Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When did the PA Prime Minister join the Likud?

Trying to appear "centrist" to hide his repugnance for more Annapolis-style peace talks, Bibi Netanyahu - odds on favorite to become prime minister - ushered in a steady crew of left-leaning has-beens (Dan Meridor) and never-weres (Uzi Dayan) to the Likud party. Voters, however, caste aside the pretenders, choosing a slate that may actually deliver on the Likud platform.

Perhaps Bibi should have tried to recruit less obvious candidates - such as PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whose recent op-ed in the Financial Times makes a strong case for implementing the Likud's ideas about "economic peace":

The Palestinian Authority remains steadfast in its peaceful pursuit of independence. Central to our approach is the idea that economic development is critical to the success of our state-building project...

Economic development is crucial to demonstrate to our people, particularly our youth, that diplomacy delivers what violence does not. Weariness with a seemingly endless peace process has caused many Palestinians to question the value of negotiations. Since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993, conditions have worsened for ordinary Palestinians.

A few days before Fayyad's piece appeared, Netanyahu published how own op-ed on the subject in the Chicago Tribune:

Palestinians have seen their everyday situation worsen. Many now believe that peace is beyond our grasp. I disagree. I believe that peace is possible, but achieving it requires a new approach.

Rather than building peace exclusively from the top down in political agreements, this new approach must also focus on building peace from the ground up with economic development.
From the looks of things, Bibi and his PA counterpart have quite a bit more in common than a strong dislike for Ehud Barak. They actually have a parallel vision for ending the conflict and improving the lot of the Palestinians. Maybe the doom-and-gloom prognosticators who worry that Bibi will shun the internationally-sanctioned "peace process" should pay more attention to what PA leaders say they really need.

In the meantime, Bibi should concentrate on pushing the real supporters of his policies - Fayyad, et al, to the front ranks of his party. I wonder what would happen if he offered Fayyad no. 20 on the Likud list....

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Is Fiction Really More True?

I recently finished reading James Frey's A Million Little Pieces - an amazing book permanently tarnished by the overblown controversy over its veracity. The book, published as a memoir of the author's recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, is set almost entirely in a rehab clinic, where the author makes friends, falls in love, and kicks his habits. It is a fascinating read, cover to cover, written with style in a voice that adds texture to the author's description of his experiences.

I first heard about the book when it was still considered a memoir. A friend who was studying addiction and recovery lent it to me as a case study just before the controversy broke. When I heard the book contained a good dose of fiction mixed in with the facts, I lost all interest and placed it on my shelf. It stayed there for two years. Finally, I was in the mood for a memoir and started reading it. But the controversy prevented me from suspending my disbelief. So I decided I would approach it as a novel, not as a memoir.

As soon as I did, something bewildering happened. The book began to pulse with Truth. It became the the most honest, forthright account of addiction and recovery I'd ever read. Instead of constantly questioning events that didn't ring true - such as the Novocaine-free dental surgeries - I couldn't get over how authentic the experience sounded. As I read, I kept thinking, "This guy MUST have gone through this to make it so vivid..."

As fiction, the book became truer than a memior. It no longer carried the burden of factual integrity. Instead of questioning various details, I marvelled at the book's authenticity.

I noticed a similar phenomon in a review of the Nanny Diaries published in the LA Times today.

The book was based on the experiences of its authors, child-psychology majors who put themselves through college working as nannies for the super rich of the Upper East Side, logging 30 such jobs between them. The characters of Nanny, Mr. and Mrs. X and 4-year-old Grayer may have been composites, but they were so dead-on they launched a thousand paranoid trips along Park

In other words, the characters weren't real. But they - and their world - were so authentic that people believed they were actually based on them. People recognized the essential truth in the characters and the setting without getting bogged down on the details that may have failed the
journalism fact test.

So maybe fiction is more real than fact. When it comes to reality, a little lie may actually be the biggest truth

Monday, April 16, 2007

Vonnegut on Wolfe

Kurt Vonnegut, one of my first favorite writers, died last Wednesday. That day, I happened to be reading a book about one of my more recent favorite writers, Tom Wolfe.

So, as a tribute to Vonnegut with a nod towards Wolfe, here is a review of Wolfe's first book Vonnegut published in the New York Times.

The conclusion: "Excellent book by a genius who will do anything to get attention."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Rocky" Marciano Remains Undefeated

Rocky Marciano made a miraculous return to the ring one last time to reclaim his heavyweight championship, winning a record 50th straight bout without a defeat last week in Herzliya...

Well, OK, it was actually a barroom brawl, and the fighter was MK Yoram "Rocky" Marciano - not the heavyweight champion who died in 1969. But it's easy to get the two confused these days. The real Rocky retired as the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history, winning all 49 of his fights, 43 by knockout. The Israeli "Rocky" took on a crew of security guards, pushing his record to 3-0 in one night, all by TKO.

The fight took place late Wednesday night. "Rocky" and his friends were drinking in a crowded pub, minding their own business. At about 1:30, the crew decided to leave, and went to the back door to exit discretely. But the security guards wouldn't let him out, insisting he leave through the front door like everyone else. Understandably, "Rocky" could barely contain his anger. After than, accounts vary, but all agree that punches were thrown.

By all accounts, "Rocky" made an impressive showing. "He went wild and started yelling, saying, 'A public official must not be assaulted like this, people should learn that a public official should be treated nicely," a witness told Yediot Aharonot after the fight. But no one denied he handled the three security guards singlehandedly.

Some witnesses even suggested "Rocky" was channeling the former champ - possibly the greatest fighter in boxing history. This is how Haaretz described the incident: "Marciano shoved the guard, and the guard shoved back. The MK pulled out his Knesset pass and repeated his demand to be allowed out, but the guard again refused and summoned his superior."

Outnumbered and outgunned, "Rocky" emerged the clear winner: "When this man arrived, however, Marciano shoved him, and also threatened, cursed and spit at him, the source said. At that point, both sides called the police" - to stop the fight, no doubt. It was the bar fight equivalent to throwing in the towel.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Chaos and It's Discontents

For the past few months, I've been learning Hebrew in a small group setting. The class usually starts with one of the students speaking about something interesting that happened the previous week. Yesterday - the last day of the class - only two of us showed up, so it was mostly a dialogue between us, with the teacher correcting us every now and then.

The topic of the conversation was an Israeli-Palestinian encounter shabbaton the other guy recently attended. It was held in Beit Jala, which I guess is a place both sides could reach relatively easily. Apparently, there were participants from all over, including Gaza, Ramallah, and Sderot. The guy is genuinely pro-Israel but also extremely tolerant, with a strong interest in inter-faith and inter-cultural activities. I'm always interested in hearing his impression of these types of events.

The encounter went well, he said. All of the participants managed to express their feelings about what was happening without stirring any conflict. However, he said he was often frustrated during these events because too little is done to challenge the prevailing mindset on both sides - the Palestinians all think Israel is responsible for everything bad in the world (or at least in their world) and too many of the Israelis go along with this passively, and even apologetically, as if Israel alone is responsible for all the check-points and the border closures.

As I listened to his story, I experienced a strange feeling. On the one hand, I wished I were there at the Shabbaton in order to challenge people when they said things I would find simply wrong. For example, one of the participants promoted the idea that Israel should remove the checkpoints because there aren't any more terrorist attacks. I read about attempted suicide bombings every week, and I'm sure the checkpoints make it harder, so I think it's cheap talk for Palestinians to demand we take greater risks for their benefit. The Palestinians may be right to complain about checkpoints, but the complaint should be directed the other way, at the Palestinians responsible for making us feel that we need more security.

But on the other hand, as the conversation continued, I realized the problem was much, much deeper than I was making it out to be. During the Shabbaton, someone raised the point that there was no viable Palestinian peace movement. One of the Palestinians said there was no movement because the pro-peace viewpoint was strongly suppressed and those who attempt to hold peace rallies were threatened and intimidated, and sometimes even beaten.

After hearing all of this, I started to reframe the problem in my head. Maybe much of the problem stems from the fact that there is no protected freedom of expression in the Palestinian territories. Or that there is no real rule of law. If people cannot rally for peace, what chance is there that the idea will gain any traction?

I don't have any solutions. But I've known for quite some time that the conflict won't end until there is a genuine change on the Palestinian side. Israel can do everything on earth for peace, and it won't be enough without substantial change in the Palestinians. That change won't come easily. But part of the answer, I think, has to address the difficulties encountered by those who want to make it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Someone should write a song about this

Thursday, February 01, 2007

"Slim" Shkedy: Next War May Be in Space

I remember when Prince's "1999" had apocalyptic undertones. Now it's the theme for a retro party.

We've definitely entered the Jetsons Era for good. First there were those 3rd generation cell phones that let you see the person on the other side. Now, I find out that Israel is preparing to fight in space.

Israeli Air Force Commander Elazar "Slim" Shkedy told the second Ilan Ramon Annual International Space Conference in Herzliya that China's missile test, which successfully brought down one of its own satellites two weeks ago, has ushered in a new Star Wars era. Israel must make immediate plans to protect its space assets against attacks.

"Battle in space is on our agenda, whether we want it there or not,” Shkedy said. “Within five to 10 years this will sadly be very relevant. There may be those who would seek to harm our forces in space, as they would our forces on land and at sea. We could face this reality in a high-intensity conflict in the future."

Forces in space? High-intensity conflict? Turns out, the Israeli Air Force changed its name last year. It's now called The Israel Air and Space Command.

As far as I knew, Israel had one little satellite in space that moved so slowly, it could only manage a single photograph of Iran's nuclear facilities every four days. Shkedy makes it sound like we have whole battalions up there building a Death Star. We can't stop Kassam rockets, but we're preparing to battle Imperial fighters traveling at warp speed?

Well, it turns out Israel spends $50 million a year on its "space program." And the Space Command is working on creating "sophisticated ground-based and airborne laser systems." I think it's time to appoint George Lukas as the new Defense Minister. At least he understands this stuff. Just don't let him write any more movies. Another boring Star Wars film could start a world war.