Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Middle East & Israel

Romney makes a shameless appeal to pro-Israel voters

Sarkozy and Obama

"Shameless" doesn't begin to describe Mitt Romney's cheap shot at President Obama in connection with Israel -- based on inadvertently overheard small talk.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was caught saying of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "I can’t stand to see him anymore; he's a liar." To which  Obama replied: "You are fed up with him, but me, I have to deal with him every day."

From this molehill of a diplomatic accident, Romney constructed a mountain of indignation. Worse, he drew a connection between Obama's comment and his Middle East policy.

"President Obama's derisive remarks about Israel's prime minister confirm what any observer would have gleaned from his public statements and actions toward our longstanding ally, Israel," Romney said.  "At a moment when the Jewish state is isolated and under threat, we cannot have an American president who is disdainful of our special relationship with Israel. We have here yet another reason why we need new leadership in the White House."

The notion that Obama is anti-Israel borders on the libelous. Yes, he antagonized Netanyahu by stating the obvious: that a peace agreement with the Palestinians should be based on 1967 borders with land swaps to accommodate Jewish settlers on the  West Bank. But to see the friction between Netanyahu and Obama as proof that Obama is  "disdainful of our special relationship with Israel" is unfair.

If Romney is elected, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn't been resolved, he'll take the same approach as Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Then it will be his turn to be called anti-Israel.

RELATED:

Divided on Jerusalem

White House does damage control after Sarkozy-Obama exchange

Obama plays the role of advisor, partner at G-20

--Michael McGough

Photo: President Obama and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, made a joint appearance for a pre-recorded interview at the end of the G-20 meeting. Credit: DSK/AFP/Getty Images

Iraq is 'liberated' enough. Goodbye and good riddance

Iraqi woman
Want a brief history of the Iraq War?  Here it is, in two quotes:

"I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators."  — Vice President Dick Cheney, "Meet the Press," Sunday, March 16, 2003.

"I was so happy to hear that the Americans are leaving our country. They destroyed our country. They created so much tension among Iraqis." — Firs Fertusi, a former fighter in the now-disbanded Mahdi Army, Los Angeles Times, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.

All the costs — the more than 4,000 American casualties, the untold thousands of Iraqis killed, the billions of dollars spent, the ascendancy of Iran — are reflected in the yawning gap between Cheney's unbridled confidence on the eve of war and the grim reality of what happened.

In the end, not even really a "thank you."  Rather, it's more, "Don't let the door hit you in the behind on the way out."

So a Democratic president is ending a Republican president's war — a war based on faulty intelligence at best and lies at worst. And as my colleague Paul Thornton pointed out, today's GOP presidential candidates are using that decision to withdraw all U.S. troops by year's end to try to score cheap political points. 

How cheap? Consider this.  These same candidates have no problem vowing to overturn "Obamacare" if they are elected.  So if they really disagree with Obama's decision to withdraw  U.S. troops, all they have to do is say that on the stump:  "If elected, I'll send U.S. troops back to Iraq."

I wouldn't hold my breath for that one, though.

Yes, Iran's influence in the region is growing.  And yes, it's possible that Iraq's government won't be pro-U.S.

It's also likely that Islamist parties in Iraq, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East, will gain from the Arab Spring revolts and the toppling of Libya's Moammar Kadafi.  (For a good analysis of that, check out Doyle McManus' column in Sunday’s Times.

But let's face facts.  The U.S. is stretched militarily by the war in Afghanistan. Our economy is struggling. If, as some Republicans in Congress insist, even domestic programs such as disaster aid must be paid for by cuts in other programs, how can the GOP possibly call for continuing a costly military presence in a country that doesn't even want us there?

The bottom line: We weren't seen as liberators. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has a functioning government.

Enough is enough. It's time for us to go. 

RELATED:

Why we quit spending ...

 

McManus: Mosque and state

Obama succeeds -- when Republicans let him

McCain: Could it be time to intervene in Syria?

On Iraq, Obama's GOP critics take the low road

— Paul Whitefield

Photo: A woman walks near the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad on June 20, 2010. Credit: Hadi Mizban / Associated Press

Iran's plot -- and a U.S. double-standard?

Eric Holder

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Tuesday that federal authorities had foiled a plot backed by the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on American soil. Two men, one of whom is apparently a member of a special operations unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, were charged in federal court in New York on Tuesday. Holder called the bomb plot a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law. And Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, "We will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground."

But wait a minute. Two weeks ago, the United States assassinated one of its enemies in Yemen, on Yemeni soil. If the U.S. believes it has the right to assassinate enemies like Anwar Awlaki anywhere in the world in the name of a "war on terror" that has no geographical limitation, how can it then argue that other nations don't have a similar right to track down their enemies and kill them wherever they're found?

It's true that the assassination of Awlaki was carried out with the cooperation of the government of Yemen. That makes a difference. But would the U.S. have hesitated to kill him if Yemen had not approved? Remember: There was no cooperation from the Pakistani government when Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

It's also true that there's a big difference between an Al Qaeda operative who, according to U.S. officials, had been deeply involved in planning terrorist activities, and a duly credited ambassador of a sovereign country. Still, the fact remains that all nations ought to think long and hard before gunning down their enemies in other countries.

As the United States continues down the path of state-sponsored assassination far from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, all sorts of tricky moral questions are likely to arise. But this much is clear: The world is unlikely to accept that the United States has a right to behave as it wishes without accountability all around the globe and that other nations do not.

ALSO:

Yemen after Awlaki

Awlaki: Targeted for death

Awlaki's killing: Why it doesn't feel like a victory

--Nicholas Goldberg

Photo: Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department, joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller. Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press

Coptic Christians in Egypt may be nostalgic for Hosni Mubarak

Egyptian Coptic Christians rally in Cairo on Monday to protest the death of other Copts in clashes with the military the day before. Credit: Mohamed Omar / European Pressphoto Agency

Seventeen years ago, on a visit to an Egyptian church, I was surprised to see a portrait of President Hosni Mubarak in the vestibule. I was told that Christians regarded the strongman as a protector. Shortly before our visit there had been attacks on Christian churches in southern Egypt and we heard tales of officially sanctioned discrimination from Copts, but the thinking was that things would be much worse for Christians without Mubarak.

I was reminded of that visit by the recent violence against Copts and the denunciation by Christians of the supposedly transitional military government. It seems the "Arab Spring" may not be good for Christians. Iraqi Christians, many of whom have fled the country, may feel the same way about the post-liberation political environment. I have always wondered if Pope John Paul II's misgivings about the U.S. invasion of Iraq reflected not just an abhorrence of violence but also a fear that Chaldean Catholics and other Christians would be harmed in the aftermath of by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The plight of Christians in the Middle East is, writ small, the problem with democratic revolts in that region: Democracy does not guarantee tolerance, political pluralism or freedom of religion.

ALSO:

Egypt's petty palm embargo

Anwar Sadat's vision for Egypt

McManus: Technology that protects protesters

— Michael McGough

Photo: Egyptian Coptic Christians rally in Cairo on Monday to protest the death of other Copts in clashes with the military the day before. Credit: Mohamed Omar / European Pressphoto Agency

Romney's worldview: Common sense and cheap shots

Romney-Foreign Policy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered his first major foreign policy address Friday, and it was a mixture of platitudes, sensible positions and some cheap shots at the Obama administration. Overall, Romney outlined a mainstream foreign policy that he promised to pursue in a more muscular fashion.

Overarching his comments was a cloying insistence on American exceptionalism. "God did not create this country to be a nation of followers," he said. "America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers."

Romney pledged himself to making sure that this was an "American century," in furtherance of which he would prosecute American foreign policy "with clarity and resolve." Yet the goals he espoused to a great extent mirrored those of the Obama administration: preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb, combatting Islamic fundamentalism and securing the border with Mexico. In the pursuit of those and other objectives, Romney expressed a preference for "soft power" over military action.

Romney offered a few novel proposals: He would increase the construction of ships for the Navy and beef up missile defense. He would strengthen the alliance with Israel, which he wrongly accused the Obama administration of treating with "ambivalence." He would enhance the deterrence against Iran by stationing aircraft carrier task forces in the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. He would appoint a czar to handle "all of our diplomatic and assistance efforts in the greater Middle East."

On Afghanistan, Romney hinted that he might slow the withdrawal of U.S. forces, saying he would "receive the best recommendation of our military commanders" about the pace of withdrawal. President Obama, Romney suggested, has allowed politics to influence his withdrawal decisions.

Despite his insistence on American exceptionalism, Romney said that the United States under his leadership would participate in multilateral organizations and alliances, a commitment not likely to endear him to tea party conservatives. (Nor will his promise to open talks with Mexico about drugs and border security.)

Inevitably, a challenger for the presidency will accuse the incumbent of ineptness or worse in the conduct of foreign policy. Romney's speech was generous with such criticism, but his differences with Obama mostly concerned execution, not policy.

ALSO:

The GOP horse race

Taking nominations for a new GOP crush

God made America, according to Mitt Romney

Herman Cain: The GOP's flavor of the month sours early

--Michael McGough

Photo: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a top GOP contender, greets cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C. Credit: Richard Ellis / Getty Images

Palestinian statehood: Many Palestinians want to be Israelis [Blowback]

Abbas
German Israeli citizen Petra Marquardt-Bigman, a historian whose blog is published by the Jerusalem Post, responds to Saree Makdisi's Sept. 22 Op-Ed article, "Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

Warning that the "Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire," Saree Makdisi explains that there is a difference between Palestinian aspirations for self-determination in a state of their own and the much broader Palestinian cause.

Understanding this difference is crucial to understanding why an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has remained so elusive.

Makdisi's main concern is that a Palestinian state would only represent its citizens, whereas the Palestine Liberation Organization enjoys international recognition "as the sole legitimate representative of the entire Palestinian people." According to Makdisi, the groups that make up the Palestinian people include "those living under occupation, those living in Israel and those living in exile or as refugees."

Obviously enough, for those Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state should mean a vast improvement of their situation. The same should be true for Palestinian refugees: Just as the newly established Jewish state took in hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing discrimination and persecution in Arab countries, the newly established Palestinian state could provide a haven for those Palestinians who have been kept in refugee camps for generations.

But while the Palestinians garner worldwide sympathy for their plight as an occupied and stateless people, Makdisi is not primarily concerned with ending the occupation and statelessness; instead, his priority is the preservation of the PLO's claim to represent "the entire Palestinian people."

The most notable aspect of this claim is the PLO's ambition to represent Israeli citizens. Makdisi apparently believes that this is an internationally recognized claim, and he asserts that there are "1.5 million Palestinians living as second-class citizens of Israel." This is inaccurate on two counts: Not all of Israel's 1.5 million Arabs define themselves as Palestinian, and Israeli Arabs are not "second-class citizens," even if, like minorities elsewhere, they may often face disadvantage or discrimination.

While we can only speculate how many of Israel's Arab citizens would like to be represented by the PLO, it seems unlikely that this would be an attractive proposition for an Israeli Bedouin who is a career diplomat, like Ishmael Khaldi, or Israeli Druze soldiers who serve with distinction in the Israeli Defense Forces. Doubts about the eagerness of Arabs in Israel to be represented by the PLO seem warranted in light of polls showing that even among the Arabs of East Jerusalem -- claimed by Palestinians as their capital -- many would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship.

In any case, Makdisi's concerns are justified insofar as Israeli citizens who consider themselves Palestinians would obviously not be represented by a Palestinian state, unless these individuals acquired Palestinian citizenship. However, the "Palestine Papers" published in January reveal that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas believes Israeli-Palestinians should not be entitled to apply for citizenship. Characterizing his response as "strategically" motivated, Abbas explained during a meeting in March 2009 that a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship was already living in his homeland and did not need a passport "to prove" his Palestinian identity.

Makdisi may well share this view because he argues that "U.N. resolutions do not limit the Palestinian people or their rights merely to the territories occupied in 1967; General Assembly Resolution 194, for example, expressly recognizes their right of return to homes in what is now Israel."

Leaving aside the contentious questions about the validity of Palestinian claims to a "right of return," Makdisi's argument implies that establishing a Palestinian state may not be desirable if this risks diminishing the chances of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to claim Israeli citizenship. But when Israeli citizenship is prized higher than the citizenship that would come with a Palestinian state, Palestinian refugees become mere pawns in a political poker game. Likewise, the claim that Israel's Arab citizens need the PLO to represent them is revealed as rank hypocrisy.

Interestingly, Makdisi emphasizes that the U.N. has already recognized a "very broad set of Palestinian rights." But in his determination to safeguard these rights, he seems blind to the fact that whatever rights the Palestinians can legitimately claim, the "right" to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination is surely not included.

-- Petra Marquardt-Bigman

RELATED:

Abbas' U.N. fantasy

Face-off at the U.N.

Mahmoud Abbas: An honest whiner

Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire

Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks before the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on Sept. 23. Credit: Dennis Van Tine / Abaca Press 

Warning that the “Palestinians’ U.N. gamble could backfire,”[i]Saree Makdisi explains that there is a difference between Palestinian aspirations for self-determination in a state of their own and the much broader Palestinian cause.

Understanding this difference is crucial to understanding why an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has remained so elusive.

Makdisi’s main concern is that a Palestinian state would only represent its citizens, whereas the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) enjoys international recognition “as the sole legitimate representative of the entire Palestinian people.” According to Makdisi, the groups that make up the Palestinian people include “those living under occupation, those living in Israel and those living in exile or as refugees.”

Obviously enough, for those Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state should mean a vast improvement of their situation. The same should be true for Palestinian refugees: just like the newly established Jewish state took in hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing discrimination and persecution in Arab countries, the newly established Palestinian state could provide a haven for those Palestinians who have been kept in refugees camps for generations.

But while the Palestinians garner world-wide sympathy for their plight as an occupied and stateless people, Makdisi is not primarily concerned with ending the occupation and statelessness; instead, his priority is the preservation of the PLO’s claim to represent “the entire Palestinian people.”

The arguably most notable aspect of this claim is the PLO’s ambition to represent Israeli citizens. Makdisi apparently believes that this is an internationally recognized claim, and he asserts that there are “1.5 million Palestinians living as second-class citizens of Israel.” This is factually inaccurate on two counts: not all of Israel’s 1.5 million Arabs define themselves as Palestinian,[ii]and Israeli Arabs are not “second-class citizens,” even if – like minorities elsewhere – they may often face disadvantage or discrimination. While we can only speculate how many of Israel’s Arab citizens would like to be represented by the PLO, it seems unlikely that this would be an attractive proposition for an Israeli Bedouin who is a career diplomat like Ishmael Khaldi[iii]or Israeli Druze soldiers who serve with distinction in the IDF.[iv] Doubts about the eagerness of Arabs in Israel to be represented by the PLO seem also warranted in light of polls showing that even among the Arabs of East Jerusalem – claimed by Palestinians as their capital – many would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship.[v]

In any case, Makdisi’s concerns are justified in so far as Israeli citizens who consider themselves Palestinians would obviously not be represented by a Palestinian state, unless these individuals acquired Palestinian citizenship. However, the “Palestine Papers” published in January 2011 reveal that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas believes Israeli-Palestinians should not be entitled to apply for citizenship. Characterizing his response as “strategically” motivated, Abbas explained during a meeting in March 2009 that a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship was already living in his homeland and did not need a passport “to prove” his Palestinian identity.[vi]

Makdisi may well share this view since he argues that “U.N. resolutions do not limit the Palestinian people or their rights merely to the territories occupied in 1967; General Assembly Resolution 194, for example, expressly recognizes their right of return to homes in what is now Israel.”

Leaving aside the contentious questions about the validity of Palestinian claims to a “right of return,” Makdisi’s argument implies that establishing a Palestinian state may not be desirable if this risks diminishing the chances of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to claim Israeli citizenship. But when Israeli citizenship is prized higher than the citizenship that would come with Palestinian self-determination, Palestinian refugees become mere pawns in a political poker game; likewise, the claim that Israel’s Arab citizens need the PLO to represent them is revealed as rank hypocrisy. Interestingly, Makdisi emphasizes that the UN has already recognized a “very broad set of Palestinian rights,” but in his determination to safeguard this “very broad set” of rights, he seems blind to the fact that whatever rights the Palestinians can legitimately claim, the “right” to deny the Jewish people its right to self-determination is surely not included.

Should the U.N. accept Abbas' Palestinian statehood bid? [The conversation]

Abbas

In Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' formal bid to the U.N. for member state status Friday, he said he wanted to revive the peace process with Israel by ending all settlement activities and establishing a two-state solution. To that end, he said he needed the U.N.'s support.

Here are excerpts from his speech:

How is it conceivable that negotiations can be held on the borders and on Jerusalem at the same time that Israeli bulldozers are working to change the reality on the ground with the aim of creating a new reality and imposing borders as Israel desires? […]

In this regard, I would like to express our deep appreciation for the important speech delivered before this august body two days ago by President Obama, in which he affirmed the necessity for ending the occupation that began in 1967 and the legitimacy of the settlements. He also stressed the necessity for establishing an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state and for addressing all of the finance status issues in the negotiations, foremost among these Jerusalem, refugees, borders, water, settlements, and others. We reiterate that adherence to these principles and basis, in addition to a complete freeze of all settlement activities, can salvage the peace process and open horizon for its success. […]

From this podium I conclude by reaffirming our commitment to the road map plan, the Arab peace initiative and to all terms of reference of the political process. And we call upon all parties to respect and abide by them, to provide the opportunity to launch a successful and effective peace process.

We are confident that all our brothers in the sisterly Arab countries will adhere to the Arab peace initiative as a basis for safeguarding our rights and to open the way toward real peaceful relations once occupation is ended and the independent state of Palestine is established.

While Abbas awaits the U.N.'s decision, which could hinge on the U.S. vote, opinionators have been weighing in on our pages. Here are a few of their arguments:

"Face-off at the U.N.," by The Times' editorial board

The U.N. vote, assuming it takes place, will be mostly symbolic. Whether it ends in a Security Council veto or a successful follow-up in the General Assembly, it will not, in fact, result in the imminent creation of an independent Palestinian state. When the vote is over, Israel will still control the territory it controls now, settlements will continue to dot the West Bank, and Hamas and the Palestinian Authority will remain suspicious rivals fighting to lead a stateless people. The Israeli occupation will not come screeching to an end. […]

What holds us back from an unequivocal endorsement of the U.N. vote is concern that the symbolic value of the move will not outweigh its real-life costs. The practical reality is that the only way a Palestinian state will be created (and thrive) is through good-faith, face-to-face negotiations between the two parties that result in a mutually agreeable compromise that both sides have the incentive and the will to abide by. Bypassing talks with Israel and seeking U.N. support for statehood is understandably appealing to those frustrated by the recalcitrance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, but there's no guarantee that it will push the process forward rather than set it back.

"Yes to Palestine," by Reza Aslan

Israel maintains that the Palestinians cannot declare statehood and seal it through the U.N. Yet the Palestinians are merely following the trail blazed by Israel six decades ago. […]
The Palestinian Authority has come to the same conclusion that the Jews apparently came to in 1948: Negotiations will not lead to an independent state; the only way forward is unilateral action. By rejecting that strategy outright, Israel is not only being hypocritical; it is invalidating its own existence as a state.

There is one more reason to support the Palestinians' bid at the United Nations. It is the moral thing to do. During his first presidential campaign, Obama said, "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." Now, he has the opportunity to live up to his own beliefs and promises, and to provide the Palestinian people with the same sense of dignity that Harry Truman gave Israel 60 years ago.

"Abbas' U.N. fantasy," by Ron Prosor

Every state recognized by the U.N. has the obligation to be willing and able to exert its authority over its own territory. Is Abbas willing and able to control Hamas? Perhaps the citizens of southern Israel, semi-permanent residents of bomb shelters, could offer an informed answer. The continued rain of Hamas rockets, mortar shells and missiles on Israeli homes, hospitals and schools provides a vivid illustration that the Palestinian Authority is both unwilling and unable to uphold this basic requirement.

"Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire," by Saree Makdisi

It goes without saying that Palestinians and Arabs are outraged by the idea that the United States is threatening to block recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.

What is less obvious, perhaps, is that some of the most vociferous critics of the Palestinian bid for upgraded U.N. recognition are Palestinians themselves. How could it be that advocates of Palestinian rights could be suspicious of, if not altogether opposed to, the U.N. gambit? Isn't the creation of an internationally recognized independent state the goal shared by all Palestinians?

Not exactly. The Palestinian cause concerns more than merely statehood. And although much depends on how the statehood bid is formally expressed, there is every possibility that U.N. action on the wrong set of terms could be a setback in the Palestinians' decades-long struggle for self-determination and the right to live normal, dignified lives in their ancestral land.

"The coming U.N. debacle," by Yossi Klein Halevi

[A] U.N. vote that seeks to bypass negotiations and impose a fait accompli on Israel will only undermine a two-state solution. By deepening Israel's isolation, the vote will reinforce the sense among Israelis that this is not a time for concessions but for resolve. […]

The vote to recognize Palestine will almost certainly increase anti-Israel violence in the region. It will also likely encourage the international boycott-Israel movement, which uniquely ostracizes the Jewish state. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has said that upgraded Palestinian status at the U.N. would "pave the way" to press for legal sanctions against Israel. The likely result would be to turn any Israeli act of war, even in self-defense, into a war crime.

Statehood is a responsibility to be earned. And so far the Palestinian national movement has hardly proved its willingness to live in peace beside Israel.

RELATED:

Mahmoud Abbas: An honest whiner

Rick Perry says Obama's not pro-Israel enough

Palestinian state looms as key issue for Obama at U.N.

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds up a copy of the letter that he had just delivered to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a Palestinian state during his address before the 66th U.N. General Assembly in New York. Credit: Mike Segar / Reuters

Mahmoud Abbas: An honest whiner

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

One of the more appealing qualities of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, at least to those of us who are ourselves cynical and tired and beaten down by the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has always been his moody willingness to behave like an ordinary person in the face of the titanic frustrations of his job. While most politicians around the world will put on a good face or baldly lie about setbacks, or promise that they'll serve their constituents forever even though they know that two days later they'll be taking a job with that investment bank or hedge fund or lobbying firm, Abbas reacts as you or I would.

The main form this takes is his repeated insistence that he is on the verge of resigning -- that he doesn't need the tsuris. In 2003, he announced he was resigning because, as an aide put it, "we basically have come to a dead end here." In 2005, he threatened again to quit. In 2006, he vowed to step down if he couldn't fulfill his legislative program, saying "this seat is not my ultimate ambition." In 2009, his aides said again that he intended to resign. Since he never seems to follow through on these threats, some have written this off as petulance, grandstanding or signs of his "Hamlet-like" nature. But I tend to see each threat as a heartfelt expression of deep frustration.

This week, that frustration was on display again. At a party in New York, the 76-year-old president, who has been involved in Palestinian politics since the 1950s and has led the Palestinian Authority since 2005, was approached by an old colleague, Terje Roed-Larsen, a former United Nations special envoy to the Middle East. With a reporter from the New York Times apparently listening in, Abbas -- who is attending the opening of the new United Nations session, where he is fighting a high-stakes battle for full membership for Palestinians -- again began to complain about the frustrations of his job. He told Larsen that the Americans, who have vowed to veto his bid for Palestinian membership, had asked for a meeting later in the evening.

"They want to meet," he told Larsen. "But we don't, really we don't want."

Asked, then, why he had agreed to do so, he said: "I don’t know why really. I am not happy with anybody, not with the Americans, nor the Arabs. I am fed up with all these people and I don't know what to do when I return back."

Shimon Peres, who has met secretly with Abbas several times in recent months, according to the New York Times, quoted him as saying: "I'm alone, betrayed by the United States, betrayed by Israel and by everyone else."

It's not macho to whine about the challenges of being president, nor is it necessarily an effective strategy. But in Abbas' case, at least, I believe it is honest.

RELATED:

Yes to Palestine

Abbas' U.N. fantasy

Face-off at the U.N.

Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire

Rick Perry says Obama's not pro-Israel enough

--Nicholas Goldberg

Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas listens as President Obama speaks during the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters on Wednesday. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press 

Is anti-Islam sentiment subsiding?

This is a corrected version of the original post; see the note below.

It may be too much to hope for, but the quiet opening of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan -- the so-called ground zero mosque -- may indicate a lull in Islam-bashing in political discourse.

Last year, Islamophobia seemed to be acquiring the status in right-wing circles that fear of communism achieved in the 1950s. Several states considered laws prohibiting the use of Sharia in their legal systems (a remote possibility, to put it mildly).There was talk of the danger of the United States being absorbed in a Caliphate stretching from the Middle East through Europe. Now the anti-Islamic rhetoric seems to be subsiding.

Still, we should never underestimate the political appeal of xenophobia, especially when it is rooted in religion. And even when Islam is not the obvious issue -- as in Republican criticisms of President Obama for supposedly tilting toward the Palestinians -- it remains a subtext. With Christian conservatives in the ascendancy in the Republican Party, Islam-bashing may still have a future.

ALSO:

God and 9/11

Thinking outside the 'Muslim bubble'

The conversation: Being Muslim in America after 9/11

-- Michael McGough

[Updated 6:15 p.m. Oct. 13: This post previously displayed a photo that showed members of the Sikh community attending the grand opening of the Park51 community centerWe didn’t intend to suggest they were Muslim; we simply selected a photo from the event.  However, we are sensitive to reader concerns and recognize that the placement of the photo was misleading. For further explanation, see the Readers' Representative Journal.]


9/11 and Al Qaeda: The price of victory

Rewardposter

Is Al Qaeda finished? 

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears, it would certainly be welcome news that the organization that carried out those attacks has been defeated.

On Sunday, The Times reported that Al Qaeda's reputed second in command, Atiyah Abdul Rahman, had been killed in Pakistan, probably in a strike by a U.S. drone:

A few weeks after [Osama] bin Laden was killed in Pakistan during a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs, some analysts suggested that Rahman, a Libyan, had emerged as Al Qaeda's leader. That didn't turn out to be the case -- the leadership spot went to Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri -- but it underscored how central a role Rahman has played.

And what's the big picture? As the story says:

Rahman's death is likely to lend credence to a view in some U.S. policymaking circles that Al Qaeda's defeat is within reach.

Recent events "hold the prospect of a strategic defeat, if you will, a strategic dismantling of Al Qaeda," incoming CIA Director David H. Petraeus said last month.

Also in July, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, who oversees Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy at the National Security Council, said the U.S. was "doubling down" on its strategy of covert targeted missile strikes in Pakistan since Bin Laden's death, believing that Al Qaeda is susceptible to a decisive blow.

"I think there are three to five senior leaders that, if they're removed from the battlefield, would jeopardize Al Qaeda's capacity to regenerate," Lute said. He declined to name them, other than Zawahiri. But clearly Rahman would have been on that list.

Of course, it's been a hugely expensive effort to dismantle the terrorist organization, and to protect the United States. 

For example, The Times also reported Sunday on spending for domestic antiterrorism efforts:

A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, federal and state governments are spending about $75 billion a year on domestic security, setting up sophisticated radio networks, upgrading emergency medical response equipment, installing surveillance cameras and bombproof walls, and outfitting airport screeners to detect an ever-evolving list of mobile explosives.

Which has some questioning whether that is money well spent:  

"The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It's basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year," said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.

"So if your chance of being killed by a terrorist in the United States is 1 in 3.5 million, the question is, how much do you want to spend to get that down to 1 in 4.5 million?" he said.

On the other hand, just from an economic standpoint, the effort has been a plus:

One effect is certain: Homeland Security spending has been a pump-primer for local governments starved by the recession, and has dramatically improved emergency response networks across the country.

An entire industry has sprung up to sell an array of products, including high-tech motion sensors and fully outfitted emergency operations trailers. The market is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2014.

So, is Al Qaeda finished? Of course not. For example, on Saturday in Iraq a suicide bomber killed at least 28 worshipers at a mosque in Baghdad, and at least one official blamed the Iraqi affiliate of Al Qaeda.

But it's also possible that Al Qaeda has been so crippled that it's no longer capable of carrying out a spectacular attack on the U.S. 

And the price for that?  Well, there are the permanent changes in the way Americans now live. As The Times story on domestic security spending says:

Like the military-industrial complex that became a permanent and powerful part of the American landscape during the Cold War, the vast network of Homeland Security spyware, concrete barricades and high-tech identity screening is here to stay. The Department of Homeland Security, a collection of agencies ranging from border control to airport security sewn quickly together after Sept. 11, is the third-largest Cabinet department and -- with almost no lawmaker willing to render the U.S. less prepared for a terrorist attack -- one of those least to fall victim to budget cuts.

But when I think of the cost, what I see are the faces of our soldiers. Go here, to The Times' obituaries for California’s war dead and read their stories.

If we're safer today -- and if Al Qaeda is crippled --  we have these young men and women to thank.

RELATED:

9/11: Lower Manhattan, 10 years after [Photos]

Gunmen kidnap son of slain governor in Pakistan

Some fear post-revolution Libya may look like Iraq

Tripoli chaos raises fear of missiles going to terrorists

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: The Justice Department's Rewards for Justice website gives information about Atiyah Abdul Rahman. Credit: Rewardsforjustice.net

Connect

Advertisement

In Case You Missed It...

Video


Categories


Recent Posts
Reading Supreme Court tea leaves on 'Obamacare' |  March 27, 2012, 5:47 pm »
Candidates go PG-13 on the press |  March 27, 2012, 5:45 am »
Santorum's faulty premise on healthcare reform |  March 26, 2012, 5:20 pm »

Archives
 


About the Bloggers
The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



In Case You Missed It...