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  Middle East & Africa
Sheep and Goats in the Holy Land
By Dr. Terry Lacey
Special Correspondent
Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from President Barack Obama, he has created a stronger Israeli bargaining position by obstructing the twin state with many conditions, while insisting on natural growth of settlements. (Amitai Etzioni, Haaretz, 12.06.09). The US and EU call this a step forward.

Some old Jewish and Palestinian stories about sheep and goats in the hills of Palestine may illuminate the prospects for the new twin state and the chances of a united Palestinian leadership. Then the lose ends could be tied, partners positioned, and Israel and Palestine could get married, or divorced, depending on how you see it.

Once upon a time a young religious student, inspired by a great Rabbi, begged if he could join his yeshiva (religious school). The Rabbi wanted another student, but did not want to pay a stipend. So he offered the student a little one-room house.

The student gratefully accepted, but still asked for a stipend.

The Rabbi became very cross, especially given the free house. He expected a cold winter and the yeshiva had lots of goats, so he insisted the student keep six goats in his room, as well as his wife and four children.

When the student told his wife she was very sad, especially about the goats.

He got to learn everything about Maimonides, she got to do all the housework, took in washing to earn money, and cleaned up goat shit.

After a year things looked better. The yeshiva was massively extended, with many new buildings. So the student asked again for a small stipend.

The Rabbi was furious. There was a huge argument in the little house. Goats, children and smaller items of furniture flew out of the windows. Everybody in the yeshiva was very upset. At last the young student emerged smiling, while the Rabbi looked very grumpy.

"Darling" said the wife of the religious student. "Did the Rabbi agree to a small stipend at last." "No" said the student "but he agreed to remove the goats."

However there may also be no further progress, without a united Palestinian leadership.

The West is backing a Palestinian President whose electoral mandate has expired. The Palestinian Authority complete with donor-interface, diplomats and security forces was previously accountable to an elected government and parliament. But the West Bank government is now appointed. The Gaza government was elected, but is boycotted by Israel and the West. So when are all the Kings horses and all the Kings men going to put Humpty Dumpty together again ?

Hamas people have been arrested by Fatah people, or worse, and vice versa, and to be helpful the Israelis have arrested Hamas people as well.

The Palestinian Parliament could perhaps reconvene in jail, if its members not yet in jail could somehow join those inside. An imprisoned parliament for an imprisoned people.

This is not to get into the rights and wrongs of it all. One of the problems with elections in the Middle East is that the wrong people often win them. So maybe the idea now is to reduce electoral uncertainties with some political engineering and arrest enough opposition leaders to do it. But how to find a wise and recognized leader?

So the old Palestinian shepherd explained to his grandson how he tended the sheep, even when he went to sleep. "How do you do it?" the boy asked.

"I chose the leader and I tie him to my big toe with a piece of string. Then I go to sleep." "And when you wake up in the morning," the young boy asked incredulously, "They are all still there?"

"No" said grandpa. "They´re all gone, except one. Half go one way, and half go the other way. I have to go all over the place looking for them."

"So grandpa, what does it mean" the boy asked?

Grandpa replied, "It means we are going to have to find a leader for all of them, or more string."

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Dr. Terry Lacey, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is a development economist. He writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.






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