Cartoons provide a little humor in these somber times.
Are we getting a peek at what will happen with the Fed's baton once it stops pumping money and hands it to the consumer? (See 1 below.)
The President of St John's College - Annapolis Campus - Chris Nelson. is being feted on June 18, for his 20 years as head of this unique "Great Books" College. Congratulations and best wishes Chris. (I served for 9 years on St John's Board of Advisors and Visitors.)
Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma made an observation about Obama recently that hits the nail on the head. The Senator suggested Obama has never lived a life of rejection so when rebuffed he cannot handle it well. What brought up the discussion, and Inhofe's response, was the recent 1967 border dust off between Obama and Netanyahu.
In a previous memo I posted Caroline Glick's complimentary comments about Netanyahu's performance after being 'fragged' by Obama as Netanyahu was in the air headed our way.
I have received many e mails from fellow memo readers expressing their own positive view of Netanyahu's defense of the nation he governs and some even said they wish he were running on the Republican ticket. Netanyahu looked like a 'mensch' and our president looked very small, petulant and whipped.
Lurking beneath voter attitudes has to reside a feeling of discontent with our own leadership and the various failed policies Obama has fostered upon our nation. Even the most partisan must feel we are a nation in decline, shrinking in size and stature as everything seems to be moving in an adverse manner in terms of our nation's vital interests whether it be in The Middle East, allied attitudes and even those whom we have fought and sacrificed for in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan.
Economically we have become a fiscal basket case as the Federal Reserve mops up our monetary hemorrhaging by taking more and more Treasury IOU's onto its own balance sheet.
Russia and China are re-emerging as we slide. We lack a cohesive plan to stabilize our lost balance. Sec. Clinton goes to Pakistan and receives an icy greeting. Obama goes to Poland only to learn Poland, as reported by Stratfor's Friedman, no longer believes NAT0, Europe and/or ourselves are capable of being trustworthy allies.
This is what I see and it has nothing to do with party affiliation because I am a conservative independent. It has to do with reality on the ground and the way I analyze what I see happening.
It has to do with my lack of confidence in Obama, the fact that his inexperience visibly oozes through his pores on a daily basis and that he has surrounded himself with a staff of hacks as evidenced by his most recent 'toast to The Queen' gaffe.(See 2 and 2a below.)
This is the kind of democracy Obama is funding in Egypt with our tax dollars . (See 3 and 3a below.)
Herb Keinon discusses the whys, wherefores an success of Netanyahu's speech and trip. (See 4 below.)
Assad stays, Qadaffi goes? Obama makes a deal, and if so Chamberlain's ghost has been resurrected and now lurks in the Middle East. (See 5 below.)
1)Consumer Spending Slows
By JEFF BATER And LUCA DI LEO
Spending by Americans slowed in April, a sign that rising prices for gasoline and groceries squeezed the economic recovery going into spring.
Another disappointing report Friday on the struggling recovery showed the National Association of Realtors trimmed its forecast for home sales in 2011.
Consumer spending in the U.S. last month gained 0.4%, less than March's downwardly revised 0.5% increase. And when adjusted for inflation, spending went up only 0.1% for a second month in a row.
The Commerce Department report said Americans' incomes grew modestly and that they saved at a rate of 4.9%, the lowest level since October 2008.
"That is a sign that people are dipping into their piggy banks to keep driving," Naroff Economic Advisors President Joel Naroff wrote in a note to clients. "Consumers are trying to spend money but the higher price of goods and services has limited their ability to do that."
The economy slowed considerably in the first three months of 2011, partly because consumers cut their spending amid higher commodity prices. The Commerce data indicate consumers were vulnerable at the start of the second quarter.
Many economists have said the price increases will prove transitory and indeed commodity prices have fallen off their late-April peak, leading gasoline prices to ease in recent weeks.
Indeed, a separate report Friday on consumer sentiment at the end of May showed the mood of Americans improved and expectations for inflation eased: The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final May consumer sentiment index increased to 74.3 from the preliminary May reading of 72.4. There has been some improvement in the labor market, with jobs growth in the private sector.
Still, unemployment in the U.S. remains high. Americans have had trouble getting higher pay in the slow economic recovery, putting a damper on spending. A payroll tax cut this year has been offset by gasoline prices rising close to $4 a gallon.
This week, Federal Reserve governor Elizabeth Duke said incomes have not kept pace with rising costs and that many families are facing the decision whether to buy gas or make home payments.
Friday's data showed the price index for personal consumption expenditures increased 2.2% on a year-over-year basis, after rising 1.8% in March. Compared with the prior month, the gauge rose 0.3% in April.
The report showed underlying inflation, watched closely by the Fed, also sped up in April. The core PCE price index, which excludes food and energy prices because of their volatility, increased 1.0% year over year, after rising 0.9% in March. Compared with the prior month, the core gauge in April rose 0.2%.
Higher prices seem to have hurt the battered housing market this spring. The National Association of Realtors reported the number of people who signed contracts to buy previously occupied homes in the U.S. tumbled last month. Its seasonally adjusted index for pending sales of existing homes decreased 11.6% on a monthly basis to 81.9. Year over year, the gauge was 26.5% below its level in April 2010, which is when a tax subsidy for first-time home buyers expired.
Lawrence Yun, the NAR's chief economist, said the drop may reflect an economic soft patch in April driven by higher oil prices, severe weather and a bump in unemployment claims.
"The pullback in contract signings is disappointing and implies a slower-than-expected market recovery in upcoming months," he said.
The Realtors group forecasts that existing home sales will rise 5% in 2011, a downgrade from an earlier projection of 7.7%. New single-family home sales are expected to decline 4.2%, compared with an earlier forecast of a 0.5% drop.
"With prices still declining, there is little incentive for buyers to be aggressive," MFR Inc. economist Joshua Shapiro said.
Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------2)Mark Steyn moving the meter on public discourse
HH: We begin as we do when we are lucky on Thursday with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Hello, Mark, how are you?
MS: Hey, great to be with you, Hugh.
HH: I want to begin with a conversation I had yesterday with United States Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, commenting on President Obama’s Israel “policies”. Here’s what the Senator had to say about the President.
JI: You know, you have to almost look at this, and Hugh, I’ve watched Obama. And he has never been rejected in his life, and I think there’s something, I’m not qualified to diagnose him, but there’s something wrong with a guy that is going to go out of his way to do all these things right before these two events take place, Netanyahu and then the AIPAC event. So I think that you know, you’re dealing with someone who’s never been rejected before, he’s incredibly arrogant, and he really believes he can talk anyone out of anything.
HH: Mark Steyn, does the President need to be on the couch?
MS: (laughing) I think that is interesting. I mean, I think if you look at Obama, he was wafted upwards, basically, through Columbia, Harvard Law, the Harvard Law Journal, community organizing, the Illinois legislature, the United States Senate, without ever lingering in those jobs long enough to have to do anything. He basically was someone who was kind of just wafted upwards through the system until he became the beneficiary of the ultimate waft, into the Oval Office. And for the first time, for the first time in his life, the words he says, and the actions he takes have consequences. For the first time ever. This is a guy who is, you know, as far as I know, has never had a paper round. This is the first time what he does has consequences. And so the Senator’s words are interesting. I mean, what I find fascinating, thinking about this 1967 border stuff, is whether he intended it as a conscious shift in U.S. policy that would alarm the Israeli government, or whether with the casual arrogance of his half-wit 12 year old speechwriters, it just somehow got in there, and he finds himself standing up there saying it. That’s what I don’t understand.
HH: Well, he’s trying to make us think it’s the latter. And I just can’t believe anything so profoundly at odds with previous American policy could pass through the NSC, the State Department. And I understand and correct for the knuckleheads in the writing shop who are, who always fall off the floor and do worse and worse with each speech.
HH: But Mark Steyn, do you really think he couldn’t have been other than provoking Israel at this point?
MS: No, I think he has, as we were talking last week, you know, I think he has a, I think it’s hard to avoid the ever-growing feeling that he has a contempt for longtime American allies.
MS: I think he has, in that sense, he also has a contempt for the United Kingdom. In India, I hear from Indian politicians all the time, and Indian diplomats, who are amazed at his offhandedness toward India. And I think Israel falls into that category, too. There are deep-seated historical reasons for this. I think there are, perhaps, some peculiar psychological ones in the back of his mind, too, but I think he thought he was getting in a cheap shot at Israel. And as usual, he then, as with all this great, you know, the greatest speaker of all time, after he’s given his great speech, the great orator then has to go out and give these mopping up speeches every 48 hours to try and correct the damage he’s done.
HH: And he’s got to get a better protocol officer. I don’t know if we have the toast ready to play for you, Mark Steyn, but did you cringe through the toast yesterday?
MS: Oh, you know, I can’t…I spoke in, I gave a speech in Ottawa a couple of months ago, and my American publicist accompanied me on that. And she looked at the bill beforehand, the lineup for the dinner, and she said, she came to the words loyal toast, and she said what’s this?
MS: And I said relax, you just have to, you’re toasting Her Majesty, the Queen. That’s all. And she goes well, I’m an American, I don’t know anything about that. How does it work? I want to be on top of it.
MS: And apparently nobody in the Obama administration, nobody does what my publicist does when they see the words loyal toast on the planning for the evening.
HH: Maybe we can put her on the White House staff and try and do a little run through, a little pre-event planning.
MS: Right, right.
HH: Okay, I’ve got to play for you Joe Biden, because he was in your state last night, and he was talking to New Hampshire Democrats. And it’s just sort of a carnival every day with these people. On the eve of the D-Day celebrations, and Memorial Day weekend, here is Vice President Biden talking about the decision to kill bin Laden.
JB: …was that President Obama leads from behind, President Obama is not decisive, President Obama is not bold. Well, I sat there for four months, along with him, actually, that’s not true, with three other people, watching him meticulously plan the boldest, the boldest decision, the boldest undertaking any president has undertaken on a single event in modern history.
HH: So Mark Steyn…
MS: By the way, Hugh, he’s wrong on that.
MS: I think the boldest undertaking that’s ever been undertaken in the history of human undertakings was when Barack Obama decided to make Joe Biden his running mate.
HH: There you go.
MS: Don’t tell me that’s not bold.
HH: That’s very bold. It sounded like a Monty Python routine, the Inquisition. One guy, no, there are three guys in the room.
MS: Yeah (laughing)
HH: And then he also goes on to this, the D-Day thing. So their self-regard, Mark Steyn, is pretty monumental.
MS: Yeah, and you know, Joe Biden told some high-rolling Democrat money men the other day that he’s available for 2016.
HH: Oh, please, God. Please.
MS: I think the dollar fell $.12 cents when that word got out. So I think we should encourage him in that attitude.
HH: Oh, as columnist, I want to open up a PAC to support him. You betcha. Mark Steyn, I do want to play for you, though, just a touch of Benjamin Netanyahu before the United States Congress. One part in particular, I think, may resonate with you, especially given the trials you’ve been put through on behalf of free speech. Here’s Netanyahu.
BN: These extraordinary scenes in Tunis and Cairo evoke those of Berlin and Prague in 1989. Yet as we share their hopes...
BN: You know, I take it as a badge of honor, and so should you, that in our free societies, you can have protests. You can’t have these protests in the farcical parliaments in Tehran or in Tripoli. This is really democracy. (applause)
HH: Now Mark Steyn, people are cheering that, because they believe it. The sad part, though, is increasingly, our real democracies are attempting to shut down not the Code Pink nutters, but full and fair speech about controversial subjects.
MS: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. The horrible thing to me is that there’s not as much difference between the pretend parliaments in Tehran and Tunis, and the parliaments of the Western world as there ought to be. And too many, too many Western countries have become far too comfortable with the idea of regulating speech in the interest of the kind of specious harmony. And too many American colleges, I find it disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful the idea that, of these speech codes you have on American campuses. In Orange County, in your own backyard, Hugh, Orange County has a so-called Human Relations Commission, which doesn’t have the powers yet of the Canadian commissions, but certainly has all the arrogance of them in presuming to issue public statements about free speech issues. And so I’m glad to hear Netanyahu standing up for that. I wish a few more Americans, and a few more Europeans understood it, too.
HH: Yeah, I’ve had Karen Lugo on the program. She was one of the targets of that crazy hearing of the Orange County Human Rights Commission. Mark, before we run out of time, I do want to ask you about New York 26, your analysis of it, and whether or not you think the Republicans, especially the House leadership, are doing their job in getting Paul Ryan’s back, and answering the demagoguery that the Democrats are mounting on Medicare?
MS: Well, I think there’s no doubt that the demagoguery worked. And I think the question is whether the Republican leadership then retreats in the face of it. Somebody in this country has to actually move the ball. This is far more important than whoever the candidate is in 2012, or this or that House seat, or this or that Senate seat. What’s most important is to move the conversation, to do what Thatcher and Reagan did, and actually move the center of public discourse to the right on this issue, because if Americans aren’t, then this is an existential crisis. And that’s what Boehner and the rest of them should be doing – moving the meter on public discourse on this issue.
HH: And were you impressed that Tim Pawlenty did so on ethanol in Iowa, and also in Florida on entitlements?
MS: Yes, I am. I mean, I think this is what we ought to be talking…I’m staggered, by the way. You can stand almost anywhere. This is a relatively lightly populated country. You can stand almost anywhere on any highway – federal, state, local, anywhere in the United States, and see waste, government waste before your eyes. This is a huge issue, and this is where the so-called conservative party has to move the meter between now and next November.
HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com, America.
End of interview.
2a)Senior Executives Give Low Marks to Obama Appointees
By Erin Dian Dumbacher, GovExec.com
President Obama gets low grades.
Government Executive is part of the National Journal Group Inc. and the Atlantic Media Company. From time to time, Government Executive and National Journal will share content and collaborate on features and events.
A new survey shows strained relationships between senior career federal managers and executives and the political appointees they work with.
In the survey, respondents rated Obama appointees lower than those in previous administrations. Obama appointees earned a C average, or 2.0, compared with a 2.3 for those in the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations. More than 30 percent gave Obama appointees a D or an F for overall job performance, while only 20 percent awarded past appointees such low marks.
The study, conducted in April by Government Executive's research division, the Government Business Council, involved surveying 148 Senior Executive Service members and GS-15s about their attitudes toward current challenges and Obama administration initiatives.
The survey revealed skepticism about the ability of current political appointees to improve agency performance. One respondent said, "The role [of senior leadership] has increased, but the effectiveness, skill and knowledge has dramatically decreased."
Obama officials lack functional and agency-specific knowledge, according to survey respondents. Nearly 60 percent of respondents gave Obama appointees a grade of C or lower for their functional expertise, with less than 37 percent giving them A or B grades. Many believe appointees don't understand human resources and procurement rules, saying they presume the "institution is there as an obstruction" and attempt to "break organizations."
Appointees have "unbelievably poor communication with career employees," one respondent commented. Almost 40 percent of managers gave appointees Ds or Fs on collaboration and communication with their staffs. Some "have a divide-and-conquer strategy, and there are way too many industry fingers allowed in decision-making," a respondent noted. At another agency, a manager said the result has been "politicization of normal agency functions."
Further results of the survey will be featured in "The Chiefs," a June 15 special issue of Government Executive on challenges faced by government's chief officers.
3)Cairo opens Gaza crossing, prepares to halt gas to Israel
Egyptian authorities plan to follow up on the permanent opening of the Gaza Strip Rafah crossing - so ending its four-year siege - by liquidating EMG (the East Mediterranean Gas Company which is under contract to deliver Egyptian gas to Israel and supplied 40 percent of its needs in 2010.
Cairo sources report Egypt's Oil Minister Abdallah Ghorab is taking advice from the ministry's legal advisers on ways to break the 2009 contract on order to halt gas deliveries to Israel.
This move is consistent with the policy of the military junta now ruling Egypt to distance themselves from Israel with all its ramifications. The Netanyahu government has not addressed this radical policy shift in the four months since Cairo ignored Israel's request to deny two Iranian freighters permission to sail through the through the Suez Canal on Feb. 22 although the ships were laden with arms and could have been legally stopped.
Saturday, May 28, Cairo opened the Rafah crossing to the transit to Sinai of Gaza Strip persons – though not yet goods - without coordinating this step with Israel, although this violated the 2005 Egyptian-Israeli accords for the Gaza crossings to be manned with European monitors and supervised by Israel which were signed just before Israel completed its withdrawal from the Palestinian enclave.
An Egyptian passport control station which will be open daily catered to hundreds of Palestinians passing through on the first day.
Cairo chose the same day to cut off natural gas supplies to Israel in response to pressure from Gaza's Hamas rulers. The pipeline, built by EMG from El Arish in Sinai to Ashkelon at a cost of $460 million, was blow up near El Arish up twice this year by Hamas activists.
Officials in Cairo claimed that shutting EMG down is predicated by the corruption probe underway against the deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his sons Gemal and Alaa who, say those officials, had confessed to taking a regular commission on Egyptian gas sales and sold it at below-market prices.
Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation, a stockholder in EMG, is to file for its liquidation and ask for information on the funds allegedly transferred to the Mubaraks. Those officials declined to say whether EMG faced charges.
Cairo sources reported that efforts had been stepped up to detain the Egyptian businessman Hussein Salem who was close to the ruling family and suspected by the Egyptian prosecutor general of managing transactions for lining their pockets including the gas deal with Israel. He is reported hiding in Switzerland or Israel. Interpol has not caught up with him. Salem is said to have sold his holdings as an EMG stockholder o Jewish-American financial interests, while continuing to act as the middleman between the Israeli and American group of investors and the Mubaraks.
Cairo informed Israel that although the damage caused the gas pipeline by the April 27 explosion had been repaired, deliveries would not resume because EMG had refused to renegotiate prices with the Egyptian suppliers.
EMG accuses Cairo of breaking an international contract to maintain the current price level until 2013. The Egyptian side replies that investigations against the former president provide grounds for renegotiating the contracts immediately and adjusting prices sharply upward.
Cairo may be using the EMG liquidation threat and a total halt on gas supplies to Israel as leverage for getting a better price for Egyptian gas.
However, sources report that, as the affair drags on and meshes with the probes against the Mubaraks, the military junta appears to be maneuvering itself into a corner from which it cannot avoid sustaining the stoppage as an integral part of its campaign to prove to the Egyptian street how seriously it is fighting the former regime and its web of corruption.
Saturday, the Cairo court fined Hosni Mubarak the equivalent of $33 million for cutting off telephone and internet connections during protest rallies against his regime. That is only the first count of the massive case the prosecution is building up against the former president which includes opening fire on those protesters.
In Cairo's overheated climate, the decline of Egyptian-Israeli relations - or even pressure from Washington on behalf of American businessmen involved in the gas deal with Israel – are unlikely to influence Cairo's new rulers who are bent anyway on cooling Egypt's peace ties with Israel.
Although they pledged to honor all of Egypt's international contacts and treaties they are now backing out of two commitments – posting a third-nation party to monitor the Gaza crossings against terrorist traffic and the commercial gas transaction with Israel.
3a)Netanyahu warns Egypt losing control of growing terror groups in Sinai
PM says Hamas and international terror groups are strengthening presence in Egypt and that the country's military government is having trouble 'realizing its sovereignty' in Sinai.
By Jonathan Lis and Jack Khoury
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Monday that Egypt's new military government was having a "hard time" controlling the rise of international terror organizations in the Sinai Peninsula.
"Egypt is having a hard time realizing its sovereignty in Sinai," Netanyahu said during a meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "International terror organizations are stirring in Sinai and their presence is increasing due to Sinai's connection to Gaza."
Netanyahu also warned that Hamas is getting stronger and that Israel is concerned for its future in the region, in particular with its peace partners Egypt and Jordan.
"Hamas is strengthening in Egypt," Netanyahu said. "It transferred more of its activities to Egypt and less to Syria due to the turmoil there. The Muslim Brotherhood is also not an insignificant player in Egypt."
The prime minister noted that Israel must act responsibly in light of the Arab world turmoil, saying that even though Israel supports the hope for democracy, it is unclear when and if this will happen.
Meanwhile on Monday, Egyptian security forces were pursuing 400 al-Qaida members who have been located in Sinai, said a senior Egyptian security source on Sunday.
According to a report on Egypt's Al-Hayat television channel, the operatives were planning terrorist attacks in Egypt and in Sinai.
The source said the al-Qaida members include Bedouins, Palestinians and foreign Arab nationals. They reportedly attacked a number of security stations in the past in the El Arish area.
Last January, Egypt's interior minister said al-Qaida is trying to establish terror cells in the Gaza Strip. His remarks came as Egyptian security forces had arrested 19suspected al-Qaida militants, who were suspected of planning suicide bombings at holy sites throughout the country.
3b)Report: Over 400 al-Qaida terrorists now in Sinai
By JPOST.COM STAFF
Egyptian security official tells Al-Hayyat that Palestinian, Beduin, foreign citizens seeking to carry out attacks, have already attacked.
Over 400 al-Qaida members have made their way into the Sinai Peninsula, a senior Egyptian security official told the Al-Hayyat satellite television station on Monday.
Egyptian security officials were pursuing the terrorist, who are composed of Palestinians, Beduins and foreign Arab citizens, according to the report. The group was reportedly planning to carry out terror attacks in Egypt, the official said.
Additionally, the terrorists carried out "a number of attacks against [Egyptian] security forces in the Sinai city of El Arish," the official told Al-Hayyat.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday also addressed Egypt's security problems in Sinai. "Egypt has had difficulties exercising its sovereignty over Sinai," he said at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
"We saw this in the two gas pipe explosions that occurred there," Netanyahu said. "What's happening in Sinai is that global terrorist organizations are meddling there and their presence is increasing because of the connection between Sinai and Gaza."
4) Diplomacy: Netanyahu and ‘The Book of Why’
By HERB KEINON
The 'Jerusalem Post’s' diplomatic correspondent examines the reasons certain decisions were made and the success of the visit.
WASHINGTON – When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fired off an unprecedentedly sharp response to US President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech last Thursday night just two hours before boarding a plane to meet the president, it was clear this prime minister’s five-day trip to the American capital was going to be unlike any other.
And, indeed, it was. From the pre-boarding surprises that included Obama’s reference to a return to the 1967 borders and Netanyahu’s angry reaction, to the astonishing media session after their meeting in which Netanyahu essentially told Obama he was wrong; to Obama’s clarifications at AIPAC and his dig that Netanyahu was misrepresenting what he said; to the overwhelmingly warm reception Netanyahu received in Congress – this trip was exceptional.
And yet it remains full of questions. In the world of diplomacy, things don’t generally just happen. They are thought out, considered, weighed. And they have reasons. As such – when reviewing the major events of Netanyahu’s 2011 Washington trip – it’s instructive to ask one simple question: Why?
Why did Obama surprise Netanyahu with a speech that clearly stated the 1967 lines as the negotiation baseline?
Of all the “why” questions, this is perhaps the most difficult to answer, especially since sources close to the prime minister had been saying for days prior to the trip that there was close coordination between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the substance of both Obama’s speech and Netanyahu’s address to Congress.
In the final analysis, there wasn’t. Close coordination would have prevented the unpleasant surprises.
Yet Obama’s speech was full of them: In addition to the 1967 reference, there was also a failure to rule out talks with a PA government that includes Hamas, and an unwillingness to lay down a clear marker on the refugee issue and say – as George W. Bush once did – that the descendants of 1948 Palestinian refugees would return to a Palestinian state, not to Israel.
One reason proffered for the surprise was a White House fear that if the information were shared with the Prime Minister’s Office a number of days, not hours, before the speech’s delivery, then it would have been leaked, triggering a chain of events that would have altered the content of the speech – content that Obama believes in.
According to one senior diplomatic source, the White House views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the following prism: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has the will to make peace, but not the power; Netanyahu has the power, but not the will.
The presidential tactics, therefore, are informed by that overall assumption. How to give Abbas the power, and Netanyahu the will.
Well, one way to give Abbas the power is not to undercut him in the eyes of his public – which an unequivocal “no” to the refugee issue would have done. Another way is not to completely rule out Hamas, especially when the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is so popular on the Palestinian street.
A third way to give Abbas power is to raise his stature among his people – something that is done by adopting a position he has put forward for months: a return to the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, as the basis for negotiations.
And how, if you are Obama, do you give Netanyahu the will to make peace? Show him where the US stands; box him into a corner, force his hand.
Which is what Obama did. The time to procrastinate is over, Obama seemingly said Thursday night; “I want to see action now” – and then he laid out in what direction he wanted to see the action. This, he thought, would inject some will into a Netanyahu he viewed as recalcitrant.
Since taking office in January 2009, Obama’s policies on Israel seem infused by the assumption – long popular among some Israeli pundits and opposition leaders – that the Israeli public would never tolerate a direct confrontation with a US president, and if it came to that, the public would rally around the president, rather than their prime minister, so as not to risk the vital US-Israel relationship.
With that as an assumption, the president had no problem surprising Netanyahu – almost daring the prime minister to take him on. Obama apparently thought, mistakenly, that if Netanyahu did pick a fight, he would lose politically in Israel.
Why did Netanyahu choose to pick a fight with Obama, issuing an extremely tough response to the president’s Mideast speech?
The speech Obama delivered Thursday night was complex.
It is probably fair to state that for most people watching on television or listening on the radio, it did not seem that egregious.
The casual listener heard Obama come out against the delegitimization of Israel and the planned PA end-around run to the UN in September seeking recognition; restate his commitment to the country’s security; and acknowledge that the Fatah-Hamas agreement raised “profound and legitimate” questions for Israel.
Sure, the casual listeners also heard the reference to the 1967 lines, with mutual agreed swaps, and that Jerusalem and the refugee issue must be deferred down the line.
But, many probably thought, that has all been said many times before.
Indeed, one could – after hearing and reading that speech – choose to emphasize either the good or the bad, to find the cup half full or half empty. Netanyahu took a calculated decision to focus on the half-empty part of the cup.
Why? First of all, because he was genuinely angered, as was apparent in a furious phone call he had with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after he was informed of what would be placed in the speech. Netanyahu felt ambushed, as he felt during his first visit to the White House in May 2009 when the president sprung on him – unannounced – a demand for a complete settlement freeze.
Second, Netanyahu saw an opportunity to rally political support. As one of his aides put it on the plane to Washington early Friday morning, soon after Netanyahu’s sharp retort, “If I had to give the response a headline, I’d say the prime minister restored national pride.”
Netanyahu went to the US wanting to stand up to the president – feeling that following the pictures last Sunday of hundreds of Palestinians rushing the country’s northern borders, there would be huge public backing for saying clearly to the president that Israel could not return to the 1967 lines or tolerate any wishy-washy language on Hamas or the refugee issue.
Obama, the aide said, simply does not understand the Israeli psyche, and his failure to address the refugees – saying this would be dealt with later – just a few days after refugees rushed the Israeli borders, showed the degree to which he is tone deaf to the Israeli public.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, understands the public very well, and crafted his comments to align with the vulnerability much of the country feels. Indeed, a Haaretz poll Thursday showed that Netanyahu’s popularity skyrocketed as a result of the Washington trip.
Why, after issuing this response, did Netanyahu feel the need to cross swords with Obama when they issued joint statements after their Friday meeting?
According to Israeli sources, the Friday meeting was divided into two parts. The first part was a one-on-one meeting of about 90 minutes, followed by the public statements. The second part was an additional 30- minute talk, followed by a walk on the White House lawn.
According to one version of events, when Obama failed to clarify to the degree Netanyahu thought necessary what he meant about the 1967 lines, Hamas and the refugees, Netanyahu decided to challenge him publicly – saying that his call the night before about a return the 1967 lines would not happen, and reiterating that a return of refugee descendants or talks with Hamas was also nowhere in the cards.
Yet even before that meeting, Netanyahu had made clear during private conversations that his statement following his meeting with the president would be very important – an indication even before the meeting that he was going to publicly challenge Obama over his speech. And indeed, it was extraordinary watching him do so even as Obama was hosting and sitting next to him.
The statement, together with the meeting, had an obvious impact, as Obama then felt compelled to clarify what he meant during his AIPAC speech – clarifications that brought his positions more in line with those of Israel.
Why did Obama decide to speak before AIPAC, and why did he say what he said?
Obama’s decision to speak at AIPAC three days after delivering a major Middle East address echoed his decision in 2009 to go to Buchenwald after delivering his landmark address to the Arab world in Cairo.
A pattern is emerging: Deliver a speech to the world that is difficult to Israeli ears in one forum, and follow up with a speech geared toward American Jews in another, seemingly designed to reduce the fallout.
While Obama’s visit to Buchenwald in 2009 resonated with American Jews who were touched by the symbolism of an American president visiting the concentration camp, it did not strike any chord with Israelis.
Likewise, in his AIPAC speech, Obama seemed to be trying to pave over, for American Jews, the pot-holes he had created in his Mideast speech.
And of course, a speech to AIPAC makes good political sense. Obama can tell his critics on the Left that he had the “courage” to stand before 10,000 passionate Israel supporters and speak forthrightly about what was needed to forge Middle East peace.
But at the same time, he can tell Jewish critics of his Israel policies that he went to AIPAC and explained fully what he meant. To the world, he didn’t call Hamas a terrorist organization; to the Jews, he did. To the world, he didn’t say that settlement blocs would remain inside Israel; to the Jews, he hinted that they would. To the world, he didn’t rule out once and for all any Palestinian refugee return; to the Jews, he stepped closer in that direction.
Obama, for all his bluster during the speech about not taking the easy path and avoiding controversy, knows that he is going to need Jewish support in the next elections: both financial support and the votes. He also knows that with his Israel policy, he risks losing a few percentage points of the 78% of the Jewish vote he garnered in 2008, and that those percentage points, in key battleground states like Florida and Ohio, could be critical in a close presidential race.
Or, as Ari Fleischer, former spokesman to president George Bush, said at a panel at the AIPAC conference, if Obama wins over the Jews 4:1, as he did last time, he wins the next election; if he only takes the Jews 3:1, he’s in trouble.
Obama went to AIPAC and made his policy clarifications with those considerations obviously in mind.
Why was Netanyahu’s speech to Congress important, especially since he did not chart any radically new course?
While Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday did not detail a new Israeli program, it did set down basic markers that are not irrelevant. Or, as Netanyahu himself said in private conversations, what he was trying to do was pound some policy stakes into the ground that would not be moved by the swirling winds in the region.
And those stakes are: No return to 1967, no refugees, no Hamas, and the absolute necessity of the Palestinians recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Yet there were some other elements of the speech that deserve notice.
The first is that Netanyahu signaled flexibility – that he said he was willing to be “generous” if the Palestinians uttered six key words: “We will accept a Jewish state.”
Second, it is important to notice that Netanyahu never speaks of dismantling, destroying or uprooting settlements.
Instead, as he said to Congress, “in any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.”
Close aides to Netanyahu have said in the past that if a million Arabs live in Israel, there is no reason in the world why a Palestinian state must be cleansed of all Jews.
Third, when talking about a future Palestinian state – saying that Israel will be generous about the size but firm on where the border is put so the lines are defensible – Netanyahu never used the word “contiguity.” This was not an oversight, and it is not clear how exactly he envisions a link between the West Bank and Gaza.
And fourth, he indicated – for the first time publicly – some wiggle room on Jerusalem, saying that while it “must remain the united capital of Israel,” he also believed that “with creativity and with goodwill a solution can be found.”
Although these points are significant, they don’t give the speech its importance. That comes from the reception the address received. That Israel’s prime minister received a rock-star ovation from both sides of the aisle of both houses of Congress sends an important message of support to both friend and foe alike.
Netanyahu knows this, and he knew it before walking into the House chamber. He knew the symbolic value of a speech by a foreign leader to a joint meeting of Congress, something that only happens about four times a year. He knew that he had the rhetorical abilities to get the congressmen on their feet repeatedly.
He knew that the speech, and its reception, would fill many of his countrymen – and Jews around the world – with pride, and would boost his popularity at home.
And even if he knew Obama was probably not applauding either the content of the speech, or the fact that he went to Congress to deliver it, he gambled that in the long run, both he and the country would gain more by – in his mind – “speaking truth to power.”
5)US-Russian deal for two rulers who survived the Arab revolt
Although 2,300 kilometers separates Libya from Syria, Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Assad have this in common: Both Arab leaders look like surviving the revolts against them and neither is buckling under the pressures thrown at them by the United States and Europe - albeit in different forms and varying measures.
Military sources report Sunday, May 29, solid signs Assad and his army was recovering control of most parts of Syria, excepting only the Homs area of central Syria.
Elsewhere, after three months of battling the regime, the opposition is finding it harder to get protesters out on the streets for big rallies. Sunday, Syrian forces backed by tanks and heavy machine guns killed three civilians and wounded scores in the central towns of Talbiseh and Rastan and villages around Homs. Otherwise, most Syrian cities were calm.
This achievement is largely the result of the Syrian president's iron-fisted crackdown on protest followed by a ruthless purge of opponents to the regime in one area after another.
But four more factors played their part:
1. The affluent middle class living in Syria's biggest towns, Damascus and Aleppo, stood aside from the uprising.
2. Likewise the Druze community which obeyed its leaders to stay out of it on orders coming from the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
3. Syria's Christians who are the backbone of the country's business community actively supported the Syrian ruler.
4. More than 100 Iranian and Hizballah officers placed their active experience in crushing opponents at Assad's disposal. They brought with them a whole range of manpower and equipment for breaking up demonstrations against which the popular demonstrators were helpless.
Large military units have occupied the southern region of Horan and its capital Daraa, where the uprising first flared, and where a million people live under a reign of terror. Outbreaks in the suburbs of Damascus have been crushed and the port cities of Tartous and Latakia have gone back to normal.
While the protest movement has not been completely extinguished and may continue to raise its head for some time, President Assad has undeniably regained control of his country.
Outside the Middle East, in Washington and Moscow, sources report President Barak Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev Friday, May 27, came to an reciprocal understanding on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Deauville about the fate of the Syrian and Libyan rulers.
Obama is reported to have promised Medvedev to let Assad finish off the uprising against him without too much pressure from the US and the West. In return, the Russian president undertook to help the US draw the Libyan war to a close by means of an effort to bring about Muammar Qaddafi's exit from power – in a word, the two big powers traded Qaddafi for Assad.
Neither the US nor Russia sees anyone in the Libyan rebel political or military leadership capable of taking over the reins of power in Tripoli. It is therefore assumed a member of the Qaddafi clan will be chosen as Libya's interim ruler.
Obama and Medvedev also quietly agreed, sources say, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, despite their excessive involvement in the Libyan war, were wasting their time because they had no chance of making Qaddafi leave.
According to the information the Russian president offered Obama, NATO attacks had not disabled a single one of Qaddafi's five brigades. Obama confirmed this from his own sources.