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Dalal al-Bizri, a Lebanese sociologist who lives in Egypt, does not usually have anything to say that might make Israeli readers optimistic. She is among the more blatant and acerbic critics of Israeli policy, as reflected in dozens of her astute columns. So when Al-Bizri attacks Hezbollah in the London-based Al-Hayat, her column, entitled "Lebanese Hezbollah: The double standard" is worth studying in depth. The piece reflects a significant change that has been noticeable in recent weeks in Lebanon, and elsewhere, with respect to the organization.

What does Al-Bizri mean by "double standard"? First, she wonders how it is that Hezbollah − which has frequently attacked the United States for its double-standard policy, and has harsh words to say about its patronage of Israel − "says nothing about its Iranian patronage. Perhaps because nobody attributes any importance to this patronage any longer, because it is so entrenched that it has become obvious. Iran, of which [Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah is the representative, as he himself presents it on his Internet site's home page, meddles in Lebanese affairs just as the United States meddles in Iraq's affairs." She goes on to cite the absolute dependence of Hezbollah on Iran and wonders: "Is there any political party in Lebanon about which it can be said that, were it not for the support of the United States or Israel, it would not be able to exist?"

Such a direct attack by a political columnist in general, and a Lebanese one at that, has not been launched at Hezbollah for a long time. But Al-Bizri doesn't let up. She poses some pungent questions to Nasrallah, related to his role vis-a-vis the Lebanese government, and concludes that here, too, the organization is practicing a double standard. On the one hand it participates in elections, assumes a parliamentary role and has even joined the executive branch [for the first time, Hezbollah now has two ministers in the Lebanese cabinet − Z.B.], but on the other hand it continues to hold onto ethnic-organizational weapons and as such presents an obstacle to the strengthening of the regime in which it itself participates.

"In his speech [marking Id al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan − Z.B.], Nasrallah declared that he was on the side of the Syrian people and leadership, and not on the side of the Syrian people and state," she writes. "But this same Syrian leadership ?(and not the state?) is the unlawful institution that is largely security-related, and holds a monopoly on the violence."Once Al-Bizri begins to lash out, she has no inhibitions: "Before the president of Iran declared that he wanted to erase Israel from the map, what were Hezbollah demonstrators shouting, and are continuing to shout? 'Death to America and Death to Israel,'" she writes, and adds an ironic interpretation: "In other words, death to ourselves, the same death that has accompanied us for 50 years and will continue to accompany us for the next 50 years if that is God's will. And now, it turns out that Israel is not the danger that threatens the region and its residents."

Hezbollah managed to irritate the Lebanese especially after last week's speech by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in which he directly attacked the government of Lebanon, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, describing him as the "obedient slave of an obedient slave" − i.e., someone who obeys only the instructions of the U.S. administration. The Lebanese cabinet wanted to convene immediately after the verbal attack by Assad, but was surprised to see that the representatives serving on that body on behalf of Hezbollah and Amal chose to absent themselves from the session. This could have been a sign of solidarity with Assad, or at least the result of a decision not to take part in a cabinet session that might be expected to sharply criticize the Syrian president.

Hezbollah, which understands the sort of pressure now being placed on it and on Syria mainly regarding its disarmament, has been suggesting an elegant method of evasion for months: negotiating with the Lebanese government, but not under external pressure. It wants the government to state that this is an internal Lebanese matter, and therefore alien elements such as the United States and the United Nations should not be allowed to intervene. It proposes a covert dialogue, one that even the Lebanese public would not be party to.

Nasrallah is perhaps relying on the fact that the Siniora government will not want to be seen as having caved in to pressure − or would at least agree to first collect the weapons in Palestinian possession in the refugee camps − and only afterward, perhaps, get around to disarming Hezbollah. Until then, much water would flow under the bridges of the Litani.

Lebanese politicians are well-aware of this, and they, too, are the subjects of Al-Bizri's barbs: "It would take many years of our lives, and the 'dialogue' would continue to be a headline barren of content ... since they will claim that the disarmament is dependent on the liberation of Palestine, and before that, on the destruction of Basra in Iraq, and so on and so forth."

Bustling BeirutAbout 30 bars, dozens of nightclubs, jazz clubs, porno shows, an opera house, a theater and of course gyms and a spa − these are only some of the hot spots described in a recently published tourist guidebook for Beirut. Lebanon, according to the book by Ramsay Short, the arts and culture editor of the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper, is the land of unlimited opportunities.

The "Hedonist's Guide to Beirut," which has been published as part of a series of similar city guides, will not offer the reader the usual rundown of must-see tourism sites, but mainly information on places of entertainment and on the watering holes of Lebanon's bohemians, intellectuals and political elite. Particularly impressive is the list of luxury restaurants that includes a detailed description of the menus and the cost in Lebanese pounds from which the diner will have to part for meals there. This is not a guide for backpackers. Purchasers of the book are promised an interactive service via the publisher's Web site, which will report on the opening of new hot spots and provide updates on the prices at Lebanese ski resorts.

How can we Israelis benefit from the places described in this guidebook? Return the Shaba Farms and disengage Lebanon from Syrian policy. And also sign a little peace agreement with the Palestinians. Isn't it worth it?Who copies whom?

People usually tend to think that the Palestinian organizations "copy" their modus operandi from Hezbollah or from groups in Iraq. But it seems that this time things are moving in the opposite direction, and that the terror groups in Iraq have actually learned something about waging negotiations from the Palestinian groups - and from Hamas in particular.In recent days, an attempt has been made to mediate between the U.S. administration and Iraqi groups that are daily killing Iraqi soldiers and civilians, and American soldiers. Twenty-six such organizations have been identified to date in Iraq, some of which are united under large umbrella organizations, and some of which operate independently. Those organizations that are prepared to enter negotiations are setting conditions that sound familiar to Israelis: releasing prisoners that do not have the blood of Iraqi civilians on their hands, setting a timetable for the American withdrawal from Iraq, curtailing military actions against targets in Iraq - in other words, ending so-called targeted and non-targeted assassinations - and compensating those who have been harmed by the occupation forces.

One additional condition calls for the United States to guarantee that Iran will not intervene in Iraqi affairs. This condition has been voiced by Sunni groups that fear Shiite domination inspired by Iran. In exchange, these groups are prepared to commit to a moratorium on terror actions, and even disarmament at a later stage. They prefer to conduct their negotiations directly with the Americans rather than through the Iraqi government, similar to the conditions presented by Hamas.

Their representatives claim that several members of the Iraqi government consider all of the organizations to be terror groups that must be fought, and that they do not differentiate between terrorists and "organizations that have a justified claim, and are carrying on a war of liberation," as the spokesman of one of the larger organizations said. This same spokesman, Iyad al-Samari, stated that there were mediators willing to participate directly in talks between his organization and the Americans.

One wonders if these are the same Americans that oppose Hamas' participation in the Palestinian Authority elections.

'Absence jobs'The race for a government job in Saudi Arabia might just be the most important challenge facing any young man or woman in the kingdom who has graduated university. These may not be the best-paid jobs, but neither do they require any work to be done. They are what are termed "absence jobs." There is no need to punch a clock; teachers do not have to teach all of their lessons, and officials are not compelled to meet any daily paperwork quotas - even when the most important transactions are at stake. You simply get up and go home after a few hours of work. The job comes with a guaranteed pension, and no one is fired.

Much has been written about this phenomenon, particularly by foreign critics in the kingdom who required some governmental service. Now a solution may have arisen to the problem: The governor of one of the kingdom's provinces has decided to publicize the names of officials who do not do their jobs. Perhaps humiliation will do what the employers could not.