West Bank high life masks deepening economic crisis

Past the Israeli sentry towers blackened by firebombs and the entrance to a refugee camp emblazoned with posters of rifle-clenching militants, downtown Ramallah sparkles.

The scars of an intractable conflict and occupation melt away: cafes bustle with smartly dressed patrons, water-pipe smoke perfumes the air and basslines from trendy clubs shake the night. New model BMWs ply leafy avenues beneath villas and tall apartment blocks sprout from the West Bank hills.

But its more mirage than miracle.

Thank God for loans, said Ibrahim el-Far, owner of the newly-opened branch of the upscale Italian cafe chain Segafredo Zanetti in Ramallah, the Palestinians commercial capital and headquarters of their government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Growth in the West Bank is concentrated in Ramallah and in real estate and services even as many sectors like agriculture and construction languish.

Government spending and living on credit at all levels of Palestinian society is rampant and, as the euro zone crisis has shown, may prove to be the economys undoing.

Bank lending for personal consumption in the Palestinian territories has risen five-fold in the last two years to $417 million. Total credit for cars alone accounts for a further $119 million, according to the Palestinian Monetary Authority.

If youre immersed in troubles, why not try to live well, have night life and good coffee? If weve been slapped once by occupation, the slap from the credit bill wont hurt as much, El-Far said.

Aid for the donor-dependent Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals with Israel, has slowed to a trickle.

Salaries for a swollen public sector again cannot be paid in full this month. The productive base for the economy is shrivelling while unemployment climbs along with poverty.

An economic crisis has deepened – growth is down from a peak of 9 percent in 2010 after the lows of the Intifada to 5.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012 from the same 2011 period.

The Palestinian Authority accounts for almost a third of the $3.5 billion in credit given by banks in the Palestinian territories but, with donor aid flagging and revenues down, it is not clear how much longer that can last.

A Palestinian request for a $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund was turned down, officials said this week. And foreign aid is waning partly because of global economic conditions and partly in a backlash to the Palestinians abortive bid for statehood at the United Nations last fall.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has dropped off dramatically since the end of a 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising. But peace and coveted statehood remain elusive. Negotiations with Israel have been frozen since 2010 amidst bitter misgivings among Palestinians over Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.

Barca midfielders

Sir Alex should play with 4.5 midfielders (I will explain the 0.5 soon). Now to deal with the Messi/Villa threat, you need to deny them direct access to your back four. You need to clip them (yes, literally) all the time. Which means you plant a “cleaner” in front of your centre-backs to mop up any crumbs left from the process of flushing out attack waves. I am referring here to a JS Park or Darren Fletcher, preferably Park, considering the speed with which Barca attacks through the middle. To counter Park’s erratic but effective style will be a Michael Carrick, who comes with the added feature of being a good ball distributor. So Park cleans, Carrick distribute, easy. In 2009, Park started against Barca in an attack right position, disastrous! This time, he should be made to replicate the role he played in the quarter-final games against Chelsea: a neutralizing holding midfielder.

Now on the flanks, United should not go for full-time wingers. In modern football, a full-time winger is tied down with work along the flanks all game, and barely contributes to central midfield play. Thankfully, Giggs has grown (or rather aged) into a full-midfielder nowadays and Valencia is brave enough to take the entire midfield on his own! So that makes 4 midfielders. The 0.5 is the boy Wayne Rooney. He will be United’s number 9.5: a deep-lying centre-forward. Helped by his physical strength, he will be difficult to pick out since he will neither be in the face of Pique nor in the midst of Iniesa or Xavi. With Rooney lurking in a deep-lying centre-forward position, Busquet will be wary of running forward in attack and wrecking his usual supply damages. And in case Keita plays for Barca, he is likely to behave the same way, as Barca’s central midfielders will have their backs to Rooney, with the threat of him supplying a difficult-to-catch Hernandez.

FORWARD

Rooney will lend his other half in attack to support Hernandez. Hernandez is matured enough to stay on his own, with his speed being his main weapon. Pique is good, but may not be quick enough to outrun Hernandez. Rooney’s other half, as well as Valencia and Giggs coming in from the flanks, could turn the Mexican into a hero on the night, especially Valencia’s crosses (and potential ability to deal with Eric Abidal). Having studied United this season, Guardiola will certainly be smart enough keep an eye on the Mexican. This gives opportunities in a counter-attack situation for Rooney, Valencia, Park or Giggs to pop up with a goal.

Whatever you do Fergie, just don’t go to Wembley and defend all night!

Good coaches are patient ones

Being a good coach requires some real patience. So I had Van der Vaart on my Yahoo Fantasy Football team. Then he was injured last Saturday and scored me no points, I therefore kicked him out. He makes a quick recovery, returns to action on Tuesday, scores a goal against Sunderland and earns over 20 points! I now feel like an ass. But can you blame me? I live in Ghana, West Africa. In this part of the world, we can hire or fire a coach based on the results of just one match!

Anyways, I take consolation in the fact that his goal got cancelled by one from Asamoah Gyan (the man who once broke the hearts of over 1 billion people, a potential Guinness world record for heartbreaks). So it seem to be going well for Gyan, 13 million pound transfer, a goal in debut game (and 4 afterwards)…….I am truly happy for the young man from Accra who also happened to score Ghana’s first ever World Cup goal in 2006. And his dance, it seem to be catching up with the Black Cats fans. I almost rolled over with laughter when El Muhammadi attempted to dance along. Whatever you do, Steve Bruce, keep Gyan away from penalties (and maybe keep John Mensah from playing football altogether! lol).

Ha! I almost got carried away. Who cares about United playing City tonight? All of a sudden, the rest of the world pays attention when United plays City. I thought that ranked on the same level as United playing Nottingham Forest? C’mon, City is rich, so what? When you are rich, you have to be sensible. You don’t go around spending tons of cash on over-priced mid-standard players and expect your new-found wealth to work miracles on the field of play (no mention of names). United shares a city with City, but I doubt they’ve learnt anything from the legendary gaffer in the driving seat at Old Trafford (whose only wrongful purchase was paying 30 million pounds for the “legendary” Dimitar Berbatov, my friend
Alyshah Kanji’sall-time hero). But that’s understandable since Alyshah plays like Berbatov. Apart from stealing Carlos Tevez from us, City has so far thrown money down every gutter they could find, from Asunción all the way to Zurich.

Looking to the land

The appeal of property becomes clear by looking out the windows of the stately 10th-floor office of Kareem Abdul Hadi, a manager in Palestine Development and Investment Inc., or PADICO, the biggest privately-owned enterprise in the Palestinian territories and a holding company for everything from swish eateries and luxury hotels to real estate and construction.

Cement highrises surge from the ground in the middle of verdant patches of nothing – bald spots, Abdul Hadi dubs them – rendered largely out of bounds to Palestinian administration and construction as per the 1994 Oslo agreements setting out different zones of control in the West Bank.

The wall built by Israel winds across the landscape – part of a barrier Israel says ensures its security against suicide bombers but the international court of justice says is illegal and Palestinians decry as a land grab. While Israels controls hamstring commerce, they are a boon to the property market.

Land in Palestine is one of the only safe investments, both because the Oslo agreements made it more scarce and because it has historically never gone down in value, Abdul Hadi said.

The same doesnt apply for real estate, and while value hasnt dropped, some housing projects are sitting empty, and people havent bought them up yet.

Abdul Hadis firm is investing in a members-only executive club and spa with views of the sweeping Mediterranean littoral below, and importing a luxury restaurant from Jordan, but prospects for undertakings that would create a substantial number of jobs and spur growth have dimmed.

Sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and construction actually contracted in the first quarter of this year, according to preliminary figures from the World Bank.

The problem is an unfriendly investment environment, caused by the Israeli occupations wall and restricted access. It makes investors unsure about putting money into Palestine, said Mohammed Shtayyeh, a minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction.

Around two-thirds of the West Bank is policed and administered exclusively by Israel, and the Palestinian-run cantons float precariously in an interstice of Israeli settlements, military bases and roads.

But Shtayyeh admits his government also deserves blame.

The PA is not the owner of the means of production, but it should have encouraged more interest by the private sector and foreign direct investment in developing the productive base here, he said.

Race to Christmas

In the “Battle of the Model vs. the Midget”, the Midget prevailed. The Midget permanently ended all the “Who’s the best?” arguments and that must have made the Model’s nicely gelled hair stand straight with envy. The Midget run faster (even with shorter legs), jumped higher (have you seen the guy’s size?) and smiled more (and he’s not even the good-looking one). Just like the ones before, there can only be one “greatest” per generation. When you are up for the greatest in your generation, the trick is to play in different leagues from your competitors, apart from the one or two odd Champions League meeting. Avoid them totally so the comparison can never be complete. The Model did not get the trick early, and went off to the exposure of the La Liga. Now it’s all settled, no more hat-trick contests!

The excitement of pre-Christmas football is as good as end-of-season. Everyone wants to be the team to finish the first half of the season on top. Even though you could end the other half at the bottom, it gives you a false sense that you are halfway to championship. It could also be a tough time, especially if you are in the situation Chelsea finds itself. Dates with Spurs, Man United and Arsenal – in that order – isn’t fun to think of, especially at a time when the team seem to have run out of steam (and it’s freaking winter too!). Now there are only 3 points separating the top 4 teams, with Man United having a game in hand (thanks to Blackpool’s frozen pitch). This is a sharp contrast to the Bundesliga table, where Dortmund has taken a 10 point lead, and the season isn’t even halfway yet! Reminds me of the Ghanaian league about a decade ago, when Accra Hearts of Oak could almost win the league halfway to end, hehehe. It’s still tight at the top of the La Liga, with 2 points separating Barca and Madrid. Who knows, the Model could have the last laugh in May 2011.There are many legends of famous training ground and dressing room pep talks. There’s even a comedy movie made on Rafa Benitez and his legendary half-time pep talk in Istanbul 2005, at a time his Liverpool team were 3 goals down against Milan. His players came back and cancelled all 3 goals to become European Champions on penalties. They say it’s the greatest half-time pep talk of all time. So Harry Redknapp took a cue. He knew Spurs had not beaten Arsenal in 17 years. So he huddled his player together after training and told them the following lies:
“It’s wide open this league this year, it’s wide open. Chelsea are not as good as they were; Man United are not as good as they were three or four years ago. They’re still excellent teams but they’re not the force they were. They were almost invincible, the pair of them. I think Tottenham are now getting closer and the championship is wide open. Why can’t you win the championship? Who says you can’t? It’s wide open for somebody who can put a run together. It’s there for someone to have real go at it this year. Why should we all be fearful and keep saying, ‘We can’t win it’? I wouldn’t be saying it if we had a bad group of players. I’m a realist; I’m not dreaming. It’s difficult to do but it’s not impossible. This is the best chance anyone’s going to get this year. There’s very little to choose between the top five or six teams at the moment.”

Guess what? They actually believed him! So when they were down by 2 goals at the Emirates, they had enough mental strength to fight back to win 3-2. The thing about this trick is that, you can only use it once. When Spurs don’t win the league this season (which is definitely what is going down, hehehe), then Harry needs to craft new lies, which won’t be easy. But there’s always a way out: TALK TO STEPHEN IRELAND. The guy once lied to the Irish FA that his maternal grandmother (who raised him) was dead, just so he can get out of a football match. The kind FA gave him a private jet to take him home to mourn. Then it was discovered that the granny was still alive. So he changed the dead subject to his paternal grandmother, who he claim he wasn’t so close to anyway and wouldn’t have bothered if he knew earlier. But the other old lady got angry about it, so he swiped his last card: his divorced grandfather’s girlfriend!

Americanization

Beyond occupied land and limited water, even the air waves in the West Bank offer no safe outlet for economic growth.

Israeli authorities deny the Palestinian Authority and therefore Palestinian mobile phone providers access to the high-tech 3G frequency, while granting it even to Jewish settlements.

Sam Bahour, a telecoms entrepreneur-turned-business consultant, said any potential for a high-tech industry had been stymied by that move.

Israel is in total control of the assets that could make for a real economy, and weve been left to manage the crumbs, he said. Its a donor-driven economy and will remain one until the occupation ends.

International organizations and the public sector concentrate in Ramallah, where 75,000 people live, pulling jobs and wealth from the rest of the West Bank into its orbit and leaving other towns and cities in its shadow.

Poverty and joblessness have increased in the West Bank in 2012, both hovering at around a fifth of the population of 2.6 million.

The government focuses on growth regardless of how it is achieved so that it will get some compliments abroad, Nasser Abdul Kareem, an economic analyst, told Reuters.

Unfortunately, too much of it depends on government spending, which is neutral, and doesnt distribute wealth among people and geography, he said.

As division festers between the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas Islamists, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbass dominant Fatah party in the West Bank, wealth disparities and the preoccupation with making ends meet are breeding alienation among a people already in no short supply of it.

Indebtedness and financial problems are taking a toll on society, and making people Americanized in a way, noted Bahour, the consultant.

The focus on the individual and his ownership is increasing, and the sense of community and the collective fades.

Southeast Conference

When he first heard talk of the possibility of Mizzou joining the Southeastern Conference, Gary Pinkel acted like a wise man, not an emotional one. The coach who has turned Tiger football into a significant national program in the Big 12, wanted to proceed on this potential new journey with the caution of an earnest school crossing guard.

He wanted to look before he leaped. So there was no knee-jerk celebration, no automatic stamp of approval. He didnt allow his mind to drift off into how easy it would be to sell Mizzou football to teenaged high school recruits on the value of playing in the best football league outside of the NFL. Personally, he even refused to dream about the possibility of matching his Xs against the Os of some of the best (and highest paid) minds in the college coaching business.

Instead Pinkel wanted answers. All he wanted to know from all the rather giddy folks who were rushing to push Missouri towards the SEC was the answer to one rather poignant question: Were these excitable administrators, boosters, alums and fans getting ready to write a check with their bubbling enthusiasm that their, ummm, financial support couldnt cash?

When we discussed this going into the SEC, I often expressed if youre not going to be committed to excellence and invest, that you should never go into this league, said Pinkel, who already knew from several of his coaching buddies exactly what sort of heavy lifting is required to be competitive in college footballs top conference.

Qatar People

So the Qataris don’t like gay people. Then we should probably boycott the 2022 World Cup, right? Oh cut the crap, be serious and let’s just play football. Qatar isn’t saying they don’t like gay people, just…….ermm…….gay relationships. Let’s just go and play the World Cup, OK. Sepp Blatter is old, forgive him for his outdated gay jokes. But please, can we play some ball? What do I think of gay people in football? Well, I haven’t started blogging about that yet.

From Abu Dhabi to London, where the premiership’s 2 biggest teams (you may think otherwise, I know) clash in what could be a redemption match for Chelsea, against their recent not-too-impressive form. Forget the penalty misses, Drogba and Rooney are gradually getting back to their old selves. There’s no team as scary as Chelsea when Drogba is scoring. It’s infectious! Then Maloudabegins to score, Kaloubegins to score,
Essienbegins to score, even Alex! Their midfield is still a bit of a problem. They have Essien (great), but Mikel is losing it, Lampard lost it, whiles Ramires never found it.

To face Luka Modricalone and not stand, that is worrying. Kalou and Malouda should be kept on the wings and certainly a return for the Anelka-Drogba partnership. This season, Man United have been in sixes and sevens whenever they play against a 4-pronged forward line. An example is the Bolton game. But still unbeaten, they can be dangerous when allowed to go ahead on a goal. On Sunday, Sir Alex is likely to parade his “big game” players: Park, Fletcher, Ferdinand and O’Shea. These are players who have consistently made impact against difficult opponents (only to slump against the minnows, I guess). Berbatov remains an outsider, even though Petr Cech will be hoping to avoid another cheeky lob like he got from the Bulgarian in the Community Shield back in August. I do not expect a goal from Rooney on Sunday, maybe a clever assist.

Serve You The Leftovers

Excuse my bad French. But after hours of searching the deepest part of my humour cerebellum for an appropriate name, this is what I came up with. Name for who? Well, it’s the name I will be calling Wenger’s underachieving Arsenal side for the entire 2011/12 football season! Yes, I will have another name for them next season as well, unless something shocking happens (where shocking means Arsenal disappointing all of us and winning something else besides the Emirates Cup).

You see, I use to have pity on Wenger. The Frenchman once commanded two of the most feared EPL sides of the last 2 decades: the Arsenal sides of 1997/98 and 2003/04. But his inability to vary strategy has caused him a barren spell of now epic proportion. I use to be a fan of his choice of youth. But if he had been paying attention to his more successful compatriots, maybe he would have learnt a thing or two about home-grown youth talent. I mean which club has more youthful talent than FC Barcelona. Their academy is swarming with balling magicians! That academy even lent Arsenal its skipper until a few days ago, Cesc Fabregas. But even almighty over-resourced Barca knows when to go and borrow ready-made talent from elsewhere.

So now they recently signed Alexis Sanchez, got the fearful David Villa to join them and now Fabregas, after Arsenal had groomed him into maturity! It’s time for Wenger to learn a thing or two. His youthful side may over-run the old men of Chelsea (The Blues old nickname coincidentally is “The Pensioners”), for example. But at the end of the day, all it takes is one move of experience from Drogba, Lampard, Malouda, etc. and Chelsea will run away unfair winners. It’s time for Wenger to break his miserly bank and spend some money to acquire experience. As it stands, I don’t even think Arsenal should be considered amongst Europe’s elite clubs, unless having a pretty looking stadium counts for something.

Arsene Wenger may be every club owner’s dream come true. He produces ok performances, with very minimal resources spent. He even keeps a low salary ceiling, maybe a little too low for a club of Arsenal’s stature. At the end of the year, his profit and loss account looks amazing. No wonder after six trophyless seasons, the owners of Arsenal cannot fire the guy. He’s a money making machine! Compare that to the priorities of the Russian who lives west of the same city as Wenger….lol. But for your sentimental, proud football fan, this coach is your worse nightmare! Maybe he will finally get lucky and get it right with kids like Sir Alex does. But for now, “LES ENFANTS TROPHYLESSE” still have plenty of legends untold. Thank you for bringing teasing opportunities to the EPL, Monsieur Wenger 🙂

PS: After 6 whole years at Arsenal without a trophy, Fabregas got one after just 10 minutes in a Barca shirt! Even though, I must admit, it almost cost him the use of his legs (Marcelo’s afro must have blinded him into that horrible tackle). Now Samir Nasri is convinced 😉