Exciting things were afoot at this weekend’s Saban Forum and New Yorker chief David Remnick was there to take it all in. Remnick starts with this compelling portrait of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Fayyad is a technocratic revolutionary. He is a small man, a little pudgy, and wears smart suits and wire-rimmed glasses. He is sixty and looks seventy. He was born in Deir al-Ghusun, in the West Bank, and educated in Beirut and, finally, at the University of Texas, where he received a doctorate in economics. He worked for the I.M.F. and the World Bank before being appointed finance minister by Yasser Arafat. As Prime Minister, he devised an insistent ideology of constant construction and development in the West Bank.
Remnick also places into context what the Palestinian Authority hopes will come of its United Nations bid, especially after Hamas was seemingly bolstered by its fight with Israel last month. It’s a tough diagnosis, but a well-argued one.
In his dispatch yesterday, Remnick reports from the Saban Forum, which hosts a flurry of different American and Israeli political leaders and figures of interest. He opens with this:
Hillary Clinton is running for President. And the Israeli political class is a full-blown train wreck.
Neither of these two judgments are particularly surprising, but he does a good job at analyzing the latter.
Throughout the day, particularly among Americans with ties to Democratic Administrations, there was a great deal of despairing hallway talk about the state of Israeli politics—the stark contrast between the vitality of Israeli economic, cultural, and academic life, and the miserable state of its political culture, the poverty of skill, talent, and imagination. The centrists and center-liberals at the conference—Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, and others—were so obviously in the eclipse and their rhetoric was tired and scattered. Their sense of defeat and frustration was distinct.
Remnick also covers the attempts of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to tweak current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose job Olmert desperately wants again, but likely will not pursue. According to Remnick, Olmert added this little bit of intrigue to the events:
Olmert also violated the rules of the conference by dragging something that was off the record onto the record. He accurately, if generally, described how, earlier in the day, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Obama’s former chief of staff, had spoken angrily and bluntly about the way Netanyahu has repeatedly betrayed the friendship of the United States, lecturing Obama in the Oval Office and now, after the U.S. had underwritten the Iron Dome anti-missile system, supported the operation in Gaza, and voted Israel’s way in the U.N., embarrassing the Obama Administration by taking punitive actions against the Palestinian Authority. After describing Emanuel’s remarks, Olmert went on to agree with them.
The articles are a nice, if dispiriting, pair.