Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Palestinian Strategy

There has been a great deal of anxious speculation about what Palestinians really want, the speculation tied to the questionable mandate of a president who has not stood for election since 2005 (and his prime minister who was never elected at all), the anxiety tied to concern that, if you take these men away, a gush of pro-Hamas sentiment will be unplugged. So Israelis, and people in the West more generally, should take a close look at this impressive document from the Palestine Strategy Group, the closest thing there is in Palestine to an independent voice reflecting what the educated center is thinking.

Look, especially, at pp. 6 and 7 of the executive summary for the various strategic options open to the Palestinian leadership. Read Akiva Eldar's analysis. If the Israeli government were serious about peace, or merely about avoiding a diplomatic debacle, it would take to heart the growing power behind the non-violent struggle the Group maps out. September is upon us, and the consequences of Palestinian action in the U.N. are hard to predict. But no Israeli can say the intention behind Palestinian action is mysterious. It is all here and deserves a response.

To my mind, the key to the document can be found in the following passage, with its emphasis on a "rights-based" strategy, appealing to international law. Embedded in this is an evolving view of, among other things, the "right of return," related to the federal political structures to follow after the end of occupation. I'll have more to say about both in the weeks ahead.

From the document:

Strategic option (D): Smart resistance

Smart resistance means an intelligent, focused and flexible use of the various sub-components of the broad strategic option of national resistance in general. These include legal action against Israel in the world’s courts and boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns. But the main emphasis in the PSG is on non-violent popular resistance, as demonstrated so powerfully in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions so far, and elsewhere in the Arab world. Palestinians have been pioneers in this area as in the first intifada 1987.

But now a new chapter needs to be opened because the full force of this strategic option was only partially exploited at that time. It remains a vast and largely untapped resource waiting to be fully activated in the framework of the new Palestinian liberation strategy. The PSG is in general agreement that the scope of popular resistance needs to be broadened and reactivated on all fronts, especially where youth stand to the fore.

The PSG discussed the role of armed resistance and agreed that this is an entirely legitimate tool in international law in cases of foreign occupation. Some see armed struggle as an essential, albeit partial, ‘equaliser’ to Israel’s military power without which Israel will continue to ignore Palestinian demands. Others - probably a majority - think that this is not the moment to emphasise the armed struggle, because it plays to Israel’s strength, provides Israeli right wing elements with propaganda tools to justify the use of force, and enables the nature of the conflict to be misrepresented as a military confrontation between two antagonists rather than a clear-cut case of military occupation.

There was a strong feeling in the PSG that attacks on civilians should play no part in the new national liberation strategy as they are in clear breach of international law, which is what our Palestinian strategy mainly appeals to, and only serves to alienate international opinion.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Libya, The Climax

Saif-al-Islam Qaddafi
I wrote about my time in Libya, and of the country's serious potential, back in February, just as the uprising started. I am not sure there is anything to add, except to caution against all the analysis that emphasizes the country's tribal divisions and lack of a functioning government--as if we are dealing with another Somalia. Libya is a country with only 6-7 million people and about 40 billion barrels of oil, as much as two million pumped each day.

Which means that Libya has been host to tens of thousands of ex-pat managers from France and Italy and elsewhere over the years, people who have in turn engendered a domestic professional and business class of considerable heft: managers running engineering and logistics companies, tourism businesses, cellular infrastructure businesses, and so forth. The latter are the centripetal force around which a state apparatus promises to function; it will get off the ground with considerable resources.

It is widely believed, as I wrote in February, that Qaddafi has stashed away more than $150 billion; most of this will turn up. The country's transportation infrastructure, though inconsistent, is nevertheless as impressive as, say, Jordan's during the 1980s and 90s: the ports, roads and airport are certainly good enough to build on. Tourist sites and beaches are magnificent, assuming they can be cleaned of trash. The educational and health systems are in terrible shape; but Tunisian counterparts are better and close by. Finally, it seems unlikely that Qaddafi, or his surviving retainers, will lead an insurgency. He did not command an ideological movement, though he postured as an intellectual. And thanks to President Obama's and NATO's good sense, there is no foreign invader to rally against.

There are reports that Qaddafi and his sons are surrounded. I confess that I feel a certain sadness for Saif-al-Islam's tragic fate. During the early 2000s he tried to lead his father, hence, his country, into something like a liberal and globalist reform, studying classical liberal texts at LSE, and hiring well-respected strategy consultants, including the Harvard Business School's Michael Porter, to set up an economic planning commission: a kind of shadow prime minister's office, that would slowly grow into a functioning state, and displace, or render redundant, the pervasive security apparatus. The current head of the rebel government, Mahmoud Jibril, was to be its first head.

The son failed to move things fast enough to preempt the counter-moves against reform by the security apparatus, or failed to move his father against others in the family, or was perhaps faking it from the start. If he was faking it, he was a very good actor. Actually, I suspect he was a kind of Michael Corleone character, eager to make his family "legitimate," drawn to a kind of Western normal, but finally sucked into the regime's violence and muck out of sheer love for his father, or at least his honorable sense of loyalty. As I write, he may well be contemplating his speech to the International Criminal Court or, indeed, his last hours on earth. To say that he deserves what he will get is true. It is also to want a prettier world than the one we have.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Motorola's Cellphones: An Elegy

I am having a strangely sentimental response to Motorola selling its cellphone business to Google--presumably so that Google will be able to create a serious competitor for Apple in mobile devices (like the iPhone and iPad) and acquire Motorola patents for the growing Silicon Valley patent war.

In the early 1990s, Motorola dominated mobile devices like Apple does today. The company pretty much invented mobile technology. Apple, for its part, was becoming a second-rate computer maker, about to lose its franchise in graphical user interfaces to Windows 95. In 1989, when Motorola was on the launching pad, Bill Taylor and I interviewed the company's remarkable young CEO, George Fisher, for Harvard Business Review. Fisher (who had recently taken over from the legendary Bob Galvin) was certain, as we all were, that Motorola stood to grow into cellular's international standard; he was then setting up a venture fund for start-ups.

After I left HBR, I undertook (among other consulting projects for Motorola University) to review the corporation's cellphone penetration strategy into China and write its case history. Motorola was the first to be granted the right to maintain a wholly-owned subsidiary, rather than be forced into a joint venture. By 1997, Motorola was first in every major market in which it competed in China, and maintained the largest presence of any global company operating in the country. Motorola’s rate of growth here had been unprecedented: the company was under $250 million in sales in 1992, and reached $1.5 billion in 1994. It expected to be at $10 billion by the year 2000.

There was talk then of Motorola, which made Apple's microprocessors, buying licenses to Apple's operating system and bringing it to Chinese hardware maker, Panda, which would then conquer the Far East before Microsoft got there. It is easy to imagine that had Motorola maintained its trajectory, it would have been the place where "convergence" between cellular and computers would have happened. (For those interested in a good international business story, you can read the case by clicking here.)

In those years, you walked around the Schaumberg campus, as I did almost weekly, and saw people walking with silver and gold access cards around their necks. The gold ones were for people with more then 15 patents, if I remember correctly. They were accorded great respect. Patents, then, were not developed merely to threaten Silicon Valley start-ups with lawsuits, or to keep competitors from suing you in a strategic game of mutually assured destruction. There was talk of Motorola, then a $30 billion company, becoming $100 billion by 2000. The corporation led American companies in developing quality standards, and was expert in working with schools to improve public education.

MOTOROLA'S TRAGEDY, LIKE all tragedies, was not in doing the wrong thing but doing the right thing too long. In the mid-nineties,  Motorola dominated the analog technology that its people-with-the-gold-access-cards had developed and which was, indeed, the standard. When digital cellular technology became feasible, Motorola management delayed implementing it, fearing this would cannibalize its own infrastructural systems, certain it had time to transition, afraid to demoralize its proud engineers, unable to make the transition to a consumer handset company. (I once visited a cellphone product manager who took a new model phone, put it to his nose, and exclaimed: "I love the smell of software in the morning.")

And before Motorola turned around, Nokia and Ericsson had jumped on the new digital technology and stolen its thunder, even in China. The rest is history (that is, the one Motorola didn't hire people to write).

A friend of mine at Duke recently did a rough calculation of how fast one third of Fortune 500 companies were "selected out"--failed or bought out. A generation ago this took about 13 years. Today this takes 4 years. Put that together with software companies buying hardware companies, almost as an afterthought, "for the IP," and lament the speed with which America's great companies can be made and unmade. Oh, and the next time you hear some economist smugly talking about "putting people back to work" by using, well, analogs to the 1930s, think about how economists, of all people, can be right too long.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Protest: NPR's "On Point"

I mentioned yesterday that NPR's "On Point" would be hosting a discussion on the protests. For those who missed it, here is the program, Etgar Keret and myself.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Odds And Ends About The Protest Movement

I've gone quiet for the past couple of weeks, working on a longer essay about the Palestinian right of return. For those who missed it, a shorter version of my last post was published as an oped in Haaretz last weekend. I also spoke about the issue with Kojo Nnamdi on his WAMU's talk show, and will be on Tom Ashbrook's "On Point" tomorrow, Monday, at 11 AM. But enough about me.

I called some (young) friends who lead the Solidarity organization in Jerusalem, to get their take on the protests. They have been, they said, in the circles around the (even younger) protest leaders, but can only speculate. They cannot say how deeply the new leaders are committed to connecting the dots between economic disabilities and peace, though the latter clearly do have backgrounds that imply peace movement sentiments: the kibbutz movement, the student union, and so forth.

The new young leaders on Rothschild Boulevard are very willing to associate with, and seek advice from, liberal NGOs. They are also willing to keep a focus on the "tycoons" and the monopolistic pricing of certain consumer goods, because this kind of issue is the easiest to understand. (Go tell people that if, during the 2008 meltdown, Israeli banks were not highly regulated in ways that kept foreign competitors out, the country could have become another Iceland.)

Anyway, the new leadership are clearly not keen to gesture toward the issue of Palestine, though smoking the nargila seems a part of the way tent-dwellers keep debate going into the night. The fear is dividing people along "ideological" lines.

And yet I think it may be impossible to keep the issue of the occupation and, correspondingly, the texture of the state regarding non-Jews under the surface much longer, because at least some Israeli Arabs have been mobilizing, especially in and around Haifa. Once Arabs join the coalition--and how can the leaders not wish the most disadvantaged Israelis to join an economics-driven movement?--the movement such as it is will have to decide how to keep Arabs engaged.

Arabs will not stay with movement that projects a desire to return to the good old days of the Histadrut and collective enterprises, which more or less made clear that Arabs need not apply. They will insist on an end to occupation in the New Israel. There will never again be a democracy-and-peace front in Israel that wins an election that is not a coalition with Arabs.

Moreover, the real divide in Israel's political future may not be ideological in the old sense. It may be generational: the divide between people who are cool (a word that may mark me as from an older generation) and those who are not; the divide between Israelis who have traveled  the world, and "friend" people all over it, and those who still think in terms of their immigrant aspirations.

The young movement, in short, seems made of Israelis who expect to be joined to world, as opposed to Jews who see the world as heartless in a way that requires an Israeli haven. This may be enough to move sentiment in the street to preclude a future of international isolation, implied by the world's rallying to Palestine. Stay tuned (or should I say, online).