January 31, 2010
Friends and meddlers

The front page headline of Ha'aretz is that Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, about to visit Israel, comes with a recommendation that giving up the Golan would add to Israel's status in international politics.

Italy is a great place to visit. The food and wine are first class, the clothes and shoes well made and attractively displayed, and it is a comfortable place to enjoy scenery, historical landmarks, and cultural variety. The Roman Catholic Church has made the Papacy multicultural, and friendly to Jews. The country has come a long way since World War II, but as arbitrator for Israel's problems, it is in a huge crowd of semi-informed meddlers.

The secondary headline in Ha'aretz notes that Berlusconi is up to his neck in corruption and sex scandals, and implies that he would be wise to keep his own finances orderly and his trousers fastened.

More than other unresolved disputes, Israel's attracts the curious and creative. The attention comes partly from Muslim countries' adoption of the Palestinian cause going back to the 1930s. For these participants, it is a way to excite their own locals to demand justice for fellow Muslims, and to distract them from local shortcomings. Islamic theology and its history of conquest is part of the mix. Israel is only one of the targets. Some of the faithful would return Spain to Muslim control, and extend their rule to Britain, Switzerland, and other places where they have migrated.

Israel has been an issue for the United Nations from its birth, and together with the still-born Palestine is on the organization's agenda more than places with greater poverty, ill health, and other miseries.

Religion adds to the prominence of Israel and Palestine. The Biblical prophets wandered on the Judean landscape I see from my window. Jesus was born and died within six miles from these fingers, Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven from a rock only two miles from here, which is that same place that Jews claim Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and a key location in ancient Temples.

Israel required outside help at several stages in its history. The pantheon of those who provided diplomatic recognition and aid with financial, food, and military needs has featured the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, France, Britain, Germany, and the United States. The United States has been the most prominent source of support, and occasionally the only source since Richard Nixon took on the role of Israel's patron. American presidents, secretaries of state, and special advisers have been the most intense providers of solutions since then.

Has any outside resolution, suggestion, urging, and pressure helped Israel solve its problems with Palestinians or other Arabs?

Most impressive was Jimmy Carter, not currently among Israel's warmest friends. His presence and prodding at Camp David may have been what was necessary to bring Israelis and Egyptians to consummate their ground breaking peace agreement. Representatives of the two countries had done most of the work prior to Camp David, and Henry Kissinger may deserve as much credit as Carter on account of what he did during and after the 1973 war, but the pieces may not have come together without Carter.

The most recent and continuing efforts of other American presidents have paled in contrast. Bill Clinton may claim some of the credit for the Israeli-Jordan peace treaty, but that was largely in place and represented by the unsecret visits between Israeli and Jordan leaders going back to the 1940s, which continued despite bouts of serious fighting.

America's recent contributions to Israel's dealings with Palestinians and other Arabs have been closer to the accomplishments we can expect from Prime Minister Berlusconi's visit than to Jimmy Carter's work at Camp David. Good intentions without doubt. Financial aid always welcome, and more free of corrupt siphoning off in the case of Israel than in the case of Palestine. The status of the United States in the world assures that its advice gets a serious hearing, and some kind of positive response. President Obama's calls for a total freeze of settlement building, including the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, is the best recent example of a polite hearing following by partial compliance and partial refusal. The same initiative illustrates how outsiders complicate the prospects for peace, and might actually push Israelis and Palestinians further apart. Obama brought the Palestinians to harden their demands, caused Israeli settlers to escalate their building plans, and added to the feelings among Israelis as well as Palestinians that the American administration was hostile and naive.

The countless resolutions coming out of the United Nations and its various commissions may demonstrate the strength of Muslim votes in those councils, but have not moved Palestine closer to statehood or done much to improve the life of Palestinians. The Goldstone report is the latest effort doomed from the start by one-sided commitments and only the most superficial gestures at balance.

UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency provides food, education, housing, and other assistance to Palestinians claiming refugee status in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and elsewhere. It has don at least as much harm as good to the Palestinians' national cause by inducing their dependence on others.

Mahmoud Abbas, like Yassir Arafat before him, is assured a welcome, hand shake, smile, and photo op with many heads of state, at least on those occasions when Palestinian comments or operations have not proved embarrassing. The public does not know what is said--if anything--in the private meetings between Palestinian, Arab, European, American, African, or other dignitaries. Whatever it is has not been helpful in any dramatic sense.

The bottom line is that Palestine is still where it has been for a long while, and Gaza noticeably worse. Israel is no longer an impoverished and weak supplicant. It remains a laggard with respect to the richest countries on a number of economic and social indicators, but it does well on those which measure health, higher education, technology, and the quality of its security forces.

Prime Minister Berlusconi will come and go without moving the Golan Heights from Israel to Syria. Today the flags of Italy are on the lamp posts of Jerusalem. Next week it will be those of some other country, and the week after yet another set of flags. Until the Palestinians can solve their own disputes, and think beyond the dogma promoted by religious and political extremists, those expecting inspiration would be advised to look at the first verse of Ecclesiastes rather than the comments of important visitors. Among other things, it counsels,

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:19 AM
January 29, 2010
On Palestine and Barack Obama

Here is something that President Obama and his advisers should consider before spending any more of their time nudging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to negotiate a peace.

http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=167194

The details are not entirely clear, but reinforce the larger story of corruption in high places of the Palestine Authority, the lack of popular confidence in the Authority among Palestinians, and the likelihood that Hamas would take over the West Bank if Mahmoud Abbas and his people were not propped up by Israel, Jordan, and the United States.

The article resembles what I heard from a lecturer at a Palestinian university who visited me at the Hebrew University. The lecturer's biography featured numerous consulting activities with Palestinian companies and public authorities that had been financed by European and North American governments. When I probed the details and asked if any of the consulting had produced improvements in administration, the answer was negative. My visitor confirmed my impression that a great deal of foreign aid given to Palestine does nothing but provide employment for a few Palestinians. The article in the Jerusalem Post indicates that a fair amount of the aid ends up in the overseas bank accounts of Palestinian officials. It is more public relations for the donors than anything that helps to develop the Authority. "Is the Authority a serious entity?" I asked my visitor. The answer again was negative.

Other news includes revelations from ranking Palestinians of what they claim Ehud Olmert offered close to the end of his service as prime minister, and what the Palestinians rejected. The acceptance of one thousand refugees from 1948 was not enough to justify a response. Neither was what Olmert offered with respect to transferring neighborhoods of Jerusalem to Palestine, and other territorial swaps. The Palestinians were not willing to accept Israel's control of Maale Adumim, a suburb of Jerusalem where 30,000 Jews have made their homes.

We cannot be sure about the above details, insofar as disinformation is as much a part of Israel-Palestine relationships as it is of other political feelers that may be preparing the road for serious negotiations, or preparing the way to avoid negotiations. However, they fit the image of an Authority that is more comic opera, or Greek tragedy, than serious entity.

The best guess is that Palestinians are willing to turn the clock back to 1967, 1948, or 1947--depending on who is talking--but not to engage in their share of concessions in order to end the dispute.

So what should Israel do? And what should be the posture of the Obama administration?

Nothing is the answer appropriate to both questions.

The Palestinian leadership--whether the corrupt figures who claim to be in charge of the West bank or the religious fanatics in Gaza--are not appropriate managers of a state alongside Israel. They may continue to manage what they have, but Israelis do not want them to acquire the authority to import arms and formulate international agreements appropriate to a state.

Doing nothing appears to be the policy of the current Israeli government, learned from the frustrations of negotiations in 2000 and 2008. Israelis do offer lip service about their willingness to negotiate, and to make certain concessions, as befits a supplicant of the United States. Israelis might be gaining a point or two among friendly audiences from the hardening of Palestinian demands as conditions for beginning negotiations.

Insofar as Obama is Obama, we can expect a continuation of efforts, tweaking this way and that, in the hope that something will produce flexibility from Israeli and/or Palestinian leaders. Think of Obama as Sisyphus, and the prospect of getting that rock to the top of the hill.

As far as Israel is concerned, the stand-off is harmless. It is as secure as it has ever been. Iran looms, but no matter what the Iranians claim as their concern for Palestine, their nuclear efforts are beyond the parameters of Israel's dispute with Palestinians. The stand-off is also harmless for most Palestinians of the West Bank. As long as extremists remain quiet, or neutralized, economic development can continue. Gaza is something else, but the people voted for Hamas and many cheered the rockets being sent toward Israel. Neither the German negotiator concerned with Gilad Shalit nor Egyptians concerned to resolve the disputes between Hamas and Fatah have produced any flexibility that is apparent. Egypt is concerned with the spread of Hamas' enthusiasm to its own extremists, and is constructing barriers meant to frustrate smuggling of arms and other material into Gaza.

We remain with the problem of Barack Obama's itch for achievement, and for that there is no solution on the horizon.


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:08 AM
January 28, 2010
Vintage Obama?

President Obama's State of the Union address dealt almost entirely with domestic issues, despite American troops active in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Yemen, as well as highly touted efforts with respect to Israel-Palestine and Iran. Also, the focus was heavily on the economy, and lightly on what had been his iconic health initiative. The style was vintage Obama, if the term vintage can be used for an individual with less than three years in the Senate and one year in the White House. The president was self-confident, but with enough modesty to preserve the image of the neighborhood friend who plays basketball.

Indicative of a familiar Obama is his selection of three high profile targets: bank reform, budget cutting, and unemployment. One can hope that he will do better than he did with the challenging issues of his first year, but each will be difficult.

As a policy wonk the president knows the problems and the substance of likely solutions, but he is less than savvy about political obstacles. While banks may need a stronger hand on the regulatory tiller, they can make a case that responsibility for economic crisis was as much that of policymakers enamored of home ownership as of finance companies (many of them not banks) that responded to incentives. The health industry unleashed a fire storm of hysteria about excess government regulation, and the banks might be able to do something similar. Instead of bashing the thought of rationing health care, there will be bashing the government's rationing of mortgages and small business loans.

Budget cutting as a political strategy has been around for a long time, along with the defense mechanisms of bureaucrats and clients. The most that is usually obtainable is slowing the growth of domestic budgets, rather than actually cutting into the money that supports established activities. The president may trim the budget he requests, but the final score will only be apparent after Congress has finished its initial work, and then supplemental appropriations.

If the president does succeed in reducing government spending on domestic programs, it will not be easy to increase employment. Unless, perhaps, he can enact a series of measures to induce investments by lowering taxes on high income households and corporations. But that will not help with the deficit, and might provoke opposition from a Congress that wants to preserve the Democratic ethos.

The basic problem of a liberal Democrat like Obama is that Americans are not liberal. An article in a professional journal of political science begins with a cogent statement of the problem.

"Put simply, here is the conundrum of the modern American state: It is expected to solve or prevent a great variety of problems - from toxic microorganisms in fast-food hamburgers to homeland defense - all against a backdrop of citizens who do not believe that leaders in Washington can walk and chew gum at the same time." http://www.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1342&context=forum

Anyone doubting this should think more about the opposition to improving health insurance. It provides a caricature of American politics. A president trying to move one of the richest countries in the world with miserable health indicators toward every other western democracy had his prime issue hooted off the stage and nearly out of his State of the Union address.

It is not only in health where the United States is a laggard. On three measures of the size of government in relation to the economy (expenditures, revenues, and taxes) compiled by the World Bank, it scores
25th, 26th, and 28th among 28 of the richest democracies.

One might applaud the president's efforts to speak life into an Israel-Palestine peace process that died ten years ago, and to engage with countries his predecessor defined as evil. His supporters may blame others for the lack of movement, but the simple view is that the president's savvy in foreign politics is no better than in domestic politics.

President Obama won election with a dramatic campaign, but it was made easier by his opponent's selection of a running mate. The world that depends on American leadership is still waiting to see if he knows how to govern.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:17 AM
January 26, 2010
The enlightened continent

One of my internet friends objects to my calling Europe the enlightened continent.

"What in the blazes are you talking about.? Europe, the hot-bed of modern antisemitism...enlightened? The Netherlands with a de facto, maybe de jure euthanasia policy! France being so overrun with rebellious Muslims that there are scores of areas throughout the country that are goverened by Shariah! Britain is verging on the same disasterous policy...de facto, or de jure

"The 'enlightened continent' and their American running dogs have finally shown their true intentions: give Iran enough breathing room through years of meaningless and unproductive sanctions and treatened sanctions that they are now within spitting distance of nearing the "break-out" point for weapons grade nuclear weapons material."

There are problems, both within Europe and in the actions--or lack of actions--that European governments are willing to take toward others. Yet a superficial look at history justifies the most positive of adjectives.

Until 1945, warfare, rigid class lines, and limited personal opportunities were the prominent traits of Europe. Thanks largely to the United States, but with no little help from Britain and the Soviet Union, the worst ended for Western Europe. The results were a gradual emergence of the European Community, the refurbishing of German universities that had dropped from the peak to the bottom of intellectual prestige during the Nazi period, the opening of new universities throughout Western Europe, the lowering of class barriers, as well as a single currency, free migration, and decent social policies throughout much of the continent.

Bargaining and vote trading, rather than saber rattling is now the medium of exchange among governments. The institutions of the Community are no more perfect than the United States Congress, and European bureaucrats are not clearly better or worse than those of the United States or the individual European governments. Individuals and organizations complain and mobilize their forces, but the language is politics rather than war.

Sections of European cities have been made unpleasant by migrations from Muslim countries and other places where limited opportunities provide the push that used to send migrants from Western Europe to North and South America. Currently nine Western European countries score higher than the United States on a widely used measure of economic well being, and all countries of Western Europe score as more egalitarian than the United States. There are also European advantages in lower rates of violent crime and longer life expectancy, as well as more effective ways of providing medical care.

The United States remains attractive. The flow of migrants from Latin America, as well as from Africa and Muslim countries testifies to that, with social problems similar to those in Western Europe, as well as the benefits of many hands to do the dirty work that "natives" (whoever they are) do not want for themselves..

Has Europe's anathema to conflict gotten in the way of appropriate efforts to save the world from evil? It is Russia and China, rather than Western European governments, that have most clearly dragged their feet on sanctions against Iran. France and other European governments opposed the Bush invasion of Iraq, on the ground that sanctions had limited Saddam's aggressive capacities. Remember the American response, which included the renaming of "French fries?"

Insofar as several years of assiduous looking turned up no stocks of weapons of mass destruction, one can say that the Europeans were wiser than Americans with respect to Iraq. And the same Europeans have been less than supportive of Bush and now Obama in their efforts to occupy and reform Afghanistan. Until Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia) turn a corner toward stability and democracy, one should be chary of concluding that the Americans were right and the Europeans wrong.

What to do?

It would be great to ratchet down the excess patriotism, and to add a bit of modesty to the anyone's aspirations for leadership. The world is complex, with both evil and poverty. Neither Europeans nor Americans have the key to Paradise. Israelis are fated to maneuver between demands coming from powers greater than themselves. They are strong enough to respond in part, and to obfuscate where necessary.

So where are the most enlightened? I know of no summary measure. Neither do I know a cure for those who insist that it is them.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:22 AM
January 25, 2010
Insurance companies, HMO, and socialism

For those who are not sure that the devil is in the details, here's an example. An insurance company and hospitals are arguing about an administrative procedure. It has reached the point where one state legislature has enacted a law about the clerical details to be allowed in its jurisdiction, patients are being warned that they may have to change physicians, and there is a court case that could affect one million people who think they have health insurance. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/25/health/policy/25insure.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

Meanwhile, Congress is marking time while the administration ponders a strategy appropriate to the loss of that Massachusetts Senate seat. The proposals on the table amount to more than two thousand pages of patchworks that will add to the efforts of insurance companies and HMOs to find opportunity in the muddle. We all may hope that some patients will be better off, but no one should bet a lot of money on the prospect. Those who guess about such things are saying that the administration will have to reduce the number of people to be newly insured in order to get some Republican cooperation. What is happening in that squabble between the insurance company and hospitals provides ample indication that insurance companies will be looking after themselves while they say they are looking after patients.

The economic concerns of insurance companies should come as no surprise. That's capitalism, and they are in business to make a profit. That they pursue profit via a concern for what they are willing to pay for medical services, and check thoroughly to be sure that each patient does not get more service than appropriate (by their criteria) means considerable outlays for administration.

They also spend a great deal on public relations, most recently to attack the president's proposals on the grounds that it would make government a rationer of health care.

For those having trouble seeing the irony, you are on the wrong page.

The greater irony is that many Americans--enough to frustrate the president--share a fear of big government. Some of my correspondents have written about the threat of being governed like European countries as if they have not absorbed anything about that enlightened continent since the descriptions of Germany in the 1930s.

My bet is that none of them has experienced serious medical treatment that is paper free for patients. Not money free, but with fees and co-pays deducted from salaries or bank accounts, with the care providers and institutions that pay them sorting out the transfers. It helps that the rules are hammered out between the peak associations of care givers, insurance companies, and government departments. The process is not without demonstrations by groups of patients with special needs, complaints and criticisms prominent in the media. But with the ultimate decisions made by elected officials and senior bureaucrats, the process is more open to scrutiny, and arguably more fair than when decisions are taken by insurance companies concerned with their profits, and those who object must complain to their families, and seek the attention of someone who might help. Systems that suffer the label of "socialist" are simpler for patients to understand than when hundreds of HMOs and insurance companies define their own rules about coverage, co-pays, and how patients must seek care, and decide how to apply those rules to individual cases.

For those who sing the song of free enterprise, may you enjoy the paper work. You have my wishes for good luck next time it is necessary to dial an 800 number. Those of us with the benefits of health care dominated by government will get by with a plastic card that does the work for us.

And remember that residents in the bastion of free enterprise and individual freedom rank 48th on life expectancy.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 03:04 AM
January 24, 2010
Israel and Haiti. And Gaza?

Media in Israel and overseas have described in the most positive of terms the aid that a team of IDF and Magan David Adom (Red Star of David) personnel have provided in Haiti. An article in the New York Times adds to the praise, but also reports on Israelis who lament that their country does not do next door in Gaza what it does across the ocean in Haiti.

It would be a surprise if there were not such Israelis. It is an argumentative society, where any view held by a majority or anything more than a tiny minority is an open invitation to dispute. The left wing remains active, even if recent election results and polls indicate that its numbers are in the realm of the insignificant. The resignation from the Knesset of one left wing member of the Labor Party, and the announcement of another that she would not enter her party's next primary are further signals that their slice of the polity is in extremis.

Left-wing Meretz currently has three members in Knesset and left-of-center Labor 13. Both are historic lows for those parties. A poll has shown Labor likely to drop to six members. Critics who remain within its Knesset delegation have been quieted by the futility of their protests against party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

If the left is well represented anywhere, it is in the op-ed page of the prestigious Ha'aretz, which supplied some of the material quoted in the New York Times article about Israelis who lament the lack of aid to Gaza. The left also remains lively in the social science and humanities faculties of the universities. One of my friends and political science colleagues was quoted in a recent headline--again in Ha'aretz--criticizing the decision of the Defense Minister to advance the status of a college located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Each weekend for the last year or two, Israeli activists (some of them claiming the label of anarchists) along with Palestinians and colleagues from overseas have demonstrated against a segment of the security barrier near the village of Bilin. Initially they sought to prevent the construction of the barrier, and now they try to dismantle it. Every weekend we hear how many were arrested or injured by the army, and how many soldiers were injured by the demonstrators. Some of the same people, or those who think like them, have demonstrated, been arrested, and have protested their arrest in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem, where their target is a structure that a number of Jews claim as their own.

I have no data to judge the incidence of Israelis who lament that their country does not do in Gaza what it does in Haiti. There has not been coverage of any such protest on the prime time discussion program that I have watched, or the radio talk shows I have heard since the earthquake.

There was a segment of the discussion program that coupled a retired senior officer of police and the leader of an Israeli civil rights organization who was arrested for demonstrating against the Jews who have moved into the Arab neighborhood. Their quarrel focused on the right of demonstration, as well as the activist's assertions against ownership by Jews of a disputed building. The police officer said that the activist had been arrested because his behavior was not as dignified during the demonstration as it was in the television studio.

It appears to me that the New York Times correspondent was going beyond political realities when he wrote:

". . . Israelis have been watching with a range of emotions, as if the Haitian relief effort were a Rorschach test through which the nation examines itself. The left has complained that there is no reason to travel thousands of miles to help those in need -- Gaza is an hour away. The right has argued that those who accuse Israel of inhumanity should take note of its selfless efforts and achievements in Haiti."


His introductory paragraph is closer to what I have perceived, i.e., a pride in the activity and attention given to Israelis in Haiti, without linking it to domestic quarrels.

"The editorial cartoon in Thursday's mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot showed American soldiers digging among the ruins of Haiti. From within the rubble, a voice calls out, 'Would you mind checking to see if the Israelis are available?'"


Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:43 AM
January 22, 2010
Promises and disappointments

Barack Obama is one dramatic guy. His rhetoric is world class. His life story adds to the magic. Inauguration as president, aspirations for economic stability, engagement with the world, peace in the Middle East, reform of health care for the unhealthiest of the wealthy countries, and a Nobel Prize were his highlights for 2009.

Less than stunning successes for engagement, the Middle East, and health care have not dimmed his aspirations. Now he is going after the big banks. The details are not any clearer than were his desires for health care in a thousand page bill he sent to Congress. Reports are that he wants to tighten regulation and limit what they can do with their own money and that which they hold for others. He wants to prevent the kind of threat against the nation's economy that came from irresponsible gambles, most notably sub-prime mortgages that gave houses to people who could not pay for them. The experts are still arguing how much of the responsibility for that came from the banks, and how much should be given to presidents who reduced regulations in order to put more people in their own homes.

There is one commentary that the big banks will not suffer from the as-yet unrevealed reforms, but the essence of that prediction is more ridicule than analysis. It is saying that "President Barack Obama's latest broadside against big banks may have more bark than bite." http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100123/ap_on_bi_ge/us_financial_overhaul_banks

The first sign of Obama's success in this venture was a dismal week in the stock market. The S&P 500 dropped by almost four percent. The indices for German and British exchanges declined by three and four percent. It may be too simple to link the declines to the Obama proposal, but that is what people with more expertise and larger audiences than me are saying.

It is not too much of a stretch to expect that the president will trigger the same kind of reactions as his proposal for health care. The banks now in his sights are no poorer and no less savvy than the HMOs and insurance companies. And as in the case of health reform, the political battle will not focus on fat plutocrats bringing their cigars and selfish demands to the hearing rooms of Congress. Again there can be town meetings and accusations of big government, socialism, and the dictates of uninformed bureaucrats. The underside (or is it the good soul) of America will show itself, again paid for and organized by those who have learned the trade of public relations.

The White House has not given up on its other missions. The president and his advisers are rethinking their strategy for health care after Massachusetts. George Mitchell has come again to the Middle East, and the results have been no more encouraging than the drop in the stock market that greeted the president's comments about banking. Prime Minister Netanyahu told Mitchell that the Palestinians should start negotiations without preconditions. And if they want more concessions from Israel (like the 10 month partial settlement freeze on which the clock is running) it is their turn to make concessions first. Palestinians have told Mitchell that without a complete freeze on settlements, including neighborhoods of Jerusalem, there can be no negotiations.

Further east, Iraq is not yet a stable democracy, Iran continues to spin out enriched uranium and to thumb its nose at the international community, Afghanistan remains out of control, and the spill over to Pakistan has now spread to Yemen and Somalia.

There is a good sign in the effort to keep terrorists out of airplanes. A brave crew landed safely and security personnel disarmed a young man of his tefillin.

Remember Obama's campaign. Not only did he promise a great deal, but people heard even more than he was offering in the open-ended theme of Change. It was common to brood about the extent of expectations, and to worry that they assured disappointment.

Here it is, and it may not yet be the bottom.

And here is one of those occasional reminders that I welcome comments.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:46 PM
January 21, 2010
Image and reality

Israel is usually in the headlines about war, terror, great power efforts to make peace, or some other bloody or politically charged issue. This note is not about any of that exciting stuff, but deals with the way others and Israelis often view themselves. That may have something to do with having the world's most popular publication assign us the label of Chosen People living in what the same book calls God's Promised Land. Extremism is the language in dealing with Israel. Adversaries or our own domestic critics think it is the worst, and some friends consider it only a small measure removed from Paradise.

Recently some ranking officials of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development visited Israel to wrap up the country's application for membership. The OECD is a prestigious organization, arguably of the world's best countries, growing out of the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Israel is expected to join within the coming months, and that will add another mark of distinction to a place thought by many to be a pariah.

What has marked the visit of OECD dignataries is their statements that Israel would be the poorest member, as well as most marked by inequality between its well-to-do and poor. The allegations have been repeated by left of center Israeli politicians, including the distinguished economist and former university president, Avishay Braverman, who is serving as a minister in the government with responsibility for minorities. Braverman appeared on a discussion program to assert that he would work to assure the entry of Israel to the OECD, and would press his colleagues in the government to allocate more resources to the underprivileged Arab sector. Joining him on the program was a prominent Arab Member of Knesset. Mohammed Barake discounted Braverman's promises, and demanded that the OECD suspend Israel's membership application on account of its discrimination against Arabs.

Even a minister from the right-of-center Likud signed on to the claims that Israel would be the poorest and least equal of the OECD members. Or maybe this minister was seeking to get something for his education portfolio in the discussion about membership. Gideon Sa'ar said that the OECD report was a reflection of the reality of Israel's society.

"Investment in human capital and higher education is the future of Israel . . .We are going to make every effort to improve teacher skills and qualifications and ease the entry and participation in education for the Arab and haredi sector."

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1263147943073&agename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull


Sounds good, insofar as it comes from reputable people, but it ain't so.

Israel would be neither the poorest nor the least egalitarian of the OECD members. Data from the World Bank indicate that on a common measure--Gross Domestic Product per capita--Israel scores wealthier than existing OECD members Portugal, the Czech Republic, South Korea, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Mexico. On a common measure of income equality (Gini coefficient), it scores more egalitarian than OECD members Turkey, United States, and Mexico, and the Gini coefficients for Portugal and Japan are only fractionally in the direction of greater income equality than Israel's.

The distinguished people who comment inaccurately on Israel's poverty and inequality make more sense when they speak about other traits of the country. They emphasize that the ultra-Orthodox and Arab minorities are poorer than the average. That is true, but both owe some of their poverty to themselves and the politicians who represent them. The ultra-Orthodox volunteer for poverty. The men avoid work for prolonged study of religious texts. Their families live on the incomes of wives as teachers or in other low-paid occupations, and the payment of poverty-level stipends to mature yeshiva students and child allowances for their large families. These payments--and the continued abstention of ultra-Orthodox men from the workforce--reflect the importance of ultra-Orthodox parties for government coalitions.

Arab family incomes are actually closer to those of the Jewish majority than are comparable figures for minorities and majorities in the United States. That is not a great compliment for Israeli egalitarianism, insofar as the United States is a prominent outlier among wealthy countries, noted for its lack of equality. Statistics from the Central Intelligence Agency rank the United States close to the Philippines, Uganda, Jamaica, Uruguay, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Iran and Nigeria, and far from Western European democracies on the conventional measure of income equality.https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/rawdata_2172.text

Israel's Arabs might gain a larger share of the country's opportunities if the parties that most of them vote for learned the political game of going along to get along. Instead of trading their 11 votes in the Knesset for their constituents' benefits, the Arab parties continue to stand united in opposition to whoever is in the government. Severe criticism rather than cooperation is the name of their game. For someone who sees the trading of political support for benefits as the key of civilization, the Arabs who vote for those parties get what they deserve.

Some of you have ridiculed my claim that Israel is a normal country. You are partly right. Thanks to those who would sanctify or demonize it, Israel is different from other countries. But if you look at reputable statistics, most extreme claims pro or con prove to be false. The most prominent indicators that show it to be abnormal are that 80 percent of the population is Jewish, and that it allocates two or three times the proportion of its resources to defense compared to other western democracies. The defense indicator reflects the chronic aggression threatened by Israel's neighbors, which makes them far less normal than Israel itself.

And if any of you object to my designation of Israel as a western democracy, go read something else.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 07:51 AM
January 19, 2010
Barack and Bibi, Massachusetts and Sara

It has not been a good couple of days for Barack Obama. Instead of celebrating the anniversary of his inauguration, he is pondering his party's loss of a special election in what may be the most liberal state in the nation, and Iran's rejection of a lead item on his campaign of engagement.

The Massachusetts defeat was decisive, and not due to the capacity of a faux Kennedy to draw votes from the Democrat.

The New York Times is anything but unfriendly to the Obama White House. Its conclusions about the loss in Massachusetts are that it will require great effort to rescue a health reform, and it will not be the reform promoted by the White House. Moreover, the defeat signals the public's disappointment with the president who came to office with cheers echoing around the world. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/health/policy/21congress.html?hp ; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/us/politics/20assess.html?hp

Iran's government insulted Obama and his allies by slipping more than two weeks past a year-end deadline for response to an proposal that went far toward giving Iran much of what it wanted, and then rejecting key features of the proposal. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60I59820100120

Great power response is to speak yet again about tougher sanctions, but again the powers are not all on the same page.

A Washington Post commentator found reason for optimism on Obama's first anniversary.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/18/AR2010011803455.html?referrer=emailarticle,

A respectable Israeli, speaking on the prime morning news show, concluded that the president has been a dismal failure. He began with the Middle East, spoke about major concessions to Russia without anything in return, toured through other unpromising international efforts, and was pessimistic about the prospects of health. This commentator may have been too demanding when he said that America's economic recovery was not fast enough, but overall he was not far from what Americans and others have been saying.

Journalists are continuing with juicy stories about Sara Netanyahu, and she is irresistible for satirists. Another former employee has reinforced details mentioned in the housekeeper's suit about unreasonable demands and temper tantrums. We are hearing details known for years, but usually kept under wraps, that Sara's power extend to who can work as her husband's advisers or be selected for key appointments in government departments.

Remember Gary Hart, the Colorado senator with presidential aspirations. His sexual appetites were said to be common knowledge, but not the stuff of news reports until he was too brazen about a boat ride with Donna Rice.

It is too early to know if an embarrassing wife can be as damaging to a political career as an embarrassing girl friend.

The prime minister's coalition in the Knesset is more solid than the president's support in Congress. There is not an item on Israel's domestic agenda comparable in importance to health reform in the United States. We have not heard what Sara thinks about Iran's nuclear program, so that issue may still be more firmly on Barack's plate than Bibi's.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 11:39 PM
January 17, 2010
Nails

You have heard the story of the nail that was lost, that hampered the horse, lost the battle and the empire.

In both countries that I follow there is danger of a lost nail. Where they impact is too early to know, but they are cause for worry, or maybe only amusement.

The nail here is Mrs Sara Netanyahu, the wife of . . . In the most recent story that suggests she is the nation's first harridan, is a suit alleging mistreatment and underpayment of wages by her former housekeeper.
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1263147906512&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

This is one of those items that provokes the recall of other tales that have been passed around for years about the Netanyahu household. Some have made their way to the media, and have figured in police investigations about corruption and one successful charge of libel against a newspaper. So far the first lady has emerged clean from the allegations, and this time the prime minister's office has rushed to her defense.
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1143035.html

The prime minister has done well politically despite what is said about his wife and his outspoken father, Ben Zion, still vital at more than 100 and more conservative than his son. Bibi has a substantial coalition, held together not by the reputation of his family, but by his skill at juggling domestic and international demands. He has dealt with personal embarrassments before. During his first term he gave more attention to his wife and children than he has done this time, and he has seldom mentioned his father in public.

Barack Obama's nail is concerned not with his family, and may be more serious.

His threat comes from Joseph L. Kennedy, no relation of the famous family, but a candidate for the late Edward's Senate seat. The present Kennedy is a Libertarian, and given no chance of winning, but might draw enough votes in the Kennedy-soaked state to cause the Democratic candidate to lose in a close race. That could be the missing nail that topples the horse that causes the defeat of the president's health initiative in a Congress where every vote is important.

This will not be the first time that people in my native state gave their votes to a Kennedy on name alone. John F(rancis) Kennedy was a nobody who served as the elected State Treasurer from 1955 to 1961. I remember his candidacy from my senior year in high school. One person was quoted as saying something like, "I don't know how he can serve as United States Senator and State Treasurer at the same time, but he will have my vote."

Obama will not lose an empire if this Senate election goes the wrong way, but it would be a considerable blow to a presidency that depends on a health bill--no matter how unhealthy some think it is--to rescue a record that is tottering. His initiatives in foreign policy have brought ridicule from both Israelis and Arabs, as well as raising doubts about his wisdom with respect to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Guantanamo.The problems are long standing and severe. No one should accuse Obama of not trying, but early signs are the his rhetoric and advisers are not up to the tasks.

Consider this a heads up to watch the news. Both Sara Netanyahu and Joseph Kennedy will have some media space over the next few days, and who knows what will come of waves they generate. They may only provide a story of the triviality in politics. But like that other son of Massachusetts (Tip O'Neill) said, "All politics is local."

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:53 AM
January 15, 2010
I told you it was a normal country

For those who doubt that Israel is a normal country, the arrest of a messiah with who knows how many wives and children should establish its credentials. The most complete report I have seen in English appears in the Times of London. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6988614.ece

This puts us firmly in the league with the Mormon sects of southern Utah, Arizona and Texas, and the occasional European story.

The Tel Aviv location firms up the claim of normality. That city has no more claim of being "holy" than Dallas, or wherever it was that the most recent polygamous Mormon sect was discovered.

Jerusalem is another case. No such extensive messiah-centered family has been exposed here, but we have a recent case of an ultra-Orthodox woman whose treatment of her children brought on the police and social workers, and caused several rabbi-induced demonstrations by members of her congregation against their intervention. For those who might think such behavior is limited to Middle Eastern fanatics, the woman spoke--when she did speak--in English with a British accent. She may not have been here long enough to learn Hebrew.

There is no end of cases where Jerusalem provokes individuals to have spiritual visions, and to behave in ways associated with them. Google "Jerusalem syndrome" and start looking through the 129,000 items that appear.

Politicians also deal with Jerusalem in a spiritual fashion. Barack Obama is only one of the latest world leaders to exhibit a political version of the syndrome. Demanding an end to Jewish construction or residence in certain neighborhoods qualifies as a kind of micro-management of someone else's turf on the border of political madness. That he got what he deserved (Jewish ridicule for his demand, and then Arab ridicule when he reversed himself) has not kept him from making yet another try to reform what the world sees as sacred ground (Jerusalem especially, and the rest of the vaguely defined "Holy Land").

Just as unusual, when viewed by conventional political norms, are Israeli politicians, including the current prime minister, who swear that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli control. Likewise my internet friends who cannot tolerate my skepticism about such an idea.

I am by no means alone in the view that Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, especially those not surrounded by Jewish neighborhoods, can be traded away in a reasonable deal. Most of the city is like any other, that does not qualify as "holy" under any doctrine that I know, except the recent declarations of politicians that everything with the name "Jerusalem" is sacred. The madness is not restricted to Jews. Muslims express the same, talking about a vaguely defined al Quds (holy city) as properly theirs. The Roman Catholic Church joins the fray, claiming that Christian rights can only be assured by internationalizing Jerusalem, under an authority in which it will have an important role.

My pragmatic response to this spiritualism is that Jerusalem works as well as other cities of its size, with substantially lower levels of violence, illegitimacy, and related pathologies than many cities elsewhere. Honor killings among Arabs present problems, but limit much of what bedevils other places. Arabs complain that they are deprived in Jerusalem as currently structured, but they have themselves to thank. Stopping their boycott of municipal politics would give them considerable weight in the allocation of resources.

If the Palestinians ever come to the point where they are willing to accept a reasonable compromise, I expect that some neighborhoods of Jerusalem will be part of the deal. Until then, we can put these ideas on the shelf, hope that Americans and others will ratchet down their spiritualism, and deal with issues that lend themselves to rational bargaining.
--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 01:10 AM
January 13, 2010
Terror

A New York Times article about "al Qaeda" terrorism directed against the United States could have been written about Palestinian terror against Israel. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/13/us/13intel.html?hp

Rather than central planning and coordination by skilled Islamic evil-doers, the most recent spurt of events were largely the work of individual enthusiasts, inspired by extremist preachers or internet sites, some of them with training in Muslim centers.

"Exactly 14 of the approximately 14,000 murders in the United States last year resulted from allegedly jihadist attacks: 13 people shot at Fort Hood in Texas in November and one at a military recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., in June."

Various experts say that American intelligence and counter-terror activities--while far from perfect--have limited the capacity of a centrally-directed infrastructure to plan and execute an attack like 9-11. Some claim that exaggerations of an "al-Qaeda" do more harm than good by fostering excessive fears and amateurish counter efforts.

Palestinian terror looks the same. Many of the recent acts have been the work of individuals spurred by their sense of injustice, or a family casualty at the hands of Israeli security forces. Others are the activities of splinter groups, competing among themselves and with the dominant organizations by showing their intensity for Palestine and against the Jews. Mainline Fatah (PLO) and Hamas reckon with the damage done by Israeli retaliation. They do not organize the violence, but neither do they work assiduously against it. Islam has its influence. It silences, or produces passive acceptance of violence among those who might be inclined to live peacefully, but cannot resist those who raise the flags of religion and revenge.

Many more Israelis, like Americans, die at the hands of criminals rather than terrorists. Most terror plots are foiled, often with the intelligence supplied by Palestinians, by alert guards at check points, or by high-tech devices whose details are not made public. And in both countries, the carnage due to road accidents dwarfs the casualties due to terror.

Individuals quoted in the New York Times articles about the threat against the United States could be talking about the Palestinian threat against Israel. According to one, "I believe in heightened attention to security; I just don't believe hysteria is useful." And another, ""If we overreact and upset 1.5 billion Muslims then we'll have a lot bigger problem on our hands."

Israelis as well as Americans have to live with Muslims, most of whom are good neighbors. More will migrate to the United States due to what is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere, just like Vietnamese migrated in large numbers from the 1970s onward. Israelis already live with 20 percent of their population that is Arab. Security is important, and it occasionally involves violence. Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia represent serious threats, and provide work for Americans and Israelis concerned with security.

There are Americans who think that Israel is at the root of their problems, and Israelis who think that Americans have worsened their problems.

Persuasion and politics is more desirable than violence, if conditions permit.

We can hope for the best, even if we do not expect it.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 02:23 AM
January 12, 2010
Back to work

The holiday season is over. The world has gone back to work.

Turkey and Israel have spent a few days insulting one another. The President of Turkey accused Israel of attacking Lebanon and overreacting against the Palestinians. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered a retaliation. His deputy summoned the Turkish Ambassador, invited the television cameras, and put the ambassador on a low couch while Israelis sat on higher seats. Heights are important to Muslims. The next day Turkish officials complained loudly about being insulted. Numerous Israelis, including ministers in the government, asked why it was necessary to do what had been done.

Turkey and Israel were about to sign yet another agreement for technical assistance in the military field. However, Turkey has recalled its insulted ambassador.

Sane heads may prevail. Turkey's Foreign Minister has said that the governments should work to restore good relations. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been characteristically silent about a controversy. He let the Foreign Minister express the intense nationalism that they share, or maybe he was reluctant to reign in the leader of a party important to his coalition. The issue is symbolic, and need not get in the way of the interests that Israel and Turkey share.

There is considerable commerce between the countries. Turkish Airlines has four flights a day between Tel Aviv and Istanbul. This week there are also 19 flights to Turkey's coastal resorts, filled with middle- and lower-income Israelis on packaged vacations. Turkey buys military equipment from Israel, and the Israeli air force has used the country's large airspace for training.

All this can continue while politicians of both countries express themselves on issues that concern their constituencies.

The mixed messages recall an episode in our recent visit to Istanbul. We spoke with a man who, with considerable politeness, said that Israel was a murdering country. Then a by-stander entered the conversation to help with translation. He was a cadet in the Turkish air force, admired Israelis, and was training in Israel.

Someone assassinated an Iranian professor of physics. We have heard that he was deeply involved in that country's nuclear program, and was just a professor, not involved in nuclear activity. Also that that he was a supporter of the government, and a supporter of the opposition. Iranians were quick to accuse the United States and Israel. Israeli officials say they know nothing about it. An American official called the charges absurd.

We have heard more about the Jordanian who worked for the Americans and--unknown to the Americans--also for al Quaida or the Taliban. He blew himself up, along with eight CIA personnel when he arrived at a meeting called by the Americans to receive intelligence about their enemies. He was a relative of the Jordanian royal family, and was given a honorable funeral with the king in attendance. Jordanians say that Americans should expect to suffer when they invade Muslim countries, and try to induce Muslims to work for them against the true faith.

There are reports that Bibi is caving into the Americans. He may be willing to allocate an Arab section of Jerusalem for the capital of Palestine. So far he is neither affirming nor denying. During the election campaign, he said time and again that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli control. Others think that some neighborhoods Jews do not visit are best controlled by someone else, and can be traded away for a good deal. Party colleagues and others who supported Netanyahu are calling him a traitor. It is not clear that the reports are true. And even if they are, it may be a long while before any progress is made toward President Obama's desire for peace. First the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza will have to make peace with one another, and there is no indication that such an event is close.

Deutsche Bank bought a sizable bloc of stock in Israel's third largest bank.

May your year be a happy one, and no more exciting than you desire.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 10:45 PM
January 10, 2010
Gaza again

Ha'aretz headlines an escalation. Some 20 rockets and mortars have been fired toward Israel in recent days, so far with no casualties and minimum property damage. Ten Palestinians have been killed in retaliations by the air force, and there has been damage to structures as well as the tunnels used to smuggle goods from Egypt. Reports are that Hamas rulers are not interested in escalation, but allow other groups to do what they want.

So far no demands from the good people of the earth that it is all Israel's fault, due to Gazans' suffering, and that Israel must stop the blockade and the carnage. Or maybe there is, but I haven't noticed. Or it has not yet begun. Or people have forgotten, are more concerned with winter, the escapades of the Northern Irish politician's wife, Obama's plundering American pocketbooks for the sake of the nation's health, or some other catastrophe.

It is best to view what is happening in Gaza as simply another example of Palestinian madness. Activists unlimber their home made munitions, point them in the general direction of Israel with little chance of doing significant damage, and produce deaths of their own people and a hardening of the blockade. Now Egypt is building an underground barrier against the smugglers' tunnels, and with every rocket Israel closes its border for a day or so, stopping the shipment of food and other humanitarian supplies.

Politicians and military personnel are saying that another major operation will be necessary. It's only a matter of time.

A year ago more than a thousand Gazans died. Ten Israeli soldiers also lost their lives, some of them due to accidents or mistaken friendly fire. The rubble is still prominent. People are passing their second winter in crude shelters. Foreign governments and activists shake their fists and say nasty things about Israel's disproportionate responses, but do nothing more. Who wants rockets and mortars landing in their towns, even if they seldom produce injuries?

Toward the end of the Vietnam war, American officers lamented that they had already destroyed everything of value from the air, and further strikes did nothing more than bounce the rubble. Israel will bounce some of the rubble in Gaza, and most likely kill more Gazans if the rockets continue. It won't be pleasant. It will not free Gilad Shalit. It will not do anything to solve the problems of Israel and Palestine. It will not solve the dispute between the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, without which there is no point at Israel trying to woo either of them to peace negotiations.

The American emissary, George Mitchell, is threatening. If Israel. does not make substantial efforts toward peace, his country might cancel the guarantees provided for Israel's international lending.

Wow.

Israel politicians have responded that they do not need the guarantees. Its economy weathered the American-provoked economic crisis rather well, and its credit rating allows loans at decent rates without American assurances of repayment.

The Palestinian leadership of the West Bank is holding to the Obama-inspired demand that Israel stop all construction in its settlements, including the post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem. They will not participate in negotiations until that occurs.

Yawn.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 09:45 PM
An American visit

A month with family and friends across the United States found health a lively a topic of conversation. Almost all are sufficiently correct politically to concede that it is time to improve service delivery, but virtually none are happy with the work of the White House and Congress.

No surprise that in two thousand pages there is much to oppose. People fear losing some of what they currently enjoy. Many blanch at the overall expense, and argue against one or another detail for financing the proposals or controlling costs.

My contacts as well as media commentators are also quarreling with the lack of clarity. There have been deals to win a key member, or any member of the House and Senate. And where is the transparency that the president so foolishly promised?

The last point gets again to the naivete of Barack Obama. It should remind a history buff of another president who blundered at a crucial moment. Woodrow Wilson insisted on open agreements openly arrived at when he went to Versailles to end World War I. His weaker but more experienced European and adversaries cringed at the thought. The disasters that began there, in part due to him, contributed to the more destructive war two decades later.

Signs are that Obama is more flexible than Wilson, and quicker to learn that politicians cannot surrender prized aspirations in public, but will do so for the sake of a decent bargain in private.

It is tempting to conclude that much of the detailed opposition is a cover for the conventional American unwillingness to join the democratic consensus that basic health care is a right that ought to be available to all citizens, and maybe even to those who slip into a country illegally.

The concept of rights is flexible, and expands. Massachusetts was an outlier in 1647 when its colonial legislature required compulsory education. The federal government provided for the public support of education in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, concerned with what became the states of Ohio to Wisconsin. The family now in the White House would not have been permitted to sit on park benches or drink at public water fountains in much of the United States as late as the 1960s. More recently, American authorities have recognized the rights of people to be free of secondary smoke, and the rights of the handicapped to access public facilities. American advocates who view health as a right have more trouble persuading fellow citizens to do what the other democracies have been doing for years.

Patriotism and denial are also prominent. Opponents of socialized medicine have their stories of the indigent and the illegal receiving care in emergency rooms and perpetual dialysis. One of my contacts emphasized 600 pound American behemoths to demonstrate that poor health is the choice of the ignorant. Government and private organizations have analyzed statistics to counter the findings that America's indicators are worse than those of all other western societies. None of the calculations indicate that America's delivery of medicine is among the world leaders. Some show that its record is not quite as bad as shown by a simple reading of the data.

Rights to health care are nowhere total. Scientists create medicines, machines, and technologies more expensive than governments are willing to support. Public programs do not cover everything. The best avoid the Canadian experiment of denying patients opportunities to buy privately, or with private insurance, services or medications not covered by public programs.

All struggle with what to cover and how to pay for it, usually in the context of campaigns by drug companies and other providers to include their products and services. They arrange demonstrations demanding the inclusion of what sufferers say will "save their lives," when the most to be hoped is prolonged life at great expense.

Coverage of tourists from overseas, as well as illegal migrants, payments for cosmetic surgery , fertility treatments, sex changes, mental health, and abortion are other issues with no obvious solution.

The political problems associated with the campaigns of those who suffer, those who aspire to profit, and those who ascribe to one ideology or another are not essentially different than deciding what to do about local education or public universities.

Some of the deals seen to date are not fair, or even conscionable, but they are the way a complex and contentious society does its politics. Only those living in paradise ought to complain. If enough legislators and the president will hold their noses while smiling and voting or signing, the United States will move closer to the civilized norm.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 12:03 AM
January 03, 2010
Projections for 2010

This is the season for projecting a continuation of what has been. Some of you have accused me of cynicism. Some have called me a realist. No one should be surprised by what follows.

Overseas observers will report on Israel's military exercises in preparation for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. There won't be a comment from the IDF, the prime minister or defense minister. Other leading officials will express their threats. Iranians will bluster against Israel and about their own rights, while they hold off home grown opponents, and reports leak out about the casualties. President Obama will express regrets and vague comments about Iran's nuclear program, international sanctions, and the rights of Iranians.

The White House will see progress in Iraq, hopeful signs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and maybe even in Somalia.

Congress will add a thousand or two pages worth of patches to health benefits and regulations. There will be a theatrical presidential signing and declaration of success. HMOs and insurance companies will scour the legislation for their opportunities, and Americans who think that they have health insurance will wrestle with new regulations and paperwork. It will take a while to know if they move up from the bottom of the heap for life expectancy and other health indicators.

Israeli officials will not say no to the deal for Gilad Shalit. Neither will they say yes to the demands of Hamas.

The leaders of SHAS will lament homosexuality.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis will curse and demonstrate about the violation of Shabbat, and mumble or be silent when some of their colleagues protest the actions of police and judicial personnel who move against those who behave unconventionally.

Mahmoud Abbas will remain the president of the Palestine National Authority (West Bank) and travel the world urging potential allies to recognize his country in its historical boundaries of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital. The election originally scheduled for January 2009, and more recently January 2010, will be pushed ahead to a more appropriate date.

Israeli activists will claim that their country has the least desirable scores in the world, or (more modestly) among Western democracies on traffic accidents, economic inequality, environmental quality, the accomplishments of school children, higher education, the unrepresentative nature of the political system, religious persecution, the violation of minority rights, international laws of war and the rights of refugees.

With Jews helping to lead them, international promoters of peace and justice will say Amen to that listing of sins, and do what they can to condemn, disinvest, and impose other sanctions.

Most of those bothering to read this will still be here a year from now. I hope to be among you.

--
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-532-2725
Fax +972-2-582-9144
irashark@gmail.com

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at 05:45 AM