Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Israeli elections and Middle East peace

The Israelis have gone to the polls to elect their new government. The main issue appears to be security. But there are other issues like the economy and education. For the outside world, what matters is how Israel can be a genuine peace partner in the volatile region of the Middle East that has been regularly going from one crisis to another.

Israel can pride itself on being the most democratic country in the Middle East, but so far it has failed to grant the Palestinians an independent state and to reach a settlement with Syria over the Golan Heights. These are some of the reasons why it has many enemies in the Muslim and the Arab worlds.
There are many questions that should be answered:

1- Can Israel survive without its close alliance with the United States from which it gets the most militarily and financial support?
2- How serious is Israel about an independent Palestinian State?
3- Does it envisage sharing Jerusalem with an independent Palestinian State?
4- Concerning water, how can it be a source of tension between Israel and Jordan?
5- How deeply is Israel affected by the current financial crisis?
6- How Judaism is still important in Israeli society. Is it drifting to more secularism?

There are some who argue that Israel is the 51st state of the USA in view of the huge military, diplomatic and economic support it gets from it. The Israelis may be complacent about the living and democratic standards they’re living. They may view their political leaders as the same despite the political parties they stand for.

Perhaps, the Israeli leaders are good at making wars against their enemies inside and outside Israel as their war machine is the most powerful in the region. But they are also shrewd politicians when it comes to negotiations with the Palestinians. As long as the Israeli politicians become united when it comes to wars, the daily running of the country is left to take care of itself regardless of which party is in power.

Despite the apparent apathy on the part of the Israeli voters, Israel can survive only through democracy. Without it, the differences between politicians can generate into violent political and social instability, a situation Israel can’t afford if it wants to survive in a volatile regions where the “paws” of many countries and political movements are directed against it.

However, Israel should be democratic towards the Palestinians living within Israel or in the Palestinian territories, many of whom pay dearly because of its differences with their political leaders. The recent events in Gaza - military assaults and blockades by Israel- are a case in point.

The Palestinian issue is a strong card in the hands of Israeli politicians with which they can sway the voters and appeal to their nationalism. No Israeli politician seems ready to risk his/her political future by going beyond asserting the need for peace with the Palestinians and the Arab countries. As for territorial matters, there can be signing of agreements, like the 1994 Oslo accord, which fall short of being implemented because of lack of mutual trust.

Perhaps for the Israelis, delaying any compromise is an opportunity to give nothing and to maintain negotiations at the staring point despite the apparent rounds of talks that have been going for years.

It’s no wonder that the public inside and outside Israel have grown sceptical of any settlement between the Israelis and their opponents in the Arab world as each side portrays the other as uncompromising and offering very little to get too much. Maintaining one’s ground is the best mean for attack and offence. For how long will this continue? Only the politicians- from all sides - who hide their cards can decide.

Not reaching a compromise about standing issues concerning the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and an independent Palestinian state will maintain Israel in a perpetual state of war. Its very existence will depend not just on having a strong economy but also the strongest army in the region.

In the Arab world, Israel has so far direct diplomatic relations just with Egypt and Jordan which are subjects to ups and downs because of the fluctuations in the Palestinian territories. It will be better for all parties to reach a lasting compromise by establishing bridges of trust and by each getting one’s due rights without infringing the rights of the others.

Here is an audio extract of Israelis discussing the issue of Iran and Judaism in Israeli society
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Ros Atkins announcing the presentation of BBC WHYS show from Tel Aviv

Ros Atkins from of BBC WHYS introducing the show

Sunday, February 01, 2009

War and peace for Iran and the USA

In his first interview with a foreign media outlet – Al-Arabiya television – President Barack Obama promised to extend the hand of American diplomacy to Tehran if the regime froze its nuclear programme.

Despite welcoming the change of tone in US foreign policy towards his country, Iran’s president demanded an apology for past US “crimes” committed against Iran.

Iran should equally apologize to the United States for the 52 American hostages it took after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, before it asks the US to apologize for the economic sanctions it has successively imposed on it.

If Iran seeks good relations with the US both should work to build trust between them. Continuing diplomatic conflict will delay the resolutions of many problems affecting the region, especially the conflicts between Israel and Hamas on one hand and Israel and Hezbollah on the other.

The differences between Iran and the US are so deep extending from Iran nuclear program to the attitudes towards the conflicts in the Middle East, involving Israel with Hamas, Hezbullah and Syria. Iran has strong relations with these. It can exert strong influence on Hamas and Hezbullah either way as long as it gets or doesn’t get what it wants. It’s using them as a tool to indirectly wage wars against Israel.

In view of this complex differences regulating Iran’s relations with the US and Israel , there is so much hard work to do on all sides to heal the rifts that has been taking place since 1979.

For the US and Iran, they can be friends if they leave the past behind them and turn a new page. However the harsh tone of Iranian president in his last speech in which he demanded an apology from the US for its “crimes” against his country and the extended hand of friendship from Obama to the Iranian leaders shows that there is “love” just from one side. The rift whose causes are much more complex can’t be healed easily.

Are octuplets a blessing or a burden?

A US woman has given birth to eight babies , becoming just the second person recorded in the US to have delivered a set of living octuplets.


There was the case of a Russian mother who gave birth to 69 children in the span of 40 years from 1725 to 1765.

Having so many babies at the same time can be a blessing if the parents have the means and the time to support them. It can be fantastic to have a big family all of a sudden. But the effort and the cost of raising a child in today’s world isn’t so easy.

For many parents, the beauty of having many children is that they come one by one. At least parents enjoy having babies over a period of time.

For woman who is past 40 and has never had children before, it must be a good thing for her to have a triplet or a quadruplet as she will have secured having more than one child before the menopause. For a young mother, it must be difficult as she will have to care for more than one baby at a time, which can be burden on her physical health, mainly when it comes to sleep deprivation during the first years of the new born babies.

Local jobs and foreign investments

Hundreds of employees staged walkouts across the UK over the use of foreign staff at a Lincolnshire refinery.

Should jobs go to local workers?

It’s laudable that local people should have local jobs. But there are jobs that the locals disdain to do like construction and farming. The Gulf States have to rely on foreign workers mainly from the Indian Subcontinent because they have relatively a small population compared to the needed development activities and the locals can accept only activities related to office work or trade, which has resulted in high unemployment among the young.

A protectionist approach isn’t the best solution as this means the world economy will shrink even further because of reduced economic exchanges. This will mainly have negative effect on poor countries whose economy depends on exports to rich countries and remittance from their immigrant populations. Countries should instead protect local jobs as long as there are those who can do them efficiently. Depriving the locals from them will lead just to social unrest.

However, there are jobs that only foreigners are renowned to be good at. In the UK, Polish worker , for example, are still highly needed for repair services. This leads to ask which category of foreign workers should be disposed of for the benefit of the locals.

Protectionism will mean the end of many economic agreements between different countries as it will mean the end of many economic blocs like the EU,G8 and ASIAN.
What is needed is economic restructuring that can allow national economies to grow and to expand beyond the borders. The biggest losers of protectionism will be the emerging economies, like those of India and China, whose success largely depend on exports.

It’s no good news for anyone that the world economy should shrink as it will put backward many poor and developing countries as it will lead a fall in the living standard of the citizens of developed country. There should be mechanism to revive the national economy without jeopardizing the existing international trade agreements.

In Morocco, there are many sectors that are managed by foreign companies although the workers are all Moroccans, except at the administrative level where there are some foreigners.

In Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, water , electricity , sewage and litter collection are managed by French companies. In Marrakesh, all the buses are managed by a Spanish company because the municipality company went bankrupt because of mismanagement.

In the case of Morocco, there are locals who do most of the jobs. There are very few foreign workers. This means, it’s possible to create jobs for the locals, but there are still sectors that should be managed by foreign companies because of the lack of transparency and good managements when they are in the hands of the nationals.