The current situation regarding “peace negotiations” has evolved into one beyond imagining. I do not use the term “evolved” to suggest progress to a higher state, I assure you.
What is more, everything is in almost hour-to-hour flux. And so, while I hope to send this out today, I advise my readers that within hours of your reading this, the situation may have again shifted. In point of fact, I had written an extensive posting yesterday, and before I transmitted it, news broke that so changed the situation that I had to table it.
In the last posting I sent out, I had touched upon a number of rumors – explaining that media reports on this situation were so conflicting that it was impossible to determine what was accurate and what not. Now, we have a considerably clearer – but still muddled – picture.
The genesis of the current tangled situation was a major disagreement between Israel and the PA with regard to the release of that last group of 26 pre-Oslo prisoners.
Israel had information that it was the intention of the PA to celebrate the release of this last group and then walk out on negotiations and head to the UN and international tribunals:
“Erekat himself stated last month that Abbas was staying in talks solely for the sake of the terrorist releases.”
Thus did Netanyahu call a halt, saying that there had to be a quid pro quo before he would approve that release. What he appeared to be looking for was a commitment by the PA to stay at the table past the April 29th deadline, thereby keeping the PA from its “international” path. That he may have had other motives as well is altogether possible.
The PA leadership, on the other hand, was firm in its conviction that Israel committed to the release of 104 prisoners, no matter what, and that the last group had to be released with no further commitment from their side. News reports were that they were very angry. Furious. They referred to the Israeli conditions as “blackmail.”
On the Palestinian Arab street, securing the release of prisoners is a huge matter. Support for Abbas’s administration is affected by what he can accomplish in this regard: for him to fail to secure release of prisoners as promised weakens his base.
Thus was there a “stalemate” – if you can call a hitch in a process that was going nowhere a stalemate. And thus did John Kerry fly into the area once again on Monday, this time from Paris, according to White House press secretary Jay Carney, to “narrow the gaps and get things moving forward.” (Continue reading after you’ve stopped laughing.)
Kerry did not meet with Abbas because of scheduling conflicts. At least that is what we were told. But it is possible that Abbas simply said that Kerry knew his terms and there was nothing to discuss: For, Monday night, PA officials gave Kerry 24 hours to resolve the prisoner dispute. If it wasn’t resolved by Tuesday, they said, they would turn to UN agencies for recognition.
US envoy Martin Indyk (no friend of Israel) and a considerable US “negotiating team” were on the scene speaking to both sides before the secretary of state arrived. And then, Kerry did meet with chief PA negotiation Saeb Erekat, although there was no word on what was discussed.
Kerry met with Netanyahu late Monday night and again Tuesday morning. It seemed that the second meeting followed some communication with the PA, but this is where it all got fuzzy, with the rumors and unofficial reports flying.
The PA wanted the 26 prisoners (including Arab Israeli citizens) released with no conditions attached. Then, if they were to remain at the table (this is metaphorically speaking only, because there haven’t been direct talks between the parties for months), they wanted additional concessions from Israel.
Media sources have been reporting various demands and various things that Netanyahu presumably agreed to. Now that the air has cleared a bit, it is possible to pinpoint several exaggerations. But concessions there were:
In the last posting I sent out, I had expressed doubt about the veracity of reports that our prime minister had agreed to release an additional 400 prisoners, suggesting that his coalition would crumble were he to attempt to do this. It turns out that, indeed, he did agree – and possibly to 420.
Originally, Israel said that only prisoners with no blood on their hands would be chosen. But then the PA insisted on the right to participate in selection, which sets off bells. On some media sites I have seen reports that Barghouti would be included. But today I checked with someone who has first hand information from inside the government, and I’ve been told this is not so.
The big news was that there had become a real possibility that Jonathan Pollard might be released in mid-April in return for this. As “incentive.”
There are US sources who were confirming this possibility, but there was no official statement from the American government. Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said that the president had not decided yet. Obama was weighing his options and whether this would bring political gain. He’s been hostile to the concept of releasing Pollard from the beginning of his presidency.
What this would do is shift the dynamic and make it more likely that Netanyahu would be able to release more Arab prisoners without bringing down his coalition.
Was this a good thing? No, it is a vile and immoral situation.
Jonathan Pollard deserves to be released because his continued incarceration is unjust and inhumane. Released, period. Not in exchange for the release of more terrorists.
Please see the case made today by Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler regarding Pollard’s right to be released:
To offer his release in the fashion proposed is extortion. Even among those enormously eager to see Pollard brought home to Israel, there are those who oppose such a deal.
To complicate matters further, there were conflicting reports regarding whether Pollard would cooperate in such a trade-off. Pollard refused a parole hearing yesterday, which many read as a sign that he would not cooperate. As well, there are those who have spoken to him over time, or are in touch with those who are, who say Pollard wants no part of such a deal:
Others – such as the JPost’s Gil Hoffman – insist that Pollard would cooperate. Pollard’s health is poor and, whatever his distaste for the situation, this may be his only chance for an improvement in his living conditions that would sustain or prolong his life:
There are senior Congressional people who are opposed to the Pollard release:
And obviously, there are serious objections to this deal here in Israel: Much of Bayit Yehudi is negative; as is Danny Danon (Likud), fiercely so; and Yair Shamir, Uzi Landau, and Israel Katz (all Yisrael Beitenu). I’ve heard that Ze’ev Elkin may object, and Foreign Minister Lieberman (head of Yisrael Beitenu) has said he would. So it was not a sure thing that this deal would pass muster in the government.
And now… add to this the fact that there is another way in which Netanyahu caved. Reportedly he agreed to institute an eight-month partial de facto freeze in Judea and Samaria, as well.
Unbelievable? Believe it. Unbearable? Absolutely. Incomprehensible? That too.
And what would the PA give in return for all of this? They would continue at the table into 2015.
But wait! This is not the end of the saga. Kerry, who had to fly out to other locales on Monday afternoon, was due back yesterday to meet with PA officials in Ramallah and secure their final agreement on these new terms.
But Abbas dropped a bombshell: He announced that – with full PLO approval – he had signed applications to 15 international agencies, thereby abrogating the understanding that was the linchpin for all of these Israeli concessions.
Kerry cancelled plans for going to Ramallah, and for a brief time I thought the issue was dead. In fact, I figured this was the perfect scenario for Netanyahu: See, he would be able to announce, we were willing to go that extra mile (kilometer), we wanted to cooperate. But look, Abbas has not cooperated, and now Israel must call a halt. The PA has sabotaged “talks.”
Foolish me: Subsequently, both the Americans and the Israelis hedged the issue, saying that the Palestinian Arabs were only playing hardball in order to get even more concessions and besides, Abbas hadn’t mailed the applications yet and maybe he wouldn’t, and in addition to this, he was not actually applying to any UN agencies, just other international agencies.
That is, they were saying that in spite of what Abbas announced, plans for extended negotiations could continue.
This is what Kerry said:
“What is important to say about the Middle East right now is it is completely premature tonight to draw any kind of judgment, certainly any final judgment, about today’s events and where things are.”
It was at this point that I felt the impulse to run my head into the wall.
Is the fear of what Abbas might do so great, is the hunger to keep him on board so overwhelming, that this penny-ante terrorist in a suit, who has no real political base, and whose term of office ran out years ago, is permitted complete latitude and excused everything???
Abbas, for his part, was playing both ends against the middle – saying that he was only doing what the PA had every right to do, but that this did not mean he wasn’t for negotiations.
“This [appealing to international agencies] is our fundamental right and we will not give it up…
“We are interested in peace and in an independent Palestinian state that will be established in peace beside Israel, but we keep facing delays — more and more delays. So the Palestinian leadership unanimously decided to join international organizations and institutions. We are not closing the door and we have hope for the peace process.”
Ashraf Khatib, a communications adviser for the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, put it this way“
“These treaties and conventions will help to protect and promote basic rights of the Palestinian people and will enable the State of Palestine to be a responsible actor on the international stage. These treaties are vital to continued Palestinian institutional building, good governance and the upholding of human rights, all of which form the basis for an independent and sovereign State of Palestine.”
“good governance and the upholding of human rights…” Unmitigated nonsense where the PA is concerned. But for the uninitiated, the naïve and those eager to believe, he makes a convincing case.
It is important to note that, despite what Kerry said to minimize the issue, agencies Abbas applied to were, indeed, connected to the UN, and at this point the applications have been delivered. Some were handed to UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry.
It is broadly understood that if Obama and Kerry were ready to consider releasing Pollard, then they were desperate. But this gambit is nothing if not cruel. First, of course, for Pollard. But it’s also a heartbreak for many here, to so badly want to see Jonathan Pollard released, and yet to know that the price demanded is exceedingly detrimental to the state of Israel.
My own guess is that this will fall apart. In his recent statements Kerry shows signs of stepping back:
“A senior American official told The [Washington] Post that Kerry has ‘gone as far as he can as mediator’ and that the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, seen as a bargaining chip, would no longer be on table unless the Palestinians and Israelis made ‘significant moves forward.’ (Emphasis added)
It was now up to the two parties to work things out, Kerry is reported as saying.
Never mind that he continues to babble in public about how there’s still hope for peace.
As to Netanyahu, even now – and in the face of claims to the contrary – I do not believe his goal is the facilitation of a Palestinian state. Had that been the case, there would have been much he might have done a la Olmert to make territorial concessions during the last eight months.
No, I think that our prime minister is under extreme pressure from a ruthless Kerry. But I do not excuse him because of this. Not at all. He shows himself to be spineless and ever eager to please and appear the good guy. In the process he makes Israel weak.
Then there is, of course, this irrational fear he harbors that we will suffer severe damage if the PA goes to the UN and other international forums. This is undoubtedly a piece of the picture.
As my readers know, with Jeff Daube, I co-chair Legal Grounds: The Campaign for Israel’s Rights. Just today we met to discuss our approach in coming weeks and months.
That fear of Abbas and the UN comes from a lack of Israeli confidence about our legitimate rights and a reluctance to speak out on this issue.
Changing this is what we are about, and there will be much to say about this in the time ahead.
By: Lloyd Marcus
It occurred to me that my 86 year old black dad is a man of “firsts” — a born pioneer, boldly going were no other black had gone before.
In 1946, Dad and Jackson were the only black Merchant Marines on their ship and the first “coloreds” to land at the base in St Petersburg Florida. Dad came close to being hung by an angry mob simply for being there.
Dad had a tough beginning. The product of an extra-martial affair, Dad was raised by his aunt, Aunt Nee.
Aunt Nee was a pretty remarkable woman. Though she never graduated high school, Aunt Nee (Rev. Anita Bethea) was extremely articulate, well read, a great singer (reminiscent of Mahalia Jackson), a gifted speaker, student of the Bible and pastor of her own storefront church in Baltimore, Maryland.
I asked Dad what kept him, growing up as a fatherless black child, on the straight and narrow, not getting into crime or drugs. Without hesitation, Dad replied, “Aunt Nee!”
I knew what Dad was talking about. Aunt Nee had this way about her. Her approval felt important. Aunt Nee babysat me. “Lloyd Marcus, you should be ashamed of yourself.” A spanking for my naughty behavior would have felt less painful.
She was a born teacher; no lazy or sloppy speaking was tolerated. Aunt Nee sent me to the corner store. “Ask the grocer for U-nee-da Biscuits”. She distinctly pronounced each syllable.
When Dad was a teen, he was really excited about the latest fashion craze, the zoot suit. Despite his pleas, Aunt Nee refused to allow Dad to purchase a zoot suit because she thought only hoodlums wore zoot suits. That is called parenting, folks.
An entrepreneur since age ten, Dad shined shoes at the bus station on weekends; proudly hauling in a bountiful $1.25 from shoe shines and tips. Dad paid rent to Aunt Nee, treated himself to a day at the movies with popcorn and purchased his first article of clothing; a t-shirt. Dad bragged to his buddies, “I’m buying my own clothes now.” You can not get such a feeling of self esteem, confidence and pride from cradle-to-grave welfare.
Dad said he and a buddy were misbehaving once on a public bus; nothing serious, but a bit annoying to passengers. A woman said, “It’s how they were raised.” Dad said her comment cut like a knife and stopped him in his tracks. He knew Aunt Nee had raised him better.
Aunt Nee and Dad had a tradition of beginning the new year on their knees in prayer. As a young adult partying in bars on New Year’s Eve, Dad would run home just before midnight to begin the new year on his knees in prayer.
Dad recalled, as a young Merchant Marine, flirting with a much older woman. The beautiful 31-year-old was sitting on his lap, and everything was going great until he accidentally replied to something she said with, “Yes Ma’am”. Overhearing, a fellow sailor chuckled and said, “It’s hard to break way from that home training.”
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Dad was a typical young person, but never strayed too far from the foundation Aunt Nee instilled in him.
I asked Dad, “With no role model, what made you pursue things not typically pursued by blacks?” Dad replied, “I don’t know. Whenever a door opened, I walked through it.”
In the 1950s, Dad was one of a few blacks who broke the color barrier to become a Baltimore City Firefighter.
Dad was Baltimore City’s first black Firefighter of the Year, two times.
Dad was Baltimore City’s first black paramedic.
Dad was the Baltimore City Fire Department’s first black Chaplain.
An exclusive country club offered a special reduced membership rate to “all” firefighters. Dad noted the word “all”. He joined the club. Dad took my younger brothers Jerry and David for a swim in the pool. A stunned black staffer approached Dad in the locker room, “How on earth did you get in here?” When Dad and my brothers got into the swimming pool, the white members exited the pool. Dad kept coming back and eventually the behavior of the white members changed.
After the passing of the Civil Rights bill, Dad took our family to a whites only drive-in-movie. Dad said the ushers directed our car, “That’s it, that’s it, keep going”. Upon realizing that the ushers had guided our car through, out of the drive-in-movie, and back to the main road, Dad and my mom erupted into laughter. As Dad was telling me the story he had difficulty containing his laughter. He still thinks the incident was quite funny.
That is who my dad is, an easy going, good-hearted and upbeat remarkable man.
Years ago, I wrote a tribute song to Dad tilted, “Real Man”. http://bit.ly/QgkMv6
At 86, Dad’s mind is as sharp as ever. He still pastors four churches. Praise God! I am extremely grateful for every day, I have him in my life.
There is only one certainty in Ukraine: The energy sector must and will be transformed, and how long this takes will depend on who ends up in the driver’s seat and how serious they are about becoming a part of Europe and reducing dependence on Russia. But by then, investors will have missed the boat.
The driving factor for any energy investor in Ukraine is the pricing environment. There is nowhere else in Europe—or some would even argue in the world—where you are going to get significant access to resources and potential resources for the price. Gas is selling at $13.66/Mcf, while it costs $4-$5 to produce and operate. That means producers are netting anywhere between $8 and $9/Mcf.
Whether it likes it or not, kicking and screaming, Ukraine will have to transform its energy sector, if it hopes to see promised IMF money. Kiev will have to start selling off assets and making the industry much more transparent. Greater transparency coupled with an already-favorable gas price environment, will make Ukraine one of the best places to be over the next 5-7 years.
While everyone is now closely watching the campaigns unfold in the run-up to 25 May presidential elections, in the end who wins the presidency—and even the energy ministry—will determine not if, but how fast the country moves to transform its energy sector.
The crucial next step is a psychological one: Ukraine’s new leaders must come to the realization that their energy assets, particularly the pipeline system, are not strategic assets, rather they are valuable commercial assets. Privatizing these assets could raise $50 billion.
Right now, the pipeline system is nothing but a conduit for Russian gas into Europe. It could be much more. The pipeline system, and the state-run company that manages it, should be turned into a transparent public company in London, for instance. The sale of 50% of the company could generate sizable profits—half of which could be used to pay down debt to Russia, while the other half could be invested in modernization, turning a potentially valuable assets into a commercially realistic one.
Without the right people in place in the new government, we could perhaps lose a year in getting the necessary reforms in place. And continued talk about the “strategic” nature of these assets could cause investors to lose faith in Ukraine’s seriousness about reducing its dependence on Russia. Eventually, it will happen, and what elections will tell us simply is how long it will take.
There are a lot of resources to be developed in Ukraine, and there are also quite a few companies who have assets they cannot development, primarily due to lack of funding or marginal management teams. These companies will now be seeking to transact with larger players.
Historically, the most significant red flag for new investors in Ukraine has been working with the government. It’s too early to determine whether that will change. Bureaucracy generally kills deals more than anything, and foreign companies coming in will never be able to understand how the bureaucracy works. The smart investor will employ capital through a Ukrainian private entity to maximize investment dollars. Western management teams, without help from local partners, won’t be able to operate in this venue even if they are top-notch managers.
The smart investor will also realize that there is no better time to invest in Ukraine’s energy sector. Once it is transformed, the best opportunities will have been seized.
By: Robert Bensh of Oilprice.com
By: Wim Grommen
After intensive consultation with his advisors, President Obama has decided to modify the formula used for calculating the Dow Jones Index. On January 1, 2015 the Dow Divisor will be changed to 30. The result of this change will be that the Dow Jones Index drops from the current 16532 points to about 85.8 points. The underlying value of the 30 component stocks of course remains unchanged. With this modification to the formula Obama aims to make the large Dow fluctuations of recent decennia a thing of the past, and hopes that this will bring stability to the stock market. Banks, major investors and pension funds welcome this change in the Dow Jones Index formula.
To understand Obama’s proposal we must go back in Dow Jones history. The Dow was first published in 1896. The Dow was calculated by dividing the sum of the 12 component company stocks by 12:
Dow-index_1896 = (x1 + x2+ ……….+x12) / 12
In 1916 the Dow was enlarged to 20 companies; 4 were removed and 12 added:
Dow-index_1916 = (x1 + x2+ ……….+x20) / 20
The shares of a number of companies were split in 1927, and for those shares a weighting factor was introduced in the calculation. The formula is now as follows:
(x1 = American Can is multiplied by 6, x2 = General Electric by 4 etc. )
Dow-index_1927 = (6.x1 + 4.x2+ ……….+x20) / 20
On 1 October 1928 the Dow was further enlarged to 30 stocks. Because everything had to be calculated by hand, the index calculation was simplified. The Dow Divisor was introduced. The index was calculated by dividing the sum of the share values by the Dow Divisor. In order to give the index an uninterrupted graph the Dow Divisor was given the value 16.67.
Dow-index_Oct_1928 = (x1 + x2+ ……….+x30) / Dow Divisor
Dow-index_Oct_1928 = (x1 + x2+ ……….+x30) / 16.67
Since then the Dow Divisor has acquired a new value every time there has been a change in the component stocks, with a consequent change in the formula used to calculate the index. This is because at the moment of change the results of two formulas based on two different share baskets must give the same result. When stocks are split the Dow Divisor is changed for the same reason.
In autumn 1928 and spring 1929 there were 8 stock splits, causing the Dow Divisor to drop to 10.47.
Dow-index_Sep_1929 = (x1 + x2+ ……….+x30) / 10.47
After the stock market crash of 1929, 18 companies were replaced in the Dow and the Dow Divisor got the value 15.1.
Table: Changes in the Dow, stock splits and Dow Divisor
The table above makes it clear that the Dow Jones formula has been changed many times and that the Dow Divisor in the period 1980-2010 has actually become a Dow Multiplier, due to the large number of stock splits in that period. Where in the past the sum of the share values was divided by the number of shares, nowadays the sum of the share values multiplied by 6.4 . Dividing by 0.15571590501117 is after all the same as multiplying by 6.4 . (1 / 0,1557 = 6.4). This partly explains the behaviour of the Dow graph since 1980.
Figure: the Dow Jones since 1896
The proposed change on 1 January 2015 restores the formula to what it originally was: the sum of the share values divided by the number of component shares.
Dow-index_Jan_2015 = (x1 + x2+ ……….+x30) / 30
The aggregate current value of the 30 component stocks is 2574 dollars. By changing the Dow Divisor from 0.15571590501117 to 30 (a factor 192 larger) the index will, at current values, change from 15658 to 85.8 points (a factor 192 smaller).
The emotional factor in the current formula, the nervousness or euphoria of investors resulting from large fluctuations in the Dow, will be greatly reduced by this change (192 times) and so rationality should gain the upper hand in investor’s decisions.
Obama’s proposed change must still be approved by House and Senate. Both Republicans and Democrats have told Obama they support his proposal. Politicians, irrespective of political colour, desire stability in the stock markets. For the investor however it will take some getting used to: the Dow Jones at 85.8 points.