Editorial: Israeli affront to Obama

Updated 09 November 2012
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Editorial: Israeli affront to Obama

JUST in case he had any illusions that the Israeli government has any interest whatsoever in supporting a new Palestinian peace initiative, on the very day of his re-election, president Obama received a slap in the face from Premier Benjamin Netanyahu.
Even as the echo of the victory cheers of the president’s supporters were still dying away, the Israeli housing ministry announced that it had issued tenders for nearly 1300 new housing units, to be built illegally in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
There can be little doubt that this was a calculated affront to the Obama administration. The Israeli leader and the US president have had a series of stormy face-to-face and telephone encounters. It is clear there is no love lost between the two men. But what does this outrageous Israeli move presage for Obama’s Middle East policy in the next four years?
Israel matters to Washington in two key areas, Iran and Palestine. Iran is the most obvious and arguably urgent issue. Netanyahu has made it clear that he wants to take pre-emptive action against Iranian nuclear facilities, where he is certain Tehran is working on the construction of an atomic weapon. Israeli warplanes have launched such attacks before. In 1976 they destroyed Iraq’s French-built Osiris reactor and in 2007 mounted a similar devastating raid against a Syrian facility.
On both occasions, analysts concluded that the attacks could not have been launched without US cooperation. However there is no guarantee that Israel will need similar support for an assault against Iran. It has developed its own advanced satellite and targeting capability, if not using technology actually provided by the United States during the Bush presidency, then know-how that has been stolen from its American ally, in a reprise of the 1987 Jonathan Pollard spying scandal.
Obama is not about to supply any assistance to Netanyahu for an Iranian strike. He is set upon a combination of tightening sanctions and the implied offer of direct negotiations, to persuade the Iranians to honor their obligations as a signatory to the treaty empowering the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israel’s saber-rattling may be a useful substitute for direct US military threats, but Obama wants the Israelis to do nothing more.
He does however have other leverage. Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, America has given the country no less than $ 115 billion in bilateral aid, mostly for military purposes. He himself approved a further $ 3 billion package for next year. Yet blocking that payment may not keep Netanyahu in check. If Israel attacks Iran, the repercussions could well endanger the Israeli state, and the strong Jewish lobby in the United States would not tolerate Washington abandoning its support for the country.
It is, however, just possible that threats to delay or withdraw US financial support could persuade the Israelis to postpone further illegal settlement plans and at least pretend, that they would re-enter talks on a Palestinian settlement. Moreover, if Iran’s pro-Palestinian stance is real, then allowing the IAEA inspectors in to see what Tehran insists is its peaceful nuclear program, would defuse a dangerous situation and at the same time make Israel vulnerable to US financial pressure over Palestine.
The greatest achievement of Obama’s second term, arguably the greatest achievement of any recent US president, would be achieving a just settlement for the Palestinians. With Netanyahu seemingly certain to hold on to power in next January’s Israeli general election, even agreeing on a resumption of negotiations, the precondition of which would be a halt to illegal settlement building, let alone finding a lasting end to the agony of all Palestinians, seems a tall order indeed.
Yet it is still hard to believe that Obama was merely speechifying when he made his epic speech in Cairo in 2009. His words carried real conviction. He may not have appreciated how intractable was the opposition that he faced, not just from Netanyahu but from powerful lobbyists in his own country. But he really did sound like a man who meant what he said. And if, as the US economy carries on healing, he decides to refocus his administration on the Middle East and Palestine in particular, there will still be many in our region, who despite their bitter disappointment at his failures over the last four years, will nevertheless be prepared to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. The president has four years left, occupying the most powerful position in the world. He has the opportunity, with wisdom and influence, to transform the future of the Palestinians. He should not let the chance slip through his fingers.


EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017
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EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.