By Gideon Rachman
When last week I saw a White House spokesman say that Israel’s bombing of a UN school was “totally indefensible”, I briefly thought that I had witnessed something new. Surely the Americans had never before been that strong in condemning Israel? But a colleague with a longer memory reminded me that Israel’s siege of west Beirut in 1982 had provoked President Ronald Reagan (yes, Reagan) to telephone Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister, and accuse him of perpetrating a “holocaust”. There is nothing new about Israeli military action killing hundreds of civilians. There is also nothing new about the international outcry it provokes.
♦ Critics argue that new banking regulations merely tinker with existing rules rather than preventing another meltdown. The FT’s banking editor examines the more radical remedies.
♦ Twenty years after the Oslo Accord, the London Review of Books republishes an essay by Edward Said. He called the agreement “an instrument of Palestinian surrender” and said, “There is little in the document to suggest that Israel will give up its violence against Palestinians…”
♦ Margaret Sullivan, the public editor at the New York Times, explains how you commission a piece from Vladimir Putin.
♦ The people censoring Sina Weibo in China are young, underpaid, overstressed – and few of them are women because the job involves constant exposure to offensive material.
♦ Altaf Hussain, the leader of the Muttahida Qaumi movement, loses his grip on his Pakistani political empire as a British murder investigation closes in on him. Read more
By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Civil activism in China is becoming a force the Chinese government can no longer ignore as activists increasingly unite to rally with broader demands, largely through the growing platform of social media.
♦ Following the initial applause for getting Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table for the first time in four years, US secretary of state John Kerry is facing deep scepticism about the two-day talks in Washington D.C.
♦ Borzou Daragahi argues that in the wake of Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in Egypt, Islamists should investigate their own role in contributing to the tensions in the years leading up to the coup.
♦ Alexei Navalny is hitting the streets “western-style” to revamp his mayoral campaign in Moscow six weeks before the vote.
♦ France’s culture minister Aurélie Filippetti has survived a tough first year in office, representing her party by bringing “extravagant” French culture to the level of the people, while still fighting for France’s “cultural exception.” Read more
♦ Martin Wolf argues that the UK industrial revolution shows the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis on debt is not always right.
♦ Frigide Barjot and her fellow protesters have taken the heat off Hollande as people take to the streets to protest over gay marriage rather than the state of the economy.
♦ The planting of sugar cane has exacerbated the effects of the worst drought in more than four decades in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
♦ Critics say that Nelson Mandela’s family members have been using his status for their own enrichment. Two of his grandchildren are involved in a US reality show called Being Mandela and his daughter has launched a wine business called House of Mandela.
♦ FT Alphaville take a typically irreverent look at the ‘tweet retreat’ in their Occupational Indifference series.
♦ The number of people in Britain receiving emergency food rations has more than doubled in the past year as inflation eroded incomes and government spending cuts have pushed hundreds of thousands into crisis.
♦ Jacob Heilbrunn at The National Interest examines Israel’s fraying image and the possibility that US interest in Israel’s fortune could wane: “if Israel remains stymied in dealing with the Palestinians… its predicament is likely to intensify. And the range of options for dealing with the country’s mounting problems is likely to expand toward more radical solutions.”
♦ Japanese drivers are getting televisions installed in the front of their cars. “Japanese law prohibits “staring” at a screen while driving, without saying anything about glancing at one.”
♦ The New York Times is debating the usefulness of Nato.
♦ The FT’s Robin Harding and Chris Giles look at the perils of austerity theory, and argue that “the essential problem is limited data.”
♦ To catch up on the debate thus far, check out our reading list.
♦ Over on Counterparties, Felix Salmon has helpfully summarised a long blog by an econometrician, Arindrajit Dube. As Salmon puts it: “the causation here seems about as clear as causal analysis can ever be: low growth causes high debt, rather than high debt causing low growth.“
♦ The FT’s Tom Mitchell, a Bostonian, writes about his response to the bombs at Monday’s marathon – “An attack on much more than a race.”
♦ A new Israeli guidebook “offers maps, tips, and tours through 18 areas of Israel where Palestinian villages once stood”. The Economist reviews it.
♦ Obama’s administration appears to hold varying views on the Syrian opposition, something that became obvious on Wednesday when Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made separate appearances before Congress, reports the New York Times.
♦ The European Central Bank’s newest game [wait, they do games?] was released on Wednesday. Alphaville’s Lisa Pollack has played it.
♦ Silicon Valley is welcoming a new kind of business pilgrim – “itinerant company executives who come from the benighted analogue world”, writes Richard Waters. Read more
♦ 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
Barack Obama is only the fifth serving US president to visit Israel since the state was founded in 1948. As Marvin Kalb notes: “A presidential visit to Israel is not routine. Quite the contrary.” So who are the other four?
President Nixon speaking during the official banquet at the Knesset. Photo: GPO
1) Richard Nixon made history as the first US president to visit Israel while in office. He and the first lady, Pat Nixon, touched down in Israel for 24 hours in June 1974 as part of a trip that included Austria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan. According to Aaron David Miller, “Nixon’s trip was a largely a farewell tour, a last hurrah following his administration’s deep involvement in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the diplomacy that followed.”
The itinerary Nixon’s daily diary records that after giving a speech at Ben Gurian airport, the President “motored” to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (where the president and his wife were staying in suite 429) accompanied by Ephraim Katzir, Israeli president, and Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister. Later, he went to “the residence of Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel”, along with Henry Kissinger and Rabin. The following day, Nixon and the first lady went to the Yad Vashem memorial, where they took part in a ceremony for Jews killed during the Second World War. Nixon then went to the Knesset and met the Israeli cabinet.
Gifts from Israel to Nixon: A papyrus scroll, a menorah and a book entitled “Justice in Jerusalem”
Hotel: King David Hotel
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
What does the vote upgrading Palestine’s status at the UN to “non-member state” with observer status actually mean? Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, was quick to rubbish the vote as essentially meaningless in her speech. She could be right. But it all hinges on whether the Palestinians will now be able to pursue the Israelis through the International Criminal Court in the Hague. If that happens, then this really is a big deal. If the ICC does not come into play, then today’s vote matters a lot less.
As far as I can gather the legal situation is very unclear – and different lawyers take different views on whether Palestine’s new status will allow it to use the ICC. Inevitably, politics will also come into play. It would be a bold and risky decision for a fledgling institution like the ICC to go after Israel, since that would immediately and possibly permanently sour relations with the US. Most of the European powers would also be opposed. The reason that Britain abstained on today’s vote, for example, was this hovering question of the ICC and the refusal of the Palestinians to give assurances that they would not head straight for the Hague. On the contrary, Mahmoud Abbas hinted heavily in his speech that he was considering doing exactly that. Read more
In Israel and the Gaza Strip, there might be no real winners from the week-long conflict that ended last night. But there is already a clear loser, writes Roula Khalaf – he is Mahmoud Abbas and he is the president of the Palestinian Authority. Read more
In wartime, everyone wants a hero. The one that has emerged from Israel in recent days is no individual soldier, but a technology: the so-called ‘Iron Dome’. Read more
Whatever happens on the diplomatic front in the latest conflict over Gaza, defence analysts will be reflecting for some time on the big military revelation of recent days – the role played by Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor and what it tells us about the value of missile defence systems. Read more