A week in which capital letters were writ large across the news agenda.
J for Jerusalem, C for Capital, and a missing letter – U for undivided.
President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel breaking a 7-decade old policy, but simultaneously upholding a 1995 decision by Congress to do just that. Cue varying degrees of criticism from almost every country in the world, and varying degrees of outrage in the streets. There were protests in Ramallah, Gaza, Jerusalem, and further afield, in Istanbul, Karachi, Lahore, Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere. Rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel which responded with airstrikes.
But, crucially, in his announcement President Trump did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘Undivided’. He said there was no change in the American position on “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”. This means that the final status of the city is still to be determined, which in turn leaves the door open for East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine. That is one of the reasons why international criticism, even in the Middle East was relatively muted. The other though is
part of a bigger picture – with wars in Yemen and Syria, Lebanon in a fragile situation, terrorism in the Sinai, and the looming threat of Iran, the Arab states minds are simply not focussed on the plight of the Palestinians, their condemnation was barely a bark. Why would they make any meaningful move against Israel when they want, for the time being, a strong Israel in case they need help dealing with Iran and Hezbollah. As for the Palestinian leaderships; they appear still not to have worked out that the world has moved on from hanging on to their every word.
The American President made a statement of the obvious, but the reaction of other powers, including the Western ones was reflexive and indicative of 20thC thinking. None of those criticising the move have done anything to advance a two-state solution this century, but fell back on the old way of thinking. Trump does many bad things, many stupid things, this was not one of them and although the chances of a peace agreement remain remote, this declaration was the opening salvo in the deal he will unveil in 2018.
Chances of an early end to the war in Yemen suffered a setback when the former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was killed. The Gulf States involved in the military campaign against the Houthi rebels had persuaded Saleh to break his alliance with the Houthis and bring his armed factions over to their side. The Houthis responded by murdering Saleh in the capital Sanaa. He was famous for describing ruling Yemen as dancing on the heads of snakes. One of them has now bitten him. Yemen’s agony continues.
As predicted last week Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri retracted his resignation and by Friday was back in Paris and back representing his country in talks with the French government and the U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Apparently Sport and Politics don’t mix… except when they do, and this week there was an example of when they do. The International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from next year’s Winter Games in South Korea after uncovering doping among its athletes. From the IOS perspective this is not a political decision. From Moscow’s position – oh yes it is. The Kremlin tells its population that Russia is surrounded by a hostile world, and that anything which harms Russia is part of a plan.
Part of the plan to push back is President Putin who this week announce he will seek a fourth term in the 2018 elections. His approval ratings are currently at about 80%, so I’ll make a bold prediction… he’ll win. If he ‘serves’ until 2024 he’ll be 71. A 3rd consecutive term is legally a problem, but get rid of the law and you get rid of the problem and he could stand again.
Finally, 3 Bs – Brexit, Bitcoin, and Beauty.
The European Commission agreed that Brexit negotiations had achieved ‘sufficient progress’ to move to the next phase of talks. British PM Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced the deal in the early morning in Brussels. It must now must now be approved by EU leaders at the European Council meeting in the coming week. British media coverage spent the early autumn reporting we would never move as far as the issues faced this week. Much of it then spent this week saying that despite getting this far there was no way there would be an agreement. After the agreement, there is now much talk of how the next phase will fail. It is true that what has been, partially agreed was the divorce settlement which includes the rights of EU workers in the UK. It was indeed excruciatingly difficult, and it is true that the next round of talks, on trade will be even more so.
Bitcoin? Its money, but it doesn’t exist – except in the digital world and our imaginations. The digital currency is less than ten years old. In 2011 one Bitcoin was worth one dollar…. Just this September it was at $3,500 dollars, and this week it broke the $17,000 barrier… Currently its worth …a lot. Tomorrow it’ll be worth… no-one knows. Other crypto currencies are available.
So from what might be a beast, to a beauty…
You’d need quite a few Bitcoins to be able to hang this above your mantelpiece… – Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci sold for 450 million dollars in New York last month – destined for the Louvre at Abu Dhabi. This week the New York Times reported the buyer was a close friend Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah – naming him as Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud. The masterpiece is thought to have painted in around 1500, possibly for Louis XII of France. It ended up in the collection of Charles 1 of England, but disappeared until 1900. It will now be one of the star attractions of the Abu Dhabi Louvre bringing in tourist dollars, or Bitcoins.