Friday, December 26, 2008

What to do about Gaza, Christmas, Talks with Syria, Epic Scandal

Dear Readers,

Thanks for checking back. Here are my postings for December 22- Dec. 26

Stay warm.

Stop Hamas. Free Gilad Schalit

If the intimations of senior government officials are to be believed, the IDF is poised to embark on an assault against Hamas the like of which has not been seen since the Muslim extremists captured Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah in June 2007.

This week saw a relentless barrage of rockets and mortars slamming into homes and fields in southern Israel. More and more Israeli cities are now in range of enemy gunners. Even backbiting Israeli politicians who would rather concentrate on the February 10 Knesset elections find themselves obliged to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to the citizenry. The security cabinet appears to have determined - belatedly - that Israel can no longer tolerate the continued attacks.

We ask: What took so long?

HAMAS is the lord of Gaza and widely popular to boot. Fully expecting to supplant Abbas's PLO as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," it wishes to be treated accordingly.

So what if it has rejected out of hand the international community's demand that the Palestinian leadership be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations including the road map? The Islamists expect that their violent behavior - and exploitation of Palestinian "suffering" - will in due course compel the Quartet to modify its shaky principles.

Hamas is even ready to throw Egyptian mediators a bone: It will agree to another temporary cease-fire with the hated Zionists in return for an uninterrupted flow of goods and supplies through Israeli and Egyptian crossing points. Of course, its industrial-scale smuggling of weapons via tunnels beneath the Philadelphi Corridor must proceed unmolested. Access to the sea must also be assured.

Most crucially, Hamas reserves the unfettered right to use every centimeter of its territory - especially areas adjacent to Israel's border - to lay the groundwork for the next phase of its unyielding confrontation with "the Zionist enemy."

Hamas is galled when the IDF interdicts tunnels being dug for future operations against Israel, or when our air force kills gunmen just as they are planting improvised explosive devices along the border fence. Over the horizon, Hamas looks to the day when it can compel Israel to allow it to operate with impunity against Fatah in the West Bank.

IN THE face of this Palestinian obduracy and the likelihood it will be met by international appeasement, Jerusalem must decide on a single, unwavering public diplomacy message. In the face of outlandish demands to "lift the siege" and "end collective punishment," Israel's mantra needs to be: "Hamas must be stopped. Gilad Schalit must be freed."

As a matter of grand strategy, Israel must not tolerate a hostile entity anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Hamas cannot be allowed to metastasize into a second Hizbullah.

Israel's immediate objective must be to make it impossible for Hamas to govern in Gaza. Yet the choice is not between a massive land invasion and paralysis. The proper method of fighting Hamas is a methodical elimination of its political and military command and control. Concurrently, IDF artillery need to shoot back at the sources of enemy fire.

Gaza has a border with Egypt and Cairo has lately invited those who want to send supplies to Gaza to use its Rafah crossing. But the crossing points from Israel into Gaza must be kept closed for the duration of the battle.

Though the political campaign here is in full swing, we expect worthy politicians to put country first. Absent a strong home front, Ehud Olmert's lame-duck government and fragmented coalition will be unable to withstand the predictable international pressure to halt operations prematurely.

Once begun, Israel's battle against Hamas must be terminated only when the Islamists lose their governing capacity. This may set the stage for Western-trained Fatah forces to reenter the Strip.

Any resort to force by the IDF raises the possibility of unintended consequences. Israel's home front could be hit hard. Hizbullah could launch diversionary attacks. The Arab street in non-belligerent countries could roil. If enemy non-combatants are killed, nasty media coverage is certain.

We may express regret; but we must not apologize. Whatever happens, we must be resolute: Hamas must be stopped.


Christmas 2008

Today is Christmas throughout most of the Christian world. For the faithful, the holiday marks the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago. Christian tradition teaches that Jesus was divine as well as the messiah, and sent to fulfill biblical prophesies. He was, of course, a Jew - and the Jews' rejection of him, and of the Trinity, led to centuries of anti-Semitic persecution and contempt for Judaism.

Mercifully, there have been tremendous ecumenical advances in relations between Christians and Jews, especially since the Holocaust. Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit Israel next year. Pope John Paul II came in 2000. The Holy See and the Jewish state established relations in 1994. And some of Israel's greatest benefactors are affiliated with vibrant evangelical churches. In October, 35,000 Protestant pilgrims participated in the annual Feast of Tabernacles parade in Jerusalem.

Still, some mainline US and UK churches have redefined their Christian faith, making political activism their raison d'être and, foremost, championing the Palestinian Arab cause at the expense of the Zionist enterprise. Some have even joined British campaigners who are exploiting Christmas themes as propaganda tools against Israel.

Sovereign in their own land, some Jews have, disappointingly, not always shown tolerance toward their Christian brethren. The most disgraceful recent presumed manifestation of such bigotry is the still unsolved April bombing at the home of a Christian pastor in Ariel that left his 16-year-old son seriously wounded. In June, Orthodox fanatics in Or Yehuda burned copies of the New Testament; in a number of towns extremists regularly harass tiny congregations of Jewish converts to Christianity who call themselves Messianic Jews.

LAST NIGHT, Israel Television (along with radio's Arabic service) broadcast the Roman Catholic Mass live from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. By tradition, this is where the Virgin Mary received the news from the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus.

Meanwhile in Bethlehem, which is under the jurisdiction of Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority on the other side of Israel's life-saving security barrier, thousands attended Christmas Mass at the Catholic Church of Saint Catherine, which adjoins the mostly Orthodox Church of the Nativity, the traditional place of Jesus' birth.

Christian Arab citizens of Israel have been permitted to cross into Bethlehem for the holiday, and the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria has granted permission to 15,000 Palestinian Christians to visit their families inside the Green Line. Several hundred Christians from Gaza have also received permission to enter Bethlehem.

Hotels there are full. Christians in the West Bank, like other Palestinian Arabs there, are enjoying a mild economic boon following the ruinous second intifada, which tapered off around 2005. With Yasser Arafat now gone and the PA in the hands of relative moderates, Israel has been able to facilitate an improvement in the quality of life for West Bankers. Over 100 security checkpoints have been lifted, making it easier for locals to traverse the territory. Unemployment is down, though still too high; the local economy has grown by 4-5 percent. An unusually good olive harvest has boosted spirits; wages are up, and trade has risen by 35%.

None of this is to suggest that things are as they could be. Until the fragmented Palestinian leadership is both willing and able to conclude a peace deal with Israel, and pending an improvement in the worldwide recession, further development will likely be sluggish.

CHRISTIANITY REMAINS the world's biggest religion, with about 2.1 billion followers. Paradoxically, in the Holy Land, their numbers are meager. There are only about 160,000 Christians in Israel - about 2.1 percent of the population, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Approximately 80 percent are Arabs; most of the rest emigrated here from the former Soviet Union.

There are in addition some 35,000 Christians in the West Bank and 3,000 beleaguered believers under Hamas rule in Gaza, where a number of Christian institutions, among them the YMCA, have been bombed by Islamist fundamentalists. Christian Arabs, about 1.3 percent of the Palestinian population, nevertheless tend to identify culturally with the Palestinian cause.

THE CHRISTIAN world shares many values and concerns with the Jewish people. As we wish Christians everywhere Merry Christmas, we hope for ever stronger ties and increased mutual respect.


The Assad-Olmert 'dialogue'

What to make of this week's exchange of platitudes between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad? Olmert was on his way to Ankara to promote peace with Syria just as Assad was holding a news conference with Croatian president President Stipe Mesic in Damascus.

By prior arrangement - in coordination with Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan - Assad allowed that it would be "natural" for Syria and Israel to talk directly at some stage. "I compared the peace process to my friend the president of Croatia to the construction of a building - we first build the solid foundations and then we build the building, not vice versa," said Assad.

This was Olmert's cue: "What you don't do today in the Middle East, it's not certain you will be able to do tomorrow."

IT IS hard to credit either Olmert or Assad with pure intentions. Olmert is a lame-duck premier hounded from office by corruption charges, with little credibility and even less political capital to expend. Assad is a second-generation tyrant whose flawless, British-accented English belies his tight alliance with Iran and its proxy, Hizbullah.

We are not suggesting that Olmert should have stayed at home, or that Israeli diplomacy be put on hold until a new government is formed in 2009. Indeed, the Turks may have been trying to be helpful on another front: quietening the border between a bellicose, Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israel.

When it comes to bilateral relations between Israel and Syria, however, it is hard to lend credence to Olmert's efforts, especially with Israel in the midst of an election campaign.

WE WOULD have thought better of Olmert had he used his Ankara visit to tell the world what Jerusalem expects in any exchange of land for peace with Syria. Yes, a treaty is in Jerusalem's long-term interest, but not at any price. Olmert might have tactfully reminded his Turkish hosts that Syria lost the Golan Heights when, unprovoked, it attacked Israel in 1967.

He should have stressed that irrevocable strategic concessions by Israel on the Golan could only be justified - for the overwhelming majority of Israelis - in return for a true opening of genuine peaceful relations. Last April, though, Assad said that he would not "impose" normalization with Israel on the Syrian people. If Assad hasn't changed his mind about this, why isn't Olmert taking him to task?

Israelis have more questions about Syrian intentions than answers. For example: When will Assad respond to demands by the International Atomic Energy Agency to come clean about his nuclear weapons program? And when will Syria turn away from Iran and toward the West as part of a peace with Israel?

Why are cultural ties between Syria and Iran now closer than ever? The two states are even collaborating on a propaganda film about the Second Lebanon War.

More worryingly, Syria has reportedly been helping Iran evade international sanctions by allowing its territory to be used for trans-shipping missile components from Venezuela. Damascus has also funneled Iranian weapons to Hizbullah and anti-American fighters into neighboring Iraq. Moreover, a good deal of the cash that keeps Hamas afloat in Gaza - undermining Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas - is channeled via Hamas's Damascus headquarters.

No wonder Syria has been on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism for three decades.

Earlier this week, the editor of the London-based Asharq al-Awsat spelled out the obvious: If Syria really wanted to reorient its foreign policy toward the West, it would have to radically alter its relationship with Teheran, Hizbullah and Hamas.

Even Arab observers are interpreting Assad's chatter about direct talks with Israel as intended to mislead President-elect Barak Obama into believing Damascus genuinely seeks peace. If so, Assad is following a well-thumbed Syrian script - feigning moderation while stoking violence, unwilling to pay the price of peace yet anxious not to be ostracized for his intransigence.

Assad's approach is already paying off with some EU countries. Our question is: Why should Ehud Olmert be smoothing his path?

Epic scandal

Not many people have heard of the Yeshaya Horowitz Foundation, which disbursed about $140 million over the past 15 years in Israel. Started by an anonymous donor, it funded basic medical research - advancing theoretical knowledge in science and medicine with no immediate commercial value. Such work, however, often sets the stage for private industry to take over. Horowitz money paid for doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships, and was just now covering the completion of a lab to be jointly operated by Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University.

Several weeks ago, when monies supposed to have been routinely deposited failed to materialize, a persistent Horowitz staffer made a series of inquiries which led, astonishingly, to a pithy telephone exchange with the august Bernard L. Madoff, whose firm had been managing the funds bequeathed to the foundation. Lately, noted the staffer, payments have been late in coming, and the November monies haven't arrived at all.

"You'll get your money," said Madoff, before abruptly hanging up.

Now it appears that the Yeshaya Horowitz Foundation has been wiped out - one of a long list of praiseworthy organizations laid low or mortally wounded by the unspeakable avarice of Madoff and, as of this writing, his unknown co-conspirators.

It is the most awful philanthropic scandal in history.

Throughout the Jewish world, communal leaders are endeavoring to ascertain which of their prosperous members - precisely those who carry the heaviest philanthropic burden - have been swindled by Madoff. Some federations in Boston, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Greater Washington have, we know, been hard-hit. But the number of charities, not-for-profits and educational institutions whose work, if not their very existence, has been jeopardized is too long to itemize here. They include Yeshiva University, fortunately positioned to weather the storm, and Hadassah, which has lost $90 million and been forced to cancel its 2009 convention in New Orleans.

Among those who will pay for Madoff's greed are cancer patients, the aged and Jewish day schoolers. For instance, the Chais Family Foundation's assets of $178 million have been wiped out. Chais had recently allocated $1 million to the ORT educational network. All gone.

The Robert I. Lappin Foundation, a major benefactor of Birthright, has been forced to close. Yad Sarah, too, has taken a hit.

Obviously, it's not only charities which have been affected. So have leading Israeli insurance and financial services companies. Reports say Phoenix had a $15-million exposure to Madoff; Harel $7.5 million, and Clal $3 million.

Outside the Jewish world, the pensions of fire-fighters in Colorado and teachers in South Korea have all been impacted.

ALL THIS bad news comes on top of a worldwide economic meltdown that had anyway been threatening the budgets of schools, universities, hospitals and Jewish communal institutions. These were already very dark days. They've just gotten darker.

The Jewish world finds itself shaken - by the financial losses caused by the international economic downturn, by the blows inflicted by Madoff, and on top of these, by a profound sense of embarrassment at the perpetrator's openly aligning himself with modern Orthodox Jewry. If we tell ourselves that Muslim terrorism is enabled by a larger collective that tolerates extremism, what do we say about a swindler with such close ties to our community?

Was not Jerusalem Post financial columnist Pinchas Landau spot-on when he inquired whether it was Madoff alone who had lost his moral compass? Landau is surely justified in emphasizing the ethical component to Judaism and arguing that too many of us, focused on ritual, have lost sight of its centrality.

We must be grateful that in our age of unbridled materialism and moral relativism there are still members of our community who haven't lost their capacity for shame.

The Jewish people has engaged from time immemorial in a never-ending struggle to be a light unto the nations. Madoff is a dismal reminder that we still have a long way to go. Our capacity for communal soul-searching is a strength. Let's not shirk it.

And let's remind ourselves, too, that US Jews, who comprise 2 percent of the population, donate as if they comprised a quarter of Americans.

The best answer to Madoff is for more and more Jews - not just the rich - to give charity.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gilad Schalit's 900 days, Richard Falk & Gaza, Likud primary, Eid al-Adha, ElBaradei

Dear Reader,
I'm away next week. So please check back again on December 26 for the next round-up.

Clueless on Gaza

Friends and supporters of Gilad Schalit have erected a protest tent at the corner of Balfour and Aza Streets, near the Prime Minister's Residence, where they are maintaining an around-the-clock vigil. A sign displays the number of days Schalit has been a Hamas captive: 901. He was seized on Sunday, June 25, 2006, which means our serviceman has now been held for 2 years, 5 months and 17 days.

As the 900-day milestone passed, calls intensified to "Free Gilad Schalit." On Friday, demonstrators will be assembling outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, demanding he "return Gilad" before he steps down.

Such protests aimed at our government are misdirected. The campaigners should, instead, focus their efforts on putting Hamas under pressure. To its credit, the kibbutz movement has been protesting outside the offices of the Red Cross in Tel Aviv, demanding that it keep insisting on access to Schalit. Others have been campaigning to halt family and Red Cross visits to Hamas inmates in Israeli prisons until Schalit is granted this same humanitarian right.

In addition, many Israelis are questioning the wisdom of their government's having permitted Thursday's transfer to Gaza of NIS 100 million in currency from Palestinian banks in the West Bank.

OUR government, alas, appears to have no coherent policy on Gaza, and this, predictably, has had a spillover effect on its ability to decide what to do about Schalit. Olmert has vowed to continue to work for his release even as his tenure winds down. The triumvirate of Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, which makes key security decisions, cannot agree on a larger Gaza strategy. So Israel has been treading water.

When a modest calibration of policy is necessary - for example, closing the crossing points into the Strip while Hamas is lobbing mortars and rockets - Barak takes the lead. We know he vehemently opposes a bruising confrontation with Hamas. We don't really know where Olmert and Livni stand.

Given Israel's election-period leadership vacuum, it has been left to pundits in the Hebrew tabloids to pull at the public's heartstrings by setting the "Free Gilad" agenda. They want Israel to capitulate to Hamas's blackmail and let loose 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar chimed in Thursday to say that a deal could be struck within a day "if an Israeli government brave enough to release life prisoners is formed."

The "life prisoners" Zahar wants most are those who masterminded or facilitated some of the most monstrous atrocities of the 2000-2005 intifada: bus bombings, the Sbarro, Moment Café and Dolphinarium attacks; and the Netanya Pessah Seder massacre.

There were 26,000 attacks during those six years, resulting in over 1,000 killed and 6,000 wounded.

By bringing Schalit home on Hamas's terms, we would surely be opening the door to another ghastly wave of bloodletting.

IT WAS significant to hear Livni say Thursday that "We all want Gilad to come home, but... it isn't always possible to bring everyone home."

That sober message, rather than the populist chatter about "freeing Gilad," needs to be echoed by Barak and by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

We are not passing judgment on how the Schalit family has lobbied for their son's release. In their place, which of us would act differently?

Those with broader responsibilities, however, must not pander to populism.

On that morning, 900 days ago, when the enemy breached our border and kidnapped Schalit, they also killed St.-Sgt Pavel Slutsker and Lt. Hanan Barak. Those who engage in emotional blackmail should reflect on what those soldiers' parents would give to switch places with the Schalits.

This newspaper cannot understand why Israeli intelligence has been unable to locate a captured soldier being held a 90-minute drive from Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. Nor why the IDF has not been ordered to target one Hamas leader after another up and down the military and political chain of command to hammer home this point: Your demands regarding Schalit are way, way too high.

Such an approach, however, would have to be part of a larger strategy and require a cabinet with the fortitude to carry it out.


Human rights & wrongs

Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and advocate of "new international law" is a mild-mannered, white-haired, 78-year-old scholar-activist who, seemingly, weighs his words carefully - before lobbing rhetorical bombs.

He has reminisced that his family was so assimilated that it was in "virtual denial of even the ethnic side [of its] Jewishness." Over the years, however, Falk has taken an interest in things Jewish, including the destruction of European Jewry.

His reflections have led him to conclude that Israel is now "slouching" toward another Holocaust. But this time, it is the Jews who may be dreaming of carrying out the genocide. Falk asks: "Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not."

Looking at Israel, he sees a "holocaust-in-the-making" and a state with "genocidal tendencies."

Fortunately for Hamas, Falk believes international law gives it the "right of resistance." So shortly after the Islamists grabbed control of Gaza in June 2007, he pleaded for the world to "start protecting the people of Gaza" from Israel.

Still, when appointed "Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories" by the incongruously-labeled UN Human Rights Council, the professor promised to keep an open mind. Perhaps it is that very open mind which enabled him to wonder whether the US government was complicit in the 9/11 attacks.

WEDNESDAY morning, as yet another fusillade of Hamas rockets and mortars slammed into the Negev, on the day after Israel allowed yet another humanitarian convoy of trucks carrying food, fuel and medical supplies to enter hostile Gaza, Falk "reported" his assessment of the situation: Israel's policy toward the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza is tantamount to a crime against humanity. And the International Court of Justice at The Hague needs to determine "whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law."

Falk likened Israel's behavior toward the Palestinians to - what else? - apartheid. He charged that the food and fuel Israel funnels into Gaza (during those intervals, we'd add, when Hamas halts its attacks) is hardly enough to prevent mass starvation and disease.

The Human Rights Council, meanwhile, presented Israel with 100 demands on behalf of the Palestinians. But it made not a single demand of the Palestinians - not even that they stop the violence. A new poll finds, not surprisingly, that 64% of Israelis feel the human rights community is biased.

ATTEMPTING to reason with people who think Israel is a genocidal apartheid state is like trying to convince the fellow who shows up at your office wrapped in aluminum foil from head to toe that, er, actually, aliens are not beaming radio waves into his brain.

With that in mind, let us nevertheless, state the obvious.

Israel is trying to protect itself from Gaza. We unilaterally pulled out our citizens and army from the Strip in 2005. Rather than use our departure to begin building a Palestinian state, Hamas vowed to keep "resisting" and never accept a Jewish state in the region. Its loathing actually solidified Hamas's popularity among Gazans.

In just the past three weeks, Hamastan has fired some 170 rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. Our children and elderly are traumatized. Two weeks ago, one young man's leg had to be amputated because of shrapnel damage.

All day, every day, Hamas forces, trained by Iran, place bombs along our border and tunnel toward our territory in preparation for their next onslaught. They kidnapped and still hold IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

We do not claim that life in Gaza is easy, but so much of its misfortune is self-inflicted. And at a time when the people of Zimbabwe and Congo are experiencing a true "humanitarian catastrophe," is it not obscene to talk of Gaza in those terms? With nearly a billion people today starving in Asia and Africa, is it not unconscionable to speak of "mass famine" in Gaza?

Prof. Falk: If you want to help the people of Gaza, stop besmirching Israel and start beseeching Hamas to stop shooting and return the Strip to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.


Whose Likud?

The next government of Israel will be headed by the Likud under Binyamin Netanyahu, the public opinion polls said. But that was before Monday's Likud primary, which shifted the party considerably to the right. Will centrist voters who might have been mulling abandoning Kadima because of its leftward drift under Ehud Olmert now put their faith in Tzipi Livni?

With the campaign for the February 10 Knesset elections in full swing, Kadima was quick to charge that the Likud's primary results will make Netanyahu a prisoner of his party's "extreme Right," unable to pursue a diplomatic process and leaving Israel internationally isolated.

The Likud's membership deliberately chose representatives, many of whom are sincerely and firmly opposed to any territorial compromise - not because of the way things now stand with the Palestinians, but, it seems, always and forever. Such policies, however, cannot be reconciled with the need for Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic state. Israel cannot forever manage the lives of millions of antagonistic Palestinian Arabs. It is thus in our interest to separate ourselves from them.

This newspaper has taken Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian "moderates" to task for failing to meet Israel half-way at the negotiating table. We've argued that they should budge from their unrealistic and maximalist demands, which call on Israel to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines and accept the Palestinian "right of return" to Israel proper.

We can point to any number of further obstacles the Palestinians have created that have made achieving an agreement impossible. For instance, Hamas's stranglehold over Gaza; the lack of transparent and legitimate political institutions in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank; and the PA's failure to earnestly prepare its people for the idea of coexistence. There is, too, its unwavering refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Even if these obstacles were overcome, a deal would not be easy because of a range of life-and-death security concerns. There would be a need for Palestinian demilitarization, and for modalities to keep a nascent Palestinian state from becoming a launching pad for attacks against Israel.

UNTIL now, therefore, the most pressing question has been: Do the Palestinians want a deal? What we do not want is to see a situation develop in which Washington and our allies in Europe begin to wonder: Does Israel, led by the Likud, want a deal?

We advocated for a Likud that was a "big tent" party of the Right and Center-Right, capable of accommodating such diverse players as Dan Meridor and Moshe Feiglin. To signal voters that it was indeed also a center-right party, Netanyahu recruited, along with Meridor, Uzi Dayan and Assaf Hefetz. But the attempt failed miserably when only Meridor won a realistic shot at making it into the Knesset - No. 17.

We accept that the Likud Knesset list is far from monolithic. Feiglin, No. 20, and several others would oppose territorial concessions under any circumstances.

Feiglin also "endorsed" 19 of 36 winning primary candidates, but most of them have no particular allegiance to him. So-called Likud rebels (those who opposed the Gaza disengagement and remained in the party after Ariel Sharon stormed out to establish Kadima) and figures such as Bennie Begin and Moshe Ya'alon are security hawks. They believe no deal is possible given the current constellation of Palestinian partners.

Then there are relative moderates including Meridor, Silvan Shalom, and Netanyahu himself.

Begin argues that "the most far-reaching concessions declared recently" by Olmert have not been able to deliver a deal with the Palestinians. "The reason is the fundamental position of the Arabs."

He may well be right that the Palestinians will, for the foreseeable future, remain unwilling or unable to reach an accommodation. But relying on their intransigence does not a party platform make.

Last month, Netanyahu declared that he would "advance peace talks with the Palestinians in order to gain a stable, safe and prosperous peace." He said he wanted to "move both the political negotiations" and an economic peace plan "forward."

In the wake of the primary results, Netanyahu urgently needs to tell his Knesset candidates, the voting public and Israel's allies abroad what his party now stands for. Otherwise others, to his detriment, will be only too ready to define it for him.


Islam's war within
In honor of Eid al-Adha, Festival of the Sacrifice, President Shimon Peres is scheduled this morning to visit the mainly Muslim city of Sakhnin in Galilee. Also in honor of the Eid, West Bank Palestinian Arabs with close relatives in Israel will be permitted to enter the Jewish state; and Arab citizens of Israel may travel to the Palestinian Authority.

Moreover, some 230 Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons will gain an early release and be handed over to Mahmoud Abbas when he returns from the haj pilgrimage.

While 4,000 West Bank Palestinians went on the haj, infighting between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas resulted in none making the pilgrimage from Gaza.

For the world's estimated 1.4 billion Muslims, yesterday marked the culmination of the haj and beginning of the four-day Eid festival. The holiday commemorates the biblical story of Abraham's sacrifice of his son. In Muslim tradition, the son who is saved at the last minute is not Isaac, but Ishmael.

This year, some 3 million faithful journeyed to Saudi Arabia, seeking forgiveness and spirituality as they proceeded through various stages of the haj around Mecca. Eventually, they circle the Kaaba, a cube-like structure in the courtyard of the great Haram mosque. It is the holiest shrine of Islam. During prayer, Muslims the world over face the Kaaba, which the Koran teaches was originally linked with Adam and rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael.

It is important to distinguish Islam - the religion and civilization - from the threat posed by its extremist adherents, the Islamists, who are at war with the West and our values of liberty, tolerance and individual freedom. Without deluding ourselves about the extent to which the Islamists have penetrated the Muslim world, it is nevertheless important to acknowledge non-Islamist Muslim figures who seek a modus vivendi with the rest of us.

Which is why we were pleased that in his annual Mount Arafat sermon on Sunday, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz al-Sheikh, declared: "The world must criminalize terrorism... we must be cautious of terrorism and fight hostile criminal gangs that destroy countries and people."

The Saudi grand mufti urged the faithful to show "the bright face of Islam" and spread "forgiveness, peace and love." He also advocated Shari'a law - but what matters most to us is that he urged the faithful to abjure bloodshed.

OFTEN, we in Israel lose sight of that "bright face of Islam." That's understandable, considering that Muslim fanatics control the nearby Gaza Strip, with wide popular support. A hundred mortar shells and rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel in the past week alone.

Hamas has been relentless in trying to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near the border fence. Indeed, the current round of fighting began on November 4, when the IDF preempted Hamas from abducting Israeli soldiers there.

Hamas says the tenets of Islamic "resistance" prohibit Palestinians from ever living in peace with Israel. Yet when Hamas isn't shooting at us, Israeli authorities, in the context of a limited embargo, allow fuel, food, humanitarian supplies and even Israeli currency to flow into the Strip.

Nor does the "bright face of Islam" radiate from Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi of Cairo's Al-Azhar University. He's found it necessary to deny that he purposefully shook hands, on November 12, with our president while both were attending an interfaith conference in New York under Saudi Arabian sponsorship.

"Many people walked up to shake my hand, among them Peres. I didn't know him. It was a random handshake." Those who suggest otherwise, the sheikh insisted, are liars and "the sons of 60 dogs."

Islam is mostly at war within itself. And nowhere is this better illustrated than in Pakistan, where a moderate government is contending with a Taliban supported by Islamist elements within the regime's own intelligence agency. Closer to our neck of the woods, we see a similar scenario playing out between relative Fatah moderates and Hamas fundamentalists.

Only Muslims can chart the direction in which they want to take their society. Some, like the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, seem to appreciate that a theology which celebrates brutality will ultimately consume its own.


ElBaradei's 'grand bargain'
Most people think of the International Atomic Energy Agency as "the world's nuclear inspectorate" - verifying that civilian nuclear activities "are not used for military purposes" and working 24/7 to stem the spread of nuclear weapons. Sometimes, though, to hear its director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei, talk, you might think the IAEA's paramount mission was to promote pacifism.

The IAEA got Iraq right in 2003. And just last month, ElBaradei admitted Iran had failed to "provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities." That's bureaucratese for: Iran is being deceptive and opaque and we, the IAEA, can't attest that they're not moving full speed ahead on building a bomb.

The Egyptian-born ElBaradei, 66, is a lawyer by training. He's lately been thinking about retiring to the south of France. His comments on Iran are invariably lawyerlike; sufficiently wide-ranging so that no one could plausibly accuse him of looking the other way as the Iranians build a bomb. Indeed, he shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his non-proliferation work.

ElBaradei will say that he cannot exclude the possibility that there are "military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program." He's complained - well, "complain" may be too harsh a characterization; he's noted - that Iran has not been transparent to "the extent to which information contained in the relevant documentation is factually correct…."

But ElBaradei thinks the Iranians have been shabbily treated - they have not even been allowed to see the raw intelligence data that opponents of their nuclear program have accumulated. He's done his best to assure them that his "Agency does not in any way seek to intrude into Iran's conventional or missile-related military activities." Heaven forbid.

In 2007, ElBaradei said that the world would soon know if Iran was acting in good faith. Last month he remained "confident" that the IAEA would be able to figure out Iran's intentions.

BUT on Saturday, he told The Los Angeles Times that his confidence is now shaken. "We haven't really moved one inch toward addressing the issues. I think so far the policy has been a failure."

ElBaradei didn't mean to say that the international community should ramp up the sanctions regime. To the contrary, he argues that the comparatively mild embargo now in place is "hardening" Iranian intransigence. ElBaradei's policy prescription is for the US to concentrate on Iran's grievances - some dating back to the 1950s - and not obsess over Teheran's quest for the bomb.

He favors a "grand bargain" between the West and Iran: The mullahs will promise not to carry through the final steps of making a bomb, and Washington will provide its imprimatur to the regional hegemony of the Islamic Republic, granting it "the power, the prestige, the influence" it craves.

Last year, ElBaradei warned against even thinking about the use of force as a last resort. On Sunday he expressed reservations about economic or diplomatic pressure, let alone draconian sanctions.

THE IAEA/Euro-liberal consensus is that Iran should certainly not acquire nuclear weapons. But at the same time, nothing tangible is recommended that would thwart Teheran's extremist Shi'ite ideology, Holocaust-denial or sponsorship of terror.

It comforts Euro-Liberals to make believe that Iran is weighing the civilized world's freeze-for-freeze offer: Iran halts the installation of new centrifuges, while the UN Security Council "eases up" on further sanctions.

But the EU has been negotiating with Iran for years to no avail, and even the Bush administration has held dozens of meetings with Teheran. Still, Euro-Liberals envision the mullahs swooning once they're "engaged" by the Obama administration. They say, moreover, just wait until after the June 2009 Iranian presidential elections, when, maybe, a "moderate" like Ali Larijani or even Muhammad Khatami will take over from the uncouth Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But no one is suggesting that either of them would part with a single centrifuge.

So it's no to sanctions, no to force, and no to opposing dual-use centrifuge technology. What's left? Trusting the mullahs that if the international community goes along with their hegemonic demands and never mentions "regime change," Teheran will stop - just short of constructing a bomb.

Cynics might think that Mr. ElBaradei and the Euro-libs want to paint Jerusalem into a corner.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Playing with Fire in Hebron, Feiglin, Obama, Hamas

December 1 through December 5

Playing with fire

There is a lot riding on how yesterday's standoff in Hebron between authorities and post-Zionist settler extremists ultimately plays out. Though no one was gravely wounded, the violent evacuation of Beit Hashalom, and the events leading up to it, again exposed the depth of the chasm that divides our society.

To their credit, the leaders of the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Kadima and Labor had united in calling on Hebron's Jewish residents not to employ physical or verbal violence. Let history record that no other Knesset party joined in this proclamation.

Like the couple that fights endlessly over whether the husband or wife should take out the rubbish, only to discover in marriage counseling, coming too late, that their whole relationship is crumbling, Israelis have been obsessing over yet another controversial Hebron building - when what is actually at stake is something far greater.

AS THE extremists were ejected from the building, security forces outside not only had to separate Jewish and Palestinian rock-throwers, but also remove from the scene other protesters engaged in non-violent civil disobedience.

We unreservedly condemn settlers behaving badly in recent days, hurling rocks and verbal abuse at security personnel - to whom, in the blink of an eye, they might need to turn to for protection. We condemn extremists for instigating altercations with the local Arab population; for desecrating mosques, dwellings and vehicles (not just in Hebron), and even cemeteries. And we feel nothing but contempt for those who allegedly stabbed an east Jerusalem Arab returning home from work on Wednesday.

Many of those responsible for the Hebron violence, both yesterday and in recent weeks, are out-of-control youths who gravitated to this trouble-spot encouraged by their spiritual authorities and political mentors. They are pumped-up on Vitamin M - messianic madness.

The anti-Zionist Natorei Karta opposes the state because God hasn't yet sent the messiah; post-Zionist settler extremists, dropouts from the national religious camp, have come to oppose the state because they interpret its polices as contrary to the will of God. Hence their actions.

Jewish extremists from nearby Kiryat Arba responded to the evacuation by going on a rampage against Arab individuals and property in the Hebron area. Radical settlers want to prevent Israeli authorities viewing the Hebron events as a precedent. Further retaliation could take the form of relatively harmless civil disobedience, such as blocking traffic - or, far more ominously, attempts by a radical fringe to ignite a holy war throughout the entire West Bank by goading Palestinian Arabs into relaunching their armed intifada.

THERE'S an irreconcilable disconnect between those who would engage in or rationalize settler violence and mainstream Israel; between those who have disengaged from our - admittedly imperfect - Zionist enterprise, its army and polity, and the majority who want the rule of law upheld even when, to borrow from Dickens, "the law is an ass."

Our overriding opposition is to anarchy and mob rule. Citizens are obligated to respect lawful decisions, such as those of the Supreme Court, even when they vehemently disagree with them.

To set the record straight, the court acted when the settlers brought the matter to them, after the police belatedly ordered the evacuation of the disputed house. The justices didn't "order" the settlers evicted since the state had already done so. All the court did was uphold the state's stance.

Meanwhile, this newspaper continues to wonder what is delaying the Jerusalem District Court from ruling on the substance of the dispute: lawful ownership of the house. Needless to say, the outcome of the lower court's decision, when it comes, must be respected.

We have been less than impressed with Defense Minister Ehud Barak's handling of the crisis, specifically his decision to let matters simmer for three weeks after settler leaders announced they had no intention of leaving Beit Hashalom voluntarily.

Let's not, meanwhile, lose sight of two other fundamentals. First, the vast majority of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding patriots. Secondly, in any and all circumstances, Jews must be guaranteed access to the Cave of the Patriarchs.

The contemptible behavior of settler radicals does not negate this right. For long before Christianity and Islam came on the scene, Hebron was already a cornerstone of Jewish civilization.


Let Feiglin be Feiglin

Who is Moshe Feiglin and why is Binyamin Netanyahu, poised to be Israel's next prime minister, working so feverishly to torpedo his chances of being elected on the Likud Knesset ticket?

At chairman Netanyahu's initiative, the Likud Central Committee has made it much harder procedurally for Feiglin and his Manhigut Yehudit faction to capture top electoral spots in the party's December 8 primary. Netanyahu has also discouraged party VIPs from attending Feiglin's campaign events.

All parties manipulate the composition and rankings of their Knesset lists. The Likud is simply following in that inglorious tradition.

Feiglin, 46, first gained prominence in 1993 when he led the Zo Artzeinu movement in strident protests against the Oslo Accords. Its adherents blocked intersections and engaged in civil disobedience, which sometimes deteriorated into violent confrontation when the police sought to keep traffic flowing. More recently, he has taken a firm stance against violence.

His views are mostly antithetical to those of this newspaper. He opposes any territorial concessions, under any circumstances. He has reportedly said that Arab citizens of Israel hostile to the state should be encouraged to leave. Feiglin denies he wants to see Israel transformed into a theocracy - he explicitly opposes religious coercion, but believes state policies should be informed by the Torah. He's convinced that as Israelis connect with their Jewish identity, their incentive for territorial concessions will fall by the wayside. (An interview with Feiglin appears in this Friday's UpFront magazine).

Nowadays, Feiglin is distinguished from - and criticized by - others on the far Right by his pledge to work within the system. Since 2005 he has sought to exercise this commitment within the Likud.

The party now holds 12 mandates but is projected to win some 34 in the elections, partly thanks to Netanyahu's labors to reposition, regenerate and rebrand it. He's enticed such diverse personalities as Bennie Begin, Moshe Ya'alon, Dan Meridor, Uzi Dayan and Assaf Hefetz to run in the primary. Netanyahu wants to keep his right-wing base while also appealing to centrist Kadima voters.

NOT unreasonably, Netanyahu is worried that allowing Feiglin too high a profile will send the wrong message about Likud philosophy. In our view, however, he could solve this problem by rejecting the advice of his handlers to stay vague and explicitly articulate his vision for the party.

If he forms the next government, Netanyahu will have a genuine mandate to pursue his policies. Equally important, he would bolster the system's legitimacy, which has lately suffered from candidates' running on one platform and implementing another.

Tactically, letting Israelis know where he stands on territorial concessions and negotiations with the Palestinians would settle the Likud's orientation. Feiglin could hardly then claim, as he does now, that he represents "the real Likud."

Many settlers and their supporters are feeling ever more alienated. The extreme fringe - responsible for the current lawlessness in Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank - displays no commitment to, or interest in the rule of law. But the estrangement of the broader far Right stems, at least in part, from a feeling that politicians, jurists, academics and the media unlawfully manipulate the levers of power (including the army) to pursue an agenda antithetical to its values. This wider far Right says that when it seeks redress of its grievances within the system, it is blocked. And when it looks at how Feiglin has been thwarted in the Likud, it must be saying: "I told you so."

The political system is destabilized when a growing minority of citizens feel they have no incentive to vote; or when they cast ballots for parties which play a polarizing role. Yet to encourage people to vote for one of the major parties - this newspaper's position - those parties must embrace a welcoming, big-tent philosophy.

Netanyahu, a student of American politics, knows that both Democrats and Republicans have made room for non-centrist voices. Today's diverse GOP includes those divided over the role of government; today's Democratic Party includes those divided over social and personal values.

To paraphrase Lyndon B. Johnson, Israeli politics is probably better off having Feiglin inside the tent, pissing out, than outside the tent, pissing in.


Team Obama

After announcing his national security lineup Monday, President-elect Barack Obama asserted: "I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made."

Obama's vision is to strengthen the US's "capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends" to "show the world once more that America is…committed to the ideals [of] democracy and justice, opportunity and unyielding hope, because American values are America's greatest export to the world."

With that, the president-elect introduced Hillary Clinton as the next secretary of state; said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would stay on in his post; that Eric Holder would take over at the Justice Department; Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security; Susan Rice will become US Representative to the UN, at cabinet rank, and General James Jones will serve in the key coordinating role of national security adviser.

The appointments sent a message that was, by and large, reassuring. Clinton is a trusted "brand" in Israel. Gates and Jones are pragmatists who must know that allowing Iran to go nuclear would be debacle of colossal proportions. Moreover, Jones knows first-hand the distance between Tel Aviv and the West Bank. And Rice understands the importance of Israel as a Jewish state. Her UN role will position her as a central player in stopping Iran.

These announcements follow word that Obama's national security transition team includes veteran Middle East hand Dennis Ross; James Steinberg (who is expected to work for Clinton at State); Daniel Shapiro, Obama's Jewish outreach coordinator, and Jeremy Bash, a former congressional and AIPAC staffer.

The lone discordant note was the appointment of Samantha Power to the relatively low-level job of assisting Clinton in preparing for her Senate confirmation hearings. Power has said that US military assistance to Israel should be redirected to the Palestinians; that Israel is a major human rights abuser, and that an international force should be sent to protect West Bank Palestinians.

Leftist ideologues in Israel are lobbying for the appointment of retired ambassador Daniel Kurtzer to be the administration's Middle East envoy. Were Obama to take their bad counsel, Kurtzer would arrive, not as an honest broker, but as a divisive figure whose views are at variance with those of mainstream Israel.

THE Obama administration can be expected to pursue the same fundamental US Mideast policy that has been in place since 1967: finding the right modality to exchange land for peace. This formula nowadays means creating a Palestinian Arab state alongside the Jewish state - an approach Jerusalem embraces on the basis of "1967-plus" so long as the Palestinians drop their demand for the "right of return."

The temptation, however, to view the Palestinian issue as the nub of the problem radical Islam has with the civilized world must be resisted. Of course, Israel's existence is one of their grievances, but their chief complaint is that Western values - tolerance and liberty - are encroaching on the Muslim world. This is the message of Islamist terror from 9/11 to Mumbai.

As the Obama team takes over on January 20, neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be in a position to make substantive negotiating progress. Israel will be in post-election diplomatic limbo, while the Palestinian polity will still be physically divided and politically fragmented.

So the best place to hit-the-ground-running is on the Iranian issue. In introducing his team, Obama said, "The spread of nuclear weapons raises the peril that the world's deadliest technologies could fall into dangerous hands." So it follows that in addition to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama's team should devote their principal energies to stopping Iran from building an atom bomb.

If Obama shows himself truly committed to preventing the apocalypse-seeking Teheran regime from going nuclear, if he rejects the notion that the mullahs can be managed via deterrence, he will lead his team in pressing for full bore sanctions, backed by the threat of force as a last resort. This does not preclude talking to Iran. It only means he'd have their full attention.

If Iran gets the bomb, Hamas and Hizbullah will be emboldened and Muslim moderates throughout the world will be marginalized. So, too, will the idea of taking risks for peace.


Teflon terrorists

Were it not for last week's Islamist battering of Mumbai, the big story in Israel would be Friday night's mortar attack from northern Gaza against an IDF base near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Eight troops were wounded, two seriously. Doctors were forced to amputate the leg of one of the soldiers.

Hamas is planning for the next war. It wants to deter the IDF from interdicting its tunneling into Israel, and from blocking its placement of bombs along the border. When these efforts are stymied, as they were this weekend, Hamas takes to launching rockets and mortars at Israel in "retaliation."

After the mortar hit the base, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i reacted with the usual tiresome bluster we've come to expect. He declared that Israel is getting close to launching a large-scale operation - "something we have not seen in the past."

Everyone knows that Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposes a big push against Hamas. He's lately taken to reminding audiences that he is "minister of defense, not minister of war."

Meanwhile, a ship from Libya, supposedly carrying 3,000 tons of medicine and humanitarian aid - and equally laden with propaganda value - is en route to Gaza. If our authorities act true to form, they will talk tough about enforcing the blockade, and then back down as the vessel approaches the coast. It disheartens us Israelis to have our leaders repeatedly make empty threats. It would be preferable for them to remain shtum.

IT IS time to rethink the sanctions regime altogether. Clearly the enemy has little trouble bringing in almost everything it needs, including fuel, food and weapons, via an elaborate network of underground tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai.

If the sanctions' goal was to turn Gazans against Hamas, it hasn't worked. They are one with Hamas. When Hamas blocks pilgrims from making the haj, the blame is directed against Egypt. When Hamas shells Israel, forcing closure of the crossing points, the blame falls on Israel.

There is, anyway, enough PA, EU, US, UN and NGO money flowing into the Strip - not to mention suitcases full of illicit cash - to make a mockery of the idea of bringing Gaza to its knees.

So long as the Strip is controlled by Hamas, Israel must not be a conduit for supplies - even when the Islamists are taking a respite from shooting at us. We should not, however, have any objection to Egypt opening its border to non-military supplies reaching Gaza.

OUR INCOHERENT policies toward Hamas also encompass the legal system's stance toward the organization in Judea, Samaria and metropolitan Jerusalem. Some 20 Hamas "parliamentarians" taken into custody in June 2006, within days of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit's capture, are now being set free. Many of them were convicted of being members of an illegal organization, though some have yet to complete their trials. For reasons this newspaper finds hard to fathom, most have received light sentences. Some have already been released; others will likely be freed next year.

Perhaps the Knesset needs to craft legislation granting the Defense Minister the authority to extend the incarceration of enemy prisoners where there is a pressing national security reason to do so.

Anyway, in exchange for Schalit, Hamas wants 1,400 terrorists, among them 350 guilty of some of the most heinous crimes in the annals of Arab terrorism. The remaining "parliamentarians" are also on the list Hamas wants freed, though they will likely see daylight long before Schalit does. We would have preferred a rescue operation to bring Schalit home. But if Hamas members are to be traded, let them be only those taken subsequent to his capture.

AS TO aggression emanating from the Strip, rather than issuing empty threats about an all-out invasion, Jerusalem needs to tell Hamas that active belligerence will result in the IDF systematically picking off their political and military hierarchy.

As individuals, Hamas chieftains may be keen to sacrifice themselves for jihad (and an eternity with 72 virgins), but more than anything the movement wants to retain its hold over Gaza. If hunkered down and relentlessly hunted, they may find control slipping from their murderous hands.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai (2) , Palestine Day at the UN, Miliband, Hebron

The scourge of terror

Israelis began Shabbat knowing that the siege at Chabad House in Mumbai had ended disastrously. On Saturday night, though, the full scope of the devastation was revealed: Nine Jews were murdered, seven of them Israelis. We still do not know if there are additional Israeli or Jewish victims among the other casualties.

The toll of this mega-terrorist attack - which began Wednesday night and did not end until Saturday morning - is estimated at about 200 killed, including some 20 foreigners. Hundreds were wounded. These figures may yet climb.

Most of the victims, it should be noted, were Indian citizens, and this newspaper reiterates its condolences to their families and government. Throughout Mumbai, hundreds of households are in mourning.

Though we are a nation of only some seven million souls, we well appreciate that even in a nation of more than 1 billion, every human life is precious.

But naturally the murders of our compatriots and coreligionists, and the bereavement of their families are, today, foremost on our minds. A two-year-old boy, Moshe Holtzberg, will grow up an orphan. The anniversary of the death of his parents, Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his rabbanit, Rivka, will in perpetuity coincide with his birthday.

This will be a week of funerals in Israel, and in Jewish communities abroad, for the Mumbai victims. Psalms will be recited - "Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow…" The kaddish prayer will be chanted. And those offering condolences will pray that the families of the deceased are "comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

There will be time to reflect on each individual life that was taken. But even now, one thing is plain: Those killed at the Chabad House were murdered because they were Jewish or Israeli.

The terrorists did not inquire whether their victims were haredi, Orthodox, traditional or secular. Nor did the killers ask about their politics. All that really mattered was that they were living representatives of Jewish civilization.

Each of them died sanctifying God's name.

Israeli officials are right to argue that the civilized world is under attack. This time the assault came in India, next time it will come somewhere else. The enemy is Islamic extremism. Its immediate goal is to vanquish - by any means necessary - Western symbols and values from those parts of the world it claims as Muslim.

IT WILL take time for all the facts associated with this attack to come out. For now, there are more questions than answers.

1. How many terrorists were involved? Authorities say at least nine were killed and one - a Pakistani national - captured.

But there is every reason to believe that the number of terrorists and facilitators who brought Mumbai to a halt is far greater. This was an operation that was meticulously planned and executed. It stretches credulity to believe that these individuals were acting alone.

2. Could the security operation at the Chabad House have been better executed? Might the hostages have been rescued?

It is possible that the terrorists murdered their victims within minutes of storming the facility. And Indian forces may have been stretched too thin and were operating without several of their top commanders who had been killed at the outset of the assault on Mumbai. Rather than second guess their efforts, we prefer to wait until more is known.

3. And finally, even though this was clearly an assault against innocent civilians and exclusively against civilian targets - hospitals, hotels and a train station - why does much of the British media, including the BBC and SkyNews, label the killers "militants" instead of terrorists? Why does the The Guardian join Al-Jazeera in calling them "gunmen"?

This may sound like a marginal concern, but nomenclature matters: The primary, often only, target of terrorists are civilians. Anti-civilian warfare is a key tool of Muslim extremists. Terrorism is a cruelty that has become the scourge of modern civilization and changed the way we live. It has debased humanity.

The international community, together with responsible elements in the media, should show zero tolerance for the kind of depravity manifested in Mumbai.

And a vital step to confronting it effectively is to recognize terrorism and call it by its name.


Mumbai Terror: In cold blood

The dreadful images coming out of Mumbai since late Wednesday night have stunned Israelis - and not just because the city's Chabad House was targeted along with a hospital, open market, the main train station, a popular restaurant and two posh landmark hotels. At least 125 people are known killed and some 327 wounded.

The bloodbath reminds us that, though Muslim extremism is often traceable to some local grievance, it's in essence part of a larger conflict between civilizations. Islamists are violently affronted when Hindus, Jews, Buddhist or Christians are sovereign over a Muslim minority.

AS WE try to make sense of the mayhem unleashed on Mumbai, a city of some 13 million souls, our thoughts naturally are with the family of Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg. We are anxious, too, for the dozen or so other Israeli hostages. And we express our condolences to the people of Mumbai who have lost loved ones in this reprehensible assault.

Mumbai has been attacked six times since 1993, most recently in 2006 when 200 people were killed in a train-bombing. The nature of the latest attacks, however, with multiple terror teams hitting some 10 targets with explosives, automatic rifle-fire and grenades - in an operation that carried on from one day into the next - suggests a far higher level of coordination and training than anything seen before. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the attacks were launched from outside India "with the single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country." Plainly, the terrorists are connected to elements in the failed state of Pakistan. At least some of them may have arrived by sea, landing across from the Taj Mahal hotel.

They hunted-down guests with US, British and Israeli passports to take as hostages. At the Chabad House, Indian neighbors nobly tried to fend off the attackers until they themselves were driven back by terrorists' bullets.

Israelis feel at one with the people of India, especially at times like these. Both countries are modern incarnations of ancient civilizations. We share common political values, overlapping security concerns and a growing commerce.

India was established in 1947; Israel in 1948. Both peoples rejected British rule, both faced Muslim opposition to their independence. The subcontinent was divided into the secular state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan. In the Mideast, the Palestinian Arabs rejected the idea of two states for two peoples. Substantially, they still do.

Though much still needs to be done to draw India and Israel closer, enormous steps have been taken since New Delhi first recognized Israel in 1950 and finally established an embassy in 1992. Israel has actually maintained a consular presence in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, since 1952.

India is a genuine multicultural democracy. Among its 1.1 billion people are 150 million Muslims. Its former president, and father of New Delhi's nuclear program, is a Muslim.

NO ONE yet knows who carried out these attacks and speculation is rampant. Pakistan has in the past encouraged terrorism in Kashmir. Its doubtful India's unstable neighbor is explicitly responsible for the aggression (the government there denounced it), but Pakistan has multiple power centers and its intelligence service has previously been linked to the Taliban. Both they and al-Qaida have an interest in diverting attention away from the Pakistan-Afghan border. And coincidentally, Pakistani troops reportedly opened fire on Indian positions along their joint border on Thursday. Still, al-Qaida specializes in mega-attacks using suicide bombers, which was not the case here. Even if it turns out that this outrage was the handiwork of Lashkar-e-Toiba - or one of its front-groups - which wants to turn India into a Muslim state, that still doesn't unveil the real masterminds.

Whoever did this wanted to create panic, scare off foreigners, undermine India's economy and turn the country's people against one another.

ISRAELIS have long argued that no political grievance, no perceived injustice and no religious creed can ever justify waging war against civilians. Others have sometimes made excuses for "resistance" movements.

If any consolation can be derived out of the heartbreak in Mumbai, perhaps it will be that India will work ever more vigorously in international forums to isolate terrorists and the state's that sponsor them.



In the topsy-turvy world of the United Nations, no issue gets more consideration, monopolizes more resources or engenders more sloganeering than the "Question of Palestine."

The UN maintains a Division for Palestinian Rights, a Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. If only the world body devoted similar energies to fighting AIDS or saving Zimbabwe.

Some say that the UN is a noble experiment gone terribly wrong. But the organization isn't all bad. A range of autonomous bodies - such as the Universal Postal Union and the World Intellectual Property Organization - do their work in a professional and non-partisan manner (though even among these there are ignoble exceptions).

Moreover, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strived to be a fair administrator and an honest broker. He has expressed concern about human rights abuses committed by Hamas and repeatedly condemned Palestinian Arab attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

Unfortunately, Ban has remarkably little sway over what is said or done in the name of the organization he heads.

THE TRUE character of the UN is exemplified by its 192 member states. And nowhere does the melding of their "values" manifest itself more than in the General Assembly. Here the tyranny of the majority, often enabled by the acquiescence of nations from whom one would have expected better, has made a bitter mockery of the 1945 UN Charter that was intended to make the institution a beacon of tolerance and enlightenment.

By habitually championing the "right of return" - not to a Palestinian state to be created alongside the Jewish one, but to Israel proper - the General Assembly has obliquely committed itself to the demographic destruction of Israel.

Given its long history of having one set of rules for the Jewish state and another for everyone else, it is all too tempting for decent men and women to block out the UN's Annual Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People which has consecrated November 29 as a day of hate against, and delegitimization of, the Jewish state.

But at this newspaper we are haunted by the words of Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

A malevolent man who knew a thing or two about Jew-hatred once taught that a Big Lie can be made credible. He argued that people would have a hard time imagining that their representatives might fabricate colossal untruths.

Neither the evil man, nor his minister of propaganda, ever said: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it...." but that was their intent.

THIS BRINGS us to Nicaraguan diplomat, Catholic priest, and General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a self-proclaimed "lover" of the Jewish people. He declared Tuesday that nothing excuses "the failure to establish a Palestinian state."

Yet rather than blame the Arab and Muslim world which, between 1947 and 2002, explicitly rejected the two-state solution, or blame the Palestinian Arabs whose polity to this day is divided over the possibility of coexistence, d'Escoto Brockmann blames... the Jews.

Then comes the Big Lie: "Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories appear so similar to the apartheid of an earlier era, a continent away, and I believe it is very important we in the United Nations use this term," d'Escoto Brockmann said. "We must not be afraid to call something for what it is."

To state the obvious: The conflict between the Jewish people and the Palestinian Arabs has nothing to do with apartheid.

There is no system of racial segregation in the West Bank. There is a state of de-facto belligerency between West Bank Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Hamas-controlled Gaza seeks Israel's annihilation, not civil rights. Jews are not colonizers in Judea and Samaria. Nevertheless, Israel's government is ready to abandon much of the Jews' ancient heartland for peace with security.

As the padre speaks from the den of iniquity that is the General Assembly, we ask: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)


Miliband's 'stark choice'

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told a think-tank audience in Abu Dhabi yesterday that "the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran poses the most immediate threat to the stability" of the region.

Gulf Arabs don't have to be convinced that Persian hegemony is a peril. They understand that an Iranian bomb would be directed against them as much as against Israel and the West. They worry, too, that Iran is indoctrinating their restive Shi'ite populations with the ayatollahs' extremism.

Yet the economies of the two sides of the Gulf are interwoven. The parallels between the Gulf Arabs and the European Union are striking. Both dread the power of a nuclear-armed Iran. Both, paradoxically, keep Teheran solvent through commerce.

Unfortunately, in trying to convince the Arabs to get tougher with Iran, Miliband actually gave them every reason not to: "The pressure we are applying to Iran, the sanctions we have supported in both the EU and the UN, are not an attempt at regime change," he said. "Nor are they a precursor to military action. We are 100% committed to a diplomatic resolution of this dispute."

MILIBAND'S speech comes days after The New York Times reported that Iran may already have sufficient material for an atom bomb like the one dropped over Nagasaki. According to the Times, Iran has 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium from its Natanz facility, enough to produce a single bomb, though the material would have to be further purified and "weaponized."

Israeli analysts reject the assertion that Iran already has enough refined material for a bomb, though they believe it will have that capacity by the end of 2009, as the Post reported on Friday.

Quibbles aside, no one suggests Iran is not moving full-speed ahead on creating weapons of mass destruction.

Back in December 2007, the US National Intelligence Estimate found with "high confidence" that Iran halted its effort to develop nuclear weapons in 2003. Teheran may simply have decided to concentrate on enrichment having gone as far as necessary, at the time, on weaponization. The intelligence estimate concluded: "We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon is late 2009," but more likely between 2010 and 2015. If the guesstimate of next year is closer to reality - as the latest indications suggest - telling Iran not to worry about regime change or military intervention sends precisely the wrong signal.

We appreciate that Miliband tailored his address in the UAE to his audience with the commendable goal of cajoling Arab leaders to more vigorously oppose Iran's ambitions. But the foreign secretary's overly nuanced and highly conservative message could easily lead the mullahs to conclude that there is no credible downside to their building a bomb: Existing sanctions are insufficiently draconian to deter; the pace by which they could conceivably be strengthened is pathetically out of whack with Iranian nuclear advances; the regime is under no threat; and the military option is off the table.

WE DO not oppose negotiations with Iran. With full US backing, EU leaders and diplomats, as well as UN officials, have discussed the nuclear issue with Iran on countless occasions. And from November 2001 through 2008, the United States itself held 28 direct and indirect contacts with Iran, many at the ambassadorial level - not just to talk about Iraq.

Miliband is right that for "diplomacy to work we need to present Teheran with a stark choice." But his idea of "stark" comes down to: "Either it cooperates with the UN Security Council, halts enrichment and engages constructively with the IAEA, or it continues on its current path towards further confrontation and isolation… It is only by making this choice more and more stark," Miliband says, "by combining increasingly tough sanctions with clear offers of reintegration… that we can hope to veer the Iranian government off its current course."

But this is precisely the "stark" choice that Iran derisively rejected in July 2008.

The mullahs must be delighted to hear that the only approach Miliband advocates falls short of an immediate punishing embargo, removes the threat of regime change, and even seems to take a last-resort military option off the table.

How the Gulf Arabs feel may be another matter.


In the name of the patriarchs

The Torah identifies the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as the oldest piece of Jewish-owned property. There Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried.

In modern times, the city has been a flashpoint. In 1929, Arabs slaughtered dozens of Jewish residents, forcing the survivors to flee. In 1979, Hebron's Jewish community was reestablished but only with the unenthusiastic acquiescence of the Israeli government.

The city is home to some of the most combative settlers in Judea and Samaria. They have been killed (think Aharon Gross and Shalhevet Pas) and they have killed (think Baruch Goldstein). They have been demonized and demonized others. They have fiercely struggled over every centimeter of their relatively small and hard to defend enclave.

Hebron's predicament is seldom far from the headlines. Late last month, a panel of three justices headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that Jewish families living in a disputed building - Beit Hashalom - had to leave.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai says the Supreme Court's decision will be carried out.

The settlers, who have been living in the disputed dwelling for a year and eight months, argue that the ruling does not obligate security forces to take any immediate action.

A sense of looming confrontation pervades.

IT'S A legally convoluted case, and Beinisch appears to have lost patience while waiting for other judges to rule.

A Jerusalem District Court has yet to decide whether the settlers own the disputed building. A military appeals court has been dragging its feet on a settlers' appeal over the decision by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria not to register their ownership of the site. Both courts have, in our view, acted irresponsibly in delaying their rulings.

Some say a politically motivated Beinisch acted impetuously, seeking to force a confrontation between the state and the least popular segment of the settler population. Others say she acted reluctantly, belatedly and only when the case was thrust at her by state authorities.

Beyond the disputed ownership of the building is the technical question of who had custody of it on the night of March 19, 2007, when settlers moved in. Was it Saed Rajbi, a Palestinian, or agents for the Jewish community?

The police eventually decided that Rajbi had custody - which means the settlers are obligated to vacate while the case over ownership plays itself out in the courts. The state took its case to Beinisch only when the settlers refused to honor the police demand that they vacate.

With regard to ownership, the settlers argue that they bought the building from Rajbi in 2004 (and have a video of the contract signing to prove it). Rajbi claims that he changed his mind and returned the payments he had thus far received.

At any rate, lawful ownership requires the filing of a title deed - something which can't take place while the dispute persists.

THIS CLASH is emblematic of a much larger struggle not just between Jews and Arabs but among Israeli Jews - and not just over Hebron, but over borders and the political and religious character of the Jewish state.

A splinter, but by no means trivial, group of settler extremists, and the elders who provide them with spiritual and material succor, have concluded that the apparatus of the state has "become disengaged from Zionism and Judaism." Thus they feel free to treat its symbols, soldiers and laws as no longer legitimate.

These extremists should not be coddled. They should be quarantined - politically, socially and religiously. And the greater effort to marginalize them should be led by those who are faithful to the settlement enterprise.

It may be argued that Beinisch should have allowed the other court processes to take their course. It can be argued, to the contrary, that further delay would have exacerbated matters. Either way, the decision of the Supreme Court must be honored.

We implore the Hebron settlers - most of whom are patriots - to voluntarily vacate the disputed building, even as we call upon both the District Court and the military appeals court to promptly issue their rulings.

The place where the foundations of Jewish civilization were first laid must not be where the Zionist enterprise unravels.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Arab peace initiative, Israel's underworld, NRP's demise, Tower of Babel

Writings for week of November 16 - November 21

Power & Politics: On Obama - What, me worry?
With roughly two months to go before Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States, there are worrying signals that US-Israel relations may be in for a bumpy ride. Some on the Jewish Right are already saying, "I told you so."

Take the report in London's Sunday Times which implied that Obama would vigorously back the Saudi-sponsored Arab League peace plan that calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines - this according to anonymous sources "close to America's president-elect."

Reporters Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv and Sarah Baxter in Washington asserted that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, along with President Shimon Peres, back the Saudi initiative. I must have been off the day our foreign minister and president announced their "backing." My impression is that Peres thinks elements of the plan are positive - which they are.

Next, Mahnaimi and Baxter tell us the plan would give Israel "effective veto" power to prevent millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants from overwhelming Israel proper. This assertion is backed up by... nothing.

Finally, the paper quotes Obama as saying, privately, that it would be "crazy" for Israel to refuse the Saudi deal. The source? An anonymous "senior Obama adviser."

THEN THERE are the fears involving the relative influence of people who have offered Obama advice. Take the case of Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares. He's a nuclear disarmament advocate who thinks that "Israel has less need of nuclear weapons now than at any time in its history..."

Cirincione, as I understand it, would put both Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal and Iran's arsenal-in-the making on the negotiating table. He'd aim at disarming both states to create a nuclear-free Middle East. Cirincione really does know a lot about nuclear weapons, but clearly doesn't have a clue on how to read the mullahs.

Add to the mix a post-election report from the Institute for Science and International Security, an outfit partly funded by Cirincione's Ploughshares, and headed by David Albright. They've just issued a report calling on the incoming Obama administration to press Israel to join a still-in-the-planning-stage Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. Theoretically, if the pact was ratified and Israel was forced to accept it, the Jewish state could be prevented from producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. Albright also wants Obama to pressure Israel, Egypt and Iran to join the Nuclear Test Ban treaty.

And of course the ubiquitous Hamas "moderate" Ahmed Youseff is always available to muddy the waters. Lately, he's told anyone who will listen that he's in secret e-mail contact with people who say they are close to Obama. Ergo, Obama is "negotiating" with Hamas.

BETWEEN now and January 20 you can expect a slew of such agenda-driven "news" stories put out by journalists and think-tankers and regurgitated by pundits and bloggers. Everyone wants to influence events, catch the ear of the new president and promote themselves as someone Obama listens to. And those who opposed Obama want to say, "I told you so."

We'll know soon enough who Obama really takes advice from when it comes to foreign policy and national security. So far, what we know is that he's turned almost exclusively to former members of the Clinton administration for his transition team. His most significant appointment so far is that of Rahm Emanuel. The adviser who almost never leaves his side is David Axelrod. So don't insult my intelligence by asking me to believe that Obama is some kind of enemy of the Jews.

There were folks who said Obama is a clandestine Muslim or closeted commie. So we'll soon be seeing either prayer rugs thrown down in the Oval Office or a photo of Marx up on the wall next to George Washington's - or those who made such claims will be seen as foolhardy.

I am hoping the men and women he appoints to work on Middle East issues will not include those who would "save Israel from itself" - the kind who still have their heads in the clouds. But surely Obama is too pragmatic a politician to surround himself with people who have a long track record of proffering bad advice.

YET IF he appoints people who think Israel is partly to blame for the failure of the "peace process," that's still not the end of the world.

The reason I am keeping my powder dry is that even a cursory look back at American policy toward Israel shows that it has been consistent across administrations. Since 1967, on territory-for-peace, settlements and aid, US policy has remained unswerving.

Every single US president from Lyndon B. Johnson to George W. Bush has wanted Israel to exchange territory for peace. If Obama demands we give up all the territory captured in the 1967 Six Day War, that indeed would be a dangerous and radical departure from standing US policy. That would be embracing Mahmoud Abbas's uncompromising position. That would be very bad.

But every administration has opposed Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, though many have shown signs of understanding that the biggest obstacle to peace is that even "moderates" among the Palestinians are unrealistic and intransigent in their demands. And anyway, they would be powerless to implement a deal that centrist Israel could live with. The fanatics, meanwhile, oppose any agreement and it is they who control half the Palestinian polity.

Of course I worry that Obama may be bad for Israel. But will he be worse than Richard Nixon, who allowed Israel to slowly bleed during the 1973 War so that Henry Kissinger could start from a more advantageous bargaining position? Worse than Gerald Ford, whose "evenhanded" policy toward Israel led him to entirely "reassess" US-Israel relations?

Will Obama be worse than Jimmy Carter, who viscerally despised Menachem Begin and was instrumental in undermining early prospects for Palestinian autonomy in Judea and Samaria?

What of Ronald Reagan? Think Bitberg, the AWACS to Saudi Arabia and the US decision to open up a diplomatic dialogue with Yasser Arafat's PLO in 1988 - on the preposterous premise that the PLO chief had genuinely accepted Israel's right to exist.

Will Obama be worse than George Bush Sr., whose secretary of state, James (f-ck the Jews) Baker, gave out the White House switchboard number during 1990 Congressional testimony, telling Israel: "When you're serious about peace, call us."

Worse than old Bill Clinton, who helped engineer Oslo, which begot the second intifada and 1,000 Israeli dead?

Will Obama be worse than George W. Bush who was the first president to explicitly make the creation of a Palestinian state US policy? As if Palestinian society is now ready for the responsibilities of statehood. Who exhausted the US in Iraq on a wild-goose chase while the Taliban and the real al-Qaida re-grouped in Afghanistan? Bogged down in Iraq, America has no stomach to confront Iran.

SO PLEASE excuse me if I don't get all bent out of shape - at least not before he even takes office - at the prospect that Barack Obama will give Israel a hard time.

One other thing: no US president can reasonably be expected to be more "pro-Israel" than Israel itself. If our next government can't build an internal consensus on where our borders should be, on what Israel's red lines are, on which settlements we keep and which we would give up for real peace - that's our problem.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying Obama won't give us some tough innings. What I am saying is that we'd play a better game if we knew what we wanted and pulled together.

And Obama might then hear what we're saying - instead of a cacophony of conflicting voices.


Yes to 'salam'

The Muslim and Arab world - presumably excluding Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah - have just made an unprecedented overture to the people of Israel. By coincidence, it comes just as al-Qaida reached out to the American people with their reaction to the election of Barack Obama.

In al-Qaida's insipid stab at winning friends and influencing people, Ayman al-Zawahiri surfaces in a Web video to denounce the president-elect as a hypocrite and an abeed al-beit - or "house Negro."

Osama bin-Laden's deputy, who is seen only in a still photo and whose message is read by a narrator, says that despite the election of an African American "born to a Muslim father," the US doesn't genuinely have a "new face."

The video unfavorably contrasts Obama with black Muslim icon Malcolm X. As archival footage presents Malcolm championing black chauvinism and warning that, "The house negro is always looking out for his master," Obama is pictured wearing a white kippa at the Western Wall with Zawahiri accusing him of praying "the prayer of the Jews."

He speaks directly to Obama, betraying al-Qaida's trepidation at the prospect that the incoming president will reach out to Iran, pull out of Iraq, and focus US military efforts in Afghanistan. He implicitly addresses America's black Muslims, cautioning them against moderation. He tries to scare Americans into opposing Obama's plan to commit more US troops in Afghanistan. He also wants them to pressure their government to halt attacks on the tribal regions along the border with Pakistan.

Altogether, pathetic and unconvincing.

IN CONTRAST, the Arab world's effort to appeal directly to the Israeli people is welcome and arguably constructive.

The PA purchased space in this and other Israeli newspapers (see page 11) seeking support for the 2002 Saudi-inspired Arab League peace initiative. The ad also ran, in Arabic, in several Palestinian papers.

Let's admit that we find ourselves tantalized by an offer from 57 Muslim and Arab countries to establish full diplomatic and "normal" relations in return for an Israel pullback to the 1949 Armistice Lines. It certainly beats the last offer we got - from Khartoum in August 1967 - "No peace, no negotiation and no recognition."

Whoever drafted this dull advertisement isn't going to win any copywriting awards. But even Madison Avenue couldn't sell what is, at the end of the day, a bad "product."

The initiative is being offered on a "take it or leave it" basis when it should be presented as a starting point for negotiations. Most Israelis want a land-for-peace formula based on the "1967-plus" formula enshrined in President George W. Bush's 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon.

The ad touts as its cornerstone General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948, which was drafted when there were, maybe, 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees. Today the UN figures there are 4.6 million.

The archaic GA Res. 194 wanted "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace [to] be permitted to do so." But if implemented all these years later, 194 would be Israel's demographic death-knell.

Plainly, the only viable solution is for the Arab refugees to be resettled in the Arab world and in a Palestinian state that is created alongside Israel - not in Israel itself.

The resolution is so antiquated that it calls for the protection of holy places in Nazareth. And far from calling for east Jerusalem to be the the capital of a Palestinian state, it says Jerusalem and Bethlehem "should be accorded special and separate treatment from the rest of Palestine and should be placed under effective United Nations control."

Equally troubling, neither the ad nor the Saudi plan itself acknowledge the inalienable right of the Jewish people to a national homeland within agreed borders.

So Israelis - across the political spectrum - will find the Arab Peace Initiative deficient.

Still, most of us, though disappointed that an offer which falls so short of Israel's minimal needs comes so late, will find themselves agreeing with President Shimon Peres: This is an overture worth exploring.

After so much bloodshed and suffering on both sides, we implore the Arab and Muslim world: Let us not make propaganda. Let us not wait another 60 years. Let us make peace.


Men of no honor

It's easy to get caught up in the romance and mystique associated with organized crime. Misfits and sociopaths are somehow transformed into glamorous characters when their names are tied to the underworld.

For the past three days, the country has been mesmerized by Ya'acov Alperon, the crime boss who was blown-up in his rental car on a busy Tel Aviv boulevard. This happened 30 minutes after he left a courthouse where proceedings over his son Dror's indictment for blackmail had just concluded.

Israel's main television channels have devoted most of their nightly news broadcasts to the murder. Anchors, reporters and studio guests have combed over every detail of the killing. There were archival scenes of Alperon joking with reporters; with one of his brothers at a Likud central committee meeting; scenes from the attempted killings of another brother, and one of Ya'acov professing that he was retired from the mob. Then it was back to shots of the crime scene - a wrecked car, a bloodied Alperon slumped head-first from the passenger side into the gutter.

The morning tabloids have devoted much of their news pages to the murder. Would there be an underworld war? Why did police fail to protect Alperon? And more to the point, would ordinary citizens be jeopardized in gangland violence? At least two passers-by were wounded in the Alperon hit.

The press was there in force on Tuesday at the Kfar Nachman cemetery in Ra'anana as hundreds of family members - biological as well as criminal - came to pay their final respects. His widow cried that she had been left to raise seven orphans, one of whom declared that the killer "won't have a grave, because I'll cut off his arms, his head, his legs."

PURELY BY coincidence, that night, a local cable station screened (for the umpteenth time) the 1972 Godfather movie with its own dramatic funeral scene in which Sal Tessio betrays Michael Corleone to the Barzini family.

Unlike the pedestrian Israeli hoodlums, the fictitious mafia dons created by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola were mostly men of honor. When their soldiers killed each other, they made sure not to harm innocent "civilians."

Israeli mobsters don't walk in the footsteps of Don Corleone, Pete Clemenza or Tom Hagen. They have no honor, no decency.

In June, Yoram Hacham, the lawyer for crime figure Asi Abutbul, was blown up in his car in Tel Aviv. In August, Marguerita Lautin was murdered while she sat with her husband and children on a Bat Yam beach.

And hours after Alperon's burial, a bomb was discovered outside the police station - and next to a kindergarten - in Ramle, where investigators were trying to solve the killing.

On the bright side, many of the established families are disintegrating either because their chieftains have been wiped out in intramural killings or because of pressure from law-enforcement. Younger family members are known more for their brawn than their brains. Which explains why Israeli prisons are already holding some 500 inmates with ties to organized crime.

For the time being, the Alperons fight the Kedoshims for control of the Herzliya marina; the Ohanas over gambling in Kfar Saba; the Abergils over the recycling industry, and the Abutbuls over the seamier side of Netanya.

THE TRUTH is, organized crime has been a blight for decades. Back in 1977 a crusading young MK named Ehud Olmert made the headlines by probing the underworld. Even then the cars of criminal kingpins were being blown up, there were fears that the police had been infiltrated by the mafia, and a committee charged with looking into the "crisis" blamed disrespect for the law and a developing subculture of criminality.

Israelis have gone from debating whether there is organized crime to practically glorifying it.

Of course we in the media need to report on the killing of a mafia boss in broad daylight on a busy street. But can't we do it in a way that doesn't make heroes of thugs?

Society's message must be that those who join the underworld are to be shunned, shamed and marginalized - not vicariously celebrated.


The spirit is gone

Religious Zionists have officially admitted that they are too polarized - over politics, theology and personality - to share one home. That, more than anything else, explains the demise of the National Religious Party yesterday, age 52. Sad, really, when you consider the movement's illustrious history.

In the 1800s, religious Zionists disputed the ultra-Orthodox stance that it was blasphemous, until God sent the messiah, to promote a return to Eretz Israel and the reestablishment of a Jewish state.

With the Zionist movement dominated largely by agnostics, religious Zionists also worked against the tide to inject tradition into the cause. Rabbi Samuel Mohilever convinced Hibbat Zion, in 1893, to establish a bureau aimed at Orthodox Jews to be known by its Hebrew acronym "Mizrahi," or merkaz ruhani - the spiritual center.

In 1902, Rabbi Jacob Reines, one of Mohilever's disciples, took the name Mizrahi when he helped reconstitute the religious Zionist movement. Their mantra was coined by Rabbi Meir Berlin - later Bar-Ilan: "The Land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel. (It was at Bar-Ilan University that the NRP met to dissolve.)

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, the chief rabbi of Palestine, gave religious Zionism his spiritual imprimatur, making the case that settling the land was a precursor to the Redemption.

RELIGIOUS Zionists went on to have a profound influence on the overall enterprise. The Sabbath, not Sunday, became Israel's day of rest; no state functions would be held on Shabbat or religious holidays, nor would there be public transportation. The dietary restrictions of kashrut would be adhered to in the IDF.

Most significantly, marriage, divorce, even burial, would fall under the purview of Orthodox rabbinic authorities. For decades, an NRP-dominated Rabbinate steered Israel's "established church." Today, that role is held by non-Zionist haredim.

Mizrahi created a worldwide network of educational and charitable organizations. It sponsored the Bnei Akiva youth movement (for boys and girls). It fostered moshavim and kibbutzim that settled the Beit She'an Valley, Gush Etzion and the northern Negev. National-religious schools became a vital stream in public education. These accomplishments allowed the national-religious to have influence disproportionate to their numbers.

In the 1949 Knesset elections all the Orthodox parties (Zionist and non-Zionist) ran as a united slate, garnering 12 percent of the vote. Such unity would be unimaginable today as Orthodoxy has splintered along theocratic, ethnic, personal and political lines. In 1956, Mizrahi's heyday, the NRP was born. Mizrahi/NRP was part of every government coalition from 1948 until 1992. Between 1956 and 1981 it generally captured about a dozen Knesset seats.

THE 1967 Six Day War was a turning point for the NRP. Though it had a theocratic agenda, it was otherwise a centrist party. And its leader, Yosef Burg, was a perennial fixture in a succession of Labor governments.

In the wake of Israel's stunning victory, NRP's young guard created Gush Emunim to settle liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Over time, the party's paramount mission became supporting the settlement enterprise.

In 1977, the NRP brought down Yitzhak Rabin's (first) government on the pretext that the IDF had accepted delivery of several F-15s on the Sabbath. After new elections, the NRP became a pillar in the Likud governments of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

But the party suffered a major blow in 1981, when Sephardi members broke away to form the haredi-oriented Shas Party. From then on the NRP picked up mostly four to five Knesset seats. In 2006 it merged with the National Union (soon also to be defunct) and together the largely Orthodox grouping won nine seats.

In the 2009 elections, parties to the right of Likud hope to create a new alignment intended to attract, among others, voters who formerly supported the NRP.

We would like to remember the NRP in its idealized form - as a bastion of modern Orthodoxy, a bridge between religious and secular, for its inclusion of women in leadership positions, for the bipartisan civic-minded legislation its MKs ushered into law, and for representing Israelis concerned with Jewish education.

It is dismaying that the dwindling constituency that was once animated by these issues is now left politically homeless.


Tower of Babel

Pity the Hamas leadership as it tries to fathom how Israel will respond to the organization's repeated violations of the cease-fire.

Who should they listen to? Shaul Mofaz says the IDF needs to assassinate them; Rafi Eitan refers to them as monsters who should be destroyed. Eli Yishai says that anyone who has faith in a truce with them is behaving like an ostrich. Vice Premier Haim Ramon allows that government "policy" toward Hamas is causing profound damage.

The enemy must be befuddled.

Should they listen to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who said Sunday that he's "waiting" for the IDF to brief him on his options. Or to the IDF which asked Monday, "What options does the prime minister mean? He's had a menu of choices on his desk for weeks."

Perhaps they should listen to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni when she tells visiting British Foreign Minister David Miliband that "When Israel's citizens are attacked - Israel must respond." But what sort of response? Hamas must be wondering.

Perhaps they should only pay attention to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He's let it be known that the longer large-scale military action can be put off, the better. "Hotheadedness is not a replacement for policy," said Israel's chief strategist.

Further confounding matters, early yesterday Barak announced that the crossing points from Israel into Gaza, which routinely funnel food and fuel, would remain closed because Hamas was still shooting. In the afternoon, despite continued fire, Israel allowed in 30 trucks laden with enough supplies to keep the UN's food distribution network in business for a week.

"Those wily Jews," Hamas leaders must be saying to themselves, "never showing their true intentions - saying one thing, doing another."

TROUBLE is the bluster and contradictory pronouncements emanating from Israel's top echelon haven't been made to confuse the enemy - they are sadly indicative of our disarray.

When Israel agreed to the cease-fire, our leaders implicitly accepted - though they may have been in denial - that Hamas would continue to sneak-in weapons and material via the Philadelphi Corridor. The will of the Palestinians to smuggle is stronger than the will (and ability) of the Egyptians to stop them. What little leverage Israel had in its efforts to free Gilad Schalit was lost.

Now, nothing is more disheartening to Israel's citizenry than to witness such disunity when the country is under attack.

And it is the country that's been attacked. Sderot Mayor David Buskila reminds Israelis that Ashkelon, Sderot and the Negev are part of sovereign Israel.

The violent and destabilizing consequences of Hamas's control of Gaza continue to bedevil. This newspaper has argued that Israel cannot tolerate an Islamist state dedicated to its destruction anywhere between the Mediterranean and Jordan.

Naturally, before a large scale military operation can be embarked upon, the Cabinet must decide on its goals. For now, the IDF is pursuing a holding action; interdicting "ticking bomb" tunnels; preventing the enemy from laying explosives along the border, and taking out rocket-launching teams caught in the act.

ISRAELI DECISION makers have few palatable options in trying to stop Hamas aggression.

And yet it is they who need to choose.

Israel could try using artillery against the sources of enemy fire. But government lawyers warn this might be illegal under international law since Hamas often shoots from densely populated areas. Curiously, Hamas's legal department has not cautioned its military wing against using residential neighborhoods in Gaza to attack Israeli civilians.

Israel could systematically eliminate the enemy's political and military command. Though a new leadership cadre would eventually take their places, we might at least buy ourselves a respite.

Re-conquering Gaza and reconstituting the civil administration is not something most Israelis favor. Another idea being bandied about is for the IDF to retake Gaza, oust Hamas and turn the Strip over to a pan-Arab peace-keeping force which would reinstall the Palestinian Authority. For now, this scenario is as unrealistic as it is unappealing.

It may well be unreasonable to expect this caretaker government to solve the Gaza conundrum. It is not unreasonable to ask ministers who will not cooperate in the security cabinet to stop babbling away in public.

My Archive