A rant, following the good news from Palestine

The below was taken from an email I sent earlier today and has been slightly edited for this blog:

Today, The New York Times is reporting that Fatah, the Palestinian government in the West Bank, and Hamas, the government in Gaza, have announced a plan for a reunified government and are planning elections within a year.

This is huge news. For one, the West Bank is looking more and more like a stable economy and quasi-nation and is, in fact, planning to declare itself a sovereign state in September in the UN. By joining with Hamas, they can lend legitimacy to the idea that the Palestinian people finally speak with one voice, as opposed to being divided between two mutually hostile governments. This is especially important in peace negotiations with Israel, since one of the principal complaints by pro-Israel supporters is that they don’t have anyone to negotiate with that represents all Palestinians.

So you’d think Israel would welcome this news of reunification. But no. Here’s the NYT quote:

While the deal, reached after secret Egyptian-brokered talks, promised a potentially historic reconciliation for the Palestinians, Israel warned that a formal agreement would spell the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In a televised address on Wednesday, even before the Fatah-Hamas press conference, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chief, Mahmoud Abbas.

“The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, “Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly.”

The choice, he said, was in the authority’s hands.

So now, after years of claiming it didn’t want to negotiate because Palestine was divided, Israel now threatens to cut off peace negotiations as soon as they announce reunification. The irony is unreal. Every single time Palestinian leadership concedes something in negotiations that Israel claims was necessary, it brings up something new to hold against them. They’re in the process of a perpetual “peace process” so they can continue siphoning off land through “settlements” until there’s nothing left. (Imagine negotiating with someone else over how much cake to eat, but as you’re negotiating they’re eating it piece by piece. Israel’s been doing this for 43 years.)

One last point: “Asked why the deadlocked talks had come back to life, Mr. Nounou said, “The will was there for everyone.” He also credited the new mediators from Egypt, put in place after that country’s revolution, with “an exemplary performance,” including weeks of courtship at private meetings with each side before they met face to face with each other for the first time today” (bold font mine).

Yet another reason US support of dictators in the Middle East serves no one’s best interests, and in fact inhibits real progress. Fatah and Hamas have been at odds for years; and yet two months after the Egyptian revolution, they’re announcing a deal. This is how democracy works, and it’s why Israel, far from being our “only democratic ally in the Middle East,” is in fact inhibiting democracy all across the region, by handcuffing US foreign policy in incredibly damaging ways.

Rant over.
Updated (11:30 PM 4/27): In the above portion of this post, I stated: “So now, after years of claiming it didn’t want to negotiate because Palestine was divided, Israel now threatens to cut off peace negotiations as soon as they announce reunification.” Documentation is provided below:
The dozens of Israelis we interviewed, whether they were members of the Knesset, academics, or local entrepreneurs, all communicated a depressing lack of hope about the prospects for a peace settlement. Their main explanation for this failure was that the Palestinian leadership was divided between Fatah in the West Bank and the “terrorist group” Hamas in Gaza. As one Knesset member put it, “We simply do not have a viable political partner in peace.”
Israelis and Palestinians each placed the onus for fruitful peace negotiations on the other side Sunday, with Benjamin Netanyahu saying Israel needed a “real partner” for peace, and Saeb Erekat warning that the upcoming talks were a test for the Jewish state, dpa reported.Commenting on the proposed negotiations, announced Friday by the US and the EU, Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday morning that the talks required both sides to take the necessary steps, “and not just the Israelis side and not just the Palestinian side.”

“If we find that we have a genuine partner on the Palestinian side, an honest and serious negotiating partner … if we find such a partner, we can soon reach a historic peace agreement between the two peoples,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Surely the place for setting out stalls is precisely at the negotiating table away from the glare of the media? Israel has been sitting at that table for 21 months, waiting for a negotiating partner to arrive at the other side.

Boston joins the ranks of the biker-friendly

Not that it wasn’t bike-friendly already. But today the Boston Globe reports:

As early as this summer, residents and visitors taking quick trips in Boston will be able to rent bicycles from dozens of sidewalk kiosks, under an agreement expected to be signed today that will create a bike-sharing network inspired by those in Paris and Washington.

The setup will be a subscription service, “with memberships likely to range from about $5 a day to $85 a year.” At first this confused me, since I’d been under the impression that the Parisian Vélib’ system operated on a per-ride basis. I was wrong. According to omniscient Wikipedia, “in order to use the system, users need to take out a subscription, which allows the subscriber an unlimited number of rentals. Subscriptions can be purchased at €1 per day, €5/week or €29/year.”

Regardless of pricing structure, this is a hugely positive step for Boston, and I’m looking forward to test-driving the system this summer.

Why wouldn’t the New York Times promote its own reporting?

Because editor Bill Keller would rather bury his paper’s own accomplishments than admit that Julian Assange and his organization conduct proper journalism, that’s why. ForbesAndy Greenberg blogged today about the curious absence of Wikileaks reporting in yesterday’s Pulitzer Prize ceremonies:

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Will Ferrell on “The Office:” brief thoughts

On the bright side, my worst fears went unrealized. I love Will Ferrell, and I’ve watched — in several cases, multiple times — Old School, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory. Ferrell is phenomenal at what he does, which is to play larger-than-life caricatures whose narrative arcs neatly travel from cocksure/happy-go-lucky man-child to depressive failure to mature survivor, after finally confronting and conquering some innate (and ridiculously obvious to everyone but himself) personality flaw. (This, incidentally, is part of the reason Old School was so hilarious: the flaw, in that case, was his wife. She was properly disposed of in short order.)

The Office wisely sidestepped such theatrics. Ferrell is hardly a man known for his subtleties (his outstanding turn in Stranger than Fiction notwithstanding). And yet it was obvious that a continuation of his one-dimensional film roles, condensed into a twenty-minute teleplay format on a show known more for its situational humor than outsized personalities, simply wouldn’t work.

So the writers went with a subdued version instead. One problem with this approach, however, is that Ferrell’s surprisingly low-key character wasn’t that funny. This is, perhaps, forgivable. Given the fact that we already know he’ll be sticking around for another three episodes, hitting a home run on the opening pitch isn’t mandatory.

But it helps. Far more concerning, however, is the fact that, by attempting to mold Ferrell into a somewhat relatable role, the writers wound up immediately painting him into some contradictory corners. In a sense, Ferrell was too multi-dimensional. How can a guy call an impromptu meeting while receiving a shave at the office from his private barber one moment, and then express his deep insecurities to his predecessor just minutes later? This disconnect between the public and private personas is indeed a significant portion of Michael Scott’s story as well, but in his case the reasons for this were thoughtfully portrayed over the course of years, and dozens of episodes. In the case of Will Ferrell, we immediately gain access to both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and end up (at least somewhat) discounting both.

Regardless of any potential misgivings, I’ll be watching next week’s epsiode anyway. I just hope the writers manage to make Will Ferrell’s character a bit more coherent than they did on the first try.