PALESTINIANS’ “MOMENT OF TRUTH”
That’s the theme of President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the U.N. today — underway as we write. A senior official tells Alex MARQUARDT. “The whole speech is about the moment of truth. A moment of truth: Is the international community willing to take the steps to a two-state solution — or are we abandoning it?” Nearly two decades after embarking on peace talks with Israel, Palestinians will sidestep that troubled route today, seeking UN recognition of an independent state. The main points Abbas is expected to hit are international responsibility, Israeli violations and “facts on the ground” (i.e. settlement expansion).
-ON THE GROUND Tens of thousands of Palestinians are turning out across the West Bank today, a big screen has been set up in a Ramallah’s square for the UN speech, church bells are ringing and mosques holding prayers, and the Palestinian anthem was sung. MARQUARDT reports from Ramallah — “huge cheers as the news was announced on Yasser Arafat square. ‘Live long, Palestine! Jerusalem is our capital!’” Will they also air the Netanyahu speech a few hours after Abbas? “If we do that, people might damage the screen,” an official says. Anti-American sentiment is growing, too, with the White House seen as doing everything possible to derail the effort.
-BUBBA ON BIBI Who’s to blame for the continued failure of the Middle East peace process? Former President Bill Clinton points a finger at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Foreign Policy magazine – saying his government moved the goalposts upon taking power. Clinton, in a roundtable with bloggers Thursday, said there are two main reasons for the lack of a comprehensive peace: the reluctance of the Netanyahu administration to accept the terms of the Camp David deal, and a demographic shift in Israel that is making the public less amenable to peace. “The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics…were [Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination and [Ariel] Sharon’s stroke,” Clinton said. Sharon was working toward a consensus peace deal before he fell ill, Clinton said. “There’s no question — and the Netanyahu government has said — that this is the finest Palestinian government they’ve ever had in the West Bank,” Clinton said. “[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before — my deal — that they would take it.”
YEMEN: THE PRESIDENT RETURNS
In a surprise announcement – and one likely to inflame tensions further – Yemen State TV and the Yemen Embassy in Washington report that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has returned to Sana’a after three months in Saudi Arabia. State TV reports that Saleh arrived by private plane early Friday morning and called for a cease-fire. Saleh has been in Saudi Arabia since June for medical treatment following an assassination attempt that reportedly left the aging president severely injured. Reports put the death toll over 100 for the last five days and over 400 since the uprising started in January.
PAKISTAN THREATENS BREAK OVER U.S. CHARGE
Pakistan’s foreign minister has threatened a break with the United States, responding to Admiral Mike Mullen’s charge of Pakistani complicity in an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul by suggesting the U.S. could lose Pakistan as an ally. “If they are choosing to do so, it will be at their own cost,” Hina Rabbani Khar told a Pakistan TV channel during her trip to New York City, which she is still on. “Anything which is said about an ally, about a partner publicly to recriminate it, to humiliate it is not acceptable.” Per Nick SCHIFRIN: Khar – like all foreign ministers in Pakistan – is a product of the military establishment, and it’s a safe bet to assume she is speaking on behalf of the military.
AFGHAN FUNERAL — AND A CAPITAL ON EDGE
Nick SCHIFRIN (again) reporting from Kabul: Afghanistan’s former president, who was in charge of the government’s efforts to find a political end to the war, was buried today, just a few feet from the spot where the Taliban used to execute their political enemies. Burhanuddin Rabbani’s funeral was colorful and full of emotion and anger. Hundreds of people gathered on top of a hill in the middle of Kabul, jostling for position as Rabbani’s body was placed into the ground. At one point, police had to shoot into the air to disperse the throngs. “Death to the foreign puppets,” they shouted. “Pakistan is our enemy.” Many of Rabbani’s followers blame Pakistan for his death, accusing the Pakistani military of supporting the Taliban insurgents, as it once supported the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Tension in Kabul is as thick as it’s been in years. The city’s diplomatic community is filled with hundreds of police, snipers, and plainclothes intelligence agents who have restricted everyone’s movement.
-FINANCE “SUMMIT” For the second time in as many weeks, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is in Europe. Geithner said this week that he’s sure Europe would be able boost the firepower of its bailout fund to contain the debt crisis. Today Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are in France to attend a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers of the world’s 20 biggest economies.
-BRINK OF RECESSION? The Wall Street Journal reports that business activity in the euro zone is contracting for the first time in more than two years, according to a closely watched survey, the strongest evidence to date that the global slowdown and Europe’s debt crisis are pushing the euro bloc to the brink of recession.
ANGER IN EUROPE OVER DAVIS EXECUTION
From Molly HUNTER: Even in a region long disdainful of American attitudes toward the death penalty, public officials, editorial writers and activists across Western Europe reacted with fury on Thursday to news that Troy Davis was executed in Georgia on Wednesday night. The Guardian provides ten reasons Davis shouldn’t have been executed while Foreign Policy publishes a list of the world’s top ten executioners. The top offender? China.
RETHINKING THE SPEED OF LIGHT?
A startling find at one of the world’s foremost laboratories: A subatomic particle seemed to move faster than the speed of light has scientists around the world rethinking Albert Einstein and one of the foundations of physics. Now they are planning to put the finding — and by extension Einstein — to further high-speed tests to see if a revolutionary shift in explaining the workings of the universe is needed — or if the European scientists made a mistake.
DSK TO GO BEFORE JUDGE
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Paris prosecutor’s office says Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the woman who accuses him of trying to rape her have been ordered to appear before a judge to tell their version of the events. Writer Tristane Banon says the former head of the International Monetary Fund attacked her while she was interviewing him in 2003.