A Lot of Talk but Little Sign of Action; Suicide Bombers Lose Some Backers; India Gets Its First Female President; Battling Anew at the Red Mosque; Flying in Brazil Is No Day at the Beach
A Lot of Talk but Little Sign of Action
With so many diplomatic missions coming to Jerusalem and Ramallah, it would seem that something is cooking on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair made his maiden visit as the international envoy to the region; the Arab League sent Egypt's and Jordan's foreign ministers to Israel to discuss the league's peace initiative. This week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to arrive.
But for all the talk of "a sense of possibility," as Blair put it, and "a serious window of opportunity," in the words of new Israeli President Shimon Peres, the chance for a breakthrough to peace is all but hopelessly hamstrung on both sides of the conflict. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas doesn't even have a titular claim to leadership of his nation anymore, now that Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip, leaving him as America's wobbly man in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a deeply unpopular leader who has all he can do just to stay in office without also taking on the resurgent right wing by making the move necessary for peace.
That move would be withdrawal from most of the West Bank, which Olmert and a majority of the Israeli public would like to do but which now seems to them too risky in the wake of last year's war in Lebanon and the ongoing Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. And with the Islamic radicals of Hamas on one side and the powerless Abbas on the other, the old Israeli cliché that "there is no one to talk to" has kicked in again.
So the diplomatic traffic passing through is not a sign of life for the peace process. It's a recognition that Israeli-Palestinian relations are only getting grimmer and that something must be done to stave off an explosion. But no one knows what.
Suicide Bombers Lose Some Backers
Two suicide car bombings cut short the celebrations in Baghdad following Iraq's victory last week in the Asian Cup semifinal soccer game. The attacks killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 100. Outside Iraq, though, there was evidence that Muslims' tolerance for suicide bombers is diminishing.
Take from it what you will, but a survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that far fewer Muslims now regard suicide bombing as "justified" than five years ago. The sharpest drop was in Lebanon (where support for bombings fell to 34 percent from 74 percent in 2002), but the trend was also evident in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, and Indonesia. The Pew poll detected a drop in support for Osama bin Laden among Muslims, but many expressed growing concern about Sunni-Shiite hostility, as seen in Iraq.
India Gets Its First Female President
Pratibha Patil took office last week as India's 13th president, the first time a woman has held the largely ceremonial post. India, of course, has had women leaders: the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, for instance, and her now powerful daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi, who leads the ruling Congress Party and was responsible for the elevation of Patil, a lawyer and Gandhi loyalist. Patil, 72, vowed to use her new position to address the problem of female feticidethe illegal and widespread practice of selective aborting of female fetusesbut drew scrutiny for some suspect financial dealings and some remarks that angered Muslim leaders.