14 Feb 2009

The Israeli Elections: What's the verdict?

If the political categories of Left and Right have lost their meaning in the West, in Israel they have become absolutely erroneous and misleading. Yet, it is quite astounding how commentators everywhere are oblivious to this fact. The so-called lurch to the right has been accepted universally, by the Israeli media, Western and Arab journalists, even Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam saw it as a sign of Israeli society becoming more extremist. Yet, in reality, the four main parties that between them got 70% of the vote are much more similar than they appear. Their differences lie in very subtle shades of grey.
In the build-up to the elections, the candidates themselves and the media were desperate to exaggerate their differences. Netanyahu proclaimed that he will never give up the Golan heights, Livni and Barak claimed commitment to peace but played it tough on Hamas and Iran, and finally, the one that everybody is talking about, Lieberman wants Israel to be for the Jews and has declared that the Arab citizens of Israel are not loyal to the Jewish state. In the heat of the electoral battle, these might sound like radical differences between the different parties. With a bit more historic perspective and through the prism of where Israel is today and the fate of Zionism, the four parties are equally at loss to know what they actually stand for and how that would shape their policies.
Looking at the common denominator, all of those parties, and the other smaller ones as well, continue to see Israel as 'work-in-progress.' Israel's main problem so far has been that it has no recognizable borders, partially as a result of the 1967 war and the acquisition of territory that had been hitherto in the realm of fantasy. Decades on, that particular problem persists, compounded by the notion of land-for-peace which Israeli elites accepted, and the public at large do support. With the Oslo agreement and the peace process, the notion that the borders of Israel are open to negotiation has intensified. Today, this frames the actions and utterances of Israeli politicians across the board, whether they are in power or in opposition.
For those that have forgotten Netanyahu's term in power, it might be a moment to remind them that in fact his actions fell very short of his rhetoric. In fact, the catastrophic actions of Barak and later Sharon, actions that the Lebanese and the Palestinians suffered terribly from, were far more destructive than Netanyahu's. This is by no means a defense of the man, he was no dove, but to point out that in reality he is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. It is also useful to remember that Netanyahu signed two agreements with the Palestinian Authority during his term, and although he did his best to slow down the 'peace process', he did not effectively over turn the agreements or put an end to the process.
That same pragmatism is what characterizes the other men and women at the top of Israeli politics today, even Ariel Sharon himself had abandoned his ideological stance on his comeback, Kadima is the proof of that. A motley crew of characters assembled from all sides of Israeli politics, not for any great political purpose but because the re-definition of the boundaries of Israel had acquired an urgency that they intended to solve with physical measures on the ground rather than by answering the political questions that were raised by the decline of the Zionist project and attempting to fill the void in Israeli politics. Cue the withdrawal from Gaza and The Wall.
Barak, Livni and Netanyahu will invariably continue that line of thinking and action, and attempting to illustrate their differences through meaningless gestures. To give up the Golan or not give up the Golan is not a priority that any of them will have long term, it is easy to say that now when there is no real prospect for peace with Syria, but once the opportunity presents itself, no doubt that even Netanyahu will not hesitate from handing it back if the 'mood was right.'
What of Lieberman? How could he be likened to those other politicians with his tough stance and radicalism? This another case of rhetoric passing for a real political agenda, but a closer examination of Lieberman reveals that he is only louder than his colleagues, if not substantially different. In fact, Lieberman's particular stance might represent an even bigger challenge to the boundaries of Israel as it stands today. The quartet of parties at the top of Israeli politics are all reacting to demographics, attempting to re-draw the line that separates from the Palestinians where they think it will guarantee them a longer period of Jewish statehood. Lieberman is taking that to its logical conclusion.
Calling Lieberman an ultra-nationalist is a bit misleading, this is not a man that will take Israel onto new conquests to acquire more territory or fulfill any historical promise between 'the river and the sea'. On the contrary, he exemplifies the lack of confidence in any political projects that is characteristic of politics today. He is driven by fear of demographics and the fragility of the Israeli state. And this the paradox that Israel is experiencing today: a mighty military machine and advanced economy that are still not capable of inspiring any confidence of the ability to defend that state.
Why? The response can ultimately be traced back to the decline of Zionism. Or call it the end of Zionism as a historic project, in the sense that it has fulfilled its aim of establishing a Jewish state, although it has failed in its task of providing security for Jews everywhere. The question for Israel today is how to move beyond Zionism. The absence of any political project that can guide this process will mean that the pragmatism of Israeli politicians will continue, fuelled by fear and particularly fear of demographics. The results of that are catastrophic, as we have seen recently in Gaza, with thousands killed and devastation wreaked for no obvious reason.
For the time being, the politicians will continue their horse-trading and political games, oblivious to the historic task that demands their attention. But don't fool yourselves in thinking that there is any significant difference between them. Ultimately, I wonder if there is any secure future other than one brought about by a secular and democratic state. What that will represent for the Jewish character for Israel is up Israelis to determine, but the numbers game will not bring about security or stability. As long as Israel continues to be a malleable state, one with elusive boarders, its troubles and those of the Palestinians will persist.

For more, visit: www.karlsharro.co.uk

Unveiled at the Saatchi Gallery: Middle Eastern Art

Unveiled: New Art From The Middle East is an exhibition which claims little beyond its title. There is no obvious reason why this particular group of artists should be brought together in the same exhibition, to claim that somehow they represent art practices in the Middle East would be misleading, there are no obvious stylistic connections or over-riding concerns among the various artists on show. Paradoxically, this liberates the exhibition and allows the visitors to relate more to the individual works on display. This show does what it says on the tin, and does it successfully.
In contrast to Catherine David's Contemporary Arab Representations, a series of exhibitions that ran for several years since 2001 in various cities, Unveiled does not assume the burden of representation, and does not expect the artists to give an insight into Arab culture, cultural ambassadors they are not. What they do is give us free-standing art works that can (mostly) speak for themselves. This was a breath of fresh air.
Take for example the two works by Marwan Rechmaoui Beirut, Caoutchouc and Spectre, previously exhibited as part of Contemporary Arab Representations. It's the first time that I've seen his work shown outside of that context and liberated from the company of Deleuzian texts and yet another grainy video of someone's aunt, and it was like seeing the artworks for the first time. Caoutchouc is a large scale map of Beirut reproduced in black rubber in relief, that represents the city in a surprisingly novel way. Common to the work of most Lebanese artists of his generation, the problem of knowing the city is a central theme in Rechmaoui's work, yet his take on it is very personal and specific. The abstract conventions of map-making are subtly manipulated, allowing us to look beyond the physical city.
In Spectre (The Yacoubian Building, Beirut) Rechmaoui creates a scaled-down version of an iconic modernist building in Beirut in concrete and glass. The building is depicted at a specific point in its history, after it was evacuated during the Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 2006, and bearing the traces of its decades of existence in a troubled city. The artist faithfully depicts the smallest details, such as the heavy metal doors that become common during the civil war, but this is far from a process of pure documentation. The tension between the building's abstract repetitive form and the little details that Rechmaoui chooses to highlight, the story of the decline of a city and the fate of its inhabitants is being told cleverly and sensitively.
Rechmaoui's works are representations of his unique and personal way of looking at the city, and his ability to translate that into material form without excessive expressionism but with the subtle hints that allow us to see the city through his eyes. Isn't this the unique skill of the artist? By contrast, Diana Al-Hadid's works take expressionism to a new high, vigorously melting the symbols of modernity into twisted lumps of plastic. If Rechmaoui's works are masterpieces in under-statement, Al-Hadid's works are loud and garrulous. Curiously, they seem to be less personal precisely because of this quality.
The Tower of Infinite Problems and the other pieces on display by Al-Hadid, are large shards of metal and plastic, constantly at odds with gravity and at various stages of collapse and ruin, some of have completely surrendered waiting, presumably, for the inevitable crawl of green that is the fate of all ruins. The works are masterfully produced, but that has long ago ceased to be a quality to be praised in art. What is genuinely disturbing about the shattered towers is not Al-Hadid's unique vision in as much as that images of catastrophe have become so common today to arouse any interest, in me at least. Rather than seeing an artist struggling with the world around her, all I could see is yet another Virilio inspired take on modernity and the implications of taking technology to an extreme.
Al-Hadid as a Syrian-American artist is trying to give expression to the two cultures that she belongs to and on the way highlight issues such as cultural conflict. But the impression that I get, and perhaps this is the one fault line that can be traced in the entire exhibition, is that this is someone who have accepted those categories such as culture uncritically, and her work becomes less personal because of that. To a certain extent, this is the main difference between the works of the artists who live in the Middle East and those who live in the west. The first group don't have the luxury of thinking of their context in terms of abstract categories; it is above all a lived reality that they have to struggle with on a daily basis. The second group seem to have escaped the confines of that reality, but it's a false liberation that gives their work that abstract distant quality.
This is particularly true of the paintings of Nadia Ayari. The catalogue says of her: "Ayari didn't start working with her Middle Eastern subject matter until she’d moved to America and notions of cultural heritage and identity came to the fore." And it shows. Only someone far removed from the lived reality of the Middle East can attempt to sum it up in such a collection of visual clichés. This is Orientalism for the 21st century, rehabilitated by the fact that it is being committed by a native. All the more cause for concern. The struggle of the people of Palestine and Iraq today is not so much to get recognition for their misery, but to stop the west from constantly portraying them as perpetual victims, and in the case of Ayari's paintings, literally in such a flat manner.
Flatness, that old paradox of painting, has been revisited by two of the Iranian artists in the exhibition, Ramin Haerizadeh and Ahmad Morshedloo. Not so crassly, of course, but with thought and sophistication that re-asserts the notion that are is truly universal, and an experiment began by a French artists a hundred years ago could be picked up again by someone in Iran today. Not as a distraction from life, but as a unique way of dealing with it and sharing that vision with others.
Haerizadeh's collages are powerful in combining the conventions of collage with traditional Persian painting and crafts, using mostly his body as raw material. The effect is astonishing, producing intriguing works that on closer inspection reveal the manipulation and distortion involved in re-packaging his severed limbs and his chubby face to produce hyper-real bodies suitable for our age where the body has lost its integrity and has been appropriated by various institutions.
Morshedloo's work is particularly powerful, not only because it declares that painting is not dead as an art form, but because of the insistence that his subjects caught in a moment of daily life are not the vacuous abstractions we have to expect from depictions of that part of the world, but are subjects in their own right regardless of how much their attire hides or reveals of them. The contrast between the naked men and over-clad women does nothing to distract from that, these are living breathing subjects. We are made even more aware, paradoxically, through Morshedloo's unique perspectives and foreshortening effects. This is not crass realism, but painting at its best. The less said the better.
Finally, the last piece which attracted the most attention from the visitors is Kader Attia's Ghost. The aluminium-foil empty shells that represent Muslim women in prayer, a hundred or more of them perhaps, are very powerful visually. Though to me personally the effect is not particularly due to Attia's social 'comment' in as much as it is the representation of the hollow body in that most fragile and transient of materials, aluminium foil. For all I care, they could have been a group of Jedi warriors looking for their contact lenses, the effect would have been the same. There is something about the power of visual depictions that we seem to have abandoned in favour of art with a message, and perhaps that is too much of a burden. Attia's work is an example of the power of that form of visual exploration that used to be called sculpture.
The last room in the exhibition is dedicated to old masters from the Middle East, and it suitably takes me to my conclusion. In societies where visual art was not an established tradition, those early masters embarked on what seemed to their contemporaries an alien endeavour, a career and a life in art. They did that for two reasons, one to create their own modernity in countries that were still ambivalent about it, and secondly, to become full-fledged individuals in societies where the concept was struggling to emerge against the tyranny of older institutions. In Unveiled, we see that struggle continue. There are artists who have to live in countries that find their activities superfluous, but in their struggle to assert their individualism they are producing thoughtful and engaging works of art. On the other hand, there are those who seem to have surrendered their individuality in favour of a formulaic and self-indulgent art that is obsessed with identity. It's a fine line, but this exhibition will allow discerning viewers to judge for themselves.

On Gaza, calmly.

Now that the situation in Gaza has calmed down, and nothing has been resolved, I think it's time to discuss that episode to explore what can be learned from it. During the Israeli attacks it was almost impossible to say anything meaningful, with both sides trying to outdo each other in the 'propaganda' war, and more specifically in the victimhood game. To be very clear from the onset, the Israeli war on Gaza was barbaric and unacceptable in this day and age, but that sentiment is not enough to understand the situation or learn how to proceed from there. This is not the only war being waged in the world today, and we are still a long way away from a world where wars would be unnecessary.
Condemning aggression alone is not enough as a political act, for that we must understand the dynamics of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict and the fate of the Palestinian struggle for national self-determination. Unfortunately, very few commentators and people involved in the struggle offered any real insights into the nature of the conflict. I will attempt to do that in what follows.
A few months ago I spoke at the Battle of Ideas in a session entitled 'Israel at 60: What happened to the Zionist dream?' (Watch here.) I made the point that because of Israel's lack of a political project to replace the declining Zionist project, the frequency of its violent confrontations with the Palestinians and its other neighbors will increase. Most Arabs still do not recognize that Israel is no longer being driven by the expansionist Zionist agenda, and still attempt to understand its actions based on old models of analysis that are no longer useful. This doesn't mean that Israel has become a benign society or state, on the contrary with the loss of the project that brought it into being, it seemed to have lost any capacity to control its actions and give them a political framework.
I will not repeat the detailed analysis that I introduced in the discussion, but I will pick up on one aspect of it. Israeli political elites from all shades are pursuing pragmatic solutions to their troubled relationship with the Palestinians and the other Arabs. In specific, the withdrawal from Gaza, and before that from Lebanon, and the building of the wall are all signs that Israel is seeking a de-facto two state solution that will keep the Palestinians out and give Israel the borders that it still lacks 60 years after its birth. This is driven by the fear of the anticipated Palestinian demographic superiority, but is an extremely deluded notion. By running away from a political solution, Israel will never have the peace that it claims it wants. And this will not stop it from initiating those attacks that have no specific purpose more than illustrating that the elites have a clear agenda of defending Israel. Ironically, with the decline of Zionism and the lack of a political platform that can describe a rational way of dealing with the Palestinians, the intensity of the conflict is likely to increase, as well of the senseless violence.
But what about the Palestinian side? I want to argue that there is an equal sense of disorientation and lack of a political sense of purpose that intensified after the death of Yasser Arafat, whose force of character and single-mindedness in pursuing Palestinian liberation for long gave the Palestinian cause a clear sense of direction, although by no means one that was universally agreed upon or one that made the struggle easier for the Palestinians. For those that will rush to blame the current Palestinian situation on Oslo and the PLO, bear in mind that the Palestinians did not negotiation out of a position of strength and they had to do that at a very low point in their struggle which was clearly a moment of defeat. The tactical move at that point was the success in moving the struggle back to Palestine rather than conducting it out of Beirut or Amman. But no one said it was going to be easy.
The death of Arafat alone does not explain the disorientation on the Palestinian political scene. The Palestinian people cannot be reduced to one figure, even though he had become a symbol of the cause. In many respects, the Palestinian people showed that they are more politically aware than any of the other Arabs, most of whom still live in authoritarian systems that they do little to challenge. After years of the intifada and the devastation of their society, they managed to hold democratic elections, an achievement by any standard. For comparisons, the Lebanese suspended elections for the duration of the civil war, and they are still far from transparent almost two decades after the end of the war.
The key to understanding the Palestinian political disorientation is to bear in mind that it is above all a historic struggle for self-determination, a fact that neither the PLO nor Hamas seem to realize today, and they certainly don't act as if they are pursuing that aim. To start with the PLO, or more accurately, Fatah, has been extremely weakened in power, and it did not show a capability for producing leaders that could continue the struggle or rule the territories under their control successfully. This was not easy to achieve under Israeli occupation and harassment, but was made even more difficult by the transformation of the political mentality from one that pursues the aim of national self-determination to one that seems to be seeking to invite outside intervention, especially from the west. The Vietcong did not seek to attract the sympathy of the world with pictures of their dead, they fought single-mindedly to achieve their political aims.
By contrast, the Palestinians today seem to rely more on attracting the sympathy of the outside world to support their cause than on their own efforts, that for example would seek to find sections of Israeli society with which they could find common cause. This is not such an alien idea, in fact Arafat himself had nurtured connections within Israel itself. But today, we live in a different world where the cultural and identity politics have replaced progressive politics making it very hard for Palestinians and Israelis to find political commonalities. To put it differently, the decline of class-based politics makes the idea of one-state secular state a fantasy notion today, but it wasn’t that long ago when that was a legitimate political aim for the PLO and even Israeli progressives.
A few months ago, I attended a discussion between Palestinian and Israeli politicians in London, about the long-term prospects for peace. What ensued was a pathetic spectacle of both sides trying to show that they are the real victims in this struggle and trying to convince the audience with that. At the end I asked the panel about the possibility of a one-state solution, and it was dismissed outright. Mustafa Barghouthi, a Palestinian politician who’s well-respected as an ‘independent’ replied that this was the original aim of the Palestinians, but that they were ‘told’ that to abandon it for the sake of a two-state solution. On one hand, this is an accurate representation of how western intervention had a big impact in enshrining the divisions between the Palestinians and the Israelis by insisting on separating them physically, but also on the ease with which a Palestinian politician would not argue with the demands of foreign powers on a matter of self-determination.
Sadly, this is a much more prevalent attitude among Palestinian elites. Rather than seeking self-determination according to their own terms, they are today willing to gamble on the west being able to hand them their state. This is above all an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of politics as above all an exercise in self-determination and shaping one’s destiny. Yet it is important to note that this is a wider problem that politics is suffering from around the world. In a sense, the decline of the PLO is a symptom of a world in which progressive politics based on the capacity of human beings to shape their own world has declined severely and has even been under attack by various thinkers. Instead of the universalist progressive politics of the past, identity and cultural politics have come to the fore to the detriment of politics in general, in Palestine the rise of Hamas conforms to that trend.
Many leftists in the west (and around the world) see Hezbollah and Hamas as radical movements that are fighting imperialism. In reality, this characterization is not straight-forward. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have the legitimate right to fight Israel, which after all is occupying their land. But I want to question the political aims of Hamas in conducting its struggle with Israel and the particular way in which it does that. To start with, the main difference between Hamas of today and the PLO of the past is not that one is secular and the other religious, this is only a superficial distinction. Much of the PLO’s efforts in the past went more often against Arab regimes than against Israel itself. In a sense, under the leadership of the Arafat, the Palestinians had to fight the Arab governments in order to get the freedom to fight Israel. Conversely, Hamas seems to be doing the exact opposite today: instead of leading the Palestinian people towards liberation, having a democratic mandate from them, it is surrendering whatever left of Palestinian sovereignty to external powers by linking its fate to Syria and Iran. Both countries do not necessarily have the interests of the Palestinian people as a priority: Damascus has for long tried to use the Palestinian cause as a means of legitimization and as a negotiating card with Israel, while Iran is more concerned with extending its regional influence and, unlike what some fantasists may think, is not going to challenge Israel militarily.
In terms of what Hamas represents, it is a mistake to think of it as a religiously motivated organization. It is primarily a movement born out of the failures of progressive politics in the Arab world, and the demise of the aspirations for modernity and radicalism. In that sense, Hamas is a post-modernist organization, concerned more with identity and culture rather than with progress. Religion in this case is only the vehicle, not the aim. Much like Hezbollah, the discourse of Hamas is founded on grievances and a sense of victimhood, not on political aspirations. The ultimate symbol of that is the suicide bomb, it is not meant to achieve a specific political aim, but has become an end in itself.
Equally, launching rocket attacks on Israel will never liberate the Palestinian people, and any act that attracts such a disproportionate response shows a complete disregard for the lives of Palestinian people. Hamas have fetishized the instruments of resistance at the expense of a genuine political struggle. They are in the process of surrendering the hard-won right to self-determination that the Palestinians fought for and handing it to outside powers. Their attacks on Fatah and the murder of hundreds of Fatah supporters are unforgivable, and show the extent to which they can go in their attempt to replace Fatah. Bearing in the mind that they have in the past offered Israel a 100-year truce, effectively recognizing Israel, one wonders if all they are seeking to replace Fatah at is the negotiating chair?
With this set of dynamics in place, the conflict is bound to erupt again sooner or later, and once again people will be at the mercy of events that they cannot control. And no doubt that we will hear the same rhetoric about Israel’s right to exist, Israel as an expansionist state, and above all the repeated pleas to be recognized as the victims. The real alternative can start with building an Arab and Jewish movement working to establish a secular state for all.

Cedars Island: What's the fuss about?

It doesn't take much to provoke the Lebanese, so a project like Cedars Island (http://www.cedarsisland.com) was bound to be controversial. The large development on the Lebanese coast proposed by Noor international is described as "a residential, commercial, recreational, and touristic site made for luxurious experience", built on reclaimed land in the shape of, what else, the Cedar Tree. Mind you, it's not really like a Cedar Tree, but the idealized shape of the national symbol that has been constantly re-drawn by everyone from the Lebanese flag designer to the national airline to the various political parties (mostly on the right).
Yet, the specific nature of the responses to Cedars Island is quite revealing. The 'protest' kicked off like much else with a Facebook group, that utterly meaningless form of desktop activism. Within a short period of type it attracted thousands of disgruntled Lebanese internet users. The objections ranged from the environmental to the aesthetic, the common denominator being that everyone was offended. It is not difficult to see why, to start with the development is a typical Dubai-style development, which is enough to send the Lebanese into fits of rage. Regardless that hundreds of thousands of them make a living in the Gulf, the attitude of the Lebanese towards that part of the world has always been a negative one. Dubai on the Damour coast, what an affront!
Some people were even annoyed with the fact that the project will have palm trees. Palm trees on our shores! Oh poor cedar tree... In a country where everything from the type of car that you drive to your favorite TV station is politicized, it's only natural that even trees can have such ideological significance. The Christians used to whine about the palm trees that the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (allegedly) planted in Beirut and Saida, importing that alien tree from the Arabian Peninsula to our 'virgin' coastline. Somehow they feared that those trees will subliminally take over their political affiliations to the land of the cedars.
Then, the environmentalists stepped in, naturally. Greenpeace Lebanon (how proud am I!) is conducting a study on the effect of island on the marine eco-system. Happily, we even have a proper green party in Lebanon now (in as much as a green party could be proper). I haven't found out what they have to say about it yet, but I am sure they will not be thrilled. In a brilliant article in Al-Akhbar ( http://www.al-akhbar.com/files/pdfs/20080820/p06_20080820.pdf ) Bassam Al-Qantar exposed the 'party' for what it is: an elitist club for the affluent and the well connected.
Like any 'protest' of that nature in Lebanon it is not the farmers of Baalbek and Hermel who are protesting, it is someone else protesting in the name of the Lebanese people. It is only those who don't have to live at the mercy of nature than can afford to idealize it. In a country where hundreds of thousands of people live in areas with no economic prospects whatsoever, the Greens will take it upon themselves to stop any development project that can offend their aesthetic sensitivities.
No one has yet looked at the number of jobs that such a development will create or the volume of economic activity that it could generate. Details. People don't like the Cedars Island and therefore it has to stop. This is from people whose understanding of economics is so distorted that thousands of them joined another Facebook group to nominate the governor of the Central Bank to the Nobel Prize because of his wisdom and genius. Presumably, the ultra-conservative economic policies of hording foreign cash reserves and promoting banking policies that are slightly more advanced than those of Hammurabi.
To make matters worse, thousands of Lebanese people have been going to the West to get degrees in American and European universities where they un-critically accept the prevailing orthodoxies of environmentalism and sustainability and then head back with a clear recipe of how to cure Lebanon from its ills. Thanks to the collapse of the Left in Lebanon, progressive voices have long ago died out completely. It used to be the Lebanese left that argued for more industrialization and development to give the Lebanese working classes a better future, while the "Right" (Kataeb and co) dreamt of milking their goats under the starry skies of Mount Lebanon.
Today, the political shades range from the conservative to the down-right reactionary, and all radical ideas have been discarded. Hezbollah long ago tore up its founding document, and with it its social radicalism. (See: http://www.culturewars.org.uk/2007-08/norton.htm ) The sole purpose of Hezbollah today is to keep the Shiite masses under control and contain their explosive potential. To that end it will pacify them with small 'gains' at the expense of the integrity of the Lebanese state.
Equally, the Tayyar has lost any radical potential it ever possessed. There was a moment in the late 90s when the Tayyar could have become a genuinely radical political movement, but the youth leadership chickened out and left it to Aoun to play the role of demi-god, a role currently performed at a cinema near you to devastating effect. What promised to be a genuine change in political consciousness among Christian youths (and a few Muslims) has been hijacked by the clan leaders.
Both Hezbollah and the Tayyar have departments for the environment, incidentally, so do several of the other parties. I am not singling out Hezbollah and the Tayyar, but it is important to understand that the parties with the most radical potential have become establishment parties, so we shouldn't expect much more from the proper bourgeois parties. And today both of those parties have developed a conservative outlook, and primarily one that has no political and economic vision for the country.
So, back to Cedars Island. In the absence of any real development in the country, why should a private project like this be opposed? So it might appear hideous to some people, is that enough to prevent a major economic development? In fact, I think there's even something subversive about the scheme, it's saying nothing is sacred anymore, even your blessed Cedar! Learning from Las Vegas, anyone? Should we give the arbiters of middle class taste the right to control the fate of such developments?
Living in such a small country, we have no option but make the most of what we have. I hope this will be the beginning of an ambitious project of sea reclamation that will stop when we hit Cyprus!

The predicament of Hezbollah

plus ça change....
7 years ago, on the first anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, a leftist group that I used to belong to issued a statement entitled “Hezbollah with 'bare' arms” that was signed by 8 of us. At the time, the political landscape in Lebanon was radically different in many respects to what it is today. Syria still had a free reign, and its troops were spread all over the country. Most of the 14th of March forces were still publicly supporting the Syrian presence.
Reading the statement again today confirms that Hezbollah has not altered the course of action that it embarked on since the Israeli withdrawal which took it by surprise. As we put it at the time, Hezbollah was choosing to ‘escape forward’ in trying to find a justification to keep its weapons. Perhaps the aims have changed slightly, but Hezbollah is still compensating for its lack of a political project with high rhetoric and even more insistence on holding on to is military machine.
At the time, we asked: ‘And yet the question grows more pressing. If the Hezbollah party enjoyed in the last ten years a range in maneuverability founded on a number of factors, is it still able to do so after the Israeli retreat from south Lebanon?’ The past seven years have proven that Hezbollah strove hard to find that space, but at increasingly higher costs.
In May, Hezbollah publicly contradicted its own claim that its weapons shall never be used against other Lebanese. The scenes of Hezbollah militia men roaming the streets of Beirut proved that this was another promise that Hezbollah could easily fail to keep if its military machine was even so much as contemplated by the state. Now Hezbollah has raised the stakes even further by shooting down the Lebanese army helicopter and effectively prescribing where the army can operate.
Yet, despite the appearances, Hezbollah’s acts mask its political bankruptcy. Hezbollah’s ferociousness in defending its weapons will increase even further, but will ultimately fail in preserving Hezbollah’s role in the long term. As we ‘predicted’ seven years ago, Hezbollah is living on borrowed time.