Tuesday, January 31, 2006

# Posted 8:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STATE OF THE UNION PREVIEW: I won't be live-blogging the address because I don't have cable and can't even get the networks on my set without it.

Anyhow, Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet expects Bush to deliver a tough, partisan address defending his established positions on Iraq, taxes, etc. Although Kusnet's tone is clearly partisan, I think his basic point makes sense: Bush is low enough in the polls right now that he can rack up some significant gainst just by appealing to disaffected Republicans.

Also looking ahead, Kevin Drum (citing Bruce Reed) says that the format of the opposition party's response ensures that it is always ineffective. The audience is inevitably tired after the President's long address. The majestic setting of the address always makes the President look good, whereas the opposition doesn't even get a studio audience.

Fair enough. I agree that no one should give Tim Kaine a hard time if he does a less than stellar job. All I'm really hoping for is that he'll take a clear position on Iraq. (Yes, that was a cheap shot.)
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# Posted 6:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PELOSI & DURBIN OFFER "PRE-BUTTAL" TO STATE OF THE UNION: Last Thursday at the National Press Club, Nancy Pelosi and Dick Durbin had a chance to go on the offensive. They didn't, and it seemed to frustrate their liberal audience. The NY Times added insult to injury by running a headline about the speech that read, "Democrats Outline the Agenda, Mostly Sparing the Specifics".

Pelosi covered the domestic front while Durbin talked about security. The most memorable moment in Pelosi's speech was her "guarantee" that "every American will have affordable access to broadband – within five years." I think the free market may take care of that one on Pelosi's behalf. After all, Verizon is already offering DSL for $14.95 month. And the first month is free!

In his talk about security, Durbin went to extraordinary lengths to take absolutely no position about the war in Iraq. On the one hand, he said that:
The war in Iraq has diverted resources away from the war on terror, and damaged America’s standing in the world. It has limited our options to deal with other clear threats to our security – including the growing nuclear threats from both Iran and North Korea. And it stretched the finest military force in the world dangerously thin.
So that does that mean we should bring the troops home now or even in six months' time? Apparently not:
More than 2,200 of American service men and women have died in Iraq. They have given their lives...

Our troops have done everything we have asked of them. We owe it to them, and to their families, to hold our government accountable for a real plan to succeed in Iraq.
But don't persuade yourself that Durbin wants a long-term commitment to democracy promotion and nation-building:
Seventy-nine Senators – Democrats and Republicans – have said 2006 must be a year of significant transition in Iraq. The President must make it clear to Iraqis, and the world, that America will not stay in Iraq indefinitely. Iraqis must assume responsibility for securing their own borders and protecting their own citizens.
To put a positive spin on all of this, I guess you could say that no matter your opinion is about Iraq, Dick Durbin sort of agrees with you.

But that isn't good enough for the Democratic base, which made itself felt during the Q&A that followed Durbin & Pelosi's speeches. (There's no transcript available, but you can watch the event here or download it via podcast -- URL: http://www.democraticleader.house.gov/podcast/housedems.xml)

The first question was fairly supportive:
How do Democrats win the national security debate in '06? If people believe the Republicans will protect them better, does it matter what your domestic agenda is?
Pelosi's answer: "I believe that Sen. Durbin spelled that out very clearly." Heh. She also said that "We cannot allow this very important debate to slip into a place where people question our patriotism." Who did that? Barack Obama? Anyhow, Pelosi also managed to avoid talking a position on Iraq.

Durbin also took a stab at the question and gave an answer that came down to two words: Body armor. That should be a sort of Democratic mantra. Iraq? Body armor!

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this administration has done a lot of things wrong in Iraq, with the SecDef almost in denial about the situation there. And body armor is one of them. But body armor is not a position and it is not a policy.

Anyhow, here's the next question:
Why did Democrats line up so solidly to support President Bush when asked Congress for authority to invade Iraq? Don't you think that if the Democrats had strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq they would now be reaping the political benefits of that opposition?
Pelosi's answer was quite revealing:
First of all, let me question the basis of the question. Sixty percent of House Democrats voted against the war resolution. Sixty percent of them did...

But you give this a political tilt, and this isn't about politics...There is no party position about the war.
Well that is abundantly clear.
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Monday, January 30, 2006

# Posted 11:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TIM RUSSERT IS EVIL! Fancy that. An entire blog devoted to exposing one of my favorites, Tim Russert, as the journalistic Antichrist. And by a staunch lefty, to boot.

Now, you know what I think about the left attacking the media for favoring conservatives. It's pure comedy.

But now I'm beginning to think that it's a good thing to have the left on the warpath, since they are going to air out even more of the media's dirty laundry and thus help to puncture the aura of omniscience that journalists carry around with them.
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# Posted 11:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OOPS: On ABC This Week, George Will pointed out the following from last year's State of the Union address:
And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace. (Applause.)...

The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories are now showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of violence and failure. Tomorrow morning, Secretary of State Rice departs on a trip that will take her to Israel and the West Bank for meetings with Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas. She will discuss with them how we and our friends can help the Palestinian people end terror and build the institutions of a peaceful, independent, democratic state. To promote this democracy, I will ask Congress for $350 million to support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms. The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, is within reach -- and America will help them achieve that goal. (Applause.)
I might've been almost that optimistic last year. I wanted to believe that Abu Mazen could actually control Fatah and turn it into a reputable party. So much for that idea.

But I have no regrets about the recent elections. It has brought an end to pleasant illusions about what the Palestinian people want. Almost everyone on this week's talk shows -- Bush, Hagel and Obama -- tried to present the Hamas victory as a protest against Fatah's corruption and incompetence.

I agree with George Will. Not by a long shot. Fatah recognized Israel and the West Bank and Gaza are still a mess. Here in America, we might recognize Arafat's intifada as the ultimate cause of the Palestinian's misery when peace could've been had for a moderate price.

But the most plausible interpretation of the vote is that Palestinians have rejected the incompetent "doves" of Fatah and want to give the hawks in Fatah their chance.

And I still don't regret the election? No, not at all. The hatred has become too deep for a negotiated settlement. The Palestinians must have a hard-line government and learn for themselves that terror cannot defeat Israel. When they are ready -- five, ten, twenty years from now -- they will elect a government with a mandate for peace.

And in the meantime, the eyes of the Arab world are on the West Bank and Gaza. They have seen yet another Arab people expressing their will in free and fair elections. They will begin to ask: When is it my turn?

By the way, let me just say how much I like George Will. I may not like much of what he says, especially his realist approach to Iraq, but he is a class act. Week in and week out, he brings more careful thinking, civility, and useful information to the ABC Sunday-morning round-table than any of the other participants.
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# Posted 10:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"CONTRARY TO CORE AMERICAN VALUES, NOT JUST LIBERAL VALUES": Welcome back to third installment of OxBlog's talk show round-up. This week we had Bill Frist on NBC, Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel on ABC and the President himself on CBS. Here goes:
George W. Bush: B. It never hurts to have a friendly chat with Bob Schieffer. But still no answer on the wire-tapping except "Trust me." I think I do, but it's not much of an argument.

Barack Obama: C+. I like Obama and I won't hold it against him that he supported the anti-Alito filibuster, since he knew it would fail. It was an easy chance to score points with the Democratic base.

But Obama went too far when he said that Alito is "contrary to core American values, not just liberal values" . Given how defensive Democrats get when anyone suggests that they are unpatriotic or un-American, it's pretty ironic that the Democratic golden boy is now accusing an accomplished conservative judge of being un-American.

Say he's conservative. Or give us that old cliche about him being outside the mainstream. But this is hypocritical.

Chuck Hagel: B. Tells the President it's time for more transparency about wire-tapping. I agree. But Hagel got too many softballs, since Stephanopoulos just used him as a foil for Bush instead of actually challenging his views.

Bill Frist: B-. Hack.
And now for the hosts:
Bob Schieffer: B-. It was the same performance as always. But you have to bring your 'A' game when you've got an exclusive interview with the President.

Tim Russert: B+. A good job, but it isn't hard to make Frist look like a hack.

George Stephanopoulos: A-. His Hagel interview was weak (see above), but there was a priceless moment when he asked Obama about a post by Steve Clemons on The Washington Note, describing how Harry Reid told another Democratic senator interested in lobbying reform that this was the time to punish Republicans, not to propose bi-partisan solutions.

Stephanopoulos promptly asked Obama if he was the unnamed senator Reid was talking about. Obama began to stammer and you could practically hear the internal debate going on inside of his head: "Truth or dodge? Truth or dodge? Truth or dodge?"

Obama dodged. Clemons promptly reported it as an admission of guilt. In a way, it's sort of endearing. Obama is too new to the game to evade questions while pretending to be honest.
Until next week!
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# Posted 10:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DON'T BURP OUT LOUD WHEN YOU'RE LIVE ON THE BBC: Let me give you some advice. If you're going to be doing live radio, don't drink a bottle of soda right before it's time to go on the air.

I was sitting there in the studio, with a bubble of air trapped in my throat. I kept trying and trying to push it up and out before the interview began, but it just didn't work. So I went ahead and did the interview. And I got lucky. Nothing bad happened. But next time, I'll know better.
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# Posted 7:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE OXBLOG ON THE BBC: As noted below, Patrick just taped his interview, and I'll be heading down to the BBC's Washington studio in a few minutes to appear on Five Live.

You can listen by going to the Five Live homepage and clicking on the "Listen" icon in the upper right-hand corner. I should be on just after 9PM EST. The show is called Up All Night because if you're listening to it and you're in the UK, you should be asleep.

On the show, I'll be talking to Chris Vallance, whose homepage and podcasts you can find here. Along with Kevin Anderson, Chris hosts the Pods and Blogs segments on Up All Night. Logically enough, this is the segment on which I'll be appearing.
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# Posted 6:20 PM by Patrick Belton  

LISTENING TO THE ARAB STREET: In Ramallah tonight, in the coffee shops and falafel stands of the city, its people are talking over politics, attempting to make sense of a political reality where certitude lies only in that all is changed utterly. Tonight, as in previous nights it had been Fateh's, it was now the turn of Hamas's supporters to parade through the streets after dinner, under green flags and to shouts of Allahu Akbar.

Today, the stock market declined by five per cent as it has each day since the results, its maximum it is allowed to fall before trading is halted. Dr Hassan Yassin, its head, speaks now of a one-week trading holiday.

And what of the word on the Arab street? Munib Masri of Nablus, the richest man in a city known for its business acumen, is it's said being courted by Hamas as a technocratic prime minister. Hassan Khurayshi, who had been in the PLC as Fateh, and in these polls ran on the Hamas list from Tulkarem, is being tipped as head of parliament.

Zuhair Khalaf, a Christian and erstwhile Fateh member who in running as an independent in Ramallah attracted 8,000 votes, had his house shot up by Fateh sympathisers.

None of this is in the news.

I was surprised when many Ramallah Christians today told me that they, like those of Taibeh, voted Hamas because it was historically Fateh loyalists who attacked their businesses, agitated against the sale of alcohol, and engaged in communal reprisals against the Christian community, as when a Christian butcher stabbed a man in Qalqilya. In the latter instance, it was Hamas members who stopped the Fateh crowd from attacking the Catholic church in Ramallah. And this debt of loyalty was remembered on election day.

Fateh is not down for the count - 2 seats moved to the Fateh column in today's final vote tally, and these were significant votes, as they denied Hamas a two-thirds majority. Lacking it, the other parties will in concert be able to block constitutional changes and deny Hamas the ability to override legislative vetoes by the president.

More undoubtedly going on in the streets even now, but I'm to bed. I just recorded an interview for the BBC, in which I appeared jointly with the lovely Laila el-Haddad. Rhod and Chris from the BBC were gracious in the extreme, and I'm deeply honoured by the opportunity; I'll link to the segment once it's up online.
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# Posted 5:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

KUDOS TO CFR: for bringing on board veteran BBC World Service correspondent and two-time Murrow-winning journalist Michael Moran to revamp its cfr.org website, which he has been steadily shaping into a vibrant hub of electronic daily commentary on foreign affairs, together with publications by the Council's own studies programme.

This week the Council kindly let me contribute an interview with the Fateh young guard's Kadura Fares for the website, and I'll be looking forward to contributing more in the future from the West Bank and Gaza. It's stirring watching an institution so venerable taking a posture so innovative and erudite in the space of the internet, with such fecund results. Do go give the website a thorough read!
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# Posted 2:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

MSM WATCH: Fronting the Ha'aretz site at the moment is an article on Hamas, with a photograph presenting a suitably ponderous-looking chap wearing a kaffiyeh to obscure his facial features, a la cutting edge Middle Eastern fashion. Only problem: kaffiyeh in question is a black-and-white chequer, of the sort worn only by Fateh loyalists. Points though for trying and better luck next time chaps.

UPDATE: I knew I'd seen those eyebrows before somewhere.
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# Posted 1:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION were kind enough to have me on their PM programme, curiously enough, before my first cup of coffee. I'll post a link to the transcript and audio files once they're up. In the meantime, cheers mates, and well done holding off Sri Lanka!

UPDATE: Here's the transcript!
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Sunday, January 29, 2006

# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRAISING A BOOK I HAVEN'T READ: Busboys and Poets, the restaurant/ bookstore/coffee shop, is one of the most recent and valuable additions to the U St. neighborhood. I visited B&P for the first time on a very cold night last week in order to hear my friend Christina Asquith talk about her new book, The Emergency Teacher.

Her story is simple and compelling. As a young education reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, she found that there was almost no coverage about the crisis in urban education. Not just because the newspapers didn't care, but because the schools themselves were so committed to covering up the evidence of their manifest failure.

In order to see the education system from the inside, Christina left her job at the Inquirer and became a middle school teacher at the school ranked 42nd out of 42 middle schools in the Philadelphia district. Her book is about what she saw on the inside what we needs to be done to change the system.

In her talk at B&P, Christina announced that the answers she arrived at might strike liberals like herself as something taken out of the conservative playbook. In her talk, she blasted the teachers' unions for protecting incompetent educators and crushing the enthusiasm of young teachers like herself who wanted to change the system.

Although strongly in favor of raising urban salaries to match those given to suburban teachers, Christina said that throwing money at the problem is not the answer. Instead, the answer is to have strong principals who can demand the best from their teachers (and fire the worst) rather than being tied down by a thousand incapicitating revisions in the union-negotiated contract.

Christina also blasted "bilingual" education as a trap that prevents Hispanic students from learning the English skills they need to get ahead. In addition, it often prevents them from evening learning enough Spanish to be literate in their native language.

In light of this unorthodox message, it isn't surprising that the first papers to pick up Christina's book were the New York Post and Washington Times. However, the author of the Post's review was Andrew Rotherham, aka Eduwonk, of the DLC-affiliated Progressive Policy Institute. Rotherham writes that The Emergency Teacher
Is exactly the sort of truth-telling that is needed...

Through vivid and personal anecdotes, she captures the exhausting intensity of teaching in a chaotic environment where, for students, major breakthroughs and horrendous episodes often occur within hours of one another. She also makes clear an all-too-often overlooked aspect of urban school reform: While the system is built to serve the adults and not the children, there are many adults trapped inside it who also desperately want change, too.
I've only found time to read twenty pages of the book so far, but I'm already liking it a lot. I hope this book gets the attention it deserves.
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# Posted 8:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

C'MON, YOU'RE NOT DOING ANYTHING THAT IMPORTANT TONIGHT: For our Washington, DC readers, see this again about our pizza-and-foreign policy chat tonight in Dupont Circle. Everyone is warmly welcome!
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# Posted 6:23 AM by Patrick Belton  

SPEAKING WITH THE FATEH YOUNG GUARD: At the chic Ramallah restaurant of Darna I met yesterday with Kadura Fares, at 47 a close aide and intimate of Marwan Barghouthi and former cabinet minister who lost his council seat in last Wednesday's result.

Seeing me, Mr Fares rose courteously from the corner from which he held court, and lighting the earliest in a succession of Rothmans cigarettes, signalled the waiter to bring us espresso as we occupied a table in the centre of the restaurant's elevated platform. He wore a grey suit whose infancy was spent in Saville Row, on his face eyeglasses and a grey moustache neatly trimmed, and in a ritual familiar in politicians everywhere, we were frequently interrupted as Mr Fares inclined to shake the hands of pausing well-wishers.

OxBlog: Thank you for meeting with me, Kadura. Why did Fateh fail?

KF: Lots of reasons. First, the structures of the movement are old. The last general conference was held in 1989, and the old leadership are selfish, and thinks their legitimacy extends forever. We tried to renew the movement and hold a general conference before the general election; they refused.

Second, we pay the price of the ten years they were in office. They gave the people corrupt leaders, ministers and police officers. They dealt with the people badly, we pay the price.

Third, Hamas tell people they have the truth, can do a lot of things at the same time because they have direct relations with God, so quickly they will be able to build the economy, end the occupation, kill the Israelis and end corruption all at the same time. But over sixty per cent of Palestinians live under the poverty line. Hamas have not organised themselves for government. We have daily contact with the Israelis, over elections, water, sending people to hospital. What will Hamas do when day-to-day issues of this sort come up?

OxBlog: This is why Hamas is asking Fateh for a coalition?

KF: Yes.

OxBlog: And Fateh will accept?

KF: No. Because they have their own agenda. And that is not our agenda.

OxBlog: So you should give Hamas time to fail then?

KF: I think. They have no experience in dealing with the daily life needs of Palestinian people.

OxBlog: I can see it will be in the interests of Fateh to allow Hamas to fail. But if you do this, are you not ignoring the needs and interests of the Palestinian people?

KF: (pausing) They should say to Palestinian people Fateh way is best way. If they do this, we will join them in a coalition. I don't want any party to use Fateh, to use Fateh for their agenda.

OxBlog: We will they oppress the Palestinian people's freedom?

KF: I don't believe that. They are too clever for that. Maybe they will take some cosmetic decisions.

OxBlog: Such as?

KF: Maybe some steps at not silly things - change every security officer, administrative decisions, some cosmetics like having more women in headscarves on the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation.

OxBlog: Would they like to Islamicise Palestinian life?

KF: No, not Islamicise it. Lot of Palestinians are democratic, secular. They vote for Hamas to punish Fateh, to punish us. Not because they love Hamas. Hamas knows this and won't attempt to Islamicise Palestinian life because they want to legitimise their political wing. You couldn't say to this restaurant, you can't sell alcohol. Maybe some women in headscarves on television.

OxBlog: What about their prospects for administrative changes and reform?

KF: I don't think they have a lot of time. There will be pressure from the Palestinian people - Palestinian people will give them three, maybe four months to prove themselves. They will ask not only how have you furthered the resistance to our occupation, but how have you improved our daily life. Those with no work will ask, where is work. Those who are teachers will ask, where their salaries.

It is not enough for them to win, for them to then have answers for Palestinian people. They have been saying on television Fateh is the problem. Now they have power, legitimacy. Now we want to study from Hamas how they will solve Palestinian people's problems.

OxBlog: Their internal or external problems?

KF: They are linked. The economy is linked both to corruption and manufacturing policy and Palestinians' ability to access the rest of the world.

OxBlog: And will they negotiate with Israel?

KF: Because of that, they want Fateh to do the dirty work, and for them to be the imam, the clean leader. We think they should take both the clean and dirty work, both.

OxBlog: And with Israel?

KF: They should agree to recognise Israel, negotiate with Israel, to recognise Israeli state.

OxBlog: Will they?

KF:: Hamas is a pragmatic movement. If they make these steps, they will lose a lot of the movement, they will go to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

A strong group within Hamas wanted only to be in opposition. I think part of their members and activists will leave, go to Islamic Jihad.

They will find themselves exactly like Fateh. If I am a Hamas member, I would go to my leaders and ask, you told me Fateh programme is so bad, it is against our interests, our economy, our nationalism, our Islam. Now you do the same thing, but you say you are different because you have a green flag. They will be corrupt, but they need time to be corrupt.

OxBlog: You mention there are many points of view within Hamas. Do you view Zahar as a moderate?

KF: I don't believe Zahar. Not his decision to be moderate, to be a democrat. His vision, his mind, they are another man. He doesn't believe in democracy.

OxBlog: You have said at first, Hamas will want to make cosmetic changes. You don't think this will push them down an Islamic path? First headscarves on television, then to keep their supporters happy will reforms do not go so quickly, alcohol in restaurants?

KF: At beginning, no. Maybe after two years, they find they don't accomplish anything, then you find small steps, like closing bars maybe. Changing the syllabi of the ministry of education, maybe. But to change schoolbooks takes a lot of time, five or six years. Maybe if they use the old books of the Taleban. (laughs)

OxBlog: What about their relations abroad, with Iran and Saudi Arabia? Hizbullah?

KF: With Iran, not a strategic relationship. With Hizbullah, Iran is not happy that the Islamic movement will have so much success. They want to claim that only the Shi'i can win the war with Israel. Saudi Arabia wants Hamas to be part of its own circle of influence. But Hamas is enough clever, they speak a lot of time about resistance, now they will stop talking about resistance, because they are in power.

OxBlog: So will Saudi Arabia attempt to continue to give them money, finance?

KF: It is an easy thing to finance an organisation, harder to finance a people. If Israel gives Saudi Arabia the impression it is all right to give them money, they will. If not, possibly not.

OxBlog: What about Palestinian Christians, how will Hamas treat them?

KF: Unfortunately, many of them voted for Hamas. They were angry at us. In Taibeh, the village where they make the Palestinian beer, it is a Christian village, and one hundred people voted for Hamas. It would be funny if they should close the beer factory, that will suit them.

But Hamas will be sensitive, there will be a lot of focus on how it treats Christians, it will be careful to give a good impression with such scrutiny. There is a history of good relations between Muslims and Christians in Palestine, in the period of Saladdin, Palestinian Christians fought on the side of the Muslims, in the struggle against occupation, they have been part of the national movement. If Hamas makes this mistake, Fateh, we will be happy to protest and protect them.

KF: What is Abu Mazen's way forward? How much power will he as president turn out to have relative to the cabinet and prime minister?

On the last, I don't know. I don't think anyone knows. On the way forward, they will have 21 days from the final election results to prepare a government; if they cannot, they will have another two weeks; if they cannot then, Abu Mazen should call for another election.

OxBlog: Is Abu Mazen angry?

KF: He has no feeling. He is very cold. (laughs).

Many in Israel are blaming the EU for Hamas's participation in elections, that the EU pressured the US to lean upon Israel to have elections go forward. This is incorrect. Abu Mazen went to Washington, asked Bush to permit Hamas to take part.

OxBlog: So, Abu Mazen is a real democrat?

KF: Fateh is democratic, and Abu Mazen is part of Fateh. The Israelis killed Arafat, now they killed Abu Mazen also. In a year, he succeeded to remove one checkpoint. The Americans helped as well, on the tv sets, saying over and over again 'if Hamas succeeds, if Hamas succeeds.' They were overbearing, and provided a nationalist backlash. This is a proud people, and responds badly to being told how it should vote.

With that, Mr Fares was fetched by a man with a television camera, and we said goodbye and parted.
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# Posted 5:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

SOLUTION TO THE DILEMMAS OF PALESTINIAN DEMOCRACY: GIVE HAMAS FRONTBENCH ONE OF THESE: Boris Johnson goes head-to-head with Jasper Gerard in the Sunday Times.
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Saturday, January 28, 2006

# Posted 5:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHILE OXBLOG WRITES IN THE WEST BANK, OxBlog's new friend Laila El-Haddad blogs from Gaza.
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# Posted 8:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

RAMALLAH, VISITING THE MAYOR AT HER HOUSE. Janet Mikhail, in office as mayor for twelve days as the first woman mayor of a Palestinian city, is a remnant of Ramallah's Catholic community. That ancient aristocratic society's notions of hospitality being undimmed by time, as I'd been in her city for a few days she kindly invited me around to her house for coffee and kunafah, amid family photographs, lace doilies, and plates of pistachios and sweets. We spoke about Ramallah's Catholics, and how they viewed the Hamas result in the polls.

OxBlog: Mayor, you've now been in office 12 days. Are you tired yet?

JM: laughs at my bad joke

OxBlog: You yourself are liberal, and a Catholic woman. How do you view the Hamas victory?

JM: Well, it's normal. They're Palestinians, they have their rights. I think the world helped Hamas win, by talking about them. They had a slogan - Israel says no, America says no, and what are you going to say?

Sometimes - corruption is all around, the politicians haven't provided good services for the people. Hamas are not that bad as people see them - they're religious, conservatives, they want people to obey their rules, they have their thoughts and way of thinking, but they're disciplined. They're not that bad. If you look at religious stuff, they are conservative, and that worries people.

OxBlog: And does it worry Ramallah Catholics?

JM: We are 10 per cent Christians in Ramallah. I think Fateh knew this point - that we are Christians, and they wanted a Christian presence to stay in the city because of its history. Hamas - I think everything will be all right, yes. I think Hamas is going to change, after the election. The Palestinians are different than the Saudis and the Iranians - the Palestinians are more open than any other Arab people. In Saudi Arabia, women can't drive cars or walk in the street without anybody with them. Here, it is different.

OxBlog: What are your relations like with Hamas members in the munincipality?

JM: They're very nice people. In the municipality, they gave me their votes for mayor - they knew me, I used to work twenty years as headmistress of the girls' school, they knew my work, I'd taught their wives, sisters, and daughters, and they knew I was a hard worker. Politically, within the council voting, Hamas and Fateh are not close, so Hamas supported me because I was not Fateh.

OxBlog: Do you think Hamas will negotiate with Israel?

JM: Israel? That needs time, for them.

OxBlog: 10 years, maybe?

JM: Maybe two, three years.

OxBlog: Will social changes come to Ramallah, with Hamas's political ascendancy?

JM: Don't think they're going to change the way people dress - maybe they might try to be more conservative for Muslims, but not for Christians. We Christians wear normal clothes, Hamas maybe won't like this, or girls to go to parties, dancing. Restaurants are scared - might not let people sell drinks, that's why people are scared of Hamas. Anyway, we wait and see - we can't say now, maybe in a year. I don't think they're that bad. We'll wait and see.

We in Ramallah are an open city, that respects everyone who comes here. They like it because it's liberal, they can live free here. There are jobs here, with PA, with banks. We need to enlarge the city, take more care to urban planning, and do better with providing services.

Ms Mikhail is a lovely woman and extraordinary pleasant to talk with. We spoke a bit also about Ramallah politics and her list of independent technocrats, as well as municipal reform, which I'll type up here once I've got back from talking with some people in Marwan Barghouthi's circle, about how the Mustaqbal list members are reading the current unfolding events. See you all soon!
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# Posted 7:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

FACTOID OF THE DAY: In the next week, the PA must cough up salaries to over 150,000 employees, but its treasury is empty. The fault is partially Fateh's: in the leadup to the election, it added thousands to the PA payroll in an attempt to win votes.
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Friday, January 27, 2006

# Posted 5:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG AS A MULTIMEDIA EXPERIENCE! The kind people at PRI's Radio Open Source have me back on their show. Many thanks to them for with such nigh-bedouin hospitality having me as their guest!
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# Posted 4:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

AT TIMES, YOU HAVE TO ADMIT the other side in 'the conflict' may have some views worth listening to. So, even though she might wear Harvard sweatshirts, one of OxBlog's friends has a piece on Hamas's rise in the New York Times's op-ed page today, coauthored with Fotini Christia.

Also, for rather different perspectives, do see our Israel correspondent Emmanuele Ottolenghi, and IDF Brigadier Herzog.
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# Posted 4:42 PM by Patrick Belton  

OH - CANADA: My friend and our foreign policy society's fellow Taylor Owen lets us know what's what with the Canadian elections. (Also, a warm welcome to the blogosphere to Taylor!)
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Thursday, January 26, 2006

# Posted 3:50 PM by Patrick Belton  

VARIOUS VERSIONS OF HAMAS - AN INCOMPLETE SOFTWARE UPDATE?: Writing in the Guardian, the Observer's Ireland editor Henry McDonald cautions against facile comparisons between the Northern Ireland peace process and whatever it is - peace process sounds faintly nostalgic, like Max Headroom or New Coke - we have between the Palestinian territories and the government of Israel. So far, so much fair enough. But I'm not sold - at any rate, yet - by his contention Hamas (bad terrorists, and not Catholics; though note a similar preference for facial hair between Gerry Adams and Khaled Mashaal) make a model of ideological inflexibility while the Provos (i.e., good terrorists, who talk like me and probably share similar, good, senses of humour and drinking habits) make one of pragmatism and ideological responsiveness. Maybe, but he hasn't yet convinced me. Old McDonald's principal evidence is that the H-Block hunger strikers didn't kill themselves (well, they didn't mean to), whereas the suicide bombers of the H-Bomb did. Also, he depicts the IRA as ideologically heterogeneous (q.v., the Irish tradition of beginning meetings with a split) and the other lads in green as homogeneous. I think the former evidence is spurious, and the latter comes from looking closely at one and only from a distance at the other.

Better, I think, on this point these: Sam Knight's Hamas facebook in the Times, and Graham Usher's article in the Middle East Report. Whether they're right or not, I don't know; but I plan to develop an obsession on telling these guys with the facial hair apart. We're going talking to some of them tomorrow.
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# Posted 1:30 PM by Patrick Belton  

TALKED WITH HANAN ASHRAWI downstairs just now. Not mincing words, she expressed utter disbelief in the Hamas 2.0 hypothesis, said she would not be open to joining a coalition with the party and told me that she thought Hamas would bring the West Bank and Gaza into theocracy. On the other hand, she'd just finished several months of running against the party. Take your pick.
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# Posted 10:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

REPORTEDLY, young supporters of Hamas have forced their way into the parliament building in Ramallah, at which they'd been throwing stones. Taping a radio interview for later this evening, then running off to see...
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# Posted 5:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

DEWEY, TRUMAN &C.: 'Hamas makes gains against Fatah, but fails to win power' (Thursday Guardian)
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# Posted 4:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

UF, WELL THAT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN! When I wrote in yesterday's post that the real politics began when all of us went to sleep, I hadn't meant to be quite so prescient. After months of predictions from all parties and Israel slotting Hamas in at a likely 40-45 per cent showing, and Marwan Barghouthi's perhaps statesmanlike call earlier this week upon Hamas's supporters before the polls to form a government of national unity after them, it became clear in early hours Hamas has won a most solid and unexpected victory, aided by turnout substantially higher in Gaza, its most reliable source of support, than in the West Bank.

It's not clear anyone wanted this, least of all Hamas, who in assuming the administration of the Palestinian national authority's creaking and often corrupt bureaucracy single-handed in a moment when its sole lifeline of European and other international support appears threatened, may just have stumbled into the biggest molasses patch the Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah has ever faced. Unlike the Lib Dems of 1985, Hamas did not go to its constituencies to prepare for government. It had prepared for a coalition, or possibly pristine opposition, but not this.

Official results, once promised for 9 am, now will come out at the end of the day; Hamas is claiming 70 seats, in a 132-member parliament. PM Qureia has announced the mass resignation of his government. Israel, of two minds during the elections about Hamas's participation with a resulting policy incoherence, now is subsumed in recrimination for having permitted the balloting to take place at all (through its veto point, over East Jerusalemite voting). The EU and US are still sorting out their positions: with the EU External Relations Commissioner saying Brussels will work with any government that 'is prepared to work by peaceful means' (had she been from Whitehall, she might have added a 'solely' in there), and with the White House keeping mum on PA funding and reiterating America will not negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violent resistance and recognises Israel's right to exist. The latter - unlikely to happen as it contravenes the Hamas Charter: the farthest Hamas indicated during the elections it was willing to go was to talk of long term, perhaps '100-year', hudna. The Quartet, due to meet Monday to discuss how to deal with this, is for its part on record against allowing PA cabinet status for anyone party which had not renounced violence or recognized Israel's right to exist.

The mood here, so recently jubilant, suddenly is somber. In Ramallah we are promised a press conference at 7, with final results, and Hamas has said it will declare its intentions after. Does Hamas continue to moderate in its now desperate need to keep foreign aid flowing? It may still yet form a coalition, to provide internationally palatable, unbearded, faces for Europeans and Americans to talk to. Khaled Mashaal has telephoned Abu Mazen to offer a coalition partnership; while Saeb Erekat indicated Fateh would go into opposition, Nabil Sha'ath said Fateh leaders would meet at 5 to determine their future. Watch this space.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

# Posted 4:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

REFLECTIONS AFER A DAY OF POLLING: In Nablus today I expected to see street brawling; on election day at least, there was none. Similarly on the day of polls I expected armed attacks by rejectionists; of these there were none, either.

From Nablus I went on to talk to voters in a refugee camp in Ramallah, from there on to Beituniya, and from there a touchingly warm and outgoing mixed Muslim-Christian village I stumbled upon named ’Ein ’Arik, population 613, of whom 538 voted, and nearly as many congregated in the night in the square outside the village school. Someone pressed coffee and a spam sandwich into my hand as I spoke to a mixed crowd of Christians and Muslims. They mostly supported Fateh: electing it would show that the Palestinians, or at least they, wanted the peace process. They worried that a strong Hamas showing might lead to less international support. But rival supporters joked, talked, caught up, chided each other pleasantly on their foolishly miscast ballots; and this was the mood everywhere I went.

It was in ’Ein ’Arik I chose to be during the ritual close of balloting and the counting of votes, as at 6:58 the opening of the boxes as a volunteer drew, redrew, and further redrew a chalk grid on the classroom chalkboard to tally the votes. The cardboard voting booths were broken down, the tables rearranged as a volunteer adjusted her glasses under her headscarf and a glass of something vaguely pink was kindly pressed into my hand.

I will return to ’Ein ’Arik. With the unique exception of Iraq, if you want a taste of Arab democracy, get it here. And for those of us who believe that participation in democratic processes is the key to the moderation of extreme elements and the ending of terrorism, this is roundabouts where we put our money where we've been putting our mouths.
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# Posted 3:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

HAMAS, 2.0?: Whither Hamas? The green party looks fairly set to poll strongly in today’s polls, and one of the two analytical questions which follows is this. With Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizb ut Tahrir and a purported new Al Qa'eda presence in Gaza now outflanking Hamas on its extreme wing, how likely is the Islamic Resistance Movement from today to follow in the footsteps of the Provisional IRA and, like it, be trapped into moderation by enveloping democratic rhetoric, its own ambitions for power and from its outflanking on its radical wing (to switch peace processes, Islamic Jihad here taking the place of the Real IRA)? Put a different way, as Ha'aretz phrases it this evening, Does Hamas still want you dead? (with Islamic Jihad, at least you know where you stand).

So, Hamas (2.0?) – add to the above its talk of a 100-year hudna and its (more recently) expressed openness to discuss negotiations with Israel with its coalition partners, multiply by the rise of its political wing with a winning language of reform, and you see why observers like Birzeit’s Nader Said have raised the question whether Hamas by taking part in today’s elections has reached a point of no return. By taking part in the bashing together of legislative coalitions, Hamas will be forced to enunciate public reasons in favour of their policies such that in certain important fora at least they cannot say, contra their organisation’s driving motto, that Islam is the solution to everything. If true, the fact of its participation and cooptation would increase the PA's parastatal capacities precisely at its Achilles's Heel where it is weakest, in its abilities to control paramilitarism in its bailiwick, and especially those attacks upon civilians which divide the paramilitaries acting in its territories from the established laws of war commonly accepted by the grand sweep of humanity. The other question of the moment about Hamas is intertwined - what factions and cleavages can be traced within an organisation frequently depicted as monolithic and lock-in-step? The elections being over, activists and candidates may be slightly more willing to talk at least on background to differences in view within the organization.

The second analytical question concerns likely dynamics within a coalition between Hamas, Fateh and a third party - let's say perhaps for the sake of international credibility the list formed in the present elections by Salam Fayed and Hanan Ashrawi. Coalition juggling begins when the count ends and plays out until the ministerial composition of the next government is finalised at the end of February. The legislature itself plays little actual political role apart from setting up wrangling for the makeup of the cabinet, where power is exercised. Given that Hamas's strong showing at the polls today has been a foregone conclusion, the interesting politics takes place after. Now.

Asked, not answered. But I’ll get moving toward making my best stab at both.
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# Posted 3:31 PM by Patrick Belton  

ILENE PRUSHER is not only by universal agreement a nice gal, she's also the best reporter on this beat. She's just filed.
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# Posted 3:11 PM by Patrick Belton  

CURRENT EXIT POLLS, from Birzeit University: 46.4 per cent Fateh, 38.8 Hamas, 4 PFLP. Fateh wins 63 seats at the moment, Hamas 58.
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# Posted 2:12 PM by Patrick Belton  

TURNOUT: At 77 per cent. This via the press secretary, whom I passed in the hall.
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# Posted 8:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IT'S NO JOKE: Joe Malchow of Dartblog explores the evolution of a political cartoon.
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# Posted 7:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

AT THE OPENING OF POLLS IN NABLUS: In a city which has already known an election-related fatality (a man who attempted to stop several men from tearing down a poster of Hassan Al-Shaa'ka, former mayor of Nablus and first on its Fateh list; I was told of it just now by Al-Shaa'ka's niece), election day is proceeding as a street party. The mood on the Nablus street is festive, its sidewalks and alleys flooded with the tables and speakers of partisans with leaflets, its roads full of vans emblazoned with Hamas's green, Fateh's black and white chequer, or occasionally the PFLP's orange, its people good-natured and enjoying the pageantry. I spoke last night with a handful of strangers at an all-night roadside kiosk, where all were happily comparing their chosen candidates' buttons, and laughing. It is truly amazing the number of things than can be covered with green or chequer, caps, scarves, jumpers. The Hamas truck plays the chanting of the Qur'an, and inside an impromptu tent I speak with Hamed Abu Yamoush, who tells me they have not been doing get-out-the-vote manoeuvres, as they trust their supporters to come, and they are confident. Mehdi Al Faras casts the first vote in Nablus; he tells me on his way out that he casts it for Fateh, as leaders of the fight from beginning to end. The weather, now soured, began beautifully. There is a certain poignance to observing the ritual of the election room as I stand in it for the first hour of the day, as members of an Arab people cast ballots that are meaningful. Their fingers, too, are stained with indelible ink as they vote. One only hopes that the mood, if not the weather, can hold.
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# Posted 7:03 AM by Patrick Belton  

MY FAVOURITE LINK SO FAR ON PALESTINIAN ELECTIONS BLOGGING: 'Patrick Belton is loose in the Middle East' (via Alan Adamson)
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

# Posted 9:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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# Posted 9:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TNR SAYS 'NO' TO ALITO: Because he's a judicial activist. But TNR also says no to a filibuster, because it would marginalize the Democrats.
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# Posted 9:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TODAY'S HYPER-PARTISAN RIDICULOUSNESS: From both sides of the aisle, of course. First, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) told Jim Lehrer last night that
Many of us, both Republicans and Democrats, were terribly disappointed when we found out that instead of catching Osama bin Laden when we had a chance to catch Osama bin Laden, our most elite forces were yanked out of Afghanistan and sent into Iraq.
If one assumes there was an actual thought process behind this statement, I'd have to guess that Leahy was taking about our missed chance to catch Bin Laden at the battle of Tora Bora. But that was a good fifteen months before the invasion of Iraq, so Leahy must be imagining a whole lot of yanking. But getting the chronology wrong is really just kid's stuff compared to this next gem from Leahy:
Nobody asked if they were Republicans or Democrats killed on 9/11. Americans were struck. And yet we found out that this administration had the evidence before 9/11 where they could have stopped it, didn't use it.
By the way, the subject of the interview with Leahy was illegal wiretaps. Lehrer had just interviewed Al Gonzales and brought Leahy on to give the Democratic perspective.

Since the Attorney General's basic argument was that he's not allowed to explain why the administration couldn't ask for a warrant, Leahy should've been able to mount a pretty good counterattack without wandering off into Cloudcuckooland.

But moving on, here's some Republican idiocy. Last Friday on Hardball, Chris Matthews unveiled a new weekly feature known as "Hot Shots", in which invites MSNBC pundits Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby onto to his show to look back on the week that was. Here's what Scarborough had to say about the latest threat from Bin Laden:
The president is just not going to back down, and so bin Laden is actually parroting a lot of what we've heard from Democratic leaders across America over the past two or three years and also, of course, Michael Moore and other leftists.
And here's Tucker Carlson on the same subject:
There's no question, and anyone who reads bin Laden's statements yesterday will come to I think the same conclusion, that he is parroting the Democratic left talking points about Iraq. I mean, it's uncanny, it's unbelievable—point by point by point, all the way down to mocking Bush for his remarks on the aircraft carrier, the “mission accomplished” speech so derided in the years since. There's no question.

But that's not a slur on the Democratic left.

I mean, he's copying them, not vice versa.
No, of course that's not a slur on the Democratic left. Why would anyone think that? After all, bin Laden is just copying the Democrats. Just like Stalin was OK because Mao stole the whole mass starvation idea from him.

Anyhow, this all reminds me of what my brother once said to me. He said all conservatives seem to do is pick on the most extreme liberals, while liberals pick on the most extreme conservatives.

And now, I can add, centrists pick on both extremes.
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# Posted 9:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GETTING DEMOCRACY WRONG: With regard to Haiti, the administration has buried its head in the sand, according to the WaPo. In Gaza and the West Bank, it seems to be doing Hamas a favor by supporting Fatah. And in Iraq, it is hesitating to ask for more aid, writes Michael O'Hanlon.
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# Posted 8:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ABRAMOFF TO HEAD UP U.N. AFTER ANNAN'S DEPARTURE: Yes, I made that up. But really, it's hard to think of someone more qualified for the job. Consider this from today's post:
U.N. investigators have uncovered rampant waste, price inflation and suspicion that employees colluded with vendors in awarding contracts for a variety of peacekeeping programs, said a confidential report presented to several governments Monday.

Peacekeepers, for example, spent $10.4 million to lease a helicopter for use in East Timor that could have been secured for $1.6 million, and paid $2.4 million to buy seven aircraft hangars in Congo that were never used, the report said. An additional $65 million or more was spent for fuel that was not needed for missions in Sudan and Haiti, said the report, which called for an investigation into whether U.N. staff members improperly "colluded to award" one U.N. supplier an $85.9 million fuel contract for the Sudan mission.

The failure of U.N. managers to enforce basic standards has led to a "culture of impunity" in U.N. spending, according to the report. Together, it says that there are "strong" indications of fraud involving contracts whose value totaled about $193 million, nearly 20 percent of the $1 billion in U.N. business examined by the auditors.
Abramoff is big, big news because his scandal has partisan implications. But from a bird's eye view, what matters more? A lobbyist scamming his clients? Or the decay from within of the institution entrusted with restoring peace and stability to slaughterhouses such as Sudan, the Congo, and East Timor?

And while were on the subject of scandals, take a look at Jamie Kirchick's article about the utter superiority of the British when it comes to the art of self-incrimination. As Jamie rightly asks, why have no American politicians resigned after hiring an assassin to kill their gay lovers?
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# Posted 8:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Dear Reader,

You may want clear opinions from The New Republic or from any magazine of political commentary. But you certainly don't want predictable opinions or simple opinions, which, alas, is what you get from The Nation and the National Review, The Weekly Standard or The American Prospect. Why, I bet that you could write their articles in advance. No challenge, no mystery, no surprise, no puzzling through of argument. Not like The New Republic. Subscribe today for as little as $9.97 to read all of our unconventional wisdom...
Oh yeah? How about TNR paying me as little as $9.97 to read all of my unconventional wisdom?

OK. I admit it. I'm just playa hatin'. TNR does what I do and it does it better. But actually, I think I could write one of their articles in advance. Here goes:
This is an article about Subject X. Democrats say Y about X, but that argument is simplistic. Republicans say Z about X, but that argument is simplistic and dishonest.
At this point, the author pulls out a deck of cards and picks one at random. If the card is a ten or lower, the author concludes that the Democrats are right, but not for the reason given by some senator from Massachusetts.

If the author draws a face card, he thinks to himself, "I must agree with the Republicans for no apparent reason in order to show that I'm open-minded."

If the author draws an ace, it means that his thirtieth birthday is approaching and it's time to either go back to grad school or work for McKinsey.
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# Posted 1:32 PM by Patrick Belton  

AT THE OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE ELECTIONS COMMISSION: At the Central Elections Commission office in Ramallah to collect my press credentials, I counted eleven members of the Palestinian presidential guard with semiautomatics and bulletproofs vest, guarding an office which had received a visit today from a former American president (albeit Carter) and which expecting 950 journalists, received 1,700. I spoke with the director of the elections commission, a veteran of the presidential elections named Amar Dweik whose nervousness showed itself in a prominently placed razor cut from the morning, and Maxim Sansour, the IFES public relations advisor to the Central Elections Commission acting as press secretary for the CEC.

The 24-hour blockout period on campaigning has begun, and every inch of contested Palestine has got a poster on it, if not several. The statistics: seventy to eighty per cent of eligible voters registered, or 1.9 million; in last year's presidentials, 45 per cent of eligible voters turned out at the polls; there are 856 international observers here on gravy train outings (the French go around in a parade of several consecutive cars with large French flags atop, resembling nothing so much as a Bastille Day parade - as opposed to the average Hamas election event, which more closely resembles Paddy's Day in Boston), and including local observers and candidates' agents, a total of 18,000 people will be observing the day's voting in 1,008 polling centres. The atmosphere is one of tense expectation; elections officials fear that with three or four security service members guarding each polling point (they voted separately several days ago), each is vulnerable to attack. No one knows if the attacks will come or where; and so they wait.

The centre of operations, and hat-hanging point for most of those 1,700 journalists, is the shi-shi Palace of Culture in Ramallah, paid for by the Turkish consulate. (The British consulate, incidentally, paid for the ballot papers, made on Spanish paper; I visited the printing press in Nablus where they were being printed, and where over coffee the press's owner told me masked gunmen had paid him a visit to politely ask him to stop printing adverts for the elections; he complied, then the government telephoned him to tell him he could resume.)

OxBlog, however, is going to Nablus right now, since there are fewer journalists there and the possibility of more street action, in a city armed to the teeth. I'll see if I can get online from there, and post updates as possible.

The day's gossip is the revelation that a lecturer at Birzeit University, which prides itself on its independence, has received $180,000 to work as a media advisor for Hamas; I was at Birzeit in the morning when the news broke, with the university's president discomfited by the fact and the disclosure calling his senior staff, including the director of exit polling I was interviewing.

I'll be on Radio Open Source fairly soon from here, which is a great pleasure as they're wonderful people. More from me from the West Bank soon.
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# Posted 3:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

OFF TO RAMALLAH FOR ELECTION MADNESS: When I was there the night before last, the lions of Manara square had been enlisted as contested territory as much as any Palestinian voter, with supporters of competing factions quickly pasting their posters over those of their competition, and traffic in its roundabout slowing as banners fluttered to the dusty street. Hamas's local lists, chosen it's said by Khaled Mashaal who enjoys a reputation for strategic shrewdness, are where their real strength is; in the local lists, voting is by person rather than by party, and I've spoken with a number of non-Islamists whose family have supported Fateh for forty years, who in this election will be giving votes to particular local Hamas candidates whom they know and respect. A Fateh candidate associated with the Future list tells me that he thinks the unified Fateh list was a mistake; having a young-guard Fateh list to hoover up undecideds and anti-corruption voters would have dulled some of Hamas's support, and possibly swung the election. Two different Abu Mazen aides have gossiped to me that former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, who enjoys a reputation for pristine cleanliness in the west, resigned not over a point of principal but over a brewing scandal; the same rumour had been spread about Hanan Ashrawi, with whom he currently shares a ticket, when she stepped down from the PLC. (For someone whose reputation in the west is as a clean dealer, his aides are not above a bit of character assassination at bars. They are equally dim about Mohammad Dahlan, favourite of the Foreign Office and State Department to eventually lead a Palestinian state; him they decry as a thug who could solve Gaza's security problems, but only by illiberal methods to which they evince disgust.) Hamas candidates I've interviewed, for their part, are gently talking in terms of 100-year hudna, and taking no stand on their participation in government or stance toward Israel, which they say will be formed after the polls. Arab street gossip on this point is they've been coached by western political consultants, to stick to talking points from which they can't be budged (it's true - nice as they've been with their coffee, I've heard identical talking points from any number of very polite different Hamas candidates by now), and if they must wear beards, at least for heaven's sake not to dye them red, because that looks odd. (This last bit, said by someone sympathetic to Fateh to be a veridical piece of consultancy advice.) An interesting question having to do with the new PLC is that several candidates are almost assured to be elected who are wanted by Israel for one thing or another; there's some question as to how they will be able to travel to Ramallah, or whether the PLC will be able to gavel in meetings closer to them. At a Hamas rally I attended in a village by Ramallah, I was impressed by how close the repertory of the event lay to the political technology of campaign stops by New Labour, or Kerry - the same overloud music to jazz up supporters, the same rhythmic clapping, the same audiovisual background projected on a screen powered by Microsoft Windows. Even now, the same language - reform, with Zahar's Hamas adopting language queerly identical to Cameron's Tories. Does it last? Anyone's guess, but as Dr Adesnik once wrote, rhetoric has an odd way of trapping people into behaving better after elections than they want to.
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# Posted 2:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE IR CONTENT FOR DAVID'S BRAND SPANKING NEW IPOD: The University of Chicago's Center for International Studies drops a note to tell us they have placed a number of their talks online in iPod format - so far, these:

a. World Beyond the Headlines from the Center for International Studies (currently 5 "episodes" for three events, including talks by David Harvey and former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake):

b. Human Rights Program Distinguished Lecturer Series (currently 1 "episode," talk by Albie Sachs, Justice on the Constitutional Court of South Africa):
Happy listening!
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Monday, January 23, 2006

# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS ROUND IN THE ABRAMOFF DEBATE GOES TO THE LEFT: Following up on my previous post, I've done a brief and highly unscientific survey of online opinion about "directed" contributions.

First of all, there is a degree of implicit confusion about the word 'directed'. Mark Schmitt of TPM Cafe takes 'directed' to mean that Abramoff actively suggested donating money to specific Democrats. Schmitt then deconstructs some evidence Deborah Howell cited in order to show that that's what Abramoff did.

Brad DeLong, also of TPM, takes a different approach, asking whether Abramoff's influence resulted in his clients giving more or less money to Democratic candidates. He says less, citing this passage from the Feb. 22, 2004 edition of the WaPo:
"Under Abramoff's guidance, the four tribes -- Michigan's Saginaw Chippewas, the Agua Caliente of California, the Mississippi Choctaws and the Louisiana Coushattas... have loosened their traditional ties to the Democratic Party, giving Republicans two-thirds of the $2.9 million they have donated to federal candidates since 2001, records show..." [No link]
In other words, DeLong is arguing that it makes no sense to say Abramoff directed his clients' money toward Democratic legislators when actually he was directing it away from them. (See here for a related point.)

But did Abramoff want his clients to give nothing to Democrats, or did he simply want to divert the majority of funds to Republicans? If Abramoff wanted some of the money -- in the neighboorhood of $1 million -- to stay with the Democrats, is that a form of direction? This, I think is where the issue breaks down into semantics.

Which returns me to one of my original questions about this whole subject: Isn't the real issue whether there was a quid pro quo given in exchange for donations from Abramoff's clients, regardless of whether the recipient was a Republican or a Democrat?

The political logic of the moment is that anyone who got any money from Abramoff's clients is somehow dirty. And if anyone got money from Abramoff personally, they must be really dirty. But this is a form of guilt by association. I'd prefer to figure out who actually did favors in exchange for the cash.

Of course, the problem is also with system. Presumably, whichever lobbyist worked for the Abramoff's tribes before in the 1990s 'directed' them to give millions of dollars to Democrats. Should we assume that nothing was expected in exchange for such support?

Finally, I know I haven't gotten around to any right-of-center arguments about this subject. I looked on Instapundit and Power Line and a couple others but didn't turn up anything too good. You can provide links (i.e. not full text) below if you have any recommendations.
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# Posted 9:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN LOBBYISTS "DIRECT" DONATIONS TO A POLITICIAN? First, Deborah Howell wrote that Jack Abramoff donated money to both Republicans and Democrats. Whereas responsible liberals such as Kevin Drum and Jay Rosen criticized Howell for irresponsible reporting, the angry left flooded the WaPo with a stream of profanity that forced it to shut down post.blog.

After an extended silence (well, I guess three days is a long time on Media Planet), Howell corrected herself to say that
While Abramoff, a Republican, gave personal contributions only to Republicans, he directed his Indian tribal clients to make millions of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.
Apparently, her case was strong enough to persuade Tim Russert, who brought up the issue twice yesterday morning on Meet the Press. First, there was this exchange with Barack Obama:
MR. RUSSERT: You’ve been appointed, selected as the Democrats’ point man on lobbying reform in the Senate. I want to talk about Jack Abramoff and the scandal now in terms of lobbying and potential reform. According to the Center for Responsive Politics and The Washington Post, Mr. Abramoff and his clients and his associates gave about $3 million to Republicans, about $1.5 million to Democrats. Is this a bipartisan scandal?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think the problem of money in politics is bipartisan...And I think Jack Abramoff and the [K Street] Project, that whole thing is a very particular Republican sin.

MR. RUSSERT: No sin for the Democrats?
Then there was this exchange with Paul Begala:
MR. RUSSERT: Paul Begala, The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive politics investigated this whole Abramoff situation, and there’s a pie chart which breaks up this—explains how the money was distributed, if you will: 66 percent, 2.9 million, went to Republicans; 34 percent, 1.5 million went to Democrats. Senator Reid, Patrick Kennedy, Patty Murray, a lot of prominent Democrats received money from—associates, clients, of Jack Abramoff. Two-to-one Republican, but is it not fair to say it’s not just Republicans that have to be cleaned up, it’s the whole process?

Mr. PAUL BEGALA: Well, yes, to the latter, absolutely...There were a lot of Democrats who didn’t want to clean up the system, quite candidly. They, I think, were hoping to sweep out the corrupt Republicans lobbyists and bring in corrupt Democratic lobbyists.

But on Abramoff, that’s misleading. This is a Republican scandal. Mr. Abramoff is a movement-partisan Republican. There’s no evidence in all of the indictments, in all of the e-mails, in all of the investigation that any of the money that went to Democrats from Indian tribes was directed by Mr. Abramoff. You know, the Indian tribes mostly gave money to Democrats who had Indian tribes and casinos in their state. There’s no evidence at all that it was directed by Mr. Abramoff, and if there were, I’m sure we’d have it by now because it’s coming out.

So I think it’s unfair to say Democrats are part of the Abramoff scandal.
So what is the state of play on the issue of Abramoff "directing" contributions? Is getting money from Abramoff's clients different from getting the cash from Abramoff himself? I really don't know the answer.

Isn't the real issue whether there was a quid pro quo given in exchange for such donations? After all, there's nothing illegal about accepting big donations from Indian tribes or any one else. Yet Begala seems very eager to deny the charges.

I have to make a phone call now, but then I'll hit the blogosphere for some answers. I'm guessing that within ten minutes I'll have found more posts on this subject than I could possibly ever read.
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# Posted 8:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ART IMITATES LIFE. LIFE CHANGES. ART TRIES AGAIN. Chris Noth became a bona fide star after portraying heartthrob "Mr. Big" opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City. Not until I started dating a lovely litigator did I know that Noth had already become a minor celebrity in the early 1990s by playing Detective Mike Logan in the very first seasons of Law & Order.

After watching just a single episode of L&O, I was hooked. I love cop shows, and it's a great one. I also love shows about New York City, because there's nothing like growing up in Greenwich Village.

What struck me almost immediately when watching L&O was the sharp contrast between the bleak city it portrayed, c. 1990, and the charming, oh-so-fashionable New York, c.2000, of Sex and the City. It's almost impossible to believe that the shows take place in the same city.

Then again, if you grew up in New York in the 80's and 90's and then visit it again today, you may not be able to believe it's the same city either. The fear is gone. The pessimism is gone. We loved our city back then, but we were still afraid of it. We loved our city back then, but we were afraid that it would only get worse and worse.

All of this comes rushing back when I watch the first season of L&O, of which I've now seen about 10 episodes. Episode Two is especially striking. Long story short, it is a retelling of the story of "Subway Vigilante" Bernhard Goetz, except that the Goetz character is played by a woman -- none other than Cynthia Nixon, aka Miranda from Sex and the City.

Instead of a red-headed partner at a corporate law firm, she plays a frail blond dancer who buys herself a gun and starts reading books about self-defense because she is so afraid of the city she lives in. In the end, we never really know if she shot in order to defend herself or because she was taking vengeance on all young black men.

The Goetz incident left a strong impression on me, even though I was a young child. Finally, someone had struck a blow on behalf of all of us who were afraid to live in our own city. We all knew that the smart thing was to give your wallet to the mugger and run. But we wanted someone to stand up to those (predominantly dark-skinned) thugs who had taken our city away from us, espeically if the police couldn't.

On the other hand, I grew up in a progressive home and had a deep desire for racial harmony. How could we ever end the crime if we didn't end the hatred? Didn't putting so many young black men in jail -- instead of in decent schools -- just make the problem worse? And in the age of Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, were the muggers really the worst of the criminals?

This impulse also comes through very clearly in Law & Order. Episode Five opens with a white couple being shot in an underground garage. We a see a young black man running from the scene of the crime. We learn he was smoking crack at the time. We learn that he mugged seven victims at knife point.

But the young black man turns out to be innocent and the rich white woman turns out to be the worst of the criminals, coldly conspiring with her lover to murder her husband and run away with $9 million in life insurance.

Three years before the debut of L&O, Tom Wolfe descibed in his novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, the desire of guilty white New York to find a "great white defendant" it could condemn in order to demonstrate (if only to itself) that its courts and its police weren't just an official conspiracy to put young black men in jail.

In a lot of ways, New York was an ugly place to live. Thank God, so much of that has changed. Back then, neither sympathy and schools nor harsh justice was the answer. We needed Giuliani, but we also needed the Reagan-Clinton boom to grow our city out of despair. So instead of crime, we now have Sex.

What I'm curious about is how Law & Order has changed over the years, since it is still on the air after a decade and a half. And Chris Noth has returned again to play Detective Mike Logan.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

# Posted 6:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: If you weren't watching, you didn't miss much. Barack Obama was on Meet the Press, followed by James Carville & Paul Begala, talking about their new book, with Mary Matalin thrown into the mix for balance. Joe Lieberman and Pat Roberts were on Face the Nation. John Kerry led off on ABC This Week, followed by Jane Harman and Peter Hoekstra of the House intelligence committee. Here are the grades:
Barack Obama: B+. Obama continues to take the high road. Beloved by his party, he can accomplish more by reaching out to the center with civility than by attacking Republicans. But does he have ideas of his own?

Carville & Begala: B-. They blast their own party for being too soft and for not having a message, but they don't seem to have one either. But they get the B- for Carville's spectacular assertion that Hillary's "plantation" remark did not have racial overtones.

Mary Matalin: B. Did the job, nothing memorable.

Pat Roberts & Joe Lieberman: B. In most instances, I would give separate grades to a senatorial duo from opposing parties. But they didn't disagree. Nor did they agree on anything all that interesting.

John Kerry: B+/A-. Yes, I'm flip-flopping on Kerry's grade. So sue me. He's up in the 'A' range because he still has the passion and force of a candidate. But without the media spotlight forcing him to stay in the ballpark, I think he's beginning to get a little kooky. I can really see him becoming another Ted Kennedy: passionate, forceful and seriously kooky.

Harman & Hoekstra: B+. They are both very well spoken. Yet by virtue of being the ranking member and chair of the intel committee, they can't be at all specific.
And now we rate the hosts:
Tim Russert: B-. Really had an off week. Instead of challenging Obama to get specific about Iraq, he asked him to comment on the latest bit of anti-American hatred being spouted by Harry Belafonte. Come on. Even Dennis Kucinich would strike a patriotic pose by condemning that garbage.

Bob Schieffer: B. For the same reason as always.

George Stephanopoulos: B-. Kerry just bowled him over. Stephanopoulos seemed genuinely surprised by Kerry's passion and couldn't muster any of his own.
I must admit I enjoy handing out grades. But I guess that means I'll eventually have to take it on the chin when someone starts grading this blog.
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# Posted 11:23 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE FOREIGN POLICY SOCIETY: Live in London? Paris? Dublin? Like foreign policy, and (optionally) alcohol? Then drop us a note - we've got three new chapters getting ready to be launched.
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# Posted 10:34 AM by Patrick Belton  

'In honor of Saliha's reappearance from overseas and my own reappearance from the bowels of the Georgetown law library, we decided to put together a little dinner discussion next Sunday (1/29) on leadership transition in the Middle East. Saliha made a reservation at 7pm at Buca di Beppo, 1825 Conn Ave, north of DuPont Circle.

Hopefully this will get us back in the good habit of meeting every few weeks to chat about foreign policy! Please invite anyone you think would be interested, and I hope to catch up with all of you there. I also posted an ad on our website at www.foreignpolicysociety.org/events.htm'
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# Posted 9:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

AFRICA WATCH: The Council on Foreign Relations (which, in disclaimer, is where I've worked slavishly for Kang and Kodos in the past) is webcasting an event tonight on U.S. Africa strategy featuring Princeton Lyman, Christine Todd Whitman, Soledad O'Brien and Stephen Morrison. For more information, see this announcement, and do watch the webcast tonight at 6:15-7:30 pm EST / 11:15-12:50 GMT here or by way of the cfr.org website.

Also, for you sunny Californians in the midst, OxFriend (and Africa fellow in our Foreign Policy Society) Zach Kaufman is giving a lecture at Stanford on 1 February.
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# Posted 7:53 AM by Patrick Belton  

ELECTIONS WATCH: We like many are quite interested by the upcoming elections to take place soon in a region seething with ethnic hatreds, volatile nationalisms, and religious difference. I refer of course to Canada. Our friend Michael Stickings has an excellent roundup of election happenings, including the presence on the Liberal list of Michael Ignatieff, of whom we on OxBlog are quite fond.
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# Posted 7:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHURCHILL ON THE VIRTUES OF NAPPING: This from my former student, Jon Silver, a consummate gentleman and my host in Jerusalem. It is transcribed from a conversation Churchill had with the American inventor, Gfoerer, who had made a dictation machine for him to permit his secretaries to go home at night.
Churchill: What is your day in America like (looking Mr Gfroerer straight in the eye)? What time do you get to your office and when do you stop working?

Gfroerer: I'm at my desk every morning at 8 and leave at 530. At noon I have a short break for lunch. We do that five days a week, and sometimes I go around to the office on Saturday mornings to read the mail.

Churchill: My dear man, you don't mean it. That is the most perfect prescription for a short life I've ever heard.

Graebner recalled how Gfroerer, 'a little frightened and somewhat staggered by Churchill's sudden probing into his private life, then confessed that his wife also did not approve of his hours at all, and would certainly be delighted to hear the views of Mr Churchill.' The conversation continued:

Gfroerer: Mrs Gfroerer hates to get up at 645 and have breakfast so early. Then she doesn't see me again until 6 in the evening. We have dinner early, and by 10 I'm so tired that I fall into bed and am asleep in two minutes. I know I've got to slow down. That's what Mrs Gfroerer is always telling me.

Churchill: You must sleep some time between lunch and dinner, and no half-way measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one - well, at least one and a half, I'm sure. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities. Later, when I became Prime Minister, my burdens were, of course, even greater. Often I was obliged to work far into the night. I had to see reports take decisions and issue instructions that could not wait until the next day. And at night I'd also dictate minutes requesting information which my staff could assemble for me in the morning - and place before me when I woke up.

Churchill relit his cigar, poured himself a little more brandy, passed the bottle to Gfroerer and continued:

But a man should sleep during the day for another reason. Sleep enables you to be at your best in the evening when you join your wife, family and friends for dinner. That is the time to be at your best - a good dinner, with good wines (champagne is very good), then some brandy - that is the great moment of the day. Man is ruler then - perhaps only for fifteen minutes, but for that time at least he is master - and the ladies must not leave the table too soon.

Gfroerer: I must slow down. My wife has been telling me that for years, but something is always happening at the office. Mrs Gfroerer will agree with everything you've said when I tell her.

Churchill: Do you always get up for breakfast?

Gfroerer: But of course.

Churchill: Your wife too?

Gfroerer: Why, yes.

Churchill: My, my! My wife and I tried two or three times in the last forty years to have breakfast together, but it didn't work. Breakfast should be had in bed, alone. Not downstairs, after one has dressed.

His eyes twinkling, Churchill added: 'I don't think our married life would have been nearly so happy if we both had dressed and come down for breakfast after all these years.'
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# Posted 5:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

OBSERVATIONS ON CRASHING IN THE GERMAN COLONY, S.W. JERUSALEM, PART 1 OF A SERIES: When you really come down to it, most things in life seem to be dairy.
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Sunday, January 22, 2006

# Posted 7:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

NABLUS: Yesterday in Nablus, I interviewed the local commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a longtime Hamas leader who is the number six candidate on his party's national list, and a Palestinian poet. The chaps from Al-Aqsa and Hamas were courteous, gentle, and unfailingly polite, and gave me Arabic coffee. The poet was an arrogant insufferable git. Go figure.
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# Posted 7:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

EUAN FERGUSON IN THE OBSERVER: 'A whale sailed through the middle of London; and the people of the city, rather than trying to hack it to death, came in their thousands and lifted it and tried their hardest to sail it back.'
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# Posted 7:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

NEW OXONIAN REVIEW OF BOOKS OUT: Awfully nice people them, and as always it's worth a read. I have a small review in it of Louis Freeh's memoir; but the other articles are better.
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Saturday, January 21, 2006

# Posted 2:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONSERVATIVES DEFENDING THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA FROM LIBERAL ATTACKS? I guess anything can happen in the blogosphere. In case you haven't heard, the Washington Post took down the comments section on post.blog because
There are things that we said we would not allow, including personal attacks, the use of profanity and hate speech. Because a significant number of folks who have posted in this blog have refused to follow any of those relatively simple rules, we've decided not to allow comments for the time being. It's a shame that it's come to this.
Unexpectedly, conservatives are lining up to support the Post's decision while liberals are denouncing it as a cover-up of the Post's pandering to Republicans. Come again? Well, let's start with some background.

WaPo ombudsman Deborah Howell provoked an avalanche of comments at post.blog by writing that Jack Abramoff gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans. Howell then corrected herself by saying that Abramoff directed his clients to donate considerable sums to 88 Democrats. Abramoff himself only donated to Republicans.

Is that a good description of the facts? I'm not sure yet. I'm still just ankle-deep in the controversy.

Anyhow, one of the first things I'm trying to figure out is whether post.blog took down the comments section because of profanity and personal attacks, or because it couldn't handle harsh criticism of its reporting.

Although the Post thought it had deleted the offending comments, a number of bloggers on both left and right have recovered the comments and posted them here, here and here.

Out of curiosity, I read around 100 or so of the comments (out of a thousand or so) and found none of the profanity or hate speech the Post had cited to justify its decision. However, Brainster has gone over the comments more carefully and come up with some pretty offensive ones. Which leads me to wonder if the Post could've avoided this whole controversy with selective deletions rather than a total shut-down.

With all of that said, it's time to move on to the debate about whether the Post did the right thing. I'm going to punt on this issue for the moment since I have to run some errands and then clean up my apartment before my girlfriend show up from New York. But here are some links to follow:

WaPo editor Jim Brady defends his decision in interviews with Jay Rosen and Hugh Hewitt. For the left, Steve Gilliard deconstructs Brady's responses to Rosen while Jane Hamsher slams his answers to Hewitt. There's more criticism from Hamsher here, here and here.

Atrios says: Wanker.

Glenn Reynolds briefly defends the Post here. Finally, Jay Rosen rounds up the response on both sides in the "After Matter" section below his interview with Brady [scroll down, no anchor link].

Until later...
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# Posted 2:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EDITOR'S NOTE: You may notice that the comments section has been relabeled "opinions". This was done in order to keep away spam-bots, which often look for the word "comments".
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Friday, January 20, 2006

# Posted 1:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RANDOM SHOUT OUT: To Tom Bevan and the rest of the guys at Real Clear Politics. Just for keeping up the good work.
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG TALKS TO HAMAS: In my last post, I wondered how to crack covering Hamas; I shouldn't have worried. A few hours later, after interviewing the director of the election commission in his Ramallah office, I found myself standing outside the Hamas headquarters for the West Bank. Being in general one to press my luck, I walked inside, past several youths who regarded me warily, and up to the top floor where I enquired after the chap who ran the place. He sat down with me, gave me Arabic coffee, and spoke to me for roughly a half hour about his organisation's posture in the elections and the drafting of its platform. He then offered to let me accompany his wife to a Hamas rally at an adjoining town, in support of women candidates on the Hamas list, so I did. Returning to East Jerusalem, I then talked and drank with Fateh people until 1 am at the Palestinian and international civil society watering hole, the Border Line cafe.

I'll type up these interviews, and impressions of Hamas and Fateh from close remove, as soon as I can spend a bit more time at my keyboard. But at the moment, I'm running off to Hebron to talk to Palestinians and settlers. I feel like singing: Hebron...I'm in Hebron....
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# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST ARRIVED FROM AMAZON: Mao: The Unknown Story and President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination.
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# Posted 12:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GEORGE & ANGELA AND VLADIMIR & GERHARD: Jim Hoagland published a good column this morning on the flowering relationship between Merkel and Bush. Whereas Merkel was purposefully cold to Putin during her recent trip to Moscow, she is already on a first name basis with Bush. (The cheeky Vic Matus even suggests that W. has a crush on die Kanzlerin.)

Hoagland points out, of course, that this pattern of events is as much about biography as it is personality. As a KGB agent, Putin made a personal contribution to the police state oppression under which Merkel grew up. And now he seems to want a police state of his own in Russia.

In contrast, Merkel seems to recognize that an imperfect United States is still a great and active force for good in the world. During her visit to the United States, she has made public her opposition to the detainments at Guantanamo, but it has not stopped her from building a strong relationship with Bush.

At the same time, it is important to recognize what limitations public opinon places on Merkel. As a German analyst pointed out on PBS, Merkel has consistently and intentionally shunned the phrase "war on terror", instead referring to a "fight" or a "threat". To put that in perspective, I think it's fair to say that an American politician who refused to describe this as a war would be considered well to the left of Howard Dean.

So what are to make of a situation in which allies with such significant differences of opinion are nonetheless working so hard to rebuild their relationship?

I believe that this is an indication of the degree to which US-German and US-European relations rest on a sense of shared values and shared identity rather than a commitment to specific institutions or specific policies. At the height of trans-Atlantic tensions during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, many well-informed observers spoke of the imminent breakdown of the "postwar international order".

Yet a la Mark Twain, the reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. The United States and Europe understand that they are each other's natural allies because of their shared democratic values. The greater the tension between them with regard to specific issues, the harder they will eventually try to repair their relationships.
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Thursday, January 19, 2006

# Posted 12:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

OUT DRINKING IN EAST JERUSALEM last night, and headed to Ramallah today in the kind tow of the correspondent of the Spanish news agency. Will post at length when back.

I must say I'm quite as taken aback by Palestinian hospitality as I am by Israeli gregariousness. These people are, on both sides, much nicer to write about than rioting banlieues chaps.

Skulking about the strategic studies centres of their universities, the Israelis seem of two minds when it comes to Hamas's projected strong showing in the polls - either it won't be that bad, as they'll likely moderate and deal cleanly with administration and garbage collection, or it's an end to Oslo and the start of a good bit of jihad; there's also the possibility the lads in green might accidentally win outright, which no one seems to want, least of all possibly Hamas. ('Much easier to keep your virginity when you're not in power,' was how an analyst at the Jaffee Centre put it to me.) It's only the prospect of Hamas in the morning that's made the Al-Mustawbal faction of Marwan Barguhthi and Mohammad Dahlan form a united list with the Fateh old guard of Tunisian Abus, though even so Fateh have lost some of their cleverer cleaner people such as Salam Fayyad. The two strands of Israeli thought appeared in the policy incoherence over East Jerusalemite participation in the elections, as close to a veto point over the elections that the government of Israel held. It'd be a nice game for the Iranians if they could use the Hamas Izz al-Din al-Qassam paramilitaries as deterrence against an Israeli air strike on their nuclear facilities, but most of the watchers in Israel think Hamas is too independent a movement to serve as anyone's catspaw. The big question of the day is how they'd govern - unless I'm wrong, they'd be the first ikhwan organisation actually to enter power in the Middle East, and something of a test case for how Islamist parties would respond to more comprehensive political involvement. One Israeli professor thought out loud perhaps it was necessary to cross the stream to two states in two steps, and perhaps Hamas today is analogous to the PLO of thirty years ago; so in 2030, we could then expect them to be accomodationist, corrupt and irrelevant also. The elections are also meant to further the weakening of the external leadership, such as Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, in favour of theoretically subordinate people on the ground such as Mahmoud al-Zahar in Gaza. Possible storylines: how the Ramallah leadership is viewing the change of regime in Jerusalem; in Gaza, going to UNRWA to see how they're keeping up social service provision amid the chaos of the withdrawal; and going around East Jerusalem for residents' response to the voting story, which didn't seem terribly to preoccupy my new friends at the Askadinya last night. I'm most of all interested in tackling Hamas but not yet entirely sure how; there are a few young reformists like Saadeh Shalabi who just won in the Ramallah suburb of Beitunia, but they're new recruits (he's an electrical engineer at Al-Quds University) chosen for their clean hands and possibly less likely to be in touch with the higher processes of the organisation. Commentors' thoughts welcome! For my part, off to the Damascus Gate to catch a ride to Ramallah - see you lads from there!
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