My Travels in the Former Soviet Union

FSU: Building Market Economy Monetary Systems–My Travels in the Former Soviet Union

By Warren L Coats (2020)  Kindle and paperback versions available at: https://www.amazon.com/FSU-Building-Economy-Monetary-Systems-ebook/dp/B08K3WNQK2/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=warren+Coats&qid=1601491694&s=books&sr=1-2

By the end of 1991 the pressures for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to break up into 15 separate countries climaxed. On December 25, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as the President of the USSR and the next day the Supreme Soviet voted to end its existence. The demise of the Soviet Union was precipitated by the failure of its system of central planning to deliver an acceptable standard of living for its unfortunate citizens. Thus, Russian and the other now Formerly Soviet Republics wanted to transition into market economies as quickly as possible. They wanted to become what they called “normal” countries and to join the rest of the world.

Of direct relevance to me, my employer, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), suddenly faced the prospect of fifteen new members, each of which wished to convert its branch of Gosbank, the central bank for the USSR, into its own independent central bank overseeing the monetary and financial systems of market economies.

Four months after the USSR was formally dissolved, I was on a charter flight from Geneva, Switzerland, to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, with eleven other economists to provide technical assistance to the National Bank of Kazakhstan. We knew almost nothing about the people we were to meet, the living conditions we would find, the social customs that we might be expected to understand, and the condition of the former branch of the Gosbank of the USSR that we were to help become a normal central bank. It was a challenging but very exciting undertaking.

In this book, I attempt to share some of the more interesting social, primarily non-economic, encounters of my work in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova from 1992 to 1995.

Previous Books

One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Warren Coats (2007)   Hard cover: One Currency for Bosnia

Afghanistan: Rebuilding the Central Bank after 9/11 — My Travels to Kabul By Warren Coats (2020)  Kindle and paperback versions available at:  “Afghanistan-Rebuilding the Central Bank after 9/11”

Zimbabwe: Challenges and Policy Options after Hyperinflation by Warren L. Coats (Author), Geneviève Verdier (Author)  Format: Kindle Edition Zimbabwe-Challenges and Policy Options after Hyperinflation-ebook

Money and Monetary Policy in Less Developed Countries: A Survey of Issues and Evidence by Warren L. Coats (Author, Editor), Deena R. Khatkhate (Author, Editor)  Format: Kindle Edition Money and Monetary Policy in LDCs-ebook

My travels to Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Rebuilding the Central Bank after 9/11 — My Travels to Kabul

By Warren Coats

Kindle and paperback versions available at:  “Afghanistan-Rebuilding the Central Bank after 9/11”

Watching the collapse of the twin Trade Towers in New York on September 11, 2001 on the TV in my hotel room in Bratislava, I never imagined that I would be in Kabul several months later and spend 212 days there spread over 19 trips from January 2002 to December 2013 to help modernize Afghanistan’s central bank–Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB). I learned more than I taught and share the highlights in this book. I became friends with many wonderful Afghan people, and bonded with my IMF team members. DAB was almost completely rebuilt. Watching its eager young staff mature into effective managers was a joy. Whether it will last in Afghanistan’s uncertain political and cultural environment is an open question.

I learned as much as I could about Islam and its internal struggle to denounce Islamism (radical Islamic fundamentalism). I share details of the collapse of Kabulbank, Afghanistan’s largest bank, and the corruption surrounding it and its resolution. The IMF’s presence and work in Afghanistan was not without tragedy. The IMF’s resident representative, in whose guest facilities we stayed, was killed in a terrorist attack. And I learned much about walls.

Previous Books

One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina

by Warren Coats (2007)   Hard cover: One Currency for Bosnia

Zimbabwe: Challenges and Policy Options after Hyperinflation

by Warren L. Coats (Author), Geneviève Verdier (Author)  Format: Kindle Edition

Zimbabwe-Challenges and Policy Options after Hyperinflation-ebook

Money and Monetary Policy in Less Developed Countries: A Survey of Issues and Evidence

by Warren L. Coats (Author, Editor), Deena R. Khatkhate (Author, Editor)  Format: Kindle Edition

Money and Monetary Policy in LDCs-ebook

Protecting yourself from Coronavirus

How can you best protect yourself from coronavirus? Unfortunately, the “government” is providing inconsistent and sometimes misleading advice, as are airlines and other businesses that want to keep you coming.  Disinfecting surfaces and extra cleaning of airplanes and other public transports may not be helpful and can communicate a false sense of safety. You would be safer to sit on an uncleaned toilet and then wash your hands, than to clean the toilet seat yourself with some disinfectant.

Two key facts are critical to understanding the transmission of viruses, such as Coronavirus. The first is that not all disinfectants are created equal.  Most are effective in killing bacteria but not viruses.  By and large only products with bleach (Clorox or sodium hypochlorite) will destroy viruses, but they can potentially also destroy the surfaces they are applied to, including your skin and thus it is not desirable to use them routinely. The second fact is that the coronavirus does not enter your body through your skin. It enters through your eyes, nose or mouth (or an open sore). This is why you should avoid touching your face.  Your best protection is to keep the virus off your hands, and then keep your hands off your face. The best way to keep the virus off your hands is to be more careful where you put them and to wash them with ordinary hand soap whenever you think your hands might have contacted the virus.

Wash your hands:  “If we sanitize, it will be fine.” No it won’t. Saying so can give a false sense of safety. Products to disinfect your hands without rinsing might kill bacteria but they will only rearrange viruses on your hands. Even ordinary soap will not “kill” viruses, but it is great at removing them from your skin so they can be rinsed away. Wash for 30 seconds (humming the “happy birthday to you” song twice) and rinse well. The following article provides an excellent and detailed discussion of the power of soap: “Deadly-viruses-are-no-match-for-plain-old-soap-heres-the-science-behind-it”

Don’t touch your face:  The most reliable measure of protection from acquiring covid-19 is to avoid touching your eyes, mouth or the inside of your nose. These are the access points for viruses into your body. This is easier said than done. See Ito’s suggestions below.

If you are young, don’t worry and have fun. That’s what the young do anyway. If you are my age, keep a distance from others and try not to touch anything (especially someone else’s hands). Stay home more. It will also allow time to develop better treatment protocols, increase isolation ward capacity, and a vaccine (which, however, will take another year or more to test for safety and effectiveness).

In the following, Dr. Victorino (Ito) Briones, MD, Ph.D., provides the most relevant tips on how to prevent getting infected with the Coronavirus

  1. The most significant source of infection will be your hands.

We always use our hands in order to go about our daily routine. We touch the doorknob to open the door, hold the grocery handle from a cart or a basket, shake hands, etc. Do not be afraid to get the virus on your hands. Our skin is one of the best defense barriers from this virus. It will not infect you even if you have touched an object or another person’s hand that has the coronavirus. The way the virus can get into your body is by entering through your mucous membranes, which in this case includes your eyes and your mouth as well as the inside of your nose.

Suggestions:

  • Do not touch your face. Again, don’t worry that you might have the virus in your hands. But don’t transfer the virus from your hands to your face where it can enter and infect you through your eyes, mouth and nose.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water. Do this most especially before eating.

NOTES: Most often public toilets will have a liquid soap dispenser. Be mindful that the top of the bottle may be contaminated with the virus by the previous person who used it. Be careful when you use bar soaps as the virus may survive in the soap bar as well. Also be mindful that the faucet knob or handle may be contaminated with the virus so do not close the faucet with the hand you just washed.

The CDC suggests about 30 seconds of washing. I personally like to wash once with soap first, then rinse and then wash again a second time. Please understand that soap and water do not kill the virus. Washing simply removes the virus from your hands.

  • Wrap a masking tape around the tips of both your forefingers.

It is extremely difficult to consciously prevent ourselves from touching our face.    Research says that we touch our face about 20 times an hour and we may not be aware we’re doing it. Wrap a masking tape (blue or orange) around the tips of your forefingers. The hope is that the masking tape at the tip of the forefinger will remind you not to scratch our face with your hands. Also, the sensation of the tape on the face should immediately tell you to stop.

  • What about Masks?

Masks are most helpful to those who already have cough and colds symptoms and this prevents them from spreading the virus in the air. Wearing masks, however, can be helpful in reminding you not to touch your face especially your mouth. But personally, I don’t find it essential.

  • Hand sanitizers?

A friend showed me a hand sanitizer he was using and the label said “antibacterial”. Antibacterial sanitizers do not kill viruses. Bacteria and viruses are very different organisms. CDC recommendations here: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html

Personally, I don’t like to recommend hand sanitizers because it may give the person a false belief that his hands are virus free. My recommendation is to think that your hands are always contaminated with the virus.

  • How to scratch your face/eyes?

It may be time to carry a pack of tissues with you. If you feel the urge to scratch your eyes, use a clean tissue from the pack. Make sure that your fingers don’t touch your eyes or face. Then discard the tissue into a trash can after using. Do not re-use the tissue. Be mindful that if your hand is contaminated, then the tissue is also now contaminated with the virus.

    2.  It might be time to change some personal habits.

  • No more shaking hands and embracing when greeting other people. At this time, people already understand and, I think, appreciate that this form of greeting is no longer appropriate.
  • Perhaps start the standard of using virtual fist bumps or elbow bumps to acknowledge personal greetings.

In general, always consider the possibility that everything you touch is potentially contaminated with the virus. But also understand that the virus cannot enter your body through the skin on your hand.  So don’t be afraid to go about your daily lives. However, be always mindful that the virus can enter your body through your face. Your hands are the most probable source of infection.

 

Nation Building in Afghanistan

Ambassador Crocker rightly calls the American role in “rebuilding” Afghanistan, “complicated.”  “I-served-in-Afghanistan-no-its-not-another-Vietnam”  I first met Ambassador Crocker in January 2002 when he was servicing as America’s chargé d’affaires to Afghanistan. We met in the American Embassy that had just been reopened after a decade or so of abandonment.  A decade’s worth of dust still covered the embassy floor several inches deep. Its newly returning employees were sleeping in cots along the hallways.

Following al-Qaeda’ 9/11 attacks in the U.S., I supported NATO’s UN sanctioned attack on Afghanistan’s Taliban regime as a necessary measure to deprive al-Qaeda of its sanctuary there. I wept when we abandoned that objective unfinished in order to pursue another war in Iraq, which I strongly opposed. The Washington Post just published Defense Department documents evaluating America’s 18-year war in Afghanistan and finding it a costly failure. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-nation-building/

“Former defense secretary Jim Mattis defended American efforts to rebuild Afghanistan as part of the 18-year-old U.S. war there, saying Friday that ‘we had to try to do something in nation-building, as much as some people condemn it, and we probably weren’t that good at it.’  Speaking to journalists at The Washington Post, he cited an increase in the number of Afghan women who are educated, the development of Afghan diplomats and the inoculation of civilians against disease.

“Mattis, who oversaw the war as the four-star head of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, said violence in Afghanistan is ‘so heartbreaking that it can blind you to the progress,’ and he acknowledged that the United States made a strategic mistake by not paying enough attention to the country as the administration of George W. Bush launched the war in Iraq in 2003.  ‘That we didn’t do things right, I mean, I’m an example of it,’ Mattis said, recalling that as a one-star general, he was pulled out of Afghanistan in the spring of 2002, promoted and told to prepare for war in Iraq.

“’I was dumbfounded,’ he said. ‘But we took our eye off of there.’” “Mattis-Afghanistan-papers-we-probably-werent-that-good-nation-building”

But should we have remained as military occupiers and then as peace guarantors for another 18 years and counting?  I have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan over those 18 years, most intensively as a member of the IMF team addressing the Kabul Bank scandal from 2010-14 (22 visits after that first one in January, 2002).   “The Kabulbank Scandal–Part I” Cayman Financial Review, January 2015  “The Kabulbank Scandal–Part-II” Cayman Financial Review, April 2015  “The Kabulbank scandal–Part-III” Cayman Financial Review, July 2015

I have worked with many wonderful, mainly young, patriotic Afghans and have grown to care a great deal about their conditions and their future. We (the U.S., IMF, World Bank, EU) have a lot to teach them about the institutions of capitalism and they have been very eager to learn. However, the United States has rarely been very good at “building” modern nations that it conquered militarily.  Our Generals and Ambassadors, who rotate in and out every two to three years, rarely understand the cultures and histories they are trying to deal with.  With our military on the ground it is too easy to attempt to impose our institutions on societies unfamiliar with them without more patiently growing more modern institutions from what is in place that are thus better adapted to their traditions and thus more likely to function successfully.

Nation building at the point of a gun has not and is unlikely ever to work for us or for them. https://wcoats.blog/2009/11/16/afghan-national-army/https://wcoats.blog/2012/10/23/our-unsupportable-empire/.

My hope for the future of Afghanistan rests with its young, dedicated and increasingly well-educated young people. Our advice can be valuable, especially if filtered and adapted by Afghans themselves. After centuries of relative isolation, the modern world of the Internet, offers them the knowledge of the world. We need to get our troops and our billions of corrupting dollars out of their way.

Oslo: the Play

IMG_2150Yessar Arafat and Warren Coats in the PLO office in Gaza in February 1996.

Last night I saw the Round House Theater’s magnificent production of Oslo, the story of the secret meetings in Norway that led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.  It was a moving (heart wrenching) and balanced recounting of how these meetings achieved agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization on “land for peace” as it was called at the time after many years of failed official negotiations. I urge you to see it.

We heard the PLO negotiators lay out the Israeli theft of their homes and killings of their people and we heard the Israeli negotiators lay out the Palestinian attacks on Israelis and on the efforts of Jews to establish and secure an Israeli homeland.  For perspective, since the second intifada (between September 29, 2000 and January 31, 2018) at least 9,560 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis and 1,248 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians.  “The View from the West Bank”

The play focused on the unusual approach of these negotiations, which built on the development of trust and respect between the opposing negotiators and the agreement on achievable steps one step at a time. Between their long negotiating sessions in an isolated room near Oslo, they dinned, drank and bonded together. Unfortunately, the play fails to provide us with an overview of the resulting agreement, which applied the same step by step confidence building approach to the incremental establishment of a Palestinian government (the Palestinian Authority) and withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza. The PA was given governance authority for a limited number of functions in order—step by step—to build both institutional capacity and trust.

One of those functions was the establishment of the monetary authority (central bank). I led the IMF team that helped establish the Palestinian Monetary Authority and have many stories to tell of my many visits to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza in 1995-6 plus a number of visits in later years (most recently in December, 2011).

The PMA has developed into a well-run organization of which Palestinians (and those Israelis who see a successful Palestine government as important and necessary for their own security) can be proud.  It helped a great deal that the Bank of Israel and PMA developed good relations. Stanley Fischer was the governor of the BoI from 2005-13 and George Abed was governor of the PMA from 2005-7. They had both previously been colleagues at the IMF. “Jerusalem in August 2006”

It is with a broken heart that I watch Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with help from American President Donald Trump, increasingly abandon the two state solution of the Oslo Agreement for an apartheid single state regime in which “democratic” Jewish control is preserved by denying what would become the majority Palestinian residents their right to vote. “The Future of Israel and Palestine”

 

The Future of Israel and Palestine

At an otherwise friendly dinner conversation at the home of Israeli friends, our host explained that Israel having taken over the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS) in the 6 day war in 1967, i.e. having won the war fair and square, so to speak, the Palestinians and the rest of the world should accept that reality and move on. He was articulating the one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The WBGS now belongs to and is part of Israel (though Israel did withdraw later from and gave up Gaza).

The Zionist movement’s goal of establishing a Jewish homeland, a Jewish nation, seemed fulfilled with the U.N.’s recognition of the new state of Israel in 1048. The commitment of its Jewish residents to building a democratic state required achieving and maintaining a Jewish majority in the population. Absorbing the West Bank into Israel presents some obvious challenges. If you are not familiar with the history of Israel, I urge you to read my summary of it: “View from the West Bank–A History of the Conflict”

One state for Israel and the West Bank would have a majority of Palestinians. The Jews around the world willing to move to Israel (the earlier strategy for obtaining a Jewish majority) have pretty much already done so and birth rates among the Palestinians are higher than among the Jews. Thus a consolidated, democratic, and Jewish state would require second-class citizenship for its Palestinian residence. A British journalist living in Nazareth, Israel explains this in more detail: “With-more-palestinians-than-jews-israel-waging-war-of-attrition”

Former President Jimmy Carter described this potential outcome in his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” where he wrote: “The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens — and honor its own previous commitments — by accepting its legal borders.” This reality is recognized by many Israeli and even endorsed by some: “Israeli minister-endorses-apartheid.”

An apartheid regime for Israel would be an affront to liberal democratic values not easily swallowed by the Jewish diaspora. In fact, it would not be acceptable at all. That argues for continued effort to agree on a two state solution. In the following article Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, makes the case for the two state solution that the U.S. and U.N have worked for until now (or perhaps until last year) as the only morally and practically acceptable solution to this problem: “Israel’s Self-Inflicted Wounds”.

What we are seeing now, however, is something much uglier. The third option to two states, or one apartheid state, is one state that has ethnically cleansed the unwanted Palestinians in order to preserve Jewish control in a democratic state. The increasingly corrupt regime of Bibi Netanyahu seems to be moving in this direction and uncritical U.S. support of whatever his government does is putting the U.S. at odds with the rest of the world. For a similar review, see: “The-strange-catharsis-of-hopelessness-in-Israel”

U.S. tacit support of continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land was resoundingly rejected by the U.N. When President Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “The United Nations General Assembly voted… 128-9, with 35 abstentions, on a non-binding resolution condemning President Trump’s new policy recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel…. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the General Assembly [that] ‘the United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very right of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.’” This is the language of a bully, not a world leader, and I was appalled and embarrassed for my country. “UN-votes-to-reject-US-decision-on-Jerusalem-despite-threats”

More worrying are increasing signs that Netanyahu’s government is indeed pursuing the ethnic cleansing option. In addition to stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank for Israeli expansion, Israel has increasingly isolated and stifled the Palestinian economy. “Israel-Jewish-nation-state-bill”

Israel has occupied the West Bank for fifty years. Some of its treatment of its wards would be seen as human rights violations if committed by any other country. “Alabama-Israel-apartheid.” Recent Israeli laws are escalating such abusive treatment, allowing “the minister of interior to revoke the residency rights of any Palestinian in Jerusalem on grounds of a “breach of loyalty” to Israel.” “Israel-passes-law-strip-residency-Jerusalem’s-Palestinians”

Last December you may have watched the video of 17 year old Ahed Tamimi attacking two Israeli soldiers who had just shot her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed Tamimi in the head at close range with a rubber-coated steel bullet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YFen2KdqbU. The Israeli soldiers get points for staying cool. Ahed is now servicing eight months in prison after agreeing to a plea bargain. More recently (March 30, 2018) Israeli soldiers shot and killed 16 Palestinians on the Gaza Israeli border and wounded hundreds. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43593594 “Both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini have called for an independent investigation. On Saturday, the United States blocked a draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of the violence.” Such blind obedience to Netanyahu’s government does not service the U.S. or Israel well (not to mention the Palestinians). Israel rejected the call. “Israel-rejects-calls-independent-probe-Gaza-violence.”

To ours and Israel’s shame, ethnic cleansing seems to be winning out. During my many visits to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza I marveled at the open debate among Israelis of these issues and praised their free press. I wrote the following from Jerusalem 12 years ago and again praised the importance of a free journalism. “Jerusalem-in-august-2006″. I am now waiting for today’s tweet attacks from Mr. Fake News, and wondering if we are in danger of letting it slip away.

As a bonus, I recommend the following video discussion of these issues at the New America: “Ultimate-deal-or-ultimate-demise”

 

 

 

Uri Avnery on Israel

Uri Avnery is an amazing Israeli Jew. I have never met him but receive articles from him regularly and would like to share the last three of them with you. His history is remarkable. You can read part of it in the second article below (December 23) and more of it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uri_Avnery. Needless to say I share his views, as do many (but by no means all) of the Israelis I have met and worked with in Israel. You can keep up with his writing here: http://uriavnery.com/en/hatur.html

************************

Uri Avnery

November 18, 2017

  A History of Idiocy

I am furious. And I have good reason to be furious.

I was going to write an article about a subject I have been thinking about for a long time.

This week I opened the New York Times and lo, my yet unwritten article appeared on its opinion pages in full, argument after argument.

How come? I have only one explanation: the author – I have forgotten the name – has stolen the ideas from my head by some magical means, which surely must be branded as criminal. A person once tried to kill me for doing the same thing to him.

So I have decided to write this article in spite of everything.

THE SUBJECT is idiocy. Particularly, the role of idiocy in history.

The older I get, the more convinced I am that sheer stupidity plays a major role in the history of nations.

Great Thinkers, compared to whom I am a mere intellectual dwarf, have pursued other factors to explain what has turned history into a mess. Karl Marx blamed the economy. The economy has directed humankind from its earliest beginnings.

Others blame God. Religion has caused awful wars, and still does. Look at the Crusades, which for almost two hundred years raged in my country. Look at the 30-year War, which devastated Germany. No end in sight.

Some accuse Race. Whites against Red Indians. Aryans against Untermenschen. Nazis against Jews. Terrible.

Or geopolitics. The White Man’s Burden. The Drang-nach-Osten.

For many generations, Great Thinkers have been searching for some deep explanation for war. There must be such an explanation. After all, terrible historical events cannot just happen. There must be something profound, something sinister, which is causing all this untold misery. Something that has accompanied the human race from its very beginnings, and that still directs our destiny.

I HAVE adopted most of these theories in my time. Many of them impressed me very much. Great thinkers. Deep thoughts. I have read many thick volumes. But in the end, they left me unsatisfied.

In the end it hit me. There is indeed one factor common to all these historical events: foolishness.

I know that this sounds incredible. Foolishness? All these thousands of wars? All these hundreds of millions of casualties? All these emperors, kings, statesmen, strategists? All fools?

Recently I was asked for an example. “Show me how it works,” an incredulous listener demanded.

I mentioned the outbreak of World War I, an event that changed the face of Europe and the world forever, and which ended just five years before I was born, My earliest childhood was spent in the shadow of this cataclysm.

It happened like this:

An Austrian archduke was killed in the town of Sarajevo by a Serbian anarchist. It happened almost by accident: the planned attempt failed, but later the terrorist happened upon the duke and killed him.

So what? The duke was a quite unimportant person. Thousands of such acts have happened before and since. But this time the Austrian statesmen thought that this was a good opportunity to teach the Serbs a lesson. It took the form of an ultimatum.

No big deal. Such things happen all the time. But the powerful Russian empire was allied with Serbia, so the Czar issued a warning: he ordered the mobilization of his army, just to make his point.

In Germany, all the red lights went on. Germany is situated in the middle of Europe and has no impregnable natural borders, no oceans, no high mountains. It was trapped between two great military powers, Russia and France. For years the German generals had been pondering how to save the Fatherland if attacked from the two sides simultaneously.

A master-plan evolved. Russia was a huge country, and it would take several weeks to mobilize the Russian army. These weeks must be used to smash France, turn the army around and stop the Russians.

It was a brilliant plan, worked out to the finest detail by brilliant military minds. But the German army was stopped at the gates of Paris. The British intervened to help France. The result was a static war of four long years, where nothing really happened except that millions upon millions of human beings were slaughtered or maimed.

In the end a peace was made, a peace so stupid that it virtually made a Second World War inevitable. This broke out a mere 21 years later, with even larger numbers of casualties.

MANY BOOKS have been written about “July 1914”, the crucial month in which World War I became inevitable.

How many people were involved in decision-making in Europe? How many emperors, kings, ministers, parliamentarians, generals; not to mention academicians, journalists, poets and what not?

Were they all stupid? Were they all blind to what was happening in their countries and throughout their continent?

Impossible, one is tempted to cry out. Many of them were highly competent, intelligent people, people versed in history. They knew everything about the earlier wars that had ravaged Europe throughout the centuries.

Yet there you are. All these people played their part in causing the most terrible war (up to then) in the annals of history. An act of sheer idiocy.

The human mind cannot accept such a truth. There must be other reasons. Profound reasons. So they wrote innumerable books explaining why this was logical, why it had to happen, what were the “underlying” causes.

Most of these theories are certainly plausible. But compared to the effects, they are puny. Millions of human beings marched out to be slaughtered, singing and almost dancing, trusting their emperor, king, president, commander-in-chief. Never to return.

Could all these leaders be idiots? They certainly could. And were.

I DON’T need the examples of the thousands of foreign wars and conflicts, because I live in the middle of one right now.

Never mind how it came about, the present situation is that in the land that used to be called Palestine there live two peoples of different origin, culture, history, religion, language, standard of living and much more. They are now of more or less equal size.

Between these two peoples, a conflict has now been going on for more than a century.

In theory, there are only two reasonable solutions: either the two peoples shall live together as equal citizens in one state, or they shall live side by side in two states.

The third possibility is no solution – eternal conflict, eternal war.

This is so obvious, so simple, that denying it is sheer idiocy.

Living together in one state sounds logical, but is not. It is a recipe for constant conflict and internal war. So there remains only what is called “two states for two peoples”.

When I pointed this out, right after the 1948 war, the war in which Israel was founded, I was more or less alone. Now this is a world-wide consensus, everywhere except in Israel.

What is the alternative? There is none. Just going on with the present situation: a colonial state in which 7 million Israeli Jews oppress 7 million Palestinian Arabs. Logic says that this is a situation that cannot go on forever. Sooner or later it will break down.

So what do our leaders say? Nothing. They pretend to be oblivious to this truth.

At the top of the pyramid we have a leader who looks intelligent, who speaks well, who seems competent. In fact, Binyamin Netanyahu is a mediocre politician, without vision, without depth. He does not even pretend that he has another solution. Nor do his colleagues and possible heirs.

So what is this? I am sorry to have to say it, but there is no other definition than the rule of idiocy.

***************************************

Uri Avnery

December 23, 2017

  Cry, Beloved Country

ANYONE PROPOSING the death penalty is either a complete fool, an incorrigible cynic or mentally disturbed – or all of these.

There is no effective therapy for any of these defects. I wouldn’t even try.

A fool would not understand the overwhelming evidence for the conclusion. For a cynic, advocacy of the death penalty is a proven vote catcher. A mentally disturbed person derives pleasure from the very thought of an execution. I am not addressing any of these, but ordinary citizens of Israel.

LET ME start by repeating the story of my own personal experience.

In 1936, the Arab population of Palestine launched a violent uprising. The Nazi persecution in Germany drove many Jews to Palestine (including my own family), and the local Arabs saw their country slipping away from under their feet. They started to react violently. They called it the Great Rebellion, the British talked of “disturbances” and we called it “the events”.

Groups of young Arabs attacked Jewish and British vehicles on the roads. When caught, some of them were sent by the British courts to the gallows. When the Arab attacks did not stop, some right-wing Zionists started a campaign of “retaliation” and shot at Arab vehicles.

One of these was caught by the British. His name was Shlomo Ben-Yosef, a 25 year old illegal immigrant from Poland, a member of the right-wing youth organization Betar. He threw a grenade at an Arab bus, which failed to explode, and fired some shots that hit nobody. But the British saw an opportunity to prove their impartiality.

Ben-Yosef was sentenced to death. The Jewish population was shocked. Even those who were totally opposed to “retaliation” pleaded for clemency, rabbis prayed. Slowly the day of the execution drew near. Many expected a reprieve at the last moment. It did not come.

The hanging of Ben-Yosef on June 29, 1938 sent a powerful shockwave through the Jewish public. It caused a profound change in my own life. I decided to fill his place. I joined the Irgun, the most extreme armed underground organization. I was just 15 years old.

I repeat this story because the lesson is so important. An oppressive regime, especially a foreign one, always thinks that executing “terrorists” will frighten others away from joining the rebels.

This idea stems from the arrogance of the rulers, who think of their subjects as inferior human beings. The real result is always the opposite: the executed rebel becomes a national hero, for every rebel executed, dozens of others join the fight. The execution breeds hatred, the hatred leads to more violence. If the family is also punished, the flames of hatred rise even higher.

Simple logic. But logic is beyond the reach of the rulers.

Just a thought: some 2000 years ago, a simple carpenter was executed in Palestine by crucifixion. Look at the results.

IN EVERY army, there are a number of sadists posing as patriots.

In my army days, I once wrote that in every squad there is at least one sadist and one moral soldier. The others are neither. They are influenced by either of them, depends on which of the two has the stronger character.

Last week something horrible happened. Since the announcement of the American Clown-In-Chief about Jerusalem, there have been daily demonstrations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip approach the separation fence and throw stones at the soldiers on the Israeli side. The soldiers are instructed to shoot. Every day Palestinians are wounded, every few days Palestinians are killed.

One of the demonstrators was Ibrahim Abu-Thuraya, a 29 year old legless Arab fisherman. Both of his legs were amputated nine years ago, after he was injured in an Israeli air-strike on Gaza.

He was pushed in his wheelchair over the rough terrain towards the fence when an army sharpshooter took aim and killed him. He was unarmed, just “inciting”.

The killer was not an ordinary soldier, who may have shot without aiming in the melee. He was a professional, a sharpshooter, used to identify his victim, take careful aim and hit the exact spot.

I try to think about what went on in the shooter’s brain before shooting. The victim was close. There was absolutely no way not to see the wheelchair. Ibrahim posed absolutely no threat to the shooter or to anyone else.

(A cruel Israeli joke was born immediately: the sharpshooters were ordered to hit the lower parts of the bodies of the demonstrators. Since Ibrahim had no lower parts, the soldier had no choice but shoot him in the head.)

This was a criminal act, pure and simple. An abhorrent war crime. So, did the army – yes, my army! – arrest him? Not at all. Every day, a new excuse was found, each more ridiculous than the other. The shooter’s name was kept secret.

My God, what is happening to this country? What is the occupation doing to us?

Ibrahim, of course, became overnight a Palestinian national hero. His death will spur other Palestinians to join the fight.

ARE THERE no rays of light? Yes there are. Though not many.

A few days after the murder of Ibrahim Abu-Thuraya, an almost comic scene was immortalized.

In the Palestinian village Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank, two fully armed Israeli soldiers are standing. One is an officer, the other a sergeant. A group of three or four Arab girls, about 15 or 16 years old, approach them. They shout at the soldiers and make abusive gestures. The soldiers pretend not to notice them.

One girl, Ahd Tamimi, approaches a soldier and hits him. The soldier, much taller than her, does not react.

The girl comes even closer and hits the face of the soldier. He defends his face with his arms. Another girl records the scene with her smartphone.

And then the incredible happens: both soldiers walk backwards and leave the scene. (Later it appears that the cousin of one of the girls was shot in the head a few days earlier.)

The army was shocked by the fact that the two soldiers did not shoot the girl. It promised an investigation. The girl and her mother were detained that night. The soldiers are in for a rebuke.

For me, the two soldiers are real heroes. Sadly, they are the exceptions.

Every human being has the right to be proud of his or her country. To my mind, it’s a basic human right as well as a basic human need.

But how can one be proud of a country that is trading in human bodies?

In Islam, it is very important to bury the dead as soon as possible. Knowing this, the Israeli government is withholding the bodies of dozens of “terrorists”, to be used as trading chips for the return of Jewish bodies held by the other side.

Logical? Sure. Abhorrent? Yes.

This is not the Israel I helped to found and fought for. My Israel would return the bodies to the fathers and mothers. Even if it means giving up some trading chips. Isn’t losing a son punishment enough?

What has become of our common human decency?

************************************

Uri Avnery

December 30, 2017

 The Man Who Jumped

NOBODY DESCRIBED the outbreak of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict better than the historian Isaac Deutscher.

A man lives in a house that catches fire. To save his life, he jumps out of the window. He lands on a passer-by in the street below and injures him grievously. Between the two a bitter enmity arises. Who is to blame?

Of course, no parable can reflect reality exactly. The man who jumped out of the burning house did not land on this particular passer-by by chance. The passer-by became an invalid for life. But on the whole, this parable is better than any other I know.

Deutscher did not provide an answer to the question of how to solve the conflict. Are the two condemned to fight each other forever? Is there a solution at all?

COMMON SENSE would say: of course there is. True, the injured person cannot be restored to his former condition. The man who caused the injury cannot return to his former home, which was destroyed by the fire. But…

But the man can – and must – apologize to his victim. That is the minimum. He can – and must – pay him compensation. That is what justice demands. But then the two can become friends. Perhaps even partners.

Instead, the man continues to harm the victim. He invades the victim’s home and throws him out. The victim’s sons try to evict the man. And so it goes on.

Deutscher himself, who fled the Nazis from Poland to England in time, did not see the continuation of the story. He died a few days after the Six-day War.

INSTEAD OF quarreling endlessly about who was right and who was wrong, how wonderful we are and how abhorrent the others are, we should think about the future.

What do we want? What kind of a state do we want to live in? How do we end the occupation, and what will come after?

Israel is divided between “Left” and “Right”. I don’t like these terms – they are obvious misnomers. They were created in the French National Assembly more than two hundred years ago by the accidental seating of the parties in the hall at the time, as seen by the speaker. But let’s use them for convenience sake.

The real division is between those who prefer the people to the land, and those who prefer the land to the people. Which is more sacred?

In the early days of the state there was a joke making the rounds. God summoned David Ben-Gurion and told him: you have done great things for my people, make a wish and I shall grant it.

Ben-Gurion answered: I wish that Israel will be a Jewish state, that it will encompass all the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and that it be a just state.

“That is too much even for me,” God said. “But I will grant you two of your three wishes.”

Since then we have the choice between a Jewish and just state in part of the country, or a Jewish state in all the country that will not be just, or a greater and just state, that will not be Jewish.

Ben-Gurion must be weeping in his grave.

SO WHAT are the solutions proposed by the two major forces in Israeli politics?

The “Left” has by now an orderly program. I am proud of having contributed to it. It says, more or less:

(a) A State of Palestine will come into being next to the State of Israel.

(b) Between the two states there will be peace, based on an agreement that will provide for open borders and close mutual relations.

(c) There will be joint institutions as necessary, by consent.

(d) The united city of Jerusalem will be the capital of both states, West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.

(e) There will be a limited, agreed, one-to-one exchange of territory.

(f) There will be a limited, symbolic return of refugees to Israel, all other refugees will receive generous compensation and “return” to the State of Palestine or remain where they are.

(g) Israel will remain a mainly Jewish state, with Hebrew as its first official language and open for Jewish immigration according to its laws.

(h) Both states will join regional institutions.

This is a clear picture of the future. Both ardent Zionists and non-Zionists can accept it wholeheartedly.

WHAT IS the program of the “Right”? How do its ideologues see the future?

The simple fact is that the Right has no picture of the future, no program, not even a dream. Only vague sentiments.

That may be its strength. Sentiments are a strong force in the life of nations.

What the Right would really like is the endless continuation of the present situation: the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the indirect occupation of the Gaza Strip, enforced by blockade.

Cold logic says that this is an unnatural situation that cannot go on forever. Sooner or later it has to be institutionalized. How?

There are two possibilities, and only two: an apartheid state or a binational state.

That is so obvious, that even the most fanatical right-winger cannot deny it. No one even tries to.

There is a vague hope that the Arabs in Palestine will somehow pack up and just go away. That will not happen. The unique circumstances of 1948 will not and cannot repeat themselves.

A few well-to-do Palestinians may actually leave for London or Rio de Janeiro, but their demographic weight will remain negligible. The mass of people will remain where they are – and multiply.

Already now, there live between the sea and the river, in the Greater Israel of the dream, according to the last count (July 2016): 6,510,894 Arabs and 6,114,546 Jews. The Arab birthrate is bound to fall, but so will the Jewish one (except for the Orthodox).

What would life be like in the Israeli apartheid state? One thing is certain: it would not attract masses of Jews. The split between Jewish Israelis and Jews in the USA and other countries would widen slowly and inexorably.

Sooner or later, the disenfranchised majority would rise, world opinion would condemn and boycott Israel, and the apartheid system would break down. What would remain?

What would remain is the thing almost all Israelis dread: the binational State. One person – one vote. A country very different from Israel. A country from which many Israeli Jews would depart, either slowly or rapidly.

This is not propaganda, but simple fact. If there is a right-wing ideologue somewhere who has an answer to this – let them stand up now, before it is too late.

I CANNOT resist the temptation of telling again the old joke:

A drunken British lady stands on the deck of the Titanic, with a glass of whisky in her hand, and sees the approaching iceberg. “I did ask for some ice,” she exclaims, “but this is ridiculous!”

 

Improving Intercultural Understanding

My friend Yael Luttwak, a film maker, undertook a brilliant project in Palestine (now comprising Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) in 2007 to improve relations between Jewish Israeli and Palestinian women. In her own words she “filmed A Slim Peace, documenting what happened when women who were secular Israeli Jews, Jewish settlers, West Bank Muslims, and Bedouin came together in a health and nutrition group run by a Jewish and a Muslim woman. Most had never met the likes of their counterparts before, and most never would have. But in that setting, they connected and empathy and understanding grew.” These women met in Gush Etzion, outside Jerusalem, not for the ostensible purpose of improving Israeli Palestinian relations, but to explore how to improve their diets and lose weight. That is the brilliance of the project. Improved understanding of each other as people was a by-product rather than the main focus. It is worth reading Yael’s full account of the project: “About A Slim Peace”

With Yael’s project in mind, I read with some dismay the experience of white and black fraternity and sorority students at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga with what seemed a similar project. In the 1990s well meaning white students joined receptive and welcoming black students in learning the African American “step” routines that back students had performed annually for many years. But in October 2016 “black fraternities and sororities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga had decided to [step] on their own. They took the show off campus, abandoning a glitzy annual homecoming event that had long included black and white students — and produced a program they felt was a more authentic reflection of stepping’s African American origins.” What was going on? “The-show-was-supposed-to-bring-black-and-white-students-together-it-almost-tore-them-apart”.

It is important to understand the profound difference between Yael’s Palestinian project and what happened at the University of Tennessee. The gatherings of Israeli and Palestinian women did not result in merging and blending, melting pot style, their respective cultures. Rather it resulted in improved understanding and cross-cultural bonding.

According one black student at the U of Tennessee: “The show no longer felt like a sharing of tradition but, rather, was one more element of black culture and identity that had been usurped…. This isn’t just entertainment for us,… When white students performed, it was just a performance. It had no greater meaning, or a sense of why. We don’t step without a ‘why.’ It connects us to something bigger.’”

“’Stepping isn’t yours,’ Hicks recalled responding. ‘This experience was so essential, and it’s so tied to the history of [black Greeks], and I think it just became something you have stolen and you are using it as your own’…. Kaitibi [a black student] told the audience that the black Greeks wanted to do something to ‘preserve our heritage and honor our traditions.’ It wouldn’t necessarily be bad if a white group wanted to do the same, ‘but we have to wonder: What traditions are you honoring?’”

“Black students [explained that] they were trying to find a balance between self-affirmation and racial reconciliation.”

In other words, the goal of racial and religious harmony and equal treatment under the law is not best served be attempting to obliterate or denying cultural/racial/religious differences. It is better served by developing and strengthening cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect.

American Exceptionalism—where has it gone?

Americans are among the most generous people in the world.  World Giving Index – published by the Charities Aid foundation – averages the percent of the population giving money to charities, the percent who have volunteered time for an organization in the past month, and the percent who have helped a stranger in the past month. Americans are sixth, tied with Switzerland with a score of 55%. Australia and New Zealand are first and second with 57% followed by Ireland and Canada with 56%. Germany is 19th with 44% and France is 93rd with a score of 27%.

I have always been proud that visitors to the United States have generally found Americans to be friendly, helpful, and good-hearted. I realize that this is a bit hard to imagine these days with the negativism thrown from the right and the left at each other, but we still manage the occasional smile in the grocery store as we wait at the checkout line. However, views of America abroad have been declining for some years and have plummeted this year. http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/

The reasons for this decline that leap out to me reflect the propensity of our government to throw its weight around. We have been at war almost continuously since 9/11 (Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, and who knows where else). The U.S. has 662 overseas bases in 38 foreign countries and military personnel in 130 countries. Most American soldiers are fine young men but no one likes foreign soldiers on their streets for very long, even went they are well behaved most of the time.

I was discussing with a Pakistani friend the “special” qualities of the American government and American people that make us exceptional https://works.bepress.com/warren_coats/35/. He suggested that a growing number of people around the world see the United States as exceptional in the sense that it doesn’t think it needs to follow the rules it sets out for everyone else. We are seen as bullies. Ouch.

The most recent and embarrassing example of this was President Trump’s announcement that the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the U.S. Embassy there. As background, on May 14, 1948 the British agreed when Israel declared its independence from the British mandate that ruled Palestine. The State of Israel was immediately recognized by the United States. After several rejections by the UN Security Council, Israel’s UN membership application was accepted by the General Assembly on May 11, 1949 in Resolution 273, which, among other things, defined the new country’s boundaries. Between June 5 to 10, 1967 Israel attacked and captured surrounding territories in Egypt, Jordan and Syria in what became known as the Six-Day War. Except the Gaza Strip and the West Bank most of the captured territory was returned as part of a peace agreement. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in August 2005.

The termination of Israel’s “temporary” occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem remains the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. “Under the 1947 UN Partition Plan to divide historical Palestine between Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was granted special status and was meant to be placed under international sovereignty and control. The special status was based on Jerusalem’s religious importance to the three Abrahamic religions.”  “Jerusalem-capital-Israel”

In general, the international community rejects the use of brute force to change borders. Russia’s annexation of Crimea into Russia (though it was previously part of Russia before Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in 1954) violated this understanding.

President Trump’s announcement about the status of Jerusalem violates standing U.S. and international policy. It was almost universally condemned. The US vetoed a Security Council condemnation of Trump’s action but the General Assembly overwhelmingly (128 to 9, with 35 abstentions) passed a resolution declaring that, “any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded.” White-House-vows-to-stand-firm-on-trumps-recognition-of-jerusalem-as-israels-capital/2017/12/23/

The General Assembly vote used a rarely exorcised power as explained by Paul Pillar. “Among the principal takeaways from the General Assembly’s action is that an international sense of justice and fairness matters.  Many states reject the notion that might makes right, which is how the Israeli government has treated its relations with the Palestinians, and how the Trump administration approached its lobbying on this resolution.” “Uniting-against-trumps-policies-for-peace”

When the UN voted Thursday (Dec 22) to condemn this action “Only seven countries—Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands—were willing to stand with Uncle Sam and Israel and vote against the resolution.” “Next-year-in-Jerusalem”

Aside from keeping the favor Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu and some wealthy American Jewish donors, there is no upside to this step to be found. The peace talks, such as they were, have been damaged. Even the “Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations called for maintaining of the status quo of Jerusalem.” In its letter to the President of the General Assembly it stated that: “The unique identity of Jerusalem, which is of universal interest, consists in its particular nature as a Holy City, most sacred to the three monotheistic religions and a symbol for millions of believers worldwide who consider it their “spiritual capital”. Its significance goes beyond the question of borders and this reality should be considered a priority in every negotiation for a political solution.” “Holy-See-supports-Jerusalem’s-historical-status-quo”

Israelis themselves are deeply divided on this issue. The continued and unresolved occupation of the West Bank by Israel has and continues to provoke terrible behavior by both sides. Uri Avnery, an Israeli freedom fighter in his youth, decries acts by his country against occupied Palestinians in passionate terms (email me if you are interested in his email) as does Phillip Weiss: Ending-crisis-Zionism/

But American bullying did not stop there. Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, delivered a disgusting and threat-filled speech condemning the U.S. rebuke. “The crude tactics included Nikki Haley’s rhetoric about ‘taking names’ and Donald Trump’s bombast about cutting off U.S. aid.  Among the Arab states that supported the resolution were the two states—Egypt and Jordan—that receive more U.S. aid than anyone other than Israel.  The very crudeness of the tactics, and the offense taken to bullying, probably made the tactics counterproductive.” (see Pillar article above).

Good hearted and freedom loving Americans are increasingly represented by governments that push our views and interests on the rest of the world. The rest of the world’s resistance is building. This does not serve our economic or security interests. How did the “essential country”—the “exceptional country”—become a big bully? In recent weeks we have also been asking ourselves how prominent leaders in the media, industry, and Congress have become sexual bullies. It seems that power corrupts. Eternal vigilance is still needed.

General Michael Flynn

We all deserve to know whether Donald Trump colluded or cooperated with Putin and Russia in any way to illegally help his presidential campaign. I have full confidence that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will provide us with the truth of that question one-way or the other.

I also strongly support former President Obama’s (Russian restart) and President Trump’s desires to build the closest and most cooperative relationship possible with Mr. Putin’s Russia that is consistent with American interests and values. This means that conversations—many conversations—between the Trump administration and Russian officials are not only proper, but also highly desirable.

The revelations that such conversations occurred tell us nothing about whether the Trump administration has been doing anything improper. Then enter General Michael Flynn.

Sunday’s Washington Post contains an article with the headline “Inside the day that set in motion Michael Flynn’s guilty plea”. The day in question was Dec 29, 2016, well after Trump’s election and four weeks before his inauguration. The day before President Obama had “imposed sanctions against Russia for its alleged interference in the election.” Flynn called Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, “urging Moscow not to retaliate — and Russia later surprisingly agreed.”

On the face of it this is neither appropriate nor inappropriate. We would need additional information to come to such a conclusion. However, Flynn lied to the FBI about having such a conversation, which raises the suspicion that it was inappropriate. Unrelated to his work with the Trump administration, General Flynn failed to get clearance before doing work with foreign governments, nor did he register as their agent, as required by law. Generally Flynn seems to have a habit of lying. Later Flynn pleaded guilty to perjury as part of a deal to fully cooperate with Mueller’s investigation in exchange for not being charged with these other crimes.

So if Flynn was not making improper deals with Russia, why did he lie about it? Hopefully we will know in the course of time, but it could be because he belatedly learned that his “conversations with Kislyak violated the Logan Act, a 1799 law that prohibits private citizens from conducting U.S. foreign affairs without the permission of the government.”

No one has every been convicted of violating the Logan Act and a strong argument could be made that such acts by a President elect and his team are not covered.

I want to know the truth. Trump lies so regularly that he has no trust from anyone who really cares about the truth. But to be fair, Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak is not evidence of anything inappropriate. Let’s not jump to conclusions until we have enough information to do so with some confidence that they are correct.