In praise of TV diplomacy

Could Larry King be recruited to nudge the peace process forward?

Is Larry King, host of the popular talk show Larry King Live on CNN, on track to win a Nobel Peace Prize?

I have to explain why I am in a position to know. I volunteered to help the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) with the public relations for Israels 60th anniversary. In the Prime Ministers Office, I worked with Gali Cohen, a former broadcaster on Israeli television. She is a member of the team that handles the foreign media, along with Mark Regev and David Baker.

Gali would regularly arrive at the office at 7 in the morning and answers her cell phone until 1 at night 7 days a week. Never once did I see her lose her smile or cool. She was so sweet that talking to her put me in insulin shock not the typical image of an Israeli civil servant.

My assignment at the PMO was to help coordinate media coverage for the State of Israels sixtieth anniversary celebration. Coming from the business world, I first tried to persuade the PMO to highlight the achievements of Israeli business, with tidbits such as that Israel, so much of which is desert, is the number two exporter of bottled water to Europe, or that Israeli company Strauss-Elite exports coffee to Brazil. My argument was that the coverage of Israeli business would be overwhelmingly positive and free of politics. But the idea of focusing on business got no traction in the PMO. With all the accusations of corruption swirling around Olmert, his office did not want to be seen helping the rich of the country.

I quickly learned that the business of the Prime Ministers Office is politics in general and the Prime Minister in particular. The constant refrain that I heard from Gail was I represent the Prime Minister and how does this help him? Her loyalty to the PM was unwavering. Olmert is lucky to have her.

My dream was to land an interview for the Prime Minister with Larry King. His show, Larry King Live is CNNs top rated show because Larry King has a reputation for being fair and not trying to sandbag the subjects of his interviews.

Arranging a television interview for the Prime Minister was more complex than negotiating the road map to peace. The Prime Minister Office insisted that all interviews be done face to face in Israel, which required busy anchorpersons to fly here in an election year. The staff of the PMO feared that a studio-to-studio interview with their boss would invoke reminders of Omar Qadaffi in his television appearances.

Todd Polkes, one of the producers for Larry King from CNN, suggested the first joint interview with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Abu Mazen. For such a historic interview, Larry King would agree to come to Israel. Once here, he would probably do other shows in Israel.

I was excited at the prospect of an audience of one million people, a typical nightly audience for Larry King, seeing my Prime Minister unfiltered for one hour of prime time television.

The staffers of the PMO were willing to consider the idea with two conditions. Out of sensitivity to Abu Mazen, they did not want the joint interview to be linked to the 60th anniversary celebrations. Since the level of Abu Mazens English is not that high, they wanted to make sure that Larry King would be okay with a translator for the Palestinian President. The PMO's level of sensitivity and respect toward Abu Mazen, effectively the enemy leader, took me by surprise because it did not seem to fit the image of two countries at war.

Gali told me, The two old men meet every week. The interview will be nothing special. The image of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the movie Grumpy Old Men flashed into my head.

Nothing has been formalized yet. Logistics such as location and topics of the interview need to be decided. But in this time of reality television, why not negotiations on television? Nothing else has worked. Stay tuned.

Laura Goldman worked on Wall Street for over twenty years for such firms as Merrill Lynch and UBS Warburg. She now runs her own investment advisory, LSG capital, from Tel Aviv. She is an independent commentator, and her views do not necessarily represent those of "Globes".

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on March 24, 2008

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2008

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