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Palestinian and Israeli visitors ponder business together

August 22, 2010 1 comment

Emad Nuseibeh and Amir Gur-Lavie (Photo: Bonnie Stewart)

By Donald H. Harrison 

Donald H. Harrison

LA MESA, California – Emad Ahmed Fuad Nuseibeh, a major Palestinian grower of vegetables and herbs, and Amir Gur-Lavie, an owner of Zeta, a large distributor of Israeli olive oil, cheerfully agreed to pose together following a dinner at Vine Ripe Market here. Nuseibeh and Gur-Lavie smiled warmly like old friends, whereas, in fact, they had only met a few days before. 

The market and restaurant is part of a chain co-founded by Ali Baba Abdallah, a Palestinian refugee who had lived in Jordan and Lebanon before immigrating in 1982 to the United States, where he built a successful career as a grower and marketer.  

The two men were among a group of Palestinians and Israeli Jews brought together through the combined efforts of the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa, Arab businessman Sam Husseini of Jerusalem, and the Hansen Institute for World Peace at San Diego State University.   They and others met to discuss and to refine an idea that the Peres and Hansen groups have been developing over several years now: creating a blended olive oil made from Israeli and Palestinian olives to be sold as a “peace product” in U.S. stores. 

Ali-Baba Abdallah (Photo: Bonnie Stewart)

 If the project comes to fruition, the new brand may have a ready customer in Abdallah, whose store specializes in foods from the Middle East, both Arab and Jewish.  Abdallah explained that in San Diego there are many immigrant communities who hunger for foods from home, and he makes it his business to satisfy their tastes.  The chance for Arabs and Jews to peacefully mingle together as customers in his store is a side benefit paralleling the joint goals of the Peres Peace Center, the Hansen Institute and Husseini’s Lion Heart business development company, a new partner in the peace consortium. 

As Abdallah had tray after tray of Middle Eastern appetizers, salads and entrees brought to the long table in a patio area alongside his market on Fletcher Parkway, the meeting was one for socializing amid the familiar tastes and aromas of the guests’ Middle Eastern homes.   

The Palestinian and Israeli business people on that day had toured such markets as Ralphs, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Henry’s and now Vine Ripe, to gain an insight into California food consumer tastes.  The tour followed days of lectures and panels at San Diego State University on trends in the American food industry, as well as a visit to the Temecula Olive Oil groves in Aguanga, California.  The group also had some recreational outings together, including the San Diego Zoo, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, La Jolla and on the following day would visit the Star of India at the Embarcadero. 

When the meal was done, Nuseibeh and Gur-Lavie both agreed to share their impressions with this reporter. 

Like the other Palestinians at the meeting, Nuseibeh lives in East Jerusalem, now claimed by Israel  but which could possibly  become the capital of a new Palestinian state, depending on how direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials —scheduled to begin next month—settle the volatile question.  Nuseibeh also owns a large farm near Jericho, where he grows various desert produce, and another where he produces herbs sold directly to the U.S. market. 

The San Diego trip “was a great experience for me,” said Nuseibeh.  “We have met great people who in fact are our neighbors but we didn’t know them until we reached here in the States.   I hope that, after knowing them, how they are thinking and what kind of businesses they have, that we can do some business together, in order to cut, or break the obstacles that have prevented us from working together.” 

Asked about creating special olive oils, that might blend Israeli and Palestinian varieties, and maybe even some of Nuseibeh’s herbs, Nuseibeh responded: 

“I think it is a good idea to start a business together, but there are a lot of obstacles, a lot of problems,” that must be resolved first, he said. “We have to do things here in the States, a lot of work, a lot of research, and I don’t think at this moment that we as Israeli and Palestinian business people can  come up with the money.  I hope we can find a source for finance, and I think that with these ideas that we have—to work with good-willed people—we will be able to succeed.” 

The Nuseibeh Agricultural Co. for Marketing and Production (NAMP) has for over a half century exported oranges to the United Kingdom, as well as a variety of citrus and bananas to Jordan and to the Gulf countries.  When exports to Jordan slowed down, Nuseibeh developed herb products, which he sold to the Israeli market.  Initially, sales to the U.S. market went through Israel, but now NAMP is shipping about $1 million annually in herbs directly to the United States. 

The joint meeting in San Diego with Israeli agriculturalists was not limited to olives, Nuseibeh said.  

“We are thinking of ways to combine the Israeli produce and the Palestinian produce,” and to devise “new ideas in order to work together for their benefit and our benefit,” he said.  “At the end, it is business.  So we are trying hard to find new things, new ideas.  It may not be in olives, or vegetables, or herbs; maybe it is a new idea that could succeed.” 

Indicating other Palestinians and Israelis seated at the table,  Nuseibeh added:  “Everyone has their own experience. Some of us have experience in marketing or in finding finance; others have experience in growing and having good, high quality produce, and so the thing is we have to find something that can work in order to succeed in this.” 

Whatever products are eventually developed, Nuseibeh said the meetings are a harbinger of what real peace between Israelis and Palestinians might mean.  “We need it for both of us, the Israelis and the Palestinians,” he declared.  It is a need, it is a must.  And when we are doing this, maybe it is a small step, but everyone profits, the Israelis and the Palestinians.  You are going toward the same light at the end of the tunnel.  Maybe what we are doing is a small step, but at the end, Palestinians and Israelis are people who want to reach that same light and to get to the end of this mess we have.  It might help, this thing we are doing. We are not going against anyone.  The peace process is going on; maybe it (the San Diego meeting) is a mile out of the million, but it is a mile.” 

Gur-Lavie is the owner of Zeta in the Galilean town of Mitzpe Hila – known throughout Israel as the hometown of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held in captivity for several years by the Hamas government in Gaza.  Besides owning the company which produces three million bottles a year of olive oil, Gur-Lavie serves on a committee with Shalit’s parents trying to keep the issue of ending Shalit’s captivity before the world. 

About the San Diego meetings, Gur-Lavie said: “I don’t know what will be the result, but the main goal we have already reached.  It was wonderful. We (Palestinians and Israelis) had the possibility to sit together and to think together, and anyhow we have new friends, and we hope also to have new products for the grocery market.  We need to find the way to do it.  I am sure that we will find the way to do something—perhaps small, perhaps big—but actually the biggest thing, we already have done. 

Bentzi Elisha, who is the chief executive officer of Zeta, added.  “Sometimes we have to come to the States to find that we can be together and talk about everything, and laugh about the same things – really, because we became friends.” 

The Hansen Institute has been quietly bringing Arabs and Israelis together—even in the absence of diplomatic relations between their countries – since the time following the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.  

Bonnie Stewart, the executive director, has witnessed a process many times in which the Arabs and Israelis first regarded each other with suspicion and had to air out some of their political differences before getting down to business discussions. 

Not so this meeting, commented Gur-Lavie.  “We had heard this would happen… but we didn’t feel that, even at the airport.  We started with friendship.   Look, we also talk very openly about the problems. We know we can’t avoid the problems but we think that with friendship we are able to talk about it … We know that is from business that maybe we will be able to make the peace sooner. If we wait for the conflict to be solved, and then talk about business, maybe it will take 100 years.” 

While creating a peace product is a relatively new idea, Gur-Lavie said that his company has been bottling both Israeli and Palestinian olive oils for years.  Noting that his company recently won four Gold Medals in an international olive oil competition, he expressed confidence that something “unique and of a very high quality” eventually can be created and marketed. 

Both Gur-Lavie and Nuseibeh had praise for San Diego State and the Hansen Institute specifically, and for San Diego generally. 

Said the Israeli of San Diego: “It is a very nice and pleasant place to be.  I have been in many places in America, but such a nice hospitality!  All the Americans we are with from the Hansen Institute and the University are doing an excellent job.  They believe that it is important to help us bring the peace, and I really just want to say thank you.” 

Nuseibeh concurred, saying: “People in the Middle East know Americans in two or three things, in their bullets, in their bombs that say ‘made in the U.S.A.,’  and in their vetoes in the U.N.  They don’t know the people, but this time and my last visit to the U.S., I met a lot of people and I found something else.  I found people  who want to help, people…who need to know how they can make the people in front of them as happy as they are…. If someone here is convinced by a cause, he will devote his life, money, fortune and time to the cause.  And it doesn’t matter how much effort it will take.   There are many people in the Middle East who do not know the Americans well; they should see the people, the American people.” 

Besides Nuseibeh and Sam Husseini, other members of the Palestinian delegation included Abdel Muti Qutob, whose businesses include agriculture produce in the Auja region near Jericho, as well as real estate development elsewhere; and Rami Assali, financial and administrative manager for Search for Common Ground, a non-governmental agency in Jerusalem.

Israelis in addition to Gur-Lavi and Elisha included Ofer Ensher, managing director of Hefer Systems & Controls, which is a large company in the fields of water and waste water processes; and the following staff members of the Peres Center for Peace: Roi Dai, the finance director; Oren Blonder, director,  and Moran Diment, manager, in the agriculture, water and environment department. 

Numerous Americans interacted with the two delegations.  Among those who participated in seminars with them were  Stewart, the director of the Hansen Institute; Sanford Ehrlich, Qualcomm Executive Director of Entrepreneurship at SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center (EMC);  Alex DeNoble, chair of the Management department of SDSU’s College of Business Administration;  Bernard Schroeder, director of EMC programs; Evan Schlessinger, president of the Springboard Company, which helps bring new products and innovations to market,  and Marvin Spira, president of Marketing Consultants, International, which specializes in the marketing of food products. 

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.

Mubarak, King Abdullah invited to help launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

August 20, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Following is a transcript of the news conference at which Secretary of STate Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell outlined the agreement between Palestinians and Israelis to directly negotiate for peace.  The news conference was moderated by Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley:

MR. CROWLEY: Good morning and welcome to the Department of State. We have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here along with our Special Envoy George Mitchell to tell you about the most recent developments in our pursuit of Middle East peace. The Secretary will begin with a brief statement. George Mitchell will stay behind to answer your questions. And we are joined today by your colleagues in the White House Press Corps up in Martha’s Vineyard and we’ll be sharing the – they’ll be sharing the Q&A duties with you.

But we’ll start with Secretary Clinton.

QUESTION: I don’t like that idea. They’re in Martha’s Vineyard. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: I will appoint a negotiator to deal with that. (Laughter.)

Since the beginning of this Administration, we have worked with the Israelis and Palestinians and our international partners to advance the cause of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution which ensures security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians. The President and I are encouraged by the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and fully share their commitment to the goal of two states – Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

After proximity talks and consultations with both sides, on behalf of the United States Government, I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on September 2nd in Washington, D.C. to re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year.

President Obama has invited President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan to attend in view of their critical role in this effort. Their continued leadership and commitment to peace will be essential to our success. The President will hold bilateral meetings with the four leaders followed by a dinner with them on September 1st. The Quartet Representative Tony Blair has also been invited to the dinner in view of his important work to help Palestinians build the institutions of their future state, an effort which must continue during the negotiations. I’ve invited Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to join me here at the State Department on the following day for a trilateral meeting to re-launch direct negotiations.

As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it. There have been difficulties in the past; there will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.

As we have said before, these negotiations should take place without preconditions and be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success, which will bring a better future to all of the people of the region.

George. Thank you all.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you traveling to Pakistan (inaudible) concern, Madam? Thank you, Madam.

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll be pleased to respond to any of your questions.

QUESTION: As tempted as I am to ask you about Roger Clemens, I’d rather – or P.J. perhaps. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: I predicted that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what was the turning point here? What was it that got the – that overcame the final snags to get them to come back to direct talks?

MR. MITCHELL: We believe it’s the recognition by the parties themselves, by their leaders – Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas – that the best outcome is an agreement which results in two states living side by side in peace and security, and that the only way that can be achieved is through direct negotiations between the parties in which the United States will be an active and sustained participant, and with the full support of our many friends and allies around the world, including, of course, specifically, the Quartet.

QUESTION: But what was it that got them to – I mean, you’ve been trying to do this for months now.

MR. MITCHELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: And why – so why – how is it that today, you’ve gotten to this point, whereas three days ago, you weren’t at this point?

MR. MITCHELL: Yeah. I think it’s the cumulative result of the efforts made over that time and the recognition by the parties that this is the right time. We will be active participants and there is broad support, as you know, by members of the Quartet and others around the world. But in the end, these decisions will be made by the parties themselves.

MR. CROWLEY: And (inaudible) Senator Mitchell —

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, could you —

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll let – why don’t I let P.J. —

QUESTION: Could you talk about the sequencing of the talks? Will they discuss territory, refugees, or Jerusalem first, or will this all be in parallel?

MR. MITCHELL: All permanent status issues will be on the table. It will be for the parties themselves to decide the manner by which they should be addressed.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell —

QUESTION: Yes. Madam Secretary mentioned without doubt there will be more – without doubt, there will be more obstacles. What will these obstacles be? What are the main sticking points that are going to be going forward?

MR. MITCHELL: We are all well aware that there remains mistrust between the parties, a residue of hostility developed over many decades of conflict, many previous efforts that have been made to resolve the conflict that had not succeeded, all of which takes a very heavy toll on both societies and their leaders. In addition, we all know that, as with all societies, there are differences of opinion on both sides on how best to proceed, and as a result, this conflict has remained unresolved over many decades and through many efforts. We don’t expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin. Indeed, we expect that they will be presented, debated, discussed, and that differences are not going to be resolved immediately.

But we do believe that peace in the Middle East, comprehensive peace, including, but not limited to, an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, is very much in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, of all people in the region; it’s in the national security interests of the United States, and therefore, we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance, and determination. We know that will be difficult. We know, as the Secretary said, there will be obstacles. But we’re going to proceed, as I said, with patience, perseverance, and determination.

MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, sir, the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the United States have been down that road many times before. Now, what is in your opinion, sir, this time around that engenders – or should engender hope and optimism to get these talks into its intended end? And what kind of incentive did you offer President Abbas to entice him into the direct talks?

MR. MITCHELL: I don’t want to repeat everything I said in response to prior questions, but I will say that I believe that it is very much in the interest of people in both societies that there be an end to this conflict enabling both to live in peace and security. And I believe that their leaders believe and understand that, and therefore, notwithstanding the many difficulties that they face – and we recognize those difficulties – this is the best course for them.

On the question of past efforts in failing and succeeding, I’ll return, if I might, to my experience in Northern Ireland. I chaired three separate sets of discussions in Northern Ireland, spanning a period overall of five years. The main negotiation lasted for 22 months. During that time, the effort was repeatedly branded a failure. I was asked at least dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times when I was leaving because the effort had failed.

And of course, if the objective is to achieve a peace agreement, until you do achieve one, you have failed to do so. In a sense, in Northern Ireland, we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success. And we approach this task with the same determination to succeed notwithstanding the difficulties and notwithstanding the inability to get a final result so far, including past efforts. But past efforts at peace that did not succeed cannot deter us from trying again, because the cause is noble and just and right for all concerned.

MR. CROWLEY: Let’s take Michele and then Kirit and then we’ll go up to Martha’s Vineyard and come back.

Michele.

QUESTION: I wanted to get a sense of this timeline, this 12 months that the Secretary talked about. Do you see that as a deadline or is that – or is it looser than that? And also, just following up on this other question. I mean, what makes this peace process any different from all other peace processes?

MR. MITCHELL: We will only know the answer to your second question when it is completed. But I believe that, as I said in response to the previous question, that the cause is so important, so right, so just, that our continued effort is the right thing to do, and we are going to pursue it with determination. I believe that the two leaders themselves, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, are sincere and serious and believe that it can be done, and we will do everything humanly possible to help them see that it is done.

With respect to your first question, Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a public appearance in this country on his most recent visit to Washington that he believed it could be done within a year. President Abbas has expressed similar sentiments to me, and I hold strongly to that belief, having now been involved for some time in the region. So, we believe it can be done within a year and that is our objective.

QUESTION: But it’s not a deadline then?

MR. CROWLEY: Kirit, one more and then we’ll go up to Martha’s Vineyard.

QUESTION: It took you about nine months to get to the point where these guys were willing to sit down and talk to each other. What makes you think that you can get them to agree to peace in one year? At what point during this process is the U.S. willing to put its own ideas on the table to help move this forward? And after the initial set of talks here in D.C., where do you expect the talks to take place?

MR. MITCHELL: I’ll take your questions in reverse order. One of the subjects to be discussed in the meeting on September 1st and 2nd, and also in preparatory meetings that have been occurring on a regular basis and will continue between now and then, will be the timing and location of subsequent meetings, and we certainly expect some of those meetings to occur in the region.

With respect to the timing and nature, how long it took to get here and how long will it take to get in, I don’t think one is a necessary determinant of the other. It’s – I liken it to the first time I owned a house and had it painted. It took the painters seemingly forever to prime the building and the walls. I kept asking myself, “When are they going to start painting? We’re paying by the hour and we want some progress.” (Laughter.) And after this seemingly endless priming, they painted it very quickly.

Now, I don’t want to suggest one year is quickly, but I don’t think that events leading up to the negotiations are themselves decisive in terms of the negotiations themselves. We believe that the statements by the prime minister regarding within one year are credible and appropriate. We believe that President Abbas shares a similar view, as do we. And that’s what we’re going to pursue.

QUESTION: And at what point does the U.S. put its own ideas on the table in this process?

MR. MITCHELL: We will be active and sustained partners, although we recognize that this is a bilateral negotiation and we have indicated to both parties that, as necessary and appropriate, we will offer bridging proposals. But I repeat: This is a direct bilateral negotiation between the parties with our assistance and with the assistance of our friends and allies. And although nobody has asked it, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge and recognize the enormous support and assistance we have received from many of our friends and allies: Egypt, under President Mubarak; Jordan, under King Abdullah; many of the other Arab states; the other members of the Quartet; the United Nations under Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has been extremely helpful in this process; the European Union, with Lady Ashton as the foreign minister; and the – Russia, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, have all been active and very helpful along with other European states.

So it’s important to understand that while the United States is playing an important and active and sustained role, we do so with full participation, full input, full consultation, full discussion, and we hope full support, from a wide variety of allies whose efforts have been extremely important getting us to this phase and will be extremely important in reaching a conclusion. 

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, we’ll go to take two or three questions from White House press corps.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our first question comes from Philip Hartley with Washington Today. Please ask one question.

QUESTION: Good morning. Actually, it’s two; I apologize. Have all the invited parties accepted the United States’ invitation to weigh in next month? And the Secretary had mentioned references to peace in the world, and as an envoy of peace, I wanted to know what your thoughts are on whether the proposed mosque be built at the Ground Zero site.

MR. MITCHELL: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.

MR. CROWLEY: We’re not here to talk about that latter subject. We’ll take the next question. What was the question?

QUESTION: Wait —

QUESTION: The first part was —

MR. CROWLEY: Have they accepted.

MR. MITCHELL: What was the first question?

MR. CROWLEY: Have they accepted the invitation?

MR. MITCHELL: We have been in consultation with both. We expect to hear from them shortly, but it will be their decisions on whether to accept.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take the next question, Operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Jonathan Broder with Congressional Quarterly.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do both parties have to ask for the U.S. to step in with its bridging proposals, or is it enough for one party to ask for that bridging proposal?

MR. MITCHELL: We’re getting a little bit ahead of the game now to be speculating on what may or may not occur well into the process. As I stated earlier, this is a direct bilateral negotiation with the active and sustained support of the United States. And we will make bridging proposals at such time as we deem necessary and appropriate. But I don’t want anyone to have the impression that we are somehow going to supplant or displace the roles of the parties themselves, nor do we have any view other than that this must, in the end, be an agreement by the parties themselves.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more, Operator, then we’ll come back here to this.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ron Kampeas with JTA.

QUESTION: Thank you. One technical question and then a real question. On September the 2nd – is that – are they actually – are you actually launching direct talks on September the 2nd, or are the leaders getting together with the Secretary to discuss the re-launching of direct talks? And the other thing: What role, if any, does Hamas have in this process?

MR. MITCHELL: The first question is yes, we are launching direct negotiations beginning on September 2nd. And the second question is: None.

QUESTION: Senator, is re-launching the direct negotiations without preconditions means that we are re-launching the direct negotiations without terms and references?

MR. MITCHELL: Only the parties can determine terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters. As you know, both we and the Quartet have previously said that the negotiations should be without preconditions.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you tell us whether they’re going to start from scratch, or will they build on what talks that – during the Olmert period? And the second question is whether Israel is expected to continue the freeze. Do you think that they’ll continue the freeze? Do you think the Palestinians will continue their boycott of settler goods?

MR. MITCHELL: The parties themselves will determine the basis on which they will proceed in the discussions, in response to your first question. In response to the second, our position on settlements is well-known and remains unchanged. We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations. And as the Secretary said in her statement a few moments ago, it’s important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it.

MR. CROWLEY: Charlie.

QUESTION: Senator, just to follow up on that and a previous question, your position is well-known on settlements, but the Israelis, when they’ve chosen to, have ignored it and gone ahead with settlement construction as they’ve seen fit to do. Do you have any understanding from them that they will not do that this time?

And referring to the earlier question on Hamas and your quick answer that they will have no role, how do you get around the fact, even in the best of all circumstances that you negotiate an agreement, how do you get around the fact that Hamas is playing a huge role in Gaza?

MR. MITCHELL: With respect to the first question, let’s be clear that the declaration of the moratorium itself last November was a significant action, which has had a significant effect on new housing construction starts in the West Bank. And as I said, our position on settlements is well-known, remains unchanged, and we expect both parties to promote an environment conducive to negotiations.

With respect to Hamas, let’s be clear. Hamas won a legislative election. They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team, and it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government. When Democrats regained control of the Congress in 2006, that didn’t end President Bush’s tenure as president, and others who wanted to negotiate with the United States negotiated with the legally elected and then-chief of our executive branch of government. And that is the situation here.

QUESTION: So you expect Hamas to accept any decision made by President Abbas at these negotiations?

MR. MITCHELL: It is not for me to make decisions for others.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more here, then we’ll go back up to the phones.

QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, is it your understanding that this would be a shelf agreement, something to take effect at a later date when political conditions in the Palestinian territories allow, or is it your understanding that this is something that would take effect in a very short period after it was agreed?

MR. MITCHELL: That’s obviously subject to the results of the negotiations. We are not creating limitations or restraints upon what the parties may agree to. Our hope is that there will be an agreement that will end the conflict for all time and will result in the establishment of a viable, democratic, and independent state of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

MR. CROWLEY: Operator, we’ll take one or two more from the phones.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question on the phone is Margaret Talev with McClatchy newspapers.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking our questions. The Palestinian press has reported that the U.S. put the harshest pressure to date on the Palestinians to get them into the talks. What I want to know is why did the U.S. feel that this was the time, in the Palestinians’ view, to bully the Palestinians into talking, considering the politics of the Israeli administration right now?

MR. MITCHELL: The United States position has been well-known from the time that this administration entered office. We have and we do favor direct negotiation between the parties to resolve the conflict and to produce an agreement that results in two states living side by side in peace and security. We have encouraged the two parties to enter into such negotiations and they have now agreed. And we are – we believe it’s the right thing to do, we think that both of the leaders believe it’s the right thing to do, and we believe it’s in the best interests of the people they represent.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one more, Operator, from the phone.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Susan Garraty with News Talk Radio.

QUESTION: Hello, Senator Mitchell. You harkened back to the Northern Ireland peace process, and as you certainly recall, the President then played a very intimate role in that. Considering that many Americans themselves are even confused about President Obama’s religious affiliation, do you feel like the people of the Middle East on both sides of this issue will see President Obama as an honest broker and someone that they can actually reach out to in that same intimate fashion?

MR. MITCHELL: Yes, I do believe that they do and will continue to regard President Obama in that fashion. I will say that from the outset, both he and the Secretary of State have played an important, indeed critical, role in this effort. Both are deeply involved on a regular basis and deeply, personally committed to the cause of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. I think that is not only widely recognized throughout the region and the world, but very much appreciated, and in particular, throughout the region.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take a couple of wrap-ups. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Senator Mitchell.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: The total settlement freeze never happened, so I was wondering, how can these talks be considered authentic in the region when that demand was never met?

MR. MITCHELL: We believe that there is a basis for proceeding and achieving a successful result, and we’re going to pursue that. We do not take the position that if you don’t get everything you want the first time you ask for it, you pack up your bags and go home. If that had been the standard applied in South Africa, there would never have been peace there; in Northern Ireland, there would never have been peace there; in Bosnia, there would never have been peace there.

It takes patience, persistence, a willingness to go back again and again, to not take the first no as a final no, to not take the 50th no as the final no or the 100th no. We are patient, we are persevering, and we are determined, and we believe there is a basis for concluding a peace agreement in the region, and that’s what we’re going to pursue.

MR. CROWLEY: Samir.

QUESTION: Senator, do you understand that – you expect Abbas to accept entering these talks without preconditions?

MR. MITCHELL: Both the United States and the Quartet have said that we believe there should be direct talks without preconditions. And we also have said many times that we think that these talks should be conducted in a positive atmosphere in which the parties refrain from taking any steps that are not conducive to making progress in the discussions, that negotiate seriously and in good faith. And in all of these respects, we think that there is a basis for making progress.

QUESTION: So the talks won’t be based on the Quartet statement of March 19?

MR. MITCHELL: The parties are the only ones who can determine what the basis of their discussions are, and that is the case.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Senator, so many Palestinians, as you know, and Arabs believe peace with the actual Israeli Government is practically impossible because of its nature, past statement regarding refugees, Jerusalem, et cetera. Aren’t you concerned that by setting this one-year deadline, you’ll probably be raising expectations just like a la Camp David and all what happened after that?

MR. MITCHELL: The reality is, of course, that there are some in both societies who do not believe that the other side is serious, who do not trust the other side, who do not wish to proceed with the other side. And if we accept the premise that because some in one or both societies hold these views that we cannot proceed, then of course, what we are doing is consigning all of those people to never-ending conflict, never-ending difficulties. We simply don’t believe that’s a proper basis for any country, and certainly not ours, the United States, on which to base its policy.

We believe that the best course of action is the direct negotiations that result in a peace agreement ending this conflict and resulting in two states living side by side in peace and security. We believe the only way to achieve that is through direct negotiations. We believe that if those negotiations are conducted seriously and in good faith, they can produce such an agreement within 12 months. And that is our objective. We acknowledge, we recognize, as you have just stated, that there are many who don’t believe that, many who don’t want that, many who will act to prevent that.

But their lack of belief, their contrary views, their contrary actions cannot serve to prevent us from trying to deal with this conflict, nor can it prevent the leaders of those countries who both recognize that the interests of their people, the future of their societies rests upon resolving this conflict and achieving the kind of peace and stability and security from which they will all benefit.

MR. CROWLEY: Last question, Mark Landler.

QUESTION: Senator, this Administration believed from the early days that its Middle East strategy and its Iran strategy were linked in the sense that if you could make progress in one, you might help make progress in another and vice versa. You now are moving into a period of less engagement and more confrontation with Iran. I’m wondering whether you think that is an added hurdle to a peace agreement or is it something that could actually help in the sense that the Israelis may feel that the U.S. is going to be tough on Iran and it allays their fears somewhat in that regard.

MR. MITCHELL: That extends somewhat beyond the area of my involvement in this process, and so I would defer for a more full and thoughtful answer to those who are directly engaged on the broader issues. I will simply say that if you look at the Middle East and review its history over just the past half century, never mind several millennia, you will conclude that there is no really, quote, “right time” to do this, that there always have been and always will be issues external to the immediate parties that have an effect upon what is occurring.

And in my judgment, what is occurring in the – throughout the region, not just in Iran but in other areas, all add compelling, cumulative evidence to the need to act with respect to this conflict. That is to say, whether or not the circumstance you describe produces the result you describe, it still remains a compelling argument that it is very much in the national security interest of the United States, in terms of dealing with other conflicts, to assist, to do all we can with the help and support of our allies, to bring about a resolution of this conflict. It helps in so many ways, and most importantly, it’s the best thing for the Palestinian people and for the people of Israel. And it is in our national security interest and in that of others.

Thank you all very much. It’s been a pleasure to be with you.

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Preceding provided by the U.S. State Department

Recent attacks underscore security concerns for the West Bank

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

 ‘Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them volley’d and thunder’d; Storm’d at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred.’ – from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

 PHILADELPHIA–Gaza rockets from the south of them, a Sinai rocket from the southeast of them and an OK Corral-style shootout from the north of them.

These days, Israel’s multiple conflicts resemble the aforementioned passage in The Charge of the Light Brigade. Where is Errol Flynn when we need him?

 Israel endured a two-front war at this time four years ago, and in recent months it has contended with attacks on four fronts, by my count – the blockade incident on the high seas, Gaza, southern Lebanon and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty three decades ago, yet Egypt cannot control terrorists operating on its lands.

Meanwhile, President Obama and others pine for the day when Israel hands over the West Bank to the Palestinians so they can, supposedly, live happily ever after. Many in the pro-Israel camp believe that the Arabs will never be happy until all of Israel is, well, no longer Israel.

Foes of a Palestinian state have said that Israel does not need another front. The most worrisome concern over a Palestinian state is Israel’s security. The border between Israel and the West Bank is much longer than its other borders, and Israel proper is directly vulnerable to attack.

Israeli leaders have said that Ben Gurion International Airport is within range of the West Bank. Security must be directly addressed before Israel considers further negotiations about the West Bank. It has not been adequately addressed.

Some protective measures have been taken. Construction of a security barrier along the border has eliminated terrorist attacks that were rampant up to five years ago. A strong Palestinian security force has been built. The West Bank has been much calmer. Still, none of these developments, even combined, guarantee that Israel will be safe from attack if a Palestinian state is established.

Events of recent weeks underscore security concerns. Israel withdrew all troops and settlers from the Sinai Peninsula three decades ago; all troops from Lebanon in 2000; and all troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. After Yasser Arafat rejected a peace plan in 2000, the Palestinians started a war that led to fierce fighting in Gaza and the West Bank and terrorist attacks in Israel proper. The Gaza evacuation was followed by thousands of rocket attacks into Sderot and other sections of southern Israel.

My educated guess in 2005 was that the Gaza evacuation would produce some aggression, but Israel could manage it. I was wrong.

Beyond rocket attacks, Israel fought a two-front war against terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and again in Hamas-controlled Gaza in December 2009. More worrisome is the build-up of weapons in Gaza and Lebanon to be used for future assaults against Israel.

Last month, Gaza terrorists broke a long lull firing rockets that struck the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and Sapir College near the border, The New York Times reported.

Then Monday, Aug. 2: A barrage of missiles fired from the Sinai Peninsula struck both the resort city Eilat in Israel and neighboring Aqaba in Jordan, where a taxi driver was killed. Egypt subsequently admitted that they were fired from Sinai, ostensibly under Egyptian control.

The following day, Lebanese soldiers – possibly influenced by Hezbollah – fired at Israeli soldiers tending a fence within Israel territory. United Nations peacekeepers declared that the Lebanese were entirely at fault.

It should be no surprise if someone – perhaps Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – was conspiring to provoke Israel to engage in yet another war.

With all this on Israel’s plate, Israeli leaders are still willing to enter negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Fortunately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised security concerns.

What might that entail? Possibly Israel can evacuate the more isolated settlements while maintaining a strong military presence. However, that military presence would be trimmed somewhat because the troops would not need to worry about protecting the settlements.

Maybe that will not be necessary, but I for one do not want to be wrong again.

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Ticker is Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via bticker@comcast.net

Poll finds Arabs in support of nuclear Iran

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJC)–An opinion poll conducted in several Arab countries has found that 57 per cent of respondents believe Iran wants to acquire nuclear weapons and regard this as a positive outcome for the Middle East.

The 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll was carried by University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami in conjunction with the polling firm Zogby International. This year’s poll surveyed 4,000 people in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, during the months June and July.

Among the most striking findings is that US President Obama’s popularity in the Arab world has declined sharply over the past 12 months, and only 20 percent of those surveyed approve of him now. Last year, following his Cairo speech, 45 percent of respondents viewed him positively. Professor Telhami said much of the decline in Obama’s ratings was due to disillusionment about the president’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, identified by 61 per cent of respondents as the US policy they were most disappointed with.

Asked to name which world leader they admire most, respondents for the first time favored Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who launched a number of verbal attacks on Israel following the deadly raid of the Gaza-bound ‘Freedom Flotilla’. President Obama’s name did not even show up on this year’s most-admired leaders list.

Only 3 per cent of respondents said they empathized with the Jewish people if they watched programs about the Holocaust, with 88 per cent saying they resented such material, or had mixed feelings.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Open letter to Fareed Zakaria concerning the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’

August 14, 2010 3 comments

Isaac Yetiv

Dear Mr Zakaria:

 
As an assiduous viewer of your Sunday TV show  (CNN/GPS), which I have always enjoyed for your judicious commentaries, the choice of your experts, and your well-prepared and deeply-probing questions, I have earned the right to express my disappointment.

The case in point is your position on the  controversial decision to build a mosque on Ground Zero in New York (your program of Sunday 8 Aug. 2010.)  I believe that your support for building the mosque was a knee-jerk reaction to ADL’s strong opposition to it, and that if you dig deeper, you might revise your opinion.  ( Already, in your interview with Anderson Cooper a few days later, you seemed less sanguine; I even detected some regretful tone) . The following analysis will hopefully help:

 
First, unless I missed something, you deliberately talk about “a center:” I didn’t hear you say the word “mosque.”  This is, of course, disingenuous and misleading. A “center” without a “mosque” is a less loaded proposition, and would have aroused less resistance and outrage.
 
Second, you call Imam Raouf a “moderate” or “a Bin Laden nightmare” while conveniently occulting from your discourse his own pronouncements such as ” America was the accessory to the crime of 9/11 ”  or “Bin Laden is made in the U.S.” and that he, Rauf,  would like “a Sharia-compliant America” (where , as you know, an adulteress is stoned and an apostate is HALAL to be killed etc.) He also  could not bring himself to admit that Hamas is a terrorist organization (“I am not a politician,”he said, “and terrorism is a complicated problem.”) There are also rumors I can’t ascertain that he has indirect links with terrorist organizations and that his father was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
Besides, even if all that is not true, there is no guarantee that he will not be “used” as Imam for a short time, and then replaced with a more radical Islamist  (the type of Al-Awlaki who was Imam in a mosque in Virginia frequented by two of the 19 hijackers of 9/11) who  will use the mosque as a hotbed for radical  Islamists, a center of recruitment, and as a MADRASA  to inculcate the Wahabi extremist religious ideology that has produced 9/11 and other violent eruptions elsewhere, notably in the Muslim world and with mainly Muslim victims.

Rauf refused to say where the money (100 millions !!) will come from. A foreign country? a sponsor of terrorism? the terrorists themselves? It is clear that those who will finance the project will dictate its content and its programs. Recent events clearly demonstrate that an “investment” of such magnitude can only come  from a few oil-rich theocracies that have produced nine-eleven and other terrorist calamities. Is that scenario not plausible?  Do you want to take that risk?

 
The fact that Imam Raouf was (or is being ) sent to the Middle-East by the State Department to “explain” to the Muslims that we, Americans, are nice people, and we love them etc…was used by the proponents to prove that he is, as you said, a “moderate.”
This initiative was already tried by the Bush State Department with Karen Hughes, at great cost, and failed lamentably. It only shows once more the naivete and gross ineptitude of the Arabists who dominate the Agency and who still “don’t get it.” Would that the love of the radical Islamists could be acquired with some logical explanation ! Instead, the fear is that Imam Rauf will enjoy a junket at American taxpayer expense which he will use as a fundraiser for his projected mosque from those same oil-rich potentates.
 
Third, this is absolutely not a case of freedom of religion or first amendment rights, as it was demagogued by the politicians, including ,most recently, the president,after a few weeks of reflection and hesitation . (A better case of violation of the first amendment can be made with what was recently discovered, namely that our taxpayer money has been spent –by Bush and Obama–to build and refurbish mosques in Egypt, Tanzania, and Iraq,  maybe elsewhere too. So much for the separation of church (!) and state .) But not in this case: America is a free country and we cherish all freedoms. There is no “establishment of religion” or preventing “the exercise therof.” There are more than a hundred mosques in New York only, about 3,000 in the US. (How many churches and synagogues in Saudi Arabia? Syria?Jordan?)        
                                                                                                                                                It is a case of what I would call ” zoning for reasons of security, sensitivity to the feelings of the victims of 9/11, common decency,and domestic peace.” The onus of proof is on the proponents of building the  mosque precisely at that point and not a few miles away.
 
Many experts believe that a 15-story-100 million dollar mosque (at odds with the beautiful tenet of Islam which is modesty) ,towering above other religions’ houses of worship in the heart of New York ,or even elsewhere, and funded by the most extremist ideologues of the Wahabi doctrine of Islam, is a high-security risk. They ,of course, rely on past performance. A former CIA operative and expert on terrorism sees it as “a magnet for militants,” a training ground for future agents of mischief, and a center for proselytizing.
 
But security is not the only concern for the opponents. Their cry of outrage is fueled by the arrogant insensitivity to the feelings of the families of the victims of 9/11 (including Muslims) and of the majority of Americans (recent poll shows 69 % opposed against 28 % approving.) This project is also fomenting confrontation and threatening domestic peace.
There seems to be an awakening of the masses, as opposed to the lethargy of the leaders, in other places, too. In Temecula, California. in Wisconsin, in Tennessee, we see the same opposition to building mosques, and in Germany, the authorities have just closed a mosque in Hamburg which was frequented by Mohammed Atta and his acolytes.
Many real moderate Muslims spoke out against the project which they see as an unnecessary provocation. One of them, a prominent woman, president of an Islamic organization, Raheel Raza, explained at length on TV why she opposed the project. Another Muslim woman, originally from Iran, Neda Belurchi, published an article in which she lamented the loss of her dear mother as a passenger in one of the planes destroyed  in nine-eleven. She called the proposed mosque “a symbol of victory for militant Islam.”
 
So why, one might ask, the insistence on building the mosque precisely at ground zero? Why did they reject a compromise solution by the Governor of New York who offered them another area that will not stir the enormous controversy? You, Fareed,  may be more familiar with a  view of Islam, that of South East Asia, which is very different from the Middle-East interpretation and implementation . The latter  is stricter and more fundamentalist and ideologist, especially the Wahabi kind. As you surely know, in the study of conflict resolution, we distinguish between “conflicts of interest,” readily amenable to compromise solutions acceptable to both sides, and “conflicts of ideology” that brook no compromise, especially if the ideology is of the religious kind and involves the “word of God,” or if one side demands the destruction of the other “before it can negotiate” as in the case of Hamas and Hizballah toward Israel.
 
Those who want to build the mosque at ground zero, and their financiers in the Middle-East, want to make a point: that a mammoth shrine of Islam towering above all other minuscule houses of worship of other faiths, in the heart of New York, in the heart of America,
with the mellifluous stentorian voice of the MUEZZIN resonating far away and calling the flock to prayers five times a day, with Allahu Akbar exclamations full of symbolism, is a vivid proof of  victory of fundamentalist and militant Islam (just as Belurchi said.)
This act of triumphalism is in keeping with medieval war and lore . It was the norm for the victors (not only Muslims) to erect their own house of worship on the ruins of their defeated enemies’ shrines. We can see many examples in Spain , or in Turkey such as the Hagia Sofia mosque in Istanbul which was a Byzantine church in Constantinople, or the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem built on the Jewish Temple Mount.

The 9/11 atrocities were seen by the perpetrators and their sponsors (to be sure, a minority, to be distinguished from real moderate Muslims, and certainly from Islam as a respectable religion no less than the others)

as a “victory.” They danced in the streets to celebrate it. For them, what better way to triumph than enshrine the place with the projected mammoth mosque?
Historically, triumphalism uses symbolism to enhance its effect: the selected title to the project, “The Cordoba initiative,” was intended as a reminder of the “Golden Age” in Muslim Spain where different religions lived in peace and harmony (which is true), but in the 11 th century,the Almohades invasion changed all that with its persecutions of Jews and Christians of whom many fled for their life (the most famous were the scholars Maimonides and Averroes.) It was reported , whether true or false, that the organizers of the project planned to inaugurate the mosque …on September 11 of next year “as an act of commemoration for the souls of the victims,” but many see that,if true, as adding insult to injury. A Muslim lady said on TV: “that is sticking it in your face.”
 
One may ask: ” If it is so bad, why have the mayor of New York and some elected officials, all Jews, thrown their hats in the arena  on the side of the promoters? The answer is simple: it is political correctness run amok. The Muslim ladies quoted above called them “bleeding-heart liberal elites.”

I dare to go farther: as an avowed foe of political correctness of any kind– I believe it is our collective enemy number one because it obscures the truth, and afflicts us with willful blindness, and the truth, for me, remains the supreme criterion for any judgment– I say with sadness that the Jewish leaders on the Left, in general, suffer from the Jewish disease of what I call “universalitis.” They can’t take their own side in a dispute, the others are always right. They speak in the abstract, on what should be rather than what is.  To parody a popular adage, they don’t see the log in the eye of the others but they see the straw in their eye.

They indulge in self-deluding pieties on liberty, rights, constitution, and they defend those who reject them violently. In the words of Lenin in another context (speaking of the Communists in the West) they are “useful idiots.” To the point that they even brave the 69 % and growing opponents among their constituents. I believe they will not be re-elected.

I also believe the mosque will not be built on ground zero. As for Obama, safely protected by those Jewish politicians, he has an uncanny ability to do things against the majority of the people’s wishes. And he, too, will pay politically.

 
Conclusion: As documented above, I do not see the controversy as “religious,” akin to the “disputations” in Spain and France during the Inquisition. It is not a matter of theology, on which religion is right. I see it as matter of security even more than sensitivity to the sufferers. Can you, or anyone of the defenders, declare with some degree of certitude, that a mosque of this magnitude in America does not present any danger to our security?  If not, it is irresponsible to let it happen. We should use common sense: “when in doubt, abstain !”  Use caution, be prudent.

Maybe we should prohibit all religions, for the sake of fairness, to limit their houses of worship to no more than  2-3 floors. We should “respect and suspect” everyone,and not endanger the security of all because of political correctness. And if it is difficult to decide, I suggest to use “Le Pari” (the Wager) of Blaise Pascal. He wrote :” Let us wager that God exists. If we are right, we gain eternity; if we are wrong, what did we lose, a few pleasures or sacrifices, nothing.”

  
Applied here, it will be: ” If we build such a mosque, we expose ourselves to a potential huge danger but if we don’t, we avoid such catastrophe even if  we will annoy some group by limiting their “rights.” For me, the choice is clear.
I hope you reconsider your position, and you will have the courage to proclaim it. Thank you for your attention.
Prof. Isaac Yetiv
La Jolla, CA

Iran and Syria say they’ll help Lebanon against Israel

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

DAMASCUS (WJC)–Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki  has met with Syrian President Bashar Assad here to discuss “the regional security threats posed by the Zionist regime” [Israel].

Referring to the deadly border skirmish last week, both men declared that they would support Lebanon against Israel’s “aggression”. Mottaki described Israel as “the source of insecurity and threat” in the Middle East . He also met with the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaleed Meshal, in Damascus.

Earlier, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr had lashed out at a decision by the chairman of a US Congressional committee to halt US$ 100 million in military aid for the Lebanese Army in the wake of last week’s clash with Israel, which according to the United Nations occurred on Israeli territory. A Lebanese Army sniper had opened fire on an Israeli officer involved in a brush-clearing operation. IDF troops responded, killing two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist.

On Monday, Howard Berman, the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had suspended US aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces on 2 August amid growing concern in Congress that American-supplied weapons could threaten Israel and that Hezbollah may have influence over the army.

“Whoever sets as a condition that the aid should not be used to protect Lebanon’s land, people and borders from the (Israeli) enemy can keep their money,” Murr told a news conference, adding: “Let them keep their money or give it to Israel. We will confront [Israel] with the capabilities we have.” The minister’s comments came after Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, said Tehran was ready to help the Lebanese Army. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slated to visit Beirut next month.

Meanwhile, a London-based Arab newspaper reported that France and the US had dissuaded Israel from opening a larger-scale military operation against Lebanon in response to the border incident. French sources told the paper that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had informed French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that Israel intended “to teach the Lebanese Army  a lesson and avenge the death of the senior Israeli officer.” This allegedly led to high-level interventions involving French President Nicolas Sarkozy, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Egyptian, Jordanian and other Arab state officials.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Commentary: Parallels between Johnson’s failed presidency and Obama’s.

August 11, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — There is a troubling item in the New York Times that describes “the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money.”

If the budget says spend $X on program Y, there is internal pressure to get it done. It is not so much a government giveaway as shoveling money out the door.

It reminds me of Community Action.

It may not have been the War on Poverty that ended the Johnson Administration, but it did not help. One can argue about which element of that presidency has contributed more to sully its reputation over the subsequent years.

One of the undisputed goods of that period are the social policies that have put the Obamas in the White House, and Black faces in corporate board rooms, university faculty offices, the staffs of distinguished hospitals and law firms, and in the roles representing those functions on popular television shows. Yet there remain the wreckages of Black lives and those of other minorities.
There are pictures circulating of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Detroit in 1945 and today that portray sparkling cityscapes in Japan and a wrecked Detroit
For those who don’t get the message, one of the items concludes with “What  has caused more long term destruction – the  A-bomb, or  U. S. Government welfare programs created to buy the votes of those who want someone to take care of them?”
 
Americans are a long way from knowing what they will gain and lose from the administration’s 2,000 page health reform, along with federal administrative rulings, state actions, as well as adjustments by insurance companies, HMOs, private physicians, and what the courts will say about the above.

The NYT has documented some of the unresolved questions of who will get what, at how much cost, and when will we finally know?
No one should accuse the NYT of being anti-social, anti-Democratic, or anti-Obama. However, it has reported about the continuing problems of a war that seems unwinable, as well as the follies in congressional/White House logrolling and public administration.
Americans may be seeing a repeat of the bad war and problematic social policy of the 1960s, this time in the presence of persistent unemployment, a large debt overhang, and all those tea parties.

Things are not looking any better in a region of the world claimed as a priority.
The Brookings Institution is reporting a poll of public opinion in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates, during the period of June 29–July 20, 2010. Among its findings:

“Early in the Obama administration, in April and May 2009, 51% of the respondents in the six countries expressed optimism about American policy in the Middle East. In the 2010 poll, only 16% were hopeful, while a majority – 63% – was discouraged.”
The Arab public also has not gotten the administration’s message about Iran. “In 2009, only 29% of those polled said that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be “positive” for the Middle East; in 2010, 57% of those polled indicate that such an outcome would be “positive” for the Middle East.” The governments in most of the countries surveyed have expressed strong opposition to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Go figure.
There has been a stability of feeling from 2008 to the present about the prospects of a lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians. Again, the signs do not give the American president what he wants. 50-55 percent feel it will never happen, and 27-40 percent say that it is inevitable, but will take more time.

The Palestinians have refused to begin direct negotiations with Israel, and the Israelis have refused any concessions without direct negotiations.
It is hard to blame either the the Palestinians or the Israelis for those postures. They both are reacting to political realities more than Americans and others still pushing for direct negotiations. Only the naive can expect something more positive than angry frustration to result for such talks in the presence of Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran, and Syria, plus a weak Palestinian Authority and a suspicious Israel.

The Americans may have to prepare themselves for a short presidency. We’ll get an some fresh tea leaves to read on November 2nd.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University