Israel has enjoyed a quiet few years. No wars, no intifada, no increase in the international pressure on the Israeli state – and a strong economy. With the rest of the Middle East in flames, it has been hard to make the traditional argument that the Israeli-Palestinian question is the key to solving all other issues – or to argue that the plight of the Palestinians is the most urgent human-rights priority in the region.
But Israel’s quiet times may be about to end. The Scarlett Johansson controversy is just one part of it – the less important part, in fact. The other really significant element is that John Kerry seems to be about to launch his peace plan. When Kerry does that it will put Israel on the spot and may split its government. And if and when the talks fail (as I’m afraid, they surely will), Israel is likely to get a lot of the blame. The country will be back in the spotlight – and not in a good way. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
In recent years, Benjamin Netanyahu has specialised in playing the role of prophet-in-the-wilderness. While much of the world cheered last month’s interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, the Israeli prime minister denounced it as a “very bad deal”. In a recent speech, Mr Netanyahu warned again that the Iranian government remained a “regime committed to our destruction” and had a “genocidal policy” towards Israel.
♦ Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra has dealt a blow to the rebel cause.
♦ When it comes to the labour market, America is suffering from a rising case of ‘German envy’, writes Edward Luce. However, Germany’s labour market is not without its problems – reformers are keen to take action on the shortage of workers.
♦ The world’s top commodities traders have pocketed nearly $250bn over the last decade, making the individuals and families that control the largely privately-owned sector big beneficiaries of the rise of China and other emerging countries. The FT’s Javier Blas has done a comprehensive review of the sector.
♦ Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s Jon Stewart, has ignited a public debate over Qatar’s influence in Egypt.
♦ MJ Rosenberg looks back at negotiations over the Israeli-Palestinian issue in 1990 and explains why he thinks there is “no possibility of serious negotiation so long as Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister of Israel.”
♦ The Senate begins debate next week on the biggest gun control bill in nearly 20 years, and the gun rights lobby is working with Senate allies on a series of amendments that could actually loosen many of the current restrictions.
♦ Anonymous has handed over to Canadian police what it claims are details about four boys linked to the alleged rape of Rahtaeh Parsons, whose funeral was held last week.
♦ A matriarch in her mid-50s with only $28 to her name is making a bid for election to the provincial assembly in Pakistan’s elections next month.
♦ The Economist writes on Bitcoin and how it is more than a passing frenzy: “chances are that some form of digital money will make a lasting impression on the financial landscape.” Meanwhile, Paul Krugman thinks that “Goldbugs and bitbugs alike seem to long for a pristine monetary standard, untouched by human frailty. But that’s an impossible dream… green pieces of paper are doing fine — and we should let them alone.”
♦ A row has flared between the London School of Economics and the BBC over the presence of journalists on a university-affiliated trip: “the BBC, which the university says actually sent three journalists, also later acknowledged that it had not told the students of the nature of the documentary, in what it characterized as a bid to keep them safe if the journalists were found out and the students were questioned about what they knew.”
♦ Adam Scott has become the first Australian to win the US Masters.
♦ The Guardian looks back at Guan Tianlang’s week and what he has gained from it – the teen golfer has changed the face of Chinese sport.
♦ In the UK, the downturn means that golf clubs are trying to shed their stuffy, middle-aged image.
Reaching out? The Bibi and Barack show, complete with gags about each other's pulchritude (Getty)
As they were trying out their new bromance on Wednesday, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu opened a press conference with some blokey teasing about their families. Mr Obama joked that Mr Netanyahu’s two sons “clearly got their good looks from their mother”. Mr Netanyahu shot back: “Well, I could say the same of your daughters.”
Speaking in Ramallah on Thursday, Mr Obama made a reference to his daughters that probably did not bring quite the same smile to Mr Netanyahu’s face. Discussing the struggles to get ahead that young Palestinians face, the US president drew a parallel with the civil rights movement in America and its impact on his family.
“Those of us in the United States understand that change takes time, but change is possible,” he said in Ramallah, three weeks after he unveiled a new statue in Washington to civil rights hero Rosa Parkes. “There was a time when my daughters did not have the same opportunities as somebody else’s daughters.”
For many Israelis, there is no analogy more insulting than having the country compared to the Jim Crow American South or, worse still, to apartheid South Africa – as it sometimes is by human rights groups. Read more
Employees in the town of Kfar Saba sew flags in preparation for the upcoming visit of Barack Obama (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama will visit Israel on Wednesday 20 March. It will be the first foreign visit of his second term. The trip will be dominated by three foreign policy issues – Iran’s nuclear programme, the Syrian civil war and the Middle East peace process.
Those issues will do much to define how his presidency is eventually judged. This will not be an easy visit for Obama; his relations with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s PM, are notoriously frosty. “Obama has done a lot for Israel but many Israelis are still uncertain to what extent he is a true friend of their country,” says one veteran foreign diplomat. “If he wants to persuade Israelis to move on issues like the peace process he needs to convince them he is genuinely on their side.”
But this visit has to be more than just a charm offensive. Three questions will determine whether it is a success. Read more
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Israeli politician Yair Lapid (Getty)
The cruellest but most revealing tweet about the Israeli election exit polls came from the American writer Jeffrey Goldberg: “I wonder if someone in the White House is right now researching the question, ‘who is Yair Lapid, and what exactly does he think?’”
Exit polls need to be treated with caution and Israel’s political system is particularly complex, but the early indications are that Lapid, a former television personality and leader of the self-described “centre-centre” Yesh Atid, has been the big winner of the elections.
The Obama administration had expected to be dealing with a Benjamin Netanyahu emboldened by a commanding electoral win and leading a coalition that was even more right-wing in its distaste for doing a deal with the Palestinians. According to the script, Nafatli Bennett of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, and not Lapid, was supposed to be the new star. Instead, the most likely outcome seems to be a more chastened Netanyahu looking to Lapid and the centre to help him form a new government. Read more