One feels déjà vu over the visible tension between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the settlement issue. In the early 1990s both countries had similar problems over the same issue. The Iraqi occupation of Kuwait was reversed under an international coalition led by the US and soon US Secretary of State James Baker embarked upon his mission to organize a Middle East peace conference. As part of his agenda, Baker was shuttling between various capitals in the region. But each time he visited Israel, the government of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir greeted him with a new announcement regarding settlements. Seeking to underscore Israeli independence despite American reservations, the Likud government was adamant over its settlement policy. While the Madrid conference eventually took place in October 1991, the absence of Shamir-Bush chemistry was palpable. Rest is history. Soon both leaders lost their elections and paved the way for the Clinton-Rabin bonhomie.
This time around, the situation is somewhat different. Now, a Likud Prime Minister is entangled with a Democrat President in the US who wrong-footed Israel by creating an impression of being ‘neutral,’ if not unfriendly. There is one extra problem. Clinton then had Rabin who had similar views towards peace making. Obama is even less lucky. With the Labour party within the ruling coalition, Obama cannot look to Ehud Barak for a way out. The only other option, the left-leaning Tzipi Livni, is yet to prove her mettle.Having failed twice to form an alternate government, the Kadima leader is more like a failed messiah than a potential peace partner. So Obama is stuck with Bibi, at least for now!
Women and the conservative Middle East
Who fares better when it comes to being sensitive towards women? The militant Islamic group Hamas or the puritanical Wahhabi ideology? Apparently neither.
Keeping in tune with its conservative image, the Hamas has banned male hairdressers from serving female clients.As one hairdresser told BBC, there are sufficient customers for the handful of male hairdressers. While most of them are from the small Christian community, some of the clients are ‘liberal Muslims.’ But are there any female hairdressers in the Gaza Strip for the female cliental? Unlikely.
Women in Saudi Arabia face a different kind of problem. A few weeks ago, a few women activists called for a two-week boycott of shops selling women garments. They were not protesting against the absence of modern outfit but against the presence of male salespersons in shops that exclusively sell women dresses, especially lingerie. We could legitimately wonder if it is the Saudi sense of modernization or the absence of common sense.
In both cases those in power are oblivious and even insensitive. The Hamas trying to enforce its conservative worldview upon the population of the Gaza Strip can be understandable, if not agreeable. But in Saudi Arabia, which is reeling under the puritanical Wahhabi influence, asking women to shop lingerie from male salespersons is the epitome of insensitiveness.
EVM for Iraq?
The hotly-contested parliamentary elections in Iraq got hotter when the counting took nearly three weeks. While the votes were cast on 7 March, final results were not available until 27 March with fortunes oscillating between the two principal rivals, incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his predecessor Iyad Allawi. Finally just two seats separated the two main blocks. Not just the defeated incumbent Prime Minister, even President Jalal Talabani unsuccessfully demanded a recount. Reacting to the prolongation of the process, one keen Indian observer remarked that Iraqi authorities ‘could have opted for the electronic voting machines (EVMs) that are used in India. Even if the outcome could remain the same, the process would have been swift and reduced much of the agony, especially for the losers.’
Honorary Director of MEI
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