BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Palestinians Respond Loud & Clear to Obama – but is anybody listening?

On-line business paper, The Globes, reported that the Palestinians are pressing Saudi Arabia to cancel a tender to build a high-speed railway in that country, which was won by a French company.  Why?  Because the company is part of a consortium building a light-rail project in Jerusalem.

The French companies involved in the Jerusalem light rail project, are led by Alstom and Veolia.  Alstom (the supplier of the trains) and Veolia (the project operator) have been with the Jerusalem light rail project since its inception several years ago.  The companies have been admirable for standing up to the political pressure put on them, especially since the second intifada in 2003.  Alstom is a 20% partner in the consortium.

Of course, if you have been in Jerusalem lately, you are only too painfully aware of the utter chaos the project has been playing with traffic in the city. Behind schedule, over budget and wreaking havoc on downtown business, it is a wonder that an Alstom-led consortium won another contract of this type! Perhaps the Saudis figure that the Israelis paid for Alstom’s learning curve.

Of course, the tender-winner’s poor performance is not the reason the Palestinians are giving for the pressure they are bringing to bear, which also includes law-suits in French courts.  The see Jerusalem – at least East Jerusalem – as their future capital.  Ignore the fact that they have no historical claims to the city.  Ignore the fact that there is no example of a divided city that ever worked.   Ignore the fact that residents of Jerusalem – Muslim, Christian and Jewish – might want a more convenient way to get from one end of the city to another.

And, of course, ignore Barack Obama’s pleas that they stop acting like children having a tantrum and start acting like responsible leaders.  Is President O. going to lift up the phone and make a call to Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah?   Probably not.  Because hypocrites don’t do that sort of thing.  You see, it would be admitting that his pretty words failed!

June 11, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Obama | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Press Conference – Translated

Press conferences are highly choreographed maneuvers, even when the participants are sitting. Here are some of the excerpts from the PC President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu had on Monday.  In parentheses, are what they were really saying . . .

OBAMA: Well, listen, I first of all want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for making this visit (DC’s a lot better than one of those settlements, huh?).  I think we had an extraordinarily productive series of conversations, not only between the two of us but also at the staff and agency levels (sorry Rahm Emanual called your chief of staff a “motherf*cker.”)

Obviously, this reflects the extraordinary relationship (you don’t call just anybody a “motherf*cker), the special relationship between the United States and Israel (It’s amazing what $4 billion a year will buy!)  We have historical ties, emotional ties (I’ll trade you Rahm Emanual for two generals who know how to win a war)

One of the areas that we discussed is the deepening concern around the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran (yeah, I’m still playing the diplomatic card).  I indicated to him the view of our administration, that Iran is a country of extraordinary history and extraordinary potential (they have enough money to buy me and whatever America still actually makes).

We also had an extensive discussion about the possibilities of restarting serious negotiations on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians (they’re not very likely).  I have said before and I will repeat again (because it’s easier to repeat a lie than to explain the truth) that it is I believe in the interest not only of the Palestinians, but also the Israelis and the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution (let’s just flip a coin: loser gets Arizona, you won’t even notice the difference).

NETANYAHU: President Obama, thank you. Thank you for your friendship to Israel and your friendship to me.  (Wow, you’re right! $4 billion a year does buy a lot).  You’re a great leader — a great leader of the United States, a great leader of the world, a great friend of Israel (you better up it to $5 billion), and someone who is acutely cognizant of our security concerns (and the 250 nuclear warheads we have).  And the entire people of Israel appreciate it, and I speak on their behalf (or at least on behalf of the 25% who voted for me).

Iran openly calls for our destruction, which is unacceptable by any standard (we kicked Nasser’s ass for that).  It threatens the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East (moderate by Arab standards, anyway).  It threatens U.S. interests worldwide (which might cut into our $4 billion).

I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians.  We want to live in peace with them (a piece of Nablus, a piece of Jericho, a piece of Hebron).  We want them to govern themselves (it should be entertaining), absent a handful of powers (an army, a police force, an economy) that could endanger the state of Israel.

OBAMA:  Thank you. We’re going to take a couple of questions. We’re going to start with Steve (the short white guy in the front row).

Q:  Mr. President, you spoke at length, as did the Prime Minister, about Iran’s nuclear program. Your program of engagement, policy of engagement, how long is that going to last? Is there a deadline?

OBAMA:  You know, I don’t want to set an artificial deadline (like I did with Hillary conceding the primaries or withdrawing US troops from Iraq).  Their elections will be completed in June (ballots were counted last week, and the candidates will be selected next week), and we are hopeful that, at that point, there is going to be a serious process of engagement, first through the P5-plus-one process (what the f*ck? Is this trigonometry?).

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Aren’t you concerned that your outstretched hand has been interpreted by extremists, especially Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Meshal, as weakness? And since my colleague (Steve, the short white guy in the front row) already asked about the deadline, if engagement fails, what then, Mr. President?

OBAMA: Well, it’s not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness (my handshake does that for me).

Q: Qatar, an example.

OBAMA: I’m sorry (did you just call me queer)?

Q: The example of Qatar. They would have preferred to be on your side and then moved to the extremists, to Iran.

OBAMA: Oh, I think — yes, I’m not sure about that interpretation (we can have 120,000 heavily armed troops there by morning).

Q:  Mr. President, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli administration have said on many occasions that only if the Iranian threat will be solved, they can achieve real progress on the Palestinian threat. Do you agree with that kind of linkage? And to the Israeli Prime Minister, you were speaking about the political track. Are you willing to get into final status issues?

OBAMA: Well, let me say this (first of all, you asked two questions, that’s breaking the rules). There’s no doubt that it is difficult for any Israeli government to negotiate in a situation in which they feel under immediate threat (it didn’t stop Olmert, though). And as I’ve said before, I recognize Israel’s legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist. That would give any leader of any country pause (I’m amazed they have already nuked the sonofabitch).

NETANYAHU: There isn’t a policy linkage, and that’s what I hear the President saying (at least, that’s what I’d like to think I heard him say), and that’s what I’m saying too (or at least, it’s what I’d like him to hear me saying). So I think the terminology will take care of itself if we have the substantive understanding (settlements are henceforth to be called “residential developments”). I have great confidence in your leadership, Mr. President (mental note: build deeper bomb shelters), and in your friendship to my country (we’ve just renamed Rosh HaShana – it’s now Shana HaObama) and in your championing of peace and security (as unlikely as your policies are to achieve these).

OBAMA: Thank you, everybody (do you think they bought any of that bullsh*t?)

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Obama | , , , | Leave a comment

Enter, Stage Right

The Minister from Moldova
Who is he? Is he the twenty-year-old immigrant from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova? Is he the student of International Relations and Russian Studies? Perhaps he is the nightclub bouncer and manager. We know that he is no longer Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu’s campaign manager and chief of staff; he promoted himself. Is he savvy politician who has touched on the nerves of practically every segment of Israel’s population?

Avigdor Liberman is Israel’s new Foreign Minister and has already broken the mold in less than two weeks in office. He certainly lacks the craven need for attention that characterized Tzipi Livni’s term in office (and that of Likud party stalwart David Levy). He doesn’t have the patient, Old World smoothness of former Foreign Minister, now President, Shimon Peres. Mr. Liberman has been likened to a “breath of fresh air,” a “purgative,” and the proverbial “bull in the china shop.”

Human beings seem to have a need to label things, other human beings in particular. So, in all likelihood, he will continue to be all of these things until he successfully defines himself – or someone else does so for him.


Mr. Liberman believes, rightfully so, that much of the public discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been conducted in the form of slogans. “Peace for Land” and “Two State Solution” are the two most often heard slogans. We cannot know what diplomats and world leaders say behind closed doors, press leaks not withstanding. However, in their public pronouncements these same diplomats and world leaders speak to the public in slogans. This has several ill effects.

First, it gives credence to these slogans. If everyone is saying them, then they must be true. This is the curse of conventional wisdom. It results in the general public outside of the Middle East remaining ignorant about the complexities of the issues involved.

Second, it reinforces the perception that these slogans actual constitute a well thought out policy. Crafting an approach to any problem, large or small, requires an understanding of the people involved, what has been attempted in the past, the setting in which the problem must be solved and the tools available for addressing it. Slogans do none of these things, and therefore are tantamount to political laziness.

Third, parroting slogans over and over leaves no room for discussing alternatives. While there are not many alternative solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it must be acknowledged that there are some. Many of these have been rejected out-of-hand by one side or the other. And just as often, the alternatives themselves are offered in terms of slogans. Anyone truly interested in seeing the conflict peaceably resolved should reject all slogans. Furthermore, much of the “negotiating” that takes place via television screens and press releases must also be rejected.

More Slogans?

So far, there has not been much in the way of new initiatives from the Netanyahu government. Whenever asked for specifics, all that the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister or their advisers will say is that they are conducting a policy review. As Martha Stewart would say, this is a good thing! Hopefully, what is being discussed behind closed doors is the entire panoply of alternative proposals and counter-proposals. The previous Israeli governments of Ehud Olmert, and even Ariel Sharon, were actually weak in terms of developing policy.

Two things have emerged, however. Mr. Liberman has been making a concerted effort of dismantling the expectations built upon previous diplomatic “accomplishments” such as the Wye River Accords and Annapolis (November 2007). His contention is that neither the cabinet nor the Knesset endorsed by vote the contents of these conferences. Hence, they do not have any standing as agreements or treaties. He has also been making a concerted effort at re-establishing the April 2003 “Road Map.”

Unfortunately, some of this has already started to take the form of slogans. We are likely to hear “Security, Development and Stability” or some form there of, being repeated more and more in the lead-up to the Prime Minister’s scheduled May 18th visit to the White House. The linkage between these three concepts is genuine. However, repeating them ad nauseum will only result in their becoming part of the pantheon of slogans that dominates all discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment