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Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff write in Haaretz:

If someone were to offer Ehud Olmert the possibility of drawing a thick, black line through all of the events of the past year, presumably the prime minister would gladly accept it. It isn’t just the war in Lebanon. It is also the affair of the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit two and a half weeks earlier, and the failed “Summer Rain” military operation in the Gaza Strip in the wake of the kidnapping, which did not bring Shalit back and did not yield any other significant accomplishments.

Here are two of the outstanding statements from that period that Olmert would no doubt prefer to forget: On June 26, one day after Shalit was abducted: “The question of the release of [Palestinian] prisoners [in return for Shalit] is not at all on the agenda of the government of Israel.” On July 1, a statement from the Foreign Ministry on Olmert’s behalf: “There will not be any deal. The soldier Shalit will be released, or else we will be compelled to act to release him.” Behind the scenes Olmert’s people were constantly briefing and reminding journalists: The aim is to break the old rules of the game. Israel will act so that the terror organizations, first in the territories and afterward in Lebanon, will lose the desire to abduct more people.

Since then more than eight months have elapsed. The appetite of the would-be abductors has perhaps been tempered – in light of the many losses among the Palestinians and the Lebanese – but the incentive is still there. Israel is now negotiating the release of thousands of prisoners in return for Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, in two separate channels.

The numbers reported here seem to be a bit excessive. 1400::1 is a very high price to pay for a prisoner exchange with no assurances that this behavior will cease, that rockets will no longer be targeted from Gaza into Israel, with no declaration of both the de jure and de facto existence of Israel (what other state requires this of their neighbors?) As regular readers of this blog know, I am not opposed to the notion of negotiation with one’s political enemies. It must be clear, however, that any negotiations that occur do not amount to a list of demands by one side as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. 1400::1 or even 1400::3 borders on a take-it-or-leave-it demand.

It is clear that negotiations require two sides that are willing to engage each other in meaningful talks. No reasonable person can enter talks that place demands so far out of reach that they don’t pass the giggle test. All one can do is giggle at a demand that 1400 prisoners, each with, to use the Israeli phrase, blood on his hands, in exchange for from 1 to 3 kidnapped soldiers. The demand is simply ridiculous.

If Hamas truly intends to negotiate with Israel as its leadership has indicated in recent days then it is up to that leadership to drop their ridiculous take-it-or-leave-it demands and sit down as honest negotiators. Both sides should negotiate hard, but reasonably. Most importantly, both sides must be willing to make concessions to the other, small ones that can be monitored and deemed successful at first, and then larger ones. In the end, neither side can resort to violence the second one does not get its own way. It is time for a new way of thinking, for the playground bullies to stand aside and let the people negotiate an end to nearly a century of violence.

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Nidal al-Mughrabi, reporting for Reuters writes:

Hamas signaled a willingness on Wednesday to negotiate over the list
of Palestinian prisoners it wants Israel to release in exchange for a
captive Israeli soldier, but ruled out major changes.


The fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit, seized by Gaza militants 10
months ago, is expected to dominate talks planned for Sunday between
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas.

Israeli leaders have rebuffed the prisoner list submitted by Hamas,
which leads the Palestinian government, because it includes many
militants deemed to have “blood on their hands” for attacks against
Israelis.

I am generally a supporter of Israel, less for political reasons than for personal ones. I am, however, bothered by the current standoff between the Olmert government and Hamas. Not unlike the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate rejecting negotiations with George II, the current Israeli (tentative) rejection of the Hamas list is self-defeating.

What has become clear is the fact that the Israeli position of the Iron Wall, a strategy adopted at the inception of the country, designed to communicate the notion that Israel is so strong militarily that to resort to force will only bring a devastating response, is no longer operative. Palestinian resistance no longer respects the Iron Wall and has invented ways to resist that lead to the condition of Israeli isolation.

What is the harm in talking? The Israeli response is that talking has not worked in the past. Promises made by the Palestinians have never been kept. Unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was met with continued rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. And so on…How can we trust that we will not be fed more of the same? It seems to me that this is the wrong position simply because it perpetuates the now with no possibility for a better future.

The Palestinians are not without blame here. Certainly as an occupied people they have chosen to respond to the occupation with violence and hate. The rhetoric that flows from the Palestinian camp is not reassuring to Israeli leadership.

Trust, however, is not something that develops immediately, especially after so many years of violence and mistrust. But, in the words of Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” The road to peace is not easy, but it is something that must start NOW. Outright rejection of talks with Hamas regarding the release of Shalit is a self-defeating decision. Israel must not enter talks with blinders on, that would be self-destructive. But, small steps forward seem to be not only in order but may be the only way out of the Middle Eastern mess.

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Seed Newsvine

I sat through an active presentation by Steven Turner in which he asked whether teaching for achievement or teaching for understanding is appropriate in public schools. In the current climate many of the participants at this session agreed that teaching for achievement as an isolated concept equates to teaching skills appropriate for testing with little or no evidence of transferability or sustainability. We also tended to agree that teaching for understanding led to students developing critical thinking, reflection, rigorous sense of internalization of knowledge. One participant argued that teaching for achievement meant teaching to a predetermined, external set of standards while teaching for understanding had no predetermined borders but is broadly focused on relevant issues and knowledge. What also developed from this discussion was a consensus that if one teaches for understanding this does not negate the need to teach the necessary skills required for particular understanding. The two are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the great irony is that when children are taught with understanding as the goal of the process test scores rise in a direct relationship to student engagement. If, however, children are taught only for achievement their test scores are erratic and, perhaps more importantly, students become resistant to school and schooling. Turner’s work is worthy of a second look and some follow-up studies as well.

In a second session, Steven J. Thornton and Keith C. Barton presented a paper entitled Why history education is impossible without social studies. This work suggests that teaching history as a separate academic discipline is impossible without relating the history being taught to the other social studies, areas of study that include economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography and the like. I was drawn to the session not only because of Thornton’s work, but by the title of their paper. I have been thinking about how to effectively link the social studies to teaching history as many social studies educators are doing but I simply assumed that history serves as the underlying foundation for the rest of the social studies. Thornton and Barton suggest a different relationship, one that understands history as the factual exemplar for the theoretical concepts endemic to the rest of the social studies. An example they gave is the American Revolution. One cannot understand the revolution without understanding the concept from political science of representation or the concept from economics of taxation. While a gross oversimplification, the point they are making is that political science and economics provide us with theoretical constructions while the narrative of the revolution transforms those abstractions into narrative reality. History, in this sense, is the exemplar that provides students with concrete examples of weighty though abstract concepts. I really liked this take on the problem raised.

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Seed Newsvine

Reported by STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer on Yahoo.com

The powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his militiamen on Sunday to redouble their battle to oust American forces and argued that Iraq’s army and police should join him in defeating “your archenemy.” The U.S. nilitary annoucned the weekend deaths of 10 American soldiers, including six killed on Sunday.

Security remained so tenuous in the capital on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the U.S. capture of Baghdad that Iraq’s military declared a 24-hour ban on all vehicles in the capital from 5 a.m. Monday.


There you have it, the surge must be working. The article goes on to report that at least 47 people were found dead on Sunday, 17 of whom were executed and dumped in Baghdad. What a strategy for winning George II seems to have.

While I don’t really want to go out on a limb, I think I will. I am sort of thinking out loud here. These ideas are in the process of forming in my own thinking but I thought it was time to share. It seems to me that the Iraq war is q 21st Century version of the 11th Century Crusades. Christians and the Christian God fighting Muslims and Allah for control over lands that both consider sacred but for very different reasons. In the 21st Century, the sacredness of the land from the Western point-of-view is the oil riches that lie beneath the ground. Nevertheless, the battle is one with deep religious undertones. Islam and the complete submission to Allah and the Western submission to greed and acquisition of great wealth as an outgrowth of Christian theology. Why does Muqtada al-Sadr refer to the United States as the archenemy? Why else, unless this was, at the core, a war for religion and religious supremacy–the control of the Middle East by the West–domination of Islam by Christians? To ignore this possibility is to ignore the historical record. To ignore this possibility is to live in denial.

Think about the fact that it took a fundamentalist Christian president of the United States, backed by NeoCons and evangelical church leaders to engage the United States in the renewal of this ancient battle. Even George I, (remember him–Saddam tried to kill my daddy), had the sense to accomplish military objectives but leave the dictator in power so as not to destabilize the region. Not George II. His goal, to insert a Western democracy in Iraq, code for lets Christianize the Middle East, demanded the destabilization of the country in order to accomplish his goals. What remains is the simple fact that to date over 3,000 American men and women have lost their lives, over 25,000 more are wounded in battle, scarred for life. This does not count the few British soldiers and even fewer coalition force troops that have been killed or seriously injured in this war effort.

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In Baghdad, official control over the news is getting tighter. Journalists used to walk freely into the city’s hospitals and the morgue to keep count of the day’s dead and wounded. Now the hospitals have been declared off-limits and morgue officials turn away reporters who aren’t accompanied by a Coalition escort. Iraqi police refer reporters’ questions to American forces; the Americans refer them back to the Iraqis.” reports Newsweek this week.

So the war to bring democracy to Iraq (because democracy is what the people of Iraq really wanted all along) has created a condition where the press is relegated to being locked out of hospitals and morgues by Coalition (the great coded euphemism meaning United States) forces (forget about the handful of British forces and the few more from several other countries). Some demonstration of democracy, eh! Cover-up the facts by not allowing accurate or truthful reporting of events, atrocities, or what have you as an expression of freedom carries with it an arrogance of power that speaks better to Fascism than it does to freely elected democratic governments.

What is Bush afraid of? That reporters might actually report the growing number of casualties and deaths in the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq? What must the real numbers look like? But, then the administration tells us the lie that the current surge strategy is working in parts of Baghdad. So, it probably isn’t working in other parts, yes? And, then, I was under the impression that Iraq is much larger than merely the city of Baghdad. I don’t think I am mistaken on that one. What is the truth about the surge in the parts of Baghdad and the rest of Iraq where we must assume the policy isn’t working?

Censorship has no place in democratic institutions. While I would not advocate irresponsible journalism such as reporting troop movements or attack plans prior to execution, to report real numbers of casualties and deaths gives no aid and comfort to the enemy. Quite the contrary, what it does is point to the utter failure of the administration strategy (a word Bush loves to slur) in the prosecution of this botched war.

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Writing in the Washington Post, Peter Baker reports:

“He strode alone into the Rose Garden and complained that “it has now
been 57 days” since he asked Congress for more money for the Iraq war
and still has not gotten it. For President Bush, the fight over
war-spending legislation has become the only talking point — an
opportunity, his strategists hope, to demonstrate strength and turn the
tables on a Democratic Congress that may be overreaching.”


What, he thinks he just snaps his fingers and the Democratic Congress just wilts and complies? No, Georgie. In Civics 101 you should have learned about the Constitution of the United States, a document that established 3 co-equal branches of government each with a check on the other in order to maintain a pragmatic balance. But, gosh you must have been soused during those lectures. You have had no checks on your rule in the White House until now. But, oh my, get used to it for the remainder of your time in office.

Rather than asking for more money, perhaps you should begin to think about how you can work to restore balance in the Middle East so that it doesn’t erupt into the melting point for WWIII. But, that one will be on your hands as well. Perhaps you should join forces with Nancy Pelosi as she seeks to be a peacemaker rather than a mad bomber, as she tries to restore confidence in the reputation of America that you have ruined. But, you are do arrogant that I suspect that will never happen.

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Pelosi Brings Peace Message to Assad

The Chicago Tribune reports:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held talks with Syria’s leader Wednesday despite White House objections, saying she pressed President Bashar Assad over his country’s support for militant groups and passed him a peace message from Israel.

Place this along side the Bush remarks that insisted that sending delegations to Syria simply doesn’t work. So here is a question for you. Is it sending delegations that doesn’t work or is it that Assad and any other sane leader in the world knows that talking to Bush is something like talking to a wall. In Bush’s words..You’re either with us or against us. For Bush there is not now nor has there ever been a middle ground. There is no respect paid to cultures outside our own. The insensitivity of Bush and his neocon cronies is barbaric.

Now who the heck knows if Pelosi’s visit to Assad will be productive. In fact, that will be left to time, to the Syrians and the Israelis and other players in the Middle East. But the fact remains that refusal to engage in discourse, in dialog with the other is the surest way to not make any progress at all.

As the isolation of Syria begins to crumble, no thanks to Bush, the hopes for peace in the Middle East are raised. I applaud Pelosi’s courageous stance as she begins to open doors that Bush has kept closed and locked for the past six years.

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