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18 Years After Oslo, Is It Time to Reshuffle the Deck?

September 14th, 2011 Comments off

The iconic moment at left took place 18 years ago yesterday. There were moments in the 1990s, when Yitzhak Rabin was still alive, that a real peace seemed possible. Both sides bear some of the responsibility for its failure, and so does the man in the middle, who pushed Camp David II before he had a real breakthrough in place. For all his posing as a freedom fighter, Arafat was a horribly cautious man. Mahmoud Abbas is nowhere near as charismatic as Arafat, but he does seem more willing to take risks. Arafat knew when to hold ’em and knew when to fold ’em, but wasn’t the sort to raise the ante when he wasn’t holding a good hand. Is Abbas? It’s starting to look like it: or maybe he’s holding a better hand than his opponents think.

On October 6, 1973, Anwar Sadat sent Egyptian forces across the Suez Canal. For the first time in an Arab-Israeli war, there was virtually none of the “drive Israel into the sea” sort of rhetoric and a lot of rhetoric about recovering Sinai.  In most military senses the Egyptians ended that war on the losing side: they had a whole Field Army surrounded and cut off from Cairo by an Israeli strike force west of the Canal. But Sadat was able to reopen the Canal and get parts of Sinai back because Henry Kissinger started his shuttle diplomacy. Sadat won a diplomatic, not a conventional military, victory, because he’d had the daring to reshuffle the deck, and also to introduce wild cards (throwing the Russians out: tilting toward the Americans.) (Okay; I’ll try hard to refrain from further poker metaphors in the rest of this post.)

An interesting number of people in the blogosphere and media are asking what would be so disastrous if the United States, which claims to want a two-state solution, accepted a United Nations recognition of Palestine. It would be hard, though I’m sure they’d find a way, for Israel to claim that the UN has no right to do that since, well, Israel was created directly through United Nations action. For political reasons and others, the US  will veto any Security Council resolution, but if Palestine wins a big General Assembly vote, the calculus will change.

The US would indeed further isolate itself, as Prince Turki al-Faisal has noted in the NYT, in what seems to be a nearly open Saudi threat to break with the US on this.  Even peace-leaning Israeli commentators are expressing the wish that Israel had sought to constructively engage (and perhaps even forestall) a UN vote, rather than simply throw down the gauntlet of defiance.

I don’t really expect the US Administration, beleaguered by economic difficulties and political attacks, to go out on a limb. And I don’t expect an Israel under Netanyahu and Lieberman to take daring risks. But neither we nor Israel may be in the driver’s seat here. And perhaps we should at least ask ourselves: would s dramatic change in the status quo be a disaster, or perhaps create an opportunity for new thinking.

One last poker image: is it time not just to up the ante, but to kick over the card table and see who’s holding what when you pick it up again? It worked for Sadat in 1973.


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The Story Of The Ghost Ship. Part II/IV

July 28th, 2009 Comments off

From the fore-part of the ship hung down a long cable; for the purpose
of laying hold of this, we paddled with our hands and feet. At last
we were successful. Loudly I raised my voice, but all remained quiet
as ever, on board the vessel. Then we climbed up by the rope, I, as
the youngest, taking the lead. But horror! what a spectacle was there
presented to my eye, as I stepped upon the deck! The floor was red
with blood; upon it lay twenty or thirty corpses in Turkish costume;
by the middle-mast stood a man richly attired, with sabre in hand–but
his face was wan and distorted; through his forehead passed a large
spike which fastened him to the mast–he was dead! Terror chained my
feet; I dared hardly to breathe. At last my companion stood by my
side; he, too, was overpowered at sight of the deck which exhibited no
living thing, but only so many frightful corpses. After having, in the
anguish of our souls, supplicated the Prophet, we ventured to move
forward. At every step we looked around to see if something new,
something still more horrible, would not present itself. But all
remained as it was–far and wide, no living thing but ourselves, and
the ocean-world. Not once did we dare to speak aloud, through fear
that the dead Captain there nailed to the mast would bend his rigid
eyes upon us, or lest one of the corpses should turn his head. At last
we arrived at a staircase, which led into the hold. There
involuntarily we came to a halt, and looked at each other, for neither
of us exactly ventured to express his thoughts.

“Master,” said my faithful servant, “something awful has happened
here. Nevertheless, even if the ship down there below is full of
murderers, still would I rather submit myself to their mercy or
cruelty, than spend a longer time among these dead bodies.” I agreed
with him, and so we took heart, and descended, full of apprehension.
But the stillness of death prevailed here also, and there was no sound
save that of our steps upon the stairs. We stood before the door of
the cabin; I applied my ear, and listened–there was nothing to be
heard. I opened it. The room presented a confused appearance; clothes,
weapons, and other articles, lay disordered together. The crew, or at
least the Captain, must shortly before have been carousing, for the
remains of a banquet lay scattered around. We went on from room to
room, from chamber to chamber finding, in all, royal stores of silk,
pearls, and other costly articles. I was beside myself with joy at the
sight, for as there was no one on the ship, I thought I could
appropriate all to myself; but Ibrahim thereupon called to my notice
that we were still far from land, at which we could not arrive, alone
and without human help.

We refreshed ourselves with the meats and drink, which we found in
rich profusion, and at last ascended upon deck. But here again we
shivered at the awful sight of the bodies. We determined to free
ourselves therefrom, by throwing them overboard; but how were we
startled to find, that no one could move them from their places! So
firmly were they fastened to the floor, that to remove them one would
have had to take up the planks of the deck, for which tools were
wanting to us. The Captain, moreover, could not be loosened from the
mast, nor could we even wrest the sabre from his rigid hand. We passed
the day in sorrowful reflection on our condition; and, when night
began to draw near, I gave permission to the old Ibrahim to lie down
to sleep, while I would watch upon the deck, to look out for means of
deliverance. When, however, the moon shone forth, and by the stars I
calculated that it was about the eleventh hour, sleep so irresistibly
overpowered me that I fell back, involuntarily, behind a cask which
stood upon the deck. It was rather lethargy than sleep, for I plainly
heard the sea beat against the side of the vessel, and the sails creak
and whistle in the wind. All at once I thought I heard voices, and the
steps of men upon the deck. I wished to arise and see what it was, but
a strange power fettered my limbs, and I could not once open my eyes.
But still more distinct became the voices; it appeared to me as if a
merry crew were moving around upon the deck. In the midst of this I
thought I distinguished the powerful voice of a commander, followed by
the noise of ropes and sails. Gradually my senses left me; I fell into
a deep slumber, in which I still seemed to hear the din of weapons,
and awoke only when the sun was high in the heavens, and sent down his
burning rays upon my face. Full of wonder, I gazed about me; storm,
ship, the bodies, and all that I had heard in the night, recurred to
me as a dream; but when I looked around, I found all as it had been
the day before. Immoveable lay the bodies, immoveably was the Captain
fastened to the mast; I laughed at my dream, and proceeded in search
of my old companion.

The latter was seated in sorrowful meditation in the cabin. “O
master,” he exclaimed as I entered, “rather would I lie in the deepest
bottom of the sea, than pass another night in this enchanted ship.” I
asked him the reason of his grief, and thus he answered me:–