Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LAND DAY & Israel's Arab Citizens

Tuesday - Land Day at 33

If only the Arab-Israel conflict was about land - and nothing else - it might have been solved by now. Still, there's no denying that land is part of what's at stake.

Yesterday Arab members of Knesset absented themselves from the swearing-in ceremony of new Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, in order to attend demonstrations marking the 33rd anniversary of Land Day. This year's theme: promoting a global boycott of Israel.

Some Arab advocates assert that a Jewish state within any boundaries is "theft." The Alternative Information Center, bankrolled by Catholic leftists, Spain's Catalan regional government and Ireland, marked Land Day by asserting that Palestinians first "lost" most of their land with Israel's creation, and that "ethnic cleansing" has only proceeded apace.

The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, which reflects such voices as Hanan Ashrawi and Rashid Khalidi and gets money from the British Council and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, claims that Land Day "commemorates the bloody killing of six Palestinians in the Galilee on March 30, 1976 by Israeli troops during peaceful protests over the confiscation of Palestinian lands."

Actually, the six were citizens of Israel; the "protests" were riots, and the land was not "Palestinian." Telling the truth about Land Day does not diminish the sorrow over what happened, but it does put the tragedy in perspective.

WHAT became Land Day was intended by the Communist Party - once a powerful force among local Arabs - and the Palestine Liberation Organization to be a general strike protesting "land confiscations." The mainstream Arab leadership, which in those days included Knesset members and village elders, opposed strikes as unnecessarily polarizing. Had secret balloting among the Arab local councils been permitted, they probably would have defeated the strike proposal.

The radicalization of Israel's Arab sector was an unintended consequence of the free flow of people and ideas between the West Bank and Israel proper after 1967. The strike was but a violent manifestation of this developing militancy, and Land Day a convenient excuse to protest.

For at stake was 20,000 dunams of Galilee land: 6,320 Arab and 13,780 either Jewish-owned or state property. Any land taken by the government would have been fairly compensated for with cash or alternative plots. Indeed, moderate Arab leaders had begun consultations about how the money would be spent.

The radicals chose March 30 because it coincided with a vote on a resolution in the UN Security Council by Libya and Pakistan, denouncing Israel. The PLO organized violence in the West Bank, arranged for the mayor of Hebron to "resign" in protest of Israel's presence there, and stage-managed a march from Amman to the Allenby Bridge in solidarity with the general strike.

On the eve of the strike, 400 Arab youths, ignoring pleas from their elders, blocked traffic at a key Galilee crossroads and attacked police who had arrived to restore order. Arab business owners, Christians especially, were browbeaten into striking.

Next day, predictably, fierce riots erupted. Police and soldiers found themselves facing thousands upon thousands of enraged Arabs armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails. In one incident, an army vehicle was firebombed and overturned and its occupants set upon by the mob. To save themselves from being lynched, the soldiers opened fire. It would later be portrayed as an "overreaction."

All told, six young rioters were killed and 70 injured in the widespread, coordinated civil insurrection. The police suffered 50 casualties.

SINCE THEN, lamentably, attitudes between Jewish and Muslim Arab citizens have only hardened. The Arabs claim, with justification, that they face prejudice in employment and in the allotment of land for construction. The Jews retort that this discrimination is partly a consequence of the Arab refusal to do national service; and of allowing their leaders to align the community with Israel's most implacable enemies. Jews pay attention when Arabs denounce the "judaization" of the Galilee, interpreting this as a rejection of Jewish rights on both sides of the Green Line.

With sovereignty comes responsibility for the state. With citizenship come responsibilities for the individual. Israel's Arabs need to accept more of the responsibilities of citizenship, and the state needs to deliver more of its benefits. The sooner it happens, the better - for all concerned.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Don't leave everything to America

Monday - Obama & Afghanistan

Thousands have been marching in London over the weekend for "jobs, justice and climate." The protests are aimed at the Group of 20 Summit which takes place April 2, bringing together countries that control 85 percent of the world's economy.

Equally fateful are two other gatherings on the continent this week. Tomorrow, a one-day UN-sponsored conference at The Hague grapples with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and delegates from more than 80 countries - Iran included - will attend.

Then, on April 3-4, President Barack Obama travels from the G-20 to NATO meetings in France and Germany, where he will gently cajole the alliance into doing more in Afghanistan.

It's unlikely the Iranians will start behaving responsibly as an outcome of The Hague conference. They help arm and train the Taliban - not because the Shi'ite mullahs want to see Afghanistan solidify as a bastion of Sunni fanaticism, but because, as Robert D. Kaplan argues in the current Atlantic magazine, "they want to keep Afghanistan weak, and to bleed the Americans as much as they can."

Plainly, the West must not allow Iran to leverage its bad behavior in Afghanistan in order to gain concessions for even more troubling behavior on the nuclear weapons issue. But Iran's attendance is a sideshow.

The more urgent issue is whether NATO is prepared to devote the resources necessary to make Afghanistan inhospitable as a base for international terrorism, or whether it will continue to leave most of the fighting burden to an over-stretched Washington.

ON FRIDAY, the president unveiled a new, integrated strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan intended to address both counter-insurgency and societal development. "The situation is increasingly perilous," Obama told the American people. "It has been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan."

He reminded Americans that "al-Qaida and its allies - the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks - are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al-Qaida is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan." America's goal is "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan..."

The administration is sending 17,000 more troops to the Afghan theater, starting with 4,000 trainers. Thousands more US service personnel may follow. In addition, Congress is being asked to appropriate $1.5 billion per year for five years in development aid to Afghanistan-Pakistan.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan, a fractious polity if ever there was one, is integral to solving the Afghanistan conundrum. Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency helped establish the Taliban, and continues to abet them.

Pakistan's own Taliban are divided into three factions. Now, Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Afghan Taliban chief who first gave Osama bin Laden refuge prior to 9/11, has urged his ethnic Pashtun compatriots across the border to stop fighting each other, ease up on their battle against the nominally pro-Western central government in Islamabad, and focus instead on defeating America in Afghanistan.

For their part, the Americans want to drive a wedge, using jobs and other incentives, between the more implacable, fanatic Taliban and those whose goals are comparatively limited and whose grievances are addressable.

Most Taliban supporters, counter-insurgency experts surmise, are not Omar's natural allies. Politics aside, all factions, including those aligned with the pro-Western president, Hamid Karzai, live off the lucrative heroin and opium trade. Competing with the seductive allure of religious fanaticism, violence and drugs won't be easy.

THOUSANDS of soldiers from NATO and allied countries are now stationed in Afghanistan. But only a tiny fraction of them are in fighting units. Most operate under national guidelines which make it impossible for them to take the offensive (though, tragically, many have lost their lives to roadside bombs and ambushes). They are deployed mostly in training and support roles; some almost never leave their bases. Germany, for instance, has heavily invested in the - so far fruitless - training of Afghanistan's ineffectual police.

The time has come for the multinational, anti-Islamist alliance to carry a full share of the combat burden necessary to defeat - finally - Mullah Omar and Bin Laden. America shouldn't have to bear the brunt.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fork in the road

Friday - The Wonks' way

If you follow the trail of arms from Iran - through Somalia, Sudan and Egypt to the Gaza Strip - you come to a fork in the road. One direction leads to the conclusion that Teheran's smuggling of weapons to Hamas for its fight against Israel is but a facet of the greater Islamist confrontation with Western civilization; the other to the determination that there is no war of civilizations, and that Iran and Hamas are ripe for inclusion in the international community.

YESTERDAY, CBS News reported that in January, Israeli aircraft bombed an Iranian arms convoy in Sudan bound for Hamas during Operation Cast Lead. The attack took place northwest of Port Sudan. All the casualties were Sudanese, Eritreans and Ethiopians and all the trucks were destroyed. They were presumably thought to be carrying rockets that would extend Hamas's range to Tel Aviv, making the mission worth the risk.

• The arms start off in Iran, which sees itself at war with Israel on every continent, using all available means and proxies. Teheran orchestrated the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992, and the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center in 1994. Iranian instructors taught Hizbullah the art of truck-bombing, which claimed hundreds of Israeli lives in Lebanon.

The mullahs began courting Hamas in 1990, once they had determined that destroying Israel trumped any theological differences with the Sunni jihadists.

Today, Iran is heavily invested in Hamas - financially, diplomatically, militarily and politically.

• The weapons move to Somalia, a failed state and humanitarian basket case controlled by warlords who seek to surmount clan differences with radical Islam. Youthful Shabab extremists are their shock troops. The goal is a world caliphate, but for now they'd settle for Wahhabi control of Somalia. A moderate Islamist president sitting in Mogadishu is too weak to exert power; Muslim pirates rule the coastal waters.

• The next port of call: Sudan. Once Osama bin Laden's headquarters, Sudan is notorious for its genocide against non-Arabs in Darfur. The country has close ties with Iran, whose Revolutionary Guards are training its reconstituted army.

On March 4, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Since then al-Bashir has been to Cairo - twice - to strategize with President Hosni Mubarak. And he means to attend next week's Arab League Summit in Qatar. Beyond the backing he has in the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African Union, Bashir's support is being spearheaded by Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Islamic Jihad. Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, called the arrest warrant an "insult directed at Muslims."

• Next port of call - Egypt. Every bullet shipped to Gaza by Iran traverses Egypt, either overland or via the Port of Damietta in a journey coordinated by Hamas in Damascus and Iran's Revolutionary Guard. By the time the shipments arrive at the smugglers' tunnels connecting the Sinai to Gaza, innumerable hands have facilitated them, and innumerable eyes looked the other way.

AMERICAN policy wonks who argue that Iran and Hamas are ripe for inclusion in the international community see taking that direction as "pragmatic." They've unearthed Hamas's "moderate" wing - and it's "open to compromise."

Not, granted, on the core issues of terrorism, honoring previous Palestinian commitments and Israel's right to exist. But Hamas would agree to a lengthy cease-fire. And it might allow Mahmoud Abbas to front for them. Further, say the wonks, with Hamas standing over his shoulder - who knows, Abbas might negotiate a peace deal! It would be brought to a Palestinian referendum, and Hamas would abide by the results.

But none of this will happen, the wonks warn, if the West remains hung up on what Hamas says it will do to Israel.

Similarly, when the US sits down Tuesday at The Hague, with Iran, to discuss Afghanistan, the wonks will likely argue that Teheran's attendance signals its underlying pragmatism - and that this pragmatism could be torpedoed by obsessing over Iranian threats to destroy Israel.

If the new Obama administration takes the easy road counseled by these wonks, willfully ignoring the implacable nature of Islamist extremism, it will have embarked on a journey of disastrous self-delusion.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Israel has a government, finally

Thursday - Thank you, Ehud Barak

If Israel's 2008 campaign had been waged on the basis of whose slogan was closest to the truth, Labor's Ehud Barak would easily have captured a plurality of the Knesset - and not a miserable 13 seats. For his campaign accurately presented him as not "nice" or "likable" or "trendy," but the leader you turn to "at the moment of truth."

On Tuesday, Barak delivered. He persuaded party activists - 680 to 507 - to endorse the deal he had initialed earlier with Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu to bring Labor into the government.

Now, with parliamentary backing from Israel Beiteinu (15 seats), Shas (11) and Labor (13), and the likelihood that United Torah Judaism (5) will eventually shore up the government, Netanyahu has more than enough support in the 120-member Knesset to present his government next week.

FOLLOWING Labor's dismal performance in the February 10 elections, party leaders, with Barak in the forefront, argued that Labor needed to stay out of the new government and focus on rehabilitating itself in opposition - though who's to say the party would not have dissolved there, its members melting into Kadima or Meretz?

Partly for demographic and sociological reasons, Labor, once the country's vanguard party, has steadily lost its identity, and its constituency. Repeatedly serving as a junior partner in someone else's government, its mission became blurred.

Barak may indeed have a Napoleon complex. And it is easy for a jaded public to be cynical about the zigzagging leader's motivations. What matters at this stage, however, is that his joining the government is good for Israel.

At home, thanks to the strong support of Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Ofer Eini, Labor's participation gives voice, at least nominally, to working people at a time of unprecedented economic dislocation. Abroad, it dramatically improves how the country is perceived in Washington and Europe, and partially ameliorates Netanyahu's injudicious, if unavoidable, appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister.

When Kadima rejected joining forces with Likud because Netanyahu would not agree to a power-sharing rotation government, he was forced to cobble together a parliamentary coalition that was unpalatable, both in terms of internal cohesion and external appearance. It would have consisted of Shas, Israel Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi (which garnered less than three percent of the popular vote), the National Union (just over three percent) and United Torah Judaism (four percent).

Clearly, such a government could neither have represented the will of Israel's body politic within government nor, beyond our shores, the country's true ethos.

Barak is picking up Livni's slack. Whatever his impetus, he is right that Israelis have no "spare" country to play politics with while economic, diplomatic and security crises of immense proportions loom.

For all his quirks, Barak is known abroad as a tough man who knows how to compromise. When he says he won't be a "fig-leaf" for Israeli foot-dragging if the Palestinians start singing a different tune, world leaders will be inclined to believe him.

WE WERE struck by a particularly tendentious "question" posed to President Barack Obama in his Tuesday primetime news conference, primarily devoted to domestic issues. It offers insight into what Israel is up against.

Stefan Collison of Agence France-Presse: "Mr. President, you came to office pledging to work for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. How realistic do you think those hopes are now, given the likelihood of a prime minister who is not fully signed up to a two-state solution and a foreign minister who has been accused of insulting Arabs?"

Obama answered, reasonably, that "We don't yet know what the Israeli government is going to look like, and we don't yet know what the future shape of Palestinian leadership is going to be comprised of." But he would keep trying to bring the sides closer, he said.

Israel's adversaries want the focus to be on the "occupation" and, now, the new government's supposed rejection of a two-state solution.

It would have been far better to have Livni in the government telling the world about everything she and Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians, that they rejected. But Barak's joining is the next best thing.

Now, maybe, some of the spotlight will shift to where it belongs - on Palestinian intransigence.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


30 years at peace

There was something melancholy about our story this week that Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Yasser Reda would be marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries by not boycotting a Jerusalem conference and reception today. This wasn't the way Israelis imagined peace would look three decades after president Anwar Sadat's historic journey to Jerusalem.\

Egypt's Foreign Ministry marked the lead-up to the anniversary with a
strong condemnation of Israel's refusal to allow the Palestinian Authority to conduct a "cultural festival" within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries - including a march on the Temple Mount, complete with PLO flags. The PA knows that Israeli law prohibits it from operating in Jerusalem, which is precisely why it organized the illegal demonstration - to hammer home its claims of sovereignty.

Regrettably Egypt used this PA provocation to denounce Israel's "continuous efforts to judaize Jerusalem," warning that Israel won't be able to "suppress" Palestinian demands for a capital in east Jerusalem. Curiously, Cairo did not reference Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's reported plan to hand over the Arab neighborhoods of the city to a future "Palestine," nor PA President Mahmoud Abbas's rejection of the offer as insufficient.

Israel's Foreign Ministry, in contrast, marked the anniversary by issuing a warm statement recalling Sadat's visit and his Knesset address. It highlighted the various spheres of Egyptian-Israeli cooperation and noted that bilateral trade climbed to $271 million in 2008.

CLEARLY, Israelis and Egyptians think differently about how the relationship should be anchored. Somewhat naively, perhaps, Israelis would have it grounded in how the two states relate to each other, while Egyptians - starting with Sadat - have made it abundantly clear that the depth and scope of ties are contingent on Israel's standing in the Arab world, and particularly on its relationship with the Palestinians.

And yet, paradoxically, Egypt has been ambivalent about Israel integrating too well into the region, according to Dr. Ehud Eilam of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Other observers note that Egypt has more often undermined than fostered Israel's quest for improved relations with the Palestinians, Jordanians and Gulf Arabs. Egyptian diplomats have also worked to isolate Israel in Europe.

The good news, says Eilam, is that the relationship has survived a series of crises - from Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights and the preemptive attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, through several Lebanon conflicts, two intifadas and the latest Gaza fighting.

"The main achievement of the treaty," he says, "is the survival of the treaty itself - and that our rivalry does not play out on the battlefield."

Former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir put it this way in his memoirs: "That which moved Sadat, which fired him and induced him to risk not only his life but also Egypt's standing in the Arab world, that promise of 'no more war,' the words he repeated so often in the brief remainder of his life - that has survived; and so his efforts were not in vain, not for Israel and certainly not for Egypt."


WE HESITATE to speculate on where the Egypt-Israel relationship will be 30 years from now. Israelis will watch how President Hosni Mubarak prepares for a smooth transition in 2011, when he will presumably retire. Egypt's domestic stability is one of Israel's most important strategic concerns. Much also depends on institution-building and political development in Egypt and among the Palestinian Arabs.

Unfortunately, the Mubarak regime has been delinquent in socializing either the elites or masses to the idea that peace with Israel is anything more than a bitter necessity. Consequently, Egypt's political culture vilifies Israel. A sympathetic telling of our narrative (why we fought in Gaza, for instance) in the Egyptian media is practically unheard of. No wonder, then, that 92 percent of Egyptians say Israel is their enemy.

The cold peace calibrated by Mubarak has been tolerable, if disappointing. But the notion that a successor regime which "knew not Sadat" might one day field Egypt's colossal and lavishly modernized military against the Jewish state cannot be ruled out.

For an enduring peace, it is imperative, therefore, that Mubarak use the remaining years of his tenure to reconceptualize and rebrand Egypt's attitude toward Israel. A first state visit would be a good starting point.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama & Iran

Tuesday - Children of Adam

Does the name Muhammad Qalibaf ring a bell? He is the mayor of Teheran and may be tapped by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president.

Qalibaf's selection could signal that the ayatollah wants a change of tone in his country's foreign relations. If that happens, or if by some fluke Mehdi Karroubi or Mir Hosein Mousavi - both former high-ranking officials - wind up capturing the presidency following first-round elections scheduled for June 12, we will be witnessing Khamenei's considered response to President Barack Obama's March 20 overture for improved relations.

On the occasion of the Persian New Year, Obama told the people of Iran and its leaders: "The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right - but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms…."

The president proffered "a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce. It's a future where the old divisions are overcome…."

Before wishing Iranians Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak he said, "There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: 'The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.'"

Khamenei's instant retort before the multitudes in Mashad: "You change [and] our behavior will change. They say, 'We have extended a hand toward Iran.' What kind of hand is this? If the extended hand is covered with a velvet glove but underneath it the hand is made of cast-iron, this does not have a good meaning at all.

"They are talking of extending a hand to Iran on the occasion of the New Year... At the same time, they are accusing Iran of terrorism and manufacturing nuclear weapons. We ask: Have you lifted the unjust sanctions against the Iranian people and returned [Iranian] assets you hold? Have you ended your absolute support for the Zionist regime?"

Khamenei concluded on a conciliatory note: "We have no experience of this new president... We will wait and see. If you change your attitude, we will change, too. If you do not change, then our nation will build on its experience of the past 30 years."

The most likely "change," in a world in which Obama has emerged as a formidable rhetorical adversary, would be to replace the coarse, populist Ahmadinejad with the more personable Qalibaf.

IF THAT happens, Westerners of the "Walter Duranty School of International Relations," those who promote the notion that Iran's regime is essentially pragmatic and that it is "Israeli bellicosity" which needs reining in, will appear ever more convincing. Duranty was the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who sought to convince Americans during the 1930s that Stalin's Soviet Union was essentially pragmatic and downplayed the regime's genocidal crimes.

Today's Durantyites argue that Obama's New Year speech contained warmed-over Bush administration accusations about Iran supporting terrorism and secretly working on nuclear weapons. They insist that Iran is no rogue state; that it treats its Jews with kid gloves; that its support for Hizbullah and Hamas is legitimate because, if presented with incentives, these "resistance groups" will quickly go mainstream; and that, finally, all the excited talk about the Iranian nuclear weapons is groundless.

But even Western "realists" who reject Durantyite appeasement talk paternalistically about coaxing Iran into behaving more responsibly. They intuit that Iran's "true interest" lies in improved relations with the civilized world. It's only the mullahs' "well-grounded mistrust" of the West makes them exceedingly cautious.

WERE THE stakes not so high, America's astute president, having inherited a calamitous economy, two wars and much else, could be forgiven for seeking to avoid confrontation with Iran - even if he rejects the apologists' line outright and thinks the realists are, well, unrealistic.

In his heart of hearts, Obama surely knows that Khamenei's "price" for good relations is America's total capitulation to Persian imperial designs.

To point this out is not to beat the drums of war, but to appeal for American clear-sightedness.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Israeli soldiers in Gaza

Monday - Purity of arms

Had the car containing 40 kilograms of explosives detonated shortly after 9:20 p.m. Saturday at the outdoor car park adjacent to Haifa's Lev Hamifratz mall, the death toll would have been shockingly high - the equivalent, the bomb squad said, of seven or eight suicide bombers. Fortunately, the device malfunctioned and was discovered before Palestinian terrorists could turn a night at the mall into a murder-filled nightmare.

The incident reminds us Israelis of what we are up against: an enemy whose main modus operandi is anti-civilian warfare, necessitating that we guard everything from schools and supermarkets to cinemas and hospitals.

Many observers are fascinated by how a largely tolerant Western society, the epicenter of Jewish civilization, manages to function in an environment of relentless belligerency. When those outsiders combine empathy with insight, they tend to judge Israel as a work-in-progress worthy of encouragement despite its multitude of imperfections.

But starry-eyed idealists - at home and abroad - hold Israel to a different standard: Do we conduct ourselves 24/7 as paragons of virtue unhindered by the character flaws that burden ordinary mortals? And when - surprise, surprise - we fall short of this yardstick, they denigrate us as being no better than our enemies.

HOW ELSE to evaluate the so-called testimonies of troops who served in Gaza, solicited and disseminated by Dani Zamir, founder of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College outside Haifa? They allege that due to "loose rules of engagement" several Palestinian civilians were needlessly killed during Operation Cast Lead.

In one of the two most egregious cases, an IDF sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children. A soldier in Zamir's discussion group, however, felt the sharpshooter hadn't felt "too bad about it." In the second case, a Palestinian woman described as "elderly" was shot at 100 meters as she approached an IDF position (Was she suspected of being a suicide bomber? Zamir's testimonies don't say).

These "revelations" received three consecutive days of page 1 coverage in Haaretz, and were also featured in Friday's Ma'ariv, even though Zamir was disinclined to reveal the identities of his "witnesses." And whether the men who took part in his discussion session were aware their remarks would be publish as "testimony" is unclear.

Zamir's secular young people appeared perturbed by the presence of IDF chaplains in the field, and by the esprit de corps of the religiously observant soldiers.

While the BBC gave scant coverage to the attempted attack in Haifa, it played up Zamir's claims: "Israel troops admit Gaza abuses... including cold-blooded murder."

The International Herald Tribune led its Friday paper with "Grim testimony on Israeli assault: Soldiers report killing of unarmed civilians in Gaza." And London's matchless Independent splashed its entire front page with "Israel's dirty secrets in Gaza."

AS Post diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon noted in the Friday paper - alongside our own coverage of the allegations - Zamir is a man with an agenda. He was sentenced to 28 days in a military lock-up for refusing to protect West Bank settlers. Should the Kibbutz Movement deem him a worthy exemplar to prepare its youngsters for induction into the IDF?

Zamir's "witnesses" see themselves as virtuous upholders of liberal values, and the comrades-in-arms they criticize as religious fanatics, bloodthirsty and fascist.

More "revelations" are coming to light. Channel 10 unearthed a company commander who instructed his men as they were about to go into battle: "I want aggressiveness - if there's someone suspicious on the upper floor of a house, we'll shell it. If we have suspicions about a house, we'll take it down…If it is us or them, it will be them."

Gosh! How would Zamir have reacted to Gen. George S. Patton's famous line: "Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his…."

Zamir's uncorroborated claims help blur the distinction between "us and them." But we don't set out to kill innocents - and if we do, our society feels anguish. They set out to kill civilians - and when they fail, they're disappointed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bringing Hamas into the 'peace process'

Dear All,

Shabbat shalom and thanks for stopping by.


Friday - The 'wisdom' of Omar Suleiman

While top Israeli emissaries were in Cairo seeking Gilad Schalit's freedom this week, their usual interlocutor, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, was not. He was in Khartoum and Riyadh on Arab League business.

Suleiman then flew to Washington to see US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He is hoping to convince the Obama administration to abandon the conditions set in January 2006, after Hamas beat Fatah in Palestinian elections, requiring Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past PLO commitments before the international community will deal with the Islamists.

In the wake of all that's happened in the past three years, Suleiman has concluded that an ever-more entrenched Hamas needs to be accommodated if the Palestinians are to speak with one voice and function in the international arena. Several EU states already flirt with Hamas, discreetly. Russia and China do so openly.

Suleiman has come up with a work-around to overcome international insistence - or what's left of it - on what Hamas must do to join a Palestinian government. What if Hamas vaguely promises to "respect" previous PLO commitments rather than declare its outright acceptance of them? Instead of dwelling on who recognizes whom, and how, isn't it better to have Hamas and Fatah acting responsibly together?

FOR ISRAEL, however, who recognizes whom, and how, goes to the heart of the conflict - since the refusal to recognize the inalienable right of the Jewish people to self-determination anywhere between the Mediterranean and the Jordan signals Palestinian society's continuing to define our conflict in zero-sum terms. So if Suleiman's creative diplomacy ushers Hamas into a Palestinian government without it having to change its stripes, he will be undoing decades of painstaking steps Palestinians and Israelis have taken toward mutual recognition. That would put a question mark over the entire Oslo edifice, which has been preserved by successive Israeli governments.

Put differently: If the international community turns its back on the most elementary prerequisites for Palestinian-Israeli cooperation - mutual recognition, non-belligerency and adherence to past agreements - it will be tearing asunder the existing basis for relations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

ISRAEL HAS long made a "nuisance" of itself trying to elicit recognition from Palestinian leaders - the only way to establish that the conflict has moved onto a non-zero sum basis. And that recognition seemed forthcoming.

On December 7, 1988 Yasser Arafat declared in Stockholm: "The PNC accepted two states, a Palestinian state and a Jewish state, Israel. Is that clear enough?" And leading up to the September 1993 Oslo Accords, Fatah's central committee and the PLO's executive committee endorsed the deal in which the Palestinians recognized Israel.

Yet the extent to which Israelis may have been deluding themselves was blatantly exposed this week, when Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan declared on Palestinian television: "I want to say for the thousandth time, in my own name and in the name of all of my fellow members of the Fatah movement: We do not demand that the Hamas movement recognize Israel. On the contrary, we demand of Hamas not to recognize Israel, because Fatah does not recognize Israel even today."

Actually, Palestinian moderates have been making this point time and again.

On October 3, 2006, Mahmoud Abbas told Al-Arabiya TV that he didn't expect Fatah, let alone Hamas, to recognize Israel. But a Palestinian government, qua government, had no choice but to "function opposite the Israelis on a daily basis," and it could hardly do so if its ministers didn't "recognize" their Israeli counterparts.

Thus Palestinian "moderates" have had no change of heart about Israel: It's just that Israel has leverage over the day-to-day lives of millions of Palestinians, who are also dependent on international hand-outs and diplomatic support. Realpolitik forces their governing authority - but not them - to "recognize" Israel. In other words, if one has cancer, la sama'ha Allah, doesn't one "recognize" that fact and seek palliatives pending a cure?

Israel's failure to insist that Fatah adhere to its commitments hasn't brought peace any closer, but blurred the distinction between moderates and extremists.

We're not sure which is more disheartening - Suleiman endeavoring to cover up Hamas rejectionism, or Fatah reveling in its own.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tzipi Livni & Bibi Netanyahu

Wednesday - Livni's moment

Netanyahu does not believe in the peace process and is a prisoner of the Right's worldview.
- Tzipi Livni

The ideological divide between Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and Likud chief Binyamin Netanyahu can be bridged by a strong set of toothpicks. And yet Livni claims that she cannot become Netanyahu's vice premier and foreign minister because they disagree over the two-state solution. This unhelpfully reinforces the misperception, mostly among foreign critics, that Israel is primarily responsible for blocking the emergence of a Palestinian state.

The truth is that Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been energetically negotiating with Palestinian leaders to achieve just such an outcome. They offered significant and far-reaching concessions - to no avail.

Netanyahu is not keen on a Palestinian state (though it's a stretch to claim he opposes it) for precisely the reasons Olmert and Livni have failed to achieve one: The Palestinians won't compromise on borders; they insist on flooding Israel with millions of "refugees," and the nature of the sovereignty they seek poses an existential danger to Israel's survivability.

The Likud may be center-Right and Kadima center-Left, yet the argument that either leader would have to make a huge ideological leap to collaborate with the other is simply not credible.

It might be helpful if Netanyahu announced that the two-state solution is in harmony with his ultimate diplomatic vision of peace. But as things stand today, Netanyahu correctly points out, a fully sovereign "Palestine" in which the West Bank and Gaza are contiguous is just too dangerous a prospect to contemplate. Nor is it practical given the chasms within the Palestinian polity itself, and the fragility of Palestinian political institutions.

LAST WEEK, after hearing the disconcerting demands of the National Union's Ya'akov Katz, Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu rushed to see Livni and her husband, Naftali Shpitzer, at their Tel Aviv home. But by Monday, with Livni still refusing to join his government, Netanyahu initialed a coalition deal with Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman which, nevertheless, allows for flexibility over the distribution of portfolios should the Kadima leader change her mind.

Meanwhile, the Likud's coalition negotiations with Shas, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union drag on. Netanyahu is asking President Shimon Peres for a two-week extension to a put a government together. He's also asked Peres to persuade Livni to join it.

Her insistence on a rotation government suggests that Livni is not genuinely interested in a collaboration. She well knows that such an arrangement is unacceptable to Netanyahu, and that it worked poorly when Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir tried it in the 1980s.

She may simply not want to be Netanyahu's Number 2, having seen how limited her influence was in that role under Olmert.

Frankly, her refusal to play a senior role in Netanyahu's cabinet may make political sense. She gets to spend the next year and a half as leader of the opposition, as an "advocate of peace," and as a "voice against extremism." She's betting, too, on early elections and a more favorable outcome to finally catapult her to the number-one job.

SO THE only reasons Livni could possibly have for putting her own aspirations on the back burner to join forces with Netanyahu would be that most Israelis want her to, and that it would be good for the country. Kadima's 28 seats and Israel Beiteinu's 15, together with the Likud's 27 would make for a comfortable 70 mandates. So stable a government could work for urgently needed electoral reform, navigate the economy through the global recession and limit wasteful patronage.

It could develop coherent consensus positions on how to deal with the Iranian threat, Hamas's stranglehold on Gaza, and the Hizbullah menace from Lebanon.

On the diplomatic front, a Likud-Kadima-Israel Beiteinu government could finally articulate Israel's "red lines" with regard to the Palestinians. And with Livni back as foreign minister, the Obama administration, and our allies in the EU, would feel reassured that pragmatism, and not extremism, informs Israeli policies. Finally, the Arabs couldn't use the alibi of Israel's "extreme-right government" for their continued intransigence.

With time running out, Livni can yet demonstrate that she is not only popular at the polls, but can make statesmanlike sacrifices for the good of the country.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What would Kafka do?

Tuesday - Two funerals & a prisoner exchange

Both Jewish law and rational analysis should instruct Israel's cabinet to conclude that this country must under no circumstances release hundreds upon hundreds of murderous Palestinian prisoners as ransom for our captive soldier Gilad Schalit.

Yet, just as soft-hearted Diaspora sages of old tended to interpret Halacha creatively to enable ransoms to be paid when, prima facie, religious strictures demanded the opposite, so too, contemporary Israeli politicians, generals and spymasters are leaning toward jettisoning the no-nonsense strictures of security in order to reunite Noam and Aviva Schalit with their son Gilad.

NO PARENT of a soldier, or of a child about to enter the army, would find fault with how the Schalit family has mobilized public support for the unconditional release of over 1,000 prisoners, including the most dangerous killers incarcerated in Israel's maximum security penitentiaries, in return for their son. The Schalits have a right - nay, an obligation - to put Gilad first. Few of us can truly feel their anguish, even as Hamas refuses to confirm that their son is alive.

His torments are the last, upsetting thoughts they have before each night of fitful sleep; and they are surely the thoughts with which they arise to face yet another day of pain and uncertainty.

Gilad's parents are admirably fulfilling their role as his truest advocates. We cannot say, however, that our politicians, generals and spymasters are performing their fiduciary responsibilities equally.

The Schalits have every right to allow emotion to govern their actions. But those charged with protecting the national interest must be guided by other considerations.

AS THE cabinet meets today, the hunt is on for the Palestinians who shot dead at close range two traffic policemen Sunday night near Maswa in the Jordan Valley. David Rabinowitz, 42, and Yehezkel Ramzarker, 50, apparently stopped their patrol vehicle to assist what they thought was a motorist in distress.

Writing - before Sunday's attack - in support of an unconditional surrender to Hamas's prisoner-exchange demands, A.B. Yehoshua appealed "to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones in the terror attacks committed by some of the prisoners who may be released: Don't think only of revenge, think rather of the future of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, which will last forever."

One might expect the Ramzarker and Rabinowitz families, as they sit shiva, to be dwelling not on revenge but on this Kafkaesque scenario: that the yet-to-be-captured killers of their loved ones will one day be released in some future, lopsided prisoner exchange.

MOST OF the men and women Hamas wants freed may not kill again directly; but these masters of the craft will mentor and inspire the next generation that will menace café-goers, bus riders, children in pizza shops, teens at Tel Aviv discos, participants in hotel Seders and motorists driving down lonely roads at night.

Untold numbers of Israeli high-schoolers yet to be conscripted may one day be called upon to undo the damage caused by the "Gilad Schalit prisoner release of 2009" - to seek out the terror chiefs again, and protect us against their evil - just as their older classmates have had to stand ready to reverse the damage of every previous asymmetrical trade, from the Jibril deal in 1985 to the Regev and Goldwasser exchange in 2008.

Granted, the terror war against the Jewish state will continue regardless of whether Israel does a prisoner deal or not. And yet setting these incarcerated exemplars of Islamist values free would doubtless provide an immense boost to enemy morale; for, paradoxically, in Palestinian mythology shahids have a "future," while those taken alive and sentenced to rot in Israeli prisons are monuments to the futility of waging war on the Zionist enterprise - provided, that is, that they are kept in those prisons, with the possibility of their release arising only when the Palestinians make real peace with the Jewish people.

WHILE THE Schalits' campaign and the Olmert-Livni government fumbles, Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's deafening silence is sending a message of acquiescence.

Yet however the Schalit dilemma pans out, Israel must, at the very least, consider declaring a new, irrevocable and sacrosanct policy: There will be no more lopsided prisoner exchanges with terrorist organizations.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ehud Olmert casts blame....

Monday -- A Sunday confession

Something extraordinary happened at yesterday's cabinet meeting. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert blamed his government's failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians on … the Palestinians.

The premier has been obsessively hammering home the message that peace requires painful concessions from Israelis. He stressed it again yesterday.

"Israel," he said, "will need to make unprecedented dramatic and painful concessions in order to reach peace …"

But he also acknowledged that an accommodation requires Palestinian concessions - concessions, he bitterly reported, that they were not prepared to make.

Olmert has been working on a deal that would require practically a total withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines. Most West Bank Jewish communities would be uprooted. Strategic settlement blocs - presumably Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, all in close proximity to the Green Line - would be annexed in return for giving the Palestinians an equal amount of land in southern Israel.

On Jerusalem, Olmert has purportedly offered to transfer to Palestinian sovereignty Arab neighborhoods that encircle Jerusalem on the east, north and south. The holy places would be administered by an international body. And a tunnel or bridge would connect the Gaza Strip and the West Bank so that "Palestine" had territorial contiguity.

Where Olmert drew a firm red line was in his demand that the Palestinians abandon the so-called right of return - meaning refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants could not "return" to Israel, only to "Palestine," so as not to demographically overwhelm the Jewish state.

With his stewardship drawing to a close, Olmert publicly declared that the failure to reach a deal was "first and foremost the result of the Palestinian leaders' weakness, lack of will and lack of courage... Everything else is excuses and attempts to divert attention from the main issue.

"We were ready to sign a peace agreement; the Palestinians, to my regret, did not have the courage to do so."

WHY SAY this now? Perhaps to ensure history does not blame Olmert for the failure of the Annapolis process.

Regrettably, Olmert also sought to commit the next government to resuming negotiations where he and Tzipi Livni left off. A smarter Israeli negotiating approach, from the get-go, would have been to caution the Palestinians that failure to reach an agreement with him might leave them having to start their talks with the incoming Netanyahu government from scratch.

But let's leave in abeyance Olmert's peculiar reticence to publicly take his interlocutors to task until now, and his attempt to hamstring his successor, and ask: Why didn't the Palestinians jump at the generous deal Olmert was offering?

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a Palestinian negotiator, responded to Olmert's cabinet statement by saying that the real reason the talks failed is that Israel did not give the Palestinians everything they demanded. Plain and simple. This may be accurate - but it also means that even the most moderate Palestinians are not prepared to make the basic compromises necessary for a breakthrough.

Many mainstream Israelis might have had a very hard time going along with Olmert's concessions. Yet the thought that relatively moderate Palestinians judge even these far-reaching compromises insufficient leaves those of us who support a two-state solution disenchanted.

There are other possible reasons, beyond the one offered by Abu Rudeineh, as to why Abbas rejected Olmert's peace offer:

• The Palestinians may not be interested in a deal if the price is giving up the "right of return" and/or leaving Israel with defensible boundaries. The implication: Even moderate Palestinians still want to destroy Israel, albeit in stages.

• Abbas never prepared his people for the idea that they, too, would have to make painful concessions for peace. Implication: Either Abbas doesn't think he can sway Palestinian opinion or he thinks accepting Israel's "existence" is concession enough.

• No deal is possible while Iran casts a shadow of rejectionism over the region, Hamas rules in Gaza and Hizbullah is ascendant in Lebanon.

• Moderate Palestinians expect the Obama administration to force Israel into making concessions even Olmert thinks are too dangerous.

Whatever the reason, the outcome - Palestinian intransigence - was all too sadly predictable.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Friday - Evil's insidious nature

Yesterday in Manhattan, United States District Judge Denny Chin accepted Bernard Madoff's guilty plea on 11 felony charges: securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, false statements, perjury, false filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and theft from an employee benefits plan. There was no plea bargain. He faces 150 years in prison.

• On Wednesday, in the southern German town of Winneden, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer went on a three-hour rampage that took him from his old high school to the center of a nearby town, leaving a trail of 15 dead, mostly women and girls. Cornered by police, Kretschmer committed suicide. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the slaughter as "incomprehensible."

• Also in Germany, prosecutors have charged retired Ohio auto worker John Demjanjuk with more than 29,000 counts of accessory to murder for his actions at the Sobibor death camp. To face justice, however, the 88-year-old will have to be extradited from US.

• "If you had met him two days ago, you would have thought he was an average 28-year-old young man," said an acquaintance of Michael McLendon, who went berserk and killed his mother and nine others in southern Alabama, just hours before Kretschmer's rampage across the ocean.

Wherever one looks, evil - in various guises - is present: From Ireland, where Catholic extremists are killing again; to Mexico, where more than 6,000 people were slaughtered last year in the drug war; to Somalia, where pirates rule the seacoast; to Equador, which is on the road to becoming a partly-owned subsidiary of Iran in return in for power plants and hundreds of millions of dollars in loans. Move on to Iraq, where a suicide bomber killed 33 tribal leaders who were on a reconciliation walk through a market.

Closer to home, an elderly Afula couple, he a cancer-ridden Holocaust survivor, she infirm, were this week viciously beaten in their apartment by robbers.

EVIL. The term must not be bandied about lightly or irresponsibly. Yet the real thing needs to be recognized and faced down, and not merely relegated to the fields of forensic psychiatry, philosophy or theology. Because evil is so insidious, it has a way of manipulating even that which is pure to serve its nefarious ends. Thus policymakers, and the informed public, need to be alert to its presence.

Take how Hamas, whose genocidal intentions toward the Jewish state make it evil, is benefiting from the pressure campaign being waged (legitimately and understandably) by the Schalit family and (less altruistically) by much of the local media and various politicians, some of them transparently self-serving. As a consequence, perhaps, Ofer Dekel, the prime minister's aide charged with negotiating Gilad's freedom, has reportedly proposed releasing 210 of the terrorists "with blood on their hands" that Hamas is demanding. As far as we know, the "worst of the worst" have not been included - yet.

Gilad's desperately anguished parents, Noam and Aviva, who have set up a protest tent near the prime minister's residence, fear that the next government's negotiating position will be less malleable than Olmert's. They and their supporters have intensified pressure on Olmert to unconditionally free each and every terrorist on Hamas's wish list. President Shimon Peres and even Aliza Olmert have given Gilad's parents succor.

Across the street, another protest tent had folded up for lack of interest.

"We came to Jerusalem to let our voices be heard," said Ron Karman, whose 17-year-old daughter, Tal, was one of 17 fatalities of the March 5, 2003 bombing of Egged bus No. 37 in Haifa. "When we were sitting shiva, the politicians made all sorts of promises. They said their doors would always be open to us. We found those doors [of politicians and the media] closed."

Karman was joined by Yossi Mandelevich, whose boy, Yuval, 13, was on the same bus; and by Yossi Zur, whose son, Asaf, 17, was also killed there. The fathers said that they opposed the release of prisoners with blood on their hands - for the sake of other people's children.

In the waning days of the Olmert government, there is a very real danger that an emotionally co-opted public will, with the purest of intentions, pressure a discredited premier to hand evil another appetite-whetting victory.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yesh Din

Wed. & Thursday - Israel's latest crime

To the ever-lengthening litany of Israeli wickedness - crimes against humanity, war crimes, occupation, genocide - add quarry pillaging. So says Yesh Din, a group of "volunteers who have organized to oppose the continuing violation of Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory." Yesh Din says that as part of its "brutal economic exploitation" of the Palestinians, Israel has been stealing their rocks.

Much of the gravel Israel quarries for marble kitchen counters and such comes from the West Bank. "This type of activity," Yesh Din asserts, "constitutes a violation of the laws of belligerent occupation [and is] pillage."

Yesh Din wants Israel's Supreme Court to enjoin companies from transporting rocks across the Green Line because, bereft of rocks, Palestinians would find it impossible to build a state. Or, in the words of the front-page headline in Sunday's International Herald Tribune: "West Bank losing land to Israel, rock by rock."

IN FACT, the West Bank is disputed: When the Palestinians rejected the two-state solution in 1948, Jordan annexed the area. In 1967, Israel repelled a Jordanian attack and captured the territory.

The 1949 Geneva Convention - the basis for claims that Israel is violating international law - applies in cases of armed conflict between signatories to the convention. While Jordan and Israel are signatories, virtually no state recognized Jordan's annexation of the West Bank. Hence the area was and remains in legal limbo.

While Israel, de facto, adheres to the humanitarian provisions of the Geneva Convention, it has a right to quarry in the contested territory. No one suggests the quarries have been illegally confiscated or are private property.

It's legitimate to call attention to the environmental impact of quarrying or the depletion of natural resources. The territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, encompassing Israel proper and the West Bank, is one integral unit. What happens in the mountainous interior affects the coastal plain, and vice versa. The New York Times recently reported that Israel is heading toward a "serious shortage of raw building materials," noting that West Bank quarries supply 25 percent of the sand and gravel we use.

Perhaps our regulatory authorities need to do a better job of monitoring the environmental impact and economic consequences of quarrying in Judea and Samaria. But these issues are not Yesh Din's primary concern.

THE GROUP, founded just four years ago, is the recipient of considerable largesse. Funds flow, legitimately, from The New Israel Fund, Oxfam, Hermod Lannungs Fund, Jacobs Charitable Trust, The Marc Rich Foundation and the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation. It is also supported by the powerful Israeli law firm of Yigal Arnon.

But it's the money Yesh Din gets from foreign governments that's troubling. The European Commission, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and the UK all want Israel out of the West Bank. We suspect they give Yesh Din money because its work helps delegitimize Israel's presence there.

Unfortunately, Israel lacks anything like America's "Foreign Agents Registration Act," which requires persons to disclose if they are "acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity."

Yesh Din's volunteers and individual contributors are doubtless sincere about promoting human rights; but this is one of several organizations funded by foreign governments that work against the interests of Israel's mainstream by chipping away at any Jewish claims beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines.

Israel's security concerns - for instance, how to prevent the West Bank from becoming a Kassam launching-pad against the Jewish state's main population centers - do not interest Yesh Din; nor does the threat of terrorist infiltration.

Not even Palestinian political intransigence, reflected in the unwillingness of relative moderates like Mahmoud Abbas to meet half-way willing Israeli partners - Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008 - has relevance for Yesh Din: The group and the foreign governments that fund it want Israel out of the West Bank. Period.

Thus, while "promoting human rights," an organization subsidized by foreign powers encourages Palestinian negotiators to hang tough while it lobbies their interests.

Clearly, casting an avalanche of criticism at Israel's "violations of international law" is easier for Yesh Din than plumbing the ethics of its dependency on foreign powers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's Purim all over ...but, Jerusalem Celebrates Purim on Wed

Tuesday - Too good to be true

The deluge of good news, on a variety of fronts - coinciding with this year's Purim festival - demands we pause from our usual dreary agenda to offer praise where it is due.

To Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, for acknowledging that he had no good reason for dragging out the indictment of former president Moshe Katsav. "I have issues with procrastination," he noted, "but this time I think I really am ready."

To former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who admitted that "Judges should not dominate the process of selecting judges. We need a system with checks and balances," he told the Bar Association.

Law and order was further boosted when Israel's crime syndicate - moetzet gedolei ha'avaryanim - declared its constituents would no longer engage in human trafficking, extortion or the drug trade. A top mobster confessed: "We have become nothing more than Hebrew-speaking thugs. Enough!"

THE Finance Ministry deserves our esteem for promising it would pull out all stops to fast-track completion of the express rail line linking Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, making it operational by 2012.

El Al lifted spirits by announcing it would not follow Ryanair's lead of making passengers pay for the right to relieve themselves on flights. "It's clever of them to offer free bottled water while charging for the use of the toilets, but we intend to focus on long-term customer loyalty by giving economy class passengers 15 percent more leg room," said spokesman Matos Avir.

Editors of the British newspapers The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph made encouraging headlines by jointly pledging to take a more balanced stance in their coverage of Israel and leave the task of delegitimizing the Jewish state primarily to The Independent. In a related praiseworthy development, the ombudsman at the International Herald Tribune admitted that using a photograph of Arab women marching past the ruins of a bombed building in the Gaza Strip as the paper's lead photo on International Women's Day was "tendentious."

Kol Hamusika, Israel's classical station, struck a positive note by promising to play music listeners might enjoy instead of the atonal post-modern din which dominates its playlist.

We're impressed, too, that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker decided to forgo a trip to the Gaza Strip and focus attention instead on genocide in the Sudan. "Sure I could jump on the anti-Israel bandwagon," she said. "But Palestinians capture a disproportionate amount of press attention, which detracts from far more pressing issues."

SPAIN is to be congratulated for repealing a law allowing its courts to apply "universal jurisdiction" to harass Israeli security personnel involved in the 2002 liquidation of Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh. A Spanish legal scholar explained: "We just felt that with our history of inquisitions and persecution and false neutrality during the Holocaust, we really had no moral standing to denounce Israelis for defending themselves."

The organizers of the UN Conference on Racism (Durban II) deserve appreciation for cancelling the event because "the enterprise had devolved into a frenzy of non-governmental Jew-hatred."

HERE AT home, we are delighted by the IDF's announcement that, for the first time in decades, the West Bank will not be sealed off from Israel proper over the Purim holiday. With the notion of Palestinian Arabs blowing up buses or threatening children's Purim parades now fantastical, the need for closures is, thankfully, obviated.

India is to be commended for its pledge of $5 million to help rebuild Sderot, matching its $5 million for similar reconstruction in Gaza. To the Palestinian Authority's credit, it has rejected the cash, saying it couldn't account for billions of dollars in previously donated international contributions. "What we really need," said Mahmoud Abbas, "is not more money but a trusteeship for Palestine to help us create a culture of tolerance and respect for minority rights."

But the ultimate praise goes to Iran, which now admits that it has been working on an atom bomb, but has decided to stop as a result of a vision which came to Ayatollah Khamenei. "The Prophet sent an angel to tell me that God wanted the Children of Abraham to work out our differences amicably," he told a delirious throng in Teheran's Revolution Square.

Delirious indeed.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Avigdor Lieberman - Israel's next foreign minister

Monday - From Eban to Lieberman

Avigdor Lieberman is no Abba Eban, yet destiny - or more accurately, a fragmented body politic and an outmoded method of building governing coalitions - has decreed that the Israel Beiteinu leader will likely become this country's next foreign minister.

Eban was suave, cosmopolitan, Cambridge-educated. He made his first appearance before the UN Security Council in 1948. More popular abroad than at home, he served nine years as our ambassador to both Washington and the UN. Word that he was appearing helped fill Yankee Stadium at a Salute to Israel rally in 1956. As foreign minister during both the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, his mellifluous voice became synonymous with the justice of Israel's cause.

Lieberman, in contrast, is far more popular at home than abroad. The foreign press labels him, not without justification, "a provocative nationalist." His party captured 15 Knesset seats (behind Kadima's 28 and Likud's 27) thanks to a demagogic campaign advocating that Israel's Arab minority prove its fidelity.

This newspaper rejects the notion that individuals who are already citizens be required to sign a loyalty oath. Fortunately, there is zero chance of Lieberman's populist rhetoric getting translated into government policy.

Of course, Lieberman would not be standing on the threshold of the Foreign Ministry had Kadima leader Tzipi Livni put country first and accepted Binyamin Netanyahu's offer to become a senior partner in his government. She was willing to serve as his foreign minister only if he agreed to serve as hers in a four-year rotation government.

Israel's previous experience with a rotation government occurred in 1984, when similarly inconclusive results led Labor's Shimon Peres and the Likud's Yitzhak Shamir to join forces: Peres served as premier for the first two years, with Shamir as his FM; the two then switched places midway. It was a dysfunctional marriage, which then US ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis said required him to deal with "two Israeli governments." Israel was left diplomatically rudderless, absent a hierarchy, and for four years its friends were at a loss to discern who spoke for Jerusalem. Netanyahu is right to reject a repeat of this nightmare scenario.

Livni's claim that policy differences over negotiations with the Palestinians are keeping her out of the government is hardly credible. What supposedly sets Kadima and Likud apart is the theoretical matter of how talks with the Palestinians should be concluded. Given that Mahmoud Abbas would not cut a deal with Ehud Olmert, the latter's generosity of spirit and political desperation notwithstanding, we fail to understand why a possible divergence of views over the precise nature of a far-off Palestinian sovereignty should, at this stage, keep Livni in the opposition. Her refusal to join the government at this time of unparalleled diplomatic, security and economic challenges will serve neither her nor Kadima.

WE ARE not enamored with the government in the making; not with Lieberman at the Foreign Ministry; not with Shas's Eli Yishai at Interior. The incoming government will have neither the ability nor inclination to pursue electoral reform or religious pluralism. It will lack the diplomatic agility necessary for creative statecraft.

Lieberman will be to Netanyahu's Foreign Ministry what Amir Peretz was to Olmert's Defense Ministry - a patronage appointment in a job that begs for a sophisticated actor of world stature and an engaging media presence - Israel's face to the world. That Livni has fallen short of these criteria does not assuage our concerns over Lieberman. While his spoken English is no worse than hers, we saw the consequences of her ineloquence during Operation Cast Lead.

IN THE aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, Eban addressed the 1973 Geneva Conference: "The crisis in the Middle East has many consequences, but only one cause. Israel's right to peace… indeed its very right to live, has been forcibly denied and constantly attacked. In no other dispute has there ever been such a total denial, not only of the sovereign rights of a state, but even its legitimate personality."

Sadly, Eban's words hold no less true today than they did 35 years ago. Equally disheartening, perhaps, is that eloquence of speech and clarity of thought are no longer a prerequisite for the job of foreign minister.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The man who rules Iran: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Friday - Optimism in Teheran

It isn't everyday we're given insight into the strategic thinking of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But on Wednesday he addressed the Fourth International Conference for Support of Palestine in Teheran. Among the luminaries rumored to be in attendance was Hizbullah's Hassan Nasrallah.

Iranian presidents come and go; the supreme leader, who sits atop the regime's political, judicial and military hierarchy, rules for life.

Khamenei professed to be in an optimistic mood following the "amazing military and political defeats" Israel suffered in the Second Lebanon War and more recently in Gaza. Still, he was bitter about what the "Zionist criminals" did - "impaling of infants" for instance. Fortunately, he noted, "advances in technology" (read al-Jazeera) have exposed "the magnitude" of Israel's atrocities.

He denounced Muslim "pragmatists" who, in the mistaken belief that Israel was too strong to destroy, have been willing to temporarily accept its existence. And he had even less patience for those who genuinely "entertained hopes of peaceful coexistence."

After 60 years of "occupation" the "illegitimacy" of the Zionist regime stands undiminished. The Holocaust must be denied because it "served as an excuse for the usurpation of Palestine." On the bright side, he noted that Israel's image has never been more tarnished and lauded the "spontaneous" protests conducted by Israel's enemies around the world. Israel was a "fake and counterfeit nation" a "cancerous tumor" that could not be negotiated with - though some Palestinian leaders make the mistake of doing so. The only way for Muslims and Palestinians to achieve victory over the "Zionist usurper" is "resistance."

Claiming that "the question of Palestine is the most urgent problem of the Islamic world," Khamenei denounced the Obama administration for its "unconditional commitment to Israel's security." It's a policy that amounts "to the same crooked ways of the Bush administration and nothing else."

Khamenei proposed that a referendum be held of "all those who have a legitimate stake in the territory of Palestine, including Muslims, Christians and Jews" wherever they may be. He presumed, however, that just as the West did not honor the genuinely free election of Hamas among Palestinians, so too, it would not allow the future of Palestine to be determined by a worldwide plebiscite of Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Typical Western hypocrisy, Khamenei concluded.

THE IDEA that Khamenei will modify so perverted, so deep-seated, a worldview as a result of Obama administration suasion, or European economic incentives and political inducements, is risible.

For Khamenei, Israel is a cancer alright, but America, Britain and Western values generally are the carcinogens; excising Israel alone will not bring the supreme leader the global caliphate he seeks.

Thus the more propitiously President Barack Obama "engages" with Teheran, the quicker Khamenei's creed will come to the fore, and the more transparent it should be that candidate Obama's pledge: "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon" deserves to be honored.

WE MAY never know what possessed a Palestinian Arab in Jerusalem yesterday to use a construction vehicle as a weapon. We can surmise, however, that like others before him he was socialized within a religio-political milieu which encourages belligerence, victimization and martyrdom - precisely the ideals inculcated into the minds of Khamenei's own Revolutionary Guards.

For all its homicidal tendencies, there is no evidence that, at its apex, Iran's regime is suicidal. Yet its most loyal cadre has been whipped-up by a messianic dogma that blends Persian imperialism with Shi'ite embitterment - belligerence, victimization and martyrdom. One shudders to think that if Iran's nuclear ambitions aren't foiled, some overly zealous revolutionary guard might have more than a tractor at his disposal. The Soviet-era template of containment and deterrence simply won't apply.

This week, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal urged the Arabs to come together in the face of the "Iranian challenge." Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told Iran to stop interfering in Palestinian affairs. While the Arabs fret about the instability wrought by Teheran in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan they, like Europeans and Africans, are hedging their bets.

So the longer Obama takes to crystallize his policy, the harder it will be to stop the Iranian bomb.

No wonder Khamenei feels optimistic.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Independent on Sunday

As it happens, L and I were in London this past Sunday and I would not have noticed 'The Independent on Sunday' front page if not for my good buddy RB. There we were standing in a train station coffee shop waiting to pay when RB called my attention to the piece. My first thought was: 'there they go again...' My second thought was to write this for The Post.

Thursday - Those Israeli 'death squads'

Considered part of what passes these days for Britain's prestige press, The Independent "viewspaper" has a circulation of just over 211,000. Though it sells for less than the Guardian or Times, the Sunday edition is hemorrhaging readers. The Independent caters to that sliver of readership which finds the Guardian a tad too conservative. If cash prize contests don't boost circulation, it may soon have to switch to an Internet-only format.

The daily is edited by Roger Alton; the Sunday edition by John Mullin. Simon Kelner is managing director of both editions. But The Independent's overarching animosity toward Israel has been entrenched by its Middle East editor, Robert ("I am being vilified for telling the truth about Palestinians") Fisk. Osama bin Laden personally vouched for Fisk's objectivity. By comparison, Katherine Butler, the paper's foreign editor, can only be thought of as a Zionist-sympathizer. The paper's reporter in Israel since 2004 is the genteel Donald Macintyre, its former chief commentator.

This brings us to the "viewspaper's" cover story this past Sunday: "Israel's death squads: A soldier's story" written by Macintyre in cooperation with the nebulously funded advocacy group "Breaking the Silence," which describes itself as devoted to gathering "testimonies" that expose the "depth of corruption" in the Israeli military.

The protagonist of Macintyre's rendering is a "former sharpshooter with psychological scars" who cannot be identified by name. On November 22, 2000 the soldier was purportedly part of an elite unit ordered to arrest "a Palestinian militant called Jamal Abdel Razak" at Morag Junction in the southern Gaza Strip.

Macintyre's quotes the soldier as saying that his unit was abruptly informed that Razak was on the way "and then we got an order that it was going to be an assassination [not an arrest] after all."

Razek, The Independent says, was unarmed. To complicate matters, a taxi carrying Sami Abu Laban - a "baker" - and Na'el al Leddawi - "a student" - chanced upon the scene.

The Breaking the Silence soldier continued: "They gave us two seconds and they said, 'Shoot. Fire.'" So he "fired 11 bullets into the head of the militant Razek." The "baker" and "student" along with another "militant" caught in the crossfire, were all killed. Macintyre sums up: The soldier "never told his parents what happened." Coming from "a good home," how could he?

There you have it: A front-page Independent scoop "proving" that the IDF employs death squads which kill with little compunction, both unarmed "militants" and any civilians who get in the way.

THE NAME Itamar Yefet doesn't figure in Macintyre's account. He was an 18 year-old from Netzer Hazani killed a day earlier by Palestinian snipers at the Gush Katif junction. The day Yefet was ambushed, a bus travelling in the Galilee was firebombed. And two days earlier, St-Sgt Sharon Shitoubi, 21, had been mortally wounded by enemy snipers close to Morag junction. Also around this time, three children ages 8-12 from the Cohen family, Orit, Yisroel and Tehila, each lost a limb in an attack on their school bus.

Yasser Arafat's war of attrition - the second intifada - which would claim over 1,000 Israeli lives - was underway. As IDF soldiers were seeking Jamal Abdel Razak, a car bomb in Hadera killed two Israelis and wounded 50.

FOR REASONS that remain obscured by the fog of war, the arrest operation of Jamal Abdel Razak went sour; he along with three other Palestinians were killed.

But Razak was no mere "militant." He was a senior Tanzim operative who had been imprisoned by Israel (1992-1997) and when released planned numerous bombing attacks.

Contrary to the implication left by Macintyre, all four killed were Fatah. The movement issued a statement condemning "the assassination of four of its cadre…" warning that the "blood of its sons" would be avenged.

Some may wonder why we bother taking umbrage over yet one more slanderous attack in a British press long fixated on delegitimizing Israel.

Because though anti-Israelism pervades the British media and academia, truly independent readers deserve to know the wider circumstances of Jamal Abdel Razak's demise, and that there are no "death squads" in Israel.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Dear reader, Thanks for coming back. It was good to get away and nice to be back.

Wednesday Clinton in Ramallah

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to go to Ramallah today to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. She spent Monday in Sharm e-Sheikh attending the international conference for the reconstruction of Gaza, where Washington pledged $900 million in additional aid to the Palestinians. Yesterday, in Jerusalem, Clinton met Israeli leaders including Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu.

In Ramallah, Palestinians can be expected to tell Clinton that the peace process is at a crossroads: Either the Obama administration pressures Israel into making suicidal concessions - and soon - or the two-state solution is finished. They will claim that Netanyahu is insufficiently enamored with the idea of a Palestinian state. And Clinton will hear the mantra that Israel "must choose between peace and settlements."

To her credit, Clinton has not shied away from taking Hamas to task for its violent rejectionism. In Ramallah, she has a unique opportunity to take Abbas to task for his unworkable approach to peacemaking. For if Hamas is a dead end and Abbas a false hope, the two-state solution really is a pipedream.

At Sharm, Clinton praised Abbas "for his commitment to move forward with a negotiated solution." But when the two sit down together today, she needs to deliver a less sugar-coated message: Get realistic.

On Monday, Clinton said, "We cannot afford more setbacks and delays, or regrets about what might have been had different decisions been made. And now is not the time for recriminations. It is time to look ahead."

To help the process move forward, however, Clinton will need to disabuse Abbas of the notion that he can adhere to a maximalist negotiating stance in the hope that the Obama administration will deliver an Israel prostrate at the negotiating table. She will need to tell him that unless he becomes flexible - on borders, refugees and the initial contours of statehood - Palestinian prophesies about an end to the two-state solution will prove self-fulfilling.

When Abbas starts kvetching about Netanyahu, Clinton might ask why the elastic policies of the outgoing Olmert government did not elicit a "yes" from the Palestinian moderates.

Abbas continues to insist that Israel pull back to the 1949 Armistice Lines, leaving this country with a 15-18km.-wide waistline and our airport vulnerable to short-range missile attack. Strategic depth matters - especially along the coastal plain, where most Israelis live.

Clinton needs to tell Abbas to abandon his outrageous demand for the "right" of "return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to Israel proper. Netanyahu speaks for mainstream Israelis when he says that the Palestinians will also have to defer, in the short-term, anyway, some of the characteristics of statehood. For example, Israel cannot gamely cede control over the airspace and electromagnetic field between the Mediterranean and the Jordan without irretrievably jeopardizing its security.

Of course, Palestinian moderation would be bolstered if the Arab League explicitly supported compromise. Yet the League itself has presented Israel with a take-it-or-leave it offer which is, nevertheless, a good starting point for negotiations.

CLINTON urged the Palestinians "to break the cycle of rejection and resistance" - an unfortunate euphemism for anti-civilian warfare. Perhaps, by speaking even more forthrightly in Ramallah today, she can help Palestinians reverse 60 years of self-defeating rejectionism and encourage the kind of pragmatism that's historically been absent from the Palestinian body politic.

The US has made a key contribution to building Palestinian institutions with the goal of making them accountable and transparent. Much, much more needs to be done.

As the security situation has allowed, Israel has been incrementally fostering conditions - ease of travel up and down the West Bank, for instance - that enhance Palestinian dignity while massively improving the local economy.

Regarding the settlement issue, the maintenance of strategic settlement blocs - "1967-plus" - far from being "obstacles to peace," actually make a deal palatable to Israelis, the manipulative lobbying by foreign-funded groups such as Peace Now notwithstanding.

"The inevitability of working toward a two-state solution is inescapable," Clinton said. It would be better for us all were she to make clear to Abbas that nothing is "inescapable" unless the Palestinians inject some pragmatism into their negotiating position.

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