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

Between the Lines of Obama’s Pandering

President Obama’s whirl-wind tour of Saudi Arabia and Egypt earned him many kudos for stating things that previously were not said publicly by American or other world leaders. His speech covered many topics, but it left out important details, contained hidden messages and ignored important Middle East realities. And of course, he sugar-coated it with numerous quotes from the Koran, designed to evoke the applause the man needs more than oxygen.

On detainees
“I have unequivocally prohibited the use or torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.” Naturally, his Cairo audience applauded him.  Would they have applauded if he told them that his administration is now planning to use Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan as a replace for the tainted Guantanamo?

As MSNBC – hardly a fountainhead of conservatism – reported on June 3rd, the Obama administration is challenging an April 2 decision by U.S. District Judge John Bates that applied the Boumediene (the ruling that granted prisoners at Guantanamo habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention) ruling to some Bagram prisoners.   Administration mouthpieces are arguing that Bates’ ruling would for the first time in American history extend habeas corpus rights to non-Americans (in fact, Muslims) in a theater of war in a foreign territory.

On the Holocaust

“Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories.” Not surprisingly, there were no applause for the President’s admonishment.   Arab attempts to demonize Israel as a Nazi-like state have been going on for years, and this propaganda weapon has become increasingly potent.  Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah are unlikely to surrender it.

There were two audiences for this statement, actually.  One audience was sitting there is Cairo and other Arab capitals and metropolises.  The second one was in Israel.  Combined with the acknowledgment earlier in his speech that there are now 7 million Muslims in the US, the message was to Israel: you are small and your supporters in the US are now outnumbered. American Jewry was instrumental in Bill Clinton’s two victories; not so in Obama’s.

On Palestinian Responsibilities

For many years, the world has treated Palestinian, indeed, most matters related to Arab countries, with kit gloves. The standards applied to Israel were those that America and Europe applied to themselves (or at least told themselves they were). However, these same standards were not applied to the Arab world. It is why Hamas was able to launch 40,000 rockets and missiles at Israel over a two-year period without so much as a whimper from the Eurostinians, or America bogged down in two wars.

Now, President Obama arrives with the message “It is neither a sign of courage or power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.” Adding to this, “Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.  The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people.” Unfortunately, the PA must contend with burgeoning population: they fear the cadres of 18 -24 year-old unemployed young men more than they do the Israelis.

Once the undergrads start parsing these and other statements in Obama’s speech, they will see the numerous quotes from the Koran as the pandering they really were.  And maybe Israelis will start to calm down a bit, despite the harsh spotlight that was shined on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

June 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East, Obama, Palestine | , , , | Leave a comment

Closet Universalist? – Part 1

Okay, that’s not such a catchy epithet.  Hurling that at an opponent in a debate is likely to leave one’s opponent, the moderator and the audience confused.  Nonetheless, it might be true: President Barack Obama subscribes to a universalist view of the world.  His speech today in Cairo contained enticing elements of that philosophy and the requisite statements of hope he for which he is famous.  There were also, however, several contradictory statements that will give world leaders outside of the Middle East concern.

First, there are many schools of thought regarding how the world is organizing itself and what the consequences are and will be.  Samuel P. Huntingdon described nine distinct current civilizations in his 1993 book on the subject, The Clash of Civilizations.  “One-Worlders” see a universal civilization developing as a result of modernization and globalization.  This school of thought also tacitly – and sometimes not so tacitly – believes that the Western model (America + Europe) will be the ultimate end product.  Still another, more cynical (realistic?) school sees it as “Us and Them.”

Obama clearly identified “Islam and the West” and clearly identified many of the causes for the conflict that has characterized the relationship for the last fifty years, at least.  However, he proclaimed that America and Islam share “common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”  Shared basic principles do not, however, explain how human behavior changes or what might be done to influence change in one direction or another.

Obama stated quite clearly that violence is not the way forward for the Palestinians.  He stated this several times.  In his worldview, the growing interdependence of peoples and nations precludes violence as a method for solving problems. This is similar to Thomas Friedman’s “Golden Arches Theory” of diplomacy.  Friedman pointed out that no two nations that have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war.  Until the Yugoslav civil war in which NATO intervened, that is.

So, President Obama painted a vision of a world in which dialogue and negotiation replace bullets and bombs, because the consequences of armed conflict harm all of us.  I won’t contradict him on this point.  In his weltgeist, we have too much in common to allow what little that separates us to prevail.  However, this universalist position is one that has already been rejected by radical Islamists, not to mention leaders in China, India, South Korea and Singapore, to name a few.  He better come armed with more than ideas and pretty words, if he is to win this battle.

June 4, 2009 Posted by | Middle East, Obama | Leave a comment

As I’ve been saying

In an editorial published today, Yisrael Hayom has already performed the post mortem on US President Barack Obama’s much anticipated 4.6.09 speech in Cairo.  The daily notes that, “Three days after the speech, an earthquake is expected to occur in the Middle East that will push it into a dark corner: In the Lebanese parliamentary elections, Hezbollah is liable to turn its veritable control over the Land of the Cedars, thanks to Iranian weapons and money, into legal, legitimate control, if it succeeds in filling parliament with a majority of its supporters.”

Of course, this was noted several days ago on this blog.  Nasallah’s victory will provide additional, albeit unneeded momentum, to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bid for another term as president of Iran.

Yisrael Hayom  “Then the world, including Obama, will awaken to find that a country with a democratic past has become Ayatollah Nasrallah’s country under Iranian patronage.”

What the editorial fails to point out is that the “world” is not democracy-friendly.  Only about 20% of the world’s people live under demcratic systems of government.  And in about half of those the commitment to democracy is less than full-fledged.

Yisrael Hayom  goes on to state that “Ten days after the speech, Hamas’s leaders will celebrate two years since the founding of their state in the Gaza Strip and the Iranians, as he [Obama] well knows, are preparing a bomb in any case. Obama’s speech, as positive as it may be, will be – very quickly – forgotten and buried under the bitter reality of the old Middle East.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Hizbullah, 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

SuperBama!

And it tastes like ice cream!

Bill Schneider, CNN’s Senior Political Correspondent, recently reported that American President Barack Obama is a “SuperPresident.” Heads-up to Bill: the election was last November. You can stop kissing the guy’s tuches and start acting like a reporter again, if you and any of your colleagues at CNN remember how to do that!

Mr. Schneider reported that CNN’s poll of polls, taken April 14-21, showed “an average of 64 percent job approval for Obama.” Of course, he goes onto to state that President Obama is only three percentage points ahead of where the last six presidents stood after their first 100 days in office. However, that does not prevent him from concluding “Is Obama the superpresident? So far, so good.”

Outstanding reporting! I have an extra $20, tell me which journalism school you went to, Bill, and maybe they can fax me a diploma, too!

Eine mensch!*

*That’s Yiddish for, “What a guy!”

Mr. Schneider goes on to breakdown the results for us. Accordingly, 71% of Americans believe President Obama will keep the country safe. “Safe” is a relative term. I live about 70 kilometers from the border with Gaza. Yet, I feel “safe.” One gets used to things.

The President received the same high marks on whether Americans believe the President cares about them. Those 200 million puppies he sent out last week certainly did the trick. Unfortunately, President Obama did send a year’s supply of pet food or pooper-scoopers. He should have sent at least two poper-scoopers: one for the puppy and one for cleaning up after CNN.

74% of Americans think the President understands their problems. Really? Does he have to pay the mortgage on the White House? Oh yeah, that’s right, there’s that small issue of $2 trillion in American bonds & treasuries held by the People’s Republic of China. Better deport to China those seven Uighur terror-suspects being released from Guantanamo.

What about leadership and trustworthiness? SuperPresident scored better than former presidents Jimmy “Peanut Farmer” Carter and Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, respectively on those two categories. It would be kind of impossible not to score better than they did, wouldn’t it?

The Next 1000 Days

For some reason, Americans think that the first 100 days in office is some sort of benchmark for a president. This metric started being used during Dwight Eisenhower’s terms in office. Pity poor Abraham Lincoln. Imagine what the public would have answered if CNN had been around back then!

Of course, the real test of a President isn’t how he fares in public opinion polls after 100 days in office. Success or failure can only be determined in the long run, and only by measurements that are more objective. What will the unemployment rate be in four years? How many homes will be re-possessed? How many businesses will go bankrupt? Are schools preparing young people for the challenges of life (like really understanding what polls mean)? Will America maintain its credibility with allies and opponents?

Mr. Obama inherited two wars, fraying diplomatic relationships and an economy that was in the tank. One hundred days later, much is still the same.

  • Iraq is trending towards civil war with an increase in bombings. This was predicted two years ago when opponents to the war demanded a timetable for US withdrawal. President Obama set a timetable and now Iraq’s various would-be rulers are bloodying the streets.
  • Afghanistan is just as much of a mess as it was 100 days ago, if not more so! Despite SuperPresident’s policy of fighting the war on terror where it began, the Taliban and their allies are making steady advances.
  • Russia has been playing both “good cop” and “bad cop.” Russia – whether ruled by Tsars, Commissars or Putin-o-crats – excels at this. They can do an about-face on policy faster than they down a shot of vodka. The Chinese have been characteristically inscrutable; they are watching the SuperPresident and taking their measure of the man.
  • Europe likes the fact that President Obama talks to them. They didn’t like the compliance memos that Dick Cheney would occasionally send. I understand that the Europeans really liked the puppies, too! They’re also waiting for pooper-scoopers, but need a third one for cleaning up after the EU bureaucrats.
  • And what about the economy? Carl Sagan wouldn’t be able to count the hundreds of billions of dollars that has been thrown in to avert total economic collapse.

The story is still out on that. Sharpen your pencil, Mr. Schneider!

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Obama | , , | Leave a comment