Category Archives: Situation Report

Abu Mazen and Obama’s Peace Pantomime

Obama is unable to offer Abbas an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, because that is not what Netanyahu has in mind. Indeed, recent reports suggest that during his meeting last weekend with Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak, the Israeli prime minister presented a proposed map of a Palestinian State that fell well short of the Arab League’s proposal for peace. Nor is Netanyahu under pressure from the US to offer more. In fact, Netanyahu believes that he can bend Washington to his will, as he so memorably explained to a family of Israeli settlers in a recently surfaced video clip from 2001: “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.”

The “right direction” that Netanyahu made clear in the video, was “to put an end to this galloping forward to the ’67 borders”. Unable to offer a state based on the Arab League’s peace terms, Obama hopes to entice Abbas into his “peace event” by offering him a flag pole – specifically, the right to fly the Palestinian flag outside the PA mission in Washington. This is not any flag pole either, but one that provides diplomatic immunity for his envoys there: Palestinian diplomats will soon be able to ignore parking tickets in Washington, DC. Can the “stamps, parades and carnival” predicted by Uzi Arad be far behind?

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Gone (World Cup) Blogging

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Here’s a panel I did with friends a few weeks ago. For my daily World Cup musings, click on TIME.com’s 2010 World Cup Special. And you can also follow my relentless footie and political babble on Facebook and Twitter… Continue reading

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What the Gaza Flotilla Tells Us About the Future of the Mideast

‘We’re the only ones who believe them,” a US official was quoted as complaining last week in response to Israel’s account of its attack on the Gaza aid flotilla.

The bloodshed on the high seas and the resulting diplomatic fallout is a reminder of just how far US influence has fallen in the region, and the grim prospects for the US president Barack Obama reversing that trend as long as the US continues to accord Israel special status.

Indeed, in a statement that would have evoked howls of protest had it been made on Capitol Hill, the Mossad chief Meir Dagan last week told a Knesset sub-committee that Israel is turning “from an asset to the United States to a burden”.

The drama of last week has forced the US and its European partners to concede that the Israeli blockade on Gaza is untenable, as is its underlying policy – shared by Washington and the Europeans – of refusing to engage with Hamas as an intractable fact of Palestinian political life.

The fact that a group of defiant civil society activists – backed by the Turkish government – has forced that acknowledgement is a sign of how far the balance of power in the Middle East has shifted.

It is a change that will also have implications for how the Iranian nuclear standoff is resolved. Continue reading

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Has Globalization Stolen the World Cup Magic?


Who is this kid? Pele terrorizes Sweden in 1958

Nobody outside of Brazil had heard of the 17-year-old who exploded onto the international stage in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden with a display of skill, audacity, guile, vision and sheer exuberance that was to make Pele a global household name for the next half-century.

His status as the global symbol of football excellence was all the remarkable considering that the world only got to see him three more times at the quadrennial World Cup tournaments, culminating in 1970. Pele, after all, played his weekly club football for Rio De Janeiro’s Santos, whose games weren’t available on satellite TV.

There are many reasons why World Cup 2010 won’t surprise us with a new Pele, but the first should be obvious: today any teenager even half as talented would likely be on the books of Barcelona or Arsenal already, and therefore a familiar face to European club football’s massive global TV audience. Continue reading

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Scoring Round 1 of Hillary vs. Ahmadinejad


Walking out on Monday’s U.N. speech by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have been good domestic politics for the Obama Administration and its closest European allies, but it won’t necessarily help them prevail at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference that began Monday. In fact the move by delegates from the U.S., Britain, France, Canada, Hungary, New Zealand and the Netherlands, among others, may have perversely played to Ahmadinejad’s advantage.
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Why Ahmadinejad (Hearts) NY


Anti-Ahmadinejad protestors in New York last time: The Iranian leader will hope to see the Israeli flag flying prominently among those denouncing him

The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was clearly unsettled by the news that the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, plans to show up in New York on Monday at the UN’s Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

As far as the US is concerned, Iran is a pariah in the international conversation about proliferation, and halting its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons is one of Washington’s key objectives at the New York conference.

“If [Mr Ahmadinejad] believes that by coming he can somehow divert attention from this very important global effort or cause confusion that might possibly throw into doubt what Iran has been up to … then I don’t believe he will have a particularly receptive audience.” At least she hopes not.

Somewhere in Tehran, Mrs Clinton’s remarks will have prompted Mr Ahmadinejad to smile his pantomime villain’s smile. He’s going to New York because he believes he’ll have an opportunity to confound US objectives.

Sure, he’ll be the focus of much opprobrium – senators from Mrs Clinton’s own party tried to reverse her administration’s decision to grant him a visa, apparently ignorant of their country’s obligations as host to the United Nations. And there will be hundreds of demonstrators across from the UN headquarters, perhaps some waving Israeli flags. At least, Mr Ahmadinejad hopes so, because he too intends to make an issue of Israel – not by threatening to wipe it out, but by pointing that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal capable of wiping out Iran 20 times over, and yet doesn’t feature in Washington’s non-proliferation agenda.

So while the US hopes to use Iran’s failure to fully comply with the transparency requirements of the treaty to raise support for new sanctions against Tehran, the Iranians plan to draw attention to western double standards in applying the NPT. Continue reading

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Who ‘We’ Are When the Whistle Blows


Chelsea’s Drogba and Kalou fly the Ivoirian flag. But Kalou was very nearly a Dutchman…


The fleet-footed Chelsea forward Solomon Kalou might permit himself a wry smile as he stands at attention for L’Abidjanaise, the national anthem of the Ivory Coast, when Les Elephantes face Portugal in their World Cup opener on June 15.

Were it not for the stubbornness of former Netherlands immigration minister Rita Verdonk, Kalou would have turned up at the World Cup in the other orange shirt – as a Dutchman. By turning down attempts by the Netherlands football authorities to fast-track citizenship for Kalou in time to pick him for the 2006 World Cup, the conservative Verdonk actually spared his parents a major headache: the Dutch that year played a group game against an Ivory Coast squad that included Solomon’s older brother, Bonaventure.

But the episode is simply a reminder that international football often demonstrates just how fluid and fungible the notion of nationality can be. In the same 2006 World Cup, when Croatia played Australia, three players in the Croatian squad were actually Australian, while seven of the Socceroos were eligible to represent Croatia. Continue reading

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The World Cup as War by Other Means

‘Just don’t mention the war” was the cardinal rule when hosting German guests at Fawlty Towers, the eponymous hotel in the ’70s British TV sitcom. But it has never applied to England football fans: whenever their team plays Germany, they taunt the opposition with a ditty (to the tune of The Camptown Races) with the lyrics: Two world wars and one world cup, dooh-dah, dooh-dah …

The English are hardly alone in linking football and war. When Holland beat Germany in a Euro ’88 semifinal, literally 60% of the Dutch population took to the streets to celebrate, many of them chanting “Hurrah, we got our bikes back!” That was a far larger crowd than the one which celebrated Holland’s victory over the Soviet Union in the final of the same tournament days later, but the bicycle reference said it all: Dutch people had had their bikes confiscated when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands 48 years earlier. Those who fell/rose cheering from their graves, wrote Dutch poet Jules Deelder, while a veteran of the underground resistance enthused: “It feels as though we’ve won the war at last.”

Payback for wartime humiliation was also the Argentine narrative for Diego Maradona’s notorious “hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup (and the “goal of the century” he added later in the game). Sure, Maradona used his fist to prod the ball over Peter Shilton for the opening goal, but for a country still smarting from the wounds of the Falklands/Malvinas War four years earlier, England had to be beaten by any means necessary. As Maradona said afterwards: “We knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys (in the Malvinas), killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.” Sure, Maradona had cheated, but so had the British, in Argentine minds, by sinking an Argentine warship outside the zone of exclusion around the islands, killing some 323 sailors. Jorge Valdano, who was on the field that day, knew Maradona had cheated, but said “at that moment we only felt joy, relief, perhaps a forced sense of justice. It was England, let’s not forget, and the Malvinas were fresh in the memory.” Continue reading

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Why Karzai Won’t Do as He’s Told


To some it may seem as if President Hamid Karzai has a death wish. The Afghan leader has lately begun sticking it to the U.S. and its Western allies — the only force protecting him from a surging Taliban, which hanged the last foreign-backed President when it reached Kabul in 1996. But Karzai is doing it not just because he can get away with it, knowing he’s the only game in town for Washington, but also because he must if he’s to survive in the Afghan political environment once the U.S. leaves. Continue reading

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Obama Reproduces Bush’s Iran Failure


Iran diplomacy in Washington these days consists principally of coaxing the likes of Russia and China to support new sanctions – and persuading gullible journalists that Moscow and Beijing are “on board”.

On Friday, the US president Barack Obama told CBS television that Iran is trying to get the “capacity to develop nuclear weapons”, and that he and his allies “are going to ratchet up the pressure … with a unified international community”. Nobody sets much store by such talk, of course, because President George W Bush had been saying the same thing since 2006 with little effect. Continue reading

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