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Posted By: Sammi Ibrahem

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Dear Friends,

The first 4 items of the 7 below are on Israel.  The final 3 are on Egypt.

Item 1 is brief and revolting.  A Knesset committee has passed on the first (of three) readings a bill that would prohibit boycotts of Israel.  If the bill becomes law, then a good many of us will probably end up in jail.  This is hardly a democratic law. Yet there is one positive aspect to it: Israel’s leaders realize that bds is working and hurting, and, moreover, this is the case because of what Israel does.  The leaders will never be able to beautify Israel’s image, no matter how excellent the PR companies are that undertake the task. Israel alone can change its image by changing its ways, that is, by ending the occupation, expansion, land theft, political arrests, and the rest.

Item 2 is also about a bill, but a different kind of bill–one that proposes to subsidize ex-soldiers’ education.  This is another enticement to get kids into the army.  Arab kids are not obligated to enlist, and with the exception of Bedouins and Druze who have traditionally enlisted (though this is changing) other Arab youngsters will not qualify for the money.  The argument (below) that those who have not served in the military had time to work and save money for university studies does not hold water.  Many who work do not earn enough to save for tuition.

In item 3 Haaretz reveals that notwithstanding IOF denials, the newspaper has learned that the army is building a base on the other side of the so-called ‘green line.’

Item 4 argues against the U.S. policy of vetoing any resolution brought before the Security Council condemning Israel’s settlement expansion.

Items 5 through 7 turn from Israel to Egypt.  Item 5 tells us that the army has given the committee appointed to write a new constitution 10 days in which to accomplish the task; item 6 fears that the Egyptian army is hijacking the revolution.

As for item 7, when I saw the headline to it my heart dropped all the way to the floor.  The United States is going to help “stabilize Egypt” by giving money to the army!  But the call of the revolutionaries was not for stability but for freedom, for the elimination of the emergency law, for the release of political prisoners.  Stability at the price of freedom is not worth anything at all.  And the last body that the revolutionaries would wish to see receive more money is the army.  But that’s the way of the United States’ foreign policy—support dictators and armies while talking out of the other side of the mouth about peace.

Am still hoping that all who wish to convert from dictatorship to democracy will do so—in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, and wherever else that people desire freedom.

Dorothy

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1.  Ynet,

February 15, 2011

Breaking News

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4029099,00.html

Bill that prohibits boycotts of Israel approved in preliminary reading

In a first reading, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a law proposal that would prohibit boycotts of Israel. If the bill is passed, the State would place criminal sanctions on anyone wishing to boycott it. The proposal was accepted despite opposition from the Foreign and Justice Ministries, whose representatives claimed that the law might hurt Israeli interests. (Roni Sofer)

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2.  Ynet,

February 15, 2011

Legislation

MK Mofaz. Endorsed bill Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg

Bill proposes discount in tuition fees for soldiers

Coalition MKs submit bill proposing to provide those who served in IDF, performed National Service with NIS 2,860 for university payments. MK Ahamd Tibi: Bill is racist

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4028914,00.html

Roni Sofer

A group of coalition Knesset members submitted a bill proposing to provide discharged soldiers with a NIS 2,860 (roughly $780) discount in higher education tuition fees. The MKs claim that those who did not serve could have spent their time saving money and are therefore not eligible for the benefit.

According to the MKs, there currently exists a state of discrimination between students who served in the army or did National Service and did not earn money during this time, and students who did not serve the country and could have spent this time saving money to fund their education. The bill will allow the eligible students to pay NIS 10,500 (roughly $2,860) in tuition fees a year instead of NIS 14,000.

Among the MKs who endorsed the bill are Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) and Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu). They claim that the state currently subsidizes fees for all students equally thus perpetuating the discrimination. This could even indirectly encourage draft-dodging, the MKs submit.

The MKs further noted that students who served the country are forced to work while studying and most are also called for reserve duty.

MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) slammed the bill and described it as another step in “Yisrael Beiteinu’s racist legislation against Arab-Israelis.”

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3,  Haaretz,

February 15, 2011

Haaretz probe: IDF base to be built in East Jerusalem

Both the municipality as well as the Ministry of Defense claim that the base will be built within the green line, however, Haaretz has revealed otherwise based on initial plans for the IDF base.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/haaretz-probe-idf-base-to-be-built-in-east-jerusalem-1.343540

By Nir Hasson

The Jerusalem municipality plans to construct an Israel Defense Forces army base that will house military colleges on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, reportedly beyond the pre-1967 war green line.

Both the municipality as well as the Ministry of Defense dispute this claim, stating that the base will be built within the green line, however, Haaretz has revealed otherwise and according to the plans created by the architectural firm hired by the municipality, the base will encroach upon disputed territory.

The IDF colleges to be built on the potentially controversial base will include the command and staff school, the school for national security and the military academy that are currently located on the IDF base in Glilot. Although the majority of the units at the Glilot base are meant to be moved south as part of a plan to increase IDF presence in the Negev, the IDF, Jerusalem municipality and the Ministry of Defense agreed to move the colleges to the capital. Plans have already been set into motion, and the municipality has hired architect Eli Ilan to prepare the initial blueprints for the project.

According to a document obtained by Haaretz, which includes the first draft of plans detailing the grounds of the base, it will be located on Mount Scopus, between the Mormon University and the Augusta Victoria Hospital, not far from Hebrew University. Based on the document, the base will encompass 32 dunams (a unit for measuring land area, about 1/4 acre) and will house learning institutes, a swimming pool, a gym and more. This is, however, only a first draft that is yet to be shown to the planning committee.

Although the Ministry of Defense as well as the Jerusalem municipality have claimed that the base will be within the green line, the document proves otherwise. Mount Scopus was part of Israel during the time period between the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 Six Day War, and the majority of Hebrew University’s campus is within this territory. Most of the area in which the base is to be built, however, appears to be on land that belonged to Jordan during the interwar period. According to armistice agreements, it was a demilitarized zone and a small part of it was no man’s land between the two countries’ borders.

The construction of an IDF base in East Jerusalem is expected to spark criticism from the United States as well as Europe, who see all building in East Jerusalem as detrimental to the peace process and against the status quo, particularly in light of the fact that it is for military purposes.

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4.  Al Jazeera,

February 15, 2011

US vs UN on Israeli settlements

Vetoing UN resolutions condemning Israeli settlements violates broader US interests.

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/02/2011215115925859109.html

MJ Rosenberg

Israel has been evicting Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes to make way for settlers [AFP]

Anyone who thought that the United States has learned anything from the various revolutions upturning the Arab world has another think coming. We didn’t.

On Thursday, as the Egyptian revolution was culminating with the collapse of the Mubarak regime, the Obama administration announced that it intends to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by 122 nations, condemning Israeli settlement expansion.

This is from AFP’s report on what Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We have made very clear that we do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues,” Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We have had some success, at least for the moment, in not having that arise there. And we will continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen,” said Steinberg.

There is so much wrong with Steinberg’s statement that it is hard to know where to start.

First is the obvious. Opposition to Israeli settlements is perhaps the only issue on which the entire Arab and Muslim world is united. Iraqis and Afghanis, Syrians and Egyptians, Indonesians and Pakistanis don’t agree on much, but they do agree on that. They also agree that the US policy on settlements demonstrates flagrant disregard for human rights in the Muslim world (at least when Israel is the human rights violator).

Accordingly, a US decision to support the condemnation of settlements would send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim world that we understand what is happening in the Middle East and that we share at least some of its peoples’ concerns.

The settlement issue should be an easy one for the United States. Our official policy is the same as that of the Arab world. We oppose settlements. We consider them illegal.  We have repeatedly demanded that the Israelis stop expanding them (although the Israeli government repeatedly ignores us). The administration feels so strongly about settlements that it recently offered Israel an extra $3.5bn in US aid to freeze settlements for 90 days.

It is impossible, then, for the United States to pretend that we do not agree with the resolution (especially when its language was carefully drafted to comport with the administration’s official position). So why will we veto a resolution that expresses our own views?

Steinberg says that “We do not think the Security Council is the right place to engage on these issues.”

Why not? It is the Security Council that passed all the major international resolutions (with US support) governing Israel’s role in the occupied territories since the first one, UN Resolution 242 in 1967.

He then adds, with clear pride that:

“We have had some success, at least for the moment, in not having that [the settlements issue] arise there.”

Very impressive. The United States has had no success whatsoever in getting the Netanyahu government to stop expanding settlements — to stop evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for ultra-Orthodox settlers — and no success in getting Israel to crack down on settler violence, but we have had “some success” in keeping the issue out of the United Nations.

The only way to resolve the settlements issue, according to Steinberg, “is through engagement through the parties, and that is our clear and consistent position”. Clear and consistent it may be. But it hasn’t worked. The bulldozers never stop.

Of course, it is not hard to explain the Obama administration’s decision to veto a resolution embodying positions that we support. It is the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is lobbying furiously for a US veto (actually not so furiously; AIPAC doesn’t waste energy when it knows that its congressional acolytes — and Dennis Ross in the White House itself — will do its work for them).

The power of the lobby is the only reason we will veto the resolution. Try to come up with another one. After all, voting for the resolution (or, at least, abstaining on it) serves US interests in the Middle East at a critical moment and is consistent with US policy.

But it would enrage the lobby and its friends who will threaten retribution in the 2012 election.

Simply put, our Middle East policy is all about domestic politics. And not even the incredible events of the past month will change that.

That is why US standing in the Middle East will continue to deteriorate. We simply cannot deliver. After all, there is always another election on the horizon and that means that it is donors, not diplomats, who determine US policy.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

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5.  BBC,

February 15, 2011

Egypt crisis: Army sets constitution reform deadline

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12466893

Egypt’s ruling military council has announced that work on reforming the country’s constitution is to be completed in 10 days.

A committee led by a retired judge has been tasked with proposing legal changes, said the council.

It earlier suspended the current constitution, which was amended during ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s tenure to strengthen his grip on power.

Mr Mubarak stepped down last week after more than two weeks of protests.

The higher military council – which assumed power after Mr Mubarak stepped down – said on Tuesday that the amended constitution would be put to a popular referendum.

The eight-member committee is mostly made up of experts in constitutional law but it includes a senior figure from the opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is headed by Tariq el-Bishri, considered one of Egypt’s top legal minds, and on Tuesday held its opening meeting with Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

The committee is instructed to “amend all articles as it sees fit to guarantee democracy and the integrity of presidential and parliamentary elections”.

Strikes ease

The BBC’s Jon Leyne in Cairo says it looks as if the military council is fulfilling its pledge to hand the country back to civilian rule as quickly as possible.

Tahrir Square, the focus of protests in Cairo, has largely returned to normal The speed of the move will reassure the opposition, he says, although there might be some nervousness about whether it is an attempt to push through changes in too much of a rush.

The military council has also repeated its calls for an end to strikes that spread across the country during Sunday and Monday.

The stoppages are dealing a further blow to Egypt’s ailing economy, damaged by three weeks of unrest.

“The supreme council is aware of the economic and social circumstances society is undergoing, but these issues cannot be resolved before the strikes and sit-ins end,” the state news agency Mena quoted the military as saying.

“The result of that will be disastrous,” it added.

Strikes eased on Tuesday, mainly because offices and businesses were closed for an Islamic holiday.

But correspondents said some smaller protests continued in provinces outside Cairo, mainly called by workers demanding higher pay.

Meanwhile, Mr Mubarak, 82, is reported to be in poor health in his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Saudi-owned daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat said on Tuesday that the former president’s health was “declining drastically” and he was refusing to travel abroad for treatment. The paper quoted a former security official linked to the military high command.

In his final speeches to the nation, Mr Mubarak said that he would die in Egypt. He has not been seen in public since stepping down.

On Tuesday, the Egyptian ambassador to the US told American TV network NBC that Mr Mubarak was in poor health.

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6,  The Guardian,

15 February 2011

Egyptian army hijacking revolution, activists fear

Military ruling council begins to roll out reform plans while civilian groups struggle to form united front

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/egyptian-army-hijacking-revolution-fear

Jack Shenker in Cairo

A man takes a picture of his daughter on an Egyptian army tank in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photograph: Hussein Malla/AP

Egypt’s revolution is in danger of being hijacked by the army, key political activists have warned, as concrete details of the country’s democratic transition period were revealed for the first time.

Judge Tarek al-Beshry, a moderate Islamic thinker, announced that he had been selected by the military to head a constitutional reform panel. Its proposals will be put to a national referendum in two months’ time. The formation of the panel comes after high-ranking army officers met with selected youth activists on Sunday and promised them that the process of transferring power to a civilian government is now under way.

But the Guardian has learned that despite public pronouncements of faith in the military’s intentions, elements of Egypt’s fractured political opposition are deeply concerned about the army’s unilateral declarations of reform and the apparent unwillingness of senior officers to open up sustained and transparent negotiations with those who helped organise the revolution.

“We need the army to recognise that this is a revolution, and they can’t implement all these changes on their own,” said Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent youth activist. “The military are the custodians of this particular stage in the process, and we’re fine with that, but it has to be temporary.

“To work out what comes next there has to be a real civilian cabinet, of our own choosing, one that has some sort of public consensus behind it – not just unilateral communiques from army officers.”

There is consternation that the army is taking such a hard line on the country’s burgeoning wave of strikes, which has seen workers seeking not just to improve their economic conditions, but also to purge institutions of bosses they accuse of being corrupt and closely aligned to the old regime.

“These protests aren’t just wage-specific,” said Abd El Fattah. “They’re also about people at ground level wanting to continue the work of the revolution, pushing out regime cronies and reclaiming institutions like the professional syndicates and university departments that have long been commandeered by the state.”

The ruling military council has called on “noble Egyptians” to end all strikes immediately.

Egypt’s post-Mubarak political landscape has grown increasingly confused in the past few days, as the largely discredited formal opposition parties of the old era seek to reposition themselves as populist movements. Meanwhile younger, online-based groups are trying to capitalise on their momentum by forming their own political vehicles, and the previously outlawed Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it will form a legal political party.

After decades of stagnation, the country’s political spectrum is desperately trying to catch up with the largely leaderless events of the past few weeks and accommodate the millions of Egyptians politicised by Mubarak’s fall. “The current ‘opposition’ does not represent a fraction of those who participated in this revolution and engaged with Tahrir and other protest sites,” said Abd El Fattah. But with a myriad of short-lived alliances and counter-alliances developing among opposition forces in recent days, uncertainty about the country’s political future still prevails.

“Despite various attempts to form a united front, there’s nothing of the kind at this point – just a lot of division,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Centre. “You’ve got numerous groups, numerous coalitions, and everyone is meeting with everyone else. There’s a sense of organisational chaos. Everyone wants a piece of the revolution.”

This week a number of formal opposition parties, including the liberal Wafd party and the leftist Tagammu party, came together with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and a wide range of youth movements to try and elect a steering committee that could speak with a unified voice to the army commanders and negotiate the formation of a transitional government and presidential council.

Yet those plans have been overtaken by the speed of the military’s own independent proclamations on reform, raising fears that civilian voices are being shut out of the transitional process.

Some senior figures inside the coalition believe the army is deliberately holding high-profile meetings with individuals such as Google executive Wael Ghonim and the 6 April youth movement founder Ahmed Maher in an effort to appear receptive to alternative views, but without developing any sustainable mechanism through which non-military forces can play a genuine role in political reform.

“The military are talking to one or two ‘faces of the revolution’ that have no actual negotiating experience and have not been mandated by anyone to speak on the people’s behalf,” claimed one person involved with the new coalition. “It’s all very well for them to be apparently implementing our demands, but why are we being given no say in the process?

“They are talking about constitutional amendments, but most people here want a completely new constitution that limits the power of the presidency. They are talking about elections in a few months, and yet our political culture is still full of division and corruption.

“Many of us are now realising that a very well thought-out plan is unfolding step by step from the military, who of course have done very well out of the political and economic status quo. These guys are expert strategic planners after all, and with the help of some elements of the old regime and some small elements of the co-opted opposition, they’re trying to develop a system that looks vaguely democratic but in reality just entrenches their own privileges.”

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7,  LA Times,

February 14, 2011

U.S. tries to line up aid to help stabilize Egypt

Eager to show they are helping a key ally and amid fears that continued economic hardship could stoke further unrest, U.S. officials are working with allies to cobble together an aid package, possibly in the hundreds of millions.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-mideast-us-20110215,0,3393006.story

By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington

As anti-government protests threaten additional change across the Middle East, the Obama administration and its allies have been quietly collaborating on plans to shore up Egypt’s fragile transition government with a transfusion of economic aid.

U.S. officials, eager to demonstrate they are helping stabilize a country that has been a bulwark of American interests in the region, are soliciting contributions to an emergency financial package for Egypt, fearing that further strains on its overtaxed economy could kill the fledgling reform effort and lead to a new round of chaos.

In the four days since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of a public uprising, U.S. officials who helped facilitate his exit have been working to put together a package that will probably total several hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as funds to help build political parties and other institutions, U.S. and foreign diplomats say. The United States currently gives Egypt about $1.5 billion per year, most of it going to the Egyptian military, the most respected institution in the nation.

Public anxiety over Egypt’s struggling economy, including high unemployment and rising prices, was one of the key forces driving the 18-day uprising that toppled former Mubarak. Now that the authoritarian leader is gone, analysts say Egyptians may be overly optimistic in expecting rapid economic improvements.

Michele Dunne, a Middle East specialist who has advised the Obama administration on Egypt in recent weeks, said the economy is “one of the greatest vulnerabilities for a country that’s in a transition like this.”

The Egyptian Finance Ministry has estimated that the unrest cost the economy about $310 million a day, and some private analysts have estimated that investors have been withdrawing funds at a rate of about $1 billion a day. Before the protests, Egypt was expected to have 5% annual economic growth; now the consensus is closer to 1%.

Dunne, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said if Egyptians have high expectations about economic opportunities and instead conditions worsen, “it could really sour relations between people” and the transitional government.

U.S. officials, who have been consulting widely on Egypt in recent days, declined to discuss their aid goals in details, saying they were in the early stages of discussions. They said they expect international development banks may also play a part in the effort.

The push for more aid comes at a difficult time for the United States and many allies, who are already struggling with severe austerity budgets. The Obama administration is trying to prevent Republicans from imposing steep cuts on foreign aid.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R- Ohio) on Monday and expressed her concern about proposed reductions for the State Department and aid programs. Clinton said she hoped that as Congress considers “the national security and economic consequences of these cuts, they will chart a different course.”

The United States must promote stability in countries such as Egypt or “we will pay a higher price later in crises that are allowed to simmer and boil over into conflicts,” Clinton said.

Mubarak’s overthrow has been welcomed by Democrats and Republicans, and some analysts predict there will be bipartisan support for at least some increase in Egypt’s aid, to ensure its stability as well as that of neighbor Israel and other Middle East states.

“I think they’ll feel this cause is worth it,” said Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy.

Congressional Republicans, and especially those in the House, have made it clear they intend to target overall foreign aid for reductions, at a time when both parties are looking for ways to reduce the projected $1.6 trillion federal deficit.

Clinton wrote a letter Monday to Republican Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, complaining that the committee’s proposal for foreign affairs funding for the next fiscal year was would reduce the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development budget by 19% from the amount sought by the administration, and would reduce funding for humanitarian aid by 41% from 2010 spending.

She wrote that such cuts would be “devastating to our national security” and would damage U.S. leadership around the world.

However, there remains considerable Republican support for a number of U.S. national security missions overseas, including those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and lawmakers say it is unclear how much Republicans would want to cut the civilian aid related to those efforts.

A spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, said the EU is considering aid for Egypt, perhaps through loans by the European Investment Bank, an EU international finance arm.

President Obama, in a statement last weekend, said the United States was committed to offering aid to Egypt “to pursue a credible and orderly transition to democracy, including by working with international partners to provide financial support.”

The aid discussions have come at a time when the administration has been reaching out to allies in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere, trying to work out a common position on how to encourage democratic change in Egypt.

U.S. officials and allies have been closely watching Cairo’s new military leadership take a series of steps, including some that have raised concerns among the Egyptian protesters.

The military leaders have resisted pressure to lift the emergency law that limits rights, and they have given mixed signals about how long they would retain Cabinet members who were part of the Mubarak regime. Some demonstrators have been upset that the military has sought to clear out the remaining protesters from central Cairo.

But Clinton praised the military leaders and offered a strong endorsement of their actions to date, which include announcements that they would dissolve the parliament, draft amendments to the constitution, and set elections within six months.

In an appearance on Capitol Hill with Boehner, Clinton said “the steps they have taken so far are reassuring,” and that “thus far they’ve demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and a commitment to pursuing the kind of transition that we hope will lead to free, fair elections.”

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