Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Italian 7 o'clock network news

Nicola Ciardelli, Franco Lattanzio and Carlo De Trizio return dead from the quagmire, carbonized by thermal shock. The US public should be forced to watch images such as these of their own dead every night on national evening news. Of but wait. The President has ordered "no coverage".

300,000 in Manhattan


Yes, yes and yes to what they say. View the Newsday gallery here.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Taking a break

Friday, April 21, 2006

Hand wave from Damascus

Does this mean the same thing to an Arab as to an Italian? If so, Zahar has a message for Bush.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Italy's Winnerless Election

An Italian political scientist explains the Berlusconi effect. From Le Monde, 19 April 06

BTW, Il Cavaliere still refuses to step down, despite today's ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of the win by Prodi's coalition. We can be assured that he intends to provoke a dramatic internal crisis just short of a coup d'état by claiming that the victory by the Left is illegitimate. The Carabinieri are going to have to frog march him out of office in the end. That is, if President Ciampi, has the coglioni. Although a conservative, I think Ciampi nevertheless has strong notions of legality.

Italy: A winnerless election, by Ilvo Diamanti. [Diamanti is an expert in domestic politics at Urbino University.]

The April 10th election in Italy demonstrated the extraordinary leadership ability of Silvio Berlusconi, despite the fact that he lost. By himself, he was able to mount an electoral campaign that the leaders of the Casa delle Libertà (CdL) had given up as hopeless. He was able to lead his personal political party, Forza Italia (FI), and the Center-Right coalition to the threshold of victory -- one that eluded him by only a few votes that were, moreover, contested. It is interesting to take another look at The Cavaliere's resurgence at the polls, which was accomplished in two venues that at first glance appear to be unrelated: Television and the North.

The former is a non-venue that Silvio Berlusconi frequented non-stop for almost three months. He strove to make himself a permanent fixture in the news, broadcasting messages and raising political issues that were often at or beyond the limits of decency. All this was meant to energize an electorate that was otherwise unhappy with the economy, disappointed by the government's actions and planning to defect from FI or not to vote at all. As in 2001, Silvio Berlusconi opted for a highly personalized campaign. But instead of concentrating on people's hopes --—which might have been provocative-- he chose to play on their fears. Fear of tax hikes on savings and property in a country of savers and property owners.

Fear of crime. Fear of immigration. Job fears (in a very flexible job market). Multiple fears with a single target: the Left and the communists. By casting the campaign as a referendum -for or against him-, Silvio Berlusconi mended the divisions within his own camp and was elevated to uncontested sovereign. This “media campaign of fear worked extremely well.

However, the image of this virtual monarchy that reigns over the “media landscape” cannot dispel the fact that CdL and FI in particular confirmed their cohesive voting geography in 2006, consistent with the past. The Right disposes of a very large electoral base (57% to 58% of voters) in three regions: Sicily, Lombardy and the Veneto. In Sicily, its success is mediated by local pressure groups (which can render success rather volatile as was witnessed over several elections in the last few years).

But in Lombardy and in the Veneto, CdL'’s success is a reliable constant. But this time the Center-Right won in other regions of Northern Italy: Friuli, Venezia-Giulia and even Piedmont. Today the CdL can reliably claim to represent the most productive and modernized portion of the country. And how did the Berlusconi camp carry out this dual media and geographic campaign? A portion of Northern society has always viewed the Left with suspicion. It considers the Left hostile to its values and interests, which are founded on privacy, enterprise, the market, family and distrust of government.

People did not cast their votes for these parties out of passion but out of self-defense. The proof is that when the Northern League began talking of the secession of Northern Italy, half its base defected and its share of the electorate declined to 4%. Moreover, the same voters who cast their ballots for the Right in national parliamentary elections can well vote for the Left in mayoral or regional contests out of pragmatism. This has occurred in Friuli, Piedmont, Verona, Padua and even in Milan.

With his television campaign, Silvio Berlusconi was successful in reactivating the reflex of distrust towards the Left and all it represents: Government, public ownership, taxes, multicultural society and globalization. And the Center Left did little to dissipate those fears. Invective against the “communists” and their alleged hatred for liberty and the free market effectively reawakened a non-voting fringe of the population and brought it to the polls --less out of fervor for Silvio Berlusconi than for their anti-Left impulse.

Effectively, the Forza Italia vote declined 6% in the North compared to 2001 and the Northern League achieved a mediocre score, barely over 9%. The resistance of the CdL can be entirely attributed to the flattering results of the National Alliance (AN, post-fascist) and to the centrists of the Christian Democrat Union (UDC), two parties implanted in the South long ago and which have recently adopted a less radical tone than that of their allies. Nostalgia for the former Christian Democrat Party seems to have also played a role.

In other words, Silvio Berlusconi used television as a distorting mirror of the traditional Northern reluctant attitude towards the Left with great savoir-faire. Instead of establishing consensus, he contributed the country's divisions (reinforced by the newly-reintroduced mode of voting based on lists). The Center-Left, which disposes of a strong traditional organization and a mobilized base, did not know how to counter-attack on the ground. To the point that television became the only genuine battleground in this crucial election.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Berlusconi Subversion of Italy

One of my favorite newspapers is the Rome daily La Repubblica. It is intelligent, Left-leaning and editorially honest. Today, the paper is on the bleeding edge of New Media, exploiting the Internet (podcasting, streaming audio and visual) in launching Repubblica Radio and Repubblica TV.

Founder Eugenio Scalfari is a brilliant commentator and contributes weekly comment on Repubblica Radio in his program, La Scalfittura, where he scathingly analyzes The Berluconi Subversion of Italy.

Below is a partial transcript (the translator is Nur) of his 13 April appearance. (Link here). More to come.

One thing Berlusconi cannot stand is losing. He can’t take it. He is not technically able to accept a defeat, especially when the margin is small. Furthermore, the defeat was delivered by what was supposed to be Berlusconi's cunning ploy to prevent a loss at the polls –the new electoral law. At the last minute, it boomeranged, with a 25,000-vote victory going to the Opposition in the Camera [lower house of Parliament]. And the Opposition was awarded 25 extra seats as an electoral bonus.

I once knew Berlusconi up close and personal when he was a simple TV impresario. And I say, impresario, because an entrepreneur gets ahead by relying on his own talent and not on political support. Berlusconi got ahead exclusively through his political contacts. And once they empowered him and gave him the tools, he became very good impresario –even a splendid impresario! I know him very well. At first, as competitors, we had a cordial relationship. But later we became bitter enemies after he attempted a hostile takeover of the Mondadori Group and my newspaper, La Repubblica, along with all the other newpapers of the group.

He always promises you milk and honey. He shows up with a huge vat of it and spreads it around; he lets you enjoy a thorough sample. He asks what you want. A pig with wings? The moon in your own backyard? He says he’ll give it to you! You ask for guarantees. In fact, you don’t even ask for the moon. You just want a few concrete conditions. He’ll say, “Done!” He says he’ll call together his staff in the morning and arrange everything for you. He says he accepts all your conditions. But the next day you find out that he summoned his staff, only to tell them They want this and that, but we’ll give them exactly the opposite. This is how he works. This is the way he is. Recall that thi is a 70+ year-old individual and he’s not going to change.

And this Grosse Koalition talk is not just smoke and mirrors. If somehow he squeaks through, if he wins a majority, with a recount, etc., then you will see a Grosse Koalition --but with conditions. Some sort of institution must be built around him, he will nominate all the cabinet ministers, etc. He’s the one who wants the moon in his backyard.

There's a rumor that’s circulating, although I don’t personally believe it, that Berlusconi arranged for 400,000 phony ballots to be cast. But here's Berlusconi complaining about voting fraud and this leads to frayed nerves. This is extremely dangerous. A democracy can’t survive in a cauldron of suspicion --the situation which Berlusconi has created. And he disposes of the means --extremely efficient means through the media— of spreading rumors. This is a danger to democracy.

I remember a similar situation in 1946, when Italy had the referendum on the monarchy. The monarchists instigated the rumor that the Minister of the Interior had diverted a million votes from them. It never happened but the legend persists. Today, if you talk about that vote, some people will claim that the republic came about as a result of voting fraud.

Democracy thrives on certainty, which relies on rules. There are rules in Italy that deal with election disputes. Contested, non-attributed votes can be inspected at the request of the parties concerned. The Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court can look into it. Other types of voting irregularities can be reported to the Parliamentary Elections Commission. But these measures require time --to formulate the request, etc.-- but in the meantime institutional procedures continue. And there’s even a third way; to file a lawsuit before an ordinary magistrate. But these steps cannot be taken based on some vague claim of voting fraud. The grounds must be specific: In voting district xyz, fraud is suspected. In such an instance, only the ballots of xyz district can be reopened and recounted. You can’t go around demanding a recount of a million votes, just like that!

What I feared was that Berlusconi would inflate this cloud of voting fraud with his talk of involving the UN no less, churned by all his operatives–the pundits, reporters and talk show hosts -- for weeks. This is shameful! It is subversive because it is a contravention of our laws. And it appears that when Berlusconi met President Ciampi on April 12th, he asked Ciampi to issue a decree forcing a recount of a million votes. And this was before the Supreme Court had ruled! It seems that Ciampi told him that the document required a Presidential signature and that he was not going to sign it because it represented an end-run around existing rules.

(To be continued...)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Small minds, big measures

Bush's invasion of Iraq (which he knew would be a push-over, at least in the short-term) wasn't about oil, but a demonstration to Iran that the US will use unilateral force to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Of course, Bush knew very well that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destructon but so did the rest of the world. France and Russia vigorously opposed the United States in the Security Council in the fall of 2002 not because Bush wanted to knock off a "tin-pot dictator" but that he wished to set a precedent for the use of force by the UN in the enforcement of nuclear non-proliferation. In the United Nations the US lost the argument, which it pursued by deliberately flimsy evidence and transparently false demonstrations--as if to say to the UN, "You don't count" in the strategic calculations of Washington.

During this Easter weekend, Bush and his entourage of apprentice sorcerers are sequestered in Camp David near Washington and likely to be furthering plans for military action against Iran. Corine Lesnes of Le Monde discusses the crisis and portrays a US Congress (far more belligerent than anything seen in the White House) seething with anger against Russia for its refusal to sign on to the containment of Iran through sanctions.

Congress are hawks on non-proliferation, and Bush's recent nuclear deal sanitizing the former proliferation outlaw, India, has enraged the body even further. The in-your-face smootch with India directed at Iran was a spectacular demonstration of the double standard and cynical "geostrategerizing" (as Bush might stumblingly utter) on the part of the President, who obviously did not consult with the Legislative Branch before striking out for New Delhi.

The shadow of Iraq weighs on American strategy
LE MONDE | 14.04.06 | Link to original story in French.

President George Bush, who has departed the White House to spend Easter Weekend at Camp David, left behind speculation on his intentions concerning Iran. Has the President decided? This week, Bush qualified as pure speculation information in the press on preparations for air strikes on Iran’s nuclear installations. But analysts close to the government and the diplomatic community are convinced that plans to use force are possibly more advanced than Washington is willing to admit.

Officially, the roadmap is unchanged. The US is working to impose UN sanctions on Tehran if it does not renounce the enrichment of uranium. Moscow is the key to such sanctions and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is attempting to convince the Russians that maintaining the unity of the international community is the best insurance against military intervention. But US diplomats are not optimistic. The same approach was used in the tug-of-war that occurred in the fall of 2002 over Iraq. Neither Russia nor France was swayed by this argument. The Policy Director for the US Department of State, Nicholas Burns, will travel to Russia on April 18th. Mrs. Rice is under tremendous pressure from Congress, where certain politicians believe that Washington has obtained very little in exchange for concessions to Mr. Putin. An expansive review of US relations with Russia in the aftermath of September 11th is underway.


The US no longer hopes to get a Security Council presidential statement as in March but a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for action by the UN to enforce its decisions. But there is not much optimism on this score. In case of failure, the US hopes to create a voluntary coalition to apply sanctions. This week, a blow was delivered to scenario of gradual escalation by the presentation of tubes of uranium hexafluoride collected in Natanz. The Iranians “are progressing at a more sustained rate” than thought, says a source close to the Department of State. Experts believe that the Iranians will not be able to produce bomb for years, but are concerned about their level of technology. Within the next few months, their technological advances will enable them to compensate for the destruction of their installations and to start anew elsewhere. The same source says the progressive approach of sanctions “cannot keep up with the pace of events".

The military option remains. As was the case for Iraq, the Administration is divided between partisans of diplomacy and those in favor of preemptive strikes. In this election year, hawks can be found in both political parties, such as Hillary Clinton among the Democrats. As to the American public, a survey by Los Angeles Times shows that they are not opposed to armed intervention (48% in favor, 40% against and 12% undecided). But 54% of Americans say that they do not trust George Bush to make the right decision. The shadow of Iraq dogs Bush.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

13 April 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

London. Lieutenant Malcom Kendall-Smith, a medic in the Royal Air Force, was sentenced to eight months in prison for refusing to deploy to Iraq.

Baghdad. 10 000 Iraqi families have been forced out of their homes over the last 10 weeks due to inter-confessional violence in Iraq says the Iraqi Ministry for Immigration and Refugees. But the International Migrations Organization says the number is 36,000.

Baghdad. Iraqi Sunni leader Salah Motlaq says the Iraq's security services have kidnapped 400 people and killed 68.

Baghdad. Jamal Kamel Hassan, the brother-in-law of Saddam Hussein's two daughters, Raghad and Rana, was executed after being kidnapped.

Kirkuk. Oil pipeline security guards are chronically underequipped for guard duties.

Riyadh. Saudi Arabia frees thousands of prisoners arrested as al-Qaeda suspects.

Tripoli. Libya commemorates 20th anniversary of US bombing raid on Tripoli and Benghazi. US performer Lionel Richie and Spanish tenor José Carreras have been invited perform at the ceremony to be held tomorrow.

Washington. Libya still on the list of states sponsoring terrorism.

Tehran. Iran rejects the plea from el-Baradei to suspend uranium enrichment.

Jordan. 30 wounded in prison riot.

Canberra. PM John Howard denies involvement in Oil for Food scandal.

Phnom Penh. Cambodia may send a humanitarian contingent to Iraq.

Moscow. The head of the Russian Atomic Energy Agency, Sergeï Kirienko, downplayed the "advance" announced by Tehran, saying that the country does not have the capacity for industrial uranium enrichment.

Beijing. The Chinese Deputy Foreign Mininster travels to Iran for talks before attending a meeting Tuesday on the Iranian crisis organized by Russia.

Basrah. Iraqi naval officer and friend shot dead.

Basrah. Local barber shot dead.

21:37 Baghdad. US military announces that Rafid Ibrahim Fattah, a key al-Qaeda contact in Iraq, was killed by a US commando team.

23:53 Baghdad. Carbombing in a Shi'ite neighborhood of Baghdad.

19:52 Basrah. Sunni family wiped out. Unknown gunmen killed seven members of a Sunni family.

18:59 Baghdad. Brother of the Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker-designate shot dead. Mahmoud Ahmed al-Hashemi, the brother of Tariq al-Hashemi, was shot dead in downtown Baghdad.

18:55 London. Oil hits new record of $70.20 a barrel.

18:19 Baghdad. Carbomb explodes in outdoor market in the Shi'ite neighborhood of Saab al-Bour. At least 15 are dead and 22 wounded.

14:21 Basrah. Shatt al-Arab polluted. The Shatt al-Arab waterway has been polluted by unknown chemical agents.

13:52 Baghdad. Baghdad. US soldier killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol.

12:28 Fallujah. Five bodies discovered in a desert area outside Al Amiriah near Fallujah.

07:40 Baghdad. Samir Sumaidale appointed as Iraqi ambassador to Washington.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

12 April 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Cairo. The Iraqi Foreign Minister did not attend the Cairo conference on "The Dangerous Situation in Iraq" called by the Arab League. Iraq is boycotting the conference after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek remarked that the Shi'ites were more loyal to Iran than to local governments.

New York. Israeli PM Olmert told the Wall Street Journal that he was seeking US support for his unilateral disengagement plan from the West Bank.

Rome. Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli has rejected extradition requests for US CIA agents involved in the kidnapping of Abu Omar.

Kabul. The US military is investigating claims of the theft of computer memory sticks containing secret documents from its airbase at Bagram. A nearby bazaar was said to be selling the items.

Dubai. The satellite TV station al-Arabiya broadcast a video of a Sunni insurgent claimed to be dead. The video shows Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of Jundullah, whom Iranian security forces claim to have killed several days ago. Jundullah was responsible for the kidnapping and execution of an Iranian soldier on January 19.

Ramallah. The UN has adopted a restrictive policy toward Hamas, cutting short its humanitarian program. However, Karen Abu Zayd, the UN Commissioner-General for Assistant to Palestinian Refugees, downplayed the announcement.

Gaza. Israeli artillery fired on a group of Palestinians near the Kissoufim passage. Ibrahim Mohammad Massoud, 20, and Mohammad Adnan Amoudi, 22, were killed.

Baiji. Two Iraqi soldiers were shot dead.

Baghdad. Three civilians and a police officer were killed in the al-Waziriayh quarter of Baghdad.

Khalis. A carbomb detonated in front of a clinic, killing 3 and wounded 23.

Tal Afar. Two civilians were killed and seven wounded when a carbomb detonated in the center of the town.

Kirkuk. Two police killed and four wounded in a carbombing.

Baghdad. Iraq's Parliament will be called into session on 17 April in an attempt to force the country's political blocs to agree to a new government within a 5-day period.

Baghdad. The 20th courtroom session of the trial of Saddam Hussein ended abruptly today after expert witnesses on the Doujail massacre did not show up. The trial is suspended until 17 April.

Baghdad. The National Accord Front, an alliance of Sunni Arabs, has demanded the Iraqi presidency in negotiations to form a new government.

Baquba. At least 26 are dead and 70 wounded in the carbombing of a Shi'ite mosque north of Baquba.

Baghdad. US military announces the deaths of eight soldiers across the country.

23:11 Baghdad. The kidnapping of Jill Carroll was an mistake, says Iraqi businessman al-Gaud.

22:14 Baquba. 26 are dead after the carbombing of a Shi'ite mosque in Howaydir, near Baquba. At least 70 are wounded.

19:34 Baquba. Carbomb targets Shi'ite mosque in Howaydir.

18:24 Jalawa. A Kurdish city councilman and his bodyguards were shot dead.

18: 22 Baghdad. The Shi'ite alliance has issued a demand likely to lead to institutional paralysis. The UIA wants community-wide consensus on the selection of a President.

14:04 Tal Afar. A carbomb detonated at a military checkpoint, killing 6 police and civilians.

11:32 Baghdad. Three carbombs detonated in Baghdad, Tal Afar and Khalis, killing at least 7 and wounding 10.

11:09 Baghdad. Trial of Saddam Hussein postponed until 17 April.

11:04 Rome. Opposition leader Romano Prodi reaffirms that Italy with withdraw its troops from Iraq.

10:00 Baghdad. A homemade bomb kills one policeman and three civilians.

09:01 Baghdad. Three ministerial employees were shot dead as they went to work this morning in different parts of Baghdad.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Why Berlusconi was able to hang on

Le Monde has an interview with Marc Lazar, Director of the Doctoral Program at the School of Political Science, who discusses why Berlusconi was not punished severely by Italian voters and managed to hang on.

What is your initial impression of outcome of the legislative elections in Italy?

With 83% voter participation, the outcome was above all the expression of a vigorous democracy in which the Italians, who have not been anesthetized by what is know as the Berlusconi Mediacracy, were mobilized to decide their future. Paradoxically, it was a half-victory for Romano Prodi, who scored well but who didn’t truly convince voters. This was because with his bastion of Forza Italia, which remains Italy’s largest political party, Berlusconi is firmly achored upon the scene. The anti-Berlusconi referendum was a failure.

How to you explain the resiliency of Silvio Berlusconi, whose performance and personal style were severely criticized over the last few months.

I think his campaign was a successful one. That is, he was able to rally the Italian electorate around his personality and certain right-wing values. It was a complex operation, which allowed him to exhibit both sides of his personality. Berlusconi is a modern Janus, a politician but at the same time a man who has made a career out of bashing politics. The result is that even though his economic performance was anything but praiseworthy, he was able to consolidate his hold on the north of the country, where there is residual unemployment. He managed to convinced entrepreneurs and center-right voters that he represents the fundamental values of the modern Right: freedom of enterprise and liberalism. He also seduced another block of voters --those who are disgusted with politics and who live outside the major urban areas in small towns-- with his anti-establishment diatribe, invective and outrage and by telling them: Look at me! I’m not an establishment politician! I’m different, including the language I use.

We often heard Mr. Berlusconi conjure up a “communist menace”, even though there are practically no more communists left in Italy. This argument, which appears somewhat facetious or stretched, did it work?

It had a major impact. I think that it is mistaken to underestimate the potency of Italy’s national memory. The Italian Communist Party was once very powerful. Outside the country, it garnered a reputation for openness and progressive politics. But within Italy, it was viewed by the center-Right and by its enemies as by and large a secretive party and potentially dangerous. Don’t forget the influence of the Catholic Church and the Vatican and their instructions to the faithful on voting. They fought a real anti-Communist campaign. Following WWII, the country was on the verge of civil war.

It is often forgotten that Italy bordered on the former Yugoslavia. There were purges and massacres in northern Italy carried out by communists, which was covered up by the Left for some time.

After several years in office, the veil fell away from Berlusconi-ism. Italians witnessed endless conflicts of interest, specially-tailored laws, and other inappropriate actions. How do you explain that half the electorate still voted for him?

It doesn’t mean that half of Italy is dishonest or approves of Berlusconi’s misdeeds. The response is nuanced. First, there is a certain Italian “uncivic” mentality that accommodates Berlusconi’s political shots from the hip. Also, ever since the Mani Pulite investigations, which revealed the horrific level of corruption within the political system, there has been disillusionment and cynicism towards politics. They believe that, They are all rotten SOB’s and view Mr. Berlusconi’s “misbehavior” from a relative perspective.

But there is also a non-negligible center-right that includes intellectuals and corporate CEOs who vote for Berlusconi with their eyes wide open. They don’t approve of his methods, they’re embarrassed by his media discourse, but they feel that isn’t important.

Behind this attitude is a genuine feeling of concern for democracy. They say that lacking anyone better, Berlusconi is a forced passage on the road to building a coherent modern Right able to impose stability and transform the country.

So Berlusconi-ism is not an Italian anomaly but the prefiguration of a change in society?

Something like that. It is undeniable that Berlusconi has left a mark on society and Italian democracy. Beyond the values of a liberal entrepreneur, Berlusconi has brought with him the values of individualism, unfettered enjoyment of freedom and unbridled success. “Get rich!” That’s his message to Italians. It is a message that is not particularly comforting but which translates certain fears and trends in our changing democracies before the challenge of globalism and all the modern demands of individuals seeking refuge in egotistical values.

Why wasn’t Romano Prodi more convincing? Was he the victim of the Berlusconi-orchestrated media?

Mr. Prodi was convincing in expressing to Italians his desire to find new forms of expression for modern social solidarity and responsible citizenship. He was convincing by emphasizing the importance of research and brainpower for the future of the country. But as to media image, it’s true, Prodi was severely outclassed by Mr. Berlusconi’s marketing techniques.

The reason which prevented Prodi from achieving a bigger victory was the heterogeneity of his coalition. The only glue holding it together was getting rid of Berlusconi. He campaigned on a relatively vague platform which didn’t really address the economy, society or foreign policy because of the divergent opinion within his coalition. At the end of the campaign, when the question of a tax increase came up, the Left found itself on the defensive when Berlusconi waved a final gift in front of voters: the abolition of property tax. It should be remembered that although Berlusconi did not keep every campaign promise, he kept some, such as raising the minimum retirement age.

What is going to be the biggest challenge to the next government?

I think everyone realizes that the division of Italy, caused in large measure by the election law, must be overcome. The most difficult challenge will be to end the simulated civil war so that the economy can be restarted and a climate of unity can be restored. The first test will come along shortly: a new President must be elected in May. And that will be a test of the maturity of Italy’s political class.

Marc Lazar is the author of a book on Italian politics, L'Italie à la dérive (Italy Adrift), published by Perrin.

11 April 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Asdabad. Seven schoolchildren were killed and thirty-four wounded when a rocket targeted their school building in Kuna Province, Afghanistan.

Karachi. 45 are dead in a bomb blast in a city park during a celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. 50 are wounded.

23:41 Jerusalem. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz threatens more attacks on Gaza.

22:02 Washington. The US State Department is unable to confirm the statement by Iranian President Ahmadinejad that Iran has succeeded in enriching uranium at its site at Natanz.

21:15 Baghdad. Three US soldiers killed north of Baghdad as a fourth dies of his wounds.

21:14 Kabul. Three British troops kill in blast in the southern province of Helmand.

18:41 Baghdad. Carbomb targets restaurant frequented by polic. Three police and a civilian were killed. Thirteen police and twelve civilians were wounded.

17:52 Gaza. The Israeli Navy fired on Palesinian installations belong to Palestinian Authority security forces in the northern Gaza Strip.

17:16 Tehran. Ahmadinejad: "Iran will soon be a member of the Nuclear Club".

14:47 Mosul. Armed men shoot dead three Iraqi soldiers in Mosul.

11:27 Baghdad. Shi'ite leaders unable to agree on naming of Ibrahim al Jaafari as Prime Minister.

11:10 Baghdad. The detonation of a parked car in Sadr City kills three and wounds four.

08:56 Baghdad. Shi'ite Alliance meets to discuss the candidacy of al-Jaafari as Prime Minister.

00:22 Washington: Rumsfled rejects criticisms of his decisions on Iraq. Generals Gregory Newbold, Anthony Zinni and Paul Eaton have criticized Rumsfeld on this handling of the Iraq crisis.

Italian Left Wins!

This is sweet!

Camera dei Deputati: Prodi 341 seats, Berlusconi 277
Senate: Prodi 158, Berlusconi 156

Monday, April 10, 2006

10 April 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Washington. The USA says it foiled 30 attacks similar to those of 9-11.

Kabul. A clash between tribes killed at least four. A clash between the Babakar Khel and Kuchi tribes kills four and wounds 7.

Afghanistan. Attack on checkpoint in Paktika Province wounds 6 Afghan soldiers.

Kandahar. A remote controlled detonation targeted five Agfhan army vehicles and killed one. When help came to the scene, a second bomb detonated, wounding 2 soldiers, 2 police and five civilians.

Herat. Carbomb targets Italian troops in Herat.

Jerusalem. Olmert gives carte blanc, to Israeli security forces to continue strikes on Gaza.

Jerusalem. 5 000 killed in Palestinian-Israeli violence since September 2000.

Hebron. Two Palestinians arrested and carried away from their hospital bed.

20:51 Baghdad. 31 private security guards were arrested on charges of working for the insurgency in the Hamra Hotel, where foreign journalists and businessmen are lodged.

19:31 London. North Sea Brent reaches historical high of $68.93 per barrel.

18::20 Baghdad. Shi'ite alliance to meet to discus Jaafari.

17:26 Baghdad. 90% of suicide bombers were recruited by al-Zarqawi, says US Gen. Rick Lynch.

16:30 Fallujah. A clash between armed men and police kills three civilians and wounds nine.

11:27 Maysan. Rocket attack on Scottish barracks. Two Katiusha strike a Scottish barracks in the south of the country. No one was injured

10:20 Kandahar. Five health workers were shot dead in the northern province of Badghis, Afghanistan. Their clinic was then set ablaze.

09:03 Kandahar. Two police killed in Helmand Province.

07:09 Sydney. PM John Howard will testify in writing on his role in the "Oil for Food" scandal.

00:10 Baghdad. Kurds reject Jafaari as Premier.


Wee hours update (Repubblica): After a cliffhanger of a night in which election results flip-flopped several times, the vote counting is over, giving a majority to Prodi in the House and to Berlusconi in the Senate. In the Senate, Berlusconi's coalition got 50.21% of the vote, but only 155 seats with the remaining 154 going to Prodi.

In the House, Prodi won by 25 thousand votes to reach 49.8% but he was awarded a total of 340 seats as a bonus to the victor. At this point, the vote of expat Italians will be decisive: 6 Senate seats and 12 House seats will be attributed. But the count is very slow and delayed. The result will be announced at noon on Tuesday.

Update: Prodi wins the Senate, too. By one vote seat! Or not? Apparently the Italian expat vote, which Prodi is projected to have won 2-to-1, is the decider.

It's official...Romano Prodi's coalition withs the House by 27,000 votes, despite the mulehead effect.

The Italian Left Laments

The day started out with 5 percentage points to Romano Prodi's L'Unione but then the clouds moved in. It's now even-steven. A deadlock.

Over at Libertà and Giustizia (on the left sidebar), someone pens the Leftist's Lament:

Well, now we'll have to take it out on the mule-headed people who don't deserve us. Us! The ones who wanted to do them a favor and pull our flag out of the muck where the Right wing had flung it, to raise it proudly high again in the wind of prosperity. Us! The people who know what folks really need and who were willing to give it to them! Us! With our Tod's shoes, we thought we had won the corporation executives over to our side! Us! The people who proposed to restore the inheritance tax and to tax capital gains. Us! The people who promised happy days!

Then Berlusconi comes along and tells the muleheads, "I'll eliminate the municipal property tax", then "How can you be such coglioni not to understand that your interest lies in voting for me?" That gave him one vote in ten.

And us? We are coglioni, and proud, and proud to be coglioni, just waiting for some voter to show up at the polling station with a T-shirt emblazoned with "I am a Coglione"! What a fine show we put on!

But Berlusconi, he eliminates the municipal proptery tax and the capital gains tax on Government bonds or at least that's the message he sends. Us? We were going to tax Government bonds to close the fiscal gap. Well, the mulehead wants to know, what the hell is a fiscal gap and why should it be closed?... So we can have happy days! Well, mulehead knows how to count the change in his pocket and so he is going to go for not paying the municipal property tax. And how many muleheads made that reasoning?

Oh, yes, they're muleheads, those folks who voted for Berlusconi, while we were the ones who knew what they wanted. We were going to bring back the inheritance tax but only for those worth millions. Mulehead wants to know, "How many millions?" And we tell him "a lot"! We heard Fini and Fassino argue, but the mulehead lost interest. Another 2 per cent lost.

As long as we have muleheads, we can never win!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

9 April 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Baghdad. Iraqi officials condemned the statements of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the divided loyalties of Shi'ites in the Gulf region and on the state of civil war in Iraq.

Baghdad. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani defends talks scheduled between the USA and Iran on the Iraq situation. But US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad says the talks will take place only after the formation of an Iraqi government.

Tehran. Iran shoots down US drone in the southwest of the country. The drone was launched from Iraq, reports the newspaper Jomhouri Eslami. IT experts were able to extract the electronic data carried by the drone, the paper said.

Bern. Swiss justice officials issue arrest warrant for the former Iranian Intelligence Minister, Ali Fallahian, suspected of ordering the assassination of Iranian dissident Kazem Radjavi in Switzerland in 1990.

Tehran. Rebels killed two army officers and wounded a high-ranking cleric in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan in southeast Iran. The province is mostly Sunni.

Guantanamo. Military defense attorneys say their work is made very difficult due to bureaucracy and security measures.

Baghdad. An attack on police near a Sunni mosque in the western neighborhood of Ghazaliyah wounded at least three people

Baghdad. Rebels attack American military police. No casualties reported.

Baghdad. Police discovered four bodies, handcuffed, and at least one shot in the head in the Dora district of southern Baghdad.

Ramadi An insurgent umbrella organization called the Mujahedeen Shura Council claimed responsibility for a Saturday attack against the Anbar provincial government headquarters in Ramadi.

17:06 Kuwait. MPs and clerics condemn remarks by Egyptian President Mubarek. Mubarked claimed that Shi'ites in the Gulf region were more loyal to Tehran than to their national governments. MP Saleh Ashour in turn criticized Egypt for its ties to Israel.

15:26 Cairo. German hostages threatened with execution in video if the US does not release all Iraqi prisoners.

12:12 London. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw tells BBC that there is no civil war in Iraq.

11:45. Baghdad. In a pre-dawn raid Sunday, clashes erupted when U.S. forces surrounded a suspected safehouse and nearby tent on the northern outskirts of Baghdad. After being fired upon, troops gunned down five suspected insurgents, and three others were killed in an air strike.

11:09 London. The Times reports that Shi'ite militias killed or forced into exile hundreds of Iraq veterans of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980's in January. 182 pilots and 416 senior officiers were killed and at least 836 war veterans were forced out of Iraq. Famililies accuse Iran of being behind the killings and harassment.

10:10 Baghdad. US troops kill 8 rebels i Baghdad. Meanwhile, several bombs exploded throughout the capital, killing at least three.

06:36 Baghdad. US soldier dies of wounds received in al-Anbar Province.

02:49 Washington. An internal US government report terms the situation in 6 of 18 Iraq provinces as "serious" or "critial". The situation in the province of al-Anbar is considered critical. Evnets in Baghdad, Nineveh, Salaheddin, Diyala and Taamim are considered serious.

02:31 London. Coalition responsible in disappearances of prisoners, say Labour MPs.

01:58 New York. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh writes in the 17 April edition of the New Yorker that the US is planning a possible nuclear missile strike on Iran.

01:41 Laghouat (Aligeria). Police kill 12 Islamist rebels after an ambush of a customs police convoy.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

8 April 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Baghdad. Shi'ite chieftain Abdel Aziz Hakim of SCIRI pledges to defeat terrorists as 79 people killed in the attack on the Bouratha Mosque were buried in Najaf.

Baghdad. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey called on Iraqi forces to put an end the violence.

Baghdad. Defense Minister Saadoun al-Doulaïmi anounced that the troop level of Iraqi forces has reached 115,000 men: 2 divisons, 13 brigades and 49 batallions.

Baquba. Four people were killed in attacks north of the capital.

Karbala. Hospital receives seven bullet-ridden bodies also showing signs of torture.

Tikrit. Four decapitated bodies recovered.

Baghdad. Man killed by roadside bomb.

Baghdad. Two wounded by gunfire.

22:17 New York. China is prepared to give Iran from 4 to 6 weeks on the nuclear dossier. China's Ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, says IAEA inspectors should be given 4 to 6 weeks to finish their work. Russia agrees with the Chinese position. The US had insisted on 2 weeks.

21:00 Baghdad. US Marine dies of wounded received in al-Anbar Province.

16:46 Baghdad. 85 were killed and 156 wounded in yesterday attack on the Buratha Mosque.

15:29 Ramadi. Attack on provincial governor repelled by US troops. 50 guerrillas reported killed.

14:53 Baghdad. Two dead when mortar shells land in residential district.

12:44 Musayib. Two Shi'ite pilgrims shot dead.

11:36 Karbala. US Marines have surrounded Karbala and Najaf after threats by al-Sadr to respond to the removal of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. Grand Ayatollah Sistani has been escorted out of Najaf.

09:15 Tehran. The US and Iran will conduct talks on the situation in Iraq after April 15.

07:36 Herat (Afghanistan). An Italian member of a Provincial Reconstruction Team was wounded in Herat in a suicide bombing outside the Italian military base there. His Afghan guard was killed.

02:18 US military death toll reaches 2,350.

Bush's Nuclear Deal with India

If you suspected that Bush was up to no good with his recent nuclear deal with India, you would be correct.

A Worrisome Nuclear Deal, by Laurent Zecchini
LE MONDE | 07.04.06 | 13h30

A mix of good intentions, cynicism and adventurism can be found in the determination of Jacques Chirac and George Bush to permit India to don the cloak of respectability by becoming an official nuclear power. In the service of this aim, the French and US presidents followed one another to New Delhi. An “historic” American-Indian partnership was signed but ratification by Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is all but assured. The Bush Administration will attempt to convince both parties that the reasons justifying the imposition of sanctions on India after its 1974 “peaceful nuclear explosion”, when New Delhi diverted its civilian nuclear program to build the bomb, are no longer relevant.

Like Iran today, India lied to the international community. But unlike Iran and North Korea, India has always refused to become a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which it views as discriminatory. The difference is one of size and because of it, Iran has become an international pariah, while India has been invited to membership, with her head held high, in the club of the five legitimately recognized nuclear nations –the United States, Russia, China, France and the UK – as the sixth global nuclear power. This policy of double standard is disturbing.

Is building an atomic weapon clandestinely then clawing at nebulous international opprobrium all it takes to be rewarded in the end? A vexing example…In its deal with Washington, India got both the butter and the bread: civilian and military nuclear capabilities. Fourteen of India’s twenty-four reactors have been classified as civilian, opening them up to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, the US and France will supply India with the nuclear power generation plants and the fuel it requires to satisfy the energy needs of it bulimic growth.

The other reactors, including two breeder-reactors, are part of India’s military program and will not at all be subject to monitoring. By producing more fissile material than they consume, the fast neutron reactors will produce an unlimited quantity of fuel for power generation or nuclear weapons. The fact of having guaranteed imports of uranium frees India from the obligation of having to share its meager domestic production between its civilian and military programs.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington speculates that this ability will allow India to build up to 50 bombs a year, compared with the 6 to 10 which it currently has in its arsenal. Is this a Cassandra prophecy? Perhaps, but now it will be necessary to distill the over-angelic India the Responsible Power, as Mr. Chirac goes about repeating, from Peaceful, Democratic India, as the White House assures us it is? India is a parliamentary democracy, but is that equivalent with “peaceful”?

The India-Pakistan wars of 1947-1978, 1965 and 1971 compel one to view India’s peacefulness through a relative lens, especially after the two countries twice failed in bringing themselves into a fourth conflict after the 1999 Kargil incident in Kashmir and the 2001 bombing of Parliament in New Delhi. Since they both became nuclear powers, the pair has been involved in an arms race which culminated in simultaneous atomic tests in 1998. But the missile race is not subsiding, and in 2002 until 2004, India placed second behind China in worldwide conventional weapons purchasing.

Despite its policy of normalization with Beijing, it knows that over the long term its strategic enemy is China and India is preparing itself for this. What other purpose could there be in the development of the Surya intercontinental ballistic missile, with a range of over 5,000 miles? The tacit agreement by Washington is dictated by Realpolitik: America wishes to contain the growing military power of China by making India into a counterbalance.

France and the United States have their reasons for granting exceptional status to India. Beyond the display of altruism – to help India to respond to its developmental needs – the two countries explain that it is urgent go remove India from the nuclear doghouse so that it can be assisted in reducing its dependence on oil, which will relieve the pressure on the petroleum market.


Last but not least, the US and French nuclear industries are impatient to cash in on lucrative export opportunities. Despite the fact that France and the US have united in an effort to obtain the modification of NSG directives, there is no doubt that sharp competition will immediately ensue between Westinghouse and Areva. The Number 1 French nuclear contender insists that thus far it has had no direct talks with New Delhi, but the psychological war has begun. French technicians underscore that their large-capacity nuclear reactors will interest India. Areva’s European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) has a capacity of 1,600 mw vs. the 1,000-megawatt AP1000 reactor by Westinghouse....

Within the NSG, its 45 members have coalesced into two camps. On the one side are the USA, France, Russia and the UK, who wish to sell their nuclear technology to India. On the other are the countries which have their doubts. For them, the architecture of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be further undermined if India gets favored treatment.

The NPT us a kind of “nuclear Yalta Agreement”: states which have had the ability to seek nuclear weapons have renounced them in exchange for civilian nuclear cooperation and the guarantee that the Club of Five would accept no additional members. Because of the recent nuclear trade in which Pakistan has engaged, Washington has refused to grant it the same advantages as India. This slap-in-the-face to an ally in the war on al-Qaeda will inevitably drive it into the arms of China, which will hasten to increase its nuclear cooperation to the Land of the Pure.

The “historic” Indian-American pact threatens to ignite an arms race in Asia. If this proves to be the case, then it will be not far to go before the letter and the spirit of a non-proliferation agreement, steadily undermined in the last thirty-eight years, gives way to the law of a nuclear jungle.

Friday, April 07, 2006

7 April 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Baghdad. Close to 80 were killed and 164 wounded in a suicide attack on a Shi'ite mosque in Baghdad. At least two suicide bombers dressed as women exploded their payload inside the Bouratha Mosque. Three blasts in succession were meant to produce the maximum number of casualties.

Baghdad. Sheikh Jalal Eddine Saghir, a SCIRI official and imam of the Bouratha Mosque, blamed the attack on the Committee of Iraqi Ulema, the main Sunni religious organization.

Baghdad. The National Accord Front, a Sunni political party, condemns the attack on the Bouratha Mosque.

Najaf. Ten Iraqis, including four women, were killed and 42 wounded in a carbombing on Thursday.

Baghdad. Four Iraqis killed north of the capital.

Baghdad. US announced three military deaths in the last two days.

Baghdad. Negotiation to form a new government have been stalled for three months. Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has refused to cede to demands for his ouster.

Washington. British Defence Secretary John Reid meets with his US counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld.

Charlotte. George W. Bush calls on Iraq's leaders to agree on a national government.

Baghdad. Iraq will observe a long weekend with a holiday to mark the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

22:19 Riyadh. Saudi Arabia ends boycott of Danish products after the publication of cartoons of the Propher Mohammed in the newspaper Jyllands Posten.

21:53 Hebron. Israeli colonists expand settlement in violation of an evacuation program announced by PM Olmert.

15:19 Three Iraqi suicide bombers attacked the interior and the exterior of the Shi'ite Bouratha Mosque in Baghdad during Friday prayers. The mosque belongs to SCIRI. Iraqia Television has broadcast appeals for blood.

08:56 Baghdad. Interior Minister raises alarm saying 7 carbombings are planned today.

08:19 Baghdad. US Ambassador Khalilzad says the US is negotiating with Sunni rebels.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I am an asshole!

Today Silvio Berlusconi called fellow Italians who are not planning to vote for him on Sunday, coglioni (assholes). Not missing a beat in exploiting irony, Italians from Milan to Palermo now proudly wear the coglioni label!

Corriere della Sera image gallery here.

New: Io Sono Un Coglione website (in Italian)

Overheard at the Italian site: Coglione pride! I am a chronic Coglione! Coglioni against forzitalioti-fascisti-liberal-leghisti-democristi. I am a perfect coglione! Better coglioni than 5 more years of Berlusconi! Born coglione. Shall we coglioneggiare? Coglione like me. I feel more coglione today than yesterday! Give me a government of coglioni! Supercoglione. Ernesto Che Coglione! Coglione power! Being a coglione never felt so good! Coglioni forever! Hopelessly coglione!

Straight Talk from the French on Israel

Why are the French always right? Do they have a commitment to truth or something?

Le Monde's reporter Sylvain Cypel takes questions on the night of the Isreali elections. [Sorry, a link would require a subscription, but if you are subscriber, you can search for the chat].

Has the birth of the Kadima party, which wants to give a Constitution to Israel, shaken the foundations of the Jewish State, which has been historically unwilling to draw a distinction between state and religion?

Basically, yes, because Israel has never had a Constitution. At the present time we know very little of what Kadima would include in a Constitution. A Constitution was mentioned when Kadima was founded and is also written into its platform. But there was no reference to it during the campaign. If once in power Kadima promotes the idea of a Constitution, that would produce two kinds of problems and hostility. The first issue concerns, as you say, who is a Jew and who is not. It is a recurring question that has never been dealt with by the Knesset. Without a doubt, a Constitution would include the definition of the State of Israel as found in one of the first five Fundamental Laws, which are, in fact, Constitutional laws: Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. But the precise meaning of the word, Jewish, has not been defined. Doubtlessly, the religious parties would be opposed to a secular or ethnic definition.

Another problem is the question of equality among citizens. Israel has a minority of Palestinians, comprised of those who remained in Israeli territory after the War of 1948. They enjoy the same political rights as Jewish citizens but they endure discrimination because Israel is a Jewish State. For example: they cannot purchase land, which is government property, and land may only be sold to Jews. If there is a Constitution tomorrow, this type of discrimination would be written into it. But I cannot see Kadima seriously pursuing the drafting of a Constitution. I think it is merely campaign rhetoric responding the desire of a part of the electorate to see Israel and its institutions on a more modern footing. I think that the difficulties of writing a Constitution would be overwhelming.

The outside world characterizes the election as a major turning point, but nothing is likely to change. Do you believe that there exists a consensus from Left to Right on maintaining the occupation and a pursuing a security policy?

There is certainly consensus in Israel but it concerns only policies related to occupation and security. There is consensus on the idea of a physical separation from the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and maintaining a maximum of control over the population there. You could say that it’s the same thing, but in reality it is not. Why? Because there can be no separation without restitution of territory -- without giving up direct control over the evacuated territories. Le Monde published a series of graphics on Monday which clearly shows the distinctions between the various parties. There are nationalists and extreme Right-wingers who are in favor perpetuating the notion of Greater Israel, which necessarily involves control of the West Bank.

There is a pacifist Left which favors the Geneva Accords and which approves of evacuating all occupied territory with the exception of a few very small enclaves for which there would be territorial compensation elsewhere. But both movements are minor. The consensus is for keeping the giant settlement blocks. Debate concerns the fate of evacuated territory, which represents between 50 and 70% of the West Bank.

So the debate concerns the means of control. People say they want total evacuation but at the same time total control over the Palestinians. Kadima plans to evacuate between 50 and 70% of the West Bank and then to divide it up into five parts –five cantons—. They want to control the cantons and to find Palestinian partners who would accept calling that arrangement a “State”. But they won’t find any.

What does East Jerusalem look like with Kadima-drawn borders?

It’s pretty simple. The borders in Jerusalem follow the Separation Wall, which in fact is an attempt to rid Jerusalem of a portion of its Palestinian population by placing them on the far side of the wall while holding on to most of East Jerusalem, which is now Palestinian. In Jerusalem, the route of the wall is motivated by demographic considerations. They are trying to get rid off as many Arabs as possible while placing the near totality of East Jerusalem under Israeli control.

What status will Kadima accord the tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, whose access to city services is cut off by the Israeli security wall?

Kadima has no answer to this question. It is obviously a big problem with specific impact on the inhabitants of Jerusalem --200,000 of the 2.4 million Palestinians who live on the West Bank and who the wall leaves on the Israeli side. The future status of these territories if annexed and more so if they are not, is undefined.

You mentioned the division of the Palestinian territories into cantons, which are meant to form the Palestinian State. But couldn’t you call it a Bantustan?

I know that the term is often used to describe the situation. It is an ideological question, because when one says "Bantustan", one evokes apartheid. Bantustan was the name given to a black pseudo-State inside South Africa which was not legally recognized internationally. I don’t use that reference. They can call the cantons whatever they like. But the idea is very similar. That is the reason why I believe that the Israelis will find no Palestinian leader who would call it a “State”.

Several Israeli highways traverse the Palestinian territories. It is unimaginable that Israel would give up control of these roads. Is a Palestinians State legally viable in the eyes of the international community under such conditions?

I believe that is a fundamental question. Not so much due to Israeli control of roads, because there are highways in Gaza which Israel has evacuated. The problem is that of unilateral measures. That is the position of the Labour Party, which is opposed to unilateral measures, as well as the Israeli pacifists of the Meretz Party. They both say that the international community would never accept a unilateral solution ignoring the demands of its Palestinian partner. It is a basic question. Today, Israelis believe that they can do it because the balance of power is on their side. But my personal conviction is that they would fail.

Do you believe that an ultranationalist like Mr. Olmert can bring peace?

First of all, I believe that although Olmert hails from the ultranationalist movement, he has come to the same conclusion as the vast majority of Israeli Jews. What is the result of the last ten years for the average Israeli? That when they wanted peace, it failed, and when they made war, it failed. During the Intifada, they succeeded in militarily dominating the Palestinians, but that changed nothing. Significantly, the Palestinians did not capitulate.

Today Olmert represents Israeli consensus. People are talking more about peace but they want something else. They want calm with no terrorism and where they rub elbows with the fewest number of Palestinians possible. That’s where they got the idea of separation from the Palestinians with no peace agreement and to pursue separation without asking for a thing from anyone else, especially the Palestinians. This is the proof that the Israelis do not want a negotiated peace. During the electoral campaign, nobody was talking about peace except Labor and Meretz. In any case, I believe that the Kadima campaign and the departure from Likud of several leaders hailing from the ultranationalist movement are testimony to change in Israel as well as to the disastrous failure of ultranationalist movement, which has been weakened significantly.

How would the thorny question of unilateralism play out in a coalition government of Kadima and Labour?

That depends on the composition of the government. I don’t want to speculate about the new government but is not the government alone which can resolve the issue of unilateralism. For the moment, the leaders of Kadima, which is expected to win the elections, believe that this policy, pursued for the last two and a half years, has only been beneficial. In fact, Israel has won the support of Washington and the European Union has gone along with it. I believe that exactly as the Intifada caused change in Israel and brought them to realize that they couldn’t exercise direct control over another people forever, it has spurred them to look for other ways to keep the Palestinian indirectly under their thumb. But there are now new realities in place which may cause them to lose sight of the inanity of unilateral policies.

You can’t live in safety without addressing the question of Palestinian nationhood. In order to deal with it, the demands for a Palestinian state cannot be ignored. Reality will eventually bring the Israelis to this conclusion and not policies.

Could you say that in the coming years, Israel will be faced with two kinds of poverty? One being domestic, with 20% of the population below the poverty line with no chance to rise out of it due to extreme American socio-economic policies and the other internal-external, with millions of people in Palestinian enclaves whose dire economic situation cannot be ignored without dealing with permanent insurrection.

This is not a question about the future. This is what is taking place now. The last Sharon government pursued ultraliberal policies that would make those of those of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s look positively Leftist…. There has been clear-cutting of welfare budgets and subsidies, which has forced 20% of the population below the poverty line. There are entire areas in some cities, like Jerusalem, where in what the Israelis term “developing towns” (which are essentially blighted urban neighborhoods) the rate of poverty is over 50%.

As to the Palestinian population, the problem is different. Israel has the advantage of being able to occupy territory, to seal it off whenever they feel like it and to act like they bear no responsibility for its welfare. And that was when the Palestinian Authority existed! I believe that the victory of Hamas may be explained by a series of factors within the general political context of Arab-Muslim society. Islamism is gaining a foothold everywhere in Arab-Muslim lands. But the policies implemented by Israel enter into the equation as well. The Occupied Territories are caught in an economic stranglehold. This, together with chronic neglect on the part of the Palestinian Authority, brought a tremendous number of people, who are not Islamists, to vote for Hamas. They told themselves that Hamas could not be worse than Fatah.

There is much debate over this question in Israel between those who want to worsen the plight of the Palestinians so that they have no means to oppose Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories and those who have genuine concern and believe that the current level of poverty is loaded with danger --not only for the Palestinian Authority but also for Israel.

What is the importance of socio-economic issues to voters in a campaign focusing mostly on the Palestinian conflict?

We’ll see tonight how the Labour Party fares. The Labour Party has chosen Amir Peretz, an old union organizer, as its chairman. At the beginning of the campaign, Peretz focused exclusively on social issues. Later the Palestinian question was promoted to the forefront. According to the latest opinion polls, it would seem that Labour has plucked a hair from the beast. If this is so and if the Labour Party performs better than expected, then it means that social issues are becoming increasingly more important in Israel.

Why is the election producing lukewarm interest?

This is a very important question. It is linked to the emergence of Kadima. Kadima came to be for reasons which I have already explained, that is, due to disorientation and the feeling that the peace negotiations were going nowhere --but also that war had led to failure too. There is very profound disorientation affecting the entire population. People are beginning to say, Things cannot go on like this, and many are unsure of what to think.

We’ll see what happens tonight, but everyone in Israel is predicting an exceptional rate of abstention. Israel is a nation of voters and turnout is often quite large –more than 80% of the electorate. The campaign was lackluster because a lot of people did not know which way to turn and were unwilling to ask the question about a pullout from all the Occupied Territories --because evacuation is viewed as a terrible political defeat. But if Israel does not withdraw from the Occupied Territories, then the solutions proposed by Kadima won’t work either.

I think that the profound disorientation afflicting the Israeli population is by far underestimated.