Friday, December 26, 2008

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

Dear Readers,

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

Stay warm.

Stop Hamas. Free Gilad Schalit

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

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

We ask: What took so long?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Christmas 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Assad-Olmert 'dialogue'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epic scandal

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

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

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

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

It is the most awful philanthropic scandal in history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

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

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

Clueless on Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Human rights & wrongs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Whose Likud?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

Playing with Fire in Hebron, Feiglin, Obama, Hamas

December 1 through December 5

Playing with fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let Feiglin be Feiglin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Team Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Teflon terrorists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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