Archive for June, 2009

Bibi Tries To Slip Obama A Wooden Nickel

meDid Benyamin Netanyahu really take an important step forward by committing himself (sort of) to a two-state settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians? Don’t be silly. A Palestinian state that meets the conditions Bibi set -demilitarized, recognising Israel as a Jewish state and abandoning its claim on Jerusalem as its capital- would be a bantustan, not a truly independent entity. Still, so used have we become to hardline, ruthless Israeli behaviour that even this con trick is now being hailed in some western quarters as an encouraging sign that the peace process is once again a going concern. Don’t believe it; the Palestinians themselves aren’t fooled.

bibiWhat Netanyahu aimed to do was play for time. The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States must have sent a ripple of disquiet through Israel’s nationalist camp. Would the days of limitless, unquestioning American economic, political and military support come to an end? If so, what then? And there was Obama, quick off the mark, dropping all sorts of heavy hints about the desirability of a halt to the construction of further settlements and -from Israel’s point of view- hobnobbing far too chummily with the Arabs. After all, no guy with the middle name Hussein had ever been taken seriously by Netanyahu and suddenly there was one he couldn’t possibly ignore. Hell, this US administration might even stop routinely vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council! Other anxieties surfaced: America’s concern at Iran’s nuclear programme might, in time, be matched by a similar unease about Israel’s fully developed and ready-for-use nuclear arsenal. Face it: when the mushroom clouds billow upwards and humans die in their tens of thousands in the blinking of an eye, does it really matter whether the guy who dropped the bombs was wearing a white or a black hat?200px-OenEReuters

So Netanyahu’s subtext consisted of a message to Obama (‘seriously Mr. President, we want nothing more than to live in peace and security with our neighbours, but you’ll understand that we have legitimate concerns, the buggers want to kill us in our beds’) and one to his own political friends (‘don’t worry boys, we’ll drag this out for as long as we can -four years, or even eight- and hope for better times and a new George W. Bush’). His less subtle message to the Palestinians -unchanged from before- was: ‘up yours buddy’. 

So  if Barack Obama doesn’t want to become the next in a long line of US Presidents to be defeated by the sheer intractability of the Middle East problem, here’s what I think he should do. To the Palestinians he should pledge his full, unwavering support for a fully fledged independent state, with all the trappings of proud nationhood. These must include full territorial integrity, control of their borders, a viable econonomy and a modern national defence force. Equally full and unwavering should be his support of the Iraelis’ right to a state where they can live safely without fear of attack, where they can prosper and start the process of digesting, and ultimately filing away as history, the horrors of the past. The Holocaust lies 65 years behind us and, for that reason, should no longer play a part in driving Israeli policy. Whatever dangers Israel may face in the future, annihilation isn’t one of them.

But words are cheap and pledges of support in themselves will not bring a settlement an inch closer. Without an extra something from Washington, the immovable object and the irresistible force in the Middle East will continue to grind against each other and, at regular intervals, shed each other’s blood. That extra something should be a stern warning to both sides that, from now on, America’s support no longer comes without strings attached. Actually the Palestinians know this already, they’ve been given short shrift on many occasions; it’s Israel that has so far benefited from Washington’s blank cheques.  I feel that if Obama were to make clear to the protagonists that unreasonable intransigence and resorting to violence will forfeit US support and even lead to sanctions things might start moving in earnest. The removal of the word ‘unconditional’ from the language of Obama’s Middle East rhetoric will work wonders.

Something similar, of course, can be expected from this side of the Atlantic. The powerhouse that is the European Union has strong economic tools at its disposal. If the Palestinians won’t play ball, if the Israelis keep stalling, we’ll set Tony Blair on them. To you he may be a greedy, self-serving, sanctimonious squirt and utterly useless with it (I know he is to me) but in Jerusalem and Ramallah he commands great respect. Something to do with him being a recent convert to Catholicism, I believe.    Blair--29082

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Gordon Brown: Dead Man Walking

meI’m just back from Spain, where the winter was mild, sometimes a bit rainy but more often beautifully sunny. The fish was fresh, the wine fruity and the carpet of olive groves that covers much of Andalusia as lush and verdant as ever. For four blissful months, blogging was the farthest thing from my mind. Political upheavals, natural disasters, war and pestilence, even the start of Barack Obama’s presidency: what did I care, when there were going to be tapas variadas and a bottle of Rioja crianza for lunch?tapas_1 

Well, here I am in rain- and windswept Holland finding that, apart from a few familiar features such as a still biting economic crunch, fuel prices at the pump rising -but never falling- at triple the rate of a barrel of crude and a stifling fiscal climate that hits the worst off worst, quite a lot has changed. Not just in this country, but around the world. For one thing -and I believe this may have to do with the new US President’s penchant for straight, honest talking- openness and transparency in government are beginning to spread across the world like an oil slick. Nowhere is this trend more spectacularly on the move than in the United Kingdom. Gone are the days of’ ‘tradition, old boy’ , ‘mum’s the word’ and ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. The recent publication by the Daily Telegraph of details of how Westminster’s parliamentarians  fiddle their expenses has caused such an eruption of popular indignation and contempt that change -formerly avoided like the Black Plague in a country where even things that were seriously broke never got fixed- is now by general consent seen as the only way forward. And not just a bit of change, no tinkering with a few rules about how many toilet seats the taxpayer CAN be expected to fork out for, or strict minimum and maximum age limits for relatives one wishes to put on one’s payroll, no: a complete overhaul of the entire parliamentary system is in order, nothing less will do.                                                                                                                                                                          

I find all this wildly exciting. In a few short months the UK seems to have become ready to change from the most hidebound, backward-looking Punch-and-Judy show in the western world into something altogether new and untried: a transparent democracy where MP’s serve the voters rather than the other way around, where only truth is spoken at the despatch box, where grown men do no longer prance about in tights and silver-buckled shoes and where the expenses system will only compensate honourable members for costs incurred in the actual execution of their parliamentary work. Stationery, paper clips and Bic ballpoints, rather than plasma screen TV’s, duck sanctuaries, motor mowers and swimming pools, will henceforth exercise the minds of the good people in the Fees Office. In time, the pall of cynical profiteering will lift from the Palace of Westminster, to be replaced by the shining aura of selfless devotion to the nation’s good. I love it already. Other cash-guzzling, bone lazy, self-serving, pensioned-up-to-the-hilt parliamentarians of the western world: take note. You may well be next. My very personal message, as King of Rumania, to the boys and girls we employ in The Hague is ‘Repent! The Day Of Judgement Loometh!’ Or maybe it loometh not; the Dutch are so used to forking out over the odds that they’ve become indifferent to the bloodlettings they suffer on a regular basis.APTOPIX Britain World Cup Bid

In the UK meanwhile, with the doodah having hit the fan in earnest, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his government -for want of a better word- are staring into the abyss. Granted, the expenses scandal has tainted politicians of all major parties, but New Labour has the dubious honour of out-defrauding the competition by some distance. Not surprising, of course; the snooty Tories with their posh accents and estates in the country can afford to be casual about money. For their part, the woolly, goody-two-shoes Liberal Democrats (most of them anyway) have probity and thrift tattooed on their frontal lobes. But ever since, under that tireless promoter of Middle East peace, Tony Blair, the Labourites left behind their beer and sandwiches and headed for the champagne and caviar, the lust for easy cash has taken a firm hold on them. Money For Old Rope, whyever not? With Tony and Cherie showing how it’s done, cynical self-enrichment has taken over from class solidarity as the Holy Grail of Socialism, UK style.

Whether the British Labour Party will be willing (or able) to reclaim the hearts and minds of its former core supporters (the poor, the weak, the very young, the very old) remains to be seen. Abandoning greedy habits will not be easy, but a general purge of wrongdoers, followed by the imposition of a new, draconian expenses system will help. Still, that is not Gordon Brown’s only problem. Public outrage, now that it has flared up so searingly, will also turn on the failures of Labour in 12 years of power. Going to war on a lie is the worst, but by no means the only,  low point of the party’s disastrous stewardship of the nation. In last week’s local and EU elections, voters remembered with great clarity the selling off of the country’s gold reserves at the bottom of the market, the cynical -or rather: desperate- raid on pension funds, the insulting 75 pence a week increase for OAP’s, the soaring levels of national and personal debt, the  Millennium Dome disaster, the problems caused by unchecked immigration, the cavalier handling and subsequent loss of confidential data, a health system in crisis despite massive cash injections, embarrassing U-turns (most recently over the Gurkhas) and a record of chicanery and skulduggery of which the Medicis would have been proud. Result: electoral disaster now, with more mayhem at the polls to follow.cameron-interview2_1413270c

The funny thing is: ten, twelve years from now we’ll probably be saying much the same things about the New Conservatives.

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