Friday, March 25, 2011

Good night, and good luck

Now it's official: Palestinians don't want peace negotiations. Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator announced that the PA does not believe in the direct talks with Israel, and is looking for international recognition of the state of Palestine in the 1967 borders.

Mr. Erekat refers to the Security Council resolution 242, adopted in November 1967. This resolution calls for the Israeli withdrawal from territories and for establishing the secure and recognized boundaries. By the way, there is no mentioning of the Palestinian state in this document. But this is not the point I would like to make.The point I would like to make goes to the heart of the 242 resolution: withdrawal from territories and the idea of secure borders.

Let's say, Israel will withdraw its army to the 1967 borders and evacuate all the Israelis from the West Bank. Do you really think Israel will have secure borders? Do you think Hamas will not take over power in the West Bank, like he did in Gaza in 2007, just two years after the complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip? Israeli withdrawals without a real willingness of our Arab neighbors to end the conflict never resulted in secure borders. Egypt and Jordan, who wanted to end the conflict with Israel, signed the agreement and fully implemented it. Hezbollah and Hamas never wanted an agreement with Israel.

Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000 only to receive another war in 2006 in the North of the country. Israel left Gaza in 2005 only to get 12.000 rockets and mortars in the South of the country. If we withdraw from the West Bank, we will get another war in the heart of the country and its capital, Jerusalem. If we withdraw today, Hamas will inevitably take over the West bank. And it's not what we think - it's what the Palestinians think. As Mr. Erekat, as well as Mr. Abu Mazen, know very well, the Palestinians in the West Bank are afraid of Hamas takeover. That's why the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem prefer to stay under the Israeli jurisdiction even after the establishment of the state of Palestine.

Formal borders will not resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians all the time that Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others are asking to annihilate Israel. And all the time that Iran is supporting terrorism against Israel. And all the time that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews.

So Mr. Erekat, if you look for another unsuccessful adventure, as the famous movie says: "Good night, and good luck". We will be waiting for you at the negotiation table in Jerusalem, or Ramallah. This is for you to decide.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My memories from the Chernobyl disaster

Reports about the nuclear disaster in Japan bring back my memories from what I experienced 25 years ago.

25 years ago I lived in the city of Zhitomir, a city of 250.000 inhabitants, which lies west of the capital of Ukraine, Kiev. One more detail on the geographical location of Zhitomir: it is located about 90 km south of Chernobyl, a town of the famous nuclear station. This geographical fact became extremely important in April 1986.

The reactor exploded during the night between 26 and 27 April. However, we learned the details of what exactly  happened only one week later. I remind you that the year was 1986: those are the first months of Mikhail Gorbachev in power. There are still no reforms in the Soviet Union, no openness, no "glasnost" and "perestroika".The Soviet Union at its best. With this in  mind, it was quite obvious that the media reported nothing. Business as usual.
 It was our neighbor , the wife of an officer, who told my mom that at night all the military officers stationed in the city were urgently called and sent to Chernobyl because "something has exploded." And at the school the next day - I was then 13 years old - children of the officers who were sent to Chernobyl, were proudly telling that their fathers went to "a secret mission." 

Two days after, the rumors spread widely, and fear flooded all the cities in the region. New and frightening details were told by those officers who started to return from Chernobyl for short vacations, and talked about the "cloud", the radiation, the death. But the Soviet government and its media kept silence. Newspapers continued to report on successes of the socialist economy and about the preparations for the celebrations of May 1.

Celebrations of May 1 were supposed to take place as planned, even in the city of Pripyat', the closest to the Chernobyl station.  But then suddenly the truth was revealed. In Pripyat' there were hundreds of people who suffered from radiation. Neighboring countries, Finland and Sweden, asked for explanations from the Soviet Union about the radioactive cloud coming from there. And radio stations "Voice of America" and "Voice of freedom" informed their listeners in the Soviet Union that terrible disaster happened at Chernobyl and that the Communist regime tries to hide the truth.

Suddenly the reality became unbearable. The terrible panic spread in Kiev and nearby cities. What to do with the kids? What to do with schools? And the most important question: in what direction the wind will blow?

The rest is well known. The wind was blowing to the north and hit hard in many areas of Belarus and Russia. To the relief of those who lived south of Chernobyl, like us, these clouds passed over us.  The population of Pripyat' was completely evacuated and the 30-km zone around the station was established. The "liquidators" - a nickname given to people who worked on sealing the reactor, have become heroes, many of them post-mortem. The "sarkofague", a strange and unheard-of word, entered the lexicon on the regular basis, and we all wanted the liquidators to complete its construction.

 To this day Ukraine is dealing with this disaster. And for hundreds of years, the area around Chernobyl will remain closed. This disaster also had many implications in the shorter term. The  policy of openness of Gorbachev was declared a few months after the disaster, and in fact was the direct result of the intolerable situation created during the disaster when the government hid the truth from citizens and left them to deal with uncontrollable rumors and fears. There are also those who claim that the fall of the Soviet Union began with Chernobyl disaster which showed to the world, but especially to the citizens of the Soviet Union, that their government can not rule the country and is in fact afraid of its own citizens.

The Fukushima disaster is of historic scale, and its impact on Japan and the world will be profound and far-reaching. I hope that the Japanese people would cope better with this disaster.  The way the Japanese people and their government are dealing with it gives us real hope for that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Diplomatic blog in Paris - 7 months after the launch

In August 2010 I moved to Paris for my new diplomatic job as the spokesperson of the Embassy of Israel. One of the first things on my agenda was to open "blog of the Spokesperson". Why? I had three reasons in mind. First, the level of social media penetration In France was rising, including the use of the social networks like Facebook and Daily Motion. Secondly, many French journalists and politicians were using Twitter and personal blogs for their professional objectives. Some of them I started to follow before landing in Paris. And third, the French media in general, with some exceptions, is generally hostile to Israeli positions on the Middle East peace process and sees the conflict between us and the Palestinians as the major topic about Israel, while ignoring other stories about Israel. So, we started to develop a communication strategy with a significant role of social media, my personal blog being part of it.

All of the reasons proved to be correct. So, when I opened a blog my target audience was the journalists and people dealing with the media coverage of the Middle East. The blog helped me to be "introduced" to many of them even before our real meeting took place - they visited my blog. Today, in every meeting I have with journalists, I talk about my blog and ask them about their social media presence, which many of them have.

However, my audience became much broader than I could imagine.Here are some numbers after  7-months blogging.

I opened my blog "Ma Parole!" in August 2010. Since then there were registered 23.000 views, meaning about 3.000 each month. At the first 2 months there was a peak of views - more than 4.500 per months, and since then the numbers are around 1.700 views. You can see here the statistics:

What I find especially interesting was the geography of the visitors in my blog. As expected, the most of the visitors to be from France - about 16.000 people. However, people in the French-speaking countries, like Belgium and Canada, are also among the visitors.The visitors also came from the countries where French was traditionally one of the popular languages, like Morocco and Tunisia. These countries don't have diplomatic relations with us, and in fact the contacts on the level of people-to-people are very sporadic after these countries severed their relations with Israel. This opportunity to interact with people in these countries was of special importance for me.

In this graph on the right side you can the top 10 visitors' countries.

Even though it was a personal blog, I defined it as "the blog of the Spokesperson of the Embassy of Israel in Paris". With this I wanted to stress that the positions I was going to take reflect the official positions of the embassy and of the State. However, this ambiguity of personal blog expressing official position led some people to ask me this question again and again: Does this blog represent the official position?

In fact, the positions I expressed in the blog always reflected the broad consensus in the Israeli society and in the Israeli government. In order to have more "freedom of expression" I decided to open a special place where people could put question about official positions of the government, while in other posts I could express myself in a less official way. So I created in the blog a special box called "Questions to the Spokesperson". In the first two weeks after opening the box, I have received many questions. With the time, it cooled down. However, I have no doubt that once there will be some major event related to Israel (which always comes, you know...) - the visitors will come back with all their questions.

One last thing I realized in these 7 months: blogging means self-discipline, persistence and serious intellectual investment and creativity. Diplomatic blogging means greater freedom in expressing the views and expanding the limits of "what you can say" for diplomats. However, it also means that you have to take some risks because reflecting the official position is different from actually representing it word by word. But as the Russian proverb says: "If you don't take risks, you will not drink champagne." In today's world diplomats must have greater risks if they want diplomacy to be relevant and effective.

If you want to visit the blog just click here