U.N. Notebook

By Marc Perelman

Published September 29, 2006, issue of September 29, 2006.
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Fatah Collapse Middle East commentators of nearly every stripe are warning these days, echoing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, that a collapse of the Hamas-led government could precipitate a broader collapse of Gaza into chaos. Abbas hasn’t gone the next step to say that his own Fatah party is facing a serious crisis, but others don’t hesitate. Amjad Atallah, a Washington consultant and former Abbas aide in negotiations with Israel, warned at a roundtable of experts and reporters at The Century Foundation last week that Fatah has been crippled by the repeated refusals of the Bush administration to support it. Bush’s cold shoulder, he said, undercuts the international legitimacy on which Fatah relied for years to maintain dominance of Palestinian politics. Fatah’s electoral defeat at the hands of Hamas has convinced many Palestinians that violence is the better solution, and so has the perceived success of insurgencies in Lebanon and in Iraq. This, Atallah claimed, is why a weakened and divided Fatah is now desperately seeking to negotiate a final-status peace deal with Israel — to survive. If the effort fails — a good bet, given the Bush administration’s stance — a third and even more violent intifada insurgency could be on the horizon.

Around the corridors of the United Nations last week, numerous European diplomats were voicing similar concerns about a Palestinian economic and security meltdown — politely in public and anxiously in private.

**‘Make Them Rich,’ Says the Socialist… ** While the United Nations General Assembly was in full swing with its yearly litany of speeches, some rousing and some boring, by diplomats and bureaucrats, the Clinton Global Initiative was meeting at a hotel across town, squeezing the world’s rich and powerful to pledge their money and time for action on the ground. Clinton’s program offered a host of plans for fighting poverty and disease and for fostering inter-religious understanding around the globe, and the well-heeled guests were asked to choose a plan and sign on. At a roundtable on the sensitive issue of immigration and integration in Western Europe and the United States, French socialist stalwart Dominique Strauss-Kahn elicited a rare moment of laughter from the audience with his answer to a question about the best way to integrate the young and marginalized immigrants into his country. “The answer is simple: Make them rich,” he quipped. Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister who is in the running for his party’s presidential nomination, is known for his relatively centrist and pro-market views. His tart response — strange as it seemed, coming from a leftist leader — was actually a standard socialist argument: that the main reason for the social alienation of immigrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa was their lower level of income rather than their (Muslim) religion.

Be-Bop a Lula… On its face, there was nothing unseemly in the decision by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, headed by a tony Upper East Side rabbi, Arthur Schneier, to bestow its “world statesman award” on Brazilian President Luis Ignacio da Silva, known as Lula. The ostensible reason for the honor was Lula’s personal rags-to-power trajectory and his dedication to fighting poverty. But consider this: Lula was a month away from a presidential election, which he is expected to win handily despite a flurry of corruption scandals that have tainted his leftist Workers’ Party. And what he got was not only the embrace of a respected interfaith organization but an open endorsement from President Bush’s administration, which has made it no secret that it sees Lula as a kinder, gentler leftist, a type it prefers over the fiery likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Just in case the guests did not get it, a message from Bush himself was read at the dinner, hailing his friendship with his Brazilian counterpart. Nicholas Burns, the State Department’s number three official, took off time from crucial Iran nuclear talks to come and shower praise on Lula’s sound economic polices and to tell him, “You know, George Bush is your friend, and we want you to play a larger role.” And in case someone had missed that part, Schneier, spiritual leader of the Orthodox Park East Synagogue and well-known Republican sympathizer, informed the guests that the event had been cleared with the White House and that “they welcomed our choice.” He then went on to introduce “the present and the future president of Brazil.”

No Machiavelli for Me… Speaking of leftist Latin American leaders, Chavez may have stolen the show by likening Bush to Satan at the United Nations, but his Bolivian counterpart and ally, Evo Morales, went one better: He brandished an actual coca leaf from the General Assembly rostrum to show his disapproval of Washington’s coca eradication policy. In a speech afterward at Columbia University, Morales, an Indian leader and longtime trade union boss elected in a landslide last December on a platform of nationalizing natural resources, joked that the State Department had described him successively as a drug trafficker and a terrorist. But aside from those gentle barbs and his advocacy of a more subtle American anti-drug policy, Morales’s speech focused less on attacks than on visions of leadership. Unusual in a week of fireworks and bluster, he laid out a rarely heard, if naive, vision of what a progressive president should be. He recalled that when he won the election, his advisers urged him to read Machiavelli, the medieval Italian philosopher whose name is synonymous with political chicanery. “I asked them why should I read this,” he said. “They said I should learn political tricks. I said I’d rather not.” His said that his preference was for advocacy of honest and transparent governance in a country known for endemic corruption. Morales, the first Aymara Indian elected president, refuted accusations that he is seeking to avenge decades of discrimination against Indians, insisting that he is working to provide equal chances to all. Asked about his feelings on his first visit to the United States, Morales smiled and sheepishly said he was “a little nervous” but had received a warm welcome from everyone except officials. “I have to go back soon,” he added with a grin, “because the U.S. embassy only gave me a very short visa.”

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