Friday, August 29, 2008

From Humphrey to Obama

On this day 40 years ago, Hubert H. Humphrey accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party for the presidency of the United States. As rioting raged outside the Chicago convention hall, he began his stirring oratory by citing St. Francis of Assisi: "Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light."

Humphrey, who ultimately lost to Richard M. Nixon, may have been the last instinctive friend of Israel to seek the presidency. It was uncomplicated to be a friend of Israel in 1968, even though Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab, only weeks earlier.

It was clear in those days that Israel faced an Arab world that refused to accept a Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East; that whatever its blunders, Israel was fundamentally in the right; that Arab diplomacy from the 1917 Balfour Declaration through to the 1967 Arab Summit in Khartoum was nothing but a litany of rejectionism.

On the night Humphrey accepted the nomination, Barack Obama, born August 4, 1961, was seven years old. For Obama's generation, and even more for the ones following it, political, moral or theological certainties about Israel - or about anything else - are passé.

LAST NIGHT, as this newspaper was going to press, it was Obama's turn to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in Denver. Delegates had decamped to the Invesco Field at Mile High stadium so that Obama could speak in front of 75,000 enthusiastic supporters. Sen. Hillary Clinton had earlier moved that the nomination be offered to Obama by acclimation.

In the course of the convention, delegates heard vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden declare that the Bush administration had failed to defeat al-Qaida and the Taliban, "the people who actually attacked us on 9/11," while getting bogged down in the war in Iraq.

They applauded as Bill Clinton declared: "Hillary told us in no uncertain terms that she'll do everything she can to elect Barack Obama. That makes two of us."

The Obama-McCain campaign kicks off in earnest after next week's Republican National Convention, and Israelis have been watching the presidential race with fascination. While the Israel-America relationship is fundamentally solid and bipartisan, Washington and Jerusalem have had their ups and downs in every administration from Harry S Truman to George W. Bush.

We do not take it for granted that both candidates define themselves as friends of Israel - yet friendship has to be backed by substance.

• On Iran, Obama says he does not want Israel to feel as if its "back is against the wall," and wants America "to act much more forcefully." Yet he would also try to talk the mullahs into being better global citizens. What specific steps on Iran would an Obama-Biden administration take in its first six weeks?

• On borders and settlements, this is what Obama told the Post in a July interview here: "Israel may seek '67-plus' and justify it in terms of the buffer that they need for security purposes. They've got to consider whether getting that buffer is worth the antagonism of the other party."

Biden once warned premier Menachem Begin that if Israel did not cease settlement in Judea and Samaria, the US would have to cut economic aid to Israel.

Do Obama and Biden think it is possible to be "pro-Israel" in 2008 while being sanguine over an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines? Where does the campaign stand on strategic settlement blocs and a Jewish presence in such Jerusalem neighborhoods as Gilo, East Talpiot and Har Homa?

• On Palestinian refugees, Mahmoud Abbas has called for the "right of return" to Israel proper for the refugees and their descendents. What's the campaign's position?

IT MAY be unrealistic for Israelis to expect that an administration taking office in January 2009 will empathize with Israel the way a 1969 Humphrey White House might have.

But what the Obama-Biden ticket needs to demonstrate is that backing for a secure Israel living within defensible boundaries is as integral to Democrats today as it was when Hubert Humphrey was their standard-bearer.

WRAP -- Gilad Schalit and Little Rose

Police Blues

Aug. 26, 2008

Lurid details are now emerging about the murder of four-year-old Rose Ron - allegedly by her grandfather, with the complicity of her mother (the two were married). Police suspect Rose's body was placed in a suitcase and dumped in the Yarkon River.

Since the story of her disappearance first broke on Sunday and her haunting portrait seared itself into the public consciousness, we all feared something evil had happened to her. Now we know it did.

Meanwhile, two alleged organized crime figures, brothers Itzik and Meir Abergil, are facing extradition to the United States over their reputed involvement in the 2003 murder of an Israeli drug dealer in Los Angeles. Their syndicate is also reportedly implicated in the botched mob hit on a Bat Yam beach last month that saw an innocent bystander, Marguerita Lautin, shot dead in front of her children and husband.

Chaim Nachman Bialik, the legendary Hebrew poet, was said to have coined the Zionist credo: "When the first Jewish prostitute is arrested by the first Jewish policeman and sentenced by the first Jewish judge, we can consider ourselves a sovereign state."

Israel has achieved this, and more.

Protecting law-abiding citizens from evil and the criminal falls mostly to the guardians of civilized society, the police. Yet as the Post has been reporting since Monday, the police itself is under criticism: Key field assignments, set to take effect next year, have apparently been made on the basis of cronyism. Even the appearance of favoritism, let alone the reality, shakes the already wobbly faith of Israelis in their political and legal systems.

WHEN ISRAEL'S top cop, Insp.-Gen. David Cohen, decided to transfer his number two, Deputy Insp.-Gen. Shahar Ayalon, to the post of Tel Aviv police chief and replace him with the current head of the Tel Aviv district, Cmdr. Ilan Franco, he created at least the appearance of impropriety, casting himself and Avi Dichter the minister for internal security, in a dismal light.

Franco would be positioned to replace Cohen as Israel's top cop, even though a 2007 panel headed by former District Court Judge Vardi Zeiler specifically recommended against giving Franco the country's top police post. The Zeiler Committee was set up to examine the police command's questionable handling of suspicions that a rogue cop had maintained ties with underworld figures Oded and Sharon Perinian.

Besides his plan to promote Franco, Cohen also embarked on a series of appointments intended to help old friends (Dep.-Cmdr. Jackie Bray and Cmdr. Shai Amihai, for instance) and hinder those who aren't - specifically, Cmdr. Uri Bar-Lev, a reform-minded manager credited with a huge drop in crime in the southern district.

Rather than advance him through the ranks, Cohen allowed personal animosities to rule and ordered Bar-Lev to take paid educational leave. Bar-Lev, a decorated veteran of an elite IDF unit, already holds two undergraduate degrees and refused to waste public funds on unnecessary study or be put out to pasture. Cohen then released a bogus statement announcing that Bar-Lev had decided to quit, to which Bar-Lev responded: "I have no plans to resign for the next 10 years."

Bar-Lev is precisely the kind of policeman a good boss should be nurturing, and a chorus of universal outrage has rightly erupted over Cohen's abysmal treatment of him, and Dichter's failure to date to decisively rectify it.

CAN A force plagued by a lack of professionalism and a leadership vacuum afford to lose a commander of Bar-Lev's caliber? And for what? To make room for more of the commissioner's good ole' boys?

Israelis cannot help but wonder how we got saddled with the apparently mendacious Cohen and, in Dichter, a minister who seems more concerned with respecting "the organizational culture" of the police than its effectiveness.

This episode is not only about an honest, dedicated and charismatic cop being unwarrantedly shunted aside, but, most fundamentally, about a law enforcement organization begging for upstanding leadership, adequate resources and competent ministerial oversight - and, so far anyway, getting none of these.

The buck stops with Dichter, a former Shin Bet head and now a candidate for Kadima's leadership. The minister of internal security, who appointed Cohen to the commissioner's job, is failing the public, and should get a grip or hand over to someone who can.

'Unparalleled cruelty'
Aug. 26, 2008

There are an estimated 8,500 Palestinian Arab prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza in Israeli custody. Over 5,000 of them are serving out sentences; 2,300 are awaiting trial, the remainder are in administrative detention.

No one would suggest that Israeli prisons are fun places. Each inmate has loved ones who presumably miss them dearly. That said, the incarcerated are menacing figures in the Palestinian "resistance," many having planned, executed or enabled attacks aimed at murdering or maiming Israelis in buses, cafes, nightclubs and hotel banquet rooms.

Recently, prisoners in a high-security wing of the Sharon penitentiary - killers mostly - complained to a visiting delegation from the Israel Bar Association of mistreatment: stuffy rooms, poor lighting and such. A more serious allegation, which requires a response from Prison Services Commissioner Lt-Gen. Benny Kaniak, is that members of the elite Nachshon Unit have used dogs to "humiliate" the inmates.

The lawyers also questioned the continued incarceration of Mahmoud Azan, who reached Israel from Afghanistan and has been held in administrative detention for 10 years. Israel is reportedly prepared to deport Azan, but no country will have him. Bar Association chair Yuri Guy-Ron declared that the lawyers' subsequent report shows the importance of "having objective professional representatives of the bar continuing to visit prisons in order to view prison conditions."

It certainly does. Which is why we are gratified that, on any given day, Israeli prisons are hosting Red Cross representatives, journalists, lawyers and prisoners' advocates, as well as family members. Prisoners are even permitted conjugal visits.

WITH THESE thousands of prisoners in Israeli custody, Palestinian society cannot fathom - yet is delighted to exploit - Israelis' fretting over Gilad Schalit, their lone Israeli prisoner, who will mark his third birthday in captivity this Thursday.

Putting aside the fact that Schalit is not a terrorist but a simple soldier who was guarding sovereign Israeli soil when he was abducted on June 25, 2006; and that he had done no Arab any harm, probably never having fired his weapon except in training, the biggest distinction between him and the thousands of Arab prisoners Israel holds is that not one of them would want to switch places with the Israeli captive for even a day.

Why? The IDF soldier - who under international law should be treated as a POW - is not allowed to see Red Cross representatives or consular officials (Schalit also holds French citizenship). Hamas boasts that he is not permitted to exercise in the sunshine. Not only are his parents forbidden to visit him, only rarely has even a letter or video reached them - and any that did were intended to serve the enemy propaganda machine.

Insight into the heartless environment in which Schalit is being held can be gleaned from the popularity of a mock recording of the soldier's mother addressing her son. Gazans by the thousands have downloaded the sound file onto mobile phones and computers.

Yesterday, meanwhile, Israel released 198 long-serving Palestinian prisoners, including several killers, in a misguided gesture intended to boost PA President Mahmoud Abbas's standing among his people.

Abbas could have used a Ramallah ceremony welcoming the men to talk about reconciliation; to say that the sooner the 60-year-plus war against the Zionist enterprise was halted and a two-state solution accepted by the Arabs, the sooner many more prisoners would be released. He could have mentioned Schalit, if only on humanitarian grounds.

Instead Abbas told the crowd: "We will not rest until [all] the prisoners are freed and the jails are empty," specifically citing Marwan Barghouti, serving five consecutive life terms for murder; Ahmed Saadat, imprisoned for the assassination of cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi; and Aziz Duaik, a Hamas politician taken into custody in response to Schalit's abduction.

It is sobering to remind ourselves that Abbas reflects the most moderate of Palestinian opinion.

Writing in Yediot Aharonot on Monday, novelist and playwright Yoram Kaniuk, a government critic who has long expressed compassion for Palestinian suffering, did what Abbas should have done. He urged ordinary Palestinians to call for better treatment of Schalit, and say: "Keeping a young person imprisoned without trial, without his parents being able to visit him, is unparalleled cruelty."

It is.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tribes and tribulations

What if 300,000 members of a heretofore unknown ethno-European tribe claiming descent from Jewish ancestors were suddenly discovered? And what if, given the right circumstances, they were willing to affiliate with Jewish civilization, learn Hebrew, serve in the IDF and imbue their lives with traditional Jewish values?

The good news is these potential Jews do not have to be airlifted to Israel - they are here from the former Soviet Union, under the Law of Return. Moreover, they serve in the army, pay taxes and have already enriched our society.

The bad news is the state has done precious little to absorb them into the Jewish people. Once it became clear that this "ethno-European tribe" would not jump through every hoop demanded by the religious establishment and that most were unwilling to lead Orthodox lifestyles, Israel's ultra-Orthodox, non-Zionist state rabbinate callously turned its back on them.

Not unlike their African, Indian and South American counterparts, these "lost" Jews of the former Soviet Union had long been cut off from their heritage. Over some 70 years, when not overtly oppressed, they were strongly discouraged from studying Torah and observing the festivals. Rampant intermarriage ensued and, as a consequence, many are not halachically Jewish.

Successive governments abdicated their responsibility to exhort the rabbinate to reconnect these newcomers with their Jewish brethren.

To be sure, broadminded, Zionist-oriented, Orthodox rabbis exist who would be willing to convert potential Jews even if they do not commit to Orthodoxy. But they are held in disdain by the religious establishment.

IT IS in this context that we must consider efforts to bring to Israel all 7,232 members of the lost tribe of Bnei Menashe from northeastern India. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit is not keen on facilitating their aliya, though consultations are continuing between his ministry, the Prime Minister's Office, the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency. Officials are also considering the sensitivities of the Indian government and relations between Jerusalem and New Delhi.

This newspaper would like to see the Bnei Menashe brought to Israel as swiftly as possible. We applaud the indefatigable efforts of Post columnist Michael Freund and his Shavei Israel group, which assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. That the Bnei Menashe will have to undergo Orthodox conversion presents no problem; they will not hesitate to meet whatever religious demands the rabbinate places on them.

Meanwhile, last week thousands of Ethiopian immigrants demonstrated outside the Knesset demanding that 8,700 Falash Mura - descendants of the community who converted under duress to Christianity - be brought to Israel. The official rabbinate supports their cause and stands ready to convert them because they too are willing to commit to Orthodoxy.

We concur with the government's approach on the Falash Mura - namely, that individuals who qualify for aliya under the Law of Return should be brought to Israel on a case-by-case basis, noting that the 120,000-strong Ethiopian community itself and a number of its spiritual leaders have reservations about bringing the Falash Mura over en masse.

The absorption of the Beta Israel has not been an unmitigated success. Some are college graduates, IDF heroes, even diplomats and Knesset members. Still, there are serious problems, especially among the youth, with truancy, alcoholism and drugs. Sixty-five percent of Ethiopian families remain dependent on the welfare system.

This being the case, we invite the advocacy groups now calling for additional Ethiopian immigration to commit themselves to a similar passionate involvement in the community's ongoing absorption. (The same need for an ongoing commitment applies to the Bnei Menashe too.)

AS A staunchly Zionist newspaper, we want to see ever-increasing numbers of Jews making Israel their home. Yet it is disingenuous for the Orthodox establishment to encourage aliya from Africa, Asia and South America because immigrants from those places are more theologically pliable while tens of thousands of potential Jews already here from the former Soviet Union get the rabbinate's cold shoulder.

At the end of the day, all potential Jews need to be given the necessary tools and encouragement to make an affiliation with Jewish civilization inviting. And those desirous of making a formal commitment to Judaism need the appropriate options for conversion - Orthodox, traditional or progressive.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In the year 2050

When the film 2001: A Space Odyssey made its first appearance in 1968, I was just starting high school and the 21st century seemed pretty intangible.

Nowadays, when I hear about something that's supposed to happen in 2050, it's not hard for me to get my head around the chronology of it. We're talking 42 years from now, when, with considerable luck, I'll still be bearing down on Methuselah.

What got me thinking about the future was a striking demographic forecast issued by the US Census Bureau: America is set to evolve from being a mostly Caucasian country whose ethnic stock and cultural ties are largely rooted in Europe to one that will be predominantly Hispanic and Asian. The African American proportion of the population is to remain roughly static at 14 percent to 15%.

Minorities, now roughly 33% of the population, are projected to become 54% in 2050. The tipping point will actually come in 2042, when the combined non-white population will outnumber whites.

The white population is projected to be only slightly larger in 2050 than it is today, while the Hispanic population - regardless of color - is expected to practically triple, so that nearly one in three US residents will be Hispanic.

The Asian population is predicted to rise from 5.1% to 9.2%. And the number of people who identify themselves as being of two or more races is projected to more than triple, from 5.2 million to 16.2 million.

Two other highlights: In 2050, 62% of America's children will be of non-European stock, compared to 44% today. And the working-age population is projected to become 55% "minority" by 2050 (up from 34% in 2008).

THE MAIN news in all this is that the transformation is taking place at a rate faster than was projected just a few years ago; the reason being higher birthrates among non-whites and laissez-faire immigration policies. Texas and California are today already majority "minority."

And so, in a space of about 100 years, the United States will have gone from a country that was something like 90% white to one where Americans of European stock will be the minority population. The census folks also estimate that by 2050 there will be 439 million Americans, compared to around 300 million today.

THIS TREND has long preoccupied America's radical right. In State of Emergency, Pat Buchanan's latest book, the ultra-conservative firebrand warned: "If we do not solve our civilizational crisis - a disintegrating culture, dying populations, and invasions unresisted - the children born [today] will witness in their lifetimes the death of the West. In our hearts we know what must be done. We must stop the invasion. But do our leaders have the vision and will to do it?"

Buchanan is too shrewd a polemicist to oppose the tinting of America purely on the basis of race. He argues instead, and not unpersuasively, that what is at stake is America's civilization; that the coming new majority will fail to embrace the values that made America the greatest nation on earth.

Laissez-faire conservatives like The Wall Street Journal crowd basically side with liberals in arguing that, overall, immigrants contribute more to America than they extract in public benefits.

But as the Journal has argued, the Left does the cause of immigration no service when it pushes for multiculturalism, bilingualism and racial quotas. For the best way to ensure the survival of American civilization - and with it, pluralism, respect for minority opinion, economic bounty and social tolerance - is if today's heterogeneous minorities are successfully co-opted into both the political system and the sociological melting pot.

An America where people of color outnumber white people is neither a good or bad thing. A negative outcome would be if an American majority were to abandon the values we've come to associate with the US. If American liberals, Jews included, want to prove Buchanan wrong, they should work to jettison multiculturalism, which fosters the Balkanization of America. Of all people, Jews can appreciate the benefits of acculturation over multiculturalism. Where would we be today if places like the Henry Street Settlement and the Educational Alliance had been unavailable to our grandparents and great-grandparents?

POLITICAL SCIENTIST Samuel P. Huntington, writing in Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, warns that Latino immigrants to the US are not embracing the American creed.

Huntington - like Buchanan - warns that the inflow of Hispanic immigrants to the US is different from previous migrations because rather than join the melting pot, they reject the Anglo-Protestant ideas which mobilized the American dream. Instead, they maintain their own parochial political and linguistic values.

Liberal writers, such as Post contributor Samuel G. Freedman, argue that Latinos are expedient targets for "bigotry under the guise of opposing illegal immigration." Fears that "the most recent arrivals have neither the will nor the skill to Americanize" are "a passionate delusion." Hispanic, Asian and African immigrants will no doubt turn out to be as genuinely faithful to America as were the progeny of late 19th- and early 20th-century Jewish immigrants, says Freedman.

I HAVE no way of judging which prognostication will prove the most prescient.

Previous American generations could be reasonably optimistic that their children's future would be part of a continuum of progress, enlightenment, prosperity and values. Liberals and, I suppose, free-market conservatives too, still seem to hold fast to such optimism.

From 6,000 miles away, it's hard to see where this optimism is rooted. America's coming majority needs to be socialized to embrace the American ethos. The argument that this socialization is already taking place is unconvincing.

Perhaps the greater challenge - putting aside the demographic issue - is how to foster the American Idea when modernity and technology actively discourage individuals from thinking about a broader collective.

The future, therefore, may be more like the one visualized by Atlantic magazine writer Robert D. Kaplan. In An Empire Wilderness, he imagines "isolated suburban pods and enclaves of races and classes unrelated to each other" in which bright, analytically literate people around the globe reside in autonomous "city-states" and are more connected with each other than with folks just outside their gated communities.

It should be interesting to see how things play out - assuming I remain, in the words of HAL from 2001, "completely operational and all my circuits are functioning properly."

Wrap - August 8 thru 20

Lessons from Islamabad
Aug. 20, 2008

When Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf shook hands with prime minister Ariel Sharon at the UN General Assembly in September 2005, Israelis hoped they were witnessing the dawn of a new era in relations between the second most populous Muslim state and the world's only Jewish one.

There remain Israelis who think Musharraf's resignation on Monday "was a major loss." Others believe Musharraf simply wanted to capitalize on that handshake, along with an unprecedented address to American Jewish leaders in order to bolster his image in Washington as a Muslim moderate.

He never even came close to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. He did, however, let it be known that the Palestinian problem "lies at the heart of terrorism in the Middle East and beyond."

Musharraf's analysis demands a high degree of gullibility. One would have to believe that a car bombing at an Algerian police academy which took 43 lives; the deaths of 10 French NATO soldiers at the hands Taliban guerrillas near Kabul; and a suicide bombing outside a hospital in northwest Pakistan which claimed 25 lives - all incidents that took place yesterday - were somehow attributable to the Palestinian problem.

Of course, what more accurately "lies at the heart of terrorism" worldwide is the convulsive struggle now taking place within Islam itself, pitting those who want accommodation with Hindu, Christian, Jewish and other civilizations, against fanatics who demand total capitulation from the "infidels."

MUSHARRAF'S departure after nine years in power contributes to an atmosphere of uncertainty. Who will replace him? What of the war on terror? Most critically, who will control Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

Pakistan is a failed state. It cannot provide for its 165 million people, 32 percent of whom live in abject poverty. The regime does not exercise control over large swaths of its territory. Washington, which has funneled $10 billion in military assistance to Islamabad only to discover that much of it was misdirected, would like to believe that Pakistan will "remain" an ally against the Islamists. It hopes bickering Pakistani politicians led by Asia Ali Zardari (the assassinated Benazir Bhutto's widower) and Nawaz Sharif will agree on a presidential successor. And it prays that the 18-member National Command Authority, mostly military types, will keep a tight rein on Pakistan's 150 nuclear warheads.

Musharraf claimed that A. Q. Khan, the scientist who proliferated nuclear know-how to Iran, was a rogue actor, and Washington found it expedient to accept this explanation. Now there is talk that not only will Khan be fully rehabilitated, but he just might become the country's new president.

Pakistan's military is now led by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. He presumably also oversees the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (which he headed from 2004-2007). The ISA has a murky history of divided loyalties.

In a match made in hell, it was Pakistani intelligence that first brought together Osama bin Laden and the Taliban's Muhammad Omar.

Events in Pakistan are not easy to gauge and often seem incoherent. Western analysts surmise the army does not want to fight radical Muslims, preferring to save its powder for use against India. Yet in the past 11 days, not a few Pakistani soldiers have been killed fighting pro-Taliban gunmen. Meanwhile, the head of Afghanistan's domestic intelligence agency insists that Pakistan is supporting the Taliban insurgency. US intelligence officials are reportedly convinced that Pakistan helped plan the July 7 bombing of India's embassy in Kabul that killed 41 people. And the main suspects in the assassination of Bhutto are Islamist warlords with ties to the ISI.

SHORTLY AFTER 9/11, then-US secretary of state Colin Powell gave Musharraf an ultimatum: "You are either with us or against us." Pakistan's leadership opted to cooperate with the West, champion moderate Islam and appease Islamist forces within the country.

In a sense, Pakistan has been "with us and against us."

Western observers can draw at least two lessons from the Pakistani experience. First, instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan is mostly endemic; if the Arab-Israel conflict were solved tomorrow - in its entirety - the impact on south Asia would be marginal. And second, Western leaders should stop deluding themselves about the utility of working with Muslim counterparts who cannot - or will not - deliver on their promises.

Mullahs in space
Aug. 18, 2008

The 15th day of the Muslim month of Shaban fell on Saturday. It is one of the holiest days in the Shi'ite calendar, the birthday of the 12th Imam, or the hidden savior known as the mehdi. His return at the end of history is to herald a messianic era.

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a devotee of the hidden imam. The Iranian leader has spent a fortune refurbishing the Jamkaran mosque, a shrine outside Teheran dedicated to the mehdi.

At 7:06 p.m. Saturday, Ahmadinejad commemorated the Imam's birthday by having an entirely Iranian-manufactured satellite, the Omid (Hope), launched into space. The event was also meant to underscore what Iran can achieve despite being "under heavy sanctions" as the Iranian media put it.

Iran's military, too, noted the significance of the launch date, "On the birth anniversary of the last Imam of Shi'ites, Hazrat Mahdi (May God Hasten His Reappearance), thus illustrating the auspicious name of the Imam in space."

Such messianic references may be lost on Westerners. That does not make them any less consequential.

SATURDAY'S launching may also have been intended to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran's nuclear facilities as well as announcing that Iran was already a regional power to be reckoned with.

Geography is sometimes even more consequential than ideology. Russia was a major power under the czars, communists, and is now resurgent under the popular autocrat, Vladimir Putin.

Persia once swept westward into the Middle East building an empire that encompassed Egypt, Babylon, and the Greek colonies in Anatolia. Its ruler, Cyrus (circa 539 BCE), granted Jews the right to rebuild their Jerusalem temple demolished earlier by Nebuchadnezzar.

Alas, Iran's present-day leader has other plans for the Jews.

Were Teheran to achieve regional hegemony the consequences would be profoundly destabilizing. For the mullahs are fueled not just by geography, politics and nationalism, but by a sense of invincible messianic imperialism. Their ambitions may well extend beyond our region.

THE DIMINUTIVE 20-kilogram Omid satellite is of minor concern to Israeli observers - one called it "space junk." And it will take a while for analysts to determine whether the satellite has achieved a stable orbit. If not, the effort will be judged a failure.

The Safir (emissary) vehicle that carried Omid into space is an improved version of the Shihab-3, which has a demonstrated range of about 1,500 km. (930 miles) - capable of reaching Israel. But the Jewish state has long been within range of Iranian missiles.

The implicit message of the latest launching may be directed at Europe: The Islamic Republic already has surface-to-surface missiles capable of reaching parts of Europe. It is just a matter of time before the Shihab-4 extends that reach even further.

Iran's achievement in space also provides insight into the scope of the country's military industrial complex. Ahmadinejad boasted that 7,000 scientists and engineers were involved in the satellite project. Iran has uranium mines and facilities to enrich the mineral so as to produce a controlled nuclear reaction; it has the brainpower necessary to militarize these capabilities. It certainly appears poised to achieve the capability of placing a nuclear device on a ballistic missile.

IRAN IS explicitly committed to the destruction of Israel - so Jerusalem must worry day and night about Teheran's nuclear program. At the same time, the Iranian military industrial complex is so vast, advanced and diversified as to make incredibly complex any last resort to military action.

Europe and the international community, meanwhile, dawdle rather than apply the kinds of meaningful sanctions that could conceivably force the mullahs to reconsider their bellicose posture.

Thus by avoiding a confrontation with Iran today, the international community is setting the stage for a far more perilous future - and not just for Israel.

Is it not clear how emboldened, empowered and belligerent the mullahs already are? The threat to world peace grows exponentially with each week, each month.

Either the Iranian regime must be made to go, or a strategy needs to be developed to ensure that Iran does not attain the military capability to achieve its imperial aspirations.

There really are no other options.

Boundaries for Israel
Aug. 14, 2008

Early this week Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly handed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Israel's detailed proposal for a "shelf agreement."

Olmert offered an Israeli pullback from 93 percent of Judea and Samaria, "compensating" the Palestinians with territory from the Negev. A 40-km. link would provide unfettered passage between Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinian state would be demilitarized and "right of return" for refugees would be exercised almost entirely within "Palestine." The Jerusalem issue would be put off by mutual consent.

The Prime Minister's Office did not deny the proposal, reported in Haaretz, which aims to preserve settlement blocs such as Ma'aleh Adumin and Gush Etzion. Israel's hopes for Ariel, the strategic Jordan Valley, and other places were not revealed.

According to the proposal, after the "shelf agreement" is signed, the Jewish communities on the Palestinian side will be evacuated in a two-stage process: the first, voluntary relocation and compensation; the second - presumably involuntary - contingent on the Palestinians fulfilling various commitments.

By Tuesday night, however, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh provided the Palestinian response: "The Israeli proposal is unacceptable, it is a waste of time. The Palestinian people will agree to a state with territorial contiguity only in a way that includes Jerusalem as its capital." Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator, described the report as full of "lies and half-truths" - a public relations campaign against the Palestinians.

BEYOND the intriguing question of why the story was leaked by the Israeli side, what impresses is how faithfully and unwaveringly Erekat and Abu Rudeineh adhere to the Palestinian line. They demand an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 boundaries; territorial contiguity; the "right of return;" Jerusalem as their capital; and the removal of all Jewish communities beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines.

By contrast, to this day Israel has yet to officially declare which territories it insists on retaining in any deal with the Palestinians. This black hole in Israeli diplomacy explains why international public opinion believes, wrongly, that Israel should be, and even would be, prepared to withdraw to the 1967 "borders" assuming the details can be worked out. It will be an uphill battle to disabuse the world of the notion that Israel can safely return to the indefensible 1949 Armistice Lines - and to make a clear and unequivocal case for the borders the Jewish state can live with.

GRANTED, IT sometimes seems as if the Abbas-Olmert talks are being conducted in an alternative universe.

Discredited and unpopular, the premier has already announced he's stepping down. The chances of him winning Knesset ratification for any "shelf agreement" are close to nil. Abbas has limited influence in the West Bank, and none in Gaza, which he has lost to Hamas. A referendum among West Bank Palestinians alone would have limited legitimacy.

Yet the bargaining is very real, taking place on several planes - between the two sides, among the parties' internal constituencies, and in the arena of global public opinion.

As to substance, the Palestinians may well be right that the issue of Jerusalem and the holy places can't reasonably be postponed. For what future would a shelf agreement have if, at the end of the day, no accord was reached on Jerusalem?

Hard-nosed specificity trumps vague, feel-good pronouncements. For any deal to garner support from the Israeli mainstream it must nail down the tough issues, especially in the security realm. For instance, would "Palestine" have the sovereign right to invite Iran to establish a military presence on its territory? The Palestinians are demanding an airport and seaport. They want an army. What is Israel's position on these?

THE STATUS quo is untenable politically, diplomatically and demographically, making a two-state solution the preference of most Israelis. Yet Palestinian spokesman are saying that unless Israel capitulates to their maximalist demands, they will promote a one-state solution - aimed at the demographic destruction of Israel.

That's why Israel needs to define, finally, the boundaries of the Jewish state in the context of its vision for a viable two-state solution - and to place the onus for failing to achieve "two states for two peoples" squarely where it belongs: on 100 years of Palestinian intransigence.
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Rationalize the budget

Aug. 13, 2008

The most reliable indicator and truest measure of a society's priorities is how it allocates its resources. You can tell a great deal about Israel by studying how it spends its money.

The Finance Ministry has unveiled its proposed NIS 319 billion budget for 2009 and on Sunday the cabinet will begin debating what legendary political scientist Harold Lasswell called the politics of "who gets what, when, and how."

Approval by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet would bind the next Kadima government (assuming one is formed). The Knesset is obliged to pass a national budget by December 31.

Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On cunningly submitted two alternative, comprehensive schemes for cabinet consideration. Since the Treasury is loath to increase either taxes or government spending, both versions demand that ministries make do with less. In one version the bulk of savings would come from defense; in the other, the axe would fall more heavily on social programs.

"Budget 1" would command NIS 2.1b. in defense cuts, along with NIS 117 million in social spending reductions, and a cut of NIS 30m. in monies for local government. "Budget 2" would cut NIS 900m. from defense, but NIS 1.2b. from social welfare, while hacking NIS 160m. off local government.

Bar-On recommends Budget 1 - cutting defense so social programs suffer less. Too bad he hasn't offered a third, less draconian and more equitable reduction plan.

To be fair, Israeli "hyper-pluralism" - in which single-issue parties act as if there was no collective interest - tempts the Treasury to rule with an iron hand. Recently, for instance, the legislature went off and spent NIS 740m. beyond the NIS 301.5b. budget for 2008 without making provisions for covering those new expenses.

REGARDLESS of which 2009 budget is adopted, the Treasury wants to cut subsidies for extra-curricular education, road safety instruction and government contributions to the health funds. Citizens will have to pick up the slack. We will also likely be paying more for public transportation, saying farewell to educational television and the post office bank, as we know it - perhaps, gasp, even to the police orchestra.

The news isn't all gloomy. The Treasury wants to spend more on improving the infrastructure in the periphery; to create incentives for cheaper cable and satellite television; and to press transit cooperatives into purchasing more large-capacity buses.

THE PROCESS by which Israel develops its budget is not the most rational method for allocating resources. With the Finance Ministry's monopoly on the data, there is really no one who can authoritatively challenge Bar-On.

Who is in a position to ask whether cutting defense makes security sense? Could citizens trust self-interested Defense Ministry bureaucrats' claim that proposed cutbacks go too deep? Did the Treasury take into account that procuring weapons systems is not like buying widgets, and that annual budgetary fluctuations can wind up costing more than they save? Can the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee be counted on to scrutinize the defense budget and make informed decisions?

In the social sphere, the Treasury proposes to reduce the universal child stipend from NIS 153 to NIS 135. As a bargaining chip against Shas, which is demanding an increase in child allocations, this may be a smart political gambit. But if the goal is genuinely to save money, what does Bar-On propose to do with that money?

Israel needs to develop a culture of budgetary oversight beginning with the ministries themselves. The Treasury must stop demanding across-the-board cuts that slash blindly at deserving and undeserving outlays alike. Instead, the prime minister should be demanding that his ministers go through every item in their budgets, then propose rational savings to the Treasury.

The Knesset needs to establish a nonpartisan structure - akin to the US Congressional Budget Office - to objectively evaluate the Treasury's budgetary proposals. Perhaps the existing Information and Research Center of the Knesset could evolve into such a mechanism.

Moreover, individual MKs need resources to hire expert staff who can help them evaluate the budget, make informed decisions and conduct oversight hearings.

Instead of a false debate that asks MKs to "choose" between security and welfare - why not develop the tools for informed and rational decision-making?
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Putin's pique

Aug. 11, 2008

Russia has been teaching Georgia a bloody lesson on the consequences of crossing the Kremlin. Having reportedly forced Georgian forces out of contested Abkhazia and South Ossetia, will Moscow now accept an EU cease-fire proposal?

Moscow may also have wanted to teach Europe and the US a lesson about the limits of their influence in Russia's "near abroad" - the Caucasus included. For instance, it may be signaling the futility of circumventing Russia by using Georgia to pipe natural gas and oil originating in Central Asia and bound for Europe.

It may also be teaching the world a lesson about the consequences of forcing its ally Serbia to acquiesce in Kosovo's independence. Finally, by making an example of Georgia, Moscow may be sending this not-so-subtle message to Poland and the Czech Republic: Don't let the US install an anti-missile shield on your soil.

How the fighting in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia was ignited isn't easy to determine; nor is it, at this stage, of paramount importance. Maybe President Mikhail Saakashvili was keeping his promise to impose Georgian rule on the separatist areas, and Russia acted only after its peacekeepers in South Ossetia were attacked. Maybe, by responding to alleged provocations in those areas, Saakashvili was, foolishly and impetuously, giving Vladimir Putin a pretext to invade.

THE AREA'S intricate and complex history suggests that today's political conundrums are deeply rooted and intractable. Long under Persian and Turkish domination, (Christian) Georgia was grateful, in 1801, to be incorporated into Czarist Russia. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Georgia became independent, but was forcibly annexed by Russia in 1921.

It was during the Soviet period that the stage was probably set for the ethnic and national tensions now playing themselves out. The old Soviet Union encompassed 53 administrative and territorial subdivisions reflecting the complexity of its ethnic and national mishmash. The Communist Party gerrymandered Georgia's borders to include the autonomous republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - Stalin's way of playing off various ethnic groups against each other to protect the center's power.

The Abkhaz always wanted to be part of Russia. The Georgians, fighting to preserve their own culture and language, saw them as tools of Moscow. In order to diminish the influence of the Abkhaz within their autonomous area, Georgia settled its people there. Paradoxically, the Abkhaz are also worried about being smothered by Russia's embrace.

Ossetia's story is similar. Stalin divided the Ossetians into two regions and placed South Ossetia inside the borders of Georgia.

Thus was created a situation in which the Georgians constantly worried that the minorities in their midst were a fifth column, while those minorities found themselves under unwanted Georgian jurisdiction.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the autonomous areas sought to join Russia. Bloody conflicts were waged in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the early 1990s. Ultimately, Russia brokered a cease-fire that was policed by its forces acting under the rubric of the Commonwealth Independent States.

That left the situation, as James Traub, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine put it, with Russia threatening Georgia, and Georgia threatening both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

THE DISQUIETING question of the day is: What will now satiate Putin? Not only have his forces defeated Georgia in the separatist areas; by taking the war into Georgia proper, the Russian leader seems intent on humiliating Saakashvili and perhaps driving him from office.

Though Georgia is a US ally, Putin must be taking with a grain of salt Dick Cheney's admonition that Russian "aggression" will not go unanswered. No one imagines that the US would go to war with Russia over Georgia - even if America were not tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan and also worriedly focused on Iran.

Putin may have set out to make an example of Georgia. But in the process he has also brought relations with the US to a post-Cold War nadir and provided useful instruction to, among others, Europe and the Ukraine that a resurgent Russia will not hesitate to use disproportionate force to achieve its political objectives.

These lessons may yet come back to haunt him.
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The Russian riddle

Aug. 10, 2008

It was Russia's use of disproportionate force against Georgia, its relatively defenseless neighbor - and not the Beijing Olympics - that dominated the weekend news.

In the wake of a roadside bombing that killed six of its police officers, Georgia sought to retake the disputed enclave of South Ossetia. The Russian military is forcing it to withdraw.

Russian-supported rebels in another contested region, Abkhazia, have meanwhile launched a separate assault against Georgia.

As in many international flare-ups, neither side is completely right nor completely wrong. Yet the world may be witnessing a resurgent Russia attempting to reassert influence over territory it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

AS FATE would have it, the bloodshed comes days after the death of Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, at age 89. Solzhenitsyn was as fierce an opponent of Soviet Communism as he was a champion of Russia nationalism.

He left a testament of astonishing power that bears great relevance today - even after the tyranny he helped defeat lies in the dustbin of history.

In 1945, after serving in the Red Army, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to a labor camp for making a disparaging reference to Stalin in a letter to a friend. Horrified by his glimpse into the dark heart of the Soviet Union, he resolved to tell its terrible secrets. In his eight years of imprisonment, he committed tens of thousands of lines to memory.

After he was released, but still under the most difficult conditions, he penned a series of searing novels - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward and The First Circle - that illuminated the horrors of the prison camp hell which devoured tens of millions of his fellow citizens.

But what finally destroyed Western illusions about the Communist experiment was Solzhenitsyn's monumental non-fiction exposé, The Gulag Archipelago.

Writing in impenetrable solitude, its dissident author said he wished to carry "the dying wishes of millions whose last whisper, last moan, had been cut short on some hut floor in some prison camp." In doing so, he added, "it seemed as if it was no longer I who was writing; rather, I was swept along, my hand was being moved by an outside force."

The masterpiece was smuggled to Paris, where its publication got Solzhenitsyn expelled from the USSR in 1974 - but not before it had sensational effect. "My face was smothered in tears," one Russian wrote to the author. "All this was mine, intimately mine, mine for every day of the 15 years I spent in the camps."

LIKE ANY hero, Solzhenitsyn had his flaws. In the 18 years he lived reclusively outside Cavendish, Vermont, certain reactionary habits of mind came to the fore. He found Western democracy "weak and effete" and regarded Westerners as afflicted by shallow materialism, moral flabbiness and complacency. "Excessive ease and prosperity have weakened their will and their reason," he intoned.

When Solzhenitsyn returned after the Soviet collapse, such sentiments, together with a heavy dose of Slavophilia and Russian Orthodox piety, would eventually endear him to Vladimir Putin. The former KGB man admired the writer's idea that after the struggle with the Communist state there loomed a greater challenge still: resurrecting the Russian spirit and reviving its national memory.

The Russian leader also applauded Solzhenitsyn's insistence that Russia was a world apart. "Any ancient, deeply-rooted autonomous culture... constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking," Solzhenitsyn said. Last June, Putin visited Solzhenitsyn's home to give him Russia's highest award, the State Prize.

His fervent support of Israel notwithstanding, Solzhenitsyn was sometimes accused of anti-Semitism. In his last book Two Hundred Years Together, a history of the Jews in Russia, he emphasized the prominent contribution of Jewish revolutionaries to the Bolshevik seizure of power.

Yet, in the end, Solzhenitsyn presents us with the example - urgently needed just now - of a writer of the highest moral seriousness, a man of unyielding honesty whose decision to expose injustice and identify evil carried enormous personal risk.

Today's Russian leaders, no less than their Soviet predecessors, could benefit from a patriot-prophet to remind them that war-making is an unhealthy basis for national renaissance.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Putin's pique

Russia has been teaching Georgia a bloody lesson on the consequences of crossing the Kremlin. Having reportedly forced Georgian forces out of contested Abkhazia and South Ossetia, will Moscow now accept an EU cease-fire proposal?

Moscow may also have wanted to teach Europe and the US a lesson about the limits of their influence in Russia¹s ³near abroad² ­ the Caucasus included. For instance, it may be signaling the futility of circumventing Russia by using Georgia to pipe natural gas and oil originating in Central Asia and bound for Europe.

It may also be teaching the world a lesson about the consequences of forcing its ally Serbia to acquiesce in Kosovo¹s independence. Finally, by making an example of Georgia, Moscow may be sending this not-so-subtle message to Poland and the Czech Republic: Don¹t let the US install an anti-missile shield on your soil.

How the fighting in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia was ignited isn¹t easy to determine; nor is it, at this stage, of paramount importance. Maybe President Mikhail Saakashvili was keeping his promise to impose Georgian rule on the separatist areas, and Russia acted only after its peacekeepers in South Ossetia were attacked. Maybe, by responding to alleged provocations in those areas, Saakashvili was, foolishly and impetuously, giving Vladimir Putin a pretext to invade.

THE AREA¹S intricate and complex history suggests that today¹s political conundrums are deeply rooted and intractable. Long under Persian and Turkish domination, (Christian) Georgia was grateful, in 1801, to be incorporated into Czarist Russia. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Georgia became independent, but was forcibly annexed by Russia in 1921.

It was during the Soviet period that the stage was probably set for the ethnic and national tensions now playing themselves out. The old Soviet Union encompassed 53 administrative and territorial subdivisions reflecting the complexity of its ethnic and national mishmash. The Communist Party gerrymandered Georgia¹s borders to include the autonomous republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia ­ Stalin¹s way of playing off various ethnic groups against each other to protect the center¹s power.
The Abkhaz always wanted to be part of Russia. The Georgians, fighting to preserve their own culture and language, saw them as tools of Moscow. In order to diminish the influence of the Abkhaz within their autonomous area, Georgia settled its people there. Paradoxically, the Abkhaz are also worried about being smothered by Russia¹s embrace.

Ossetia¹s story is similar. Stalin divided the Ossetians into two regions and placed South Ossetia inside the borders of Georgia.

Thus was created a situation in which the Georgians constantly worried that the minorities in their midst were a fifth column, while those minorities found themselves under unwanted Georgian jurisdiction.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the autonomous areas sought to join Russia. Bloody conflicts were waged in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the early 1990s. Ultimately, Russia brokered a cease-fire that was policed by its forces acting under the rubric of the Commonwealth Independent States.

That left the situation, as James Traub, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine put it, with Russia threatening Georgia, and Georgia threatening both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

THE DISQUIETING question of the day is: What will now satiate Putin? Not only have his forces defeated Georgia in the separatist areas; by taking the war into Georgia proper, the Russian leader seems intent on humiliating Saakashvili and perhaps driving him from office.

Though Georgia is a US ally, Putin must be taking with a grain of salt Dick Cheney¹s admonition that Russian ³aggression² will not go unanswered. No one imagines that the US would go to war with Russia over Georgia ­ even if America were not tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan and also worriedly focused on Iran.

Putin may have set out to make an example of Georgia. Yet in the process he has also brought relations with the US to a post-Cold War nadir and provided useful instruction to, among others, Europe and the Ukraine that a resurgent Russia will not hesitate to use disproportionate force to achieve its political objectives.

These lessons may yet come back to haunt him.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tisha Be'av - 5768

Tisha Be'av, which began last night, is the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. On it we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively, and the expulsion of the Jewish people from Israel.

Along with Yom Hashoah and Remembrance Day, Tisha Be'av is one of the most melancholy days in the Jewish calendar. Beyond the destruction of the two Temples, the Ninth of Av has the distinction of being inauspicious in other ways. On that date:

In 1096, the First Crusade began, destroying Jewish communities in Europe. In 1290, the Jews were expelled from England, and, in 1306, from France. In 1492, the Jews were thrown out of Spain. In 1648, thousands of Polish Jews were murdered in the Chmielnicki massacres. In 1882, pogroms swept Russia. In 1914, World War I broke out. In 1941, on the eve of Tisha B'av the Nazis made plans to finalize the Final Solution.

Today we cannot but also reflect upon the existential threats facing the Jewish state.

THE DAY is traditionally marked by fasting and recitation of the Book of Lamentations, the Prophet Jeremiah's heart-wrenching narrative of Jerusalem's fall:

O how the city once so populous
Remained lonely like a widow!
She that was great among nations,
A princess among the provinces,
Has become a tributary.

BEYOND THE sacred and historical significance of Tisha Be'av, the day is replete with contemporary relevance. Our attention is called to the Temple Mount, which, hundreds of years before Muhammad was born or Jesus preached, was the epicenter of Jewish civilization.

Too bad, then, that even relatively moderate Palestinian leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei will not acknowledge the Jews' ancient link to this place. Their refusal makes efforts to reach an accommodation immeasurably more complicated.

Most relevant of all is how we Jews behave toward one another. A minority in the settler movement have chosen to conflate the uprooting of 8,500 Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria during the disengagement with the Jewish loss of sovereignty in ancient Israel and the ensuing 2,000 years of exile. This newspaper is sensitive to the spiritual suffering of those who lost their homes and communities in the summer of 2005, only to see them turned into launching pads for attacks against Israel. Yet to draw a parallel between the decision of sovereign Israel to relocate its citizens from Gaza to elsewhere inside the country and the Roman expulsion of the Jews from the Land of Israel is inexcusable, arrogant and simply wrongheaded.

Just as elements on the Left co-opted Yitzhak Rabin's memory and made approval of his Oslo policies synonymous with a desire for peace, some on the Right have made opposition to disengagement a litmus test of Jewish fidelity. Isn't it obvious that such closed-mindedness and self-righteousness fosters a disunity that our enemies do not hesitate to exploit?

Have we forgotten that even as the Romans massed ominously on the horizon, Jews of the Second Temple period were riven with factionalism, each camp clinging to its false certainties? Unable to put their differences aside, they contributed to the undermining of the Jewish commonwealth. As the historian Josephus records, 1.1 million Jews were killed during the ensuing siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Tens of thousands were taken captive or sold into slavery.

SOMETHING remarkable was set to happen last night in Beijing. President Shimon Peres, in China with other world leaders for the Olympics, was to attend Ninth of Av services and participate in reciting from the Book of Lamentations. Even as we mark this day with solemnity, let us not lose sight of how far we have come. Across the millennia of the Jewish people's exile, our ancestors could scarcely bring themselves to dream of a day when the Jewish people would be sovereign again in their beloved Zion - let alone an Israeli team competing in the Olympics in China.

This generation has merited witnessing the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the land, and a thriving capital in Jerusalem. Our political, theological and social differences notwithstanding, we have a responsibility to the generations to cultivate the cohesion upon which the Third Commonwealth depends.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Wrap July 29- August 8

China's Olympic challenge
Aug. 8, 2008

To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.
- Confucius

It's not just how you play the game, or even whether you win or lose. In Olympic diplomacy, it's also how you shmooze. And there will be plenty of talking on the sidelines of the 2008 Olympic Games, which open tonight in Beijing. World leaders, among them US President George W. Bush, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and French President Nicholas Sarkozy will be doing more than watching the events.

President Shimon Peres is also in Beijing, primarily to encourage world leaders to back punitive sanctions that will encourage Iran to reexamine the benefits vs the costs of building a bomb.

Peres's efforts will be directed mostly at the Chinese themselves. He will meet with business leaders, newspaper editorial boards, appear on television and "chat" with surfers on one of the country's popular Internet portals.

The Chinese have graciously arranged for our 85-year-old president to stay at a special hotel inside the Olympic compound and within walking distance of the Olympics' opening ceremony, which takes place tonight after the onset of Shabbat.

Peres will find China a complicated mix of freedom and repression. Starting in 1978, under Deng Xiaoping, the country evolved from doctrinaire communism to a freer economy. The Communist Party managed to turn itself into a vehicle for upward mobility and entrepreneurship, maintaining political control while remaining sufficiently adaptive to co-opt rather than repress, where possible. It freed the economy yet continues to control the energy, communications and finance sectors.

Hosting the Olympics is a massive achievement for the Chinese, coming as it does despite international opposition from critics of Beijing's human rights record, Tibetan unrest, a devastating earthquake in Sichuan and, just this week, Muslim violence in Xinjiang. Most Chinese are bursting with nationalist pride at hosting the Games. They should know that most Israelis, this newspaper included, opposed calls to boycott the games.

THE MOST important 30 minutes of Peres's 72-hour visit are scheduled for this morning, when he is to meet with President Hu Jintao. Iran will top the agenda.

China's relationship with Teheran, its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and its status as a first-tier world power position Beijing as a key player in international efforts to block Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Conversely, if China joins Russia in helping Iran play for time, it will effectively remove the UN from efforts to solve the crisis via diplomacy.

China faces a dilemma. A country of 1.3 billion people, it accounts for about 40 percent of the world's recent increase in oil demand (though the US remains the world's foremost oil consumer). While China is a major oil producer, the needs of its galloping economy far outpace what it can pump domestically. That's why China is one of Iran's biggest oil customers and why it imports 58 percent of its petroleum from the Middle East - 11% from Iran.

China does not want to see a nuclear-armed Iran. At the same time, it has never been a strong believer in sanctions because a major pillar of Chinese foreign policy is "non-interference" in the internal affairs of another country.

Iran, however, is a special case and we hope that Hu Jintao will be open to Peres's entreaties. It is not in China's interest to see a regime that embraces the Islamist culture of death along with nascent Persian imperialism equip itself with nuclear weapons. The mullahs would feel themselves emboldened to spread their extremism worldwide - including to China.

Blocking potent sanctions is the equivalent of taking them off the table and painting Jerusalem into a corner, making the military option more likely. That would be setting the stage for a destabilizing scenario with the potential to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

The people of China deserve to reap the bounty of their country's extraordinary achievements without the unprecedented threat to world stability posed by Iranian fanaticism, hegemony and bellicosity.

Beyond self-interest, 21st-century China has another reason to block the Iranian bomb: Chinese ascendancy on the world stage. With world leadership come responsibilities. President Hu must now summon the courage to define his country's interests within the global context.

Kadima, unvarnished

Aug. 6, 2008

With Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set to step down as party leader, the spotlight focuses on Kadima's September primary race - the assumption being that the victor will form a new coalition.

Will Olmert be replaced by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter or Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit?

Moreover, what does the process say about the health of our political system, about Kadima itself and about whether democracy would be best served by simply advancing the general elections scheduled for March 2010?

THERE IS no denying that the system has taken its lumps since the election of the 17th Knesset in March 2006. President Moshe Katsav has been driven from office in disgrace. Olmert is set to step down - not, as this newspaper urged, because of his mishandling of the Second Lebanon War, but because the multiple corruption investigations hanging over his head have left him politically impotent.

The vice premier, Haim Ramon, has been rehabilitated after a 2006 conviction for committing an indecent act. Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson is on trial for stealing, and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi, is being tried for fraud. Former MK Shlomo Benizri has been convicted of bribery. Former MK Azmi Bishara fled the country under suspicion of being an enemy spy.

KADIMA was founded as a political vehicle by former prime minister Ariel Sharon - originally elected as Likud head - following the 2005 Gaza Disengagement plan. Absent Sharon, Kadima has neither evolved into a bona fide Third Way party nor inspired a genuine grass-roots following.

The polls show Livni as being highly popular with the general electorate, though Mofaz appears to have the stronger party campaign apparatus. She won't promise to remain in Kadima if defeated or, if victorious, to appoint him as her number two.

The stability of Israel's political system has always depended on which party leader can muster 61 Knesset seats - and not on how she or he got to be party leader. Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Shamir all originally came to power by becoming party leaders.

John Major became British prime minister when the Conservatives dumped Margaret Thatcher. Even in the US, Republican House minority leader Gerald Ford served as an unelected president, replacing Richard Nixon.

Of course, what Israel really needs is an overhaul of the electoral system - perhaps some creative combination of direct election by district and proportional representation, with a relatively high threshold.

Were general elections held under the present system, polls show Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party emerging victorious. He would probably then have to turn to Kadima and Labor to form a broad-based coalition.

At least on the Palestinian issue, the three parties are in broad agreement - or, perhaps, equally clueless.

Since 2006, Likud has reluctantly accepted the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state as the outcome of negotiations based on reciprocity. Labor has been offering a state since 2000, having set the stage in 1993 with Oslo. And in his December 2003 Herzliya Conference speech, Kadima founder Ariel Sharon declared that Israel wanted the Palestinians to govern themselves.

The Palestinians are, nevertheless, electioneering against Mofaz on the grounds that he would be too tough a negotiating partner. Which begs the question: Why, after eight months of bargaining with Livni, have they been unable to come to an agreement? Perhaps the answer is the Palestinian side's obduracy and not the personality of the Israeli negotiator.

Observing an Israeli political party select its leader is a bit like peeking behind the scenes in a (kosher) sausage factory. The end result could produce a marketable product, but the process isn't pretty.

With polls showing that 53 percent of Israelis want new elections, it is too bad that Kadima's 72,000-strong "membership" - many of whom were just signed up by the competing camps - will likely decide who becomes Israel's next prime minister.

At the very least, however, Livni, Mofaz, Dichter and Sheetrit would do the country a service by publishing substantive position papers instead of snipping at each other.

Lebanon tipping-point?

Aug. 4, 2008

Israel is sounding the alarm: The fragile balance of forces in Lebanon is unraveling. And the world is playing deaf.

The Israeli-Lebanese relationship is reaching another critical turning-point; and not just over how Lebanon and Hizbullah are melding into a single new entity, with Beirut set to formally confer upon Hizbullah the right to "liberate or recover occupied lands" - meaning any territory it defines as "occupied," whether Mount Dov (the Shaba Farms) or Galilee. Lebanon is metamorphosing from hapless bystander to willing Hizbullah enabler, a transformation certain to have devastating consequences.

The even more immediate crisis is that unless Hizbullah's runaway arms-smuggling is checked, the Islamists may soon possess weapons that could force Israel into preemptive military action to protect this country's deterrence.

In the words of Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "We are warning leaders, foreign ministers, defense ministers around the world of the consequences of destabilizing the very delicate balance that exists in Lebanon."

THIS WEEK, the four-member Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team, dispatched by UN Secretary of State Ban Ki-moon to assess "the monitoring of the Lebanese border with Syria" - or, in plain English, to expose rampant Hizbullah arms smuggling - wrapped up its two-week mission. It will now submit recommendations to the secretary-general. We should pray that its report is genuine, and that the powers-that-be will sit up and take notice.

Israel continues to insist that UNIFIL countries are choosing to disregard evidence of Hizbullah smuggling because they do not want to confront the muscular extremists. Still, Israeli officials have been sounding the alarm. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Barak both held meetings with Ban last week to press for action against Hizbullah's shameless violations of UN Security Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. Livni declared that Israel "cannot accept" the flood of Hizbullah weapons smuggling. Barak was equally blunt, saying 1701 "did not work, doesn't work, and is a failure" given that Syria and Iran have moved "munitions, rockets and other weapon systems" into Lebanon.

How Damascus expects Israelis to reconcile its behavior - not to mention Bashar Assad's weekend dalliance in Teheran - with intimations that Syria wants rapprochement with Israel is anyone's guess. It also begs the question of whether Israel's indirect talks with Syria have inoculated Assad's regime against international reprobation.

At any rate, after his meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney last week in Washington, Barak remarked that Syria's hostile behavior had led, in the last two years, to Hizbullah doubling or tripling the number of missiles in its arsenal. Hizbullah's armaments are smuggled from Iran via Syria, though some are of Syrian origin. The most lethal weaponry is Russian-made.

While Resolution 1701 demanded "the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon," Hizbullah has never been better armed. While it called on Lebanon to support the cease-fire, Beirut now explicitly threatens Israel. And while it demanded that "no sales or supply of arms and related material" reach Lebanon - Syria, Iran (and, less brazenly, Russia) are systematically flouting 1701.

WHY ARE Israeli officials raising the decibel level now given that Hizbullah has been violating 1701 practically from the get-go? And what to make of Hizbullah's menacing declaration last week that it would treat as "provocative" and "unacceptable" Israeli overflights of Lebanese airspace?

There is no denying that Israeli aircraft fly reconnaissance missions over Lebanon gathering imperative intelligence and monitoring Hizbullah's hostile intentions. Now that Lebanon stands poised to adopt Hizbullah's anti-Israel crusade as national policy, it would be ludicrous to treat Lebanese airspace as sacrosanct.

Hizbullah appears set to receive a new generation of anti-aircraft missiles that would jeopardize the IAF's intelligence-gathering capabilities. If, for instance, Syria facilitates the delivery of these Russian-manufactured, SA-8 self-propelled anti-aircraft missiles - or, more ominously, the SA-15 now operating in Iran - Israeli decision-makers may have to consider a preemptive strike.

No weapons at all should be reaching Hizbullah; but channeling dangerously destabilizing surface-to-air missiles that could blind Israel to the threats emanating from the north is simply asking for trouble. Responsible actors in the international community need to take Israel's warnings with the utmost seriousness and act to close the spigot spewing weapons into Lebanon.

Weekend in Hamastan

Aug. 3, 2008

Trying to distinguish between the good guys and the bad in the latest bout of Gaza fighting is bit like trying to decide who to hire as a babysitter - the Boston Strangler or Jack the Ripper.

Hamas may have been elected fair and square, yet its true orientation is totalitarian. No surprise, then, that it has been using the cease-fire with Israel, in effect since June 16, not only to prepare for the next round against the Jewish state, but to smother rival factions.

Thus Hamas shut down the Gaza offices of the Ma'an news agency (an outfit funded largely by Denmark) as well as the Sha'ab radio station, run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Even Islamic Jihad has been put on notice to watch its behavior.

It's not as if Hamas faces much opposition. Perhaps its most significant challenge comes from the Dughmush clan, which enriched itself by smuggling weapons and contraband through tunnels dug under the Philadelphi Corridor into Sinai, and the equally lucrative hostage-taking business. Clan leaders help found the Popular Resistance Committees, a terror group active in the second intifada and probably involved in capturing Gilad Schalit.

It would not be surprising, therefore, to discover that Dughmush was behind the July 25 car-bombing along the Gaza beachfront which killed five Hamas operatives, injured scores of passersby and took the life of a little girl. If so, expect his clan to be the next Hamas target.

FOR ITS OWN Machiavellian reasons, Hamas blames exiled Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan for the bombing. On Saturday it went after the Hilles clan, described by the media as "loosely affiliated with Fatah movement."

Hamas cut off the clan's Gaza City stronghold. In the ensuing fighting, nine Palestinians were killed; a residential building was reportedly blown up, with people still in it; and Hamas sharpshooters aiming from minarets in nearby mosques targeted anyone trying to flee.

Hamas even used tunnels dug in the area - originally for use against Israel - to surprise the clan. At least 100 people were injured, including a dozen children. Many more were taken into Hamas custody. Under withering Hamas fire, about 180 members of the clan, led by headman Ahmed Hilles, sought to enter Israel via the Nahal Oz crossing, leaving their women and children behind.

At the request of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority - and as a humanitarian gesture - Israel allowed the Hilles men in, with the intention of sending them on to Mahmoud Abbas's Ramallah headquarters.

But in the murky world of Palestinian politics, relationships are seldom straightforward. Far from being Dahlan stooges, the Hilles had actually tried to assassinate Dahlan, together with Abbas, in November 2004, shortly after Yasser Arafat died and Abbas went to Gaza to receive visitors in Fatah's mourning tent. Abbas and Dahlan survived, but two of their bodyguards didn't.

Yesterday, after the dust had settled, Abbas did an about-face: At his request, Israel "repatriated" to Gaza many of the men who had sought his protection in Ramallah.

ISRAEL AND the West would do well to internalize, given this internecine Palestinian violence, that Hamas's rule in Gaza is the best indicator to date of how Palestinians would run their affairs in a fully independent Palestine. We need also to recognize the failure of institution-building and due process in the Abbas component of the PA thus far, as illuminated by the torture of Hamas functionaries, on Fatah's behalf, by the Aksa Martyrs Brigade.

Dismally, despite the brutal nature of its Gaza rule, Hamas remains more popular in the West Bank and Gaza than Abbas. This ongoing triumph of bellicosity and intransigence over relative moderation is greatly assisted by Abbas's abject failure to root out corruption from Fatah.

In such a climate, there aren't enough checkpoints in the West Bank Israel can dismantle to "help" Abbas. Indeed, IDF pullbacks and eased security conditions in the West Bank would simply set the stage for a Hamas takeover and leave Israel more vulnerable to terrorism.

Plainly, lifting international sanctions on Hamas would be a flagrant reward for Islamist violence and tyranny. At the same time, Hamas is a permanent fixture in Palestinian politics. Rather than closing its eyes to this reality, Israel must more thoroughly integrate awareness of it into its security and diplomatic strategy.

Interfaith, Saudi-style

Aug. 2, 2008

My brothers, we must tell the world that differences don't need to lead to disputes. The tragedies we have experienced throughout history were not the fault of religion, but because of the extremism that has been adopted by some followers of all the religions, and of all political systems.

- Saudi King Abdullah, Madrid, July 16

It would be naive to make too much - though self-defeating to make too little - of the ecumenical World Conference on Dialogue hosted by the monarch of Arabia.

For years savvy Western observers of a radicalized Muslim world have insisted that the only reliable antidote to the toxicity of Islamism is a religious reformation from within. It is premature to suppose that what happened in Spain last month was the "beginning of the beginning" of a Muslim reformation. Yet it may be that key Muslim religious and political figures have come to appreciate the perilous consequences of a rapacious Islam - not only for its non-Muslim prey, but for those who embrace the faith as well. The Islamist revolution has already begun to consume its own. Al-Qaida's first and primary target: the Saudi monarchy itself.

SO THERE can be no deprecating the ecumenical importance of King Abdullah having invited Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist figures to Madrid - not really for a dialogue, but to listen to a series of presentations. Plainly, the king was making an effort, after a fashion, to connect Islam to other religions and make Saudi Arabia less insular.

The king set the stage for his ecumenical foray in June by gathering Sunni and Shi'ite leaders in Mecca - no small feat given the depth of religious closed-mindedness within Saudi Arabia, a country where Salafism, the extreme version of reactionary Wahhabism, rules.

That Abdullah, the Custodian of Mecca and Medina, decided to dialogue with Shi'ites, Sufis and Ismailis on religious matters did not receive wholehearted endorsement from the country's clerical establishment. This is, after all, a society where religious, political and economic discrimination against non-believers is enshrined as a societal norm. Only by grasping the intolerance of the milieu in which the king operates can the relative boldness of his intra- and interreligious efforts be evaluated.

Abdullah is undeniably a maverick. In November 2007, he became the first Saudi monarch to visit the Vatican and meet with the leader of the Catholic Church.

Abdullah has also taken relatively modernizing steps to reform the Saudi legal and educational systems. Analysts suggest that the real purpose of the king's ecumenical outreach might be domestic - to influence Wahhabi clerics by creating new theological facts on the ground.

THE JEWISH invitees to the Madrid "dialogue" comprised a virtual Who's Who of European and American lay and rabbinical figures involved in ecumenical work from across the Jewish spectrum. Its organizers withdrew a shameful invitation to the Neturei Karta when the faux pas was exposed.

But what to make of the organizers' refusal to invite an Israeli theologian? Even if we accept that beyond its ostensible ecumenical purpose the gathering's underlying mission was mostly reforming Islam from within, the hypocrisy of holding a religious "dialogue" while blacklisting Israelis is disappointing. And though Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee lives in Israel, the Saudis adhered to their boycott of the Jewish state by sending his invitation to the AJC's Manhattan headquarters.

CRITICS ARGUE that the event's Jewish participants, if they had to attend at all, should have taken an openly adversarial stance and denounced Saudi political and religious fanaticism. It's doubtful, however, that haranguing Muslims is the best way to convey the idea that politico-religious differences should be amicably addressed.

Rosen - who points out that many Muslims he encountered during mealtimes in Madrid had never before met a Jew, much less a rabbi - may well be right that the Madrid gathering offers a "significant opportunity that must be seized," whatever King Abdullah's motives.

Indeed, Israelis would be delighted to "seize" the next chance to participate in a Saudi-sponsored interfaith meeting. If, however, the Jewish state were again excluded, responsible Jewish representatives would want to ask themselves if future participation was warranted.

A long good-bye

Jul. 31, 2008

On Wednesday evening Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the citizens of Israel that he would resign as soon as a new Kadima Party leader was chosen in September.

It may be a long good-bye.

Chances are Olmert will stay on for weeks, possibly months, beyond the September 17 Kadima primary. He will likely wait until his successor forms a government, perhaps in October. If Kadima can't pull a coalition together, general elections will probably be scheduled for early 2009; the winner will then need time to form a government.

Olmert doesn't intend to spend the coming months in caretaker mode. Saying Israel is "closer than ever to firm understandings that can serve as a basis for agreements" on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks, he is hoping for a deal with Mahmoud Abbas and Bashar Assad.

THERE ARE two things Israel cannot afford. The first is a lengthy vacuum in the conduct of our security, political and diplomatic affairs. The second is a bad diplomatic deal that could be seen as binding on Olmert's successor.

Olmert must resist the temptation to give more than he should in bargaining, and more than he would in other circumstances in order to tie up a legacy-building accord.

But why not put diplomacy on hold until a new government is formed? Because the clock is ticking, whether we like it or not. The reason Israel is negotiating with Abbas - besides pressure from the international community - is that the status quo is untenable.

Israel needs to remain both Jewish and democratic, as well as economically, culturally and politically aligned with America and Europe. That means Jerusalem must strive continuously for an accommodation with the relative moderates among the Palestinians.

That said, it is the Palestinians who remain obdurate. They insist on an Israeli withdrawal to the untenable 1949 Armistice Lines, and show no flexibility on such key issues as Jerusalem and refugees. Abbas, moreover, may not be able to deliver a deal even if he wanted to; his polity is fragmented and he's done nothing to prepare the Palestinians for compromise - nothing to emphasize to his own people the legitimacy of the Jews' sovereign claims.

Hamas, for its part, is spinning Olmert's resignation as proof that negotiating with Israel is a waste of time. Yet it's nothing of the sort. Were Abbas cast more in the mold of an Anwar Sadat or a King Hussein, a breakthrough would be more likely. And seven years of Hamas bombardment of Israeli territory from Gaza hasn't helped matters.

EVEN AS Israel looks inward, awaiting the formation of the next government, its security and diplomatic concerns are ever more pressing. Hamas continues to hold sway in Gaza and to build up arms for the next round of fighting. Hizbullah ascendancy in Lebanese politics grows while it lays the groundwork for future aggression. Iran perseveres in bringing centrifuges on-line as it spins toward a nuclear weapon. The Syrian track demands skillful handling to ensure that no genuine opportunity for peace is missed - and no bad deal is hastily arrived at.

Across the Atlantic, George Bush's term as president expires in six months. Time flies, and we are mindful that there may be opportunities Israel can best take while this unusually empathetic president remains in power.

Whether it is talks with Abbas, managing the security situation along our northern border and with Gaza or pursuing efforts to free Gilad Schalit, the country's foreign and security predicament cannot be put on hold.

THAT IS why now more than ever, personal animosities notwithstanding, Ehud Olmert must demonstrably put country before self. It is imperative that fateful decisions whose consequences may extend far into the future be reached via leadership consensus.

Olmert must, as he has promised, coordinate with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as well as with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz in his capacity as minister in charge of strategic dialogue with the US on Iran. He should also solicit input from opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

Ehud Olmert did not have the benefit of a smooth transition when he took over from the stricken Ariel Sharon in January 2006. To the extent that he winds down his tenure in an atmosphere characterized by consultation and stability he will be doing both his legacy and the country a great service.

Where's our Jerusalem?

Jul. 230, 2008

The image of municipal workers, backed by armed Border Police, demolishing a practically new residential dwelling in east Jerusalem makes for bad publicity. It also exposes an underlying incoherence in Israel's approach to the capital's Arab neighborhoods.

On Monday, city wreckage crews came to the northeast Arab village of Beit Hanina to demolish a building, four floors of which had been built without a permit. The demolition was carried out after every legal "i" had been dotted and "t" crossed. Municipal officials argued convincingly that Arab builders had violated so many ordinances as to make this case one of the most flagrant and egregious in recent years.

The Post summed-up the story: "Palestinians and left-wing Israelis complain it is difficult for Arabs to obtain building permits in Jerusalem - forcing them to build illegally. The municipality insists it is evenhanded in enforcing building codes in all parts of the city." The truth, we suspect, lies somewhere in the middle. The number of housing demolitions in the Arab sector, city officials insist, is significantly down.

But Monday's justifiable demolition raises a far more significant issue: How can Israel claim to govern east Jerusalem when it has virtually no presence in most Arab neighborhoods - not even a post office or police station?

BEIT HANINA is situated inside the security fence and within the capital's municipal boundaries. Further to the east is the outlying Jewish neighborhood of Neveh Ya'acov.

There is no shortage of lovely homes in Beit Hanina. Residents pay taxes and receive health and social benefits that are the envy of West Bank Palestinians. Still, Beit Hanina is probably not somewhere you'd take a visitor to boast that Arabs are treated equal to Jews in Jerusalem. There is an ambiance of squalor. Many streets have no sidewalks; roadbeds are potholed; residents burn garbage in rubble-strewn lots. Conditions would be vastly improved if residents didn't boycott local elections, and gave themselves a say in the allocation of municipal resources. Still, Arab intransigence does not negate Israeli responsibilities.

In the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee on Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert essentially ruled out the chances of a "shelf agreement" with the Palestinians within the next six months. And even if some kind of "historic agreement" could be pulled out of the hat, Olmert said it would not cover Jerusalem. He then insinuated that the capital's Arab-Jewish population mix spelled trouble. "Whoever thinks it is possible to live with 270,000 Arabs in Jerusalem must take into account that there will be" more terrorist attacks.

This leaves us befuddled. The massacre at Mercaz Harav yeshiva was carried out by a resident of Jebl Mukaber, a village which abuts the Sherover, Haas and Goldman promenades in Talpiot/East Talpiot. It's also on the Israeli side of the security barrier. Is Olmert proposing to turn Jebl Mukaber over to Palestinian control? Both "bulldozer terrorists" came from the Sur Bahir area, which is mostly inside the security fence. That village (and its Umm Tuba satellite) lies next to Kibbutz Ramat Rahel and Har Homa. Does Olmert honestly think the residents of Talpiot and its environs will be better off if Sur Bahir is turned over to the Palestinians?

THIS GOVERNMENT owes it to Israelis to publicly and explicitly delineate which parts of the city the Jewish state claims. Why not tell us what Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei presumably already know?

And once it does, Arab neighborhoods that are to remain under permanent Israeli control should reap the full benefits of Jewish sovereignty - regardless of whether an agreement with the Palestinians is achieved.

This means swift implementation of the "Marshall Plan" Mayor Uri Lupolianski unveiled in November 2007. Rather than embroiling Arabs in red tape, the municipality would actively facilitate the construction of residential housing in east Jerusalem. With doubts about the limits of Israeli sovereignty dispelled, it would make sense to invest in infrastructure, classrooms and public gardens. Neighborhood "city halls" could be situated in places like Beit Hanina to streamline the processing of building permits, improve service delivery and provide ombudsman services.

However the diplomatic process plays out, the Arab and Jewish sections of Jerusalem must receive equal treatment - not to buy loyalty or affection, but as a concrete manifestation of Jewish sovereignty.

Why terror thrives
July 29, 2005

Someone set out to kill a lot of people on Sunday night in Istanbul, Turkey - and did. Two bombs were exploded, 10 minutes apart, along a pedestrian mall in a residential neighborhood. The first explosion attracted a crowd; the second, which could be heard a mile away, was intended to kill those drawn to the site of the first attack. Some 17 people lost their lives and over 150 were wounded. Turkish president Abdullah Gul said the attack showed "the ruthlessness of terrorism." Indeed it did.

Terrorism, meaning the systematic use of force against civilians to demoralize, intimidate or subjugate countries or peoples, has been a scourge of humanity from time immemorial. The assault against an El Al plane at Munich Airport on February 10, 1970 was not the first instance of a civilian airliner being targeted. That appalling distinction goes to a Puerto Rican communist who hijacked a US airliner to Havana in 1961. Cuba gave him asylum.

It was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, however, that trailblazed attacks on airliners with its September 7, 1970 hijacking of three planes "to call special attention to the Palestinian problem." Sure enough, the Palestinian cause has since became synonymous with anti-civilian warfare, from the Munich Olympics' massacre in September 1972 to the Arab fratricide inside Gaza this weekend. And the slaughter of innocents is now part of the Islamists' struggle against "infidels." What the Palestinians began in the early 1970s is now paying "dividends."

This past weekend, for instance, Muslim attackers killed 49 Hindu civilians in western India, in 17 separate attacks. The modus operandi, as in Turkey, was a small explosion followed by more bombs set off to kill rescue service personnel and bystanders.

Yesterday, at least 25 Shi'ite pilgrims were killed and 52 wounded when female suicide bombers (presumably Sunni Arabs) attacked a religious procession in Baghdad.

Terrorism is now so ubiquitous as to be unremarkable. And always, obscenely, the onslaughts are carried out "in the name of Allah."

TRAGICALLY, the international community has only itself to blame for making terrorism permissible as a tool of war - depending on who is blown up, and who is doing the blowing up.

This distinction was first articulated by the world's most coddled terrorist, Yasser Arafat, on November 13, 1974, when the PLO chief made his debut appearance at the UN General Assembly: "The difference between the revolutionary and the terrorist lies in the reason for which each fights," he asserted. "Whoever stands by a just cause and fights for liberation from invaders and colonialists cannot be called terrorist... The Palestinian people had to resort to armed struggle when they lost faith in the international community...." The family of nations responded with a standing ovation.

Although Arafat would make a number of tactical flip-flops on the use of violence against innocent civilians, he ultimately rejected gains he could have made at the negotiating table - at Camp David in 2000, for instance - in favor of unleashing the second intifada.

One can only fantasize about how much safer the world would be today had the UN, instead of legitimizing Arafat's terrorism, charged him with war crimes. Would disgruntled Muslims have established al-Qaida's global network - or Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Al Shabaab in Somalia, or the Army of Muhammad in India - had the international community sent a different signal all those years ago? But not only did Arafat get a green light from the international community, the world has since helped nourish self-defeating Palestinian tendencies toward violence, intransigence and radicalism.

Seldom have the Palestinians been told to choose between violence and political accommodation. When the Quartet gave Hamas precisely that choice, the Palestinians stood their ground. Far from penalizing them, the world went wobbly - the most recent example of this being a UK parliamentary committee, headed by Labor MP Ann Clwyd, which wants to "dialogue" with Hamas and lift sanctions against Gaza's Islamo-fascist regime.

VIOLENCE may be endemic to mankind, yet the community of nations nevertheless managed to outlaw poison gas and criminalize genocide. Is it beyond people's capacity to, belatedly, define deliberate attacks against civilians as a crime against humanity? Wouldn't the world be a better place if terrorists found no sanctuary, no financial backing and no diplomatic cover - because, simply, no "reason" justified their actions?

Obama's whirlwind visit
July 25, 2008

Barack Obama might have looked exhaustedly around this morning and said, "If it's Friday, this must be Paris."

The freshman senator from Illinois and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate is on a week-long international tour to bolster his foreign policy credentials. It has already taken him to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Germany and France. It winds up tomorrow in Britain.

Obama is immensely popular outside the US. A recent Pew Global survey found that if French voters could decide the outcome of the elections, he would trounce the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, 84-33 percent. By contrast, Israelis would favor McCain over Obama 36-27 percent.

In America, where it matters, Obama leads McCain by about 5 percentage points. Roughly 65% of US Jews say they plan to vote for him.

Most US voters don't much know or care about the candidates' foreign policy stances. They care about the economy and are more interested in news about forest fires in California than Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. With a Republican administration taking baby steps toward a diplomatic dialogue with Teheran, and Obama "refining" his commitment to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months of his election, it's mostly policy wonks focusing on the international issues that divide the candidates.

It was obligatory for Obama to demonstrate that he can operate confidently on the world stage, but - barring dramatic developments between now and November - Campaign 2008 will not be decided on foreign policy.

WE ISRAELIS sometimes allow ourselves to imagine that a candidate's stance regarding Israel's security influences presidential elections. That's because who will next sit in the White House matters greatly to us. Thus, from the moment he arrived late on Tuesday night until his departure early Thursday morning, Obama's words and actions were minutely scrutinized.

He graciously granted this newspaper an interview, in which he made clear his awareness that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose an existential threat to Israel, destabilize the region and undermine America's global interests.

On the question of the fate of Jerusalem, though, he was confusing. He wants Jerusalem to be Israel's capital and he wants the parties to work things out for themselves.

That led us to ask where he stood on borders. All US administrations since 1967 have pushed Israel to trade land for peace and opposed Jewish settlement in the West Bank. However, on April 14, 2004, President George W. Bush wrote to prime minister Ariel Sharon: "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the Armistice Lines of 1949..."

We asked Obama whether he too could live with the "67-plus" paradigm. His response: "Israel may seek '67-plus' and justify it in terms of the buffer that they need for security purposes. They've got to consider whether getting that buffer is worth the antagonism of the other party."

Without that "buffer," the strategic ridges of the West Bank that overlook metropolitan Tel Aviv and the country's main airport would be in Palestinian hands. Eighteen kilometers - or 11 miles - would separate "Palestine" from the Mediterranean, the narrow, vulnerable coastal strip along which much of Israel's population lives.

While Obama promises to dedicate himself, from the "first minute" of his presidency, to solving the conflict, his apparent sanguinity over an Israel shrunk into the 1949 Armistice Lines is troubling. Half the Palestinian polity is today in the clutches of the Islamist rejectionists in Gaza. If the IDF precipitously withdrew, the other half, ruled by the "moderate" Ramallah-based leadership, would quickly fall under Islamist control. And that is something no American president would desire.

Obama's position on territorial compromise, in part, may be a consequence of Israel's abiding inability to achieve a consensual position regarding those areas of Judea and Samaria it feels must be retained under any peace accord, and then to assiduously explain that position internationally.

But he sounded surprisingly definitive in his outlook on this immensely sensitive issue - more so, indeed, than did McCain when we interviewed him in March - even though he was making only his second visit to Israel. He owes it to Israelis and Palestinians - and to himself - to return here for a deeper look.

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