PLO Brain Drain? Palestinian New Guard Hits an Old Mindset This week, as Israelis and Palestinians restart peace talks, many faces at the table will be familiar. On the Palestinian side, stalwarts of the PLO like Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and long-time spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi will be out front. But some of Ramallah’s finest will be missing – a wave of analysts and supporters complain that its rising young talent has been pushed out, rather than given room at the table.
Many of them were hired into a brain trust of the PLO known as the Negotiations Support Unit (NSU), an elite advisory team established in 1998 and paid for by European grants. The NSU quickly became the epicentre for new generation of Palestinian talent: mostly in their 20s and 30s, often raised abroad, and commonly graduates of Harvard, Yale, and Oxford. But few of them lasted – spurned, they say, by an old guard that was remarkably bad at absorbing new ideas and/or sharing the spotlight.
“A lot of the best young Palestinians come through the NSU. They want to contribute to the peace process, but leave alienated and disillusioned,” said Taufiq Rahim, an analyst with the Dubai School of Government who studies the PLO.
“There is this whole new generation that is being rejected. We’re constantly trying to break through,” said one NSU alum, who like others chose to remain anonymous in hopes remaining active in Palestinian affairs. “There is a set of people 20 years older than us saying why should these people get a chance to rise? We haven’t had ours yet.” “It’s an absurdly self-harming status quo,” said another. “There is no decision-making, no coherent strategy, and definitely no room for self-criticism.” Issa Kassissieh, a senior official with the NSU, downplays the disconnect between old and new generations. “There are sometimes disagreements, but their voices are heard….the opportunity is open,’ he told ABC News. Still, analysts point to the departure of once-visible stars like Michael Tarazi, Diana Buttu, and Sami Abu Roza. Kassissieh said they left for personal reasons, that “life under occupation drove them out voluntarily.” They say they were all dismissed, some pushed out by Erekat himself. The resulting morale, said one NSU alum, “is awful…everyone is disillusioned. People leave the NSU having given up the struggle. They clipped the NSU’s wings when they fired us.” The missing faces are noticed in Ramallah, at a time when the PLO needs new energy and a clean image. At this make-or-break moment in the peace process, even Palestinian officials say there is just one more chance to get it right. “Some of their brightest minds are on the sidelines, instead of getting involved,” said Rahim. Entering into final status talks, the PLO is in tying its own hands behind its back.” More links:
» International Crisis Group Report: Tipping Point? Palestinians and the Search for a New Strategy | The Geopolitico: Behind the Negotiating Scenes in Palestine
» PLO Negotiations Affairs Department | Haaretz Profiles the Negotiations Support Unit
» Peace Process Resources from CFR | New America Foundation NYC Imam In the Gulf: How a Controversy Over Islam Plays Here Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the New York cleric behind a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, is on the last leg of his US-sponsored Middle East tour. In Bahrain, Qatar, and now the UAE, he’s been hosted by royalty at lavish meals and given Friday sermons to the local faithful.
Rauf, one of the most sought-after interviewees in America, has spoken openly and often to the Arab press. He tied opposition to the center on a “very small, loud and vociferous” set of voices in America, telling Abu Dhabi’s The National that the protests have been propelled by the politics of a mid-term election year. “The fact of the matter is the local community board recognises (sic) and understands the vision, the politicians in New York understand the vision, and there is broad-based support for these objectives,” Rauf told journalist Kareem Shaheen. He said that despite the controversy, he would not have put the center anywhere else.
“The fact that we’re getting this kind of attention is a sign of success,” he said at a US Embassy event in Bahrain. “With God’s help, Inshallah, we will pass through these stormy times.” When asked by ABC News whether he would revise the plans or location of the controversial center in light of the raging debate, Rauf declined to comment. The center, which combines prayer rooms with a swimming pool, food court, and American-style community space, would be unrecognizable to the Middle East as a religious site. Organizers of the $100 million project have said they would take donations from abroad — Rauf is not allowed to fundraise on the trip, but locals point out that the royal contacts and high visibility of this tour could lead to lucrative support in the future (“that’s how it usually works,” said one Dubai resident).
As for audience reviews, Rauf has been scored well with the young Muslims and local leaders the State Department designed for him to meet when they planned his tour, months before the public firestorm.
“When he was talking we were looking at each other and nodding, because we felt like what he was saying we relate to,” said Faten Bushehri, a student who attended Rauf’s talk in Bahrain.
But the small group Rauf is reaching is easily outnumbered by those watching the hot debate in America, with its Koran burning and anti-mosque demonstrations.
“Many Muslims agree that it was a mistake to put this project is such a sensitive area… but they still feel unfairly targeted, that their holy places are always under the microscope,” said Camille Otrakji, a prolific Syrian blogger behind the forthcoming IslamComment.com.
Otrakji describes moderate Muslims as feeling squeezed in the debate. “They are secular, so the Islamists don’t like them, and now America doesn’t like them because they are Muslim.” That’s reflected in a round of opeds in the Arab press, compiled by Marc Lynch for Foreign Policy; Jordan’s Al Ghad newspaper, for one, saw the protests as “a wave of bigotry and hate.” “A few years ago the United States was used as an example of where Islam and American society coexist together in harmony. Now the model has completely been destroyed,” said Dr. Theodore Karasik, a Dubai-based analyst who has monitored the Arab reactions of the mosque debate. “To someone who resides outside the United States it looks like a great religious divide, a wall going up. And we’re not really sure how the implications play out.” More links:
» State Department Press Briefing on Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s Middle East Tour
» Foreign Policy/Marc Lynch: How Arabs View the Anti-Mosque Movement
» Council on Foreign Relations does an Expert Roundup: Is a Mosque Near Ground Zero a Bad Idea? | Dan Senor’s Open Letter on the Ground Zero Mosque | Is Religious Freedom a Casualty at Ground Zero?
OPEC At 50: A more “Cooperative” “Cartel” It seems OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries, sets its own stereotype: oil barons, many of them Arab sheikhs, conferring to push up oil prices to protect their own profits. But that model, down to the players in it, has evolved in the 50 years since OPEC’s founding. Heading into its anniversary month, OPEC is in some ways stronger and in other ways weaker, but still making billions of dollars a day. “The old days of the cartel, used loosely, involved more control of prices. Today it’s much more a club that is trying to protect its market share,” said Dr. Mohamed Ramady, an economist at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia. He was referencing big energy finds from non-OPEC producers non-OPEC countries like Canada, Brazil, and the world’s largest oil producer, Russia. Here’s how OPEC works: the 12 members (8 of them from the Middle East) have set quotas on how much oil they can produce each month (for now, only Iraq is exempt). When prices are low they traditionally slash production, pushing prices up. When fuel costs are deemed too high they can expand production, relieving price pressure. But over the decades that supply/demand lever has weakened. A snapshot of OPEC’s of diminished power came, ironically, with the record high oil price of 2008. At $147 per barrel its members were making banner profits, but faced a public backlash. OPEC threw up its hands and argued that, this time, the high prices were not its fault – hedge funds and other financial players were to blame, it said, for pouring big money into oil markets. “At the time they argued that at least $40 in the $147 price that came from the financial markets,” said Ramady. Months later financial markets tumbled and a lot of that money left, he said, giving OPEC back some of its control. Meanwhile, as the engines of the global economy slowed down, suddenly needing less fuel for manufacturing, construction, and transportation, oil prices fell below $36 per barrel. But that was then. So far in 2010, prices have stayed near $75 per barrel, remarkably consistent with comments by King Abdullah that $75/barrel would be a fair price for both producers and consumers. Analysts take it as a sign of greater cooperation: OPEC, rather than pushing for the highest possible price, is finding a balance that works for energy consumers. That’s good for America and its allies, trying to avoid a double dip recession, and it’s good for oil producers, who hope a strong global economy will protect their profits. “There’s greater maturity to the organization now,” said Raad Al Kadiri, an analyst with PFC Energy. “It’s shown itself more influential, certainly more cohesive than 10-15 years ago” he said. For one, in the 1990s Kuwait and Iraq were at each other’s throats; today they’re jointly exploring shared oil fields. There is still internal political tension, with the politics and policies of an Iran-Venezuela alliance clashing with those of other members. But overall, Kadiri said, OPEC still has its cohesion and its clout — and 58% of the global oil market, more than enough to keep it the central player. More links:
» Fast Company: 50th Anniversary of OPEC | OPEC’S 50th Anniversary Page
» BBC News: Oil Markets Explained | Oil Drum Blog | Bloomberg Oil & Energy News
» US Department of Energy: OPEC Revenues Fact Sheet MIDEAST TIDBITS
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