The Islamic Winter

Arlene from Israel

The big news here in Israel has to do with winter, all right. But most definitely not the Islamic sort (which I’ll get to below).

We’ve been hit with severe weather. In Jerusalem, it started with torrential rain and high winds yesterday, and turned to snow overnight. Bitter temperatures and more snow, probably mixed with sleet, are due in the next two days. Traffic is snarled, and routines are disrupted – main roads are closed. In the north, in Gush Etzion, Beit El, Hevron, the Shomron, and other places that are higher, the snow fall has been heavier.

Credit: Jerusalemscenes


From my window right now, it’s very lovely, as every branch of every shrub is covered.

And there is yet another benefit to the weather: Kerry was scheduled to meet with Netanyahu today to advance that “peace process” with ever more vigorous plans. But the snow caused a postponement.


What timing! Yesterday I wrote about the law, know as the Prawer Plan, that had been advanced by former minister Bennie Begin. Today he pulled the bill for lack of support.

You might assume that the lack of support was a signal that most MKs think it was not fair to the Bedouin, but the contrary is the case. And Begin said explicitly that this action was not as a result of the riots.

As Arutz Sheva explains:
“The plan gives Negev Bedouin 180,000 dunams (45,000 acres) of state land for free, additionally granting them ‘compensation’ for the state land many Bedouin are currently squatting on. Arab and left-wing opposition to the bill focuses on it moving 30,000-40,000 Bedouins from illegal outposts and villages, and demolishing 40 illegal settlements…

“About 260,000 Bedouin live in Israel, mostly in and around the Negev in the arid south. Members of this minority regularly settle on land they do not own, and then violently refuse to evacuate it. The Prawer Plan would have offered some of the Bedouin generous compensation for land they had grabbed, and relocated them to communities that could receive proper services from the state.

“The Bedouin leadership refused to accept the plan, which they claimed violates their rights. According to nationalists, this is because the Bedouin know that they have more to gain by continuing to grab land by force.”



Regavim, which works to protect Jewish rights to the land, said:

“Now the outline can be amended and the necessary corrections inserted into the bill, so that it truly deals with the problems of the Bedouin population and does not serve a tiny, interested group of ownership claimants, to whom it doles out hundreds of thousands of dunams.

“Land is the most important and least available resource in the state of Israel, and it must not be seen as currency for payment,

“The systematic refusal and violence exhibited by the leaders of the Bedouins and the Arab MKs, vis-a-vis the super-generous plan offered by former minister Begin, proves again that handing out gifts for free projects weakness, and increases the appetite of those who claim ownership.” (Emphasis added)



Now to the Islamic Winter:

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Rafi Yisraeli, professor emeritus of Hebrew University, deliver a talk based on his new book, “From Arab Spring to Islamic Winter.”

I would like to share a few highlights of that talk.

Not only are we not witnessing a “spring” (a political blossoming) with regard to what’s happening in Arab states such as Egypt and Syria, but the phenomenon is not even exclusively “Arab.” Rather, it is Islamic, affecting nations within a swath that encompasses everything from Afghanistan to Mali. An Islamic Winter. A period of unrest and violence.

With all of the differences that adhere in these various states, says Prof. Yisraeli, what binds them is an Islamic vision.

Interestingly, one of the things that has sparked violence in some of these nations is a sense that there has been a de facto return to a monarchy. At an earlier time, in these places, there had been monarchies, which were ultimately overthrown. Regimes of a totalitarian nature replaced the monarchies, but those regimes held within them the potential for change. What happened in several instances is that the totalitarian rulers insisted upon being followed by their sons. This was true in Syria, for example, where Bashar Assad took over from his father, Hafez Assad. In Egypt, Mubarak wanted to be succeeded by his son as well, and this behavior was manifested in other countries. This signaled to the people that there was no chance for change, that the country was in the iron grip of a single family.

Yet another problem that is endemic now to several countries of the region has to do with reductions in the quantity of food being grown – particularly where there are draught conditions – at the same time that the populations are expanding. The potential for crisis is growing ever greater.


Yisraeli – as those who know him are aware – has a wicked sense of humor. And so I feel free to share here one joke he told, which was so very to the point: A minister of one of these struggling countries declared in a speech, “When I took office, we were at the edge of a precipice. But since then we’ve taken several steps forward.”


Ukraine’s Two New Energy Deals

If one was to believe the picture that most Western media outlets are painting, Ukraine has been lost to Russia. Though the country fought valiantly to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union in Vilnius, Lithuania last month, President Viktor Yanukovych suspended negotiations with the EU at the last possible moment, betraying Ukrainians everywhere. Two recent energy deals that Ukraine has reportedly made, one with Russia and the other with Slovakia, however, show that the reality of the situation is slightly more complex.

Claiming that Yanukovych had always wanted negotiations with the EU to fail would arguably be giving him and his advisors too little credit as political strategists. In terms of public opinion, signing the Association Agreement would have all but secured Yanukovych’s re-election in 2015, whereas his step down from the deal has visibly shaken his legitimacy as President to its core. Rather, too little attention is given to the very real economic pressure Russia has placed on Ukraine and the EU’s reluctance or inability to offset Putin’s ‘trade war’. Furthermore, while Yanukovych did not sign the Association Agreement in Vilnius, he did not commit his country to Putin’s rival ‘Eurasian Union’ either.

Prior to the Vilnius Summit in November, the Ukrainian government found itself between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, Russia was imposing exorbitant gas prices and devastating economic sanctions on Ukraine’s already fragile economy. By October 10th, 2013, trade between the two countries had fallen by 25% and prices for Russian gas, on which Ukraine remains dependent, stood at $420/1000 m3, $50 more than the European average. On the other hand, EU leaders refused to hold tripartite negotiations with Russia and Ukraine, instead using all their leverage to insist that jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, convicted of abuse of office and embezzlement in 2011, be freed.

All of this comes on top of Ukraine’s dire situation. The country faces $10 billion in principal and interest payments next year and has the third-highest default probability in the world. In an address following his decision to suspend negotiations with the EU, Yanukovych stated, “I would have been wrong if I hadn’t done everything necessary for people not to lose their jobs, receive salaries, pensions and scholarships.” While many Ukrainians and outside observers may not take the President’s words at face value, it is no lie that, had Ukraine signed the agreement, economic disaster would have been imminent.

Two energy deals

As there was little the EU could/would offer to offset the immediate Russian reprisals on Ukraine’s economy, the government renounced signing the Association Agreement. However, two gas deals currently in the works show that, far from being sucked forever into Russia’s orbit, Ukraine will continue to flirt with both East and West and, most of all, move towards energy independence.

While the exact details of the deal Yanukovych has hammered out with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi last Saturday remain unknown, Edward Lucas, the international editor of The Economist claims that gas prices for Ukraine will be brought down to $200/1000m3 while $5 billion cherry payment on top. Lucas also claims that Yanukovych has promised that Ukraine will join Russia’s customs union as part of the deal, though this has been virulently denied by the Russian administration. At the same time, payments for Russian gas transferred from Gazprom to Naftogaz between October and December 2013 have been deferred until the Spring of 2014, all of which gives Ukraine some much-needed breathing room.

On the Western front, however, Ukraine agreed on the conditions for a gas deal with Slovakia for importing European Union gas through Slovak pipelines. These new flows, including gas from Poland and Hungary, could exceed 10 billion cubic meters annually, enough to meet Ukraine’s entire import needs. The move, which has long been heralded as a strategy to curb Ukraine’s energy dependence on Russia, comes less than two weeks after negotiations with the EU broke down, questioning the dominant narrative that the Ukrainian government is content to sign itself away to Moscow.

Source: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Ukraines-Two-New-Energy-Deals.html

By. Scott Belinksi for Oilprice.com


Barack Obama, One Man’s Obstructionism Is Another Man’s Deliberation

By: Katherine Rosario
The Forge

What are conservatives up against in 2013? We are up against an extremely liberal President and his ideological allies in the Senate. What do we believe in and work to preserve? An America where freedom and prosperity flourish. We promote free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense – and liberals adamantly disagree with us.

In April of 2012, the New York Times had the stunning revelation that President Obama was intentionally bypassing Congress to advance his ideological goals. They noted what they characterized as a marked shift in the President’s tone at a strategy meeting in the fall of 2011.

He declared, aides recalled, that the administration needed to more aggressively use executive power to govern in the face of Congressional obstructionism.

The President told his staff that he wanted to “push the envelope” and find things they could “do on [their] own,” though he criticized George W. Bush for doing the same.

William G. Howell, a University of Chicago political science professor and author of “Power Without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action,” said that Mr. Obama was not necessarily doing something novel by exercising power unilaterally. Instead, he was doing what he needed to do to protect his legacy.

And it might be counterintuitive, but there are cheerleaders for cause of concentrating power in Mr. Obama’s hands, as if he needs cheerleaders! In a New York Times oo-ed, David Brooks suggests that what needs to be done to overcome obstructionism of a divided Congress is give the executive more power:

It’s a good idea to be tolerant of executive branch power grabs and to give agencies flexibility.

It’s unclear how that notion will go over with conservatives and libertarians, but for some reason lead balloons come to mind.

Politico also suggests we’re now seeing a “different kind of Democrat” in President Obama now — one that’s “connecting to progressive populism with an aggressive, spending-oriented, activist government approach to the economy.”

Is this really new? It’s certainly possible for Mr. Obama to embrace more aggressive tactics, but that is not to say his tactics to date have been altogether passive.

The real question is whether he is increasing power for power’s sake? Is that the central motivation for Mr. Obama? Probably not. It’s more likely an ideological passion for advancing the liberal ideology, and that is something he has always possessed, and he has repeatedly expressed frustration at having institutions like Congress standing in his way.

Mr. Obama is driven by vision of America saturated in the liberal ideology of big government, at the expense of conservative principles. The two are, obviously, mutually exclusive.

As the recent passage of a budget deal raising spending $63 billion in the next two years demonstrates, caving in Congress means inching evermore to the left, making this mission easier for Mr. Obama to accomplish.

Yet, liberals are philosophizing about how to advance progressive ideas more aggressively.

Apparently the following examples – or the plethora of others – of Mr. Obama’s power grabs aren’t enough to convince them he’s advancing the liberal ideology rapidly enough:

Then there was the time, more recently, when he “successfully lobbied Democratic senators to change the filibuster rules that were holding up his executive branch and judicial nominees.”

Whatever could his incentive have been for that? Heritage Foundation legal expert Hans A. von Spakovsky explains:

The president and his allies want to “remake” the federal courts. Why? Because they know that one of the only remaining avenues open to conservatives and others to try and stop the abuse of federal power is through the federal court system.

If Republicans in Congress think the go-along-to-get-along mentality will help the country, they’re sorely mistaken.

As Sen. Mike Lee recently articulated, what is truly needed to shore up the rift in Congress is a conservative reform agenda. Part of that agenda is a conservative, patient-centered, market-based healthcare reform plan. We need to stop Obamacare, because as Charles Krauthammer noted two months ago:

Obamacare is the core of the new expansion of the liberal idea. This is sort of the continuation of the New Deal; it’s the continuation of the Great Society. In a sense the way that liberals have portrayed it, it’s the completion of the entitlement state. The one element that separated us from the advanced industrial countries… If this collapses, this huge expansion of the entitlement state, this essential nationalization of one sixth of the U.S. economy, I think that discredits the entire enterprise of the expansion of government, which is at the heart of Obamaism.

That is why Heritage Action exists. We exist to ensure radical liberals are not the only ones in this nation taking a strong stand for their principles. We exist to give a voice to the American people who do not oppose the expansion of big government because it threatens their prosperity and way of life.

There will be many fights in Congress, and battles are being waged between those who believe in big government and those who believe in freedom. Our nation is still languishing under the ravages of Obamacare; it’s a battle that’s not yet won. Next we face a potential fight on amnesty and immigration reform, as our CEO Mike Needham said Friday morning. We will have liberals to contend with for years to come. The war may never be won – but the battles should be.