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US and EU favour Israeli unity government

After right-wing parties won a majority of seats in Israel's elections on Tuesday, reports claim that Likud and Kadima are being pressed to form a unity government. Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu is considering sharing power with Kadima but may need the US president Barack Obama to press Tzipi Livni to join a government under Mr Netanyahu's leadership. The United States and the European Union have already weighed in with a clear preference for a unity government.

After right-wing parties won a majority of seats in Israel's elections on Tuesday, reports claim that Likud and Kadima are being pressed to form a unity government. The Daily Telegraph said that Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu is considering sharing power with Kadima but may need the US president Barack Obama to press Tzipi Livni to join a government under Mr Netanyahu's leadership. The report said that Mr Netanyahu is still haunted by his experience as prime minister in the 1990s when he was forced to retain the support of the small hardline parties in his coalition. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz likewise reported: "While the make-up of the next government remains a question mark in Israel, it appears that the United States and the European Union have already weighed in with a clear preference for a unity government that includes Kadima and Likud. "The US official position is that it looks forward to 'working with any government,' but in back-channel messages the Obama administration has made it clear it would like to see a unity government in Jerusalem over a narrow right-wing government which would in all likelihood result in a freeze in peace talks with the Palestinians. "Aides to Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Friday that Washington officials did indeed relay the message while associates of Kadima chief Tzipi Livni denied receiving such a message." Meanwhile, a Hamas spokesman in Cairo has said on Saturday that an announcement on a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is expected in "the coming three days", while Egyptian sources told the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat that the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit might be released in the coming weeks. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Omert, has said that the Gaza border crossings will not be reopened without the soldier's release. The prime minister's office issued a statement denying reports of an imminent agreement with Hamas and said: "Israel does not negotiate with Hamas and will certainly reach no agreement with it." While neither Israeli nor US governments have expressed any flexibility on the issue of engaging Hamas, The Economist reports that movement on the issue is becoming evident in Washington. "In mainstream American politics, especially Jewish-American circles, the idea of talking to Hamas has been virtually taboo. This is no longer true. After Mr Obama's election, a group of senior bipartisan foreign-policy veterans handed a compelling letter, still unpublished, to the incoming president. Its signatories included Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, who headed the National Security Council in Mr Carter's and George Bush senior's White House; Lee Hamilton, a Democrat who for many years chaired the House committees on foreign affairs and intelligence; Sam Nunn, a Democrat who chaired the Senate's armed services committee; Paul Volcker, a long-time chairman of the Federal Reserve; Mr Siegman; and James Wolfensohn, a former head of the World Bank who was more recently entrusted by the younger president Bush with reviving the Palestinian economy. "The letter's three key demands were that Mr Obama should appoint an even-handed special envoy with real clout (done); that he should spell out a clear vision for a Palestinian state (awaited); and that he should seek to draw Hamas into talks (not so easy). A key member of Mr Mitchell's staff, Fred Hof, who previously co-drafted Mr Mitchell's famous report on the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2001, is close to the Scowcroft group. "Mr Mitchell's appointment was warmly applauded by that group and greeted coolly by many in the old pro-Israeli lobbies, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). More to the point, though there have been other recent envoys to the Middle East, none has as much potential influence on the president as Mr Mitchell. General Jim Jones, too, Mr Obama's new national security adviser, is a tough realist with recent experience in trying to improve security between Israel and Palestine. He is in hock to neither side. "No one is sure how Mrs Clinton, as secretary of state, will relate to Mr Mitchell - or to the Israelis and Palestinians. Since she became a senator for New York, she has ardently echoed more or less whatever Aipac has said about Israel-Palestine. But some people recall how, when it was still controversial and her husband was president, Mrs Clinton called for a Palestinian state and even kissed Yasser Arafat's wife after she had castigated Israel, a moment of horror in Aipac's eyes. Most probably, if Mrs Clinton sees a chance for a breakthrough to peace, she will go for it, whatever her previous constituents may think."

"On Thursday, February 12, a large crowd gathered around a huge iced fruitcake topped with 200 candles in a park in central Shrewsbury to sing 'Happy Birthday, Dear Charlie.' The honoree? Shrewsbury's most famous son: Charles Darwin. The candle-blowing is the photo-op part of a celebratory, month-long Darwin Festival in the naturalist's hometown, a series of events that also include lectures and guided walks," US News and World Report said. "Shrewsbury, a historic market town set among the rolling hills of England's West Midlands, is hardly alone in using the occasion of Darwin's bicentenary to pay him tribute. Nationwide, Britain is pulling out all the stops to honour not only the man who first expounded the theory that natural selection is the basis for millions of years of evolving life on Earth but the coincidental 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, On the Origin of Species. A year's worth of commemorations and events will essentially make 2009 the Year of Darwin in the United Kingdom. While Britain is celebrating the man, much of the population has yet to become convinced about the significance of Darwin's scientific legacy. "Half of British adults do not believe in evolution, with at least 22 per cent preferring the theories of creationism or intelligent design to explain how the world came about, according to a survey," The Guardian reported. "The poll found that 25 per cent of Britons believe Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is 'definitely true', with another quarter saying it is 'probably true'. Half of the 2,060 people questioned were either strongly opposed to the theory or confused about it." On the other side of the Atlantic there is a similar gap between popular views and what most scientists regard as a solidly proven explanation of the mechanisms underlying biological change. The Pew Research Centre said: "Opinion polls over the past two decades have found the American public deeply divided in its beliefs about the origins and development of life on earth. Surveys are fairly consistent in their estimates of how many Americans believe in evolution or creationism. Approximately 40-50 per cent of the public accepts a biblical creationist account of the origins of life, while comparable or slightly larger numbers accept the idea that humans evolved over time." In Time magazine, Carl Zimmer writes: "Today biologists are exploring evolution at a level of detail far beyond what Darwin could, and they're discovering that evolution sometimes works in ways the celebrated naturalist never imagined. 'The biological problems we're dealing with are much more complex,' says Massimo Pigliucci, an evolutionary biologist at Stony Brook University in New York. 'That said, it's a lot of fun. I'm not complaining.' "Darwin developed his theory by gathering as much information as he could about life. He collected it while voyaging on the Beagle, by sitting in front of a microscope back in England and by writing to a global network of correspondents. Today, however, biologists can feast on a far bigger banquet of data. The fossil record was scanty in Darwin's day, but now it has pushed the evidence of life on Earth back to at least 3.4 billion years ago. And while Darwin recognised that variation and heredity were the twin engines that made evolution possible, he didn't know what made them possible. It would take almost a century after the publication of On the Origin of Species for biologists to determine that the answer was DNA. "DNA is like a genetic cookbook, using four molecular 'letters' to spell out recipes for everything from hormones to heart valves. Biologists today are reading the 3.5 billion letters in the human genome as well as the DNA from thousands of other species, and they've amassed vast databases of genetic information that they can rummage through to learn about how life evolved. "Time and again, biologists are finding that Darwin had it right: evolution is the best way to explain the patterns of nature. 'You just can't even start to make sense of all this data without a framework of evolution,' says GŁnter Wagner, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University." In The New York Times, Carl Safina points out that evolutionary theory has been misrepresented as being the work of one man. "Almost everything we understand about evolution came after Darwin, not from him. He knew nothing of heredity or genetics, both crucial to evolution. Evolution wasn't even Darwin's idea. "Darwin's grandfather Erasmus believed life evolved from a single ancestor. 'Shall we conjecture that one and the same kind of living filaments is and has been the cause of all organic life?' he wrote in Zoonomia in 1794. He just couldn't figure out how. "Charles Darwin was after the how. Thinking about farmers' selective breeding, considering the high mortality of seeds and wild animals, he surmised that natural conditions acted as a filter determining which individuals survived to breed more individuals like themselves. He called this filter 'natural selection'. What Darwin had to say about evolution basically begins and ends right there. Darwin took the tiniest step beyond common knowledge. Yet because he perceived - correctly - a mechanism by which life diversifies, his insight packed sweeping power. "But he wasn't alone. Darwin had been incubating his thesis for two decades when Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to him from Southeast Asia, independently outlining the same idea. Fearing a scoop, Darwin's colleagues arranged a public presentation crediting both men. It was an idea whose time had come, with or without Darwin."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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