If you are a foreign policy analyst, newspaper editor, pundit or just political junkie like myself, the last few days have been a real treat. From 19 May to 24 May, two world leaders – one the leader of the world’s only superpower and the other the leader of the world’s most historic people – made speeches, held press conferences and addressed some of the most influential and powerful political bodies in the world. There is a school of thought that says history is best understood by examining its records: treaties, laws and speeches. Whether one accepts this belief or not, the speeches made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been a model of historical consistency.
It began on 19 May. President Obama made a major foreign policy address at the US State Department (see https://themiddleeasthotspot.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/cairo-ad-nauseum/). He stated, in short, that the 1967 borders of Israel should be the future borders of a Palestinian state. This has long been a demand of the Palestinian Authority and its predecessor, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). To be fair, ever since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 it has been tacitly acknowledged that a Palestinian state would exist somewhere inside those borders. However, President Obama’s remarks crossed a line that no previous American president had: he publicly endorsed a key demand of the Palestinian Authority – and just days before the Israeli Prime Minister was due to arrive in the US.
Netanyahu’s office released a reply the same day, and battle lines were drawn. The Prime Minister’s response foreshadowed the themes that would be repeated and expanded upon in three more speeches over the coming days. First, any future Palestinian state would not come about at the expense of Israel’s security: Israel would not withdraw to the 1967 borders. Second, major Israeli population centers beyond the 1967 lines would be incorporated into Israel’s final borders. Third, that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would be within Palestinian borders, not Israel’s. There would be no “right of return.”
The Prime Minister also showed some of his card-playing skills in the press release of 19 May. It mentioned commitments made by a previous US president in 2004 and alluded to the overwhelming support of both US Houses of Congress. If President Obama reneges on the commitments of former President George W. Bush, what credibility does President Obama or any future American president have? Moreover, while he may be the leader of the world’s only superpower, President Obama still must contend with a US House of Representatives and US Senate that are in the hands of his Republican opposition.
Two days later, these same men sat together for several hours and discussed the status of American-Israeli relations, the stalled peace talks, and wider developments in the region. At their joint press conference afterwards, the Prime Minister returned to and expanded on the themes his office annunciated just two days earlier. “Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace,” but would not accept the indefensible 1967 borders. He stated quite clearly that Israel’s pre-1967 geography precluded any possibility of this. In addition, he stated very forcefully, “we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.” He didn’t say “we would like to have” or “it would be a good idea,” but decisively, we are going to have it.
Perhaps to allay concerns that a major rift was growing between the two allies, Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the President’s statement regarding Hamas. Scorning it as “the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda” (see https://themiddleeasthotspot.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/pity-poor-president-obama/) he indicated that Israel could not be asked to negotiate with a terrorist organization. Only weeks before, Hamas terrorists had killed a teenage boy with a deliberate rocket attack on a school bus and then condemned America for the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Finally, echoing his statement of 19 May, the Prime Minister said, “the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state” not within Israel’s borders. He also raised, perhaps for the first time by an Israeli prime minister, the issue of Jewish refugees. It is little known outside of Israel, but in the period from 1948-1952 Israel absorbed over 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states. People who had been stripped of almost all of their possessions and subjected to dictates reminiscent of the recently defeated Nazi Germany.
On 24 May, the Prime Minister forcefully repeated Israel’s position in front of a partisan audience at the America Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference. He evoked the shared commitment to democracy and liberty, reminding those assembled that the ideas of all mean being “created in God’s image, that no ruler is above the law, that everyone is entitled to justice” originated in biblical Israel. These ideas are finally coming to the Arab world, he said, noting the unrest that has rocked the region and toppled two Arab autocrats. Pointing out that the region’s problems are not rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in the lack of freedom in the Arab world, he proclaimed, “Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”
Finally on the same day, Benjamin Netanyahu had the rare privilege, although it was the second time he has enjoyed such an honor, of addressing a joint-session of the US Congress. Immediately, he played his “Congress card” saying, “And I do see a lot of old friends here. And I do see a lot of new friends here. Democrats and Republicans alike.” The message was clear: my support in your Congress, unlike yours, President Obama, is deep and bipartisan. Applause interrupted the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech more than they had interrupted the President’s State of the Union address four months earlier. Later on in his speech, he would thank President Obama for leading the international effort to impose sanctions on Iran, and pointedly thanked Congress for passing “even tougher sanctions.”
Once again, he noted the region’s turbulence, the “epic battle” unfolding “between tyranny and freedom” and reminded America’s congressional representatives that the outcome of this battle is never certain. Indeed, twice it was lost in the region: in Iran in 1979 and Lebanon in 2010. He made a point that, “Of the 300 million Arabs” in the region, only the one million in Israel “enjoy real democratic rights.” He could have easily added that if there was freedom of press in the Arab world, his words would ring true in every home from Sudan to Syria, from Algeria to Oman.
Again, he clearly stated Israel’s policies: ‘yes’ to a Palestinian state, ‘no’ to the 1967 borders. Israel will incorporate major settlement blocs into its final borders, including Jerusalem. The Palestinian refugee problem will be solved within the context of a Palestinian state, not within the borders of Israel. Finally, that the Palestinian state that emerges will be demilitarized, and that Israel will maintain a long-term military presence in the strategic Jordan River valley.
Naked and Screaming
We are born into this world naked, alone and screaming. We have no concept of what is happening, who are all these people gathered around us or what will come next. Then someone turns us upside down and slaps us on the ass. Death is often the same, except that the slap turns into a kick. Too often we achieve little understanding of what happens to us in the intervening years between our birth and our demise. We find ourselves naked, alone and screaming.
This sense of being vulnerable, this sense of being isolated, the screaming at a world that is deaf, is a situation Israel has encountered many times over the last 60 years. In an age in which we are threatened with atomic, biological and chemical weapons it is even worse. There is now a simple truth to the matter. Israel has realized that it is alone in this world, and is finally beginning to work out a strategy to deal with the situation.
This is a frightening realization for all the parties involved in the Middle East conflict. However, there are many paths that Israel might take . . .
Part of the West, kind of
Consider the path that Turkey took from 1923 until the 1990s. Basically, it threw its entire cultural heritage overboard and tried to westernize itself. Everything from how the role of religion in the state, public dress, to education was changed by Kemal Ataturk and his successors. Modern day Turkey would look west towards Paris, London and Washington not out of imperial desires, but out of respect, need to modernize and a sincere desire to become a member of the club.
What did that get Turkey? America brought Turkey into NATO, when the policy toward the USSR was containment. Economically, it was rewarded with various “associate member” status designations as the states of Western Europe slowly evolved into the European Union. However, Turkey has never been considered a full member of the club. Consider:
• April 1987 – Turkey applies to accede to the European Union
• Jan. 1991 – Germany objects to reacting to the potential of Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Turkey during the Gulf War as an attack on NATO, despite Turkey being a NATO member.
• 1994 – France and Germany propose “tiered” membership in the European Union; Turkey would be one of the countries in the lowest or outermost tier.
• Dec. 1999 – European Council recognizes Turkey as a candidate on equal footing with other potential candidates (twelve years after its initial application).
• July 2007 – France remains opposed to Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union
Why has Turkey been rejected so consistently for so long? Because it is different. Its people do not speak English, German or one of the Romance languages. It is Muslim, not Christian. It has a tendency to decimate and repress religious and ethnic minorities. Its parliament is dominated by a nationalistic-religious coalition. Israel could opt for the “Turkish Track,” but is bound to meet the same barriers, fears, ignorance and, ultimately, rejection that has caused Turkey to increasingly reject westernization in favor of fundamentalism.
Go East, young man!
With one out of seven Israelis either born in the former Soviet Union or born of immigrant parents, some say that Israel’s future is linked to Moscow, not Washington. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman – himself an immigrant from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova – has made several trips to Russia and its former satellites over the last six months. Each one has resulted in new memoranda of understanding, treaties and promises of follow-up consultations.
However, there are limits to how far Israelis are willing to go. The general public is still wary of Russia, due in large part to its role in promoting and sustaining the Middle East conflict for nearly forty years. The various ethnic/religious-based political parties also have serious ideological issues and practical political problems with a Russian-oriented foreign policy. The IDF would certainly object to trading F15s for Mig 31s.
Finally, there is the question of whether Russia, which in the past has sought membership in the Western club, would consider Israel’s “application” to a greater Russian co-prosperity sphere. Russia has its own problematic relationship with Muslim minorities and with Muslim-dominated former republics. With its vast reserves of oil and minerals, it could certainly match Washington’s generous military aid packages, but would it? The post-communist regime has shown no indication that it is willing to take on such a commitment.
Modern, but not Western?
Can Israel chart a course that is not Western, but still modern? Can it take part in the global economy; provide economic and social opportunities domestically, without being a part of some alliance? At present, the answer is “no.” However, there is a caveat to this.
Several nation-states face a similar challenge. Japan and India are two of them. There are several Latin American states, led by Argentina and Brazil, that have distinctive cultures, are modern, yet are not firmly identified with the West or any other major political-security alliance. It has been suggested that Israel should form closer bonds with these countries. While certainly Israel has much to offer all of the countries just listed and could benefit from increased trade, none of them singularly or en masse would replace the benefits that Israel receives from its current junior membership.
Israel needs to build upon the relations it has with these and all countries. It cannot survive alone – no nation Israel’s size that is surrounded by such unrelenting enemies could. However, there is no silver bullet that will solve all problems. Like a shrewd investor, Israel must diversify its economic, political and security arrangements in a balanced portfolio of international “investments.” A well-thought out public relations and media campaign, applied consistently, will yield results over time.
The extreme alternative is the model that countries like Cuba and North Korea have taken. These countries survive with autarkic planned economies, extremely limited opportunities for individual growth and advancement, and limited diplomatic contacts. They are bunker regimes, with real and imagined enemies hiding under every rock. It is not the type of society that Zionism has sought to create over the last 150 years, and would be unacceptable to almost all Israelis.
The BBC reported this morning Saturday, 13 June 2009, that Iranian TV has begun putting out calls for calm in the wake of an apparent landslide re-election victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. One opposition newspaper had been closed down and BBC websites appear to have been blocked by the Iranian authorities. There were also reports that an opposition rally had been broken up for candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Let’s see, that is 1) closing down an opposition newspaper – 1st Amendment; 2) blocking access to a news web site – 1st Amendment; and 3) breaking up a peaceful assembly organized for political purposes – 1st Amendment. The candidates themselves were screened by Iran’s Council of Guardians, so one would think that such actions would be unnecessary. Apparently, that is not the case.
How does this factor into Obama’s new thinking and fresh approach to the Middle East? So far, it is long on rhetoric, but short on accomplishments. His speech in Cairo was perhaps a beginning towards some sort of American reconciliation with the Arab/Muslim world. However, if the American public starts actually paying attention to what is going on there, it is not going to like what it sees. Arab/Muslim reaction – at least that which isn’t subject to state censorship – has been mixed on Pres. O’s Cairo address. I’ll score it as a draw, but an impressive one.
Lebanon certainly goes into the win column. Only by field goal, though. Saudi money and lots of diplomatic and political support from Egypt and Jordan tilted the playing field. Iran was somewhat distracted by its own elections to interfere to heavily in the Lebanese contest. Syria, playing a diplomatic game of cat-and-mouse with the Americans, was also low-key in its support for the Hizbullah-led opposition.
Iran is definitely a loss for the “Yes We Can” crowd in Washington. There is scant evidence that Iran’s nuclear policies would have been altered by any of the opposition candidates. After all, it is the result of a 20-year effort, not just the last four years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency. However, it would have made it easier for President Obama to appease a new Iranian dictator than the old one.
Thus, the Obama Administration is 1-1-1, with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s highly anticipated response to the Cairo address tomorrow . . .
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?)
What does Israel need to say?
First, if you are reading this and didn’t read the first posting it is not going to make a lot of sense. So go back and read the first part.
Israel needs to acknowledge, to a certain extent, the slogans of the past inasmuch as these still have a tremendous grip on public opinion. Thus, a statement from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recognizing that eventually there will be a Palestinian state alongside Israel is necessary. Although talk is cheap, these few words would likely buy a lot of good will in Washington and European capitals. At least some Arab capitals would receive such a pronouncement favorably too.
It would give President Obama firmer ground to stand on vis-à-vis negotiations with Iran. It would give the Europeans enough reason to go move Israel one-step closer to membership in the EU. It would give Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia political cover to join Washington in confronting Iran, while cracking down on Islamic radical at home. Perhaps just as important, if Mr. Netanyahu made such a statement it would confound his critics on the Israeli Left and perhaps start driving a wedge between the two wings of the opposition Kadima party.
“Israel is in favor of a two-state solution” does not have to be the opening line or the closing line of the speech. However, it needs to be said. It is also an opportunity to set the parameters of a future Palestinian state.
How does Israel say it?
How would I say it if I were in the Prime Minister’s shoes? I think it would go something along these lines.
“Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has sought peace with its neighbors through direct negotiations. However, despite our sincerest efforts, many of our attempts were met with outright rejection. Our major wars have cost the region – not just Israel, but all the countries involved, over a trillion dollars in lost development. Schools were not built and children were not educated. Hospitals were not built and the sick were not healed. Yet, we still yearn for peace and believe it is within our reach if we act responsibly.”
“The first breakthrough came in 1978 with Anwar Sadat’s courageous and groundbreaking visit to Israel. Egypt and Israel were rewarded by President Sadat’s vision, and in 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty that endures to this day. In 1994 Jordan under King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel, and that peace endures to this day. Both of the courageous leaders bravely made difficult choices, shouldered the responsibility for their actions, and will always be remembered in history as men of valor.”
“Unfortunately, their equals have not yet been found among the other states of our shared region. Some are held hostage by extreme political philosophies. Some are held hostage by anarchy and disarray. Yet others bind themselves to outmoded concepts and untenable ideas. History will also judge these men harshly for all the wasted time, all the blood they have spilt.”
“This I believe: ultimately, there will be peace. There will be a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel. We hope it is something that we will see in our lifetimes, something that we will have a part in helping build. If men of bravery, courage and vision can be found on the other side of the bargaining table, it is something that we will have.”
“Judea and Samaria are dear to Israel and the Jewish people. They are part of our historic homeland. They are where are our forefathers are buried. They are where are culture was born and flourished. They contain sites that have been holy to us for five thousand years, before there ever was a single Palestinian. Yet for the sake of peace we have ceded parts of Judea and Samaria, and are prepared to ceded more. However, this will only happen if the Palestinian leadership truly seeks peace. Judea and Samaria are not a stepping stone to Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”
“Accountability, compromise and reconciliation must replace threats, violence and war. The Palestinian Authority must live up to its past commitments. It must contain and eliminate terrorism. It must reform itself so that it has credibility in the eyes of its own people. And it must take on the arduous task of building a state, much as the Jewish people have: one farm at a time, one factory at a time, one school at a time. If it is capable of living up to its past commitments, providing security, stability and growth, the vision of peace will be shared by all.”
What does the PM say to the President
Before he gives such a speech, Mr. Netanyahu would need to have a heart-to-heart with Mr. Obama. He should start off by clearly stating that an Iran with a complete nuclear fuel cycle is completely unacceptable. The Obama administration has already been floating the idea – more by omission from its statements – that Iran might be able to keep what it already has, as long as it doesn’t develop a nuclear bomb. Both of these, a complete nuclear fuel cycle and a nuclear weapon, will happen in the next 12 – 18 months. This changes all the rules.
Second, Israel needs the Obama administration to follow-up on the commitments made by the Bush administration. This means allowing Israel to purchase the military technology in the amounts it needs to maintain its technical superiority. The post-communist kleptocracy that reigns in Moscow is willing to sell just about any piece of military hardware it can to Iran and Syria. The US must make it clear that it will not allow its closest ally in the region to be put at a military disadvantage.
Third, Israel needs the Obama administration to put a little pressure on the Europeans to play ball. Upgrading Israel’s status vis-à-vis the EU would be a start. Dropping there flirtations with Hamas would strengthen the PA and the peace process. Taking all of these actions, Mr. Netanyahu should tell Mr. Obama, will make Israel strong enough to match the steps that the Palestinians make. If indeed the Palestinians are capable of making them.
Remember when you were a child and wanted something? Inevitably, you pointed and yelled out your demand. If your demand was somewhat reasonable, for instance a small toy or a candy bar, you got it.
Your parents did a quick mental calculation regarding the cost to their wallet and their peace of mind. The fact that the toy would be forgotten in a week’s time or that you would not eat your vegetables that night at dinner were sacrificed in order to get you to shut-up.
However, the demand was always met with the gentle admonishment of, “What’s the magic word?”
The magic word was, of course, “please.” As children, we often forgot that basic manners, which include politeness, count a great deal in civil society. As you grew older, you realized that there were many “magic words.” Practically every situation, from the bedroom to the boardroom has its own set that get you want you want.
Presently, in our relation with Europe and the US, there are three magic words that they want to hear: “Two state solution.”
The Pareto Principle
In the late nineteenth century a political scientist by the name of Wilfredo Pareto wondered why power and wealth were distributed the way they were in Italy. He studied the players and came up with a startling conclusion. About 80% of the wealth and power were controlled by about 20% of the populous. Even more startling was the fact that power was rotated among these elites and fortunes handed down, generation to generation.
For 80% of the world, things like the miracle-in-the-desert that Israel has created, the vast achievements of the Jewish people (and their vast sufferings) mean nothing. They are interested in their own problems. They weigh the voices of 21 Arab states and 56 Muslim nations against a solitary Israeli-Jewish voice. Although these states often loathe implementing democracy, they are more than happen to acknowledge it in world affairs. They are only too happy to kow-tow to the mathematics of the situation and throw their vote towards the Arabs/Muslims in whatever forum it happens to be needed, whether it is the UN, UNESCO, WHO or whatever.
About 20% of the world does count, and that 20% is in Europe and the US. It is from that 20% that are support emanates where the bulk of our trade comes from, where the bulk of our cultural inheritance comes from and where we as a people are best understood. It is in America and Europe that our high-tech goods are sold, on whose stock exchanges our high-tech companies are listed and where our government bonds are bought and sold. So, maybe we should think twice and say those “magic words.”
Everything has a price
Barack Obama believes in the healing power of words, obviously inspired by his own experiences and the philosophy of men such as Mahatma Gandhi and Desmond Tutu. Arab and Muslim states have often relied on hyperbole (and the application of force, to be sure) to rule over their populations, when their scant achievements should have sent them packing long ago. Nasser was able to ride-out the defeat of the Six Day War with a single speech!
So talk is not cheap. Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to keep this in mind when he says the magic words “two-state solution.” First, these words need to be uttered either in Europe or the US in a public forum. In all likelihood, they will have to said in both places and multiple times.
After he says them, that’s when the piper needs to be paid. The Europeans need to have their feet put to the fire on granting Israel EU trade status and dropping their flirtations with Hamas. Tony Blair doesn’t get to visit Gaza, let alone Gerry Adams, and the rest of the Eurostinians don’t receive Israeli press credentials or visas until the EU delivers.
The Americans also will have to pay the piper. The highly coveted tanker aircraft that Israel wants would be a nice “thank you” – again, politeness counts Mr. Obama – for starters. I’m sure there are more than a few items on the Kirya’s shopping list that Mr. Netanyahu would love to acquire.
Never missing an opportunity
The Palestinians, it was once said, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I wish I knew who said it first because I would really like to give him credit. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas would be caught flat-footed by such an announcement. They have been struggling for weeks now to come up with an agreement that would allow them to form a national unity government, so far with no results. An Israeli pronouncement acknowledging the goal of a two-state solution would obviously put both the PA and Hamas at a disadvantage.
The “thank you” delivered by the Europeans and the US could also hardly be missed in Iran. A trade pact with the EU would bolster the Israeli economy at a time when the regime in Teheran is struggling with the results of two decades of mismanagement and allocation of national assets towards a policy of belligerence. The delivery of tanker aircraft – and who knows what else – would give Israel an enhanced ability to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Perhaps enough of a reason to get them to negotiate seriously on the matter, but probably not.
Finally, stating the obvious, that a two-state solution is Israel’s goal would pull the opposition’s teeth in the Knesset. Israel has already committed itself to several agreements who’s ultimate end would be a Palestinian state. Acknowledging what it has already signed would seem to be a no-brainer. It is an opportunity that Israel should not miss.
Houston, I think we have a budget
Prime Minister Netanyahu succeeded in passing his proposal to change the way the state’s budgets are passed, when it bothers to actually pass a budget. It’s now April, two months since elections and four months into 2009 and still no budget. So, I guess this is some kind of achievement. Likud was compelled, by parliamentary procedure, to endure a Kadima-led filibuster in the Knesset plenum that lasted a staggering 21 hours before it could savor the flavor, though.
A 21-hour boycott! Wow! Like, that’s a lot, isn’t it BigMo? To better put this in context and split an infinitive in the process, consider Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. He’s been in the US Senate for something like three centuries. He’s filibustered about 125 years! Half the time, he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. It’s just reflexive, like when the doctor hits your knee with the rubber hammer. Once, he even filibustered one of his own bills. The man is legendary. And don’t get me started on Strom Thurmond!
However, this is Israel and when anybody who draws a paycheck from the government – aside from our military – actually does something that looks even suspiciously like work might have been involved or at least thought of, well, people take notice. By the way, that doesn’t include the four public servants I call “friend,” and from whom I might need to ask for a lift to the airport next week. You guys are just peachy!
The loyal, but none-too-bright, oppostion
Kadima MKs requested amendment after amendment and delivered long-winded speeches about soccer (sorry, too late, you’re not getting that demographic) and the forthcoming Passover holiday (ditto) in deliberations that started on Monday at 11am and did not finish until Tuesday at 8am. Holy matzoh meal, Batman! Don’t they ever have to move their bowels?
Meretz MK Ilan Gilon spoke from the Knesset rostrum about his diet, Kadima MK Nachman Shai read the soccer scores and Kadima’s Yohanan Plessner sang a song he wrote about Netanyahu to the tune of the Pessach song Dayeinu. What creative minds (for six year olds)! How is it possible they are in the opposition? Could we possibly send them to run the government of Syria or Iran for a couple of weeks?
Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev reportedly took pictures of MKs sleeping in their chairs and all over the Knesset chambers. What a character! If he had any real initiative, he could have put-up at least a dozen settlements inside Nablus or TP’d Nachman Shai’s house.
So shat’s the skinny?
The proposal called for approving the state budget every two years, instead of annually, because it’s such hard work! It also extends the deadline for passing the 2009 budget from mid-May until July. Or maybe even later. Who knows? I mean, we just worked 21 hours over the last four months.
Does this mean I don’t have to pay taxes until July? Maybe they’ll decide to cancel income taxes. Wouldn’t I be a fool for having paid them? The bill passed its final reading Tuesday morning, with 63 MKs in favor and 27 opposed. Ta-da!
I’m sure that if a pay raise was involved, there’d be a budget vote tomorrow without so much as a coffee break to delay matters.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of, uh, defeat
Former finance minister Ronnie Bar-On of Kadima – who did nothing for three months while 50,000 people lost their jobs – declared Kadima the victor of the night. Ronnie didn’t do well in math or bother to pay attention when his colleague was reading the soccer scores. “The Kadima-led opposition proved its determination and its impressive perseverance in its parliamentary struggle against the Likud,” Bar-On said. Impressive perseverance? They’ve been in the opposition for a whole week!
It was so impressive that the English-language edition of Ha’aretz, the left-leaning daily newspaper that makes Al Jazeerah look like it’s published by Theodore Herzl, ignored the non-event. They chose to run with a story about how the polar bears in the Ramat Gan zoo were given a “special” meal of carrots and matzah for the Pessach holiday. I’m not an expert on polar bears, but I can tell you what they’d like to see next on the menu: bone-headed zoo-keepers! Maybe Roni Bar-On, too.
Unfortunately, Kadima politicians have been slinging this same dreck at the public for years. Just last week Tzipi Livni declared that, like Moses, she would lead Kadima through the desert. Based on the size of her rear-end, I’d say she hasn’t been in the habit of walking anywhere in some time. First try walking to the salad bar and past the dessert bar, honey. Then we’ll work on sharpening up those survival skills. Toss you in with the polar bears for a week.