The end is nigh: prepare!

It’ll be hard going but we have no choice.

We’ve been spoilt, our senses dulled, our imagination and creative thinking corroded. It’s time to excise the lowest common denominator for all our conversations, if you could actually call them that. There are scary times ahead.

You know the trap we’ve fallen into: “I can’t think of anything better to talk about so I might as well have a gripe about … you know what”.

Our excuses have been manifold:

  • It’ll take too much time and effort to find something more meaningful to discuss
  • Is there really something more meaningful?
  • Suits me fine, I was never much of a conversationalist anyway
  • It’s part of God’s devilish plan
  • Couldn’t care less, I’ve got a really bad hangover.

Mother Nature tried to help, sending Covid-19 to distract us. What did we do? We spurned the opportunity MN offered. We refused to mention one topic without the other. How good was that for ingenious stupidity?!

But it’s all coming to an end. I’m getting ready and so should you. My psychoanalyst, fearful of what she calls “cold turkey mass psychosis”, recommends a gradual withdrawal.

“You can’t undo the damage of the past four years overnight,” she counselled me. “Try going for an hour without saying the T-word. Depending on how you cope, extend it to, say, a half-day, then, if you’re feeling really strong, maybe a whole day. Whatever you do, pace yourself. This is not something that can be rushed. And keep a detailed record of the state of your nerves.”

I’ll try but it won’t be easy. There’ll be no extravagant New Year resolutions. Fortunately, my psychoanalyst has provided a stockpile of heavy-duty meds.

“You think there was a problem with the supply of toilet paper,” she warned. “Just wait until 20 January next: the shock at hearing the President of the USA talk in civil tones, using multisyllabic words we no longer understand, using we rather than I. It will be simply too much to bear for a lot of people. We are in for a rough ride.”

“Mind you”, she went on, “it’s not all bad news. There’ll be a pharma-led economic recovery right around the globe. I’ll be booked out for years to come though I can squeeze you in late in 2022. Hope that suits. Good luck!”

Things I will miss about Trump

 

Just imagine the relief when, finally, the Donald is gone. But, like it or not, there’ll be things we will surely miss.

 

  • Trump has made us all feel highly literate. Every day we could wake up, knowing that in the course of the next 15 hours or so we would fluently use a much wider range of words than POTUS ever managed. Said to be “allergic” to reading, a 2018 analysis found that Trump, who attributes his success to “being, like, really smart”, had the worst vocabulary of any US President since 1929. (Jimmy Carter had the best.) Trump’s (sacked) national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, described the president’s intelligence as that of a “kindergartener”; his (sacked) Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, preferred the more direct, “fucking moron”.

  • Hot on the heels of literacy has been our moral superiority. Trump demonstrated daily what amateurs we are when it comes to bending the truth. Trump was/is a serial liar; like,

    really serial.  We can only wonder whether he is capable of telling the truth and, worse, whether it matters to him in the slightest. His outrageous mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis (225,000 Americans dead and counting, one million new cases in a week) is but one example. As of August 2020, The Washington Post “Fact Checker” had recorded 22,510 false or misleading claims by Trump since he assumed office. An average of 17 porkies a day from the world’s most powerful figure has offered the rest of us plenty of wiggle room.

  • The Trump circus has also been entertaining—though often in a sickening way. High-level sackings; offensive comments about places (“shithole” African and Central American states); tasteless remarks about individuals (Ivanka Trump, with her “very nice figure” who the president might have “dated” if she “weren’t my daughter”; obscene stereotyping and fear-mongering (“ Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day”; “Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp”). Following his electoral defeat, Trump tweeted there would be a “big press conference” at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. The venue, it transpired, was not the glamour hotel but a landscaping business located between a crematorium and an “adult” book store. (Maybe its tomes appealed to POTUS.)

Post-Trump, we will no longer be able to rely on his crazy, offensive behaviour to make us look (relatively) civilised. That could be a worry. But there is much good news.

  • The “pussy-grabber-in-chief” will no longer have the keys to the White House. That should lift the morale of women everywhere. Trump has faced 26 allegations of sexual misconduct, including from his first wife, Ivana, who initially accused him of rape. Trump has dismissed all allegations as publicity stunts, politically motivated or coming from women who, in his own words, were “not my type”. His then lawyer, Michael Cohen, argued in 2015 that Trump could not have raped Ivana because legally “you cannot rape your spouse”. That was false and Cohen later recanted his “inarticulate” comment. Caught up in the 2016 Russian electoral interference scandal, Cohen was subsequently jailed but released into house arrest because of Covid-19. His recently published tell-all, Disloyal, The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J Trump, noted Trump’s “inadvertent” comment about Cohen’s 15-year-old daughter: “Look at that piece of ass. I would love some of that”.

  • Life is likely to be a lot less comfortable for those political leaders for whom Trump, in effect, ran a protection racket. Leading this list is the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, closely followed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohamad bin Salman. May they have many sleepless nights.
  • Those with red ties will be able to wear them again, without using a balaclava to disguise their identity.
  • Finally, just imagine what’s going through the mind of Rupert Murdoch and his pet parrots as they contemplate the reality of a Trump-free White House. Key Murdoch mouthpieces (Fox News, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal) recently urged Trump to preserve his “legacy” by showing grace in defeat. Oh Rupert, life will be different for you too!

New hope for spurned writers in Biden victory

 

Rarely has Joe Biden been described as inspirational. That is now changing as aspiring authors around the globe tap away with renewed hope and purpose. Why? Because President-elect Biden, more than any other political figure around, has shown that constant rejection – the bane of authors’ lives – can be overcome.  

Next January, when he is sworn in as 46th President of the USA, it will be 34 years since Biden first ran for the top job. He tried again in 2008, only to confront the eloquent appeal of Barack Obama, and had to settle for a consolation vice-presidency.

Finally, he’s done it! On inauguration day, I appeal to him to speak to authors everywhere. To use his story to lift their spirits, to make clear that decades of rejection are just part of the great plan.

I offer these notes to guide him.

“I know your despair”, the new President should say. “I understand your often-pointless toil. That day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year grind of creating short stories, novels, plays, multi-volume histories on subjects as diverse as the history of ancient Rome or the reproductive habits of the speckled cuttlefish. I know the cost: the blood, sweat and tears; the intellectual ferment and emotional turmoil; the alcohol abuse; the family stress. And, finally, when the draft is complete and despatched, I know the suffocating quiet that settles over you, your house, your computer, your iPhone; the stillness of the cemetery.”

“Look at me”, he might go on, “I, too, have written books. Like you, I reached into my heart, and my head. Alright, I know mine were best sellers and I had no difficulty finding a publisher. But do you know why that was so? Because I had an impeccable record of failure in my chosen field of endeavour.”

The President might then pause and gaze reflectively at the hushed audience. “This next bit’s difficult”, he can say, sounding heartfelt, modest. “No one watching this great celebration of democracy should take it as an admission on my part. It involves the p-word. Plagiarism! A charge levelled at me many years ago. It is true that in recounting my struggle to get ahead my words were eerily similar to those used by the then British Labour leader. But we are a great trading nation, we will always import ideas. I simply chose the best available. There is no shame in that.

“To writers everywhere, I now say, ask not what your publisher can do for you, rather what you can do for your publisher. Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. And always be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else. Never let anyone walk through your mind with their dirty feet. Remember, too, no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. And while you’re at it, don’t forget that ideas are like rabbits – get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you’ll have dozens.

“Keep all that in mind”, the new President should conclude, “and a new, golden era will be upon us. Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence, so let’s make writing great again. It’ll be tremendous. Just tremendous!”

 

You can’t make this stuff up

Confused about America and the workings of that country’s politics? So are we. That’s why our Special Correspondent got America on the phone for an exclusive interview.

 

Special Correspondent: Thanks for taking time out to join us, America. Interesting times, don’t you think?

America: What sort of a trick question is that? We’re sick of smart-arse foreigners setting us up for failure. We remain the one and only beacon of hope for the world, for democracy, for … mmm, quite a few other things I can’t recall right now.

Special Correspondent: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

America: Exactly! It’s good to see our values are so widely recognised.

Special Correspondent: But your political system seems to be, don’t take this the wrong way, a bit creaky. I know you got rid of the most outrageous examples of discrimination—

America: What does that mean?!

Special Correspondent: Wasn’t there a time when African Americans were quizzed when they tried to vote? Some of them were even asked, “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” to try to disenfranchise them.

America: All in the past, and name me a country that doesn’t have a few awkward memories. I hear that Australia’s hardly squeaky clean. What about that dictation test you had: asking a migrant from say, Swaziland, to write a passage in Icelandic, or vice versa, and deporting them when they couldn’t.

Special Correspondent: Fair enough, but I’m asking the questions here. It’s hardly one vote one value in America, is it? As for the electoral college, can an eighteenth-century institution really meet the demands of the twenty-first century? Some have described it as, quote a disaster for democracy unquote.

America: What idiot said that?

Special Correspondent: President Trump.

America: We’re not expected to believe anything he says. That’s why he’s so popular. It’s about the acting, the entertainment, the need to distract us from all the horrible things we’re doing to each other.

Special Correspondent: But isn’t the truth important?

America: It’s grossly overrated. If you’re so hung up about truth remember this. Trump didn’t take us into one new foreign war. Not one. That’s quite an achievement when you think of all the countries we either invaded or subverted under earlier presidents: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Cuba, Costa Rica, Honduras, Haiti, Panama, Grenada, Venezuela, and so on and so forth.

Special Correspondent: That’s an impressive list.

America: C’mon, that’s just a sample. When it comes to interfering in the internal affairs of other countries no-one, absolutely no-one, can hold a candle to us. Trump realised, wisely, it’s all about the economy nowadays. Why start a foreign war when we can have one at home? It stimulates growth, creates jobs, saves all that foreign travel, even helps in the battle against climate change—if you’re stupid enough to believe in that conspiracy. And why go overseas to catch Covid-19 when you can so easily get it at home?

Special Correspondent: That’s all very persuasive. But don’t you think the day of America having to reckon with its internal contradictions is inevitable?

America: Well, I question the premise of your question. Just because we’ve trashed the principles of Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, foreigners like you get all sniffy. We’ll go on doing what we’ve always done so well: proclaiming principles we have no intention of upholding. That’s what made this country what it is today.

Special Correspondent: Isn’t that just the problem?

America: No comment.

Special Correspondent: A final question. How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?

America: No comment. But do send me more info on the dictation test, will you. Could be a real goer here.

Image: Inkforall.com (CC BY-NC 4.0)

The first Tuesday of November: think like a horse

I’ve just watched a short, award-winning play about three horses, locked in their stalls and bickering about their lot in life (no pun intended). One of them is a self-satisfied champion, the two other horses feel deprived and exploited. It all sounds very human.

That’s entirely reasonable. The play, Fabio the Great, was written by a woman, not a horse. Even the most subtle, incisive mind within a human head will never know what it’s like to be a horse. Or a whale, a rocking chair, or any other animate or inanimate object. That shouldn’t stop us imbuing them with human qualities and characteristics in the wonderful grown-up game of pretence many of us like to play.

Rarely will anyone contemplate what it’s like to be a baked bean. Still it would be an interesting exercise to set for children and adults: you are a baked bean who keeps a diary: write an entry for one day. Note that you are not allowed to be eaten at lunch time to save imagining how baked beans while away their afternoons.  

But leave baked beans aside. It’s early November in Australia and there are bound to be a few people wondering what it’s like to be a horse in the Melbourne Cup.

A giddying mix perhaps of fitness, sleekness and nervousness?

Do the animals give each other “may-the-best-horse-win” neighs of encouragement? Or are they conscious of all the money riding (no pun again) on the outcome and determined to stay “in the zone,” just the way a champion human athlete would. Do they have their own favourites, encouraging the young, or maybe deliberately giving an older runner a last hurrah? Do the horses themselves ever fix the result, knowing they won’t be held to account? Do they contemplate the horror of an accident, talking in hushed whinnies about what happened last year or the year before and why some contenders will be forever absent. Do they bridle (alright, that one is intended) at the fact that injured jockeys are rushed to the hospital while injured horses often end up in the knackery.

And just what do horses think of their jockeys: do they like some more than others, making more of an effort for them? Do they resent the hypocrisy of rules which allow riders to whip them while society at large decries animal cruelty?

What’s truly going on in a horse’s mind will forever remain a mystery, as much as the mysteries of being a baked bean or whether an apple feels discomfort when it’s pulled from the tree.

Still, “I wonder what it’s like to be a …” is a critical question we should ask every day. If we can’t or won’t imagine how others see the world, and us, we can’t expect much understanding or sympathy from human beings, or animals for that matter.

Exercise: you are a wombat; write a short play about three humans sitting near your burrow and discussing their lives. (Remember: a group of wombats is called a wisdom.)

West Bank annexation – dead and buried or just comatose?: Peter Rodgers

If Trump is re-elected and revives Netanyahu’s ambitions, Australia must have a plan to make the existing “suspension” permanent.

 

In November 1967, the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 242, following the Six-Day War, was accompanied by lively debate about language. For some UN members the resolution’s call for “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” lacked two vital words. Should it not have been “all” territories, or “the” territories, ideally “all the” territories?

Fast forward 53 years and beneath the hoopla of the US/UAE/Israeli Abraham Accords, signed on September 15, also lurk questions of language and intent.

The joint statement issued by the three countries on August 31 said that the breakthrough in relations between the UAE and Israel (and subsequently Bahrain) resulted in “the suspension of Israel’s plans to extend its sovereignty” in the West Bank. The UAE’s ambassador in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, said the agreement “immediately stops annexation and … maintains the viability of a two-state solution”.

Yet at the same time, Netanyahu declared on Hebrew-language television that there had been “no change in my plans for annexation, with full co-ordination with the US”.

During an earlier media briefing in Washington, President Trump declared that “right now” annexation is “off the table. I can’t talk about some time in the future”. He then turned to David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel (and an unabashed supporter of Israeli settlement activity), asking: “Is that a correct statement?”

“Yes,” Friedman replied, “the word ‘suspend’ was chosen carefully by all the parties. ‘Suspend,’ by definition, look it up, means temporary halt, it’s off the table now but it’s not off the table permanently.”

Trump’s senior adviser on the Middle East, Jared Kushner, offered more in this vein. Israel had agreed not to move forward without US approval. “We do not plan to give our consent for some time,” said Kushner. It was a discussion that would be had, though “not in the near future”. Asked about “temporary”, Kushner defined it, with Trumpian precision, as somewhere “between a long time and a short time”.

In early September, Reuters reported that differences in the English and Arabic versions of the August 31 joint statement had been “seized upon” by Palestinians to argue that the UAE had overstated Israel’s readiness to drop its annexation plans. According to Reuters, the English-language version of the text used “suspension”, while the Arabic language version talked of “Israel’s plans to annex Palestinian lands being stopped”.

A senior UAE official reportedly attributed the differences to a translation issue. The senior PLO figure, Hanan Ashrawi, countered that it was a “forked tongue” aimed at misleading Arab public opinion.

Whether annexation is truly dead or merely comatose, only time will tell. In the short term, two factors will decide its fate. The first is the outcome of the US presidential election. Democratic contender Joe Biden has made clear his opposition to annexation and declared he will reverse Trump administration actions “which I think significantly undercut the prospects of peace”.

The second factor involves Netanyahu’s legal troubles over allegations of corruption and whether he goes to jail. His trial is scheduled to start hearing evidence in January.

In mid-September, the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, welcomed the normalisation of relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain and “Israel’s commitment to suspend plans for West Bank annexations”.

There are two things Australia should now do. The first is to use its close relationship with Israel to urge it to abandon annexation altogether, clearly and unequivocally. The second is to consider how it would respond to a perfect storm of a re-elected Trump, an at-large Netanyahu and a resuscitated drive for annexation.

This would demand more than the tardy and featherweight comment by Foreign Minister Payne on July 1 that Australia had “raised its concerns with Israel in relation to indications of annexations”.

Meaningful action could include marshalling an international effort to impose sanctions on Israel, as Australia did with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. One prompt and cost-free action would be to close Australia’s Trade and Defence Office in West Jerusalem.

Opened in March 2019 without fanfare and little real purpose, its stated aim is to complement Austrade’s work in Tel Aviv. Precisely how is unclear, given that Tel Aviv remains Israel’s trade and technology “capital” and headquarters of the Israeli defence establishment.

The perfect storm might not eventuate, sparing the government the awkwardness of taking issue with Israel. Still, the Prime Minister has declared that if need be Australia will “openly rebuke a sincere friend” on issues such as land appropriations and settlements. Australia should work to make “suspension” of annexation permanent. But is also needs a plan B.

First published by Plus61J Media on 2.10.20; published by Pearls and Irritations on 7.10.20

IMAGE: Montecruz Foto, Flickr, Creative Commons

Trapped in the bubble – by Peter Rodgers

This play was first performed at Melting Pot Theatre, Bundanoon, in
July 2020, with Miranda Lean playing Advisor 2 and winning a best actor award.

 

Cast: Minister (M); Adviser One (A1); Adviser Two (A2)
[Lights up]
[Parliament House, the Minister’s outer office, the Minister is offstage]
[A1 and A2 are onstage, A1 standing, phone in hand: A2 is seated at a desk]
M  [yelling, angry, frustrated]
Get in here someone! Now! Can’t find the bloody thing anywhere.
A1  [looks hard at A2; points to the Minister’s office]  Your turn.
A2  But I have my life ahead of me.
A1  You won’t if you don’t go.
A2  I won’t if I do go, by the sound of that.
A1  Come on. It’s a learning journey.
A2  I’m not sure I want to find out.
A1  It’s high time you earned all that money we pay you.
A2  Oh, alright.
[A2 stands, takes a deep breath and exits; loud, angry, unintelligible yelling offstage; A2 rushes back onstage]
A2  You might have warned me!
A1  You have to experience it sometime.
A2  I didn’t sign up for this.
A1  So what did you sign up for?
A2  [dreamily]  To … to do good. To make the world a better place. To always put others first and never play the games that go on around here.
A1  [hand on head]   Oh no, another idealist! What is wrong with the education system these days?
A2  Why are you so cynical? Shouldn’t we aim high?
A1  Now let me tell you a few hard—  [A1 is interrupted by more yelling]
M  Where is that damned thing? I’m surrounded by idiots!
A2  Shouldn’t we help her look?
A1  Nah. It’s hardly the first time she’s lost something. One of the first things to go were her principles. Happens to them all.
A2  I don’t believe you. I just don’t believe you. There’s got to be goodness in some of those we work with. Maybe, many of them.
A1  [shakes head in wonder]  What a romantic you are. Nice in a way. But sad.
Do you know that the basement is chock-a-block with discarded principles. They truck them offsite these days.
A2  [optimistically]  To recycle them?
A1 To take them to the tip, dummy.
[more unintelligible yelling from the Minister’s office]
A2  [points to the Minister’s office, plaintive]  Was she always like this?
A1  Who knows? Who cares? She’s on the inside looking out. Best place to be. That’s where I want to end up. And she’s had a bit of fun along the way. I can tell you that.
A2  What do you mean?
A1  Well, it’s Australia. The 21st century. In the wee small hours, everyone needs a special sort of comfort.
A2 [shocked]  What about the code-of-conduct? The Barnaby Principle?
A1  Oh dear me. Another one who hasn’t read the fine print.
[speaks slowly, carefully] Ministers-aren’t-allowed-to-have … liaisons … with-their-staff.  [smiles, speaks normally again] Don’t you just love that word? Liaison.
But there’s nothing to stop staff having liaisons with ministers.
A2  That’s appalling. Hypocrisy of the highest order. We’re supposed to be setting an example.
A1  And we are. In creative implementation.
A2  Now you sound like a lawyer.
A1  Very kind of you to say so.
A2  I feel sick.
A1  Maybe you’re not really cut out for this life. Be honest though, wouldn’t you just love to be in there? The warm, tingly feeling that power gives you. The fact that you can yell at others without any justification whatsoever.
A2  That’s what my children are for.
A1  Ha ha! Let me give you a bit of advice. Love the bubble – or leave it.
A2  I’ve got a better solution. I’ll start my own party.
A1  Oh no, not the dreaded Third Way.
A2  I can see it now. The crowds gazing expectantly.  Each and every person looking to me, and me alone, to salve their wounds, to lift their spirits, to offer them hope for the future.
A1  And just how will you do that?
A2  By the power of my words. All you ever come up with is cliché.
A1  They’re very useful around here. They have a soothing effect on ministers, and everyone. Helps them to forget.
A2  Amnesia is no substitute for action. I offer a vision.
A1  If you say so. Go on then, give us a taste.
A2  Well, it’s a bit off-the-cuff, but here goes.
[takes a deep breath, confident]
As Bismarck once said, it’s better never to watch laws or sausages being made. So, at the outset, let me be absolutely open and frank for my message is clear and simple. The fact of the matter is we inherited the current deplorable situation from our predecessors but the only thing we have to fear is fear itself as honesty is the best policy and money isn’t everything. Besides, it doesn’t grow on trees. Nonetheless, we’re spending more dollars in real terms – whatever that means – than any other government in the history of the world and when it’s all said and done and the cows come home to roost …
[frowns, rubs chin]
Aw … something went wrong there. It’s only a first draft though.
[The Minister appears around the corner; A2 does not see her]
[The Minister gives A1 the thumbs up then disappears again]
A1  Go on, go on. You’re doing really well.
A2  So my friends, at the end of the day, the ball’s in our court. We’ll go over the top at first light determined to play hard but fair, to make the ultimate sacrifice if need be, so that in the fullness of time and going forward we will maximise mutually beneficial outcomes for all those deserving to share in the riches of this great nation. Can we do it? The answer is inspiring. Say it with me. In just three words.
A1/A2   [looking at each other, they speak in unison, enthusiastic]
Can we do it? Yes we can!
A1  Very impressive. Very. You’re a natural. Bit of a surprise really.
What I like so much is the freshness of the ideas and the originality and the vigour of the language. You’ve definitely got something. Just give me a moment, will you.  [disappears offstage briefly and returns]  I hope you’ll think this is good news.
A2  Try me.
A1  [points to the Minister’s office] She liked what she heard. Liked it a lot. Was very complimentary. She wants you to become her strategic communications adviser. Big pay rise, of course.
A2  That’s definitely good news. But what about you?
A1  No need to worry about me. I’m her life coach, for life.
A2  Well … it’s a very tempting offer. I need to be clear, though. I’m not thinking of myself.  [shakes head, emphatic]  Not for a single moment.
A1  Of course not. Perish the thought.  [rubs hands together]  Well, that’s all settled. Why don’t we go and have a celebratory drink with the Minister?
A2  [hesitant]  But what about the thing she lost? It sounded quite important.
A1  Forget it. You can’t hold ministers accountable for anything they did or said five minutes ago. The place would grind to a halt.
A2  Mmm … am I doing the right or the wrong thing? I don’t know. I really don’t know.
A1  Relax … after a while you won’t know the difference.
A2  Doesn’t that bother you?
A1  Did for a while. But I grew out of it. We all do. Come on! Can’t keep the Minister waiting.
A2  I suppose what I’m doing is in the national interest.
A1  Of course it is.
A2 Well, then, lead the way!
[they exit, lights down]

© Peter Rodgers 2020

Israel-Palestine and the Bahrain conference – Jared in wonderland

by Peter Rodgers

Whatever happens with Donald Trump’s presidency, the future of his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, is assured. A career as writer of romantic fiction is his for the asking.

Finally, there was something in writing, something to talk about. The first part of the long-awaited US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revealed by Kushner for the “Peace to Prosperity” conference in Bahrain on 25-26 June.  Never mind that the principals to the conflict were not officially present for the birthing of the “New Vision for the Palestinian People and the Broader Middle East”. Never mind that the glossy brochure was vacuous rather than visionary. Never mind that it was the bribe, not the deal, of the century.

In the world of Trump it’s all about the dream. Imagine a bustling tourist centre in Gaza and the West Bank, Kushner declared. “Imagine people and goods flowing securely throughout the region as people become more prosperous.” Imagine indeed. And how will such a vision splendid be realised? Through buzz phrases and mythical foreign investment of US$50 billion to “unleash” the economic potential of the Palestinians, to “empower” them to “realise their ambitions,” and to “enhance” Palestinian governance. Palestinian GDP would double, a million new jobs would be created.

Fine words flowed about education and training, health, employment, infrastructure, transportation, trade, communication, legal and regulatory frameworks, quality of life, and so on and so forth. A US$5 billion superhighway would link the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank and Gaza, run by its nemesis, Hamas. A new Singapore, a new Dubai, a new Sweden would rise from the congested alleyways of Gaza and the abraded hills of the West Bank.

Worthy perhaps, but utterly hallucinogenic. It ignores Israel’s asphyxiating hold over Palestinian life, commerce and communication. The word occupation has vanished from the lexicon. The vision proclaims the need for the Palestinians to develop 4G and 5G technology. There is no mention of the role that Israel plays in impeding this. That Israel only lifted a ban on 3G wireless technology for Palestinian mobile services in 2018. In the words of one Israeli commentator, “It’s as if the plan was designed for a Palestinian economy that exists in an imaginary universe or on the moon, without a realistic discussion of how many aspects of the Palestinian economy are linked to Israel”.

The plan mentions governance but steers well clear of the issue that lies at the very heart of this—and the conflict that has split blood and treasure for the past seventy-plus years—Palestinian statehood. Perhaps that will leap out of the cake in part two of the Kushner “vision”. But the Palestinians have already seen the plan for what it is. A grand bribe to persuade them to decouple economic well-being and political aspiration. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, declared the plan dead on arrival. Engaging with it, he said, was tantamount to a Palestinian declaration of surrender. To which, Israel’s ambassador to the UN responded encouragingly, “What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?”

With the Bahrain conference focused on declaration rather than detail, Kushner hailed it as a “tremendous success.” He reportedly told a Saudi newspaper that his “very detailed and reasonable plan was well received by attendees” from all over the world.

Others, within and beyond the region, had a very different take. An Israeli journalist reported criticism of the plan as “amateurish hodgepodge” which promised “projects that cannot be implemented, funded by money that does not exist and contingent on a peace deal that will never happen”. The economic bonanza was not a confidence building measure but a “con job and insult rolled into one”. It dangled dollars in front of Palestinian noses, implying they could be bought, and set up a chain of events which will lead to the Palestinians being blamed for the plan’s “inevitable failure”.

A former US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, Dan Kurtzer, now Professor of Middle East Studies at Princeton University, tweeted, “I would give this so-called plan a C- from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing.”

Kushner will probably lose little sleep over this. Dismissing Palestinian criticism of the US approach, he noted that the Palestinian Authority did not “have a great track record of getting a deal done. I’ll keep doing it the way we want to do it”. That “way”, it seems, is to redefine the Palestinian “problem” as largely, if not wholly, an economic one. Forget about contested history, forget about contested borders, contested aspirations. Throw enough money at the Palestinians and they’ll forget who they are. They’ll be so busy basking on the beach in Gaza or strolling through its shopping malls that politics will be a thing of the past. Dream on Jared.

First published in Pearls and Irritations, 4 July

Image: Pixabay

What does MBS stand for?

The world loves acronyms – abbreviations from the initial letter or sometimes syllables in phrase or a word. How much easier to text three letters than spell out three words? But will the reader know what MBS stands for? Melbourne Business School, Mind Body Spirit? It depends on the context, of course.

In this case, it is neither. MBS is the nickname of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman. I prefer MbS, following the use of upper and lower case in the spelt-out name (‘bin’ meaning ‘son of’) but the Style Manual says  initialisms, which are not pronounced as a word as are acronyms (for example, OPEC*), should be all capitals. That said, I don’t think they had Arabic names in mind when they made this ruling.

So what does The Crown Prince stand for? To read more on this go to Peter Rodgers’ blog post Mohammad bin Salman – Saudi Arabia’s reformer or wrecker? in Pearls and Irritations.

*Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (note the ‘z’ in organisation: in proper nouns following the preferred spelling of the entity or person)