Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Israel Day 4: Tuesday Evening, Tel Aviv

I sit with my back to the patio of my beachfront room in Tel Aviv, a bustling, modern city on the Mediterranean Coast.  The sliding door is open, and I am treated to the competing sounds of surf and city, which combine in a not displeasing way.  We arrived here about an hour ago after a full day, about which I will write in a bit.  We leave for dinner with some Israeli think tankers in about an hour, so I should be able to squeeze this out without rush.

As we neared the hotel, I asked one of our Israeli hosts about nearby cigar shops, hoping to nab one or two of my beloved Macanudo Portofinos.  His eyes lit immediately, as he is an aficionado.  Less than a quarter of a mile's walk from the hotel, he described a fine shop, one that he himself would hit at some point during our visit.  As soon as I checked in, I proceeded with alacrity to the shop.  Of course, with access to Cubans, why would I hope for my brand to be in stock.  It wasn't of course, so I asked for a very mild cigar and was sold a Montecristo Open.  Cubans tend to make my head spin, so I'll tell you how this works out.

Yesterday morning, we had a breakfast with an Israeli official with deep experience in negotiating with the Palestinians.  You'd think that after nearly twenty years of it, he'd be jaded--but he had a great attitude and steadfastly maintained that some talk is better than no talk, even if there look to be no results in the offing.  The talks on this trip are off the record, but I can characterize them as I wish.  This guy was the real deal--very smart, very knowledgeable, and very likely a skilled negotiator.

After a trip to the holy sites of Jerusalem, we proceeded to the Knesset where we met with three different members of the 120 seat chamber (unicameral).  All were very impressive, and they gave us a great tour-d'horizon of Israeli domestic and foreign affairs issues.  One was from the government, a member of one of the coalition parties (not Netanyahu's), and the other two were of the opposition Labor Party.  The final guy we met with was this fellow, Issac Herzog.  I'm naming him only as a way of thanking him--because he really went out of his way to make the group feel special, leading us on a tour of the building and taking us into the Knesset chamber while it was in session. 

Our dinner speaker was a former investment banker turned Israeli entrepreneur.  Like many of the people I'm meeting on this trip, he's a dual citizen, born and raised in the US.  He'd been in Israel for 16 years and raised his family here.  Brilliant guy--sorta the classic broker/banker type--enthusiastic, very social, very interesting.  He gave us a great presentation on the booming Israeli economy, and at one point, I got him to say something that was really, really meaningful to our ideologically mixed group (there are a couple of good  folks from liberal think tanks with us). He was running down all the reasons for the growth of the Israeli economy, and I said to him, "yeah, but those have always been features of Israeli society--why now?"  He answered very clearly..."the government turned from socialism to capitalism".  I wanted to cheer.

This morning we piled onto our bus for a trip to Yad Veshem Holocaust Memorial.  Wow.  Unreal.  A powerful, powerful place full of a catalog of unparalleled evil. We had little headsets on over which our tour guide talked us through, but we had only two hours so we moved very quickly.  Too quickly.  I could have lingered over the photographs for hours.  Scary.  Haunting.  The place was full of young IDF soldiers and we were told that every recruit visits with his unit, and every senior NCO and commander visits.  Since everyone serves in the Army, this means they all come through.  I found myself really considering the merits of national service, seeing all these young men walking around in a museum central to their nation's history.  I realize it is easy for me who volunteered to serve to feel this way, but I couldn't help but feel there would be merit in national service in the US.  Though on a practical level, I wonder how it would work.

After this, we got off our posh Israeli bus (wifi equipped!) and got onto a posh Arab bus.  Why?  Because we were driving into Ramallah, a Palestinian West Bank town to have lunch with the outgoing Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Salam Fayyed and we couldn't take an Israeli bus in!  An instantly impressive man. We had talked about him on the way there, hearing about his five years at PM and the fact that he had recently resigned, soon to be replaced.  He was apparently a "make the trains run on time" kind of guy, who lowered crime, improved health and education, and improved the economy.  But he had no PLO cred, he wasn't a member of Hamas or Fattah, and he never really had the love of the people or the President (Abu Mazzen).  I really enjoyed this meeting.

Afterward, we sat with a renowned pollster of Palestinian public opinion, who seemed to reinforce my growing sense that for the time being, nothing really important is going to happen between the Israelis and the Palestinians, irrespective of Secretary Kerry's energetic diplomacy.

Well, there are forty minutes left until I have to meet the group for dinner.  Maybe a short nap.  Until tomorrow, friends. 


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you were able to make it to Vad Yashem. Perhaps on your next visit you can get to Yad Vashem.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Horrible mistake. Fixed.

Mudge said...

Great report, thanks. Was floored to hear capitalism worked better than socialism though. Are you sure he wasn't just a shill for the tea party? Must've been. Also, shouldn't we rename liberal think tanks to be "feel tanks" in the name of descriptive accuracy?

Unknown said...

The thing to me with Israel is the same as Taiwan in that we should be supporting friendly democracies around the world. I fear that we will turn our backs on them for economic reasons. The day seems to get closer and closer to were we can no longer see the truth in many things. We are political correcting our selves to death.

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