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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Saturday, June 12, 2004 ::

Some more old-school analogies are needed
And as Bill says in Kill Bill Vol. 2, "you know I'm all about old school." This Power Rangers stuff is pretty weak:
The most significant political development this week was the establishment of the "troika" - the trio of Netanyahu, Silvan Shalom and Limor Livnat. It was amazing and bizarre to hear the three ministers this week romantically describing the relationship that developed among them - former rivals and sworn foes - on those nights in the Tel Aviv Carlton. Livnat's people related how they were pleasantly surprised by Shalom, who was moderate, sober and businesslike. Netanyahu's people described the absolute trust between the three ministers that developed so quickly, how each of them reports to the other about what s/he did, with whom s/he spoke and what messages s/he received.

A close associate of one of the ministers compared the covenant between the three this week to the children's cartoon, "Power Rangers," which tells the story of five handsome and courageous figures, each of which has its own unique power. But when they find themselves facing a real danger, such as a monster of some kind, they unite and turn into a huge robot that no one can defeat. The analogy is clear. The monster in the story is Sharon, although it is not yet clear who won and who gave in. There are different interpretations for what happened. In any case, the three can form a powerful axis in the future, too, if they learn how not to bicker among themselves.
I certainly can't see the massive egos hanging together for all that long, not when they're all as power hungry as they are. Forget the Power Rangers, I'm thinking of Voltron, a really lame '80s cartoon which (I think) was the first popular instance of the "several individuals combining to form one big hero" theme. Voltron was quite popular for a while, but I always thought it sucked. That same idea was repeated in the Transformers, which I loved, even though it was...well, not really that much better than Voltron. The five-or-six-dudes-combining-to-form-a-big-unstoppable-force thing was actually first used on the villainous side of the Transformers, with similar responses on the good side coming in later.
12:34 PM
:: Wednesday, June 09, 2004 ::
No, torture is not OK
In only the latest instance of what appears to be government-approved torture regulations, an important point comes up:
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has taken a tough line against terrorism suspects, alluded to the "high dudgeon" of his Democratic colleagues, saying he wanted to "interject a note of balance here.

"We ought to be reasonable about this," he told the crowded committee room. "I think there are very few people in this room or in America who would say that torture should never, ever be used, particularly if thousands of lives are at stake."
First, let me be reasonable. The main question for me is, what constitutes torture? Where does the line get drawn? Turning over tables and pointing a finger in a suspect's face, not torture. Sodomizing prisoners with broomsticks (to name just one thing that happened at Abu Ghraib), torture. What about some sort of sleep deprivation, or playing really loud music? Gray area, I would think. There are things that need to be defined in clear guidelines, if they aren't already. I'm not naive enough to think that certain circumstances might not require some tougher than normal interrogation techniques, and there are some tough issues about what does or doesn't cross the line. Nobody on the front lines should have to deal with this without knowing exactly what the rules and regulations are.

That said, what the fuck is Schumer talking about? Even if there are some disputable instances of what exactly does or doesn't constitute torture, the very principle has to be unassailable. How, exactly, would we know that thousands of lives were at stake, in any given instance? Our record of terrorism-related intelligence doesn't inspire much confidence in that regard. How could such a special circumstance even be defined?

And even it could be, what the hell is wrong with people like Schumer, saying that we can re-write the rules to suit our own situations? Let's consider the hypothetical situation of, oh, I don't know, an imminent US invasion of another country. And then let's say that some US military personnel are captured just before it's supposed to start, maybe special forces advance scouts, or a pilot who has a bizarre accident. Then that country's government claims--with far more justification than the US would be able to muster in any circumstance that I can think of--that thousands of lives are indeed at stake, and so they're justified in torturing those Americans to get information about when, where, and how the war is going to start. Or let's say it happens in the middle of the invasion, with the regime we're at war with demanding information about when and where the assault on their capital is going to happen.

What leg would we have to stand on to condemn them? None at all, if the Ashcrofts and Schumers have their way. And yes, I know, the US doesn't make a habit of going to war with anyone who plays by any set of widely accepted rules. That doesn't matter. We do try to follow certain rules, and that's largely what separates us from the bad guys. If we're going to claim the right to make our own rules because we're the good guys, then we aren't the good guys anymore. Then it's just bad guys against worse guys.
10:58 AM
:: Monday, June 07, 2004 ::
So it passes...but what the hell is it?
The wheeling and dealing seems to have concluded, for now. The withdrawal opponents don't seem to have done very well for themselves. Like this little detail:
[At one point during the Sunday cabinet meeting], Ministers Netanyahu, Shalom, and Livnat expressed opposition to including as an appendix to the cabinet decision letters exchanged by U.S. President George Bush and Sharon. They left the meeting and a crisis seemed to be brewing, but an hour later a compromise was found - the letters would be "presented herein," not added as an appendix.
Wow, what a major coup for Bibi and company! A letter from the president of the US is "presented herein" instead of being added on as an "appendix." What a massive difference that makes.
Netanyahu, Shalom, and Livnat, who last week had demanded far-reaching changes in the plan, had to make do with insignificant semantic changes. For example, the first clause of the decision states that "nothing in this decision involves the evacuation of settlements."

However, Appendix A states clearly that "the state of Israel will evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip... and with the completion of the move by 2005 in the areas that are to be evacuated in the land area of the Gaza Strip there will be no permanent Israeli military presence."

The name of the plan was also changed, from "the prime minister's disengagement plan" to "the revised disengagement plan." The words "the evacuation will be complete by 2005" was changed to read, "the intention is to complete the evacuation by the end of 2005."
Yeah, way to stand that ground against settlement evacuation.

It's not that surprising that a large degree of "kicking the can down the road" ended up being the basis for compromise. Sharon never wanted to try implementing any of this before November anyway, since Bush is so determined to keep things as quiet as possible until the US election. But I find it hard to see where the withdrawal opponents will get additional leverage in the coming months. As of now, they've got the result of the Likud party referendum from last month, and also the possibility that Netanyahu might be able to muster a bare majority in the Knesset to replace Sharon from within. But as time goes on, it's difficult to see a scenario in which most Israelis become less supportive of withdrawing from Gaza. On the other hand, how does Sharon get any actual withdrawals through the Knesset without losing a large slice of the Likud, even in 6-9 months time, and with it his coalition?

More details on the plan itself here.
10:52 AM
:: Sunday, June 06, 2004 ::
My head is spinning
First, as expected, Sharon fired two extreme right-wing ministers in the last couple of days, in order to get a majority in his cabinet to pass his withdrawal plan. The cabinet appeared to have shrunk, from 12 against/11 for to 11 for/10 against, or maybe even better for Sharon. But now we get this:
The cabinet vote on the disengagement plan was halted Sunday evening after Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and Education Minister Limor Livnat demanded that the letters of understanding exchanged between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush not be included in the government decision. The demand was made because the letters that Sharon and Bush exchanged clearly state that settlements would ultimately be evacuated.

Earlier Sunday, the Prime Minister's Office said that Likud ministers had reached a compromise deal on the revised disengagement plan.

The new formula was to have enabled Netanyahu, Shalom and Livnat to support it, thus giving it a wide majority of 14 supporters versus seven opponenets.

Sources close to Netanyahu, Livnat and Shalom said the proposal the government will vote on does not include a decision to dismantle settlements, in principle or in practice.
Then what the hell will it say about settlements? Then there's this angle as well:
Shinui ministers left the cabinet meeting after it transpired that no date will be set for the beginning of settlement evacuation, but later returned after holding consultations, Israel Radio reported.

Shinui Minister of National Infrastructure Yosef Paritzky said Sunday that as part of the compromise the prime minister would make a public announcement in which he would declare that a government decision on the date of the evacuation of settlements would be reached by March 2005.
So the Shinui position seems to be that they can support putting off a decision as to when some settlement evacuation will happen, by as much as a year, but not if the evacuation will happen. On the other hand, the Bibi/Limor/Shalom position appears to be that no decision on settlement evacuation at all, not even a theoretical one, is going to get their support. I can't imagine that this will get any less confusing in the days ahead.
12:50 PM

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