No salvations in sight

Nothing new or dramatic in the highly touted speeches by Abbas and Netanyahu, and nothing promising or threatening in the prodding to negotiations announced after the speeches by the Quartet of minders: US, UN, Russia, European Union.
Abbas repeated himself time and again, and Netanyahu seemed tired and off the dramatic edge that he has shown on other prominent occasions. Abbas won the applause competition by a large margin, but the clapping of diplomats will not bring him the state that he wants. Neither of the men approached Barack Obama for the skill of his UN performance. Israelis and Palestinians differ greatly on their views of his content. Responses to my previous note praising the Obama speech brought forth angry comments from individuals who may be satisfied with nothing less than his public circumcision and name change.
An Israeli web site shows 93 percent of those responding saying that Netanyahu gave a more convincing speech than Abbas. That fewer than 500 individuals have responded so far may indicate that it is Shabbat and many are not on the Internet, or that many couldn''t care less.
So far the weekend has passed without major confrontations. Some of the credit is due to Palestinians'' efforts to manage demonstrations in keeping with their approach to the United Nations and emphasis on non-violence. Some also to the heavy presence of police and military in places like French Hill that are close to neighbors who are not always peace loving. We heard explosions throughout the evening. Some of them may have come from the firing of tear gas grenades at the Kalandia crossing, two miles away as crows fly. Some of them were fireworks sent into the sky from Isaweea.
The Security Council has declared its receipt of the Palestinians'' request for statehood and UN membership, and will most likely sit on it with occasional discussions into the future. We remember an earlier Palestinian declaration of statehood, 23 years ago and counting.
Labor Party dues-payers have selected a new leader in Shelly Yachimovich. She is an articulate former media personality who entered the Knesset in 2006. Two of the losers in the primary were former leaders who had presided over different phases of the party''s decline. There is not much room for Shelly between further decline and the disappearance of Labor altogether as a factor in Israeli politics. Among her problems: deciding the appropriate weight between a campaign for social justice and outreach for the sake of accommodation with the Palestinians. Shelly''s reputation is more on the side of social justice, which will assure her problems with those still loyal to the party who see its future as competing with Likud and Kadima as the way to peace. She will also have problems with various leaders of the current social protest. Among their problems: deciding to put the emphasis on an even better life for the educated upper-middle class who formed the core of the protest, or helping the fewer but angrier others saying that they do not want to leave the tents of protest because they have no better place to live.
There is no obvious drama waiting to be played out as we approach the New Year.
Palestinians remain incapacitated by an internal split involving substantial factions demanding nothing less than the elimination of Israel. The lack of stability throughout the Middle East does not help the Palestinians. We can expect a continuation of something between competition for leadership and violent chaos in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, with outsiders like France, the United States, Iran, and Turkey seeking to promote themselves, favored insiders or ex patriots in each arena. No one should expect outsiders to solve the problem of Palestine, and all the other action will add to the Palestinians'' frustrations in getting help.
There is a report, traced to a Lebanese paper, that Israeli emissaries have maintained secret contacts with Bashar al-Assad for the purpose of helping his government survive, with some opposition and some support from French and American emissaries. Whether fact or fantasy, the report suggests the lack of stability that is more likely than a quick onset of a new and attractive Middle East.
Israel''s feisty politics will not make it easy for anyone to assert dramatic leadership. Given the Palestinians'' internal problems, there hardly seems a point in challenging Netanyahu to be more forthcoming than Barak in 2000 or Olmert in 2008. Aspirants for championing the cause of social justice will have to decide about priorities likely to unite the various competitors for leading that cluster of causes. Currently Netanyahu owns the government, and is permitting a bit of change in the direction of social justice while emphasizing economic stability.
While I do not promise to avoid writing again in the coming days or hours, I will take this opportunity to wish you all the conventional expressions for the coming year and the challenges associated with the Day of Atonement.
שנה טובה