Thursday, March 13, 2008

Connect the Dots #5: Virtual Reality

Exhibit One. At the top of today’s Haaretz business page is the sale of Kidaro to Microsoft. The price is not disclosed, but it is obviously sweet enough to put a smile on the faces of 27 young people, two of whom are holding bottles of champagne. Insiders say this was a $100 million deal, a very enviable “exit.”

The company created the software needed to, in effect, allow computers to run two completely different operating systems at once, say, the business XP of the company network, and the household Vista, full of personal emails, photos, and what-not. Two different virtual realities can thus coexist on a single desktop—“an enterprise computer systems environment alongside his private environment,” says company founder Ron Kohavi.

Exhibit Two. Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, a perennial contender for Churchill-of-the-year, explains why if John McCain does not make it to the White House “Israel is likely to be faced with a cruel decision at the end of the decade: to attack a nuclearizing Iran or accept a nuclear-capable Iran.”

He points out that Syria and Hezbollah are getting stronger and are both “incensed over the humiliating events of September 2007,” the unacknowledged attack on the unnamed site; that the Hamas leadership in Gaza has found the perfect weapon in the Qassam; that Mahmud Abbas is to be faulted for his weakness, which will bring an end to the Annapolis negotiations; and that the moderate regimes of the Arab world are “conducting a two-faced policy,” opposing Tehran and yet working to improve relations with it. Meanwhile, Israeli Arabs are waiting to join in the inevitable attack.

And what of blood, toil, tears, and sweat? The business press, Shavit says, has succeeded in “twisting the minds of the country's elite and making them think that the nouveau-riche wealth bubble is genuine.”

Exhibit Three. Another Haaretz columnist, the intrepid Amira Hass, who has actually lived in the Palestinian territories, is calling on the PA to adopt Gandhi’s tactics to resist settlements and closures. “There are hundreds of concrete barriers blocking exits to villages,” she writes; “The PA could send a bulldozer to remove one of them every day.” Building and development are banned in Area C. The Palestinian planning office could, she adds, “order the appropriate Palestinian ministries to put up electricity lines, to prepare the infrastructure to connect villages to the water carrier, to dig cisterns to collect rainwater, to build schools, clinics and houses.” What if Israel comes and destroys it all? “Then build it again.

Exhibits Four, Five, etc. A barrage of Qassams started falling again this morning after several days of quiet. Egyptian and PA negotiators have been trying to effect a general cease fire between Hamas and Israel; the barrage began immediately after the Israeli army assassinated four armed militants in Bethlehem—people allegedly planning further attacks on Israel. One of those killed, Ahmed Balboul, a senior figure in Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (a militia affiliated with Abbas's Fatah) had told The New York Times last July that he was hoping to work out an amnesty deal for himself with the Israelis. “Our intentions are turned toward negotiation,” he said, having come to a meeting in Bethlehem’s Manger Square unarmed.

Meanwhile, Israel has resumed building a new Orthodox settlement between Jerusalem and Ramallah, for which Shas—Olmert’s ultraOrthodox partner, which opposes all negotiations over Jerusalem—takes credit. Ehud Barak is promising that Israel will “continue to hunt and target every killer who has Jewish blood on his hands.” Defense Ministry people are saying Hamas will not soften its demands until it suffers “severe blows.”

Question One. How long can Churchill’s and Gandhi’s realities coexist in virtually the same political environment?

Question Two. Whose reality is more virtual: Israeli entrepreneurs who have learned to build software for every computer in the world, or Israeli officers who imagine that they are preventing fatal violence by breaking a cease-fire in order to assassinate more “terrorists”?

Question Three. Again, whose reality is more virtual: a writer who, for once, calls for creating the facts of peace in advance of peace, or a writer who, again, exhorts all to prepare for war in advance of war.

Essay Question. Churchill correctly said after Munich that his leaders had faced a choice between shame and war—that they chose shame then, and would get war later. Is it possible (for Shas, say, or Ehud Barak come to think about it,) to choose war now and get shame later?

Extra Credit. If things keep going this way, will not Kidaro’s employees discover a whole new meaning for the word “exit”?