Three Principles Of Career Politics: Netanyahu and the Settlements

There’s a great deal, personally and career-wise, to learn from the Israeli failure to watch their p’s and q’s during the visit of VP Biden to Israel.  Thus, I intend to analogize from that example to comparable personal opportunities in business.David Makovsky, esteemed specialist of the mideast, respected by both Israelis and Arabs, describes the situation on the CNN site here.  Essentially what happened was that during the visit of VP Biden to Israel, the conservative wing of parliament announced that they would be adding 1600 housing units for ultra-orthodox in East Jerusalem, what both Biden and Clinton identified as an “insult.”  In other words, the Israelis overstepped the family (Israel and US are clearly family) boundaries.  As of this morning neither Clinton, Obama or Netanyahu have backed down, but there’s a lot of face-saving going on, largely by Netanyahu.  He has to keep the support of both the US and his party, the Likud and that really takes a politician.Some strategic background:  Obama gained the Jewish vote in the election and will certainly keep that vote, but he also intends for movement on the Palestinian/Jewish front.  That issue has been a thorn in America’s side for decades and he would like to move the two-state process on.  Though no one has breathed a word about this, the Israeli announcement is actually a gift to the Obama administration.  The Jewish blunder has put Israel in an embarrassing position, a position that Obama would be a fool to ignore.  The blunder surfaces all kinds of issues over which Obama intends to renegotiate (informally, that is), issues that would be far more difficult for the US to surface and renegotiate.  Of course, there will be all kinds of noise, in which all three sides attempt to reposition themselves, but my perspective is that the blunder once again puts the US clearly in the driver’s seat.How is this personally useful?Although this is an international case of nations overstepping boundaries, I’d draw your attention to the fact that there are many work situations in which it’s very important to guard against others overstepping your personal/organizational boundaries.  I learned this lesson in, of all places, the church.  When I was an associate minister in a Pasadena church, nearly 50 years ago, we had a troublesome and yet very powerful layman who was aligned with an extremist political organization.  He had developed a Sunday church class which he used for his own political purposes and we had been stymied for some time about how to best deal with the situation–a situation which regularly created problems throughout the congregation.  In the Protestant congregation you just can’t march in and can the guy’s ass like some of my Catholic brethren do.  So the senior minister argued that we needed to keep tabs on what was going on.  Once, he said, that the layman overstepped the bounds and became divisive we could haul him before the board, give him a dressing down, and limit his power.That is exactly what happened.  And I learned a great deal from it, not least that we humans are driven by self-interest and quite accustomed to honoring few clear distinctions between our messy, conflicted lives and our obligations to each other.  Actually, we have few two-dimensional (black/white) virtues to jeopardize.  We all want our share of power, at least in some form.The second thing I learned and which our daughters taught me in spades, is that we are all fundamentally political animals.  What that means is that getting three teen-age daughters to agree on something, unless you choose to use coercion (which I’ve always viewed as ultimately destructive of relationships), is a highly political activity.  A lot of fun, but also very political.  Now that our daughters are in their forties, I am perfectly free to ask them all kinds of questions.  The most hilarious and insightful issue for me was a question I asked them at a raucous dinner at our lake place, in front of their husbands and children.”What,” I asked, “was the most difficult problem growing up in our family?”  There were knowing looks at each other, and big smiles before our middler answered the question (it’s always the middler).  I did not expect the answer to be about politics, but there you go.”The real issue,” she said to much laughter, “was that we could never play you or mom against each other to get what we wanted.  All our friends usually worked their parents that way, but we could never pull it off.  You both were too smart for us.”  The issue is totally political, and all about the very human effort to gain cooperation.The third thing I’ve learned in business is that you’ll inevitably find yourself in settings where someone is overstepping the boundaries.  Observe them, take notes over two or three missteps, and then have a “come to Jesus party.”  Once you’ve got the data, be sure to use the opportunity to either renegotiate (informally) or can the person’s ass.  This will analogize perfectly to what you’re going to see Obama doing over the coming months.In spite of all his foibles, few American presidents were better at the process than Lyndon B Johnson.  He could marshall data, suck up or put the fear of god into legislators to get what he needed.  This is my way of suggesting, as a trained theologian and research scholar, that moral fastidiousness is more about personal weakness than courage.  From a business example, Jack Welch fit the example to a T.  This century will need a different kind of example, but never forget that politics is at the core of human and career success.  I allude to the research on negotiation in my blog, How to haggle (part 3).
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