Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now, but the Annapolis Conference/
Meeting/whatever-you want-to-call-it finally happened yesterday. Both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) pledged to negotiate an agreement to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2008. They even shook hands.

I’m skeptical. First of all, weak leaders cannot make concessions and stay in power, only strong leaders have the political capital to do so. Neither Olmert nor Abbas are strong leaders. Abbas has lost control of Gaza to Hamas, and only has tenuous control of the West Bank. (As a side note, Abbas is universally hailed as a moderate but is also a Holocaust denier. Until recently I thought that “Moderate” and “Holocaust denier” were mutually exclusive, I guess not.)

Meanwhile, Olmert’s popularity sank after the 2006 War in Lebanon (which most see as botched), he’s under investigation in a number of corruption probes, and is so unpopular he can only envy Bush’s 28% approval rating. Neither leader can afford to make unpopular decisions and hold on to power, but most importantly, the decisions would not be seen as legitimate.

Let’s take a look at some of the issues from the Israeli side.

Israeli Settlements in the West Bank. The settlements and outposts (illegal settlements) give Israel a terrible image abroad and inflame Palestinians. Nevertheless, the settlers have huge lobbying power in the Israeli government (akin to the NRA’s power). Olmert should at the very least suspend the building of all new settlements. But if he were to do just that his parliamentary coalition would fall apart.

Then there's the Palestinian Right of Return. This is a HUGE stumbling block, much more so than most people think. About 800,000 Palestinians were displaced after the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. There are presently over 3 million descendants of these refugees (mostly living in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon) and they are a cause-celebré among the European Left. What is often times forgotten is that these people were displaced during a war their leaders in fact initiated. But forgetting that for the moment, the problem is that the Palestinians are demanding the descendants of these 800,000 refugees have the “Right of Return” into Israel.

This is unfeasible for Israel and furthermore is contradictory to the Two State Solution. The Two State solution provides for a Jewish-Israeli state, and a Palestinian-Arab state. Each side would give up whatever claim it believes it may have to the other’s land. So, each side would have Right of Return to their own land; no Palestinian would have Right of Return to Israel because they’ve given up claim to it.

Next up is “the Wall/Security Barrier,” what Jimmy Carter and others see as a symbol of “Apartheid.” I disagree. The security barrier was actually an idea of the Israeli Left and the Israelis began constructing it in 2002 as a response to the second Intifada. Now, one could certainly argue that it should be constructed along the Green Line and not cut deep into Palestinian territory, but without a doubt the barrier saves lives. It prevents Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israel and blowing themselves up in buses and pizzerias, which in turn prevents the Israeli military from invading the West Bank to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure - as happened in 2002 with a lot of collateral damage.

Anyway, you can agree or disagree but you know where I stand. I’ll add more about the whole thing later, if you’re really interested in the conflict I encourage you to read articles from Bitter Lemons. This website presents the thoughts and analyses of journalists, intellectuals, policy figures, and others from both sides of the conflict. It’s a forum for discussion and ideas, rather than negotiation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spanish Cartoonists Fined 3,000 Euros for Making Fun of the Royal Family

Those European political cartoonists, first they desecrate Mohammed, now it’s the Spanish royal family. Last July Spain passed the “cheque- bebé” law, which awards 2,500 Euros ($3,450) to couples for having a baby. Shortly afterward satirical magazine El Jueves ran a cartoon on its cover (shown right) depicting Prince Felipe, and his wife, Princess Letizia, having sex; and the Prince saying, “this is the closest thing to a job I’ve ever had!”

However, the government didn’t find the cartoon very funny. The two cartoonists responsible for the picture, Guillermo Torres and Manel Fontdevilla, were charged with defamation and bringing injury upon the royal family.

Today in Madrid a judge found the two guilty and fined them each 3,000 Euros. That’s not a small sum of money for these guys who probably aren’t millionaires, I hope they win on appeal. Click here for more information (in Spanish).

But what about this cheque-bebé law anyway? The Spanish government is basically paying people to have sex. As it turns out, this is now a common practice among many European nations. The EU is rapidly aging and this could become even more of a problem down the road for them.

This is an actual photo of the Prince and Princess. A gust of wind caused a "wardrobe malfunction" at some official event in 2006.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Marcelo Birmajer: the Argentine Woody Allen

“Argentina is full of Jews,” so said a lot of people I met in my South American travels a year ago. Actually, there are about 200,000 Jews in Argentina, a country of about 38 million people. A community? Yes. A country full of Jews? No. However, there are more Jews in Argentina than in any other Latin American country, and Argentine Jews take a big role in the country’s media and politics.

Take for example Marcelo Birmajer, who wrote El Abrazo Partido, a critically acclaimed movie which came out in 2004. Birmajer is Jewish and has been dubbed Argentina’s answer to Woody Allen. El Abrazo Partido is an interesting movie set in El Once, Buenos Aires’ Jewish neighborhood, and is about a 20-something Jew trying to get a Polish passport so he can immigrate back to Europe. Here’s an interesting feature from Haaretz (a prominent Israeli newspaper) about Birmajer, his writing career, and the contradictions of being Jewish in Argentina.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Cristina Kirchner President of Argentina

Argentina’s Presidential mansion is called the Pink House, and now that name has new meaning. For the first time in its history, Argentina has elected a female President. Two weeks ago Cristina Fernández de Kirchner won the Argentine elections, gaining about 45 percent of the vote (compared with 23 percent for the closest runner up).

She is commonly called “Cristina” and many compare her to Hillary Clinton- and on more than one level. Her husband, Nestor Kirchner, is the out-going President. Nestor was elected in 2003 and still enjoys strong approval ratings, yet he chose to step aside to let his wife run. Kind of weird, right?

Or perhaps Machiavellian. Argentine law does not set a term limit, but it does stipulate that a President can serve no more than two consecutive terms. Supposedly, The Kirchners plan to heed off the inevitable lame duck years of the second term by handing the Presidency back and forth.

Presently there is no real Argentine opposition (they’re worse than the Democrats in 2004) and, providing the Kirchners can handle this juggling act and their popularity remains high, their power will never diminish.

However, take the Kirchner strategy with a gigantic caveat which more than one Argentine has remarked to me. Predicting what will happen in Argentina in five years is like predicting what will happen in the U.S. in 100 years.

Here’s a decent post election analysis from the Guardian.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Brazil to host 2014 World Cup

Last week FIFA announced that Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup. This shouldn’t come as any surprise as Brazil were the only country to formally place a bid. I think this is great news for soccer. The World Cup tournament hasn’t been to South America, where the game is lived most passionately, since Argentina lasted hosted in 1978- that’s a pretty long time.

Furthermore, Brazil truly has a special relationship with the Beautiful Game. They are the only country to have won five World Cups and consistently produce wonderful players a la Ronaldinho, Robinho and Kaká.

It should be a truly special World Cup (the last two have been disappointing) and I hope to be reporting on it from Brazil.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Yalla ya Nasrallah

In July, 2006 Israel went to war with Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist organization led by Hasan Nasrallah. Soon after the war began a certain song became ubiquitous on both Israeli and Lebanese airwaves: Yalla ya Nasrallah (loosely translated to Bring it on Nasrallah).


In Israel the song became a rallying cry and at the same time lightened people’s tense minds. In Lebanon the Israeli Defense Forces periodically hacked into television stations to broadcast the song.

As an addendum, here’s a pretty good post war analysis. It’s from a German newspaper, but was written by an Israeli Journalist.