The end of the year approaches and many issues will of course continue into 2014 and beyond but here are two areas to watch and then a personal reflection on Nelson Mandela.
Iran – it is too late to now bemoan the deal that world leaders have made with Iran. What will happen once the 6 months of the interim arrangement have passed is the real issue at hand.
The crucial question is whether the underlying strategy is “good cop/bad cop” or simply just a cop out?
Are the USA et al in synch with Israel and playing a tactical game with Israel being the “bad cop” that keeps the pressure up on the Iranians to comply not only with the interim deal they have already made (no growth in nuclear capability for an easing of the sanctions), but also to move to the supposed next step – a decrease in nuclear capability for the current ease in sanctions to continue and with more easing to come……..
Or have world leaders simply decided it is all too hard and this interim agreement is the beginning of the end of sanctions no matter what the Iranians do?
Somehow President Obama does not engender the confidence one would like to believe will result in the Iranians reducing their nuclear capabilities.
This will present PM Netanyahu with a huge headache, soul searching and some decisions to be made.
On Iran there is a consensus within the Israeli government coalition and support from those in opposition such as the Labor Party and its new leader Isaac Herzog – Iran must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons.
Of course having a consensus is one thing – deciding how to use that consensus is quite something else.
That is why contrary to popular belief, Israel’s most favoured option is for the sanctions to work.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry seems to have more energy than he was previously given credit for – and somewhat more insight.
He knows, as the current Palestinian leadership know and understand full well that “settlements” are not the issue but merely a convenient public relations tool that somehow works largely on those Jews in the Diaspora who seem to never have a good word to say about Israel’s behaviour and conduct.
“Settlements” are not the issue in Israel either.
But security is. Security is the real deal breaker.
Whenever Israel thinks about ceding territory, it is not the principle of giving up territory per se that gives Israelis pause. The hesitation comes from the question of whether such territorial concessions bring Israel more or less security.
The big dilemma for PM Netanyahu is that Kerry gets it.
I cannot recall any American in the past that has gone to greater lengths to address the security question.
General John Allen – the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan – leads a very large team of security experts who have devised a plan they believe will ensure Israel’s security should a Palestinian State come into being.
Some of the leaked details of the plan appear to go further in Israel’s favour than past suggestions, but of course the devil is in the detail – and in what is not being leaked.
The Americans are playing their most favourite game of recent years, the one especially popular during Obama’s first term – applying pressure to Netanyahu’s coalition in order to try and change its makeup.
Kerry is creating problems for Netanyahu inside his coalition because if the security questions are indeed being addressed in a serious and credible manner, then the differences between the approaches of Lapid and Bennett will become more critical.
And the marked divisions inside the Likud between Netanyahu and a significant number of his MK’s will come more to the fore.
All of this may force Netanyahu to do something he never likes to do and avoids for as long as possible – that is, to make a decision.
There have been many articles written about Nelson Mandela and his attitude to Jews and Israel. In my opinion, when analysing his views, it is important to understand the context and the times of specific policies and comments.
To me it seemed that his opinions and public statements which varied over his lifetime, always reflected his viewpoint on how events affected him personally, rather than on how they affected the world and those outside of Sth Africa.
Although he was a powerful figure for change in Sth Africa, his world outlook was rather naive and unsophisticated.
Perhaps due to his circumstances and imprisonment, that is quite understandable.
His later life attitudes to peace and reconciliation did not translate into Sth African policy towards Israel for example.
He did not speak out when the infamous Durban Conference became THE platform for anti-Semitism.
On the campaign to tar Israel with the false apartheid brush, he usually spoke in a double negative so that one could not claim he said Israel was an apartheid state, but neither could one claim that he did not infer it either.
He visited Australia during my term as President of the Zionist Federation, not too long after 13 Iranian Jews were arrested on trumped up charges in Iran.
There were a group of us assembled when he walked into the room.
I will never forget that entrance, physically large but with an even larger presence – he simply had that indefinable charisma, gravitas, aura, modesty, smile, gentleness and an apparent total lack of ego – all wrapped into the one person.
Yes, I was much moved.
And yes, he charmed me.
And yes he convinced me he was sincere.
Which is why I wrote earlier about his naiveté.
He was complimentary of South African Jewry and spoke of their contribution to South African life in general and to reconciliation.
He unequivocally condemned antisemitism.
Mandela is the only person I have ever heard who convinced me that he personally could be both a true opponent of antisemitism and at the same time an opponent and/or serious critic of Zionism, at least as he understood it.
He explained that he supported Arafat because Arafat had supported him, but stressed his support for the State of Israel.
He was as unclear as it was possible to be on what that meant – the real differences between Zionism and the State of Israel as he saw it – but he was quite clear on his view that Israel’s misconduct began from her establishment and earlier, and not merely from 1967.
Mandela certainly did not want to throw even one Jew out of Israel, but he seemed to be supporting a binational state with a Jewish minority.
He was convinced that not a single Jew would be harmed in such a state, nor would Jewish observance or rights be in any way impeded.
He seemed either blind or oblivious to the general human rights violations in the PA and surrounding Arab countries. It was all just dismissed with a wave of the hand.
Mandela also assured us, with what seemed like total conviction, that the Iranians would give the 13 Jews a fair trial.
He told us that the Iranian Justice system was fair.
Mandela seemed absolutely sincere in these beliefs and having recently come from Iran as he told us, being directly and personally promised as such by the Iranian leadership.
And that was it, end of story for him. He was given a personal assurance by people he respected and therefore he believed it.
Whilst doubting the credibility of his assurances, I do not think anyone in the room doubted his sincerity in his own belief in them.
Mandela was a great symbol and a very impressive man.
It is quite something to have someone espouse the views he did, or have the blind spots he sailed through and yet have me in quite some degree of awe – I guess it was that sort of quality that made him unique.