Thursday, November 03, 2011

israel ii: notes on a conference.

Notes after attending a conference--well, part of a conference--sponsored by the INSS (Institute for National Security Studies, the sucessor to the old Jaffee Center at Tel Aviv Univeristy) on the EU, Israel, and the Palestinians:

1.   Sa'eb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator when there are actually negotiations is a very good speaker indeed.    His pitch to the (at least partially sympathetic) crowd--we are open to negotiations but will not be dicated to--was a point well taken if perhaps more emotional than logical in nature.   His handling of a heckler who asked would they accept Israel as a Jewish State--"it's ok, I'm used to it, that's the very point about dictation that I was making"--was masterful.   His fashionably late arrival, which he left people thinking might at least conceivably have resulted from an Israeli roadblock, only added to the allure.

2.   You can see why Europeans like Tzipi Livni: she's tall, speaks perfect French, and simply looks like a European professional woman.   Unfortunately she's a wooden speaker with a knack for saying the wrong things at the wrong time.   Neither her speech at the conference nor her general performance--she seems easily maneuvered into unpopular positions (opposition to Shalit deal, opposition to Iran attack) which she then has to wiggle out of--have impressed me in particular.   Avigdor Lieberman may be a thug, but he knows when to keep his mouth shut.

3.  Why do Israelis insist on giving retired generals positions in "think tanks" where they offer opinions on numerous subjects they are not expert on?   Most are poor speakers and, even if they weren't, it isn't exactly clear what their "expertise" consists of.    Nothing hurts Israel's image more than  a bunch of military people giving opinions in bad English on essentially political issues.

The event fed my growing conviction that the problems in Israel have less to do with any inherent flaw in the Israeli character than with the country's institutional structure (see previous post).   If you have a parade of "strategic studies" institutes, whatever that means, they are going to tend to see every problem as strategic (i.e., military) in nature.     If your political parties are organized around ethnic and religious divides, people will (surprise) tend to do things that exacerbate these differences.    The problem is that, right now, the pressure of day to day events--combined with a good bit of sheer inertia--prevents people from recognizing this problem and, instead, makes them pursue their own agendas even more aggressively.   The "left" is as guilty of this as the "right": Ha'aretz regularly puts rocket attacks in the south on page two which would never happen if its own readers, i.e. those in the coastal plain and Jerusalem, were affected.    But nothing lasts forever, and my guess is that when the dust settles many institutions and political parties will prove a lot less permanent than they now seem.   Maybe that's why peace makes some people on both sides nervous. 


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