Monday, August 31, 2009

Extremists of the center

As Jews we have nowhere to go, neither "right" nor "left" in the conventional political sense. The extreme right in the western world is anti-Semitic and the extreme left is anti-Israel, as a cover for it's anti-Semitism. So we Jews are stuck in the middle.
As an example, the Scandinavians, who have been projected as progressive and model liberals, currently have a "blood libel" that has been published by the Aftenposten newspaper in Stockholm. This claims that IDF soldiers deliberately killed Palestinians to harvest their organs for transplant. This is a gross slur, and even the author of the article and the editor of the newspaper in separate interviews agreed that there was no actual evidence for this claim. But, the situation has become so severe that journalists of the left think that it is justifiable to publish invented and anti-Semitic articles as long as they are anti-Israel. In fact, this same claim was published previously in 2001 but was never substantiated. Also, a Palestinian who was quoted as supporting this claim, when interviewed by the Jerusalem Post denied that he ever said this. So we are left with letist media making up a blood libel against Jews in order to fuel their anti-Israel bias. The left and the right meet.
The Israeli Government has asked the Swedish Government to reject this abominable lie, but the Swedish PM and FM have denied this request and claimed that they cannot do anything since Sweden is a free country with laws that protect freedom of expression (it also has a large Muslim minority). In other articles, the backgound of anti-Semitism in Sweden has been exposed, including the reluctance to take Jewish refugees during WWII, allowing armed German troops to cross Swedish territory to enter Norway (a break of neutrality) and supplying iron ore to Nazi Germany, so that they could build guns and railway carriages to transport Jews to their deaths.
Within Israel there is a conventional division of politics between right and left, but the responsible left in Israel often finds itself rejected by the European and international left because they are of course Jews and Israelis. And the right in Israel cannot make common cause with European right wing parties that are racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel (they might also be anti-Muslim). Those who reject Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, such as the film maker who withdrew from the Toronto film festival because it celebrates 100 years of Tel Aviv (but doesn't mention the "suffering" of the Palestinians in Gaza!), find no sympathy for any Jew of Israel.
So we are doomed to be extremists of the center, determined to survive despite the best efforts of the fascist Islamists, the fascist Europeans, the extreme left and the "progressive" left.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"No god but God"

During my vacation I read "No god but God," by Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American scholar of Islam.. This is a very detailed account in a secular format of the history of Mohammed and his teachings, the development of the Koran and the schisms that beset the movement of Islam from the beginning.
Certain topics stand out for me. For example, according to Aslan, Mohammed's main motivations for preaching against the rulers of Mecca, the Quraysh tribe, was that they cruelly exploited their economic dominance over other tribes in Mecca, and that they allowed idols to be housed inside the Kaba, the great black stone cube that was and still is the center of Arab veneration. Because Mohammed's quarrels with the Quraysh became so heated he was forced to leave Mecca for Medina, then called Yathrib, and this is counted as the beginning of Islam in 622 ce. It was there that he set up his model community and forged his new religion. When he returned to Mecca with an army in 630 ce it capitulated to his forces, and he captured the Kaba and destroyed the idols, but he did not destroy the Kaba itself. It is still a focal point for all pilgrimages (hajj) to Mecca.
It is acknowledged that Mohammed approved the murder of the Jewish clan of Qurayza in Medina (not to be confused with the Quraysh of Mecca). This is taken as evidence of Mohammed's anti-Jewish proclivities. But, Aslan argues a more balanced vewpoint. Specifically: 1. The "Jewish tribes" of Yathrib/Medina were converts to Judaism, they were not originally Jews but Arabs, and their adherance to Judaism was superficial; 2. Mohammed had personally pardoned two other Jewish clans who refused to join his band, and had allowed them to leave Yathrib with all their belongings to settle elsewhere; 3. Mohammed gave in to the entreaties of his followers in accepting the killing of the Qurayza (600 men and boys) rather than making the decision himself, and in doing so they were treated as they treated other Arab clans who fought them and lost.
The schism over the succession to Mohammed resulted partly because Mohammed gave no indication of his preference when he died in 632 ce. When his grandson Ali was passed over, this lead to the split of the Shia from the Caliphate of the Sunnis, a division that was finalized at the battle of Karbala in 680 ce when the natural heirs to Ali were murdered. By then there had been four Caliphs and their power had expanded out of all proportion to the beginnings of Islam in Mecca. This is much like the power of Byzantium and Rome that had little connection to the origins of the humble Jewish carpenter's son from Bethlehem. These wars of succession and doctrinal splits are symptomatic of all successful/powerful religions.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Temporary settlement freeze?

Reports indicate that Israeli PM Netanyahu and US Middle East envoy Mitchell meeting yesterday in London agreed on a formula for a temporary settlement freeze to last 6-9 months. This would be contingent upon Pres Abbas of the PA agreeing to restart peace negotiations and the rest of the Arab world agreeing to some form of normalization with Israel, either reopening of missions in Morocco, Qatar and Oman or some form of response from Saudi Arabia.
Although the chances of any real progress in these talks is considered minimal, in view of the intransigence of The Palestinains on Jerusalem and the claim of Palestinian refugee's "right of return" to Israel, nevertheless it is thought that both Pres. Obama and PM Netanyahu want some indication of movement. Pres. Obama in order to show that his Administration is successful in this difficult foreign policy area, and PM Netanyahu in order to remove the distraction of the Palestinian issue from what he considers the more pressing task of dealing with Iran.
In order to get the European allies and the US to take the Iranian issue more seriously Netanyahu is prepared to give Obama the gift of a temporary settlement building freeze on theWest Bank, that could have negative domestic political consequences for him. Already there are reports of Likud protests agasint any such freeze. However, his current trip to Europe and his main policy focus is on Iran, and he apparently hopes that some movement with the Palestinians will give Obama enough to allow him to show more support against Iran. If Obama takes the "gift" of the temporary settlement freeze and does nothing with it, in relation to the Arab side, then Netanyahu will end the freeze.
If one were to be more cynical, this time line might mean that Netanyahu is giving Obama 6-9 months to do something serious about introducing harsh sanctions against Iran over its nuclear weapons program. If such sanctions are not implemented within that time or do not have the desired effect, then Netanyahu may decide that the military option is the only path left open to deal with such a direct threat to Israel's existence within that period.

God or chance?

Einstein is often quoted as saying that "God wouldn't play dice with the universe." This is interpreted as belief in God by the greatest scientist that ever lived. But, there is a lot more behind this quote than usually realized.
Having just finished reading Walter Isaacson's definitive biography of Einstein, I learnt that although Einstein was the first person to prove that light is emitted in quanta, discrete units of light energy rather than as a continuous emission, a discovery for which he received the Nobel Prize, for most of his later life he tried to disprove the quantum theory. This was because quantum theory depends on probability rather than a classical view of the universe. Ironically Einstein, who overturned the classical Newtonian view of gravity, had the rather quaint belief, or bias, that all physical laws should be simple and easily expressed in mathematical terms. Probability, such as the distribution of electrons in space, as envisaged by Niels Bohr in his view of the atom, disturbed his preconceptions, and so he tried to disprove this theory. He was uncomfortable with the uncertainty principle formulated by Walther Heisenberg, a former student of Niels Bohr, who was a Nazi and the head of the German nuclear project during WWII. However, as time went on the evidence for quantum theory increased and Einstein was proved wrong. So that in fact the universe is based on probability, and so Einstein's statement is incorrect, if God existed he would indeed play dice with the universe.
Let me give some examples, it is often said that a person's heart will beat a certain predetermined number of times and then they will die. This is nonsense, probability or chance play a vital role. For example, take my case, I had tachycardia, a common condition in which the heart races. There was no way to predict when or how these palpitations would start or stop, it was based on chance. Also, I had a medical ablation to burn the nerve node in the heart that caused these palpitations. This would not have been possible several years ago, but is now routine. Once the procedure has been done successfully, the heart no longer races. Does any rational person believe that these incidents of tachycardia and its elimination were based on anything but chance, certainly not on the intervention of God.
Another example, Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica. Several years before he was born the island was transferred from Italy to France. Therefore, Napoleon grew up speaking French and when he was a young man he moved to Paris. If the island had not been taken over by France, he would have spoken Italian and have gone to Rome, and history as we know it would have been quite different.
So the fact is that chance does play a huge role in the workings of the universe, from the level of the atom to the human sphere. We meet someone and pair off, but who knows if that person is the "bashert," or we happen to walk down a street where two rival gangs are firing at each other and get hit by a stray bullet, or an engine falls off a plane because a mechanic failed to tighten a screw and it hits your house. Chance or God? I leave it to you to make your own choice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fayyad''s plan

In what may be a novel departure for the Palestinians, PM Fayyad of the PA announced on Tuesday his Plan for peace that calls for building a Palestinian State rather than destroying the Jewish one. As a pragmatist and moderate, Fayyad avoided strident calls for the destruction of Israel or "armed conflict," but focused instead on the need for the Palestinians to build a State infrastructure and develop a transparent economy.
This approach is not entirely novel and has been called for by Quartet representative Tony Blair, as well as Pres Obama and PM Netanyahu. Since Fayyad is not a member of Fatah he is able to avoid the extremist rhetoric that was a feature of the recent Fatah Conference in Bethlehem, where the "old guard" and the "young guard" tried to outdo each other in their commitment to the former policies of Yasir Arafat and the PLO.
Fayyad seems able to circumvent such retrogressive nonsense and focus on the practical needs if the Palestinians are ever to actually have a State of their own. He emphasized that he intends to establish a State in two years irrespective of what happens to the so-called peace process and negotiations with Israel. In Palestinian parlance he stated that he will do away with the "occupation," whether Israel agrees or not, but he emphasized by "peaceful" means.
Note that Israel had all the organizations and structures required for a state to function prior to the actual establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, while the Palestinians have focussed for the past 60 years on trying to destroy Israel rather than building their own State structures. But, let's face it, a Palestinian State is not viable without Israel. Most of its economy goes through Israel, and it could not exist or function without Israeli agreement. Also, by way of international agreements, that the Palestinains regularly break, according to the Oslo Accords and the Road Map, no Palestinian State can be established without recognition by Israel, the US and the international community.. Nevertheless Fayyad's statement is a positive step and a hopeful sign.
But, you may not have heard about Fayyad's plan, since his press conference was not given extensive coverage, not even by Palestine TV. It turns out that Palestine TV is run by a Fatah loyalist, Muhammad Dahoudi, who failed to hype it. This infuriated Yasser Abed Rabo, the PA Minister in charge of media, so he fired Dahoudi. But, Dahoudi refuses to accept this decision, and since a previous incident of this kind lead to actual shooting between two groups of gunmen, this incident may yet cause another intra-Palestinian war.
Why has Fayyad come out with this "plan" now? Mainly because elections are supposed to be held in the PA next December, and he probably wants to run for President in place of Mahmud Abbas. Also, Pres. Obama is supposed to be presenting his own peace plan at the annual UN meeting in September, and both Fayyad and PM Netanyahu are scrambling to be ready for it.
Netanyahu is in Britain meeting PM Gordon Brown and US rep John Mitchell, and from there he goes to Germany to meet Angela Merkel. There are two items on his agenda, firstly to call for more severe sanctions against Iran, and second to defend Israel's right to continue to have "natural growth" of established settlements, while not developing new ones or taking any Palestinian land. He also defended Israel's position that Jeruslaem is Israel's capital and no part of it is a "settlement" and Israel has never and will never agree to any infringement of its sovereignty in Jerusalem.
So the question arises, will the international community bring stronger sanctions on Iran before Israel feels it must stop their development of nuclear weapons by military means, or will a new approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict bring progress in the not-too-distant future as Obama hopes? My betting is on the former rather than the latter, for two reasons; first Iran will never give up its rush to develop nuclear weapons and thus become the hegemonic power in the Middle East. Second, because Obama has had no positive response from the Arab States to his initiatives and Fayyad will never be able to drag the whole of Fatah and Hamas based politics of the Palestinians with him into a peaceful future.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jack's travel tips

I'm back! We are home safely after a wonderful holiday in Italy, where we shared an apartment for a week with our two kids and their families in Florence and then spent a week by ourselves in Sorrento.
This was a great experience and an amazing vacation. Since we had been to Florence a few years ago we know it quite well and so we were happy to find a large apartment to accomodate 10 people (6 adults, four children) in the center of Florence, within 10 min walking distance of all the main sites (Piazza del Signoria, Duomo, San Croce and the Synagogue). This apt. was on two levels and was on the top floors of a large building with a supermarket on the ground floor. It was also close to the Chabad House and a supermarket with some kosher food as well as a vegetable/fruit market. Fortunately there was no problem between our reform and orthodox families regarding kashrut.
Since we had been to all the main galleries before, we tended to take it easy while the families went to the Uffizi and the Accademia (they are so crowded) and then we all went on a day outing to Siena and St. Gimigiano (with the famous high rises).
The apt. was perfect of its kind, furnished in typical Italian fashion, with large couches, many paintings on the walls, and a great view of the Duomo. There was a toilet/shower with each of the four bedrooms and the two boys slept on the couch or mattresses on the floor. However, although it had air conditioning, the power was not enough to keep the 7 air conditioners running full blast all the time. Every time the power went out someone had to go down by elevator five floors to turn the power switch (fuse) back on. We complained about this, but there was nothing to be done except turn several air conditioners lower or off.
After spending time with all the family we went down to Sorrento, where we stayed in a wonderful hotel, with an excellent breakfast, and each day we went somewhere, to Pompeii, Capri (by boat), Amalfi (what a drive!), Herculaneum and Naples. I won't bother you with all the details, but here are some observations on travel, in no particular order.
1. Never change a reservation within a month of a vacation: When we arrived at Naples airport, I was told that my reservation for a rental car had been cancelled! What had happened is that the travel agent had ordered a manual (stick-shift) car, and I asked her to change it to automatic. It seems that you can't simply change a reservation, it had to be cancelled, but no new one was substituted in time. Luckily they had the exact car that I requested, and I was able to pay with my credit card. Later I sent an e-mail to the travel agent and she got them to issue a new invoice and all was well.
2. If your luggage is damaged, complain immediately: Our luggage did not arrive on our flight from Rome to Florence, but arrived later. In order to make sure that we actually got it, we went to the airport and picked it up ourselves. We noted that the top pocket of our large suitcase was torn away and the handle mechanism was broken. But, we were so glad to get the luggage and didn't want to spend more precious vacation time standing on line, that we took it. Later when we complained they told us that since we did not make a complaint when we received it, it was too late. One helpful attendent told us simply to make a complaint when we arrived at our final destination. We did this and they issued a complaint voucher very efficiently at BG airport.
3. Dept. of specialized information: I know the exact location of every gelleteria in Sorrento. If anyone wants a recommendation try "Bougainvillea" on Corso d'Italia.
4. Necessities: Always travel with the two main necessities, water and chocolate. It was tremendously hot in Italy in August (90-100 deg F) and touring historic sites was draining. It helps to have an umbrella for the sun and an insulated water bottle holder (we forgot ours!). We also found that lemon soda was the best thirst quencher.
5. Beware thiefs: We met two Australians who had been victims of theft. One man was taking the train and was helped with his luggage by what he supposed was a porter. On the train two women were helpful in getting his luggage on the rack, and he thanked them. When the train left he noticed that they were not there and the zips on his fanny pack were open and that his wallet was gone with $800. He realized that the "porter" had steered him to the women who were waiting there, one unzipped the zips and the other extracted the wallet. Luckily he had his passport and a single credit card elsewhere. Another lady decided to put her video camera, her still camera and her cell phone together in a bag so that she could keep an eye on them. She sat down and was in conversation when they vanished. Moral of of this story, disperse your assets, it makes it harder for the thief. Also, try not to be Australian.
6. Searching for Caravaggio: I had decided to seek out paintings by Caravaggio. As some of you may know he was a violent drunkard and got into many brawls and was often arrested. So it is surprising that he managed to complete the 74 paintings attributed to him. He was forced to flee Rome in 1606 after being accused of homosexualty and murder. He spent some years in Naples where he painted several masterpieces, but was then forced to flee to Malta and subsequently again to Sicily. He returned to Naples in 1610 where he was stabbed by the brother of a former victim. He escaped again, but was so badly wounded that he was left to die on a beach at the age of 37. I read up on him and found that there were some paintings by him in Naples. We drove to what was the Museum of Fine arts on our map, but it was in fact the National Archeological Museum, with the remains taken from Pompeii and Herculaneum (well worth seeing), but no Caravaggios. So the next time we went into Naples on our last Sunday we tried the Castel Nuevo (closed ), then the Royal Palace (no Caravaggios), but a helpful docent told us to go to the Museum Pio Monte della Misericordia on Via Tribunali where there was the largest collection of Caravaggios in Naples. On the map this looks like a major road, but it was in fact a very narrow one way lane. By the time we arrived and managed to park, it was 2.20 pm, the museum closed normally at 2.30 pm, but on Sunday at 2 pm! Result, no Caravaggios. Maybe next time, now that I've done the research. By the way, someone has already written a book about searching for Caravaggio's paintings.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Now for something completely different. I am half way through
reading "Einstein" by Walter Isaacson. At this point I should understand
relativity, although I'm not sure. Here goes: according to my
understanding of special relativity, since a measurement of distance
cannot be made outside time and measurement of time cannot be made
outside space, then all such measurements are relative and there are no
absolute scales of distance or time. In fact, the three dimensions of
space and one of time are not independent and are combined into a four-
dimensional continuum called space-time. Since there are no absolute
measures of time, as for instance imagined in classical Newtonian
physics, there can be no universal clock with a time that started at zero
as there can be no origin of the universe with a distance set to zero.
Therefore, as some friends and I postulated in 1958 when visiting
Brussels for the Exposition (but being poor students we did not have
enough money for the entrance fee) we concluded that this means that
there could be no creation beginning at time zero and point zero (we
dubbed this the "Brussels expostulation").
But, we know now that there was a "big bang." In the 1960s, Arno Penzias
and Robert Wilson measured radiation that could only be explained by such
a cataclysmic explosion at the origin of the universe. Then several
people, including Stephen Hawking, made calculations to show that
Einstein's theory of relativity was consistent with an expanding
universe. In fact, Einstein had realized this in his general theory of
relativity, that included gravity, and had devised a so-
called "cosmological constant" that was included in his equations to keep
the universe static, or balanced, since it was not then realized that the
universe is in fact expanding. Once this was discovered in 1929 by
Edward Hubble the need for such a cosmological constant seemed
unnecessary. However, later theorists have used this constant to show
that the universe is in fact delicately balanced.
So my point is that there seems to be an apparent paradox, according to
the theories of relativity on the one hand there can be no creation point
when the time was zero, but on the other hand there was a big bang and
this fits with the expanding universe. Can any physicist out there
explain this apparent contradiction to me, or am I missing something

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Violence in Israel

Those who are familiar with my messages know that I don't just paint a
rosy picture of Israel. Certainly Israel has more than enough
detractors, and in my opinion in the political sphere Israel is much more
sinned against than sinning. But, while life in Israel in general is
fine, nevertheless there are certain violent events that bear recording.
Many of you will have heard about the shooting at the gay youth center in
Tel Aviv two nights ago. A masked man walked into the center (where was
the guard?) and started shooting, then he left and walked away. He
killed two people, a youth director aged 26 and a girl aged 17, and
injured 10, two of them seriously. The police are searching for him. He
was not dressed in any distinctive way and there are no obvious clues to
his identity. The most popular explanation is that he is a homophobe,
but that is speculation. Generally Tel Aviv has a very tolerant, liberal
atmosphere where gays have been widely accepted. This killing has cast a
pall over this prevalent attitude. The PM has condemned the killing in
the Cabinet and said that the killer "will be prosecuted to the full
extent of the law."
Meanwhile the rioting of haredi men in Jerusalem on shabbat continues
over the opening of the Carta garage to accomodate visitors. Many
orthodox and haredim view this rioting on the sabbath as sacrilegious,
but nevertheless, without specific orders to stop from their rabbis, they
continue. The police keep arresting them to keep the garage open, but
they think they are doing God's work.
Another group of protestors are the Palestinian Arabs who protest each
weekend at the security wall in Bi'ilin near Jerusalem, and they are
joined by an unholy alliance of leftist Israelis and foreign visitors.
This event has become popular with the chic left set, and it has become
de rigeur for young people to include it on their tourist itineraries.
Within Israel, there was a bombing in Petach Tikva that turned out to be
a feud over sales of marble slabs (for kitchens) in the city! Ther are
also cases of child abuse and non-violent crimes that would take another
page to discuss.
Perhaps all this proves that Zionism has been successful, we have become
a "normal" country like all others.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Fatah Conference

The Sixth General Conference of Fatah is due to start in Bethlehem on
Tuesday after a break of 20 years. There will be 2,260 delegates from
several Arab countries, including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, and
of course from the West Bank (PA) and even some from Gaza. Hamas refused
to allow Fatah representatives from Gaza to leave unless Hamas members
were released from Fatah-controlled prisons in the West Bank.
Nevertheless, some 60 Fatah representatives managed to elude the border
guards and entered in disguise or in drag. Israel also aloowed delegates
to enter although entry was refused to a few hardened terrorists.
The main aims of the conference is to elect a new Central Committee of 21
members and a new Revolutionary Council of 120 members. This conference
was called after pressure from the so-called "young guard" of the party,
who had been complaining for years that the "old guard", namely those who
run the party and who were colleagues of Yasir Arafat, have prevented any
change within Fatah for 20 years.
However, according to veteran Palestinian correspondent of the Jerusalem
Post, Khaled abu Toameh, writing on Sunday, the "old guard" still want to
keep the young reps out of the Fatah leadership. In order to do so they
are using the millions of dollars they stole from the aid that was
supposed to be paid to the Palestinian people. In effect they don't want
to be prevented from continuing to control the source of funds to the
people they are supposed to support. Since Pres. Abbas and his cronies
appointed more than half the reps, there is considered to be little
chance that the sweeping changes demanded after the electoral defeat of
Fatah by Hamas in the PA 2006 parliamentary elections are likely to take
One very disturbing feature of the conference is that they will discuss
the status of the "peace process" with Israel and decide on a
new "political plan." A draft of that plan leaked in advance over the
weekend to Arab media indicates that the Fatah conference will reiterate
Fatah's commitment to the "armed struggle" against Israel as one of the
options to achieve an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its
capital. Fatah, according to the reports, is also expected to
reemphasize its opposition to Israel's demand that it be recognized as a
Jewish state. The draft plan calls for the Palestinians to unilaterally
declare an independent Palestinian state on all the territories that were
captured by Israel in 1967 if the peace talks fail. This situation is
very unfortunate, since it represents a step backwards from the previous
position in which Pres. Abbas of the PA was negotiating with PM Ehud
Olmert under the terms of the Bush "Road Map" Plan.
There are two reasons why this hardening of positions has occurred, first
whenever Palestinians get together to publicly discuss their positions,
it is always the harder line which is always adoped, since no leader can
afford to be considered "soft" on Israel. Second, Pres. Obama has been
pressuring Israel to accept a "freeze" on all settlement activity in the
West Bank and Jerusalem. Since this is the Fatah position, then why
should they negotiate over this issue when the Americans are pressuring
Israel to adopt this position as a precondition to continued talks. In
fact, with the recent rejection by Saudi Arabia of any reciprocal
concessions to Israel, that means in effect that a stalemate now reigns
in Israel-Arab relations, and this Fatah conference is only likely to
confirm that situation.
The results of the conference, presaging both a retrenchment of the "old
guard" and a hardening of attitudes, is likely to be the cause of
instability and conflict for years to come.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

No, again!

The answer was not slow in coming. After the weeks of putting inordinate
pressure on Israel regarding a freeze on all construction in the West
Bank, and receiving the response from the Netanyahu Government that no
such freeze would be imposed without a commitment of a serious response
forthcoming from the Arab side, today (Saturday) the Saudi Arabian
Government gave it's considered response, "NO!"
There will be no Arab gestures towards Israel in any way until Israel
first withdraws from all the "occupied territory" according to the
Saudi "Peace plan," the Saudi FM Prince Saud al-Faisal announced at a
press conference with Secty of State Clinton in Washington today. Not
only does this intransigence make a mockery of any conceivable point to
Israel making any concessions, but it leaves the basis of the supposed
Obama strategy in ruins.
Even though embarrassed by this clear rejection Clinton tried to downplay
the disaster. Prince Saud siad "what is needed is a comprehensive
approach that defiens the final outcome before at the outset." If the
final outcome is known in advance then why have negotiations at all?
Obama's approach was based on the assumption that by placating the Arabs,
by making his conciliatory speech from Cairo, by overtly putting pressure
on Israel, his Administration would be uniquely rewarded by some sign of
compromise from the Arab side. But, as I and many others predicted, this
strategy, that has been tried before (Carter, Kissinger, Clinton), would
fail again. Whether or not the Arabs believe that they have a God-given
right to the territories or whether or not various Israeli groups believe
the same, the fact is that no progress can be made until both sides are
prepared to compromise. Since the Arab side is unprepared to do this,
there is no point in Israel making dangerous one-sided concessions.
One aspect of the Obama approach (one could hardly call it a "plan') is
that because of the threat of Iran looming large, the so-
called "moderate" Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, would be
more inclined to make concessions. The idea was that if this would be
the case then a deal could be made for Israeli plans to attack Iran in
case the sanctions don't work, in exchange for an Arab agreement not to
interfere and to let the IAF over-fly their territories. But, the usual
fear of any compromise with the "Zionist entity"by the ultra-conservative
Saudi regime has trumped that weak argument.
The question now is whether out of lack of any other plan the Obama
Administration will continue limping on its path to pressure Israel, or
whether they might actually come up with an improved plan that takes
account of the actual situation, namely that Arab intransigence and
division is what prevents any progress towards peace.