First, everything going on in the Middle East today is overshadowed by the events on the U.S. Gulf Coast... this is a true humanitarian situation and my thoughts are with all of those who have been affected by or have family affected by Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath (my prayers would be with them too were I not agnostic). I wish the best to all those affected and we can only hope for a speedy recovery although that does not seem too likely at the present time. Honestly at this point, who really cares about looting (except for the firearms, that's a problem)... the priority should be to rescue everyone who for some reason stayed in New Orleans.
All right, so now to the world news of the day...
The assets of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in the U.S. have been frozen by a federal court. Relatives of some people killed by Hamas in the West Bank in 2000 sued Hamas and the PNA in U.S. civil courts and got a ruling in their favor. Let me kindly say with all due respect that this is a bunch of bullshit; not necessarily the court decision, which is made according to existing law, but first of all the lawsuit, and second of all the fact that the administration has not acted to give the PNA immunity from paralyzing acts. The Palestinian mission in Washington has been unable to pay its employees for three months.
First, the PNA mission deserves basically the same status as the Israeli embassy, in the interests of peace and because the PNA is essentially a nascent state that is engaged in the peace process with full U.S. recognition as the representative of the sovereign Palestinian people. Second, if the PNA is responsible for the actions of Hamas, so too is the Israeli government, which supported the formation of Hamas, and worked so hard to undercut the ability of the PNA to combat terrorism or, indeed, do anything else (I understand that the events in 2000 happened before the massive destruction inflicted by the IDF during the al-Aqsa Intifada).
But if we continue the train of logic here, isn't the U.S. government responsible for every criminal act committed on U.S. territory? After all, the U.S. government and more directly the state governments are responsible for security, and "provided an environment" for the actions of criminal elements. Perhaps closer to the point, I'd like to see the result of a lawsuit in Israel against the Israel Defense Forces or the Israeli government, by the families of the Israeli-Palestinian victims of the bus shooting in Shfaram, seeking compensation because they failed to recognize the destructive capability of the IDF deserter who carried out the action (and used an IDF weapon, I believe). It is true that the Sharon government is offering a payment to the families of the deceased, but it certainly isn't going to take any share of the blame, and it's probably safe to bet that the payment offered by Sharon isn't anywhere near what the U.S. lawsuit sought for its plaintiffs. It's also true that the Sharon government shelters the actions of those who terrorize Palestinians in the territories, or in the most kind interpretation, fails to rein in the actions of those who terrorize Palestinians in the territories (e.g. in Hebron).
To bridge this conversation into another topic, with regard to the shootings in Shfaram, Israeli law provides compensation to the families of victims of terrorist acts only when the terrorist group is hostile to Israel. This certainly seems a bit out of whack. To the credit (!) of the Sharon government, there is talk about reforming the law so that persons such as the families of the Israeli-Palestinians killed in Shfaram could be compensated...
What are we coming to when Ariel Sharon is regarded as a moderate? Well, he had always been quite good at knowing which way the wind is blowing, and it seems that he wants to secure for himself the legacy of defining Israel's final borders. Perhaps he will be successful yet.
Developments in Iraq
So in Iraq the Sunni leaders have called for rejection of the new constitution. Either way there is a positive result insofar as the Sunni will have to participate in the referendum on the constitution to reject it, so this is a silver lining to an otherwise rather gray cloud (and how would you tell apart the gray and the silver especially if the sun is not out to reflect the metal... hmm...).
I guess time will tell if I was correct in my gut feeling that the Bush administration was dead wrong in pressuring the different factions to come to a compromise by the target date, or correct when I tried to argue on the administration's behalf that perhaps this would just hasten the inevitable result that the Sunni would be pissed off regardless and having the referendum early (no matter what the result) is the better outcome.
I think the constitution in itself is okay, though some aspects of it aren't quite defined as well as one might like. I still think it should be changed to state that only three or four governorates can join to form a federal entity, which would end fears of a Shia superstate within a state, yet still allow substantial devolution to larger areas. I also have qualms about the court, which is ill-defined, and quarrels can be foreseen about Shari'a since the Islamic law is within the constitution to some extent (no law can be passed which comes into conflict), so whose Islamic law will it be? Well probably the Shia, which could present substantial problems...
Just another day in the wonderful world of the Middle East.