regularly demonstrate as part of a grassroots movement to counter the loss of land and fragmentation of community life.

Walaja village, near Bethlehem, and the villages of Nilin and Bilin near Ramallah, are the most well known examples of regular non-violent protests against the separation wall, although villages across the West Bank resist the annexation of land through popular protest.

( / 24.10.2011)

FBI Crime Maps Now ‘Pinpoint’ Average Muslims

It started out as a crimefighting tool. But over the years, an FBI effort known as “geo-mapping” evolved into something more
expansive — a method to track Muslim communities, without any suspicion of a crime being committed.

Last month, Danger Room revealed that the FBI was training its agents that religious Muslims tended to be “violent” and that Islamic charity is merely a “funding mechanism for combat.” In response, both the FBI and the Justice Department promised full
of their training materials. But the geo-mapping effort indicates that the FBI may have more than just a training problem: The suspicion of ordinary Muslims promoted in those lectures may be spilling over into its counterterrorism tactics.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union acquired some of the FBI geo-maps (.pdf), like the one pictured after the jump, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Although many of the maps are heavily redacted, they represent the first public confirmation that the FBI compiles maps of businesses, community centers and religious institutions in ethnic enclaves around the United States.

The ACLU — where, full disclosure, my wife works — blasted the mapping effort, and in an interview with the New York Times,
FBI agent turned ACLU attorney Mike German tied the maps to the incendiary anti-Islam trainings first revealed by Danger Room. Agents who received the briefings might be “predisposed to treating everyone from a particular group as suspect,” German said.

In response, the FBI issued a nuanced defense of its geo-mapping efforts. While pledging that the FBI “joins the ACLU in opposing racial or ethnic discrimination,” an FBI statement said that “[j]ust as putting push pins on a map will allow a local police chief to
see clearly where the highest crime areas are, combining data that is lawfully collected into one place allows connections to be identified that might otherwise go unnoticed.”

Except FBI geo-mapping isn’t just aimed at tracking criminals. Over time, the maps’ rationale shifted from representing crime scenes to displaying the patterns of life in minority neighborhoods. In other words, the pushpins on the new FBI geo-maps indicate where people live, work, pray, eat and shop, not necessarily where they commit or plan crimes.


In 2004, a self-professed “visual learner” in the FBI’s Philadelphia field office, Special Agent Bill Shute, set out to prove a hypothesis. Shute took arrest reports from local cops and court records and plugged it into some off-the-shelf Microsoft mapping software (probably MapPoint) to create a visual display of where crimes occurred on his turf. His theory: If he pounded the pavement in those areas, he’d find informants who’d help him close cases. Shute called his pet mapping effort Project PinPoint.

If you ask the FBI, PinPoint was a resounding success. “The program led agents to arrests in the separate slayings of a city police officer and a 9-year-old,” according to a 2007 bureau account. “In the days after the multiple shootings at the Southwest Philadelphia bar in July, it helped identify potential witnesses and assisted with the recovery of the murder weapon.”

It shouldn’t be surprising: The effort isn’t dissimilar to New York City’s vaunted CompStat program, which displayed crime patterns to inform cops what parts of the city required more police work. Within a year, the FBI’s counterterrorism branch got in on the PinPoint action.

Deputy counterterrorism chief Willie Hulon told a congressional panel in 2004 that a massive FBI database called the Investigative Data Warehouse would collect and disseminate the maps amongst FBI agents and partner police forces across the
country. “These tools allow FBI agents and analysts to look across multiple cases and multiple data sources to identify relationships and other pieces of information that were not readily available using older FBI systems,” Hulon testified.

In December 2008, however, the FBI loosened restrictions on just what “other pieces of information” those maps could collect. Its revised master plan for operations, known as the Domestic Investigational Operations Guidelines, subtly shifted the targets of those maps — from displaying criminal data to displaying data on the communities in which suspected criminals might live.

If, for example, intelligence reporting reveals that members of certain terrorist organizations live and operate primarily within a certain concentrated community of the same ethnicity,” the revised guidelines read, “the location of that community is clearly valuable — and properly collectible — data.” (.pdf)

Danger Room asked the FBI about those maps a full year ago, before any of them had become public. We received a generic statement that read, in part: “In order to become an intelligence agency, the FBI cannot be content to wait for people to tell us about potential threats. Part of being proactive is making efforts to ‘connect dots’ to find previously undetected criminal and terrorist threats. Geospatial mapping is not nefarious.”

Tell it to Salam al-Marayati. The president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, one of the U.S.’ most influential Muslim organizations, Marayati wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed warning that anti-Muslim efforts like the FBI training manual were a nightmare for counterterrorism. Such training will “undermine the relationship between law enforcement and the Muslim American community,” wrote Marayati, who referenced Danger Room’s stories on the subject. The maps can’t be helping.

Last week, at a civil rights conference, Deputy Attorney General James Cole reiterated what Danger Room first reported: that the Justice Department will “re-evaluate their training efforts in a range of areas, from community outreach to national security” to scrub out Islamophobic instructions. Already, anti-Muslim authors formerly taught by the FBI, like Robert Spencer, one of the
ringleaders of opposition to the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” are crying censorship. But Cole didn’t indicate whether the relaxed rules on mapping “ethnic communities” will come under review as part of that scrub.

( / 24.10.2011)

As settlers disrupt olive harvest, Israeli officer declares: “I am the law, I am God.”

Intimidation of Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled H2 section of Hebron continued today as the Israeli military and settlers harassed Palestinians and international observers as they attempted to pick olives on their land in Tel Rumeida.

Around 40 students from different Palestinian universities marched onto the land at 11AM Saturday morning and began to pick olives along with local families, activists from Youth Against Settlements (YAS) and international observers.

At 12:30 PM the Israeli police confiscated identity passes for 20 Palestinians and, whilst checking their details, forced the group to stand together and individually filmed their faces.

The police declined to justify their actions, only insisting that they had a right to check the details of those present.  The Israeli military became increasingly belligerent as protesters challenged the legality of the actions and began to push and shove Palestinians and international observers.  After around 20 minutes the police returned the passes and allowed the detained Palestinians to leave.  They then ordered international observers to leave the olive groves or be arrested, claiming that the Palestinian-owned olive grove is “Israeli land” and that it was illegal to be on the land and “illegal to be in a group.”

Rafi Dagan, an Israeli commanding officer, stated “I am the law.  I am God” when asked to explain why he was flouting Israeli law by forcing people to leave Palestinian land under threat of arrest, without any paperwork to show that it was a closed military zone.

Earlier in the day, Israeli soldiers had pushed photographers attempting to document the olive harvest and confiscated an international observer’s passport for several minutes.  Under Israeli law, passports may be shown to the Israeli military but it is illegal for them to be taken away.  The Israeli military also briefly detained a young Palestinian man, apparently for running through the olive groves with a Palestinian flag, although he was released after around 10 minutes.

When the Palestinian flag is criminalized by Zionists – Click here for more images

In addition to intimidation by the military, Israeli settlers arrived on the Palestinian land within minutes of the olive harvest beginning and began to harass people picking olives.  A group of around 10 settlers gathered in the lower olive groves in Tel Rumeida at 11:55am where Palestinians were busy picking olives.  Baruch Marzel, a prominent extremist settler, stood on a Palestinian flag in an obvious attempt to provoke olive harvesters.  The military intervened as anger flared between the two groups and sent settlers back to their settlement.

Badia Dwaik, 38, is the Deputy Coordinator of Youth Against Settlements, a nonviolent Palestinian group campaigning against Israeli settlements.  He stressed that olive harvesting in Tel Rumeida is not just about economic necessity; it is a form of political defiance and a way to “confirm our existence and to encourage the people to resist”.

The Palestinian land in Tel Rumeida is surrounded by four illegal Israeli settlements.  A Palestinian educational centre overlooks steep, dusty terraces to the south which contain around 200 olive trees.  The centre, established in 2006 after the building was reclaimed from Israeli military control, and the olive groves below have been subject to repeated attacks and incursions by settlers in recent years.  Anti-Palestinian graffiti and the Star of David is clearly visible under fresh coats of paint on the walls at the back of the building, only metres away from a settlement.

The olive groves contain around 200 olives trees and olives were picked on around 70 trees today.  Badia Dwaik lamented the poor quality of the olives and the sparse fruit on many of the trees, saying that Palestinians are often unable to tend the land for fear of settler attacks.  There is also a chronic shortage of water in Hebron and the owners of the trees are denied permits to dig the land. For example, the YAS reported having problems with water circulation for three days and discovered today that the water lines had been deliberately cut.

According to Badia Dwaik, the YAS intend to continue picking the olives in the coming weeks as “people are scared to come and pick olives alone.  And it gives a message: we will continue and never give up.”

( / 24.10.2011)

Palestinian delegation prepares for UNESCO vote

CAIRO (Ma’an) — Palestinian officials are preparing for an intense diplomatic battle as UNESCO opens its General Conference on Tuesday.

UNESCO’s board decided on Oct. 5 to let 193 member states vote on a Palestinian application to upgrade from observer status to full membership of the cultural body.

The vote is expected to take place during the two-week general assembly meeting which opens Tuesday in Paris.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the governing body of UNESCO “to think again before proceeding with that vote” and said the US might cut off funding to the agency if it admitted Palestine. The US pays 22 percent of UNESCO’s dues.

Palestinian sources involved in the bid told Ma’an that UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova flew to Washington shortly after the board issued its decision to allow a vote and returned convinced that the US would see through its threats to withdraw funding.

The sources said it was possible that Palestine would win the two-thirds majority needed to secure membership, but that consultations were underway to find a compromise and avoid a split among members which could paralyze UNESCO’s work.

One possibility discussed was to grant Palestine full membership, but on the condition that it would not come into effect for six to nine months, once Palestine’s bid to join the UN has been decided and to allow time for negotiations with Israel.

The proposal could persuade European nations not to oppose the Palestinian application, officials said.

Palestinian Authority Tourism Minister Khloud Daibes on Monday defended Palestine’s right to join UNESCO, telling Reuters, “The question is not if the Palestinian has the right but why the Palestinians until now are not a member of this international organization?”

She said that after gaining full UNESCO membership, the PA would revive its bid to secure World Heritage status for Bethlehem and its Church of the Nativity, revered as the birthplace of Jesus. The nomination was rejected this year because Palestine was not a full UNESCO member.

Bethlehem resident Hisham Khimaees said he hoped membership of UNESCO would help to increase local income from tourism.

“First thing it means to me as a resident that the importance of Bethlehem city will internationally increase. Also the tourists will come more to Bethlehem and this is good for the city of Bethlehem and its residents and will increase the national income of Bethlehem,” Khimaees said.

UNESCO is the first UN agency to which Palestinians have applied for full membership since President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request to become a member state of the United Nations on September 23, also in the face of stiff US opposition.

Washington  says negotiations with Israel  are the only way for the Palestinians to achieve statehood.

( / 24.10.2011)

The Atlantic, Israel, and Palestine

A new special report is part of a long history of the magazine’s coverage of Israel-Palestine

krieger oct24 p.jpg

A Palestinian man waits at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah / Reuters

Today The Atlantic launches a special report exploring issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict, “Is Peace Possible?“, in collaboration with the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. For The Atlantic, this project builds on a vast archive of  engagement with the Arab-Israeli conflict. The magazine was a seminal forum for debating these issues long before the establishment of the Jewish state.

As recently chronicled by Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, much of the magazine’s original coverage of Zionism was defined by  “unfriendliness.” A prime example is William Ernest Hocking’s July 1930 piece, in which he describes the forcing of Jewish  sovereignty on the Arab population of Palestine as “an injustice which is inconsistent with the ethical sense of Zionism”:

For thirteen hundred years Moslem Arabs have lived here, tilling the soil, caring for their herds, raising their fruits and olives, practising their trades and crafts. Between them and this habitat there is a genuine adjustment, an almost perfect equilibrium; technique and custom, dress and architecture, they transmit from antiquity with an unconscious faithfulness; they belong. The rights which go with this long occupation and use cannot be brushed aside, even though no letter of a British agreement could be cited to confirm them in their place.

Owen Tweedy, in the October 1930 issue, conveyed a particularly pessimistic assessment of Zionism:

Both tenants had what they considered and claimed to be impeccable title to possession; and for the past twelve years they have lived together in a house of discord, each going his own way regardless of the feelings of the other. Incompatibility of temper has been proved, but the situation cannot be eased by divorce. …Zionist immigration is out to establish itself in Palestine on lines of its own choosing. On the other hand, those lines are foreign, unintelligible,  and antipathetic to the mentalities of the Arab communities that represent the large majority in the country. If no bridge is built, how can these two existing, and mutually repellent, social states grow side by side without endless friction?

… Zionism has lost the idealism which attended the birth of the movement.

But The Atlantic also published quite a few pieces supportive of the Zionist endeavor. A 1919 piece by Henry Sacher, an executive of the World Zionist Organization and a contributor to early drafts of the Balfour Declaration, went to great lengths to justify Jewish nationalism and its inherent connection to the land of Israel:

Rabbinical literature is full of apophthegms that express the positive passion of the teachers of Israel for the soil, the air, the water, the physical  being of the national land. ‘Whosoever walks four cubits in Palestine is assured of the world to come.’ ‘It is better to dwell in a Palestine desert  than to live in a land of plenty abroad.’ ‘To live in the land of Israel outweighs all the commands of the Torah.’ ‘The air of Palestine makes men wise.’ ‘Even the chatter of Palestine is worthy of study.’ ‘Palestine is the microcosm of the world.’ ‘Rabbi Abah used to kiss the rocks of Palestine.  Rabbi Chazah used to roll in the dust of Palestine.’ The whole doctrine of the rabbis in regard to the national home is summed up in the sentence: ‘God said to Moses, “the Land is me and Israel is dear to me. I will bring Israel who is dear to me to Land that is dear to me.’ Here is the triple thread which is Judaism — God, the Jewish people, the Jewish land. What the rabbis taught and felt, the Jewish people believed and felt.

He saw no contradiction of “the establishment there of the Jewish national home” with “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” who he saw largely as “absentee landowners, who rack-rent a miserable peasantry.” He envisioned “a harmonious cooperation between Jew, Arab, and Armenian.”

In a 1945 piece in the magazine, Milton Steinberg, rabbi of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, also justified Zionism by pointing to the religious roots of Jewish nationalism, though focused on the need of a post-Holocaust haven for the Jews:

I advocate Zionism as the most immediate and practicable answer to a vast, terrible and very tangible need. … Has not the Old World House of Israel  been trampled into blood-drenched splinters? And in the grim devastation, does not Jewish Palestine shine as a joy-bringing, hope-dispensing beacon?

Steinberg admits that the Arab residents of Palestine also have a claim to the land, but dismisses them as less compelling than the Jewish claim because “Jewish enterprise has made the land one of promise for them as well as for Jews.” He also dismisses the charge that “Arabs have been driven from the soil,” claiming that Jews primarily occupied “uncultivated” and “uncultivable” land.

He defines the situation as “two legitimate ideals [that] have come into conflict in Palestine.” But to him, the choice is clear: Because of Jewish  suffering the Holocaust (“Jews by the millions to whom entrance to Palestine is truly a matter of survival”), the preponderance of other Arab states  across the region (“Has not the Arab world as a whole vast territories on which to realize political autonomy? Is not Palestine a mere 5 per cent of that world?”), and broader goals of “universal humanity” (“Jewish Palestine is the outpost in the Near East of modernity and democracy.”), “not in anguish, urgency, or import does [the Arab case] begin to equal the Jewish.”

These perspectives — both for and against the Zionist project to establish a Jewish state in Palestine — are relics of their respective time periods. The debate has, thankfully, moved far beyond many of these questions. But the roots of the conflict were apparent even in those early years, and many of the same battles over competing nationalist narratives persist today. Our hope with this special report will follow in The Atlantic’s long tradition of thoughtful analysis of this decades-old conflict — and advance the sober and substantive discussion on how to finally end it.

( / 24.10.2011)

Israeli foreign minister says Palestinian President Abbas is ‘obstacle’ to peace agreement

JERUSALEM — Israel’s foreign minister charged Monday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is an “obstacle” to peace and that he hopes Abbas will soon resign.

The comments by Avigdor Lieberman drew an angry response from Palestinians, who accused him of calling for an assassination and appealed to the United States and the European Union to intervene.

In a briefing with reporters, Lieberman lashed out at the Palestinian leader, saying Abbas has been leading a campaign to delegitimize Israel internationally and that he has become an “obstacle that needs to be removed.”

Abbas is leading a drive for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state. On Monday his envoy urged the world body not to delay acting on the Palestinian request. Israel and the United States fiercely oppose the bid, saying independence can be reached only through negotiations.

Peace talks have been largely frozen for more than two years. They broke down the last time over the issue of construction in Israeli settlements.

In the past, Abbas has repeatedly threatened to resign if there is no progress in peace efforts. Lieberman called on him to carry out his threat.

“He has been threatening to return the keys and resign? That would not be a threat but a blessing, and I wish he would finally do it,” Lieberman said. “Whoever comes after him will be better … there is no lack of Palestinians who studied in the West — educated people with Western values with whom we can talk.”

Lieberman said that despite Abbas’ moderate image, he was naming public squares after terrorists, handing out money to killers who were released in last week’s prisoner swap and calling for a future Palestinian state that was free of Jews.

Lieberman added that Abbas was concerned only about his personal survival after the overthrow of his “friends” in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

“That is very understandable, but it doesn’t help in reaching an agreement,” he said.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Abbas, fired back, calling Lieberman the “most extreme, racist person in Israel.”

“Lieberman is an enemy of peace and he should be condemned by every rational voice in Israel,” he said. “If this position represents or reflects the policy of this government, that means that they intend to wage a political war. The Israeli government should apologize for what the foreign minister said.”

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat added that Lieberman’s comments amounted to incitement and could be interpreted as a call to assassinate Abbas. He said he relayed that message to Americans and Europeans as well.

It wasn’t clear whether Lieberman was expressing his own opinion or government policy. He’s spoken out of step with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before, most notably when he told the United Nations that there was no point in negotiating with Palestinians — just as peace talks were being relaunched in September 2010.

A Netanyahu spokesman refused to comment Monday.

Lieberman is known for his fiery nature and outspoken criticism of Palestinians. He’s also a contentious figure because of his support for redrawing Israel’s borders to push areas with heavy concentrations of Israeli Arabs out of Israel and into Palestinian jurisdiction. He also launched a failed effort in parliament to force Israeli Arabs to take a loyalty oath or lose their citizenship.

Lieberman said he was “100 percent” sure that the establishment of a Palestinian state in the current climate would lead to rocket attacks against major Israeli population centers. Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets at Israel since Israel’s pullout in 2005.

He also vowed that there would be no settlement construction slowdown. He noted that the settlements made up less than two percent of the West Bank and therefore “have never been an obstacle to peace.”

( / 24.10.2011)

Al-Nahda claims victory in Tunisia poll

Moderate Islamist party says it has won more than 30 per cent of seats as PDP concedes it will be in opposition.
The moderate Islamist party al-Nahda has claimed that it has won more than 30 per cent of seats in Tunisia’s 217-member consitutent assembly, following the country’s historic election.

“The first confirmed results show that al-Nahda has obtained first place nationally and in most districts,” the party’s campaign manager, Abelhamid Jlassi, said at a news conference, citing al-Nahda’s own election observers’ reports.

The party’s claim came ahead of an announcement by the country’s independent election commission, in which it was to offcially declare partial results.

The leaders of two leftist parties, the Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakol, said they were fighting for second place, while the leader of the centre-left Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat on Monday evening.

“Al-Nahda is certainly the majority, but there are two other democratic entities, Ettakatol and the CPR, who were weak at the start but now find themselves in the position to contribute to political life and usher a rational modernity in this Arab-Muslim country,” Khalil Zaouia, Ettakatol’s number two, said.

Samir Dilou, a member of al-Nahda’s political bureau, said that his party had won “not far from 40 per cent” of the vote.

“The trend is clear. The PDP is badly placed. It is the decision of the Tunisian people. I bow before their choice,” PDP leader Maya Jribi told the AFP news agency at her party’s headquarters in Tunis.

“We will be there to defend a modern, prosperous and moderate Tunisia,” she said, adding the PDP would “clearly be in opposition”.


Jlassi said that al-Nahda’s priority was to restore stability to Tunisia.

“We would like to reassure our trade and economic partners, and all actors and investors, we hope very soon to have stability and the right conditions for investment in Tunisia,” he said.

“The priorities for Tunisia are clear. They are stability, conditions for a dignified life and the building of democratic institutions in Tunisia. We are  open to anyone who shares these objectives. We are open to all forces without exception,” he said.

The election, held on Sunday, was the country’s first-ever democratic poll to choose an assembly to rewrite the constitution, nine months after former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled from power.

With an unexpectedly large number of ballot papers to count, it remained unclear when election officials planned to announce the results of the vote.

There was a huge turnout as voters exercised their rights to choose the 217-seat assembly, which will also choose a new interim government and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Boubaker Bethabet, the secretary-general of the independent ISIE polling commission, said 90 per cent of the estimated 4.1 million citizens who registered ahead of the poll cast their votes.

No figures were available for the other 3.1 million voters who did not pre-register but also had the right to vote, as facilities for registration existed at most polling stations.

Al-Nahda, citing its own, unofficial tally from votes cast by the large Tunisian diaspora, said indications were that it had done well. Overseas voting was held days before Sunday’s election.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Zied Mhirsi, a prominent Tunisian blogger, said: “It is clear al-Nahda has a majority, the question is to what extent? Will they be the only ones forming a government?

“Every party is basically trying to see to what extent they can compromise with al-Nahda to organise a government.

“I don’t expect our revolution to become an Islamic Revolution but, at the same time, I expect Islam to be a part of Tunisian life, the way you could see it in Turkey.

“Al-Nahda has already shown a commitment to the declarations on human rights.”

Queues before dawn

Long lines of people had formed at polling stations before dawn on Sunday, growing into winding queues of voters keen to take part in the country’s first electoral contest without a pre-determined result.

More than 11,000 candidates ran in the election, representing 80 political parties. Several thousand candidates ran as independents.

The electoral system was designed to include as many parties as possible in drafting the new constitution, which is expected to take a year, ahead of fresh elections.

Sunday’s vote drew praise internationally, with US President Barack Obama saying that Tunisia’s revolution had “changed the course of history”.

“Just as so many Tunisian citizens protested peacefully in streets and squares to claim their rights, today they stood in lines and cast their votes to determine their own future,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

The EU also hailed the elections and vowed support for the new authorities.

‘Victory for dignity’

The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young vegetable seller whose self-immolation last December set of the Tunisian revolt, said that the elections were a victory for dignity and freedom.

“Now I am happy that my son’s death has given the chance to get beyond fear and injustice,” Manoubia Bouazizi told the Reuters news agency. I’m an optimist, I wish success for my country.”

In depth coverage of first Arab Spring

Ahmed Néjib Chebbi, the founder of the PDP, a centre-left political party,
came to vote in Tahrir Mhiri, La Marsa.

“This is a celebration of democracy,” he told Al Jazeera. “People are here to
exercise their duties as citizens, and they are showing that they deserve the
rights which they have been deprived of for decades.”

Concerning the heckling of al-Nahda leader Rachid Ghannouchiand his
family after they cast their votes at El Menzah 6 this morning, Nejib Chebbi
said it was “regrettable” that the leader of al-Nahda had been treated in this

“No matter what his political ideas might be, Mr. Ghannouchi is a Tunisian
citizen who deserves respect. Today is not a day for protest,” he said.

( / 24.12.2011)

Israeli Artillery Shells Hit Arafat International Airport in Rafah

RAFAH, October 24, 2011 (WAFA) – Israeli artillery fired on Monday two shells towards Yasser Arafat International Airport, in the southern Gaza Strip, according to witnesses.

Witnesses said that a cloud of smoke rose from the site after the Israeli artillery fired two shells that hit the airport. No injuries were reported.

Yasser Arafat International Airport is considered the honor of Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip.

The airport opened in 1998, and closed in 2001 after being severely damaged by Israeli military forces.

( / 24.12.2011)